Norco Air Time

Norco Range C 9.2

Built for a Beating

Photos by Dennis Yuroshek

Enduro racers and aggressive trail riders have got to be some of the worst people to design bikes for! Terrain and speeds reserved for downhill bikes just years ago are now normal territory for single crown pedal bikes. Manufacturers like Norco have had to step back and re-examine what their all-mountain bikes are capable of. More than a simple redesign, Norco went back to the drawing board when it came time to update the Range. In short, Norco took heed of the longer, lower and slacker trend, but that’s not all. Norco didn’t just revise geo numbers, they also tweaked their ART suspension tune and added a wheelsize. Riders can now choose a Range C 7 (27.5) or C 9 (29) model. We opted to test Norco’s overly-built carbon Range C 9.2, which packs 150mm of rear travel, 160mm up front and is designed to be everything you need it to be.

Norco Range C 9.2 Profile

The Lab

Even though the new Range was designed from the ground up,  Norco continues to offer key signature services like Gravity Tune. Rather than using a one size fits all mentality when it comes to bicycle rear ends, Norco goes the extra mile and develops optimal chainstay lengths for each size bike. The belief is that a rider who is over six feet tall will have a different center of gravity over their XL bike than a 5’6” rider on a smaller bike. Gravity Tune is a costly venture, but is something that Norco and their riders agree, sets their bikes apart.

Another Norco feature is their ART suspension platform. The four-bar system may look similar to previous generations but ride characteristics have been changed. Modified kinematics make the new Range a bit more supple off the top and slightly more progressive towards the end of the stroke. Two things we quickly noticed on the trail. Working in unison with the Rock Shox Super Deluxe RC3 shock is a Rock Shox Lyrik RC fork. While the Lyrik offers incredible sensitivity and a very lively feel, we believe it may be a large factor in why we just couldn’t fall in love this bike. More on that later.

Geometry: Keeping up with new-school trends, the Range starts to really break stride from its predecessor when we look at the charts. One of the mildest changes to the new Range is the 0.6-degree slackening of the head tube angle, which puts it at 65.5 degrees. A more pronounced difference can be found at the 74.1-degree seat tube angle, which is two degrees steeper than the previous Range. This shift will place riders over the front of the bike for improved climbing performance. Reach is increased anywhere from 8mm to 22mm, depending on size. Correspondingly, the wheelbase has also grown between 20mm to 34mm in length. And since nothing was overlooked in the redesign process, Norco also dropped the bottom bracket height 5mm to 13.39 inches.

Descending through the trees

The Dirt

With plenty of good experience on Norco’s bikes, spanning all disciplines, we were confident the new Range would deliver. Once we heaved this 32pound beast out of the truck and dropped it on the dirt we couldn’t wait to start plowing over everything in our path. Two things instantly impressed our testers – the comfortable cockpit, and small bump suppleness.

You may ask, what was the first thing we noticed that didn’t impress us – the weight. At just over 32 pounds it’s a fair shake heavier than most of our test sleds, but after an unrelated call to Norco, we learned just why the bike is sporting some extra heft. PJ Hunton, Norco’s engineering manager told us that they wanted to create a true all mountain/ enduro-capable bike that would last their customers a long time. “We know many of our customers may only own one bike. With that bike they are going to shuttle DH trails, go to the bike park or venture way out into the backcountry. We do the same things on our bikes so we wanted to have something that would last. We worked hard to make something that is durable in the most demanding environments,” PJ explained. Being headquartered in BC, Norco has a definite advantage when it comes to product testing. When you’ve got some of the rowdiest trails in the world in your backyard, it suddenly made sense. Norco erred on the side of durability, and we suspect their customers appreciate it.

Despite the weight and attitude of the Range, climbing was surprisingly enjoyable. Traction and comfort topped the review sheet notes. The Maxxis Wide Trail tires and revised suspension tune mean you’re able to scale just about anything you’ve got the legs for. On steep climbs, the steeper seat tube angle was a real bonus as we felt balanced while we pedaled away. On rocky or rooty trails the supple rear end helped keep us comfortable and spinning circles rather than standing or swerving to find the smooth lines.

