There are a plethora of Range options available from Norco, with wheel sizes, material and prices to suit all budgets and preferences. Here at off.road.cc we like to test the cheaper end of the spectrum, hence we’ve got the bottom of the range alloy A3 with 27.5” wheels in for test, costing a not too shocking £2,200.
How do the numbers stack up?
There’s no shying away from it, our Range A3 is one hell of a good looking bike, from the ruby red paint to the industrial rocker link to the large and prominent bearings, I rather liked it. The 27.5” wheeled A3 offers 160mm of rear travel paired up with 170mm forks, if you did want bigger wheels though, you’d need to pay £400 more and go for the alloy A2 (sizes M -XL only) as there’s no budget A3 with 29er hoops. Our Range came with Rockshox Yari forks and a Rockshox Deluxe RL Debonair rear shock with a trunnion mount.
The groupset consists of a mixed bag of parts, there’s a Sunrace 11-46T 11-speed cassette, a Race Face Aeffect 32T chainring with Race Face Aeffect cranks and a threaded bottom bracket and a Shimano SLX rear mech.
Also taking a place on the bars is a Trans X under bar lever for their 125mm dropper post. Stopping is provided by original-equipment only Tektro 4 piston brakes with large 203/180mm rotors. Up in the cockpit, you get Norco 800mm bars, a 50mm stem and Norco grips. Finally, down on the ground the Range rolls on WTV i29 rims and Novatec hubs with two Maxxis High Roller II 2.4” EXO tyres, front and rear. They were taped ready for some tubeless sealant too.
So that ‘groupset’ – does it all work?
It’s a spec that isn’t bad value given the amount of travel on offer, but the chinks in the armour are soon noticeable on that cluttered handlebar and the four separate clamps needed to position the brakes, shifters and dropper post. I had to run the front brake clamp quite far inboard meaning I was then left forced to clamp the shifter to the left of the brakes creating quite a reach to the paddles. Mounting the shifter to the right meant the paddles fouled on my thumb when gripping the bars, so wasn't a viable option.
There was a similar problem on the other end of the bars too. The Tranz X dropper post paddle is an under the bar shifter style, and whilst this is on the whole good, it is a shape that fouls on the rear brake lever unless it is mounted a certain distance away from the clamp on whichever side you choose. It was a stretch to reach the lever and after some disgustingly wet rides over the Easter Bank holiday weekend, the post and cable became stiff and sticky – four rides in and it needed a new cable and outer.
The drivetrain pieces all worked together harmoniously throughout the test period though, I really rate the Sunrace 11-46T cassette over and above the Shimano version. The former provides smoother shifting in the upper ranges of the cassette thanks to 36t-40t-46t cogs rather than a big jump from 37t to 46t. The mech never missed a beat and the 32t chainring is a good pairing for both the 27.5" wheel size and cassette.
The brakes are on par with the feel of a SRAM Guide R brake but offer a little less power and get hot pretty quickly too. Lever reach is much harder to adjust that on the SRAM brakes. You need a proper Allen key tool and to do things properly you'll need to remove them from the bars first. I wouldn’t want to use them with anything other than the large rotors provided on this bike. They heat up pretty quickly but have been reliable in the test period if lacking a little bit of feel and power.
It’s conservatively longer
Norco tote the Range as an enduro racer, one that has been lengthened and slackened in order to provide a more confidence-inspiring ride that is better over fast and rough terrain
compared to the previous iteration of the bike. It certainly is longer than last year, the reach has been upped by 18mm to 430mm on my medium test bike but it is still short compared to other modern all mountain bikes. The chainstays are longer too, but by just 3mm at 430mm and the head angle is slacker by half a degree at 65°, a combination of which has stretched the wheelbase out by 28mm to 1184mm.
Norco has also steepened the effective seat angle of the Range to 74.5° compared to 72.8° of last years bike in an attempt to improve climbing. As the front centre has grown and the effective seat angle has steepened the effective top tube has been left 2mm shorter than last years bike so it's likely to produce a very similar feel when seated as long as the same stem length is in use.
