We Ride the New Norco Range C9.2 - Vital MTB First Ride / First Look 5

From a long line of capable trail bikes comes the big-wheeled version of Norco's Range, now in carbon.

We Ride the New Norco Range C9.2 - Vital MTB First Ride / First Look

First Ride by Steve Wentz

When I was first racing, riding and generally tinkering, I would wait for the latest issue of Dirt to come out and see what the top guys were doing on the infamous '1:04' track. Seeing the sloppy conditions, the green, lush forest, and of course, the riders was always incredible to me. The name, for those of you who might not be familiar with the track, was a simple reference to one of the times laid down on the short test track; one minute and four seconds. I would think about how fast I could do it. Would I be 1:10? 1:20? I don't even know if the track is still around, but what I do know is that I'll always look up to it. Reading about the likes of Minnaar, Fairclough, Lehikoinen and others always piqued my curiosity, seeing their times drop as they got closer and closer to their perfection points on that downhill track. I never did hear what Hill put up when he was in his prime, but maybe it is better left a mystery, as some things are best that way.

While I'll most likely never see it, or ride it, I'll continue to benefit from that idea of "Take the track and go pin it, no matter what bike you are on." Most of us have a personal test track in some way, shape or form. My personal test track is the trail riding around Aliso Woods park in Laguna, CA. It really has a ton to offer, mostly because it hasn't been touched by any of those pesky trail builders that tend to make sidewalks. The park has changed over the years, but I wouldn't trade Five Oaks, Rock It or newly-made-official 'Mentally Sensitive' for much of anything. They are a ton of fun, and the variety is awesome. For me, it is the closest thing I get to the 1:04, and that's not too bad, even if there is a lot of pedaling thrown in. The only thing left to do is decide what bike to ride.

Isn't it convenient that just when the rains let up here in southern part of the Golden State, a big brown box comes to the door? In the box is Norco's new Range C 9.2 29er. My first introduction to the Range was in Boulder City, Nevada, where I first rode Norco's then 650b-wheeled machine. It was the first bike that I had a lot of fun on that had a lot of travel. Most of the long-travel trail bikes in 2013 weren't the most responsive, but that Range really did just about everything well. In 2014, riding Norco's shorter-travel Sight in Sedona gave me some more time on Norco's version of the FSR/four bar link. It was one of my favorite bikes then, and it has remained nearly unchanged for good reason for many years after. Asked if I'd want to try out Norco's new Range, well, you know what the answer was. Hence Brown Santa's visit.

Norco Range Carbon Features

  • Carbon mainframe and seatstays
  • 29-inch and 650b options
  • Rear Travel: 150mm (29er) // 160mm (650b)
  • Front Travel: 160mm (29er) // 170mm (650b)
  • Trunnion Mount rear shock
  • Boost 148 // 110 spacing
  • ISCG05 Mount
  • Gravity Tune geometry
  • Updated GIZMO internal cable management
  • ArmorLite Resin
  • SmoothCore carbon
  • GravityPlus Geometry
  • Sizes: M, L, XL (29er) // XS, S, M, L, XL (650b)
  • MSRP: $4,249 - $7,399 USD
  • Frame Only Option: $2,899 USD (includes FOX Factory Float X2 Kashima)

Norco Range Carbon Geometry

Initial Impressions

Enough about the old, what does the new Norco Range hold? More and less, in short. The new Range has more in regard to wheel size. Many companies have figured out how to make bigger wheels work for their design goals, and Norco joins the fray. More is also present in the gearing. With ample traction from those big wheels and gearing that gives a 500% range thanks to SRAM Eagle, it should be even more of a do-it-all bike. But, there is also less. Less in the form of travel. The Range 29er travel has been dropped to 150mm in the rear with the theory being you take away a little travel, add some wheel size, and you get a similar feel. The final area where you get less is the size range. Norco has decided that they do not want to compromise their goals by offering their new Range 29 in some of the smallest sizes. You can get a Medium, Large or XL, that's it.

One of the reasons for the limited sizing options is Norco's relatively unique Gravity Tune system. As the front-centers grow with frame sizes, the rear-centers grow as well, in small increments. Norco aims to give riders even weight distribution across all sizing, and from what we've felt in the past on their bikes, it certainly works well. In this first ride report, we don't have time to list all the new additions to Norco's Range 29er frame, so the last area we'll touch on is the slightly revised suspension rate. The new models are just a little bit more progressive, as Norco was aiming to give this new 29er a playful demeanor given its larger wheels.

Upper chainguides are standard on the entire line, meaty tires come stock, and 800mm bars round out the package. The whole setup is capable, and well put together. The new Metric shock and Lyrik fork promise supple DH performance and hyper-adjustability, while the Eagle X01 drivetrain ensures you can get back up the hill to do it again. Race Face's Turbine dropper post and easily accessed lever will be much appreciated by many riders in rolling terrain.

