Sometimes it is hard to start a review when the product is so incredibly good.
Between not wanting to come off as biased or just being floored by how perfectly executed things are it can be surprisingly difficult. This is absolutely the case with the Norco Search XR carbon.
Let’s begin at the beginning. I built up one a few months ago to demo after spending the last couple seasons primarily on a Niner BSB (another carbon drop bar bike). On the surface they are similar bikes but, as they say, the devil is in the details. In this case, a few geometry tweaks, as well as some really smart design, yields a bike that is markedly better in my opinion.
Let’s get the nerdery out of the way first. The Norco geometry has a few key differences from the Niner that should not be overlooked. While the overall wheelbase is almost the same, the Norco uses a tad shorter chainstay as well as slightly slacker head tube angle (and more fork rake) to put more weight on the rear wheel. This is paired with a significantly lower bottom bracket. Eight whole 8mm to be exact. While this doesn't sound like a lot, it absolutely is. Mainly because how much bottom bracket height can play a role in bike handling, but it also speaks to how outside the box the thinking is on this bike. The measured “bottom bracket drop” is 73mm. This is actually lower than many traditional road bikes and up until recently, was very uncommon on drop bar bikes that are intended to see a good bit of dirt. I could ramble on about how cyclocross bikes have high bottom brackets, and why this is a pointless holdover from the days of toe-clips, but I won’t. What I will say is that, it's important because it helps move the rider’s center of gravity down and back. More on this later.
The majority of the other design tweaks that set the Search XR apart have to do with how the rear triangle of the bike is laid out to take tire clearance and ride into account. On my last bike, I could BARELY fit 40mm tires. Like most cyclocross bikes it was originally intended for the traditional 33mm cross racing tire standard. However, like many cross bikes, I rode the Niner far more for fun on a variety of off-road surfaces than I did making laps of a race course. So the increase in tire clearance of the Search XR is much appreciated. I mounted up some 42mm wide WTB Resolute tires and still had gobs of clearance. This was not an easy task though on Norco’s end. They implemented a “dropped” chainstay as well as asymmetrical seat tube to open up space for the tire. This is more complex than it sounds and the end result looks a bit odd at first, but when it comes to bikes like this I vote function over form every time.
The rear triangle also has extremely curved seat stays and no “brake bridge” support. The theory behind this is to give the rear of the bike as much vertical compliance as possible by engineering some flex allowing the rear axle to move up a bit under impact. Without some sort of fancy measuring device to test things I can’t be sure if it works in that capacity, but I can say the rear of the bike does feel noticeably more supple over the rough stuff off road.
Lastly, some of the small details surrounding how the shift cables and brake lines are managed, as well as the really neat proprietary chain guide, really speaks to how well thought out this bike is. Everything seems to be taken into consideration and the end result is a sleek looking bike that seems extremely well suited for its task.
But enough about the boring stuff.
THIS BIKE RIPS.
I have been riding it on the same loop recently that would challenge any bike in this class. From the shop, I hit Pony Pasture, Larus Park, Powhite Park and some interesting bits of dirt and pavement in between. Single track, rutted out powerline climbs, fast and twisty paved descents though neighborhoods, punchy climbs, and rooty downhills, this bike handles every bit of it in a way that gives me confidence and puts a grin on my face.
Between the bike itself and the ability to run a truly great tire in the WTB Resolute, this machine is in a class by itself.
The only downside really is cost. It’s a carbon fiber bike with hydraulic brakes and all the latest tech. It’s not cheap. At $3199 for the base model in carbon, it’s going to be out of the price range of many riders. However, for 2019 Norco has added a much more affordable aluminum framed version that starts at about half the price. When these arrive I’ll be excited to see how well Norco is able to trickle down the tech of the XR carbon to a more reasonable price point. Stay tuned...
The Search XR Carbon Comes as a frameset (top pic.) in a cool black to navy fade. We set up one of our customers with this custom build, but Norco also offers a Force 1x build in this color.
The black to green fade is Braden's personal custom build.