Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Joe Schneider, and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
For 2013, Norco has eliminated the 26-inch version of the Range in favor of a new 650B "Killer B" version. Yes, you read that right, another victim of the big wheel. They didn't do it to spite the 26-inch lovers among us, though. The reasoning behind the switch, according to Norco, was simply in the pursuit of making the best all-mountain bike. In their eyes the way to do that just happened to be with the 650B wheel size, so they rolled with it. The end result is this beauty - a 160mm travel do-it-all shred sled. It comes in three price points, and we opted to give the mid-range Killer B-2 a go during our 2013 Test Sessions.
Range Killer B-2 Highlights
- Hydroformed 6061 aluminum frame
- 650B (~27.5-inch) wheels
- 160mm (6.3-inches) of rear wheel travel
- Tapered headtube
- 66.5-degree head angle
- 72.5-degree actual seat tube angle
- 344mm (13.5-inch) bottom bracket height
- 427mm (16.8-inch) chainstays (size medium)
- Removable ISCG05 chainguide tabs
- 12x142 thru-axle rear end
- Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 31-pounds, 13-ounces (14.42kg)
- MSRP $3800 USD
Norco has been in the game for a long time, and during that time they've developed some pretty interesting frame technologies. The Range takes advantage of many of those, starting with "Gravity Tune" - a unique way of sizing frames. Consistent with the Aurum, Norco's premier DH bike, the front and rear end grow proportionally with each size. This is said to give the bike a similar feel across the entire size range because it takes into account rider height in relation to frame dimensions. They do this by using a slightly modified front triangle for each size.
Even with larger wheels, the chainstays on a medium come in at 427mm (16.8-inches) - that's pretty short. To keep the rear end as short as possible, the Range uses a direct-mount front derailleur which gives a little extra room for wheel clearance. The seattube also has a slight bend to it, but not so much that it's an eyesore.
Rear suspension duties are handled by Norco's "Advanced Ride Technology," or A.R.T. for short. Depending on the type of bike, Norco tweaks pivot placement to optimize the suspension and ride characteristics for the intended use. In the case of the Range, which was clearly intended to strike a balance between downhill prowess and pedal-ability, the bike benefits from a rearward axle path for square-edge bump compliance and a progressive leverage curve.
In the name of stiffness, the bike's 160mm of rear travel is actuated by a one-piece Holloform link. Combined with a Syntace X-12 rear axle, asymmetrical stays, tapered headtube, and hydroformed tubeset, the bike is stiff in all the right places. Also new for 2013 is "360-Lock" hardware, located in the two main pivots, which uses a conical clamp to distribute forces on the bearings, extending bearing life over traditional designs big time.
Several small details indicate that a considerable amount of time went into designing the frame. The brake-side dropout is a stout one-piece design that incorporates the brake post-mounts, axle slot, and chainstay pivot. Nearby, the rear-most pivot uses a 'clevisless' design, allowing Norco to mount pivot hardware directly into the tubing, eliminating weight and creating a stronger interface. Other nuances include some gorgeous anodized hardware, a spare Syntace derailleur hanger bolt near the BB area, removable ISCG05 tabs, custom cable routing clamps near the headtube, and a seatpost clamp with a slick dropper post cable guide. Even the welds have been given some attention - "smooth" double pass welding is said to make for a stronger bond, plus it looks good.
On The Trail
All told, the Range looks incredible out of the box, but how does it ride? Steve, Brandon, and Joe spent a good deal of time with it on four trails to find out. First, Joe and Brandon tested the merits of the larger wheels on the rocky Grafton Mesa Trail in Southern Utah, where most rocks resemble square-edged lunch boxes instead of round boulders. Later, Steve and Brandon rallied it on the moon-like terrain of Boulder City, Nevada.
With the seatpost up to full extension, the cockpit was roomy, comfortable, and familiar. The bars were a good width, the short stem length was appropriate for the bike's purpose, and the top tube length felt just right. We'd say the bike erred on the side of comfort over efficiency. While the front end was definitely on the higher end of the spectrum, the length of the top tube eliminated the "circus bike" feeling. It just felt slightly taller than most up front.
Pointed downhill, the Range came alive. We felt instantly at home descending on the bike, and would even consider it for use on long, mellow downhill courses because we found it to be an incredibly capable descender. Once you got moving at a good pace, it became very playful, stable, and responsive to inputs, both side-to-side and jumping. At slow speeds the bike did have a slightly awkward, twitchy feel, but luckily getting up to speed and maintaining it was easy to do. Aided by the additional "trail" factor provided by the larger wheels, the 66.5-degree head angle seemed slacker than it was.