On The Trail // First Ride Impressions

I can't exactly tell you how I climbed to the top of Five Oaks, as there is no official way up other than going up the trail. That's basically a death wish (that nobody does) because of the blind corners, so let's just say Vital's helicopter dropped me off at the top. There's not much messing around to Five Oaks, you drop right in, and the 550 feet or so down come at you quickly. The Range picked up speed with a jiffy, went through the upper section nicely, though not as nicely as some of the bigger travel bikes these days would. Doubling up the small rises in the brief breaks of trail was no problem and this was the first real riding situation where I welcomed the additional bit of progression this bike has.

Getting into the twisty parts of the trail, the bike tended to steer rather than turn, and that wasn't a bad thing, as these turns are rather slow, but it was different than what I was expecting given the lower/slacker/longer theme that has been going on for a while now. In the roughest parts at the end of Five Oaks, the Range was a bit overwhelmed, not because of what it is, but because of my initial setup. With 70 PSI in the fork (25% sag), 160 PSI in the rear shock (32% sag) and relatively open compression settings, there was more dive than I was expecting. It was fun, but far from perfect. 29 PSI in the front tire and 30 PSI in the rear feels like a heck of a lot more pressure with good casings and wide rims, but I decided to wait to drop pressure until after part two of my favorite test loop, Rock It.

Here's an updated version of the test runs on the new Norco.

Just before dropping into Rock It trail, I added some low-speed compression to the fork (From 12 out to 8 out). If you are wondering why I didn't change pressure, well that answer is simple. I didn't bring a shock pump. I never do on trail rides, as my goal is to ride it on some bigger hits (Five Oaks), flatter chatter (Rock It) and steeps (Mentally Sensitive). It might shine on some parts and not on others, and after that, I'll go back to see what changes can be made to get the most out of a bike. On the fast, chatter-filled entrance to Rock It, the big wheels smoothed out the bumps better than my usual bike's 27.5 wheels do, but it didn't feel any faster. There is a lot of rubber on the ground, so maybe that was it, or maybe the Range doesn't roll any faster, it just trades speed for gobs of traction.

As I kept the speed up and went into the main rock garden, I felt confident on the Range, and it didn't disappoint. The big wheel's added roll-over ability smoothed out the chatter in a way that suspension rarely can, but combined with the Metric shock and Lyrik's supple start to the travel, this main section was really smooth. The lack of noise might be a part of this too, with Norco's chain guards doing a good job of keeping sound under control, and the Eagle drivetrain not allowing much flop in the first place. It might be a chicken-or-the-egg thing with noise and smoothness, but either way, I was happy. Getting into the flatter parts of the trail after the rough stuff, I again felt the Norco wanting to turn more than lean. I didn't do a few trail gaps that I'd done before, as it felt more like a good trail bike than what modern 'enduro' bikes are becoming.

On some really steep, rocky climbs, though, I felt that the grip was truly out of this world. It is just fantastic.

The only choice I had after Rock It was how to get to my third favorite trail in this loop, Mentally Sensitive. I could either go the long way, which is half as steep, or take advantage of being close to sea level and go up Mathis. I don't usually think drivetrains help me decide anything, but in this instance, it did. Knowing I had a pie-plate-of-an-easy-gear out back made me consider the shorter, steeper way, and I'm glad I did. While I appreciated the grip on the way down the two previous trails, it is hard to isolate grip when suspension, turns, jumps, and big weight shifts are happening. On some really steep, rocky climbs, though, I felt that the grip was truly out of this world. It is just fantastic. I remember climbing one particular bike during Vital's Test Sessions last year that was fairly terrible at everything, but it did have grip. But even that bike, with big, soft tires and supple suspension spun out going uphill, on clean rock. Norco's Range 29 did not suffer the same fate. A fat footprint, the most supple suspension I've ridden so far, and gearing that allows for smooth pedaling at all but pedestrian speeds means you probably won't slip climbing. If you do, it is your fault.

I got to the top with no slips and feeling better than expected. Norco still has a bit of anti-squat built into their bikes' pedaling characteristics, some people like that, some people don't. I'll leave that up to you. I think it is a benefit to having just a little bit of anti-squat oppose my downforce. If you don't like it, however, you won't be able to tone it down with a bigger chainring. There is just enough room to fit the 32 tooth in there, so you can only go smaller if you want. Reaching the very tip top of 'Top of the World' I certainly wasn't thinking I wanted a bigger gear up front. I grabbed some water from what is most likely the most expensive drinking fountain in the state and headed across to my last trail for the day.

