The Norco Range first piqued my interest back in the summer of 2021 when idler pulleys and high-pivot designs were the new/old hotness. With its low-slung silhouette and gargantuan wheelbase, I began to dream of a DH bike that could be pedaled back up the mountain. After the Range won Pinkbike’s “Bike of the Year” award, my dream became an obsession.
I set up a “saved search” on TPC’s site and kept a close eye on our pre-owned inventory. Luck was on my side and I snagged an XL C3 frame in spectacular condition. Without delay, I was submerged in an Excel file analyzing specs, prices, and my own sanity to assemble “DownDuroBurro.” I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
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As with all builds, I focus on the suspension first. The Norco comes stock with a FOX Factory DHX2 and a nifty Sprindex coil. These “adjustable” coils help you dial in the spring rate when you’re between two different spring weights. But even with the adjustability of the Sprindex coil, the stock spring was too stiff, so I swapped it out for the appropriate FOX SLS spring to get 30% sag.
With a FOX Factory shock out back, the obvious fork choice was a FOX Factory 38. My goal was to get as close to DH-nirvana as possible so I upgraded the air spring in my 38 from 170mm to 180mm. This pushed the already-slack head angle from 63° to 62.5° and the seat angle from 77.3° to 76.8° — adequately steep for climbing, but now with more rake and travel for outright downhill speed.
For the brakes, I choose SRAM Code RSC brakes with the 220mm front and 200mm rear HS2 rotors. I’ve become a big fan of the modulation of the Code RSC, which now exemplifies the same dependability and functionality that Shimano has historically been known for. The big rotors provide big stopping power without the concern of brake fade on longer Enduro courses.
The drivetrain consists of varying levels of SRAM AXS. I prioritized the rear mech and shifter, selecting SRAM X01 AXS. SRAM GX AXS filled the remaining duties for the crank, cassette, and chain.
I did swap the chainring for one of 5Dev’s beautifully machined 7075 Classic chainrings. The 3mm offset improved the alignment with the integrated chain guide on the Range. The 5Dev All-Around pedals added a bit of flash. I like the low profile because it keeps rock strikes to a minimum.
The cockpit is a bit of a mishmash of brands. The bar and stem started as an ENVE carbon bar/alloy stem combo, but I switched out the bar to a Specialized alloy take-off (more on that later). The XL frame accommodates a 200mm dropper, so I went with OneUp’s outstanding V2 post, matched with a Fox Transfer lever. My trusty WTB Volt handles saddle duty and Wolftooth lock-on grips provide just the right amount of cushion.
I’d been trying to get my hands on a set of Zipp 3Zero Moto wheels since they were introduced. I was intrigued by the single-wall design and “ankle compliance” philosophy which allows the rim to contour to off-camber terrain, equivalent to a runner’s ankle as they round a corner. After harassing SRAM for several months, a shiny new set arrived for testing (hopefully we will start carrying them). I matched the new hoops to the Vittoria Mazza Race tires and Air-Liner inserts. I was ready to slash and burn everything in sight.
The first few rides on any bike are really a familiarization period, or the “shakedown” as our founder Nick refers to it. Some bikes take a bit of time to warm up to, and others seem to connect from the first pedal stroke. The Range was more of the latter.
There’s certainly more effort required to climb on the Range, with its long wheelbase and slack geometry, the front end would wander on the most technical climbs. The meandering through steep singletrack was not the fault of the designers at Norco, but rather how I set it up. The truth is, I expected this sort of behavior when I opted for a longer fork, a 30mm stem, and a 40mm rise handlebar. I had accepted the tradeoff for a more downhill-oriented configuration.
That said, the wandering wasn’t excessive or even bothersome for that matter. The steep seat tube angle and upright position made climbing rather comfortable. I wasn’t breaking any Strava records, but the bike wasn’t the “pig” I expected. The Range only felt cumbersome on the most rocky, technical climbs. On slow, square edge obstacles the rearward axle path felt like dragging an anchor uphill. But I’ve always viewed the climb as a means to an end and the bike was efficient enough and actually exceeded expectations.
