2022 Norco Range C1
We are living in strange times. No matter where you look, it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams. Covid-19, climate change, partisan politics, Yeti E-bikes - things just feel weirdly uncomfortable these days. With all the radical changes we’re experiencing, it’s nice to know that some traditions remain intact - Greg Minnaar is World Champ, people still go red in the face when discussing bottom bracket standards, and Norco is still pumping out innovative bikes that are burly enough to survive and indeed thrive on the North Shore. Arguably one of the most anticipated bikes of the year, the 2022 Norco Range is a departure from the norm in many ways, but the Norco fan club needn’t worry - this new Range brings all the Shore pedigree we’ve come to expect from Norco. I’ve been fortunate enough to thrash around on this coveted bike for the last few months, and you can check out my first impressions of it right here.
My time spent on the Range led me to affectionately refer to it as “The Blackbird”, an homage to the SR-71 Blackbird, a military reconnaissance jet notorious for being big, black, expensive and just plain badass. It was also known to leak jet fuel all over the tarmac when at rest, which is one characteristic that I never experienced with the Range. But the big, black, expensive bike does share the SR-71’s most famous trait - the ability to cruise unreasonably fast overtop of pretty much everything else. The last few months have taught me that this is a bicycle best suited to a pilot who seeks the most direct route through the line of fire. Stepping away from the jet metaphor, it would be easy to categorize the Range as a “plow” bike, but that label is maybe too simplistic. I walked into this review with certain preconceived notions about the Range. Some of those notions proved to be correct, but it turns out that The Blackbird had a few tricks up its sleeve.
Getting up to get Down (aka: climbing - you probably may not care too much about this part)
Climbing on the Range is a relatively straightforward affair. The first step is to grasp the bike firmly by the fork lowers and seat mast, and making sure you bend at the knees, lift the bike up and over your mate’s tailgate. Hop in the cab and the climb will be over before you know it. Okay, but seriously though, I did do my fair share of climbing aboard the Range - probably more than is to be expected on a 38lb bicycle. It’s important to keep in mind that this is not a trail bike, and I’d even peg the Range at the very sharp end of enduro bikes when you look at the numbers. Lew Buchanan recently raced his Range at Redbull Hardline, undoubtedly the gnarliest DH race on the planet, so that should give you a pretty good idea of where this bike’s intentions lie. Climbing is really just a means to an end here, so if you’re looking for a bike to do all-day epics, Norco has far better options with the highly acclaimed Sight, or even the Optic. Those of us who’ve been around long enough to remember the Shore-worthy freeride rigs of yore are more likely to appreciate the small miracle that a bike like this can be climbed at all. So, while I do believe that the majority of prospective Range riders are not too concerned with its climbing manners, I thought it was important to get that disclaimer out of the way.
My first experience climbing the Range was in fact particularly “character-building.” Believe me when I say that virgin MaxxGrip rubber clawing its way up Old Buck on a hot summer afternoon is a special version of hell. I must have transported half the gravel trail surface to the top, stuck to my tires. In addition to that, it seems to me that the Range drivetrain has a bit of a break-in period. A fresh-out-of-the-box bike has all the tight tolerances, tight bearings and sticky chain that conspire to diminish your already feeble human power output. High pivot bikes like the Range are a bit of a worst-case-scenario in this regard. There are extra bearings, cogs, guides and chain links that add to this friction. While this extra friction won’t ever totally go away, I’m pleased to report that after a few rides, the Range drivetrain settled in a bit and the friction was noticeably diminished.
Once the drivetrain sorted itself out, the Range was a surprisingly good climber for a mega-travel mountain bike. You’re not going to set your hair on fire while opposing the force of gravity, but the upright body position was comfortable enough to just shift up to the pie plates and spin your way to the top. Grinding up smooth fire roads and tarmac was best handled at a slow and steady pace, and the shock lock-out definitely came in useful here. The Range is a very active bike, and it will bob quite a bit with the shock wide open. Flicking the DHX2 to firm mode noticeably calmed the bike down, and made for a far more pleasant climbing experience.
