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The Americans are losing the e-bike war, ladies and gentlemen. With few exceptions, our domestic brands are generations behind the rest of the world in designing e-bikes to satisfy real mountain bikers. Today’s news of not one, but three new bikes from Canada’s Norco has raised that bar even higher. The Norco VLT lineup has been updated and expanded to include a Fluid VLT and a new Range and Sight VLT. Let’s talk about exactly what’s new in the VLT lineup, starting with the battery.
Or, should we say, batteries. Norco has come up with a system that allows you to run a 540, 720 or 900 watt-hour battery in the same frame. In fact, the battery is sold separately at point of sale, so choose wisely. Unlike the previous generation VLT models, there’s no external Range Extender available, but do the math and you’ll see why not. That range extender used to add 360wh to the 630wh battery specced on top-end gen-2 VLT models. That was a little more than the 900wh battery available on the new VLT bikes, but it weighed a lot more. Nearly 2,000 grams. That’s, I don’t know, four pounds or something? Don’t ask me. I’m not Canadian.
And of course, you can go lighter. The 900wh battery itself weighs 4570g, but if weight is a priority, the 540wh battery is just 3190g. Between the two is the 720wh option at 3880g, which is a similar weight to Norco’s previous generation 630wh battery.
Along with advancements in battery technology, modular approaches like this may eliminate the need for range extenders, and that’s probably a good thing. Anyway, they take the place of a water bottle, which is no longer an issue. In fact, the size large and XL VLT models will fit two water bottles in the front triangle thanks to the horizontal shock mount.
The decision to change shock configuration was made in response to the VLT line’s newly optimized motor orientation. The lighter, more powerful Shimano EP8 motor is specced on all pricepoints in all models, with no last-generation E8000s to be seen. The new motor’s slimmer profile allowed Norco to achieve more ground clearance and a more traditional-looking frame by rotating the motor body up and back.
And of course, that’s not the only thing that changed on the frames. We’ll cover geo specifics as we go into the details of each individual bike, but most of the updates are what we’d come to expect to see in 2021. Except for one. The previous generation Range and Sight VLT had seat tube angles that were the steepest in the industry, with the possible exception of The Grim Donut. The old Sight VLT, for example, ranged from 78 to 79 degrees depending on size, and the new versions dropped a full degree. The Range did the same to a lesser extent. This may be unprecedented in modern mountain bike geometry evolution, so I had to ask: “Why?”
And I got an answer from David Cox, Norco’s design and engineering manager. “When we developed the [previous generation] Sight VLT, the geometry we chose ended up being very similar to the non-assist Sight, geometry we still love to this day. But we decided to steepen the effective STA by 1 degree through all sizes to provide a more forward seated weight distribution when climbing, as ebikes can climb a more consistently steep grade. When we started development of the Gen3 VLTs, through internal testing, we determined that we had taken this “too far” so to speak, and hence the Gen3 Sight VLT has a slacker effective STA than Gen2.”
For the past few years, Norco has taken a unique approach to frame geometry. Their “Ride Aligned” philosophy actually steepens the seat tube angles in larger sizes, while many brands effectively slacken them. That’s evidence of the holistic approach Norco takes to Geometry, and Cox puts the new VLT frame designs in that context.
“It’s important not to look at this STA number in isolation. Our ST angles are determined by seated fit parameters for intended use. It’s all part of our Ride Aligned philosophy, analyzing rider fit through anthropocentric data, geometry and kinematic. These all influence rider weight distribution climbing and descending, so unfortunately it’s not as straightforward as just a STA number.”
One element of Ride Aligned that isn’t (and hasn’t been) present on the VLT lineup is size-specific chainstay lengths. That’s partly a practical choice, because surprisingly, the changes in rear-center length actually happens in the front triangle by moving the main pivot in relation to the bottom bracket to achieve different effective chainstay lengths. With the motor in the way, there’s less freedom to do that. And anyway, being e-bikes, the rear-centers are already on the long side. But before we get too specific, let’s cover the bikes themselves.
The Fluid takes its first step into the VLT ecosystem, with 130mm of rear travel and 140mm front. The non-electric version is Norco’s entry-level trail bike, so the Fluid VLT has taken that same approach to the power-assist market, with an aluminum-only frame and two pretty impressive price points. Those price points, along with all of the new VLT models, do not include the batteries, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
Fluid A1 VLT: $4,800 US, $6,200 CAD
Fluid A2 VLT: $4,200 US, $5,500 CAD
The new Sight VLT is 29-inch only, while the previous generation also had a 27.5-nch option. It’s still available in both carbon and aluminum, still 150mm rear travel, 160 front, and still comes in four sizes from small through XL.
Sight C1 VLT: $8,600 US, $11,500 CAD
Sight C2 VLT: $6,500 US, $8,400 CAD
Sight A1 VLT: $6,000 US, $7,600 CAD
Sight A2 VLT: $5,100 US, $6,600 CAD
The Range VLT is now 29-inch front and rear, though it hasn’t adopted the high-pivot design that the acoustic Range just introduced. It’s still available in either carbon or aluminum, in four sizes from small to XL and still floats on 170mm rear travel, 180mm front. Every version of the Range comes with a coil rear shock.
Range C1 VLT: $8,400 US, $11,000 CAD
Range C2 VLT: $6,500 US, $8,500 CAD
Range A1 VLT: $6,000 US, $7,800 CAD
Range A2 VLT: $5,300 US, $6,800 CAD
So, the batteries. The unique approach of selling the batteries separately makes it a little more difficult to compare value to other e-bikes on the market, but if you add them up and put them alongside other non-consumer-direct brands, the new Norco VLT bikes are pretty competitive.
And it gives you the freedom to choose long distance, light weight, or something in between. Exactly how long that distance is depends, of course, on a lot of things. Norco breaks down the difference in range between the various battery options with a sort of standardized test, but if you look at the asterisk, it’s not exactly … standard.
All of this data was acquired in the bike’s eco mode. And for reference, a human putting out 300W of power isn’t that difficult, but doing it for a long time is unattainable for most of us. Although these numbers are a good reference for the delta between each battery option, your results will vary. But that’s the beauty of the modular battery approach. The bikes can vary too.