Norco Range Details:
BY Richard Cunningham
• Frame: welded 6000-series aluminum, tapered head tube, six-inch-travel, four-bar FSR suspension
• Fork:160/115mm stroke, RockShox Lyrik U-Turn, 20mm Maxle quick-release through-axle
• Shock: X-Fusion 02 RCX
• SRAM X.5 two-by-ten drivetrain
• Bash-ring-equipped Truvativ crankset (33 x 22)
• Sizes: X-small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
• Weight: 33.2 pounds (med)
• MSRP: $2700 USD - Ian Hylands photo
It could be argued that Norco’s Range series was developed specifically for big-bike gravity riders who wanted an XC trail shredder that could still play hard at the bike park. Our test bike, the $2795 Range 3, certainly qualifies for that role, with slack steering geometry, a bash-guard-equipped two-by-ten drivetrain, six inches of rear-wheel travel and a park-certified RockShox Lyrik U-Turn fork. Norco built the Range’s frame and suspension tough, so it weighs in at 33 pounds and some change, which is a good thing for those who possess season passes at the likes of Whistler or Northstar. Hey, the bike even comes standard with a good set of flat pedals, so you can kit up and hit the trail immediately after you’ve made your purchase. The Range is sold at four price points: the $9000 Limited Edition LE, $5700 and $3950 for the Range 1 and 2, and $2700 USD for our Range 3 test bike.Construction Notes
The 6000-series welded-aluminum Range chassis is gracefully styled with manipulated tubes and neoclassical ‘S’-bent top and down tubes. The Range uses a licensed version of the FSR four-bar rear suspension that drives an X-Fusion 02 RCX shock. All pivots rock on sealed ball bearings, with clevis-type pivots at the seat-stays to ensure longevity and stiffness in the tail end. Rigidity is further boosted by a forged-and-welded one-piece box-section rocker link. The brake bosses are post-mount and the Range is equipped with an ISCG-05 chainguide mount. For such a burly design, we are surprised to see that the rear dropout is a conventional quick prelease type.
Beyond its hydroformed tubes, the frame is peppered with thoughtful details like: a band-clamp front derailleur so those who choose a single-ring crankset won’t have an ugly weld-on boss where the mech’ used to be; removable dropper post guides on the top tube; a Syntace rear dropout with a breakaway derailleur hanger bolt (a spare bolt is integrated into the frame near the bottom bracket shell); hose-clamp routing for the rear brake; and the suspension rocker is profiled with smooth hand-holds on the underside to ease the task of portaging the bike over obstacles. Care was taken to minimize the width of the rear suspension with ‘S’ bent stays, which should offer additional heel clearance for un-clipped riders.
| Norco put its money where it matters most - in the Range 3's suspension. The X-Fusion 02 RCX shock is that company's top offering, and the RockShox Lyrik U-Turn's 35-millimeter stanchion tubes and robust sliders are a step up from the 32-millimeter forks that we usually see at this price point. - Ian Hylands photos|
Looking at its numbers, Norco’s Range has bike park DNA, with a 66.5-degree head angle for the steeps, and a 73-degree seat angle to position the rider well for pedaling sections. The bottom bracket height is stated at 14.2 inches, which is about as low as one can get with 160-millimeters of suspension travel while keeping the pedals off the ground for climbing. The Range’s stand-over height is acceptably low (30 inches for the medium-sized test bike) and flush-type headset bearings take a few centimeters off the bike’s handlebar height as well. The Range frame is offered in five sizes from X-small to X-large.
Norco apparently saved enough money by choosing SRAM’s less-than-fancy X.5 drivetrain components to buy up on the Range 3’s suspension components. With its 35-millimeter stanchion tubes, adjustable travel from 160 to 115 millimeters and a 20-millimeter through-axle, the RockShox Lyrik U-Turn fork is well equipped for park-sized jumps and drops. Also ready to rock and roll is its X-Fusion's 02 RCX damper – which has been proven by some heady professionals to be well suited for high-volume riding.
| (Clockwise)Norco's house-brand handlebar is super comfortable and plenty wide. Finger depressions forged into the Range 3's rocker link are welcome when hefting the bike around. Norco's house-brand flat pedals are included in the sale - sweet! The non-series SRAM crankset is equipped with a sturdy bash ring. - Ian Hylands photos|
That said; Norco put a little pepper into the drivetrain as well, with a non-standard double crankset, shod with a beefy bash ring. Suitably small chainrings (33 x 22), paired with an 11 x 36 cassette ensure that a reasonably fit rider will be able to pedal the Range 3 uphill. When gravity takes over, the Range’s wide, 735-millimeter handlebar and 180-millimeter brake rotors will help keep things in control. Wheels feature 27-millimeter Sun Inferno AM rims rolling on Kenda Nevegal 2.35-inch wire-bead tires. Norco deserves a second mention for throwing in a useable set of flat pedals, and we also discovered the third, 42-tooth chainring was included in the box for those who need the gear spread of a triple crankset.
Trail Testing the Norco Range 3
Norco hit the mark on the Range’s looks as well its numbers. When we laid out the five bikes in this series at the trail head, test riders nearly got into a scuffle over the bright green machine. The Range 3 traces the profile cut by the Northwest’s most successful freeriders and it feels like it looks – with steering geometry slow enough to suggest that it can easily handle steeps, and with an extra measure of suppleness in the fork and shock to remind its rider that gravity is its best friend.
| Lindsay Currier launches the Butt Crack boulder at Ted Williams. Lindsay remarked that the Range 3 felt really secure in the steeps. - Ian Hylands photo|
Set-up notes: Dialing in the Norco was as straightforward as it gets. The RockShox Lyrik U-Turn fork has no external sag adjustment. The standard spring is the heavy option, which turned out to be the correct choice for our test riders. The X-Fusion 02 RCX shock was set at 25-percent sag, which resulted in a good balance with the fork. Tires were set at 32psi as a starting point, which added some cornering bite to its Kenda Nevegals at the expense of some straight-line harshness in the ride.