On more technical climbs, I still found myself reaching for the climb switch more often than not. I am torn on how I feel about the “firm” mode on the new generation Fox shocks. In my experience, I found the old climbing circuits to be quite a bit firmer - still not a full lock-out, but very firm, and ideal for long, smooth climbs. The new climb mode feels mellower, still allowing for really good traction in technical situations, but then necessarily allowing more suspension bob under power. This new circuit meant that I could run the firm mode in pretty much all climbing situations, regardless of how technical the terrain was. The slightly firmer suspension was still able to provide heaps of traction while billy-goating up the jank. I experimented a bit with climbing in the open mode, but found that the traction advantage was not worth the extra suspension bob in most situations. Furthermore, this bike is already quite low, and climbing with the shock open resulted in the rear end sitting deeper in its travel, raising the likelihood of pedal strikes. Climbing in the firm mode definitely resulted in better trail clearance at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
In a surprise to no one, the DH oriented geometry required a bit of finesse from the pilot while navigating tight, uphill singletrack. As long as I planned my route accordingly, and well in advance, this low, long and slack bike could be navigated successfully through most situations. On a high-pivot bike like the Range where the rear-centre grows during suspension compression, the upright riding position helps keep the rear wheel weighted while in tractor mode. The 63.3* head tube angle was a handful on uphill switchbacks, but proved manageable as long as I remembered to set up as wide as possible on every turn.
Static geometry numbers on the Range are fairly close to my daily driver, so I quickly felt at home in the cockpit. Contact points included DMR Death Grips and the Ergon SM10 Enduro Comp saddle. The chunky boi Death Grips were not my cup of tea, as I personally prefer a very thin grip (I’d run hockey tape if my joints would tolerate it). The saddle, on the other hand, surprised me with how comfortable it was. The Ergon has a firm, angular appearance that might not scream comfort while staring at it on the showroom floor, but on the trail it went pretty much unnoticed - which is basically the best review I can give to a saddle. The Deity Skywire handlebar looks the business with slick graphics and a flex pattern that falls somewhere between “quite stiff” and “Good lord, is that really necessary?”. Weak wrists need not apply.
The Right Stuff
Now with all that “means to an end” nonsense out of the way, we can get down to going down. I won’t lie - I felt like a kid in a candy store on my first descent on the Range. I didn’t ease into it either - I picked one of my favourite local trails that most closely resembles a DH race course. It’s fast, rough AF, and includes steep sections where you kinda feel like you’re holding on for dear life - particularly if your bike is not up to the task. Even though my suspension settings were far from dialled at that point, I had a strong sense of what was in store when gravity was working in my favour and the speed went to plaid. Everything you’re told to expect from a high-pivot bike is accurate with the Range. This beast dispatches the hugest hits with ease, and all the while wants to accelerate while the trail blurs by beneath you. The rear end truly feels bottomless, no doubt thanks to the 170mm of coil-sprung, progressive suspension, as well as the massive bottom-out bumper of the revised DHX2. As good as the Fox 38 is, there were moments where it felt like the fork was struggling to keep up with the pace that the rear end demanded. With all the suspension dials on this bike, taking the time to bracket in the settings was key to getting the bike balanced and performing where it should.
Norco has a very slick online tool called the Ride Aligned Design System. It includes data for a slew of current Norco bikes. The system takes input like rider height, weight, gender and riding skill, then provides some baseline settings for everything from cockpit arrangement to suspension settings and even tire pressures. For the most part, these baselines were fairly close to where I settled - although the fork settings were way off the mark. Norco’s recommended pressure and token settings for the 38 were far too soft. But to be fair, the values suggested directly from Fox weren’t much closer - just something to keep in mind. It’s surprising that more bike companies aren’t offering a comprehensive tool like this. Even for a salty veteran like myself, bike setup can be a daunting task, so the Ride Aligned tool was very welcome and I applaud Norco for offering it.
For reference, here’s where I ultimately settled on suspension settings:
Rider weight = 190lbs
(all damper clicks from fully closed)
- 113 PSI, 3 tokens
- HSC = 6
- LSC = 7
- HSR = 5
- LSR = 4
- 550lb spring
- HSC = 6
- LSC = 13
- HSR = 4
- LSR = 10
Once I got the fork sorted out, the Range really came alive. This is a bike that encourages you to pick the most direct route through a section, regardless of what’s in the way. Even though the Range carries its weight very well, it’s not a bike that rewards a “slice-and-dice” style. Switching directions wasn’t difficult, but was most efficiently done with wide, arcing turns. This bike is so good at handling what’s immediately beneath it, you barely have to think about it, allowing you to look further down the trail so you can pick those efficient lines that work best. If the Canyon Spectral I recently reviewed was a jackrabbit on the trail, the Range is more like the greyhound bred to chase it. Sprinting up to speed on mellow grades took some effort, but once up to speed, the Range was excellent at maintaining momentum, and didn’t care much for slowing down. When it came time to quickly bring the Blackbird back to subsonic speeds, the Code RSCs were consistent and reliable. You can’t go wrong with Codes, and these ones were excellent. If this were my own bike, I’d likely throw a 220mm rotor up front. With a gross vehicle weight over 230lbs, I need all the stopping power I can get.
