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Enduro

First Ride: The New High-Pivot Norco Range C1

If this is the new normal, we could get used to it

Basics

-170mm front and rear
-29 inch wheel only
-High Virtual Pivot Point


Pros

-Bottomless feel in rough terrain
-Surprisingly Capable climber
-Fox DHX2 rear shock on all price points

Cons

-High entry level price point


Price

$9,000

Brand

Norco


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In a strange way, the success of Norco’s popular Sight model may be what helped spawn this drastically new Norco Range that we’re looking at today. As the updated Sight nudged its way farther into enduro territory, it suddenly became the long-lost twin to the previous generation Range, closing the gap between the two models. Something had to give. 

In order to create some space between the Sight and Range, the engineering team at Norco began the new Range project with a blank slate and completely overhauled what the platform would be. Over the past three-and-a-half years, this new Range was reimagined to become Norco’s most sophisticated enduro race bike to date. 

The first thing that came to mind when my eyes met the new Range was that it looked insanely fast—but also that it was going to be painful to climb on. Luckily, that last part turned out to be unfounded. The Range’s high-pivot suspension platform was designed with enough anti-squat to make it a surprisingly lively climber, although the kinematics are optimized to be most efficient during seated pedaling in the easier gears. The goal is to allow the rider to tackle big days like they would on a shorter-travel platform, with a no-compromise approach to descending. Climbing is handled in a more of a sit-and-spin-it-out approach in comparison to smaller bikes, but it’ll get you there with energy for the fun part. Despite its robust silhouette, the Range eats up long approaches without wallowing or feeling sluggish. And out-of-the-saddle power to the pedals is actually surprisingly snappy.

All that said, it still is a 170-millimeter bike. Even though I’m generally not the type to look for a lockout while climbing, I certainly took advantage of the one on the Range. You might say that my intentions on the climbs met the intentions of the bike itself—get comfortable, be efficient, and save all my energy for the downhills. It should come as no surprise when you look at the new Range, that descents are what the bike was built for. It’s evident from the moment you drop in, that Norco built the fastest bike they possibly could.

The first thing you notice is actually the stuff you don’t notice. There is simply no rear wheel hang-up to speak of. The momentum this bike allows me to carry through rough terrain on is really something special. And with less hang-up comes more control. When charging through the sort of rough terrain that typically requires extra focus to get though unscathed, I felt more centered and calm though aboard the Range. Which, of course translated into more speed, right from the first lap. On tracks I know inside and out, I was constantly over-braking. Not on purpose, but simply because I was hitting the same braking points that I would on most other bikes in this category. On the Range, however, I felt like I could enter those sections at a much higher speed and maintain a more confident level of control. I had to learn to let go and trust it. 

It’s more than just the rear wheel’s refusal to hang up that instilled so much confidence and control. There’s also no distinguishable pedal kickback on big hits. On long descents, I noticed feeling less fatigued. I felt fresh and fast through gnarly terrain. Unencumbered. 

The silhouette of the new Range, along with its travel numbers (170mm front and rear), may lead you to believe that this is a bit of a mushy monster truck that just wants to go fast and straight. It loves all that, but the leverage-rate curve allows it to achieve that magic supple-off-the-top feel while staying in the sweet spot of the suspension’s mid-stroke. This gives the bike a surprisingly agile in and out of turns. The end of my roughest test track finishes with hard-packed, slappy turns—the kind of corners that make your tires talk. It’s in those turns where this bike really started to rise to the top of the heap for me. 

You can’t talk corners without having the ‘mullet’ conversation, but the new Range keeps it high and tight. Despite testing mixed-wheel configurations during development, the unanimous conclusion was that an agile bike could be achieved through optimal geometry and linkage design rather than relying on a smaller rear wheel for nimbleness. 

Given that the Range is 29er only, you may be surprised to hear that the bike has modular dropouts. The short answer is that the Range is designed around rear-center measurements that lengthen as you go up in size, keeping every rider’s weight balance consistent. It’s part of a concept Norco calls ‘Ride Aligned,’ and the modular dropouts avoided the costly, wasteful step of making multiple carbon molds with different chainstay lengths. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Simply stretching the chainstays would increase the leverage for taller, heavier riders which, if anything, is the opposite of what you’d want. Norco aimed to keep the leverage-rate curve consistent across all frame sizes. To do this, most bikes simply move their front triangle’s suspension pivots rearward in relation to the bottom bracket to lengthen rear-center, keeping the linkage consistent and eliminating the need for unique rear triangles. But, the Range’s rocker link pivots around the bottom bracket, so that was not an option with this platform. Changes were made to the rocker link itself, and the modular dropouts were designed in unison with the different link shapes to achieve a consistent leverage rate throughout sizes.

That was quite a mouthful, and Ride Aligned doesn’t stop there. If you look beyond your size on the geo chart, you’ll notice the seat tube angles steepen as you go up in size as well. On the climbs, taller riders naturally cantilever their weight more rearward when the bike is pitched upward on a climb. Slightly steeper seat angles still accommodate longer femurs, but keep tall riders from sinking deeper into the travel than short riders. And finally, the Norco Range’s head angle slackens in each size from S to XL. It’s that rider-balance-on-the-bike thing again. That balance, combined with the suspension not deflecting in rough terrain, is really what makes this bike magic.

Even though it’s a big ol’ 170mm-travel 29er, the Range still feels very low slung when you throw your leg over it. The front triangle feels compact and out of the way when you’re on the bike, and the straight seat tube has a no-compromise approach to dropper length. A 200mm post comes stock on the size large I’m riding, and I still have adjustability to raise or lower it. A full-sized water bottle is no problem and there is plenty of room to utilize the accessory mount on the underside of the toptube thanks to the bike’s low shock position. 

The Range C1 shown here is Norco’s flagship model, coming in at $9,000. All three models, including the base level C3 at $6,000, come equipped with the Fox DHX2 shock. Fox and Norco refined the DHX2’s tune for the Range, and it was important for Norco to deliver optimized suspension performance regardless of pricepoint. Up front, all models will sport a 170mm single crown fork out of the box, but the Range can be equipped with dual-crown forks up to 180mm for those looking to nudge the new Range right up next to Aurum territory.

 

Photos: Anthony Smith