Norco 2018 Search XR review gravel bike: carbon against steel

Norco has been present in the bicycle industry for over fifty years, however there are some markets that are not yet familiar with the brand despite the extensive catalog of offers and the wide range of attractions. But if Norco has a strength, then surely it is found with his off-road bikes.

Search XR is Norco’s new gravel, the second iteration of a platform that was presented for the first time in 2015. It is interesting to note that the company has decided to offer buyers two versions of Search XR, one in carbon and l other in steel. In this review, Australian technology editor Matt Wikstrom throws a leg on each of them to learn more about what they have to offer.

Norco’s history as a bicycle manufacturer dates back to 1964, when Bert Lewis founded Northern Cycle Industries in British Columbia, Canada. Four years later, the company was renamed Norco to simplify the brand and from there its catalog began to grow. BMX was added in 1973, followed by road bikes in 1975 and MTB in 1984.

Soon, Norco became a well-known brand in Canada, but it was not until 1995 that it began to address the international market. Now the brand is probably best known for its full-suspension mountain bikes, however its current catalog is also aimed at road and urban drivers, as well as women and children.

Norco’s first gravel bike, dubbed Research, appeared in Norco’s 2015 catalog in two forms: one in carbon and the other in steel, with an almost identical geometry and a total of six builds. A year later, the company abandoned the steel frame in favor of the new aluminum version, while the research carbon would remain unchanged.

Search Carbon and Search Alu are still part of the Norco catalog for 2018, however they have been reclassified as road bikes because a new gravel-specific platform, dubbed Search XR, was created to keep up with this speed. evolving market sector. Like the original research, the research XR is available with a steel or carbon frame, both of which have been upgraded to provide more space for the tires and fit the dimensions of the dual wheels. A suite of accessories has also been added (for mudguards, racks, a third bottle cage and even a seat post) to further expand the capabilities of each frame.

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MAKING ROOM FOR LARGER TIRES AND ACCOMMODATION DIMENSIONS DUAL WHEEL
When Norco decided to create the XR research, one of the main goals was to add more tire space. The 700 x 40c tires could be squeezed into the original search, but there was no room for mud, rocks or mudguards. In contrast, Search XR can accommodate 700 x 45c tires without mudguards or 700 x 42c tires with mudguards.

This is not the absolute limit, however, since the Search XR can also be equipped with 650b / 27.5 inch wheels, which have a smaller diameter, so you can use even wider (and higher) tires . In this way, tires such as 27.5 x 2.1 inches can be installed on Search XR.

Making room for bigger tires is not a simple thing. For the XR research a new carbon fork was created with a longer length of the axle to the crown, which in turn required a modification of the front end geometry to accommodate the highest fork. As for the rear, the right rear sheath had to be reworked. For the steel frame, a semi-yoke was created using a metal blade while the support was lowered onto the carbon frame. In both cases, Norco engineers managed to increase the amount of tire play and simultaneously reduce the rear center of the XR scan by 2.5-5 mm (compared to the original research).

While Norco was re-visiting the search geometry, the two smaller frame sizes (45.5 and 48 cm) were redesigned to accommodate only smaller 650b / 27.5inch wheels. This type of wheel scaling allowed Norco engineers to preserve the steering and handling of larger frames, while avoiding overlap problems. Even the elimination of tires has been maintained along with the possibility of running smaller sized wheels (26 inches) with wider MTB tires.

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THE XR STEEL RESEARCH: AN EVEN MORE CONVENIENT AND ROBUST
The Search XR Steel frame is made with Reynolds 725, a set of heat-treated and coated chrome-molybdenum tubes. 725 is not as light or sophisticated as the company’s premium offers, such as 853 and 953, but is still considered a high-quality offering in terms of strength and durability that is well suited to TIG welding.

The front of the frame has a 44 mm diameter steering tube for housing a tapered tube with a 1.5 inch lower ear pad. A BB86 shell without thread serves the bottom bracket while the vertical tube accepts a 27.2 mm diameter seat post. There is a flat attachment for the rear disc caliper, a 12 x 142 mm thru axle and supports for three bottle cages, a rear rack and a fender.

All cables are externally routed on the chassis, which will please any mechanic when replacing. The rear derailleur cable is housed for the entire length of the gearbox in order to reduce the risk of mud and sand contamination. On the down tube there is a cable lug for a front shifter, if necessary, which routes the exposed internal wire under the bottom bracket for a downward front derailleur.

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The Search XR Steel frame is combined with an all-carbon fork. Like the frame, it has a flat attachment for the front disc clamp and a 12 mm through pin. The front brake hose is externally routed and there is a pair of fittings on each fork blade for the cages or racks of the bottles along with the fittings for a mudguard.

