By Vernon Felton
Norco Range 2
$3,560 / norco.com
The Range is Norco's new all-mountain model. Bucking the carbon-fiber trend (for now, at least), Norco crafts the Range's carcass out of 6061-aluminum. The main frame is a sexy mix of hydroformed tubes replete with nice touches, including integrated dropper-post cable guides and a set of finger holds, molded into the rocker link, which allow for easier portaging during hike-a-bikes.
The rear end is a true Horst Link, four-bar affair. Norco has long licensed Specialized's FSR suspension design, though they've tweaked it a bit in 2011 with an eye toward improving pedaling efficiency. The axle path now takes a more rearward trajectory, which, according to Norco, accomplishes two things: First, as the suspension compresses, it creates a bit of chain growth, which, while pedaling, extends the rear shock and reduces its tendency to bob; and second, it reduces the rear wheel's tendency to hang up when tracking over roots and rocks.
I was shocked by how well the Range climbed. This is a bike that dishes out 6.3 inches of rear travel, yet powers up climbs with barely any bobbing--and that's with the RockShox Monarch RT 3.3 set at a squishy 30 percent sag and its low-speed compression damping turned off.
Though the Range ascends well, it's even better on descents. The cockpit is spot-on perfect for navigating steep terrain, affording you a centered and confident rider position. The Range feels perfectly dialed on uber-technical trails, thanks in large part to the stout frame, slackish 66.5-degree head angle and excellent standover clearance. Norco also chased flexy behavior out of the rear end by outfitting the Range with Syntace's clever X-12 through-axle system.
While I appreciated the Range's crisp pedaling manners, some of that efficiency comes at the expense of small-bump compliance and traction. Surprisingly, the Range rides more like a VPP or DW-Link bike than a Horst Link bike. Is that a good or bad thing? It all depends on your priorities. Some people prize quick acceleration and climbing prowess above all else. Those folks will love the Range. Personally, I prefer a more supple and linear-feeling rear suspension in a bike with this much travel.
The component spec is largely on target. Kudos to Norco for equipping the bike with the burly RockShox Lyrik fork, through-axle rear end and sturdy DT/Sunringlé wheelset. I was initially confused by the triple-ring crankset (who uses the big ring on a bike like this?) but apparently, Norco normally includes an e13 bashguard with every Range. Sweet. I'd ditch the 2.25-inch knobbies for beefier treads, and given the bike's proclivities and price tag, a travel-adjust seatpost would be a nice addition. All in all, however, the Range has made an impressive debut.
Final Take: The most efficient FSR-style, all-mountain bike to date? Yup, you're looking at it.