Long Term Review
2022 Norco Sight VLT C1 eMTB Review*
I've now been cohabitating with the 2022 Norco Sight VLT for longer than any eMTB I've tested. I'm getting used to having it around and enjoying the options it provides; sneaking out for a quick burn when my window of opportunity is impossibly short, or going for a longer, tougher adventure starting and finishing from home, and doing it all in less time. The more I have access to one of these bikes the more I'm convinced they are simply another fun way to enjoy riding bikes in the forest, and I vastly prefer eMTBs to all the futzing, loading, and retrieving involved in shuttling. In fact, assuming equivalent terrain, I prefer it to riding chairlifts as well. It's not for everyone, and certainly not for me all the time, but it's a blast and a great alternative for this 56-year-old bastard.
Norco made a bold move by making the batteries modular and giving these bikes three capacity options; 540, 720, and 900 watt hours. These are purchased separately from the bike and Norco would be happy to sell you more than one. If you only plan on doing quick blasts, grab the 540, if you're hungry for watts, distance, and boost-level climbing, the 900 is for you. If you're somewhere in the middle there's a 720 as well. I've spent most of my time riding with the 900 and despite its extra girth, it's the one I'd choose because it opens up so many options.
I'll dig into details and (hopefully) more nuanced impressions below, but overall I have really enjoyed riding this bike and I'm impressed by what Norco has accomplished in this sphere.
*If you missed my First Impressions on the Sight C1 VLT you can find them here...
A more advanced element of eMTB riding, that I've been slowly getting better at, is tackling technical climbs that I'd never consider under my own power. Watching some of the local experts at this, namely Wade Simmons and Olympian Andreas Hestler, is inspiring. It's not just that they can get up ridiculous obstacles and pitches; they can also string these together in short succession without time between to get sorted. If you think riding an eMTB isn't a good workout, or physically demanding in general, find riders who are doing this sort of thing and tag along. I don't recall being as spent in recent years as I have been trying to follow Wade and Dre's impossible climbing routes.
This sort of riding is a subtle art that involves learning what the bike can do, carefully timing your bursts of power using an aggressively forward body position much of the time. I haven't ridden a trials moto, but tech climbing on an eMTB often feels to me the way trials looks; calculated bursts combined with accurate wheel placement and weight shifts for unexpected results. Solving a challenging up for the first time is almost as gratifying as completing a previously unconquered drop or rock face. These revelations have amplified my e-riding pleasure further and this often influences my chosen route. I've got a long way to go, and while being on a new learning curve has been confounding at times, the satisfaction has outweighed the frustration and the Sight has been keen on the task despite its seemingly downhill-focussed demeanour.
I thought my set up was pretty good initially but over time I began to notice some harshness in the fork during repeated high intensity impacts. I added some more pressure and even more high speed compression (the 36 seems to love lots of compression damping) and the bike began to feel great, sitting higher in the travel but still responding well to heavy bottoms and lower intensity hits. The rear end has been sorted from the get go using Norco's Ride Aligned setup guide, and it got me close for a solid starting point. Both the Fox Factory Float 36 and the Fox Factory Float X2 are world class dampers and an excellent match for this ride.
A Peril of eMTB Riding
When I saddle up an eMTB, particularly a burly one like this, there is an adjustment I have to make to prevent mayhem. Unfortunately I always forget until I get slapped to the ground several times. With a bike that's between 30 and 35 lbs, bailing out is second nature. I can put out an outrigger when I'm having difficulty and balance myself quite easily even in precarious situations. I have a good sense of how to reel it in on my mountain bikes, but the extra mass of bikes like the Sight VLT changes that equation. I wondered what was up several times. It used to be that I'd have a similar kind of fall if I was out of shape, and particularly when my core strength was poor; I'd plant a foot after losing my balance, feeling like I was safe, and then find myself flung to ground like a cartoon rabbit. I've been better about that kind of strength in recent years so I'm rarely afflicted, unless I have yet to adjust to the weight of an e-bike. And these can be nasty falls into rock gardens, onto fallen logs with knots sticking out, or off something high. Once I make the adjustment and remember to look for more stable islands of safety to stop and plant a foot, I'm generally okay, but I need to be vigilant.