In some respects, Mentally Sensitive isn't that big of a deal. There are no drops, no big off-camber parts, and traction today wouldn't be any problem. However, it is relentless. I honestly can't believe this trail exists in an open network, but I am so glad it does. The grade is around 12% average, with the max being 40%. In other words, it is perfect. For nearly 800 feet this trail bobs and weaves among the bushes, and puts bravery and skill above power or pumping ability. I routinely mess up here or there, so I'll keep going back. I was particularly excited to run the Norco down Mentally - it had big tires, big rotors, and enough travel to do the job. When I got about halfway down, though, I realized I wasn't attacking the trail as much as I usually do, I was more standing on the bike. Even with the added compression, I wanted more support out of the front end. I also wanted more braking power. Despite liking the feel of the SRAM GUIDE brakes, 180mm rotors don't feel quite enough with a really steep trail and tons of traction. The bike will go fast, no doubt, so if you are after big descents or bike park laps on a do everything bike, I'd highly suggest putting at least a 200mm rotor up front.

Spinning back up the road at the end, I had a bit of time to think about the new Range 29. I had a great ride, it was fun, and the bike didn't try to kill me. That says a lot of any bike I ride these days, as I've been accused of being a line-stepper now and then. I knew what I wanted to change on the bike, but I couldn't help but think it wasn't that much of a setup issue. The bike pumped when I wanted it to pump, the bike turned when I wanted it to turn, and it handled everything that came up on me. I never felt bottom on either end of the suspension, but the travel rings indicated otherwise.

In my subsequent rides, I upped the token count in the fork to three, and then upped the pressure to 78 PSI, getting me down to just over 20% sag, with a more progressive curve. I slowed down the fork's rebound by one click eventually and backed tire pressure down to 27/29. I felt pretty good on the bike, and it was easy to ride. Some of the feelings of being on the bike rather than in it never quite went away, and that isn't a bad thing. This Range is a great trail bike. When pushed hard down the hill, it'll do it, but it won't necessarily be begging for more. I would bet the Range needs 10mm more travel up front. The Lyriks I have ridden work extremely well, but they do sit deeper in their travel than their Pike counterparts.

Bonus Vital B-Sides: Joe Smith seems to be right at home on his new Norco C9.2! This ripping footage is from his soon-to-drop Vital RAW. Creative Concept

This isn't a good or bad thing, it is what it is. A rider's weight balance will shift forward just that little bit more, with a back end that stays up more. It is nitpicking really, but that's what we are here for. The new carbon Range 29 can handle anything in its path. It is efficient, smooth, and even stout side to side. It is a great all-around bike, which feels like a cross between the Range and the Sight of a few years ago. However, if you were expecting bigger wheels and geometry tweaks to make this even more of a shred sled than just a year ago, then I'd suggest sticking with the 27.5 version. Or, make sure you order a different air shaft to bring that front travel up to your own test track's standards.

Check Out Norco's Official Press Release for the All-New Range Carbon

Insight on the 2017 Range Carbon from Norco's engineers and product manager.

Port Coquitlam, BC (February 22, 2017) – Introduced today, the 2017 Norco Range Carbon features a new frame redesigned around both 650b and 29” wheels, with updated modern Enduro geometry and improved suspension kinematics.

Building on the best qualities of the previous generation Range, our engineers applied their evolved geometry philosophy to redesign the frame from the ground up and introduce a 29er with the same fit and nearly identical handling characteristics as the Killer B. The result is geometry that is longer, lower, and slacker, with a new A.R.T. Suspension system with improved performance that is slightly more progressive. The new design is stronger than ever, borrowing elements such as the head tube design and rear derailleur hanger from the Norco Aurum.

“We looked at the way Enduro bikes are being used - yes, they’re pedaled to the top, but essentially in an Enduro event they go through four or five downhill races over a weekend. This is a bike that's going to be ridden hard, and we wanted to make it as reliable and dependable as possible. So we took everything we learned from the Aurum, which is the strongest bike we’d ever made, and employed it on the new Range Carbon.” – Owen Pemberton, Senior Design Engineer

To achieve the renowned fit and handling of the Range Killer B in a 29er platform, the 29er is designed around the same rear center lengths, with a longer front center, steeper head tube angle, shorter stem, and 10mm less travel front and rear to offset the characteristics of the larger wheels. When stem length is incorporated into stack and reach (a measurement Norco engineers call Reach Plus and Stack Plus), the fit between the two platforms is identical.

The Range Carbon 29er is available in the widest possible size range without compromising its geometry, fit, and handling. Whether you prefer the quick acceleration and playfulness of 650b wheels or the improved rollover and momentum of a 29er - the Range Carbon offers riders choice without compromise.

For more details, visit www.norco.com

Norco Range Carbon Build Kits

Range C 9.1 (MSRP: $7,399)

Range C 7.1 (MSRP: $7,399)

Range C 9.2 (MSRP: $5,799)

Range C 7.2 (MSRP: $5,799)

Range C 9.3 (MSRP: $4,249)

Range C 7.3 (MSRP: $4,249)

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