2014 Norco Range Killer B
Size Tested: Large
MSRP: Starting at $2,775
Rider Info: 5’9”, 150 lbs.
Days Tested: 1
Locations Tested: Bootleg Canyon, Boulder City, Nevada
Last month, we tested bikes on the rocky trails around Boulder City, Nevada during the Interbike Outdoor Demo. But before we get to our initial impressions of the Range, an important caveat:
Riding bikes at a demo is always kind of tricky. For starters, we didn’t get much time on each bike—at most around an hour, and with many bikes it was just a 25-minute loop. 25 minutes can tell you a lot about how a bike handles, but it certainly doesn’t allow for our customary in-depth, BLISTER analysis.
In addition, these bikes are set up by mechanics at each company’s booth, and while these guys do a great job, there isn’t really time to get each bike dialed for how I’d normally set it up. (If nothing else, I probably would have put wider bars on most of the bikes I rode.)
And then there are the trails. Interbike’s Outdoor Demo takes place at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City. It’s a little bastion of awesomeness that overlooks the pit of despair that is Las Vegas, and the trails are fantastic: super rocky, with lots of sand, some rocks, some jumps here and there, and did I mention the rocks? Most of my time on these bikes was spent on the more cross-country oriented trails, even though the DH trail system is (in my opinion) the crown jewel of the Bootleg trail network.
The XC trails have a good mix of flowy corners, short punchy climbs, rock gardens, and a bit of chunder. All in all, they’re decent for testing out the different aspects of a given bike, but to really develop a feel for how a bike works, there’s no substitute for riding it for a long time on a lot of different types of trails.
So with all that in mind, let’s talk about the Range.
Norco was one of the first companies to release a longer travel option with 27.5″ wheels, and the aluminum Range Killer B that I rode hasn’t undergone any major changes for 2014. But I wanted to take the 2013 Range for a test ride at Interbike to see how it stacked up against the 27.5″ offerings that will be hitting the market next year.
I should note that the Range is now available with a fancy carbon chasis that saves some weight and stiffens things up. Also of note, my test bike was actually in SR Suntour’s fleet, meaning that it was decked out with SR Suntour suspension bits (review forthcoming). So the Range I rode wasn’t completely stock, and the 2014 model comes with Fox Float shocks front and rear.
I ended up riding a large Range, rather than a medium. By modern geometry standards, Norco’s “large” isn’t as big as some other companies’ bikes. At 435mm, the reach is about the same as my medium Specialized Enduro, although the top tube is definitely longer. If I were going to buy a Range, I’d still definitely get a medium.
As long as we’re talking about sizing, I should mention that Norco changes their bikes depending on the size. For most companies, the main thing that changes from one size to the next is the front center of the bike. This means that the distance from the bottom bracket to the front axle changes, which in a more practical sense means the top tube and reach change. But in most cases, the rear end stays pretty much the same.
Norco has what they call “Gravity Tune,” which changes the rear center of the bike as well. While the actual linkage of the rear end doesn’t change, Norco shifts the bottom bracket forward on larger models and rearward on smaller models. For tall people who can shift their weight over the rear wheel with ease, this helps make the bike more stable and less inclined to loop out in hard corners. For short folks, the Gravity Tune makes the bike a bit more maneuverable.
I have the benefit of being thoroughly average in height, so most bikes that have “average” length rear ends work okay for me. But especially for people at the tall or short ends of the spectrum, the Gravity Tune is a great idea that not many other companies are doing. The Range comes in both an XS and an XL, so all other attributes aside, if you’re at either end of the bell curve when it comes to stature, the Range, as well as several other bikes in Norco’s lineup that have been Gravity Tuned, should be on your list of bikes to check out.
The linkage on the Range is very similar to an FSR link. (The FSR link patent expired this year, so there are no longer any issues with Norco or any other company using this design.) Granted, Norco’s pivot placement near the rear axle is much lower and more forward than on the Specialized bikes.
The Norco pivot placement gives the rear wheel a slightly more rearward axle path, at least at the beginning of its travel. In theory, this should make the bike roll over square edged obstacles a little more easily, and it could make the bike pedal a little better as well.
While my test ride didn’t involve much granny ring climbing, sometimes a more rearward axle path can translate into annoying pedal feedback while in the little ring. Single ring devotees and 1×11 adoptees likely won’t have an issue with this, but 2x10ers that spend a lot of time in the granny should give the Range a test ride to decide if this will affect them.
In reality, I can’t say I noticed a huge difference between the Norco and the various Specialized offerings I’ve ridden. The Norco suspension may well be better, but without riding equivalent bikes with equivalent wheel sizes and tires, back to back, I have a hard time saying one is the best.
The Range pedaled about as well as my Enduro (not bad, but not great, either). I thought it did a very good job of absorbing trail chunder over bumps. As far as suspension performance, a lot of that comes down to the shocks, which as I noted above, were non-stock SR Suntours.
I’ll give a more complete rundown of the SR Suntour suspension in the upcoming review, so all I’ll say here is that I found them to be a bit more active than the Fox offerings, and to some extent, that came at the expense of efficiency. The SR Suntour shocks are much more adjustable than the current crop of Fox Floats, and I didn’t really have time to get them dialed.
A Few Comparisons
In general, I felt that the Range did everything pretty well, but didn’t stand out in any particular category. Some bikes I rode felt more inclined to plunder at high speeds (the Specialized Enduro 29 and the Pivot Mach 6, for example), while some bikes felt a bit more flickable and playful (the Devinci Troy). The Range felt like more of an all-arounder, somewhat like the Giant Trance 1. The Trance pedaled a little more efficiently than the Range, but the Range was a bit more active through the rough stuff.
It’s also worth noting that the Range was an aluminum frame with nice, but not top-of-the-line parts. For that reason, it’s a bit unfair to be comparing it directly to some of the other carbon-clad top end bikes I rode. For a more direct comparison, I’d really need to look at the Range Carbon LE. So to some extent, the mere fact that the alloy Range can be compared to bikes that cost twice as much is testament to its worth.
Even though the Range has been around a bit longer than some of the other bikes in this category, it’s absolutely still a contender. For an all-around rider who might race an Enduro one day, go for a long backcountry adventure the next, and maybe do the occasional bit of lift-served riding, the Range is a capable rig that can do it all.