The Norco Range out-performed the Trek Slash in our recent long travel shootout, but that was the top-end carbon frame model with 29" wheels. Here we have the base level Norco Range A3 on test, a wallet-friendly $3699 aluminium frame version built on the same platform that we know rides amazingly. Let's see how it holds up after a good old thrashing.
The not-so-minor details
Norco Range A3
Dialled frame geometry, so capable on hard trails.
Complete component package.
That red paint!
Uncomfortable brake/shifter/dropper post ergonomics.
Not a lightweight bike.
What’s a Norco Range?
The Range is Norco’s fun do-it-all enduro bike, available in two wheel sizes and packing a massive 170mm travel up front and 160mm in the rear (29er has 160mm and 150mm). We’ve had great experiences with their more expensive carbon Ranges over the years, this one is the base model in 27.5/650b wheels, so can the Canadian company produce the type of bike we hope for, for under $4K?
See our head-to-head review from last year of the Norco Range C9.2 vs Trek Slash 9.8 here: Range vs Slash.
An aluminium frame in a hot red suit.
Our Range A3 has an aluminium frame with burly tubing, large bearings and solid hardware on the suspension pivots, and it looks tough as! All the chunkiness and large hardware can add more weight to a frame, but it can be worth it when you consider durability. Norco appears to have built the Range with a privateer enduro racer or a poor bike park rat in mind, or someone that doesn’t understand the words ‘regular maintenance’.
Norco has also opted for thru axles that require an Allen key to remove the wheel, adding to the clean lines to the front and rear of the bike.
As we mentioned in the first bite, we are in love with the red colour, and where some brightly coloured bikes lose their sex appeal over time due to the novelty wearing off, we still can’t get enough of it! We received loads of compliments on it, too, that’s cool.
Although it looks a little messy at first glance, the external cabling is neatly attached to the frame with alloy clips. It reminds us a little of an old Australian muscle car under the hood; simple and easy to see how it works and what may be, or could be going, wrong. Perfect for that privateer or home mechanic.
What wheel size is best; 27.5″ or 29″? Uh oh, a wheel size discussion.
Well, that may be a good question, but we aren’t touching that one with a 50-foot floor pump right now… Three things we tire talking about on the internet are; riding in wet weather, e-bikes and wheel size – it will just get us in trouble again. Fortunately, Norco offers the Range in both wheel sizes, so no one feels left out or condemned for their choice, and then we can all go about our lives silently judging each other for the wrong decision.
In a small nutshell if you want a fast and stable bike, go 29″ or a playful and aggressive one, lean towards 27.5″/650B.
How’s the spec stack up?
Keeping the price in mind, the Range A3 exceeded our expectations when we hit the dirt, and the spec played a large part of that. It wasn’t that long ago that $3699 would only buy you something pretty ordinary, with basic suspension, under-gunned brakes and a dropper seat post was something you purchased afterwards. Fast forward to 2018, and we’re absolutely spoilt rotten!
The RockShox Yari was again a solid performer, and the RockShox Deluxe rear shock matches the fork nicely. Though the Range is ‘okay’ at climbing, a trail mode on the shock wouldn’t have gone amiss for technical climbs in place of the ‘on-or-off’ lockout feature. The full lockout is only good for the tarmac and makes for a bumpy ride on anything but the smoothest surfaces.
We’re happy to report that the lesser-known TranzX adjustable post worked great, and didn’t miss a drop. Its under-bar remote kept the handlebar looking clean and tidy and was always easy to reach.
Unlike a lot of more prominent bike brands that have their own in-house wheels, Norco uses standard rim and hub manufacturer; great if the unfortunate happens, spares are easy to track down from a bike shop or website.
WTB i29 rims came taped ready for tubeless, we added the valves, and the internal width of 29mm gave the Maxxis High Roller II tyres an excellent profile with plenty of grip. Novatec hubs laced up with 32 j-bend spokes and brass nipples are ready for a hard life, but no Torque Caps on the front hub makes for a slightly fiddly wheel installation into the Yari fork as the hub doesn’t directly align with the fork dropouts, leaving us wishing we had three hands at times.
Shimano and Sunrace.
