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Review: 2022 Norco Range VLT is more than a bigger battery

A burly big mountain machine gets upgrades to go faster and farther than before

Norco Range VLT review

Norco’s overhauled its VLT range of eMTBs, releasing the third generation of Range VLT along with an updated Sight and all-new Fluid VLT. The Range, though, is the big brawler of the bunch. It’s an enduro-ready, 170mm travel Big Mountain bike that’s ready to take on whatever trail you throw at it. With a few changes over the previous generation, the Range is ready to ride faster, more confidently and over tougher trails.

We’ve spent the last month on Norco’s top-end Range VLT C1, with its carbon fibre frame, replaceable battery and Fox Factory suspension. Here’s what’s new, what’s stayed the same and what stands out on trail from the Canadian brand’s burly eMTB.

Norco Range VLT review

Norco Range VLT – What’s new?

Norco updated the Range last year, too. So what’s new? Why re-release the bike again one year later? Well, the Range is part of a wider VLT update, including adding the all-new Fluid VLT, a more light trail focused bike. But the big change is on the tech side. According to Norco, the last update brought the Range into the Ride Aligned design system. This year’s all about making the bikes current with rapidly developing eMTB technology.

RELATED: Norco expands and redesigns its VLT eMTB line for 2022

Removable – and powerful – battery

The biggest change is the new, removable battery system. That’s no small matter. It allows Norco to pack in an industry-leading 900Wh battery. It also gives riders the choice of a lighter 540Wh battery, if you’re only planning on  shorter rides and lunch laps. The third is a middle-ground 720Wh battery. All three are sold separately, so you can pick your battery to suit how you’ll ride when you buy the Range. Or get two, so you have options and a back-up when you forget to charge.

The 900Wh battery is a massive about of power, and really extends the Range’s … range. That’s great for a big mountain / enduro focused bike. But having the option to run a smaller, and lighter battery is a nice touch from Norco.

29″ wheels

Norco moves its bike bike to big wheels for 2022. This brings the Range VLT in line with the rest of the eMTB line. It also suits the bikes enduro and Big Mountain purpose. It makes the bike longer, but also adds stability and rollover speed for an all-round faster bike.

Shimano EP8 motor

As mentioned in the VLT launch, Norco’s moved to Shimano’s EP8 motor. It’s quieter than its predecessor, and a bit more powerful. It also is easy to adjust, using Shimano’s free app. That lets you customize various settings, like support level and how fast the motor engages when you start pedalling. While not everyday changes, they do let you tune the Range to where you ride. There’s also two bike profiles, so you can share the bike with a partner or set it up differently to ride with other eMTBs versus riding with friends on analog bikes.

Norco Range VLT review

What’s stays (sort of) the same?

When Norco added the removable battery, the engineers didn’t want do use a drop-out design. The sliding battery on the Range (and other VLTs) makes maintaining torsional stiffness easier, and the design much less complicated. It did mean tilting the motor up on an angle, so the battery has room to slide out near the bottom bracket. Doing that meant Norco had to reposition the shock mount from its prior vertical orientation.

Norco says the change still maintains all the ride characteristics – kinematics and progression – as the prior Range VLT, just in a new layout. The brand was happy with how the last bike worked, and wanted to keep that feeling consistent with the new frame design. The Range still takes advantage of Norco’s Ride Aligned system, too, so finding fit and suspension settings on the Range is a breeze.

Norco Range VLT C1

The C1 is at the top of Norco’s four-bike Range VLT line. It uses a carbon fibre frame and seat stays, with an aluminum chainstay and burly aluminum shock linkage. The build prioritizes durability, making it a burly, hardcore trail bike out of the box.

Up front, a Fox 38 Factory E-tuned fork gives 180-mm of travel. That’s matched to a Fox DHX2 Factory coil shock out back, giving the range 170-mm rear wheel travel. The E-tuned suspension bits are proving to be more than marketing, as its one of the most balanced eMTBs I’ve ridden to date.

The Range VLT rolls on DT Swiss 1700 Hybrid eMTB specific wheels. These use tougher rims, spokes and hubs. Dual Maxxis Assegai tires, both 2.5″ in tough Double Down and sticky Maxxgrip rubber give a good indication of how aggressively Norco expects the Range VLT to be ridden. Definitely not the lightest choice, but well suited to the long-term survival of the rider and the bike in any conditions. Shimano’s four-piston XT Trail hydraulic disc brakes, with big 200-mm rotors make sure you actually have the power to slow all this bike down.

Shimano provides a mix of drivetrain parts, suited to the eMTB purpose. An XTR rear derailleur adds some flash, while XT e-MTB specific crank, XT shifter and SLX cassette add durability.

There’s an adjustable long-travel dropper post from Squamish’s OneUp Components. On the XL frame, there’s clearance to run the post at a full 210-mm travel. That varies by size, down to 120-mm for the size Small frame. An Ergon eMTB specific saddle sits on top. Diety adds some bling to the build with a 800-mm wide Ridgeline bar, in 25-mm rise, with DMR Deathgrip grips.

Norco Range VLT review

Free Range: Riding the Range VLT

With the peculiarities of supply chains in 2021, I actually ended up with the Range a little while ago. That means I’ve had some solid time on this burly, all-out eMTB, enough to actually get comfortable enough to start pushing the Range VLT’s limits (or at least as close as I’m ever going to get to them).