I began to imagine walking into the emergency department with my entire arm stuck inside a bicycle.
The components on the Sight VLT have been pretty much faultless. The Code brakes, with 220/200mm rotors slow things down effortlessly, the drivetrain, aside from a housing issue (see below), has been entirely up to the arduous task of dealing with all the riding I've done. The wheels have remained impressively true despite hundreds of kms of abuse (1180 total but I did some wheel testing for part of that time).
The rear Maxxis Dissector isn't one I'd choose, and in situations where high grip was needed, it wasn't up to the task. The snow made it clear and it packed in and lost grip more than I'd like. The Assegai up front however was perfection. Both were double downs and the front tire is a MaxxGrip and both have been surprisingly durable, particularly considering how many road miles they've seen. The Shimano EP8 motor is quiet and powerful and uses less battery than the previous generation apparently. My only complaint about the entire spec. relates to the overly stiff Deity Skywire 35mm carbon bar. I replaced it with an old aluminum Bontrager that I have always liked and the ride improved noticeably.
Adventures in Cable Routing
At the beginning of one of the rides when these photos were taken, I noticed my rear derailleur housing was down to the wire where it crosses over to enter the swing arm, possibly because it had slipped out a cable guide. It likely wouldn't have lasted more than a shift or two but Deniz had the idea to tightly wrap the affected area with a zip tie and then cover that repair with tape. It worked perfectly for that ride and several more but it was niggling at me this past week so I decided to dig into the repair. eMTB cable routing is a mystery to me but I assumed there were tubes to guide the housing the length of the frame. Just in case, I attempted to attach the new housing to the old so that removing the damaged housing would guide the replacement into place. Because of the damage I could only do this for the main frame, but I assumed the rest would be straightforward. To my dismay the old housing detached from the new immediately because of the need to negotiate some unguided curves. As I tried to guide the housing into the frame at the head tube it became clear this wasn't going to be simple. The housing came to a hard stop and it I realized it was in the void of the battery compartment rather than in a tube for guidance.
The next step was to remove the battery to get a view of what was going on. Turning the bike upside down and wearing a headlamp, I could see there was a short gap between the entry/exit port and the internal tubing where the housing needed to cross from one side of the massive down tube to the other in a short distance. Fishing the housing from the outside was clearly impossible so I was going to need to somehow reach from the battery opening near the bottom bracket all the way up the down tube. I rolled up my right sleeve but it wasn't long before my right forearm got stuck. Luckily my left arm is even less impressively masculine and with some swivelling and grunting I managed to reach my hand deep into the bowels of the bike. Working blind, I tried to manipulate the housing into the internal opening of the exit port. After about 15 tries I got the end into the opening of the port but no further. The angle was too great and the length of the opening meant there was another abrupt corner to manoeuvre. I kept trying of course but made no headway.
I left the bike overnight and had an idea by morning. If I could find a length of hose that was small enough to fit through the entry port but large enough for the housing to slide inside, I might have a chance. Digging through various drawers I eventually found a short length of surgical hose that came with some sealant. Further inspection confirmed it met my criteria. Having a theoretical solution isn't the same as getting it done however and the surgery was just beginning. With my left arm rammed up the Sight's rectum, I was completely blind and it was difficult to reach the surgical hose from the outside by the head tube of the upside down bike with my free right hand, and similarly challenging to reach over my left shoulder to feed the housing through. Thankfully there were no witnesses because I'm sure this was a comical sight. I had pre-bent the housing to make the two turns and I put a curve in the hose as well. A camera would have helped this arthroscopic procedure but all I had was my left fingers and thumb as my eyes. I kept having to pull my arm out and re-evaluate things to determine why I was unable to thread this needle. Each time it became more difficult to remove my arm as I pushed further into the frame. I began to imagine walking into emergency with my entire arm stuck inside a bicycle. Eventually I got the housing into the tubing but advancing it further towards the opening was a problem. If I pushed from the bottom, the housing would simply push straight toward the front of the bike and buckle rather than making the corner. Eventually I managed to put some pressure on the hose and advance the housing inside with my thumb and forefinger, a couple of millimetres at a time. This failed more than once but eventually enough of the housing was inside and I could push the housing and pull the hose in tiny increments until both emerged from the port. At that moment it felt like one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.