MTB forums are stacked with comments regarding the cornering behavior of high-pivot bikes. Essentially the wheelbase elongates under compression which provides more stability but arguably reduces the agility and playfulness of more traditional suspension designs. I don’t have the skill or courage to jib every log or roost every berm. I prefer the confidence of a stable platform and suspension that compensates for my lack of talent. Said differently. I’ll take all the help I can get. (Editor's Note: Travis won a couple of DH races recently. He’s being way too humble.)
The reliable and balanced design of the Range motivated me to push hard into the corners. After a few rides where I played with the low-speed compression, I was able to find the sweet spot and started railing berms and pushing through with exit speed that I’d never experienced before. I didn’t feel the dexterity and predictive nature of my old Pivot Firebird, but after familiarizing myself with the topography, the Range devoured all types of corners from off-camber to loose and unsupported to bike park perfection. The Range just wanted to eat.
Where the Norco truly shined was in the rough, fast, and steep — it’s a flat-out missile. The taller stack and longer front end allowed me to push the limits of my ability while maintaining control. The bike seemed to float across off-camber rock gardens and high-speed impacts. It’s difficult for me to deduce if this was thanks to the “ankling” from the Zipp 3ZeroMoto wheels or if it was simply the sum of all parts working in unison.
So I swapped the Zipp’s for my ENVE M730’s and there was a noticeable difference in both compliance and tracking. I preferred cornering on the ENVE’s, but the 3ZeroMotos were much more manageable at speed — quiet and composed.
I’ve been splitting my time between the Continental Kryptotal and the Vittoria Mazza tires. I was impressed with the Mazza Race version on the Range. The tire seemed to grip better than the standard Mazza and they’ve lasted longer than the Kryptotols. I still feel the Kryptotal is more predictable, but the Mazza Race has performed flawlessly and sheds mud better.
As mentioned earlier, I had initially outfitted the Range with a 35mm ENVE M7 bar, but after a long day at Angel Fire Bike Park in New Mexico, my hands were roasted. I experimented with air spring pressure, tire pressure, compression, and rebound, and changed the grips. I didn’t want to part with my fancy ENVE jewelry, but it was clear that they were too stiff for me. After swapping to a cheap alloy Specialized bar I was able to enjoy three more days racking laps at Angel Fire. For the record, I ride a 35mm M7 on all bikes. I like the responsiveness and ergonomics of the bar. The experience at Angel Fire is probably not a reflection of the bar, but rather my age. I’m going to try a more compliant 31.8mm ENVE M6 on my next build to see if that reduces the excessive fatigue.
Dropper posts are really the unsung hero of components. They never get the praise they deserve as you really only talk about them when they’re not working properly. The OneUp V2 worked flawlessly and its low stack height allowed me to fit a 200mm post. The smooth lever action and consistent performance had arguably the most transformative impact to the build.
Travis has way too many mountain bikes. He can't keep them all.
So, was this a downhill bike that you could ride uphill? The short answer is no. The more nuanced answer is it’s about as close as you can get.
Forums are full of comments regarding the death of DH thanks to the capability of long-travel Enduro bikes. Bike sales are certainly supporting this trend. Be that as it may, I feel these comments come from those that haven’t ridden a contemporary downhill bike. Yes, Enduro bikes have become more and more capable, but new downhill offerings have advanced at the same pace.
For me, the Range straddles the fine line between too much and not enough. It’s too much bike for everyday riding and the varying terrain here on the Colorado Front Range. Although I tried my best, it’s simply not enough of a full-blown DH gravity cannon. I get it, not everyone lives near lift access and the Range is the ideal weapon for the most challenging enduro courses on the calendar. Would I keep it if I were chasing enduro supremacy? HELL YES. But I’m building a DH bike next.
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