Norco Sight VLT 29 eMTB Review
EVOLUTION OF A CHAMPION
Words By Drew Rohde | Photos by Dusten Ryen
Charged by RISE Brewing
Earning back to back titles, Norco is back on the podium with their brand-new Sight VLT 29 ebike. The Norco Sight VLT 29 won our Trail Smasher Award in the Trail (150mm or less) category in our 2020 eMTB Roundup. For those who missed it, the Sight VLT 27.5 was our eMTB of the Year at last year’s ebike shootout. Just before we left for this year’s group test in Palm Springs, California, we found out that Norco had a new Sight VLT 29 in the works. It was a group scramble to get this bike in the mix, but by the skin of our teeth the bike showed up just in time. We were able to spend some quality time riding it with the rest of the competitors before bringing it home for another month of testing and riding. It goes without saying that the new Norco Sight VLT 29 had big shoes to fill, and like the rest of Norco’s line, the new VLT saw some major changes to the frame dimensions that resulted in a very different ride on the trail.
If you’re looking for the full spec sheet and launch material of the newly released bike, you can click here. We’ll keep it somewhat brief and focus on the points that affect the ride most.
Norco Bicycles carried over their new Ride Aligned concept to the Sight VLT 29 ebike. We did a very in-depth video look showcasing the Science of Send and what Norco puts into their bike design to make them the capable machines that they are. So if you’re looking to have all the technology and jargon dissected, be sure to click here.
The new Norco Sight VLT 29 is designed to be a true all mountain machine and competed with eight other bikes in our Trail (150mm of rear travel or less) category. Where the Sight VLT 27.5 was lively, peppy and versatile, the Sight VLT 29 is planted, unflinching and stable. The bikes share the Sight name; however, they couldn’t ride any more differently, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Norco offers two different Sights for two very different riders, so be sure to take notes and pick the best bike for you.
A first for Norco, the Sight VLT 29 is offered in both carbon and aluminum frame materials and at a variety of price points from $4,399 for the A2 up to our top of the line C1 test bike, which retails for $7,499.
We tested a size large Sight VLT 29 C1, which has a 485mm reach, 621mm stack height, 78.7-degree seat tube angle and 458mm rear center length. These increased dimensions combined with the 64-degree head tube angle give the bike a whopping 1,280mm (50.39 inches) wheelbase. That’s longer than the wheelbase on Norco’s 29-inch wheeled Aurum downhill bike! The Sight VLT 27.5 also sports a much shorter wheelbase at 1,218mm, that’s over 60mm or roughly 2.44 inches shorter than the VLT 29.
Other notable geometry changes between the Sight VLT 29 and 27.5 include: a 15mm longer reach, 2-degree slacker head tube angle, an 18mm longer rear center, a 14mm taller stack height, a 9mm higher bottom bracket and 3.7-degree steeper seat tube angle. Some of the changes obviously correspond with the larger, 29-inch wheels, however the rest fall in-line with the newer trend of lengthening and slackening bikes for all out downhill confidence. There is no doubt the VLT 29 is superior to the 27.5 when it comes to holding a line, dropping into the steeps or attacking rowdy downhills, but those benefits may not mean it’s the best bike for your local terrain. We’ll get to that later.
Our Norco Sight VLT 29 C1 is the top spec’d model, retailing at $7,499. It comes with a Rock Shox Lyrik Ultimate 160mm E-rated short offset fork and a Rock Shox Super Deluxe Select + Debonair Trunion rear shock with a custom tune that we felt was spot on for aggressive riding! Drivetrain spec also comes from SRAM in the form of a GX Eagle derailleur, GX Eagle shifters and cassette mated to a Shimano Deore XT Hollowtech crankset with 165mm crankarms.
Helping spin those cranks is a Shimano Steps E8000 drive unit and In-Tube 630Wh battery. Norco also offers a 360Wh Range-Extender battery that will mount to the top of your downtube and will seriously extend the bike’s range capabilities.
We addressed a lot of our ride impressions in the initial ride report two weeks ago when the bike was first launched so forgive us if we repeat ourselves. Norco’s bikes have a nice finish and quality feel to them that is readily apparent once you touch and see the bike in person. The paint has a nice gloss and appears to be substantial enough to resist some wear and tear. The spec on the C1 build is a nice mix of quality components and held up well to our month of intense testing.