The final internal element of the routing proved to be even trickier and I had to abandon the task for the moment.* Hopefully I'll have another overnight revelation and get everything sorted. These discoveries were a little disappointing, but having never attempted to string cables and lines through any other eMTBs, I can't say that Norco is better or worse than the others. It's possible that Norco has novel solutions to these routing issues but I like to operate as a consumer rather than a journalist in these situations to provide a more accurate portrayal of what it's like to own the bike in question.
*I just had a promising strategy come to me in fact
Overall though the frame details seem to be solid. The paint has stood up to a stupid amount of abuse, the bearings haven't made a peep, and the action remains smooth. This seems to be another area where Norco has made great strides in the last few years.
One of my favourite elements of riding eMTBs is how it levels the playing field. Riding with a bunch of people whose fitness is varied, and being able to stay together, is like a party on wheels. If someone needs to work harder they can drop down a mode and if someone is struggling they can stay in boost, and everyone gets their workout. Of course this ability explains one of the veiled reasons some people dislike eMTBs so vehemently. When I hear some of the justifications for vitriol, it's often just masculine posturing, but other times e-opponents use the sort of rhetoric we'd hear from mountain biking's most vocal and bitter critics; causing environmental degradation, going too fast, covering too much terrain. If your criticisms of eMTBs echo Mike Vandeman's complaints about all mountain bikes, there might be something going on in the background, and it's entirely possible that involves a bruised ego. Those who have both the genetics and the time in their legs to be first tier climbers with excellent stamina don't like to see others do what they can do, and while I sympathize with these feelings, I'm also aware that tying your self image to your ability to gain elevation on your own power, and letting that cloud your judgement, isn't a positive life strategy.
I'm not saying there aren't legitimate criticisms of eMTBs and those who ride them. Considering how much hard work has been put into the gains mountain bikers have made in the last twenty years, by a small and incredibly dedicated group of individuals, vigilance is vital. Examining how these new bikes and often new riders fit in with the rest of us, with the general public, and in particular with the advocacy sphere is, vital. But it also makes sense to be careful about our conversations and not be consumed by infighting. The general public sees us all as mountain bikers and giving ammunition to those who would love to see mountain biking banned globally isn't good for any of us.
It's not surprising that a bike that weighs upwards of 57 lbs (with 900wh battery) likes to be manhandled. Bold inputs are rewarded, particularly in the slower speed situations common on the North Shore. This changes at speed and the bike feels less different from a pedal bike as the velocity increases. This horse loves to gallop, but it can also walk over obstacles, jump and trot /analogybeaten. Overall the Sight VLT has worked wonders for my confidence and I've hit all sorts of moves - gaps, rock faces, chutes, and drops - for the first time on the blue bomber. The one exception is the low BB. While the previous statement remains true, the Sight almost claimed me on a move (seen below) I'd only done a couple of times before. It's not particularly high, but it's very exposed and blind and frankly, it scares me. Despite this I rolled in brimming with confidence in front of Deniz' lens, only to hang up the bike with a hard hit on the motor bulkhead, pitching me forward for a moment. I straightened my arms and pushed the bike forward, certain I was about to land in a heap, but the fork saved me and I rode it out and even hit the next step-down without catching my breath.