What’s it like to ride?
Aboard the Norco Range and it is immediately noticeable that this bike has played safe in geometry terms. Yes, it is longer this year, but it is still falling behind its competitors. Take the Specialized Enduro we reviewed recently - and forget the price it is £800 more expensive - as it’s also roomier in both the reach and the wheelbase by 14mm and 13mm respectively. It might not sound a lot but wheelbases on bikes that are edging up to that 1200mm mark, (like the Saracen Ariel) are that much more stable in a straight line and when the going gets fast, as it is intended to on a bike of this length travel.
Longer bikes are more confidence inspiring, they allow the rider a great range of movement aboard the bike which equates to the creation of more grip both when descending and when cornering. A longer bike is also much more stable when the going gets rougher, with regards to the above the Norco Range is falling sadly short in performance terms.
It’s hard to find the midpoint of this bike and it's difficult to centre your weight, you end up hanging off the back with no weight on the front wheel and therefore less grip. I know I sound like a broken record, I’ve said these things before but bikes such as this Range are playing it uber safe where the numbers are concerned.
What the Norco does provide is a super plush rear end, the ‘ART' suspension system is pretty sensitive and supportive, paired with the Deluxe shock. It’s soft and supple at the start of the stoke meaning small bump sensitivity is superb. It’s a fun bike to dig the heels in downhills and slam into turns, there’s plenty of feedback and no nasty surprises where the suspension is concerned. It is supportive in the midstroke and provides a good deal of ramp up at the end of the stroke too, meaning big hits are dealt with without a hint of harsh bottom out.
Set with 30% sag and 110 PSI with two volume reducers installed (as stock), I had to run the shock fully open, with no rebound damping applied and found the shock to be only just fast enough. I’m not one of those riders who likes a fast set up either, this is a problem that I am becoming increasingly familiar with on Rockshox metric shocks. The shaft of the shock is larger on their metric shocks which displaces more oil into the reservoir and is, therefore, able to create higher damping forces with lower pressures.
The Yari fork acts like every other set of Yaris I’ve tested - they need at least the one volume spacer supplied and 20psi more air pressure than recommended on the SRAM Trailhead Web App. With this pressure they are still sufficiently supple at the beginning of the stroke yet it combats the mid-stroke dive. The Motion Control damper isn't as refined compared to the more expensive Charger 2 sealed damper found on the more expensive Lyriks too.
The rear end of the Range sticks to the ground and provides plenty of traction especially when teamed up with the relatively wide rim and tyre combo. Whilst the High Roller II might not be my first choice for climbing traction or cornering grip it certainly does the job where braking grip in a straight line is concerned.
It’s a bit of a fight to keep the front and the rear end providing equal amounts of traction when cornering or heading downhill fast as the short nature of the Range makes it hard to weight the bike evenly and it means it takes an aggressive ride to keep the front and rear ends tracking. The bottom bracket of the Range is also pretty high for a short bike; 342mm is pretty lofty and makes its mark known when trying to hold an off-camber line or retain grip in a flat corner. A lower bottom bracket alongside more stretched out geometry would aid stability of the bike both in corners and out.
Norco’s ‘Gravity Tune’ lengthens the chainstays across the range in an aims to keep the bike in proportion as the front centres get longer. It’s a great theory and one I’d like to see other companies adopt. Personally, as a rider of mostly medium-sized bikes, I would say on the whole I probably benefit from riding bikes that are naturally in proportion more often than riders of large or XL bikes with the same length chainstays. At 430mm the Range’s chain stays are a little on the short side but given the overall length of this bike it’s not too disproportionate and in line with other mainstream enduro bikes on the market at the moment.