As we alluded to above, the Norco Sight VLT 29 is a huge departure from the Sight VLT 27.5. We picked the 27.5 as last year’s Bike of the Year because it was the ebike that rode most like a mountain bike. It was lively, playful, snappy and a ton of fun. It came off the ground easily, manualed well and felt pounds lighter than the rest. For those who spend more time on the ground attacking steep, rowdy downhills, the new VLT 29 could be the bike you were hoping for.
Our first day out on the Norco Sight VLT 29 was a great one. We headed out for some of the fastest and rowdiest terrain in Palm Springs and began putting in laps. Over the course of our ten-day testing, we rode a wide variety of trails on all the bikes in both categories. The Sight 29 was the most capable on the “DH” trails without a doubt, however what made it excel on the downs, also held it back elsewhere.
Norco does a great job tuning their suspension across the VLT lines and we love the bike’s ability to balance seated pedaling comfort, climbing traction and big hit composure. The progressivity is nice, however may require a volume reducer for the heavier or most aggressive riders, yet we found that it was spot on for our 160- to 175-pound testers. Norco very clearly has an edge in suspension tuning and that is a big factor in why this bike descends so well. The bike’s downhill prowess is also aided by the long reach, longer wheelbase and slack 64-degree head tube angle. It quickly shot to the top of the pack and had our testers fighting over who was taking it home.
The following days we took the Sight 29 out on several trails more in-line with what we envision the majority of North American mountain bikers will encounter on their weekly rides. Pretty quickly the Sight VLT 29 started dropping its lead as conversations about tight terrain performance, quick direction changes, and switchbacks started happening. The bike is lacking when it comes to maneuverability, leaving the Sight VLT 27.5 and many other bikes in our Trail category as much better tools for the trail.
Frenchie was one of the last holds outs. He loved the Norco Sight VLT 29 so much on the first day he spent two solid days trying to defy the rest of us. After making lots of mid-ride bike swaps he finally conceded, “It’s just too much bike.” Where the rest of our contenders were quick, nimble and able to navigate tight switchbacks, both up and down, the Norco Sight VLT 29 rode like a stretch limousine.
If you ride trails that aren’t extremely steep, have large obstacles that require negotiating at speeds below 15mph, or like sharper, technical terrain, this is not the bike for you. If you’re a Norco fan the Sight VLT 27.5 will suit you much better, otherwise take a look at some of the other top contenders in our Trail category as they will have a more engaging ride on these types of trails.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If you’ve ever heard the old proverb “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” that would be our best way to summarize this bike. On one end of the blade you’ve got a fire-breathing dragon that will slay the steepest, rowdiest of downhills with ease. It begs you to ride well beyond the limits of a mid-travel bike. However, if you’re on the other side of the blade, it becomes a long and sluggish bike that will make you work to navigate tight terrain. As we said above, that’s not a bad thing because Norco already offers a trail scalpel in their VLT 27.5. If you’re an active, poppy rider or someone who regularly navigates around boulders, switchbacks or tight terrain, this would not be our recommendation, and it wouldn’t be Norco’s either. They built this bike for the riders that weren’t content with the 27.5
If you live somewhere that has more open climbs, steep and fast descents with rowdy rock gardens, terrifying root balls and plenty of long flowing senders, the VLT 29 will reward. While this bike would not be our go-to selection for our type of terrain or riding style, we can not deny that this bike is well deserving of the Trail Smasher Award. It is built by shredders in British Columbia and that is very apparent when you get it in the terrain it was designed to shred. For a mid-travel bike to offer this kind of confidence, stability and downhill prowess is a testament to Norco’s awareness of what modern-day aggressive trail riding and suspension tuning should be.
Weight: 52.3 lbs;
Frame: Carbon Main Frame, Seatstays, Aluminum Chainstays, 150mm
Fork: RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 160mm, E-rated
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Select + Debonair
Battery: In-Tube 630Wh
Drive Unit: Shimano STEPS E-8000
Brakes: SRAM Code R; 200mm
Handlebar: Deity Ridgeline 35, 800mm, 25mm rise
Headset: Acros block lock sealed bearing
Saddle: Ergon SM-10 E-Mountain Sport
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 200mm
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle Trigger
Stem: Norco 40mm, 35mm clamp
Hubs: DT Swiss E-1700
Rims: DT Swiss E 1700 Hybrid E-bike rated
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHF WT 29×2.5” MaxxGRIP DD TR
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II WT 29×2.4” MaxxGRIP DD TR
Cassette: SRAM Eagle Xglide 1230 11-50T
Chain: SRAM NX Eagle
Cranks: Shimano Deore XT Hollowtech II, 165mm, 34T
Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle
Begs For Speed
Sluggish on Tight Trails
Very Trail Specific Geometry
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