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.
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.
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.