One of our favourite trail bikes is redesigned for 27.5in wheels — but something is lost in translation
Norco is enjoying a burgeoning reputation as a modern, forward-thinking mtb brand, and it was also early to the party with two 650b suspension platforms. For 2014 the 140mm-travel ‘mid-wheeled’ Sight is also available in fancy-pants carbon, but here we’re testing the £2,250 aluminium Alloy 7.1 model.
The Norco chassis is only 12 months old, so tweaks rather than any huge redesign are the order of the day. The hydroformed front triangle sees improved cable routing above the down tube to protect cables from rock strikes, and there’s also a new, neat direct mount for the Shadow Plus rear mech.
Regardless of wheel size, the Sight has always used ISCG-05 tabs and a solid bolt-through 142x12mm axle (requiring a 5mm Allen key) but one subtle, perceptible improvement is a new chainstay pivot design that improves stiffness and should address the durability issues on our 2013 longtermer. Finally, to ensure a balanced ride, the frame is ‘Gravity Tuned’ with size-specific chainstay lengths; they measure a tight 426mm on the medium-sized bike tested here.
Norco’s FSR four-bar suspension layout puts the shock in front of the seat tube and out of the firing line. The 140mm of travel is controlled by the same Evolution series Fox CTD unit as the Lapierre Zesty AM 327 and Giant Trance 27.5 1, and the Sight also shares the dubious open-bath Evolution series Fox 32 fork too. Either by luck or design, the 140mm fixed-travel Float CTD model here actually worked better than the taller 150mm version on the Lapierre or the Giant’s adjustable-travel Talas unit.
Typically, Norco offers a logical component package, though there are a few exceptions. The own-brand bar and stem are a good shape and size, while the Shimano Deore brakes lack on-the-fly adjustment but work as well as more expensive models and make sense as a cost saver. The Shimano Deore chainset, however, lacks the build quality and stiffness of pricier Shimano gear. Not having a dropper post on a modern trail bike is inconvenient, but not even having a QR seat clamp is extremely annoying given the bike’s remit.
Cheaper Sun Ringle wheelsets haven’t always proven the best quality and the pinned Inferno rims here rolling on Shimano Deore hubs spin fine but are a tad heavy, and the spokes needed tensioning after a couple of rides. The big-volume, rounded-profile Kenda Honey Badger tyres offer decent cushioning, but have no cutting edge for grip, and the compound is slippy to boot.
With 140mm travel at both ends we were willing to accept that the Sight felt outgunned on our steeper test tracks by the longer-travel Lapierre Zesty. That was until the 134mm-travel Kona Process 134 rocked up and proved that numbers aren’t everything. In comparison, the Norco rear suspension feels a tad notchy, and simply isn’t as supple or as capable as the Kona or Lapierre. The reduction in grip and tracking (especially noticeable in muddy and rooty terrain) meant less control, and we didn’t feel as planted or confident hammering the hardest descents.
The Sight generally rides nimbly and pedals well, although there is some distinct interaction and extension of the suspension when cranking hard or climbing aggressively. The geometry positions your weight well to move about and control the bike, but there’s a slight sensation of the suspension not ‘sitting in’ to the stroke enough, and we noticed our feet riding a little high with upper body weight forward. This is hard to explain as the static BB measurement is low and the Sight has very short chainstays, too.
It’s also noticeable that the aluminium frame is less solid than some of the competition here; it leaves you feeling less able to push against edges and hollows to eke out speed or to slash banked corners and fire out through a G-out like you can on the Zesty and the Process.
This test first appeared in the February 2014 issue of MBR, alongside the Giant Trance 27.5 1, Kona Process 134 and Lapierre Zesty AM 327.
We’re not as sold on the 650b Norco Sight as the fun and efficient, top-scoring 26in version. It is a well-balanced package, but this Sight 7.1 model weighs just over 14kg and hasn’t got the class-leading suspension, urgent ride quality or componentry needed to win this test. Several tweaks have improved the aluminium frame, but it still doesn’t feel rock-solid or sprint as effectively as some. Norco has a gorgeous carbon model up its sleeve that we’ve not tried, but now the rest of the industry has cottoned on to the advantages of this wheel size, the Canadian brand has serious competition.