Update: Here's an excellent video overview provided to us by Dušan Mihalečko of https://cameride.cz/

Norco Bikes is going 'all in' on the 650b movement. On Jan, 2012, upon hearing news that Fox and Rockshox were producing forks for the new platform, Norco gathered up the key decision makers in the company and decided to fully commit and build bikes for this new wheel platform this year. This meant that other key projects in the company would have to be de-prioritized if Norco was to meet their goal of having bikes ready in about 8 months for Eurobike and Interbike. Turning on a dime is not difficult for a small bike company that manufactures most of the frame themselves. But for a company like Norco which has 176 bike models, this was a big decision.

So it's no surprise that the Norco crew beamed with pride as they unveiled their creations. They showed us a bunch of other bikes at the media launch but it was obvious that the everybody's attention was on the 650b bikes. The two bikes are the Norco Range Killer B and the Norco Sight Killer B.

The Norco Range 650b is a 160mm travel bike with a Fox 160mm Talas CTD fork. It sports a 66.5 degree head angle, a 13.54 inch BB height and 16.8 inch chainstay length in medium.

The Norco Sight 650b is a 140mm travel bike with a Rockshox Revelation 140 mm fork. It has a 67.5 degree head angle, a 13.3 inch BB height and 16.8 inch stays as well in medium.

Each bike will be available in three spec models, the 1, 2 and 3 with 1 as the highest level spec. The Range will cost between $5,850 and $2,900. The two higher-end models come with Fox 34 Talas 160 mm forks and Fox CTD rear shocks. The lower cost Range 3 will have has X-Fusion suspension. All three come with a 2x10 drivetrain and 180mm rotors. The Range 1 will come equipped with a RockShox Reverb dropper post.

The 140mm travel Sight comes in three models, ranging between $5,400 and $2,700 . The Sight 1 and Sight 2 models feature RockShox's Revelation fork and anti-chainslap derailleurs from Shimano. The Bionicon chain retention device is also included to to keep the chain in place without the use of a full chain guide system.

Norco will also continue selling a 26-inch version of the Sight to appease the fans of this model who are not ready to commit to the new wheel size.

So let us learn about the new 650b wheel size. Mtbr did a detailed article on it a few months ago and we firmly believe that it will be a huge growth market. PJ Hunton of Norco will go through a detailed comparison of the wheel sizes in the video below.

How does it ride?

Flip to the next page and find out.

Ride Impressions:

The rider and the trails:
I'm Francis of mtbr and I'm 5'8" 145 lbs of XC rider who has been transforming into a trail rider. My main rides are a 29er Santa Cruz Highball hardtail, a Niner Carbon Air9 hardtail, a Specialized 29er Epic FS and a Santa Cruz Blur TRc converted into 650b. So I've ridden dozens of 26ers and 29ers recently but the weapons I chose are 29er hardtails and short travel FS and 26er All Mountain and long travel bikes. And that's right, I've ridden several 650b bikes. I've ridden the Jamis 650b FS, Haro 650b hardtail and I've converted several 26er bikes to 650b ultimately settling on the Santa Cruz Blur TRc in 650b format. Read about that project here.

I'm actually a firm believer in the future of 650b . I love big wheels but I've seen the limitations of 29er wheels as one goes to 140-160mm of travel and beyond. Geometries and wheelbases get all out of whack and compromises have to be made just to fit those wheels in and still get decent chainstay lengths. Couple that with the wheel inertia problem and a big wide rim, and a 2.4 29er tire and and the 29er can exhibit all the undesirable sluggish qualities we fear with big wheels. What often happens is we fit light, expensive wheels and tubeless, 2.2 tires on these FS rigs just to get the ultimate ride out of a 29er.

650b has been around for a while but it has been held back by inferior front suspension forks and small tires. But now, the forks are here and the tires are definitely coming. For 160mm travel bikes, 650b made more sense than 29er because of the geometry and inertia issues. Are they better than 26er? Can you feel the difference? That's what we're here to find out.

