The all-mountain cross-country bike category has seen serious improvements in versatility, making these bikes the top choice for many riders today. Just a few years ago, all-mountain bikes were largely compromises between long-travel suspension and pedaling performance. Now, the segment has evolved to the point where numerous brands have 6-inch-travel all-mountain offerings in the 25-28-pound range, which is enticing to a rider looking for a “traditional” 4- to 5-inch-travel trailbike. Norco’s latest offering in the all-mountain category is the 2011 Range. The 6.3-inch-travel Range is available in four models, ranging from the $2225 Range 3 to our $7195 flagship Range SE.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
With 6.3 inches of front and rear travel, the Range is capable of handling practically any terrain, uphill or down, in the hands of a skilled rider. To get the most out of a bike like the Range, you need the lungs and legs to crest technical climbs only bikes like the Range can handle; then you will be rewarded with a technical descent on the flipside.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The aluminum Range SE is a new model for Norco and is built around a hydroformed aluminum frame with a tapered head tube. At the heart of the Range is Norco’s A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) suspension system, which Norco describes as optimizing the licensed FSR link from Specialized for a rear wheel path that moves rearward as well as upward to improve how the bike rolls over rough terrain. The Range frame uses a one-piece rocker link for improved frame stiffness, while the rear triangle utilizes Syntace’s 142x12-millimeter rear dropout system.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Our top-shelf Range SE is pricey at $7195, but Norco went above and beyond to make it as lightweight as possible with a variety of carbon fiber components. The next bike in the line, the Range 1, is considerably less expensive at $4685 and still features a high-end spec.
Our Range SE sparkles from head to toe with flashy bits, like the Crankbrothers Iodine all-mountain wheelset with Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, SRAM X0 shifters and derailleurs, XX cassette, and Avid XX brakes. The Range’s 3x10 drivetrain uses Race Face’s SIXC carbon crankset, while premium Fox Shox suspension soaks up hits front to back.
Carving: With aggressive Schwalbe tires, a wide carbon fiber Race Face handlebar and balanced suspension, Norco’s Range SE stays hooked up when charging corners.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Ergonomics: The Range SE’s sweeping lines and color-coordinated graphics and components make the bike as entertaining to look at as it is to ride. The reasonably low, 29-inch-tall standover height and slack 66.5-degree head angle say the Range is built for aggressive riding. We set the shock sag to 25 percent and the fork sag to about 20 percent and hit the trails.
Pedaling: Norco licenses Specialized’s FSR suspension for their full-suspension bikes. Like the “Big S” has in recent years, Norco has modified the pivot location for improved pedaling when the suspension is fully active. We rode the Range on everything from loose, rocky singletrack to blazing-fast hardpacked fire roads. Unwanted suspension movement is minimal while you’re cranking in the saddle. Although we were riding the Range SE stock, we’d likely prefer running the shock “open” most of the time with a faster-rolling Schwalbe rear tire (the 2.25-inch Racing Ralph comes to mind) to help maintain momentum without sacrificing comfort or suspension performance by overloading it with low-speed compression.
Climbing: The Range SE is an eye-catching ride. And, the rather tall tapered head tube caused some concern about proper body positioning when going uphill. Setting the stem close to the headset with only one spacer was the ticket, however, and a wandering front end was rarely a concern. For a bike with over 6 inches of travel and meaty Schwalbe tires, the Range SE is a snappy bike that climbs as well as any all-mountain bike we’ve tested.
When we rode extended fire road climbs or less technical singletrack, we ran the large-volume Fox RP23 shock in the second of the three ProPedal settings for a slightly more efficient feel. If we were climbing technical and unpredictable terrain, we left the shock “open” with the ProPedal off and took advantage of the improved rear-end traction. This is also a good example of the importance of setting proper suspension sag. When seated and pedaling, the rear end largely sits in the sweet spot and rarely “bobs” wildly out of control.
Cornering: The balanced front and rear Fox suspension, plus the aggressive Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, kept the Range rider in control when changing direction at speed. The 2.85-inch-wide Race Face SIXC carbon handlebar is a perfect spec for this bike. It’s a weight-conscious component, but gives the rider leverage for committed cornering at speed.
Braking: The Range SE is decked out with Avid’s XX disc brakes with 7-inch rotors front and rear. The XX line spares no expense, with bits like the two-piece clean-sweep rotors and titanium rotor bolts. The XX brake may be Avid’s premium cross-country brake, but it’s just as much at home in the all-mountain division with larger rotors. Long-travel trailbikes, like the Range, can handle gnarly terrain at speed, but the rider can only go as fast as his brakes are reliable. And the magnesium XX brakes, although slightly less crash-resistant than Avid’s other top aluminum models (like the X0), do an awesome job of keeping speed in check in this application.
Descending: With the wide handlebar, tubeless-ready Crankbrothers wheelset, powerful brakes and 6.3-inches of travel, the Range SE is a weapon when pointed downhill. The Fox Float 36 FIT RLC has adjustable rebound and low-speed compression. We ran just a couple clicks of low-speed compression at first, but, after a few rides, the 36 was broken in and smooth, so we could benefit from a couple more clicks to help the bike maintain balance when descending.
Top-shelf gear: The Norco Range SE combines an all-mountain platform with lightweight components for a pricey yet agile build. Notable features include a custom-tuned Fox RP23 shock and an oversized, tapered head tube.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Riders looking to run a two-ring setup with a shift guide will be happy to know the frame features chainguide mounting tabs. The top tube has cable guides for dropper seatpost cable routing. Thankfully, the Range SE is a reasonably lightweight bike for having 6.3 inches of travel. Despite the 3x10 drivetrain, we were often wishing for more gear options in the middle ring. With a 12-36 10-cog cassette instead of the supplied 11-32, we would have been able to run the middle ring instead of the granny gear on ultra-steep climbs. This would reduce the chain tension, helping to maintain momentum, so we could get more out of each crank rotation when putting down an all-or-nothing effort.
The only glaring omission from the Range SE (especially with a price tag over $7000) is the absence of a dropper seatpost. Norco acknowledges this type of bike deserves a dropper post, but says they’ve not found one on the market reliable enough to spec confidently. The addition of a dropper post would add about a pound to the bike’s overall weight.
Norco’s new Range is an impressive ride. It’s spec’ed with a smattering of lightweight cross-country parts, but is burly enough to handle daily duty as a trail basher. The Range SE is one of the snappiest accelerating all-mountain bikes we’ve ridden. And with 6.3 inches of travel, a tough wheelset and powerful brakes, there’s not a technical singletrack it can’t tame. With four models in the Range line, this level of performance should be accessible for a variety of riders.
NORCO RANGE SE SPECS:
Country of origin
Bottom bracket height
Top tube length
Head tube angle
Seat tube angle
Fox Float 36 FIT RLC
Crankbrothers Iodine (26”)
Schwalbe Nobby Nic
Race Face SIXC
Race Face SIXC, (28.5” wide)
Race Face (44/32/22)
SRAM XX 10-cog (11-32)
27.2 feet (per crank revolution)
4.7 feet (per crank revolution)
None (weighed with Shimano XTR)