For 2013, Norco has introduced two 650b suspension platforms: the 140mm Norco Sight Killer B and the 160mm Norco Range Killer B-2. Due to the popularity of the 26in Sight, it was given a stay of execution; the 26in Range wasn’t so fortunate.
The obvious changes to the Range frame, other than the new wheel size, are the one-piece, welded rocker link and oversized tubing profiles for improved frame stiffness. New 360° pivot hardware also boosts stiffness and should dramatically lengthen the life of the bearings. The most exciting addition, however, is the Norco Range Killer’s Gravity Tune geometry. First developed on the Aurum DH bike, Gravity Tune gives similar handling and weight distribution across all sizes. Norco achieves this by simply clocking the BB shell forward by 4mm every time it goes up a frame size, resulting in dedicated BB to rear axle (or ‘rear centre’) measurements on each frame size without having to make multiple back ends. Genius.
Norco has also tweaked the ART rear suspension on the Norco Range Killer. It still delivers 160mm of travel, but the new layout is more resistant to energy-sapping suspension wallow for improved pedalling efficiency. So much so, that even with the CTD shock set to ‘descend’ mode the Norco had a snappy, direct feel about it. Up front, the entry-level Fox Evolution CTD fork, with its open bath damper, never matched the rear for grip or control, but by running more air pressure for support we struck a reasonable compromise.
The 650b hoops on the Norco Range Killer are designed to take a beating, so they’re not the lightest. Still, they are in keeping with the attitude of the bike and would easily survive a couple of weeks in the Alps.
A double-ring Race Face crank gave the Range plenty of, er… range, and the 2×10 Truvativ chain device kept the chain securely in place — the twin jockey wheel design reduces friction and noise. Avid’s Elixir brakes weren’t nearly as quiet, and they suffered pressure build-up in the levers on longer descents. Still, at least they weren’t pulling straight to the bar!
We instantly ditched the funky ergo grips, and the 70mm stem followed suit soon after. Swapping to a 55mm stem proved a much better match for the proportions of the size large frame and improved the steering responses with the slack, progressive geometry.
It’s rare that we hop straight onto a brand new bike and instantly feel at home, but that’s exactly what happened once we fitted a shorter stem to the Norco Range Killer. And, by feeling at home, we don’t just mean achieving a good fit. Centred, capable and thrilling to ride, the Range wasted no time in winning us over. How much that had to do with the 650b wheels is debatable, but we can say with certainty that the latest incarnation of Norco’s ART suspension presented no surprises, other than how well it pedalled for such a plush bike. Grip, control and pop are all delivered in just the right measure to ensure that the bomber-solid 32lb Range never felt weighed down.
In fact, the bike was super-easy to lift and manoeuvre, but that’s not to say that the Norco Range Killer B-2 is an agile mountain goat; it definitely leans in favour of DH, where climbs are a necessary evil rather than part of the whole experience. On rougher climbs there’s a little bit of pedal feedback in the smaller of the two chainrings, but it’s a good compromise given how taut the pedalling response is in the bigger ring.
There is a lot to love about Norco’s new Range Killer B-2. It’s burly, the geometry is dialled and the rear suspension offers that pitter-patter plushness without the negative traits that often accompany longer-travel bikes. OK, so the stem’s too long, the grips are goofy and the basic 34 Talas fork isn’t going to set your world alight, but this is still the most accomplished 650b bike that we’ve ridden, and one of the best 160mm bikes period. Winch it up any hill with the fork travel lowered and the Range opens up tracks and trails that can be torn apart, rather than simply survived.
MBR rating: 10
Frame Hydroformed aluminium
Shock Fox Float CTD
Fork Fox 34 Talas CTD
Wheels Formula hubs, Sun Inferno rims, Schwalbe Hans, Dampf tyres
Brakes Avid Elixir 5 180mm
Drivetrain Race Face Evolve chainset, SRAM X9 r-mech, X7 shifters and f-mech
Sizes S, M, L, XL
Weight 14.58kg (32.14lb)
Size tested L
Head angle 65.4°
Seat angle 68.8°
BB height 336mm
Front centre 755mm
Down tube 705mm