PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Norco Range C1
Words by Matt Beer, photography by Tom Richards
There are plenty of enduro bikes that claim to keep up with downhill bikes, but the 2022 Norco Range has the suspension to actually back it up, along with geometry that allows you to pedal to the top. It’s certainly garnered a lot of interest following the high pivot design trend and Transformer-like lines. We've seen the sharp looking bike appear at the Enduro World Series and a modified iteration on the World Cup Downhill circuit with a dual crown fork.
All of the models in the lineup feature 170 mm of front and rear wheel travel and exclusively use carbon fiber construction due to the complex shapes and voids. The frame can accept a 180 mm dual crown fork because this rig is as close to a downhill bike as it gets.
• Travel: 170 mm front / 170 mm rear
• Wheel size: 29”
• Head angle: 63.25° (size L)
• Seat tube angle: 77°
• Reach: 480 mm (L)
• Chainstay length: 442.5 mm
• Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
• Weight: 37.05 lb / 16.80 kg (w/ control tires)
• Price: $8,999 USD
Starting at $5,599 USD, the Range C3 gets treated to a Shimano Deore/SLX drivetrain and a RockShox ZEB. Our top of the line Range C1 was spec’d with We Are One carbon rims on Onyx Vesper hubs, a Fox 38 Factory Grip 2 fork and SRAM Code RSC brakes for $8,999. In the middle is the C2 model for $6,999 or there is a frame and shock kit available for $3,799 to custom build yourself.
The virtual high pivot design is a departure from the previous generation Range and the new frame must be used with a coil shock; either a Fox DHX2 or RockShox Super Deluxe, due to clearance constraints and to match the leverage ratio.
Norco poured a ton of research and development into this suspension design. They applied their “Ride Aligned” system to adapt the angles and wheelbase for different size riders. Depending on the chainstay length, the main link arm and dropouts can change to keep the leverage rate optimized across sizes.
There are four sizes with the smallest starting with a 420 mm reach and increasing by 30 mm per size. Our size large had a generous 641 mm stack and 1285 mm wheelbase. The size small frame receives a 63.75º head tube and 76.50º seat tube angle. As you move up in frame size, those numbers decrease and increase by a quarter degree, respectively. This keeps a sky high seat on the XL frame further forward on the bike to avoid any unwanted wheelies while climbing.
Mullet rockers listen up. Dual 29" wheels must be used, but that doesn’t deter the Range from slaying jumps or cornering hard. During extensive testing, Norco received feedback from shorter riders that said butt buzzes from the 29” wheel were not an issue, due to the completely rearward axle path. I would still like to see an option to run a 27.5” rear wheel, making the bike easier to throw around at low speed. The bolt on dropouts would make this arrangement a cinch to swap out, but Norco has a firm stance that you should not play Mr. Potato Head with the size-specific parts - they will negatively affect the kinematics.
Speaking of bolts, there is a boatload of them. The Range’s exploded view document lists over eighty unique parts, but can accept SRAM’s universal derailleur hanger (UDH). There are also a ton of nooks and crannies for dirt to creep in between. During our two weeks of pushing this bike to the limit at Sun Peaks Resort, the dirt conditions were all time and not extremely dusty. We washed the bike frequently, but never experienced any creaking or loose hardware, although its something to keep in mind for longer term usage.Climbing
The Range loves a shuttle or chairlift to the top. It’s not going to knock down climb KOMs, but the lower gears allow it to twiddle up any climb. A steep seat tube angle keeps your hips more vertically inline with your feet, over the bottom bracket, and also straightens your back. With a bike of this nature, you do have to lean forwards a touch to keep the front wheel from understeering on tight switchbacks, but for steep pitches, it’s not going to loop out.
There is a climb switch to maximize efficiency, but the anti-squat level wards pedal-bob well and the bike has more traction on technical climbs with it the shock open. I preferred to rely on the "cheater switch" exclusively for surfaced climbs.
How about that idler? Well, it’s fairly quiet as the chain passes over the 18 tooth jockey wheel, which is larger than some other high pivot bikes, but there is still some noticeable drag when pedalling at lower speeds. This was most apparent when pushing through the twelve and six o’clock positions at a low cadence in the taller three cogs, basically any super steep grind. The chainguide uses a tab instead of a lower pulley wheel to keep the things on track, lowering chain wrap on the ring, but we never once had any drivetrain hiccups.
