reviewed by Dan Walker
If you’re gravel curious and wonder what you need and what matches your skills, take a look at a frame like the Norco Search XR Carbon. It’s an excellent platform from which you can build your gravel riding chops. The Search’s long and slack geometry can grow the confidence of even the most timid gravel riders.
With a complete Shimano GrX Di2 build, the Search XR Carbon has been my platform for off-road and gravel adventures this past fall. From the Scrappy Badger gravel race to the local CX courses and even a mellow mountain bike network, I’ve been able to do a wide variety of riding with Norco’s Search XR.
Shimano GRX Di2
Shimano GRX RX570 700c
45.5, 48, 50.5, 53, 55.5, 58, 60.5
$2,399 (frame and fork)
The Search XR certainly leans toward adventure and bikepacking. With a fairly relaxed seat-tube and headtube angles, the bike places you in a confident and stable position for when the road or trails begin to shift underneath you. In one particularly gnarly descent at the Scrappy Badger, I was able to throw my weight back and let the big tires and slack geometry carry me down most of the scarier roots and rocks. Previously, in events like this, I’ve ridden a traditional cyclocross bike. I think the geometry of the Search helped me get the most out of my skills.
Even though the Search seems designed for the adventure side of the gravel spectrum, it certainly doesn’t feel slow when you need to pick up the pace. When I needed to chase back to a group in a gravel event or ride up a punchy, steep climb on a new trail, the bike responded well to each pedal stroke.
Staying in control with GRX's new brake lever hood shape. Photo: Kevin Fickling
For the bikepacker, the Search does come with mounts all over the frame. There are the traditional two water-bottle mounts in the main triangle, a third on the underside of the down tube, plus rack mounts and mounts on each fork blade, all of which should have you set for the long haul. The large area inside the main triangle can accommodate a frame bag, suspended above the water bottles.
Keeping with the theme of adventure and adaptability, the Search can run both 700c and 650b rims. All models ship with 700c hoops, except for the size 45.5 and 48 frames, which come with 650b. If you want to run wide tires on the small frames, you can do so on 26″ wheels. The wheels you choose can increase your performance on a particular ride and, possibly, compensate for one part of your skillset that might be missing. For example, I liked putting the bike in what I call “full party mode” with 650b wheels and 47-mm-wide tires. That setup, with file tread tires, meant I’d give up very little on the smooth sections, but got the extra traction I need when things were rocky and rooty. A party indeed.
For 2020, Norco has three Shimano GrX builds on its Search XR Carbon and one SraM Force eTap aXS model. Whichever one you pick, it will take you where you want to go.