Norco Ascending

On one of our favorite test loops we sessioned some fast, punchy segments that were full of both embedded and loose rock over dry, sandy terrain. The bike did very well here. In fact it was a real blast to sprint into the rock gardens and let the bike do the work. Whether we were plowing right over the center or jumping into a stone-shelf landing, the suspension kept up well. Once again suppleness was noted and testers could feel the bike tracking over the ground. Small drops were met with cloud-like landings and the bike was composed, ready to accelerate into the next corner.

Wanting to see how the weight and big wheels would do in tight terrain, we took the Range over to a fresh rut track. We found that the Range has a tendency to stand up a bit and is easier to steer than lean, unless of course you’re Bryn Atkinson. It steers very well, but when situations call for an aggressive lean, be prepared to give it a little more body English. The rear end is stiff and it doesn’t mind if you pick it up and slam it where you need it to be. This proved to be a frequently used technique as the rut track has a few quick chicane turns. Overall, the Range handled well and we were able to put down some fast times in the tight twisties as long as we meant it.

Gettin' Bermy

Up until this point the impressive ride did not surprise us. The ingredients were all there. With numbers nearly identical to the Trek Slash 9.9 and other comparable all mountain 29ers, we were convinced the Norco would be just as well rounded and capable as the rest. And it was, for the most part. It wasn’t until we took the bike to Cline Butte, in Bend, OR for some shuttle laps that we found our first and only complaint with the Range.

In an effort to avoid persuading future testers we keep our initial impressions and feedback private until we’ve all had a few rides on each bike. All riders started out being very stoked on the bike, however, each of us had the same impression at one particular riding area. Cline Butte is a rocky, steep, and marbly mountain where traction is scarce. There are three main trails on Cline and each of us had a nervous feeling aboard the Range. “It feels like I’m on top of the bike and being pushed over the bars,” two riders commented. We experimented with sag and rebound in both the fork and shock to no avail. As mentioned above, we spoke with Norco directly in hopes to figure out the issue since the geometry was nearly identical to several bikes we really enjoyed on the same trails. One thing that we didn’t have time to test was swapping the fork out for something with a bit more support. Without any sort of telemetric system our best guess was that a combination of two factors detracted from the bike’s otherwise stellar performance. The Rock Shox fork, which rides deeper in the stroke, combined with the way the Norco slightly unweights the rear end while braking on steep terrain, created a steeper head tube angle and dropped the front end enough to make us a bit twitchy on the steeps.

The Wolf’s Last Word

We’re in a pickle with the Range C 9.2. The bike is a blast to ride, up until it isn’t. We believe the suspension spec caused the bike’s riding characteristics to change on very steep terrain and would love to see what it could do with a fork that sat up in the travel. On all other terrain the Range performs very well. Norco worked this bike from the ground up and we could tell. The longer, lower, slacker geometry made it instantly comfortable to testers on the trail. Norco’s revised suspension curve makes it incredibly comfortable and gives the bike ground-hugging traction while still balancing big hit capability. The Range rides like a cloud. It plows over terrain with gobs of traction and sensitivity, but sadly it’s alternate persona on the steeps has us leaving it in the garage on days when we’re heading out in search of vert.

Price: $5,799

Sizes: S, M, L, XL

Weight: 32.37lbs

Website: norco.com

Specs

CHASSIS
Frame: Carbon; 150mm
Fork: Rock Shox Lyrik RC SA; 160mm
Shock: Rock Shox Super Deluxe RC3

COCKPIT
Brakes: SRAM Guide RS
Handlebar: Race Face Atlas
Headset: FSA #57
Saddle: SDG Duster RL
Seatpost: Race Face Turbine
Shifter: SRAM Eagle X01
Stem: Race Face Aeffect

WHEELS
Hubs: SRAM MTH7
Rims: Race Face AR30
Tires: Maxxis Minion DHF WT 2.5 (f), DHRII WT 2.4 (r)

DRIVETRAIN
Bottom Bracket: SRAM PF BB92
Cassette: SRAM Eagle X01; 10-50t
Cranks: SRAM Eagle FC X1; 32t
Derailleur: SRAM Eagle X01; 12s

We Dig

Looks Good
Stiff
Amazing Traction
Small Bump
Comfortable Geo
Built to Last

We Don’t

Fork Dive

Performance on Very Steep Terrain

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