Words by Drew Rohde | Photos by Dusten Ryen
Charged by RISE BREWING
As ebikes evolve, filling the niches of the sport like their non-powered brethren, the Norco Range VLT C1 eMTB has stepped up as Norco’s long travel, self-shuttle machine. Designed to scratch the itch of gravity fiends who wanted a bit more travel than the Sight VLT. With 180mm of front travel and 170mm of custom-tuned Horst Rocker Link suspension, a 630Wh battery, Shimano Steps motor and aggressive geometry, the Norco Range VLT is definitely an ebike we were excited to get on the trail.
Norco has been making a lot of noise with their mountain bike and ebike offerings so far this year. One of the major factors that has drawn attention to the brand is their technological and scientific approach to frame geometry and fit. We created a very detailed video explaining Norco’s Ride Aligned design system you can watch here. At the system’s core, Norco believes that in order for a rider to get the most out of their machine, it has to have the right dimensions and suspension tune to compliment the rider’s body proportions, weight and center of gravity.
We applaud Norco for all the work and research put into the design as it’s creating a lot of buzz. We have found however, that their newer bikes have become a bit polarizing in terms of ideal terrain and users. The Range VLT to a lesser extent than their new Sight VLT 29, but we suggest consumers do some number crunching comparing the new Norco bikes to older bikes they’re comfortable on.
Reach on our size Large Range VLT sits at 480mm with a 610mm stack height, 63.5-degree head tube angle and a steep 77.7-degree seat tube angle. Rear center length is 440mm on this 27.5 eMTB, which sports a 1,263mm wheelbase and 355mm bottom bracket height. We found the bike to be a little bit long on super steep terrain and the 800mm wide bars only exaggerated our stretched out, over the front feeling. Some may love this set up, but for our 5’11” riders navigating steep, chunky rock gardens into technical, sharp turns, it left us a bit unnerved and feeling slower than bikes like the YT Decoy or Kona Remote.
Norco offers the Range VLT ebike at three price points: $5,399 for the C3, $6,599 for the C2, and our test model, the C1, which retails for $7,499. With a build spec aimed at the discerning rider, Norco hung a full SRAM group on the Range starting with a Rock Shox Lyrik Ultimate RC2 180mm fork and Rock Shox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate DH Trunion shock. We did blow the first shock out after just two rides on the bike. Rock Shox replaced it with a second shock that lasted the rest of our test period. The size Large comes with a 550lb coil, which was a bit stiff for some of our 155-170lbs riders on certain terrain, but was great for our 180lb-plus riders. A coil swap to suit your riding terrain and weight can be done relatively easily, although the unique shock mount does add a few extra steps compared to other frames.
A SRAM GX Eagle rear derailleur and shifter control the NX Eagle chain and cassette, while a Shimano Deore XT 165mm crankset spins with the Shimano Steps E8000 drive unit. A BikeYoke Revive 160mm dropper comes on the large with a Norco 40mm stem, Deity Ridgeline 800mm handlebars and a comfy Ergon SM-10 E-Mountain Sport seat. Stopping this beast of a bike are two SRAM Code RSC 4-piston brakes with 200mm rotors. Ebike rated DT Swiss H1700 wheels get wrapped in the incredibly grippy but slow rolling 2.5” WT Maxxis Assegai tires. Although we really enjoyed the Assegais during preliminary testing, we swapped to faster rolling and equally grippy, eMTB specific Schwalbe Eddy Current tires for our group test.
There is no denying the Range VLT, and all of Norco’s 2020 bikes for that matter, get us feeling tingly inside. They just look like they want to party! With clean lines, simple graphics and bold colors, the Range VLT grabs your attention. When we started riding the bike in Bend, Oregon before heading south for our eMTB Roundup, the bike quickly became a favorite on the steep, loose DH tracks of Cline Butte.
The stability, big hit capabilities and stiffness of the frame are stand out features of the Norco Range VLT. We could easily get in five laps at Cline, a shuttle or hike-a-bike zone where we’d normally get two or three laps in. Norco sent us the Range before they had inventory of their 360Wh Range Extender external battery pack. It didn’t bother us though as we were either out of time or too tired after burning out the in-tube 630Wh battery. Something many people bring up when discussing Norco ebikes is the lack of battery removal. This is a bit of a bummer should you need service or want to travel or charge the battery out of the bike, but it may not be a deal breaker for everyone.
We had a couple of issues with SRAM products on the new Range. As we mentioned above the shock blew after just two rides, which Rock Shox did remedy. Also, we had a failure of the rear derailleur when the pulley wheel bolt backed out on a rocky stairstep section. Once again we received a replacement but not much of an explanation beyond it must have been related to an impact or user error, neither of which were the case as the derailleur had zero visible damage and we were coasting downhill when the incident happened. We understand things happen, but when a customer drops this much on a bike and it has two unrelated problems around SRAM products in such a short time, it’s worth noting.
Beyond those couple of issues the bike ran flawlessly during our test period. For being such a long travel bike, we found it to be rather capable on climbs and while going out for longer distance rides. The supple coil shock, steep seat tube angle and battery range all worked together to make this a comfy and worthy bike for exploratory rides, backcountry scouting and more. We did find that the bike was a little bit long and slack for tighter trails and switchbacks. Whether going up or down trails the Range, and all of Norco’s new-school bikes, definitely prefer higher speeds and more open terrain. The longer wheelbase, reach and slack head tube give the bike incredible stability and a planted feel at the sacrifice of snappiness and nimbleness on flatter, slower, techy trails.
When we put the Norco Range VLT on the chunky downhills and let off the brakes it was a force to be reckoned with! This bike eats up trails once reserved for DH bikes. We loved being able to park the van and instead pedal ourselves up to the top of the rowdiest DH trails and just session, lap after lap. Whether it was pointing it down loamy PNW downhills or hammering into SoCal rock gardens, the Norco Range VLT will charge headlong into obstacles, muting the terrain beneath. During our eMTB Roundup this bike was a favorite on the super gnarly downhills with big rocks, drops and boulder fields.
The Wolf’s Last Word
As we’ve been finding with all of Norco’s new 2020 bikes, these machines are long, favor steep, high-speed terrain and aggressive riding, the Norco Range VLT is no different. It is a solid all around bike, capable of being pedaled up the steepest of trails, tackling the most technical terrain and giving riders insane levels of confidence to just let the bike do the work. We’d suggest taking a look at geometry charts to compare the new Norco bikes against your current rides for an idea as to the sizing differences as they may have you evaluate your frame size.
Norco’s Range VLT is a force to be reckoned with on the trail and there is no denying that! It is a beast of a machine that will pulverize the terrain in front of it. It’s not the ideal bike for those looking for a short, snappy play bike or ride flatter, more technical terrain with lots of tight turns. If you live in an area with lots of fast, hard charging downhill trails, want to keep your fingers off the brake and send it, then the Range could be a great bike for you. The battery range is very competitive on the 630Wh versions, and the 360Wh extender make sure you’ll run out of energy before your battery dies. Ultimately the Norco Range VLT C1 is a good bike with an intended user and terrain, if it’s in your wheelhouse, you will enjoy what it offers.
Planted and Stable
Battery Not Removable
SRAM Reliability Issues
Too Long for Tight Terrain
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