Looming below the chainguide skid plate is the lower rocker link. I did strike the link a few times while navigating some uphill rocks and lurching over logs, but it is a beefy chunk of aluminum with a thick plastic guard. Plus, it rotates out of the way when the suspension is compressed. It's only really on slower speed maneuvers where it could potentially make contact if you're off-line.
So, are all of those intricacies worth the trade off for ultimate bump control and descending prowess? Hell yes. This really is a bike that's capable of keeping up with downhill bikes.
I kept wanting to call the Range the “Shore”, but that’s Norco’s 27.5 wheeled, aluminum freeride bike with a traditional high pivot Horst Link. I couldn’t imagine a riding zone more suited to the Range than Vancouver’s North Shore. A pure downhill bike with 200 mm of travel can be cumbersome in those steep, janky trails that the area is known for and sometimes require low gearing to get to the goods.
On jump tracks at Sun Peaks, the Range’s rearward axle path carried speed, but didn’t buck your weight forward as the wheel returned to full travel. In combination with generous standover height and seat clearance, the low center of gravity provided a secure feeling of being “in the bike” as opposed to on top of the bike.
The Range just eats bumps of any size and its linear kinematic nature could be compared to jumping onto an airbag versus landing on a trampoline. Energy is absorbed early and then dissipated, always using the right amount of travel. This made it dead simple to anticipate how the bike would react on any size impact and give you time to position your body weight accordingly. It was a touch firmer early in the stroke - not harsh, but more supportive than the Enduro. That virtual high pivot delivered traction on off-camber root sections and a gentle progression to handle large g-outs. Rarely did I find the bottom out bumper, even on stupidly long sends, well beyond the transition. The DHX2 coil shock was a breeze to setup and the clickers were very close to what Norco recommended using their Ride Align web tool. Given more time, I might experiment with a Sprindex system, to further fine tune the rate to something a touch softer than the 450 lb spring our size large came with.
If we dig a bit deeper, the head tube angle is a cool 63.25º, which is slack, but I found the dynamic geometry to be less aggressive than that of the Transition Spire. The chainstay static measurement is 442.5 mm and continues to grow through the travel, with both axles moving rearward. I found that to be a great balance of grip, playfulness, and balance between the front and rear centers.
A traditional four-bar linkage design keeps your center of gravity more neutral between the axles as the bike moves into the travel. Some high pivot bikes can push your weight forward when the bike compresses, but I never felt this on the Range. Nor did I notice any wild anti-rise effects from braking, like some single high pivots can induce. The bonus of the four-bar, virtual high pivot is that the braking forces can be separately tuned by mounting the brake on the chainstay.
The whole package of the high pivot and silent Onyx hub made for an almost eerie ride, like that of an electric vehicle. High pivot bikes can get a bad wrap for being sluggish at lower speeds, but I think that's just a perceived speed. They have that ability to mute terrain and propel you through bumps, instead of over them.
All that silence makes it easier to detect other sounds. From time to time, there was the odd tap from the housings inside the carbon frame that may have needed more insulation. The chainguide forgoes a lower pulley to reduce friction, but the chain did touch the pivot below the BB in the worst sections of washboard. Smashing out downhill runs on an enduro bike shed light on the tiniest flaws, but the Range was one of the quietest bikes on test.
Another note on cable management was the dropper post cable routing. It uses a small piece of hardware to pinch against the frame in the shock basement. The access was a tight squeeze and easy to crush the housing. Those are the couple of quirks you have to deal with when the first and foremost priority is suspension performance.
Norco proved that their super-enduro Range is a very adaptable and capable descender, picking up a win at the infamous Mount 7 Psychosis race last season and a podium at the Canadian National Downhill Championships this year. They’ve bridged the gap between downhill and enduro racing with a bike that can be pedalled for stage races, with a focus on absolute bump eating characteristics. It’s a machine that is really going to tempt some riders to condense their quiver of bikes; sell the downhill and long-legged trail bike and have one bike to handle shuttles and the bike park, but also access pedal-only descents.