2013 Norco Range 650b – Tested

2013 Norco Range 650b – Tested

Words & Photos by Heather Makuch

2013 Norco Range Killer B

Norco just had their 2013 product launch and pics of the new products are starting to make their way around the web. One of their new exciting lines is the Range 650b series. I was lucky enough to receive a pre production prototype of this exciting new frame and have been spending a ton of time putting the new tech through it’s paces.

For most people the headline news on this new line is the 650b wheel size.  For those of you who may not be familiar with 650b, simply put it’s a 27.5 inch wheel.  A bit bigger than your standard 26″, but smaller than the wagon wheel 29ers.  Basically it’s the goldy locks of wheel sizes, not too big, not too small, just right.  Of course, the haters are gonna jump all over this crying out that we don’t need another wheel size, but one ride on a 650b wheel will have them changing tunes quicker than Usain Bolt’s 100m dash.

Beyond the “new” wheel size (650b has actually been around for quite a while, but has only recently made it’s way to the MTB world), the entire frame has been redesigned.  The tapered head tube, 142/12mm rear axle with Syntaces awesome derailleur hanger system, and A.R.T. suspension  (Advanced Ride Technology, but I prefer to call it Awesome Rear Suspension!) have all made their way to the new frame, but so has a bunch of other cool tech like the smooth welds (nicer looking and stronger), Gravity Tune (chainstay length increases/decreases proportionately to the size of the bike), and the clevis-less pivots (basially no welds for pivot points, the pivot is integrated directly into the tubing, making it stronger and lighter).  There’s a bunch of other stuff going on as well, but you can check out www.norco.com for more spec and tech.

At 5’0, I always have issues when it comes to the standover height of my bikes.  It turns out all the whining I did over the past few years has paid off, because the other big news with the new 2013 Range frame is the low standover height.  Despite the larger wheels,  my XS frame is almost 2″ lower than my 2012 Range.  For anyone under 5’7″, this is HUGE!  Most bikes I’ve had in the past fit once I got on them, but getting on and off was always a bit sketchy.  The guys at Norco took this into consideration with the new design, and the end result is a frame with the lowest standover height in the business.  On behalf of short people, thank you Norco.

    

I’m not gonna lie, I really like this bike.  Coming from a 2012 Range (using 26″ wheels), the improvements were immediately noticeable.  This is first bike I’ve ever owned that really fits.  Between the low standover and Gravity tune rear end, I finally have a bike that fits me in every way without losing suspension travel or other tradeoffs in geometry.  Right away I felt comfortable on the bike.

   

Having never ridden a 29er (they simply don’t make them small enough to fit someone my height) I can’t comment on how the 650b compares to full size wagon wheels.  What I can say, however, is that the 27.5″ wheels don’t really feel any larger than a 26″ wheel when maneuvering the bike, but seem to roll smoother over almost every type of terrain.  As a smaller rider, I often lack the muscle to be able to power through rough sections, but I was able to plow through sections that I would normally get hung up on.  Traction up climbs, corners, and when braking is also noticeably better, which makes sense given the larger contact area with the ground compared to 26″ wheels.  In fact, with the 650b wheels I was able to drop to a narrower tire and still feel just as comfortable while benefiting from the lower weight and decreased rolling resistance of the narrower tires.  I have to admit I was really skeptical going in, but it seems like the 27.5″ wheel hits the mark by delivering the benefits of extra rolling ability without a perceptible decrease in handling, and the bottom line is that after riding 650b wheels, I have ZERO desire to go back to 26″ wheels for all-mountain riding.
All in all the 2013 Norco Range is awesome.  The 650b wheels may be the latest trend, but the proof is in the ride and I’d be willing to wager this isn’t just another marketing ploy and they’re here to stay.  Throw in the fact that I finally have a frame that actually fits me properly, and without a doubt this is the best all-around/do-everything mountain bike I have ever ridden.
If you have any questions about the 2013 Norco Range series, 650b in general, or want to see the bike in real life please feel free to send me a note through Blacks Cycle at blackscycle@gmail.com, or come on out to one of our Tuesday evening shop rides.

Comments

  1. Someone that has never ridden a wheel size that has had a MASSIVE impact on the bike industry. Can this person genuinely and effectively review a middle ground wheel size?

  2. There are other reviews of this bike hitting the web daily, many of which are coming from riders that have spent time on 29ers, and I’m sure you’ll see lots of insights on how the 650b fares relative to the larger wheel size. My write up was based on my experience from a slightly different (ie, vertically lower) perspective. As I highlighted in my write up, the 650b wheels are only half the story on the new Range. For me, the bigger and more important improvement was the reduced standover height. This is something a lot of folks won’t really care about, but for those of us who are vertically challenged it’s huge, and shouldn’t be downplayed.

    Having said all that, I’d consider myself well qualified to review this new platform. I’ve spent lots of time on the 26″ version of this bike, so in this case I’d say my comparison is as apples to apples as it gets. My comments still stand: The 650b wheel doesn’t really feel much bigger, but at the end of the day I find I ride smoother and with more confidence. Is it better than a 29er? I don’t know because they don’t make them in my size (another plus for 650b in my books). Not only that, but to the best of my knowledge there are no slack angled (66.5 degree HT) 160mm 29er AM bikes out there. 140mm seems to be about as big as they get, again, another limitation of the 29″ wheel. If this were a shorter travel, more XC oriented bike it might be a different story, but in this case it actually makes more sense to compare the 650b to the 26″ on THIS platform.

  3. Pollo loco says:

    Great, honest review made even better by your back-to-back comparison of both Range models.
    Im curious about two things, tho:
    How does it compare in weight with the previous Range, more specifically, the frame.
    Did the Vengeance fork slacken the geo a lot?
    Thnx.

  4. Hey Pollo,

    To be honest, I’m not sure of the exact weight of the new frame vs the old frame, but I don’t think there’s a huge difference. I should have thrown the frame on the scale before building it up, but was too excited to get the thing together 😉 The overall weight of the bike is within 1 oz, but there are several spec changes (different fork, wheels, tires, front derailleur, and rear shock), so not exactly sure where the differences lies. What I can comment on, however, is that the new bike definitely feels lighter on the trail, even when I was running the 2.3 Nevegals (same tires I was running on my 26″ Range).

    The Vengeance fork is set at 160mm, so the headtube angle is 66.5 degress, exactly the same as my 26″ Range.

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