The XR Steel research is available in seven frame sizes, as detailed in the following table:

The XR Steel research has a generous stack, due in part to the extra length of the fork required to accommodate 700 x 45c tires. At the nominal value, the length of the steering tube seems relatively short, but the lower outer cap cup adds another 10 mm to the effective length of the steering tube.

As mentioned above, the two smaller frames are designed around 650b wheels instead of 700c wheels, and therefore, make use of a shorter fork (380mm versus 395mm), higher bottom bracket (57mm vs. 70-75mm) and shorter rear sheaths (420mm versus 430-432.5mm). In contrast, the fork is 49 mm for each frame size.

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Norco offers two builds for Search XR Steel: a 1x build with the SRAM Rival group or a 2x build with the Shimano 105 group. Norco’s Australian distributor, Advance Traders, was able to provide the first for this review, which it included the Rival gearbox controls, the calipers and the long cage rear gearbox combined with a 10-42T cassette.

The rest of the components were as follows: Praxis Zayante crankset with 40T crown; Easton EA70 AX alloy handlebar; Stem and seatpost in Norco-branded alloy; Norco-branded saddle; unbranded hubs to adapt to six-bolt rotors; STS i23 alloy wheels compatible with WTB tubeless; and Clement X’Plor MSO tubeless tires. The latter is equipped with tubes from the factory, but the rims are taped and the tubeless valves are included with the bike, so all you need for conversion into tubeless is a bit of a sealant.

The 53 cm sample sent for the review weighed 10.24 kg (22.58 lb) without pedals and cages, a fairly heavy result, but in line with the modest steel structure. The simple gloss tanning paint used to finish the frame works well with all the black components and the subdued brand to produce an easy-to-watch bicycle.

As for the price, the recommended retail price for the XR Steel search is AUD $ 2,999 / US $ 2,599 / € 2,699. Buyers also have the opportunity to purchase the set of frames in some markets, which sells for AUD $ 1,199 / US $ 899 / € 899. In both cases, the frameset is covered by a five-year warranty. For more information on XR Steel Rival research, visit Norco Bikes.

THE SEARCH XR CARBON: A PREMIUM GRAVEL BIKE
Compared to the XR Steel research, the carbon frame is a more sophisticated offering, starting with tube profiles that grow to the size of the frame to provide additional rigidity for larger riders. It’s a winning strategy that leverages the strengths of composite construction and allows Norco to offer consistent driving quality across the entire range of frames on offer.

Another strength of composite materials is that the specific regions of the frame can be strengthened for greater rigidity, while in other places it can be made more compliant. Therefore, the steering tube, the down tube, the bottom bracket and the horizontal XR Carbon search sheaths are relatively rigid compared to the softer rear sheaths. Norco has taken the trouble to remove the “brake” bridge in order to encourage bending of the rear stays.

Norco does not detail any of the materials used to build the Search XR Carbon, however the company emphasizes the importance of its “Armourlite” resin. According to Norco, this resin not only provides high strength; It also improves the impact resistance of the frame, which is why it is used for many of the company’s composite offerings, including downhill bikes.

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The carbon frame shares many of the same specifications as the Search XR Steel, including an oversized steering tube, tapered fork steer, BB86 bottom bracket, 12 mm through axles and 27.2 mm diameter seatpost. The XR Carbon search also features the same range of fittings as the steel frame for the front and rear fenders, rear luggage rack, a trio of bottle cage for the frame and another pair of cages / racks for the fork legs. Most of these accessories are incorporated into the frame, escaping to some extent to the eye. However, when mounting a rear fender, a plastic safety yoke must be fitted to the chassis.

The XR Carbon research uses the same all-carbon fork of the Search XR Steel, then the outer path for the front brake hose. In contrast, all other cables and hoses are routed internally through the carbon frame with an additional door for a dropper seatpost. Hiding all the cables puts order in the appearance of the frame, but will require more time when it comes time to replace the cables.

The Search XR Carbon frame geometry is practically identical to the steel version, as shown in the following table:

The Search XR Carbon steering tube is higher on paper, but only because it includes an integrated headset. There are some small differences in the stack and the achievement of some frame sizes, but they are not larger than 3mm. The only important starting point is the back of the Search XR Carbon, which is shorter than 7.5 mm compared to Search XR Steel for each frame size.