The Sight impressed me in the air initially and that impression has only grown. The platform is nicely balanced and the low slung weight seems to boost my confidence and ability off jumps and drops. Cornering is another big strength and the bike loves to be tipped over hard, even on uneven surfaces. In berms in particular, this thing is a tracking monster, and again the excellent grip comes into play.
Trevor solved his issue with the Bluetooth connection to his phone (quite easily), but I never bothered. I was happy with the settings and nothing needed to be adjusted. I mentioned in my first impressions that I was pleased with the charging interface and the magnetic port that keeps the battery connected either to the charger or the motor. A proviso is that the door can be tricky to open with gloves or with cold fingers because the ledge designed to give you some leverage is both narrow and sharp on my dainty digits. This was made worse for a time when I lost one of the bolts that keep the motor cover in place, but replacing the bolt has improved it some.
Swapping the battery isn't as easy as you'd expect. It's easily disconnected and removing the bolt is straightforward, but it gets a little tricky after that. It's easiest to remove the battery fixing bolt with the bike upside down, but the battery won't slide out in that orientation because the bolt remains nested in the indent where it threads in. Doing it upright works but there isn't enough room for the battery to slide all the way out without lifting the rear wheel. Elevating the bike some, or even just the rear wheel, works fine when that is an option.
Replacing the battery can be even trickier. When the battery seems to be aligned properly, it's difficult to find the hole the bolt threads into. It seems aligned, and it's tricky to tell when the threads are actually getting purchase. This has required futzing for me every time. It's not the end of the world, but it's the sort of operation that should be slick for quick and easy execution.
The Sight hits most of the right notes for me. It's burly enough to handle any terrain on earth, but not unwieldy or brutish. The range afforded by the massive 900wh allows you to climb in boost mode for the duration of a big ride, but those who need less power can choose lighter and less expensive versions, while those who would like to double up can swap out batteries based on the day's adventure.
Recently I've also been riding the Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay C70 and there are some interesting points of comparison. The Dyname motor on the Rocky is more powerful and provides a more progressive power curve. You can really feel more power coming on when you increase your effort, while the Norco feels more linear. Both are fast and powerful however, so it's hardly a big issue unless you are trying to dust your buddy. I prefer the spec on the Norco in terms of suspension and brakes, while the finish and details on the Rocky frame are superior.
A significant difference is the Dyname's multi-pulley, semi-high pivot suspension system. It's noisier than the Sight and, while better than the previous generation, it doesn't pedal nearly as well without power. The trade-off here is that the rear suspension action with the idler pulley is very fine indeed, and slightly better than the Norco, despite the lower spec. dampers. It's very close for me but one thing that tips the scale in the Norco's favour is the availability of the 900wh battery. You can get a piggy back for the Rocky but that's not as clean and integrated as the Sight. The Sight motor and interface was also less finicky, particularly in the cold weather, while the lower spec Altitude C70 can be yours for 11,400 CAD, battery included, which is comparable to the Sight C2. The user interface on the Rocky also gets the nod over the Shimano display and controls.
If I imagine myself owning an eMTB, the Sight C1 hits the target quite nicely for me. The geometry, suspension kinematics, component choices, and most of the fit and finish are very well sorted for the kind of riding I do normally, and yet easily adaptable to more mellow terrain. It's comforting to know that as I get older I'll be able to keep having epic adventures and huge climbs with my buddies while enjoying the descents as much as ever.
The Sight C1 has increased in price by 1000 CAD to 12,450 CAD since it was released, as prices for raw materials and components have also gone up. The final price must be calculated with between 1150 and 1700 CAD for a battery.
Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)
Weight - 170lbs/77kg
Inseam - 33"/84cm
Ape Index - 0.986
Age - 57
Trail I've been stoked on lately - Lower Digger
Bar Width - 760mm
Preferred Reach - 485-500mm (longer with 27.5 wheels than 29)