After several rides and figuring out where my own limits lay with this bike, I started to get a sense that the Range usually had my back if I pushed things just a bit too far. I routinely had moments of carrying too much speed (for my skills anyway) into a section, eyes wide as saucers, praying for a painless outcome, only to have the Range answer those prayers and somehow keep the rubber side down. Norco set out to make this bike as forgiving as possible for exhausted enduro racers who are at the edge of bonking while maintaining DH race speeds at the end of a stage. I can personally vouch for the Range’s ability to pick up the slack and save the day when the pilot is crashing and burning.
It took quite a while, but after getting my fill on the roughest, steepest trails around, I started exploring some mellower options to see how the Range would fare. It was in these situations where the Range felt a bit out of its element. On flat or low-angle singletrack, the Range felt like a bazooka at a knife fight. It’s hard to believe a 38lb bike with DH geometry might feel awkward here (sarcasm alert!). The growing rear-centre effect further added to the cumbersome feel in the flats. Your best bet was to look way ahead down the trail and pick the lines that required the least amount of tight turns. Pumping rollers while minimizing braking and pedaling were good techniques to employ here as well. In any scenario, maintaining momentum is the key to success aboard the Range.
Remember that MaxxGrip rubber I mentioned earlier? I’m gonna just come right out and say that I find this rubber compound to be a bit overkill on the back tire - unless you’re legitimately racing every weekend and/or riding around on skating rinks. The high rolling resistance is especially noticeable while climbing, when your weight is heavily biased to the rear tire. As mentioned earlier, the caveat here is that climbing efficiency is not the primary mission for the Range, and Norco does market it as a no-compromise, enduro race machine, so you can’t really fault them for the race-ready tires. After I erased the MaxxGrip Dissector, Norco was kind enough to send me a MaxxTerra replacement. This harder compound made a noticeable improvement to climbing with its lower rolling resistance. I expected the Dissector to disappoint me, but it’s not a terrible tire. It doesn’t have the straight-line braking bite that the Minion DHR II is famous for, but the side knobs provide predictable traction while cornering on hard-pack and semi-loose dirt. The smaller, sharper knobs found on the Dissector were noticeably shorter wearing than their DHR II counterparts, so overall I have a hard time recommending this tire over the tried-and-true Minion. The Assegai up front is basically North Vancouver dress code these days, so no surprises there. The World Champ’s tire is a favourite of mine, as it just seems to do everything really, really well.
On the trails, I was frequently asked about how often the lower link struck trail obstacles, and while this link does hang quite low on the bike, it swings out of the way of obstacles when the suspension compresses. It also comes equipped with a sturdy plastic skid plate that does a great job of warding off rock strikes. That said, if you’re the type of rider who frequently finds yourself on steep, slow-speed jank, you’ll definitely be putting that guard to good use.
Just like the SR-71, the Range was all business when the wheels left the ground. I expected this high-pivot machine to be a lethargic jumper, as these designs can sometimes lack the snap and maneuverability that a more standard suspension is known for. I don’t know exactly what’s in the special sauce to make it such a competent jumper, but I like it a lot. It feels like Norco nailed it with the main pivot location, being high enough to reap the suspension benefits, but not so high that the bike feels like a reclining lawn chair when it leaves the ground. While it’s not an easy bike to make shapes with, the Range was eager to loft when required, and it had great stability in the air. Blowing well past ideal landing zones was common, but hardly an issue, as the suspension handled every touchdown with ease. Given its size and weight, the excellent jumping manners of the Range were probably the biggest surprise to me during this review. The ability to carry just a bit more speed into almost any DH scenario meant that I usually wasn’t worried about coming up short on anything worth airing over.
Occasionally when landing a bit sideways at high speeds, or when encountering very hard off-axis compressions, I did notice a small amount of lateral or torsional flex in the rear end of the bike. It was so infrequent that I honestly can’t say for sure whether it was the frame or the wheel. My gut tells me it might have been the wheel, as it felt an awful lot like the spokes were unloading and then loading again in the space of a split second. The Range allows for a level of recklessness that undoubtedly tortures the rest of the bike. The WeAreOne Unions were otherwise flawless, and while they have the expected cosmetic scars of doing battle on the Shore, they are still straight as an arrow.