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Norco has created three builds for Search XR Carbon using the 1x SRAM and the 2x Shimano groups. The XR Carbon Ultegra research is located in the middle of the range and presents the new R8000 mechanical group with hydraulic disc brakes, medium cage derailleur and 11-34T cassette. Praxis supplies its Zayante crankset with sub-compact crowns (48 / 32T); the chain comes from KMC; Easton supplies its EA70 AX alloy bars; the alloy stem, the carbon pin and the saddle are Norco branded; and Clement supplies Ushuaia tubeless wheels and X’Plor MSO tubeless tires. The tires are supplied with tubes, but as on Search XR Steel, they can be converted into tubeless by fitting the tubeless valves included with the bike and adding some sealant.

The 53-cm sample provided for review by Norco’s Australian distributor, Advance Traders, weighed 8.86 kg (19.53 pounds) without pedals and cages. This saves 1.38 kg (3.04 pounds) compared to the XR Steel Rival research, but has a price: XR Carbon research has a suggested retail price of AUD $ 4,499 / US $ 3,799 / € 4,199.

Like the XR Steel search, the Search XR Carbon frame set is backed by a five year warranty. For more information on XR Carbon research, visit Norco Bikes.

AFTER THE JOURNEY: SEARCH XR STEEL RIVAL
On paper, the XR Steel Rival research really fascinated me like a solid bicycle that could easily be used to attack all types of unpaved terrain, where the only thing I had to worry about was chipping paint. The fact that the bike was equipped with a 1x transmission was added to its promise, since I have always appreciated the level of simplicity that comes from piloting a bike equipped with a single gear lever.

In general terms, the bike has lived up to these expectations and, in some respects, has been exceeded, so at the end of the review I was completely satisfied with the performance of the Search XR Steel Rival. The fact that the asking price for the bike is a relatively modest sum has simply strengthened the overall appeal of the bike.

From the beginning, it is worth noting that I treated XR Steel as a “dirty” bike. I faced the unpaved terrain on every exit and paid more attention to the performance of the bike in this realm than anywhere else. This does not mean that I have ignored the road, but when a bike weighs more than 10 kg and is equipped with wide tires like a knobby, it never shines on asphalt.

The weight of the bike was immediately perceptible, so it was a bit cumbersome when I tried to drive it aggressively, on- or off-road. The bike hesitated when it came out of the corners and was slow to take speed; however, if I remained in the saddle and allowed my efforts, working with the impulse of the bike whenever possible, the extra weight never seemed to me a responsibility.

In fact, as I spent more time on the bike, I lost all sense of that weight, and instead, I started to really appreciate the robust and robust nature of the bike. The fact that the trails were dry and dusty throughout the review period also meant that I was spending most of my time on the saddle in order to preserve the rear wheel drive.

The steering and handling of the Search XR Steel were suitable for driving on unpaved surfaces. The steering was a bit slow, which softened the front of the bike, so that it was highly predictable, even when it ran on the sand. The only time I was taken by surprise was when I was running higher tire pressures that reduced tire grip.

The slow steering has also helped the stability of the bike when I was bombarding rocky and dusty descents, so once I found my line, he had no trouble attacking it. There was still some responsiveness in the steering, though, so I could make small corrections to find a more aggressive line through a corner when I ran with a friend.

Those sections of steering and handling have translated quite well on the road. Yes, the bike lacked agility thanks to tight bends, but it was almost useless to try to push the bike with such force. I was more inclined to navigate the streets and save my energy for the gravel.

The combination of a 40T crown and 10-42T cassette was ideal for the terrain I was riding on. I was able to make my way up some bad grades by 15% (while I sat) without too much effort, and at the end of a long rocky ride, I made the minor grades much easier to deal with. That said, I completed all my rides with no more than two bins loaded on the bike.

For those looking at the XR Steel Rival bikepacking quest, this gearbox may not be low enough when the bike has a 20 kg extra load. The 40T crown can always be replaced with something smaller, but also with the clever step arms that use Praxis, the diameter of the 110 mm bolt circle of the Zayante crank still limits the minimum dimensions of the 32T crown. For those riders who hope to use a smaller crown, a crank gear will be required.

The steel structure presented a smooth and silent driving quality that was easy to appreciate on paved roads, but did not count much on harder terrain. Under these conditions, tire pressure turned out to be much more important. An early race with 40psi in the tires, which was a good choice on the road, made me feel battered and sadly ache after a couple of hours on rocky trails. Lowering tire pressure to 25-30psi improved my comfort immediately, but at the expense of road performance.

Clement’s X’Plor MSO tires have a sturdy and robust carcass that was not flexible enough to be used on paved and unpaved surfaces. At 40psi, the tires rolled well on the road, but they were visibly firm and slippery; at 25-30psi, the performance in the dirt was much improved, however they were too soft on the road, especially in front when I dived in tight turns.