Pedaling/acceleration: Norco won’t win any cross-country titles with its Range 3. At 33-plus pounds, the bike requires an extra pedal stroke to get moving out of a corner. It is not slow, however, and once it gets up a head of steam, it rolls easily and maintains its momentum. The Range 3 uses a Norco-tuned version of the well-kown FSR four-bar rear suspension that lets the rear wheel track the ground while you are pedaling – which turns out to be quite an energy saver over rough or chattery trails. The flip-side of FSR is that most riders will need to engage the shock’s low-speed compression platform to firm up the feel at the pedals.
Climbing: Low gearing and a well-proportioned cockpit make the Range 3 a far better climber than its porky weight and supple suspension initially suggest. Employing the X-Fusion shock’s blue low-speed compression lever was a must and , like any true all-mountain bike, the Range requires a measure of patience to climb long grades. Just drop it into the 22 chainring keep the cranks turning and the big green bike will eventually make it to the top – and it has the traction and the balance to claw its way up technical pitches that would challenge the best cross-country bikehandlers.
Technical handling: Blessed with wide, 735-millimeter handlebars and a 50-millimeter stem, the Range 3 feel like it is armed to take on anything that the trail ahead may offer. The odd union of an air-sprung shock and a coil-sprung fork actually pans out well for the Range 3. The choice of the stiffer spring option up front keeps the front of the bike riding up under braking and while pounding down rock ledges. The length of the Range 3, added to its 66.5 degree head angle makes it feel a bit clunky to steer around tight turns at slow speeds, but all becomes beautiful once the wheels get rolling and the terrain becomes steep.
Downhill: The Range 3 was born to descend. It tracks well around corners, flat or bermed, and it carries a measure of handling in reserve that pays huge dividends should you botch a landing or make a foolish line choice. We could plant the front tire into a deep, parallel rut and the bike would hardly wiggle while the front end searched for a place to pop out and get back in the game. With 180 millimeter rotors front and rear, one would expect powerful stopping and while the Avid Elixir 1 brakes have ample power, they do not provide the sharp, single-finger modulation that a good descender should have. That said, the Norco handles iffy sections with such ease that, that most often, we could have stayed off the brakes. Typically, we exited tough sections wishing we had carried more speed coming in.
| Lindsay Currier puts the Norco through its paces. The Range was quick around the corners due to its balanced feeling suspension and it simply cruised through the rocks. - Ian Hylands photo|Suspension action:
Norco gets credit for opting for an X-Fusion shock. With its full range of adjustability and excellent tune, the 02 RCX gives this entry-level all-mountain bike an elite-level feel over the bumps. By accident, or by design, the RockShox Lyrik fork pulled its weight as well, with 35-millimeter stanchion tubes and a 20mm through-axle, it steers with precision and we never felt the need for more suspension up front when landing to flat or pounding through the rocks. Norco found a good balance between the small-hit sensitivity required to keep the tires tracking around slippery corners and the big-bump performance needed to back up the sport's more aggressive jumpers and technical riders. Component report:
Three cheers for the bash ring on the SRAM crankset. We used it many times, as the Range 3 has a fairly low bottom bracket. Three more cheers for the mid-cage SRAM X.5 rear derailleur. One third of a cheer, however, for the Range’s SRAM X.5 shifting. OK, it gets the job done, but shifting feels clunky and a bit cheap. The last substantial item on our wish is that such a burly chassis would benefit from a through-axle in the rear. Rumor has it that the Range 3 frame will be converted to a 142/12mm through-axle for 2013, so our prayer may have been answered already. Suspect, although entirely functional, are its ironing-board-rigid saddle and cheaper-than-dirt seat post. We‘d dump both and add a dropper post immediately, as the lack of such is a glaring smudge on an otherwise stellar-performance for Norco. Finally, we had a nagging problem where the rear brake hose would creep into the spokes and make a distracting rattle for at least half of each downhill run. Zip ties fixed it, but we would have liked to retain the much cleaner cable-clamp routing of the stock setup. Pinkbike's Take:
|Of the five bikes we tested in the affordable all-mountain/trailbike category, the Norco Range 3 feels most like the real deal. By that we mean that it rides like a park bike that has had its geometry and components rearranged just enough to make it trail friendly. It stands to reason then, that almost all of Norco's team riders ride Ranges as their go-to bikes between events. For those who want one bike to do it all and who plan on going big wherever that mission takes them, the Norco Range 3 has everything you'll need except for a dropper seatpost. The Range 3's weight and decided bias towards the downhill slopes of the mountains means that it may not be the best choice for XC-oriented trail riders in search of a more technically capable bike. Should you fall in love with the Range 3 (and we think that is inevitable), its sturdy chassis is built to last, so upgrading it would be an excellent investment should you find a suitcase full of cash. The Range 3 proves that Norco has its finger on the pulse of the sport. - RC|
Five-Bike $3000 AM Tests:
1 - Cannondale Jekyll 4
2 - Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp
3 - Giant Reign 1
4 - Santa Cruz Butcher
5 - Norco Range 3
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