All said, it’s an impressive bike, for a few reasons, with a few caveats. Norco’s done an admirable job of spec’ing the Range VLT to be ready out of the box. That means tough parts, not light parts. Added together, that makes for a heavy package, even by eMTB standards, but one that will actually survive a summer’s worth of heavy riding. Norco knows the bike isn’t light, but is happy to back their decision to make it real-world friendly instead of making a bike that looks good on a scale.

“We wanted to create a legitimate big mountain / enduro spec’ bike. That means tires that won’t fold and parts that won’t break, if you’re going to stick with that enduro purpose,” Jim Jamieson, Norco’s Product Manager said. “You do all that, and you’ll end up with a bike at a certain weight. The frame itself isn’t that heavy, compared to similar purpose eMTBs.”

Balance and control = more speed

One area where this really does pay off is with Fox’s E-Rated suspension. That, and Norco’s Ride Aligned design, make the Range VLT more balanced – on the trail and in the air – than a lot of other eMTBs I’ve tested. The Range VLT feels much more balanced in the air and there’s far fewer of the harsh bottom outs that the added heft of all eMTBs can lead to. Its nice to know you’re not damaging your suspension bits. Its even nicer to stay controlled in those already-sketchy, potential bottom out situations. After a few rides, I found myself hitting features I usually avoid on eMTBs. The Range VLT stayed smooth on landings, instead of getting squirrely, letting me look ahead to the next corner or feature instead of wondering what was going to happen underneath me.

Norco Range VLT review

That balance and stability is really important for a big bike with big wheels that is meant to be ridden fast. The move to 29″ wheels definitely extends the Range VLT’s wheelbase, making tight switchbacks and slow technical trails trickier, but it also adds the rollover speed of big wheels. Like Fox’s suspension, the longer wheelbase makes the Range VLT very stable when the speed starts picking up. The added weight has silver linings here, too. The heft adds to stability and traction on the trail.

All this means the Range VLT is a bike that really likes to go fast. Charge into, and right through the roughest trails you can find, and Norco’s big bike will be right there with you, doing its best to smooth everything out. It’s definitely not a bike you can lift up to make quick line changes on trail, but if you work with the bike and use the trail, it’s still a fun bike to ride. The long wheelbase and low slung weight mean you can throw yourself into corners, and the Range will come sailing out the other side.

900Wh adds range to the Range VLT

The biggest changes to the Range are the addition of removable batteries and the option for a whopping 900Wh battery.

So, just how far can you go with that 900Wh battery’s added juice? Quite far. It’s hard to give a specific range, since riding conditions and style have such a big impact on how far you can go. But, riding full power, all the time, I hit just shy of 2,500m of elevation gain before the 900Wh battery tapped out. Elevation is usually a more consistent indicator of how much support a battery will give, at least for eMTBs, than time or distance, I find. And 2,500m of gain is, by any measure, a big ride for one charge. Using “Trail” and “Eco” settings, the Range VLT has the juice to keep going for several rides. Or one really big adventure.

Norco Range VLT review

Conclusions: Norco Range VLT

The Norco Range VLT is good at what it does. If you’re looking for a big mountain, aggressive trail eMTB that can handle any trail you throw at it, it could work very well for you. But it will not be for everyone. With three capable bikes in the VLT line, though, this is a luxury Norco’s design team can afford. The Sight and Fluid VLT are great options for rider’s that don’t suit the Range VLT’s all-out riding style. Those that do want to get after it on a big bike, without having to pedal or shuttle up hills, won’t be disappointed.

The weight vs. durability question

The weight is still a factor. Norco does a great job of balancing the Range VLT to take advantage of its hef when its on – or floating above the trail. But the weight becomes a bit of a bear when you have to lift the eMTB over logs, push up – or down – trail or walk around the unexpected. Which, for a bike with the power to head way out there on big expeditions, is a real factor. There is a walk mode, which helps when you can push. But just getting it onto a bike rack or into the back of a vehicle is harder. Especially when you really can’t lift the bike up by the shock or the seat (definitely don’t lift this bike up by the seat, your dropper post will not be happy).

Also, the choice of XTR is interesting. I’d rather save a few extra dollars and go for XT, especially since, if you tag it on a rock or root, the weight of the Range VLT isn’t going to let the rear mech glance off unscathed. Last, extended downtube protection would be nice on a bike this aggressive.

For those less concerned with the weight, or happy to see such a spot-on and capable parts build, the Range VLT really backs up its party-bike design. And, to be fair, an 170-mm travel enduro bike is probably not the right time to choose lighter over tougher.

The E-Rated Fox Factory suspension is a big improvement over non-ebike suspension. Add a well balanced design and the Range an eMTB that is happy to charge, full speed into whatever you want. Flowy jump lines, steep DH trails, old-school steep tech and jank, the Range VLT happily plows through it all. For rider’s that like to go fast and charge hard trails, there’s really not much the Range VLT can’t handle.

Norco Range VLT review
Big-bike worthy parts and burly linkages keep Norco’s carbon fibre Range VLT rolling fast through rough trails

Pricing and availability

Norco has the full Range VLT line available online now and through Norco dealers. The bike and battery are sold separately, giving you the choice of how much power you want right out the gates.

The 2022 Norco Range C1 starts at $11,000. Batteries start at $1,000 for the 540Wh up to $1,600 for the full-juice 900Wh battery. The middle-ground 720WH runs $1,300. There’s another carbon fibre frame build available, plus the two aluminum Range VLT’s, which bring that price down to $6,800 plus battery.