While the tires seemed to undermine the “do-it-all” capabilities of the bike to some degree, they were sturdier and more robust than a more versatile gravel tire like Schwalbe’s G-One tubeless tire. I discovered that I could ignore the risk of cutting a side wall on rocky paths and, as a result, I enjoyed more safety when I was facing rough terrain.

There was a limit to the amount of comfort that the XR Steel Research had to offer when the rocks and roadways were at their worst. This was the type of terrain in which a proper mountain bike shines and full suspension is probably a pre-requisite to maintain speed and control without the suffering of the body. However, I was able to stay in the saddle and maintain a bit of momentum despite the barrage of shock and vibration.

Later, I started thinking about a second wheel, 650b with 2.1-inch tires. This is the kind of installation that turned out to be very effective when I looked at Exploro at 3T. Those big, gnarled tires were slow on the road, but they were able to swallow rocks and furrows with ease, so I’m sure they would have expanded the off-road capabilities of the Search XR Steel, but I had nothing to test this notion.

A second room may seem like an indulgent luxury, but I would not have much trouble justifying it. Those wheels could be kept in the shed for more adventurous driving, while the 700c X’Plor MSO tires could be replaced for something more flexible and versatile to improve the road performance of the bike without giving up the ability to explore groomed trails.

All components mounted on Search XR Steel Rival worked well during the review period. The wheels were perhaps the weakest part of the package. Outside the box, the spokes began to make noise as I descended the first time on my way, a sure sign of inadequate stress-alleviation that is common for mass-produced wheels. That ping indicates sudden changes in the tension of the spokes, and sure enough, the circles were quick to come out of the truth. It was just a matter of a few millimeters, so it did not take much work to align the wheels after the first week of driving.

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AFTER THE JOURNEY: SEARCH XR CARBON ULTEGRA
Coming to research XR Carbon after spending time in Search XR Steel Rival was a bit like trading a classic Land Rover Defender for a modern Range Rover with all the options, at least on paper. The frame was lighter, elegant and sophisticated; the cockpit was full of other controls; and the transmission provided more reports. All that really seemed to be missing was cupholders.

The XR Carbon Ultegra research may have possessed the refinement of a dedicated road bike, but the wide, knobby tires made it clear that the Norco design team intended to use off-road bikes, just like the Search XR Steel Rival.

The weight savings of 1.38 kg were obvious on the road. In and out of the corners, Search XR Carbon was more agile than Search XR Steel, and was more responsive to my efforts. On unpaved roads and paths, however, my feeling deteriorated with the quality of the terrain and, at the end of the review period, I was convinced that in this context it did not matter much.

The XR Carbon search offered a smooth ride but it was not as silent as the Search XR Steel, as the chassis amplified all sorts of secondary noises from the road and trail to produce a low rumble. And while composites have a solid reputation for providing a rigid but compliant ride, back-to-back tests have not revealed any appreciable difference between the two bikes. Both were equally effective in counteracting the shock and buzz of paved and unpaved surfaces, but ultimately the amount of comfort really depended on tire pressure.

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As discussed earlier for XR Steel research, the 40psi worked well on paved surfaces but made the tires too hard and slippery on dusty paths. Lowering the pressure to 25-30psi improved grip and off-road comfort at the expense of road speed, creating a difficult compromise. With the enthusiasm to drive more tracks, I opted for softer tires and limited the time I spent on paved surfaces.

There was a point, however, when the tracks were really rocky and rough, that the Search XR Carbon would be overwhelmed by bumps and vibrations, just like the Search XR Steel. Once again, I started wanting bigger tires, but the message to take home was clear: XR Carbon research is not a mountain bike.

The XR Carbon Ultegra research showed all the same driving and handling characteristics as the Search XR Steel Rival, which is not surprising, since the geometry of the two bikes was almost identical. Stable and predictable, confident and confident, it was easy to take the bike for granted, even when the terrain was challenging.

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Comparing the behavior of the two bikes on the same ground, the only difference point emerged when I was grinding steep slopes (10-15%) on the saddle. The front of the Search XR Carbon used to rise with each stroke of the pedals while the Search XR Steel remained planted. I suspect that the shorter back for the carbon frame was responsible for this effect, but it is possible that even the lightest weight of the bike had a role to play.

