For a first entry in the world of e-mountain bikes, Norco have delivered a cheeky headbutt to a lot brands that have been in e-bike realm for a number of years. The Sight VLT has raced straight to the head of the pack, leaving very few areas for improvement.
That sounds pretty positive, why do you dig it so much?
In a nutshell, it feels a lot like the Norcos that we know and love. If you have a look at any of our recent Norco reviews (like the Fluid FS1, our Sight 29 long-term test bike, the Norco Range) you’ll notice we really dig the way these bikes handle, and especially the way they descend, and how well the suspension works. The VLT captures this essence we bonded with this bike straight away. Some e-bikes just feel a bit clumsy, soggy; they turn you into a passenger – the Norco does not.
Yes, that’s correct. There are two versions of the VLT available, both with carbon frames, both with Shimano E8000 motors. Ours is the VLT2, which is the cheaper of the pair, though at $7999 that might not be the right adjective. Will Norco release a cheaper version in aluminium? Maybe, but we do worry an alloy bike might lose some of the magic that makes this bike shine.
What makes it ride so well?
Firstly, it’s lighter than most eMTBs. Given the fairly basic components, the weight of the bike is impressively light. At just a smidge over 22kg, it’s a couple of kilograms lighter than a lot of the competitors and that makes a difference on the trail. But the bigger part of the equation is the suspension and the geometry of the bike. The suspension has a liveliness to it and responsiveness that many e-bikes lack, we didn’t feel like we had to make any compromises with our setup versus a conventional bike in that area. We’ve struggled with a lot of eMTB suspension, often finding that the kinematics and tune don’t handle the extra mass of the bike/wheels all that well, leading to them wallowing in their travel. The Norco, on the other hand, sits up nice and high in its suspension, making it easy to move around, jump or flick through tighter trails.
On the geometry front, Norco haven’t strayed from the kind of angles you’ll find on their conventional bikes, like their Range. Some bikes, such as Trek’s Powerfly LT which we’ve been reviewing, have gone for really long rear ends to boost climbing ability, which can have a big impact on maneuverability at slower speeds. The Norco, with a shorter rear end, feels very natural on the trail.
What about the range and the motor?
While the motor is a Shimano Steps e8000 unit, it’s paired to a battery developed specifically for the Sight VLT. It’s not easily removable, so you’ll need a powerpoint nearby where you store your bike, but it has a tremendous 630w/h capacity, which is significantly more than most of the competition. In our opinion, having the battery range to explore new trails without having to stress too much about running out of juice is a big deal, and so the Norco scores very well here. We happily cranked out rides well over 60km with 1500m or more of climbing and still had plenty of battery like, never returning home with less than two of the five bars of battery life remaining.
What are the negatives?
There are some areas where Norco have missed the mark, though thankfully they’re pretty minor, but when you’re going head to head with highly refined bikes like the Specialized Levo, you need to get the small things right.
Firstly the cockpit is a mess! Norco should’ve opted for a handlebar that routed the mode shifter cable internally to tidy things up – it looks cheap, like an afterthought. The absence of a water bottle mount seems like a real oversight too, we can only assume the internal battery is to blame as there would appear to be lots of room in the frame for one. We also didn’t gel with the brakes – they’re basic SRAM Code T stoppers and they feel pretty dead under your finger and don’t offer a lot of feel, though we could certainly live with them.
Did you make any changes?
We went tubeless, of course, though we ultimately ended up with a tube up front after we punched a good sized hole in the tread that wouldn’t seal. As an experiment, we fitted a set of Roval carbon wheels with some stiffer sidewall tyres too. We did the same to our Merida e160 test bike a couple of months back too, and we found it made a huge difference to the way that bike rode. On the Norco, with its superior suspension and handling, this wheel/tyre change didn’t have as much of a pronounced effect on the bike’s performance, though we did definitely appreciate the extra confidence that the tougher tyres provided.
All up then?
We’re a little sad to see this bike go. It’s an inspiring e-bike to ride, and we’ve enjoyed the adventures we’ve had on it over the past month or so greatly. We’ve got zero qualms placing this bike in the top echelon of the e-bike world. If this is a first attempt, then other brands should really watch out, we cannot wait to see where Norco go next in this field.