After spending a lot of time on increasingly popular SRAM drivetrains, the 11-speed Shimano feels like we are about to dislocate a thumb joint with a substantial shift action, ok a slight exaggeration… However, (joking aside) as we got used to the firm shift action with the SLX shifter, we appreciated how precise it felt, never leaving us wondering if the gear was fully engaged or not. We think there has been a direct correlation between how poorly we have been performing at thumb wrestling and using a SRAM drivetrain, the shifter paddles are so easy to push, making our thumbs weak, terrible for finishing off our opponents in the thumb wrestle.
It was our first time using the Sunrace 11-46 tooth cassette, and the shifting was quite smooth and dependable. The only time we remembered we weren’t on a Shimano cassette was when shifting between the 36, 40, and then down to the 46 tooth cog. As you may know, Shimano 11-speed cassettes have adopted a similar technology found on the budget-friendly Megarange cassette, with a massive jump from the 36 to 46 tooth. We always felt there needed to be another cog in the middle and Sunrace seem to have solved this demand exceedingly well.
The Tektro HD-M745 brakes may sound more like a dull serial number but for an entry priced four-pot brake these things did stop us in our tracks. They may not have the massive bite of a Code R as we experienced on the Merida One-Sixty, but we would take these Tektro brakes over any entry level two-pot brake. The brake levers are relatively long and have decent modulation; these brakes draw similarities to their higher modelled TRP G-Spec brakes ridden by the one and only Aaron Gwin.
In a current trend on enduro bikes; the Range comes with a huge 200mm disc rotor up front and 180mm on the rear, unsurprising as we are pushing the limits of the speed of modern enduro bikes, we expect it won’t be long before we see 200mm rotors on the rear as standard as well. Keeping it accessible for future pad replacements the Tektro HD-M745 uses the same brake pads as Shimano Saint, handy indeed.
A handlebar nightmare.
Unfortunately, the Tektro brake levers just didn’t want to match up with the Shimano SLX shifter pod and TranzX dropper post remote on the handlebar. We found that the shifters were either too close and rubbed on our thumb knuckles or too far away from making it hard to use. After playing around, we found a (crap) happy medium where we could just reach all the levers, and over the course of the review, we still weren’t 100% satisfied.
What we’d change?
Apart from a few personal preferences on the contact points; seat, grips, stack height and handlebar width, we’d not rush out to change anything, it is the base model of Range in Norco’s range, we can’t be too picky for under $4K.
To jump up to the next level, for an extra $900, you can get the A2. You’ll notice upgraded suspension with the Lyrik RC fork using the more sophisticated Charger damper and the Fox Performance Float rear shock which has that handy trail mode we mentioned earlier. The A2 looks slightly better all over, that makes for good value worth considering.
How’d it ride then?
We are going to cut straight to the chase; the bike rode great regardless of the sharp low price and entry-level spec. Norco has created a very competent machine for just $3699.
With a 160mm of travel out the back, the Range climbs like a slightly-older, fatter, sure-footed mountain goat, conquering most technical climbs we came across, just don’t expect it to get there in a massive rush. The meaty tyres let you climb with little regard to picking the best line, they hook up anywhere.
When we stood up out of the saddle and pushed hard on the pedals we wished the rear shock had a third or ‘trail mode’, it would have helped with traction as the full lockout caused the bike to skip around. However, with a smooth pedal action, the bike did respond well enough to the extra effort and wasn’t wasted in suspension bob.
This bike is made for descending and prefers it! Its well-balanced geometry and fit meant we could easily find the middle of the bike and push it hard on the fast straights and rough corners.
At speed, the Range felt planted yet playful on the trail, opening up our imagination to new line choices on trails we were familiar with. As we became more in tune with what the Range was best at, we had more confidence to take the rowdier lesser-known lines and were rewarded for it. It’s not afraid of much. It’s not lightweight, at over 15kg, but it’s also under $4K so we can’t really complain.
We believe that the Range A3 is a very well balanced bike that doesn’t lack in any component performance. It’s for a rider that who wants to push their limits, dabble in enduro racing or requires a longer travelled bike to fully appreciate technical terrain; the Range is worth a look for sure.