PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Norco Range VLT C1
Words by Matt Beer, photography by Tom Richards
If you're going to buy a full size pick-up truck, then you may as well choose the burlier 1-ton version with all power and heavy duty suspension. Plow through obstacles, not around them. That's how I would peg the Norco Range VLT C1 against the other eMTBs in our Summer Field Test. This is the third generation of the Range VLT in just three years, proving how fast eMTBs are progressing and Norco’s commitment to keeping up with market trends and customer needs.
Norco reconfigured the frame so the battery could be removed from the down tube, which still uses a Horst Link suspension design, but the shock is now placed horizontally under the top tube rather than being vertically in line with the seat tube. This also opens up space inside the front triangle for not one, but two 620 mL water bottles on the size large and XL frames.
Norco Range VLT Details
• Travel: 180 mm front / 170 mm rear
• Wheel size: 29”
• Hub spacing: 148 mm
• Head angle: 63°
• Seat tube angle: 76.9°
• Reach: 475 mm (L)
• Chainstay length: 462 mm
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Weight: 25.76 kg / 56.8 lb (w/ control tires)
• Three battery options including 900 Wh
• Price: $9,648 USD (as tested)
An updated silhouette carries over into the shorter travel Sight and Fluid VLT as well. In fact, the Range and Sight share the same frame members, but use different links, yokes, and shock lengths to alter the kinematics.
The Range VLT is the burliest eMTB in Norco’s garage, wielding a 180 mm travel fork and 170 mm of rear wheel action via a coil shock. Our C1 trim comes in at $8,399 USD, without a battery. Customers get a choice of 540, 720, or 900 Wh batteries for $850, $1,050, or $1,250, respectively. One could even purchase two batteries to suit their ride times or reduce the overall weight of the bike. Each battery differs by about 800 grams, and our size large bike, equipped with the 900 Wh battery, tipped the scales at almost 26 kg.
Shimano covers everything from the drivetrain to the brakes on this build with a mix of XTR, XT, and SLX shifting, paired with the EP8 motor. The cable management and display integration was quiet and tidy, but the rattle from the Shimano EP8 motor and Ice-tech brake pads did add up to a lot of noise while descending.
Moving along, the Range VLT rolls on sturdy Maxxis Assegais, with a Double Down casing (swapped for control tires), and DT Swiss E1700 hybrid wheels featuring Centerlock style hubs. It would have been nice to see 220mm rotors front and
rear on this bike, considering the extra mass that needs to be slowed down.
Like other bike families under the Norco brand, the Range VLT is said to use their Ride Align geometry to tweak more than just the stand over and length of the front triangle to meet rider height requirements. There are four frame sizes to choose from to fit riders 155 to 193 cm. Although the seat angle does get steeper as you move up from 76.2º on the size small to 77.2º on the XL, the head angle remains unchanged at a relaxed 63º, as do the lengthy 462 mm chainstays. Our size large frame had a reach of 475 mm and a tall stack of 641 mm.
All of the Range VLT’s progressive geometry numbers, weight, and longer travel did prove to be ground-hugging, but that wasn’t such a terrible thing. The Range felt the most stable and planted, which has a trade-off for quick handling. However, I didn’t find at any point that amount of travel held it back, even in tighter terrain. Climbing
The upright seated position and long travel chassis wanted to go through things instead of over them. It made for a stable and comfortable ride, translating to a safe feeling with lots of traction. With that said, sometimes I found the coil to be so sensitive that even with the climb switch closed there was a fair bit of suspension movement. Luckily, the steeper angle kept the climbing position forward and upright. The amount of cushion that the Ergon SM-10 E-Mountain Sport provided added to this experience, making it easier to deliver consistent power without oscillating the system across undulating terrain.
If there was one downside to this bulldozer style approach of climbing, it would be the overall length of the bike. That long rear center and slack head angle require a heads-up approach, looking further ahead than usual to navigate a clean line up a climb. It has the gumption, but requires a bit of planning.
Pointed downhill, this big rig eats anything in its path. Sorry, little Sun Peaks gopher!
The same reassuring feeling that the non-motorized Range's low center of gravity and short dropped saddle height creates also applies to the VLT version. Whether you are a beginning or expert level rider, the Range VLT's travel and high stack put you in a more upright rather than hunched over position. One of the biggest benefits of this is the relief it provides tired arms on long descents, since it's easy to relax and let the bike do the work.
What those long chainstays do for straight-line speed compromised the time it took to lean the bike from side to side in chicane-style turns.
Moving around the bike was never an issue, but it did require some more muscle to work the bike in turns or tech sections. They required patience in slow 180-degree switchbacks found on more green and blue trails, otherwise, leaning the bike over more would cause the front tire to push the traction limit. A jab of rear brake to encourage the the bike to square up the corner a little earlier, mind you, with less exit speed.
Those long seatstays are not connected by a bridge near the rocker link pivot, which were a bit concerning at first glance, but I never found the rear end to flex, even with the extra heft of the motor and battery through off camber roots or choppy corners. That Horst Link driven coil shock delivers impeccable sensitivity in those situations. It was close, but it couldn't top the Yeti 160E for the full meal deal of sensitivity, support, and that feeling of being propelled forward with the Sixfinity suspension design. The Range's progression was a little low towards the end of the stroke, leading to more frequent bottom outs on the 450 lb spring, but it took quite a big hit to get through all 170 mm of travel. Pushing into berms or lunging up steps was predictable because the rear shock didn't blow through the travel.
If you have the courage to attack unimaginable climbs and equally disconcerting chutes, the Range VLT will have your back. Yes, it will take more commitment to lean it into corners strongly and some negotiation on narrow uphill tracks, but it has the wheelbase and grip to keep you rubber side down. No matter your skill level or local terrain, I think extra suspension and aggressive angles offer the best package to attack and feel confident on a variety of terrain.