Longer chainstays would go some way to improve the Norco’s climbing ability, it's certainly a bike to sit and spin on rather than power up technical terrain, it's portly weight also not helping matters here. The 74.5° effective seat angle is steeper than the 2017 bike but it’s still in the ‘slack’ category as new bikes inch up to the 78° mark. The Range, at 15.59kg (34.4lbs) isn’t sprightly in terms of climbing, it’s short nature also means that the front end wants to lift easily, more length and a steeper effective seat angle here would allow the rider to place their weight in the centre of the bike, weight the front end and make inroads upwards more efficiently.
Whilst the Range may feel comfortable and roomy to sit on, remember there is a 50mm stem and a slack seat angle (therefore a comparatively long effective top tube) there covering up the short reach. More than just a fad, a shorter stem would place the hands further behind the axle providing more direct steering.
The short nature of the long travel bike does allow it to be moved around the trail with relative ease, I can’t help but think the good and plentiful suspension is being let down by the geometry. It sounds like I disliked the bike and that’s not completely true, I guess I felt let down somewhat. The suspension system provides the ideal platform for an extremely capable downhill brawler and at a good price too despite the cockpit niggles. The bike is crying out to be stretched further.
You might be sick of hearing bike reviewers harp on about the future of long and slack geometry but it’s not just a phase, longer bikes are better and the Norco Range has such great potential if only the designers had placed themselves a little further outside their comfort zone and added a tad more length both to the front and the rear. We got in touch with Terry Brown, Product Development Officer at Norco Bicycles with regards to our issues with the Range's performance, he said; "Norco prides itself on ride quality and geometry. Having said that geometry is very subjective and is evolving. The current platform of Range was developed with the goal to have short chainstays for strong manoeuvrability and steeper HT angle for better descending. The intended use of the Range is enduro which lends itself to steeper descents. The Geo on Range A3 is the same as our carbon models which got a 5th place podium in the recent EWS circuit.' The bike is manoeuvrable, that's correct but I'm not sure where a steeper head angle comes into play where descending is concerned, the head angle, in my opinion, is slack enough for the likely terrain the bike will handle. With regards to the placing of a bike on the EWS podium, I think many of those riders could ride any bike to great success but they'd be even faster on a longer, more stable bike, as would you and I.
As it stands the Range is a great looking with a quality frame, it's a fun bike for the money. At £2,300 it's not a bad deal either, it's not quite on par with the direct sale brands but getting there. The bike is slack enough and has enough travel to make light work of the gnarliest trail situations and if your penchant is for a shorter bike then the Range could be a good partner.
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own :
Updated for 2018, the Range Aluminum is the ideal Enduro bike - purpose-built to rip downhill with category-bending capability. The Range Aluminum features modern Enduro suspension performance and geometry optimized for each wheel size. It climbs efficiently for a big rig, but unleashes its full potential when pointed downhill - delivering confidence-inspiring stability and control for serious speed over technical terrain. Race an Enduro, shred gnarly singletrack with friends, or skip the pedaling and do a few laps of the bike park - the Range Aluminum is the ultimate accomplice.
Norco Range aluminium frame enduro geometry that is low, long and slack for fast aggressive riding. Gravity tune results in the chainstay length of each frame size increases proportionately to the front centre length, ensuring riders of all sizes achieve optimal body position and weight distribution for superior handling and control at high speeds. Progressive suspension with the improved small bump compliance of the trunnion-mounted metric rear shock. Boost 170mm travel fork for a soft ride and superior stiffness for aggressive descents.
State the frame material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.:
Previously Editor here at off-road.cc, Rachael is happiest on two wheels. Partial to a race or two Rachael also likes getting out into the hills with a big bunch of mates. In the past Rachael has written for publications such as, Enduro Mountain Bike Magazine, Mountain Biking UK, Bike Radar, New Zealand Mountain Biker and was also the online editor for Spoke magazine in New Zealand too. For as long as she's been riding, she has been equally happy getting stuck into a kit review as she is creating stories or doing the site admin. When she's not busy with all the above she's roasting coffee or coaching mountain biking in the Forest of Dean.