The transition from the simplicity of the 1x transmission on Search XR Steel Rival to the 2x transmission on the Search XR Carbon Ultegra required some mental reprogramming. At first, the use and cutting of the derailleur looked like an annoying job, but soon passed. The wide range of transmission ratios offered by the 11-34T cassette allowed me to use the large crown for most of any ride, while the small ring was reserved for long or steep climbs.

Compared to the 1x transmission on the XR Steel Rival search (40T x 10-42), the combination of a sub-compact crankset (48 / 32T) and 11-34T cassette provided a slightly smaller gear at the bottom of the range and a ratio of extra transmission in the high end of the range, with many other steps in between. Everything has served me well, so I have never been left without will, which leaves me wondering if the bikepackers could end up wishing to have lower ratios to face a fully loaded bike.

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Unfortunately, they will not be able to fit smaller crowns without switching to a new crank. It should, however, be easy to fit a 36T sprocket – which is just outside the Shimano recommendations for the Ultegra GS rear derailleur – although this will not make a big difference to the bike. Switching to a 40 / 42T sprocket is an option but to increase the capacity of the rear derailleur you will need some type of adapter (like Wolf Tooth’s new RoadLink DM).

This does not mean that the bike is not very suitable for bikepacking, especially if buyers are planning to follow slightly undulating routes on paved roads. For those heading off-road, the suitability of the gear will ultimately depend on the strength of the rider, the extent of the climb and the amount of luggage that will be loaded on the bike.

All components worked well during the review period. I had no problem with pinging the spokes of the Ushuaia wheel set, plus, the freehub provided a very satisfying buzz every time I was riding a bike. The short, narrow curve of the outer housing for the rear derailleur has interfered with the barrel adjuster, making adjustment very difficult. I had to resort to the creation of some loosening of the cable to release the housing from the regulator before it turned freely, making adjustments on the fly much more difficult. Fortunately, this was only a problem during the first few laps when the cable was falling asleep; later, there was no need to fiddle with the regulator.

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SUMMARY AND FINAL THOUGHTS
Norco did a fantastic job with the XR research. The bike is a very capable gravel bike that offers buyers many options, not least the choice of two chassis materials. In some settings, the choice of chassis materials can affect ride quality and bike performance, but in this case it has a much greater impact on the cost of the bike.

That said, in retrospect, I discovered that the Search XR Carbon Ultegra was slightly more pleasant to drive. There are many potential explanations for this, starting with the fact that it was lighter than the Search XR Steel Rival and offered more reports. A four hour gravel ride on rough terrain left me fatigued and painful in some places, so it’s fair to say that the difference was largely a matter of nuances.

So, I found myself returning to the Search XR Steel Rival based on the value it had to offer. In this sense, adding a second set of wheels (650b) is more feasible, although I would like a construction that would offer smaller wheels with wider tires as a standard option. This option exists for the carbon frame in the form of Search XR Carbon Force 1, although it is not available in some markets, including Australia.

Is the XR research a bike that can replace many? For some it may be, provided they do not have high expectations for bike riding performance. The XR search is not as fast as an all-road bike like the new Cannondale Synapse, Canyon Endurace CF SLX, Specialized Roubaix or Trek Domane, but has a wider reach for a rugged adventure than any of those bikes. Instead, I see it as a very attractive alternative to the expensive 3T Exploro with the kind of features and accessories that define a great gravel bike.

Wrap
AN EXCELLENT BICYCLE WITH A DEEP OPTION SWIMMING POOL
Norco seems to have drawn on all his experience in the off-road market to find a superb gravel bike that has all the features and accessories that bikers and cyclists could hope to achieve. Better yet, there is a choice of two frame materials, steel and carbon, and a variety of builds that use the 2x SRAM and Shimano 2x groups. The XR Steel Rival research is a pragmatic and valuable bike compared to the more sophisticated and expensive Search XR Carbon Ultegra, but both are well equipped to tackle really rough terrain. They also offer a certain versatility, even if buyers will have to change tire pressure or consider a second set of tires to improve the road performance of each bike. Weight: size 53 cm Look for XR Steel Rival, 10.24 kg (without pedals or cages); size 53cm Looking for XR Carbon Ultegra, 8.86kg. Price, research XR Steel Rival, AUD $ 2,999 / US $ 2,599 / € 2,699; Look for XR Carbon Ultegra, AUD $ 4,499 / US $ 3,799 / € 4,199.
GOOD STUFF
Attractive bicycles
Safe off-road performers
Lots of features and accessories
Suitable for twin wheels
Resizing wheels for small frames
The frame material influences the price, not the performance
BRUTTA ROBA
The propensity towards off-road performance limits versatility
Look for XR Carbon Ultegra too good to get dirty
No 650b wheel options for XR Steel research