160mm travel on a 29er? Don't be ridiculous, that's the silliest thing to make it to market since the telescopic seat post!
No, this isn’t silly, it’s amazing! And especially available from the big manufacturers, it simply says that riders are pushing the boundaries of mountain biking and the technologies involved have made them a reality.
Watch the video here.
Take 160mm of travel and jam in a bike with 29″ wheels, and you’ll end up with a monster of a bike that will allow you to cut sick on the descents, but on the other hand, it poses serious challenges to the manufacturer to pull off. There is a lot of stuff and moving parts to fit into a space that can be still pedalled, let alone lightweight or even to fit a water bottle in the frame; it’s not as simple as it may seem from the shop floor.
We chose two bikes that in our mind epitomise this booming segment, the Norco Range C 9.2 and Trek Slash 9.8 to review head to head, back to back, fork to fork, in a review where we took them both out on the trails. With identical setup, we aimed to determine where they would shine, how different they would be, but most importantly which one we would choose if we were to keep it.
Why put the Slash and Range head to head?
Aside from looking quite similar from a distance, both black paint jobs, SRAM builds kits, RockShox suspension all round, same travel amounts and only $300 apart, we chose these two because we both know their suspension platforms well. The Norco Range is the bigger brother of the Sight that we reviewed recently, and the Slash is the big brother of the Remedy which we have ridden countless times over the last five or so years.
The Trek is the second-tier option available in Australia with the flashy red Slash 9.9 model above in a higher spec, but in the Australia Norco catalogue, this is the top spec Range.
Who are they for?
These bikes are mighty serious, not for the faint hearted and not for a comfortable ride. Aggressive riders only need apply, or if enduro racing on the most ragged and wild tracks is your thing too, they might be your bag. But we’d strongly recommend looking at the Norco Sight or Trek Remedy if the majority of riding might not warrant such a huge bike.
How do they differ on paper?
The Trek is nearly 1kg lighter, has a lot going on in the frame with the Knock Block system, geometry adjustment, and a full carbon construction. It’s a whopper of a bike, with a down tube that gives the bike a real ‘get outta my way’ attitude, and it’s murdered out black paint job is even more menacing.
The Norco is a heavier bike and appears much more swoopier in the tubing, especially up the front to allow clearance of the fork crowns to rotate fully under the down tube. The four-bar linkage drives a trunnion mount shock, and there’s just enough space for a water bottle. Interestingly (also took us a few days to notice) that the graphics are green on one side, and black on the other, tricky!
Frame geometry differences.
Comparing the two bikes in terms of geometry is a little tricky, as the Trek is available in four sizes from 15.5″ to 21.5″ while the Norco sticks to the more common school of thought with one of the three M, L, XL options, the Range is also available in 27.5″ wheels in a wider range of sizes too. We reviewed the 19.5″ Trek and M Norco.
Taking a look at the geometry charts the bikes are very close, though the Trek does have the MinoLink adjustment to allow 0.5-degree adjustability in the head angle which also alters the bottom bracket height by 10mm.
Norco vs Trek regarding spec.
Yes, we can hear the keyboards furiously smashing away, criticising us for comparing two bikes with $300 difference between them, but in our opinion, that is about as close as it gets.
For an extra $300 you get a lot for the cash with the Norco, the SRAM Eagle drivetrain is superb, the gear range is huge and had us cleaning the steep climbs easier with a few gears up our sleeve, and the shifting and operation is so crisp, quiet and smooth. The SRAM Guide RS brakes (S stands for Swing Link) have a much snappier lever feel, and the power delivery is excellent.
Rim widths are similar between the two, but the tyres feel vastly different when you hit the dirt – the Bontragers almost feel a little under-gunned in comparison to the meaty Maxxis Minions on the Norco. We’d love to try the Bontrager G5 tyres on the Slash to let it rumble.
How different were they on the trail?
By choosing two bikes that on paper were so close, you’d think that would reflect on the trail, right? Well, yes, they were very similar when it came to turning the pedals.
In summary, we found the Trek a more efficient bike to ride, with its low weight, fast rolling tyres, and Dual Position fork for the climbs it was an easier bike to get along with after a few hours on singletrack.
But whenever we got back onto the Norco our attitude changed, the skies darkened and we released our inner maniac. We rode more aggressively into the corners, braked later, jumped further and let it hang out more.
The tough task of picking one.
It was tough, they both are amazing bikes, nothing went wrong with either of them, and there was never a moment that a frame design, spec choice or compatibility let us down. If you were to lean towards longer rides on lesser aggressive trails the Slash would be ideal, and even on the race tracks we have here in Australia it might be a more logical choice due to its great efficiency and speed.
Though we couldn’t go past the fact that if you’re in the market for a bike this size with this much suspension travel you’re going to want it to descend hard and fast, and that’s what the Norco does very well. You could easily find some faster rolling tyres to bring it closer to the Trek Slash, and vice versa with the Bontragers on the Slash, but we could go on forever about spec modifications, as it stands we’d pick the Norco.