Despite the bike's relatively short stays, the front end didn't want to come up easily, likely due to the rearward axle path. This also made the bike feel a bit sluggish in really tight stuff. That said, the stability provided by the wheels, geometry, and suspension path more than made up for not being able to manual down the trail with ease. If there was a major downside to this bike when pointed downhill, it was that it tempted us into going too fast for what 160mm of travel could handle.
The rear suspension felt very, very good for a 160mm bike, and the Range excelled over small bumps, square-edged hits, chatter… just about everything. The action was extremely smooth, responsive, and confidence inspiring. Over loose terrain the suspension was supple, and combined with a slightly larger tire contact patch, traction over off-camber sections was great. Big hit performance was impressive as well thanks to the progressive nature of the A.R.T. rear end.
At 31.8-pounds, the Range was far from the light end of the spectrum, and the weight was noticeable at lower speeds. The bike felt like it always wanted to go faster and responded quickly at speed, but when things were slow going, like climbing or flat terrain, it felt slower than average. Once we broke a barrier around ~15MPH the bike felt great.
Short sprints and steep climbs did expose one big flaw. While pedaling in the small chainring, the suspension would extend, creating a very noticeable bobbing sensation. Big ring performance was good, though, so we'd suggest using it when possible. Considering that your first priority likely won't be climbing on this bike, it wasn't a huge concern for us. With the fork at full extension, the front end wandered a little on climbs as well, but the exchange for downhill performance was worth it. The bike can get to the top of any hill if you are strong enough. It won't do it fast and the upright geometry isn't ideal for climbing either, but we're in it for the descents anyway. Aren't you?
For $3800, Norco did a good job of spec'ing the Range Killer B-2. With its moderately wide 740mm bars and short stem, it's ready to roll off the show room floor on onto the trails. The only noticeable part absent from the build was an adjustable seatpost, which we'd highly recommend as an immediate upgrade. We'd also swap out the Ergon grips, which effectively chop a full inch off the bar width due to their design.
While suspension performance was as smooth as butter, we never used the travel adjust feature provided by the FOX CTD Talas fork and would happily trade it for the improved damping performance of the Float model. In addition, the CTD compression adjustments on the Performance FOX Float CTD rear shock seemed inconsistent with the other CTD rear shocks we've tried, having little impact on the suspension's behavior compared to pricier models.
Paired with 180mm rotors front and rear, Avid's Elixir 5 disc brakes did well, even on long, sustained descents. There was no noticeable fading or other issues. We also appreciated the clean integration of the shifter pods into the brake levers thanks to SRAM's Matchmaker system.
Shifting was solid once the initial tuning was taken care of, but chain retention left a little to be desired. On two occasions the chain came off the lower pulley of the SRAM-branded MRP 2X X-Guide. Despite the lack of a chainstay guard, the drivetrain was quiet with no noticeable chain slap.
The 650B Sun Ringle Inferno rim / Formula hub combo was laterally stiff and stayed true despite doing our best to put the hurt on them. The rear hub was quite loud when ratcheting, and combined with the chain growth associated with the rearward axle path, the rear wheel made a lot of noise when landing drops and smashing through rocks. This could likely be alleviated by putting some additional grease in the freehub body.
Even though they rolled a little slowly, Schwalbe's Hans Dampf tires were great. We felt in control through different terrain and were never worried about doing more than the tires could handle. They were big, had lots of grip, and were dependable.
Long Term Durability
While they certainly sound like an improvement from a longevity standpoint, Norco's 360-Lock pivot hardware loosened during each of our rides. Be sure to keep an eye on it during the first few months of use. Other than that, the Range was dialed.
What's The Bottom Line?
Norco did an excellent job of putting a fun bike out to market, 650B wheels and all. The Range Killer B-2 is a bike that should either make you a better descender or let you use all the skills you have - it can take what you dish out. The geometry is great, the suspension works very well, and at just $3800, it's right in line or ahead of comparably priced offerings.
If you're like us and the only reason you pedal to the top is to come down, then the Range is right up your alley. Just keep it pinned and you'll be a very happy camper.
Visit www.norco.com for more details.
Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the 2013 Norco Range Killer B-2
About The Reviewers
Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).
Joe Schneider - During the day, Joe's busy solving complex mechanical engineering problems. When he's free, he's out crushing miles on his bikes and moto. He raced cross-country for several years, made an appearance on the Collegiate National Champs Omnium, turned Pro, and more recently shifted his focus to enduro.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.