LONG TERM REVIEW: NORCO RANGE C1
High-pivot enduro race engineering or high-pivot hype?
Photos by Traece Craig
Much to their fans’ delight, Norco has redesigned the Range, which was first launched in 2012. This latest iteration was developed in collaboration with Norco’s World Cup downhill team and is designed specifically for enduro racing. Most notable is that this 29-inch-wheeled bike has a virtual-high-pivot rear-suspension design with an idler pulley. No doubt, at first glance there is a lot going on in the suspension department on this bike. We are seeing a wave of brands going with a similar philosophy, so what are the advantages of a virtual-high-pivot suspension with an idler pulley? Here’s what you need to know about Norco’s new 2022 Range.
Previous versions of the Range aspired to “do many things” with one bike. With their other models evolving as well, this has allowed the Range to be designated as a pure-enduro race rig. Norco designed this full carbon fiber chassis with a whopping 170mm of travel at the front and rear. Luckily, all frame sizes offer enough space for a 750ml water bottle and come with an additional tool mount located underneath the top tube.
Currently, this enduro brawler is only offered in carbon. Sorry to our mixed-wheel or mullet fans, but the Range is 29-inch wheels only. Furthermore, size-specific geometry is utilized to maintain suspension kinematics without altering the leverage curve and ride characteristics. For each frame, there is a different chainstay length, so the main link arm and dropouts can change to maintain the intended rate. Without the use of Flip Chips, each size of the Range uses different chainstay lengths with size-specific dropouts and link arms. All of this was done in conjunction with Norco’s Ride Aligned Design System to match each individual bike to the rider. This system that Norco has developed is across its line of mountain bikes. It takes into consideration your height, weight, skill level, and body type. They’ve put quite a bit of research into this system, which can be accessed online to produce your very own unique guide for setup.
Now let’s talk about what those geo changes actually look like. There are four sizes of the Range, with the smallest coming in with a 420mm reach, which then jumps by 30mm per size. We tested a size medium with a 630mm stack height and a 1243mm wheelbase. The stack measurement changes around 11–12mm or so between sizes, while the wheelbase changes from 40mm to 44mm, depending on the size. Size small frames have a 63.75-degree head tube and 76.50-degree seat tube angle. When you jump to a medium, those numbers decrease at the head tube and increase for the seat tube by a quarter degree. Same with the large and extra-large sizes.
The new 2022 Norco Range is offered in three builds, from the top-of-the-line C1 model that we’ve tested to the entry-level C3. Noteworthy is that the Range is offered as a frameset for $3799 for those who want to build their own custom setup. Although we might like one color more than the other, each build is only built with that particular option.
For the top-tier C1 Range priced at $9500, there are Deity carbon handlebars paired with a Norco alloy 40mm stem. The C1 rolls on high-end We Are One carbon rims laced to the Onyx hubs. Prominent is the instant-engagement system of the Onyx hubs, which are completely silent.
In addition, the C1 drivetrain and brakes are SRAM’s current top-of-the-line choices for enduro, with X01 Eagle 12-speed shifting and Code RSC stopping power. The C2 is priced at $7199, and priced at $5599 is the C3 build setup with Shimano SLX components. Both of these lower-tier models come with aluminum wheels. The C2 features e*thirteen LG1 rims with the easy-to-maintain DT Swiss 350 hubs, while the C3 has a more budget-friendly wheelset utilizing Stan’s Flow rims paired with Shimano hubs. Typically, brands will also change tire options as build levels differ, yet every build option has the same Maxxis 2.5-inch Assegai at the front and 2.4-inch Dissector at the back.
From C1 to C3, each model is spec’d with the exact same Fox DHX2 Factory coil shock. The C1 tested comes with a 170mm-travel Fox 38 fork, while the C2 and C3 have a RockShox ZEB fork instead. The Range can also be run with forks up to 180mm in both single crown and dual crown.
Previous variants of the Range featured an FSR-style four-bar design and vertical shock position, but the all-new version moves to a high-pivot model of this design. The high pivot creates an axle path that moves in an arc up and backward from the rest of the bike, essentially mimicking the front fork. This rearward axle path is intended to react better to square-edge hits while increasing the wheelbase and stability when you need it most. The idler pulley’s integration is required on these high-pivot designs to help minimize the chain growth and pedal kickback that the design inherently creates.
Mass is kept low by tucking the horizontally oriented shock through and above the bottom bracket. Note that the new frame must be used with a coil shock. It’s recommended that you use either a Fox DHX2 or RockShox Super Deluxe due to clearance limitations and to maintain the leverage ratio desired by the engineers.
Even though it is in the “race bike” category, by no means would this be our weapon of choice to knock out KOMs going up a climb. We felt the new Range was a bit of a handful to maneuver during technical climbs. Even though there is very little pedal-induced bob, it is so plush and active that we often reached for the shock’s climbing switch to keep things as efficient as possible. The 18-tooth jockey wheel of the idler pulley is relatively quiet, and only a smidge of drag is noticeable at very slow cadences.
This is not a lightweight bicycle, either. Even our size-medium test bike with all its carbon components weighs more than some downhill bikes we’ve tested—and we felt it. Even though it gets the job done, we just couldn’t get ourselves to love the Range when headed up a hill.
We’ll say first that the smooth operation of the high-pivot and silent Onyx hubs made for a completely different riding experience than only being able to hear a buzzing hub. It was refreshing to be listening to the surroundings and the noise of the bike (or lack thereof) while staying focused on the trail ahead. Yes, a lot is going on with the suspension. Even more of a plus is that it works wonders when barreling down a trail. We could feel how active the suspension became with even the smallest surface change. Big hits or small, the new Range would gobble up obstacles. Furthermore, the axle path helped the bike maintain momentum on trails with deep holes and square-edge bumps that might hang up other bikes. This suspension design also rewards the rider with ample traction on off-camber sections. Just riding along or fully pinned while maintaining speed, the Range is very predictable.
From the first corner our test riders hit, they felt low and into the bike rather than feeling over the top on turns. By the same token, the suspension is one of the best our testers have felt under braking, as it stays active while maintaining grip and control. The bike boasts a great balance of traction, playfulness, and harmony between the front and rear centers.
MODS AND UPGRADES
The Range is not easy for the average rider to afford, but as one would expect, there are still a few upgrades that can be made—even to the $10,000 C1 build. If this were our bike, we would want to add some extra frame protection. On our first ride, we had a stick get caught between the front chainring and the frame, just in front of the bottom bracket, leaving a mark. This is one area to cover, but it would be well worth completely wrapping the frame in protective film to avoid unwanted marks in the carbon tubes. We’d also make sure to have the proper coil-spring rate. Yes, the Ride Aligned info is a great starting point, but depending on your riding ability and style, you might need to vary it somewhat. At the end of the day, there is little to complain about on all three builds with what comes spec’d.
The Range is not everyone’s favorite flavor given its sharply focused dedication to enduro racing. In fact, it really is a one-trick pony that doesn’t offer what the everyday or even weekend rider is looking for. Then again, this reimagined design is not meant for every rider. Norco has created a superb bike for racing the clock while going downhill in enduro races. The Range’s unique suspension design provides performance advantages on long, steep, braking-bumped, rowdy courses. Norco’s latest Range wants to be raced fast, but you cannot count on it to be efficient for climbing.
SUSPENSION: 170mm (front & rear)
WHEEL SIZE: 29″