Technical bits and pieces
An $11,000 mountain bike shouldn’t include too many things to complain about, and the C1 build leaves little to be desired. But there were a few things worth mentioning. The Onyx Vesper rear hub was a source of aggravation throughout the test. This hub had issues from the start - first developing a large amount of side-to-side play after the first ride. Either the hub preload nuts weren’t tightened properly from the factory, or they had worked themselves loose. Either way, I feel that the jam-nut design that Onyx has gone with for bearing preload is going to be a weak link in this system. I appreciate the ability to adjust preload, but the jam-nuts used here are frustratingly hard to work with, and adjusting them was a very tedious affair. There are so many great non-adjustable hubs available; this was just a headache that I didn’t want to deal with. Additionally (and possibly related to the bearing preload), the sprag clutch freehub body on this particular hub had a noticeable amount of friction while coasting - so much so that it caused varying degrees of chain-suck during the review period. On big landings and compressions, the drive chain would go slack enough to get stuck in between the upper swingarm and the rear tire. And when the chain wasn’t getting jammed against the tire, it would sometimes rub and jam against adjacent cogs on the cassette. I can only assume that the sticky freehub wasn’t allowing the derailleur to take up the chain slack quickly enough. It’s entirely possible that the freehub issue was related to the hub bearing preload, but I could never completely eliminate the freehub friction even with the bearing preload set unreasonably loose. With the extra complication that a high-pivot bike brings to the drivetrain, it’s incredibly important for the freehub and the derailleur to work together to eliminate as much chain slack as possible. This means a smooth, frictionless freehub, and a derailleur with a strong return spring. I verified that the Vesper hub was the culprit by trying a different rear wheel, which eliminated all the issues. It’s too bad, because I absolutely loved how silent the Vesper was. I’m willing to accept that maybe this poorly performing hub was an exception to the norm, as the Vesper seems to have a lot of fans in mountain bike land. Nevertheless, a hub that costs and weighs this much should be the pinnacle of reliability, which was a far cry from my experience.
If I can complain about something else, I’ll pick on the rather unsophisticated cable routing. The lack of tube-in-tube routing on a bike this expensive in 2021 is almost criminal. The cables banging around inside the frame ruined an otherwise perfectly quiet bike - and I don’t envy the mechanic who ultimately has to deal with replacing said cables. The routing itself is a bit quirky as well, so if ever there was a bike that begged to be draped in AXS, it’s this one.
Finally, towards the end of the review, the OneUp dropper post developed a slight up-and-down knock. With the post completely topped out, the knock went away. It wasn’t noticeable while riding, but still a concern that I didn’t have a chance to dig into before returning the bike.
So, the $11,000 question is: Who exactly is this bike for? To say that it’s a niche bike may be a bit of an understatement. Its singular focus is blistering, downhill speed, and it’s not happy doing anything less. If, like me, you've ever pined for a proper DH bike that can also be pedaled up the mountain, it’s hard to argue that the Range doesn’t check that box. For a bike that was developed as a no-holds-barred enduro race machine, it should come as no surprise that I believe the Range best fits someone who regularly finds themselves between the tape. While I think its heft and trophy truck suspension might make it “too much bike” for smaller riders or mellower tracks, the Range would be a formidable weapon in the hands of a strong and aggressive racer who can play to its strengths. Ironically, this niche bike has proven to be quite the all-rounder when it comes to gravity competition all over the world. In various trims and travels, the Range has already been piloted to impressive results at Red Bull Psychosis, Red Bull Hardline, the EWS circuit, and even the WC DH circuit.
My personal experience with the Range was soured a little bit by the troublesome rear hub, as it caused a significant amount of drama. The optimist in me wants to believe the wonky hub was an isolated incident, and when I consider the performance of the bike without those problems, the Range becomes an outstanding gravity-focused machine. Historically, I’ve always had a DH bike and a trail bike, but these days I’m big into the idea of “quiver-killers,” and while the Range comes pretty damn close for me, the weight is the only hard pill to swallow. I’m generally not too concerned with weight, but if this were my own ride, I’d be flirting with the 40lb mark after I added the requisite tire inserts and big boy rotors. That said, the Range is possibly the stoutest bike I’ve ridden in recent memory, and I get the impression that this burly carbon frame will survive a shit ton of abuse. If you’re a gravity-addicted bike smasher, and are hellbent on joining the high pivot party - the Range just might be the perfect bike for you.
Range C1: $10,999 CAD $8,999 USD
Range C2: $8,399 CAD $6,999 USD
Range C3: $6,799 CAD $5,599 USD
Range C Frame Kit: $4,499 CAD $3,799 USD.
Age : 40
Height : 1803mm
Weight : 86kg
Ape Index : 1.03
Inseam : 787mm
Bar Width : 780mm
Preferred Reach : Pretty comfy at 487mm these days.