The rides they took us on are the trails of Burnaby mountain by the college and Fromme in the North Shore. The Burnaby trails are tight trails with lots of obstacles and features that just flow left to right, up and down. The trails keep going as they guide the rider through berms, rocks and structures. The other trail is the Executioner trail of the Fromme in North Shore, BC. This trail is a daunting singletrack filled with roots, rocks and steep pitches. The locals described it as 'flowy' but this Norcal resident has a lot to learn before he can flow on these trails.

The Norco Sight 650b
After the presentation and the hype on the green 160mm travel Range, I was a little disappointed to be put on the 140mm Range (white bikes in the photos) for the first day. But as soon as I hopped on, all concerns were appeased. The Rockshox Revelation seemed fine and the rear travel seemed very plush. All bikes were fitted with Sram Reverb dropping posts and these devices are almost mandatory for these bikes. And the best part of it all... the bikes came with Schwalbe Hans Dampf prototype 650b tires. These tires are probably the single most anticipated component of the 650b movement. They are huge, grippy and they roll well. This is the tire that will hold the fort as 650b tire selection grows while the established wheelsizes offer a massive array of available tires.

The ride started off with some descending on singletrack and this bike was instantly easy to ride. Like the brochure says, the bike handles like a 26er. The BB height of 13.3 ensured it carved nicely and the the wheelbase was short as well as it matched the old 26er Sight bike. I made sure to set my tire psi on the Schwalbe Hans Dampfs to 23 psi and they were dialed on the Burnaby descents. The bike carved the berms and it handled all the rocks and roots with easy. I could see all the rocks, roots and ladders in front of me but they actually pretty smooth under the bie 650b Schwalbe tires.

What came next were about three daunting climbs and although unpleasant for my tired legs, the bike seemed to climb with ease. I didn't have to lock out the CTD rear shock as the rear exhibited very little bob. If I climbed out of saddle a lot, the rear would move up and down more and would warrant a different shock setting. But I just left front and rear wide open and the bike climbed efficiently.

As we got to the Jay Hoots bike park at the end of our ride, I gave the Sight a couple rounds through the pump track and it seemed easy to pump and it carried speed well. The other journalists put the Sight through its paces and put the bike sideways in mid-air as they just went round and round doing tricks. I think this this attests how easy the bike is to throw around in mid air as it did not have the big 29er wheel on it.

The Norco Range is next...

The Norco Range Ride Report:

On Day 2, I was assigned the 160mm Norco Range as we ventured out for my first North Shore experience. My bike had a stubby stem and wide 780 mm bars, again with the trusty Rockshox Reverb dropping post. This particular bike had Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires and I was a little apprehensive that it didn't have the Hans Dampfs.

We went to the Fromme trails of the North Shore and I foolishly joined the A group as they climbed up to the Executioner trail. Ryan Leech and Jay Hoots led the charge up the hill and I then realized that the crew of 20 was whittled down to a select group of downhill journalists, Norco employees and pro riders. And there I was, Mr. XC rider on his first North Shore experience.

It is worth noting that the bike climbed like a champ. We started with a steep road and followed up with a long gradual fire road and the 28.5 lb Range climbed with ease. The 40mm stem was a bit short and the 160 mm fork high but I pushed that Talas fork down to 120mm and all was well. The rear hardly bobbed as the rearward travel of the suspension was held static by my consistent pedal input.

So the Executioner trail started with a sequence of drop after drop on roots. I rode down braking, bouncing, braking, bouncing and the Norco guy behind me said, "Just relax and let the bike go. Nothing on this trail can stop that bike." That was the confidence boost that I needed and I learned to let the bike go through the gnarliest terrain I've ridden to date. What was daunting was not the steep pitches with roots. But rather, it was a series of sections in series, usually with some technical twists and turns in between them. Control was necessary and maneuverability in tight spaces was required. The Norco Range 650b was the right tool for this job. It seemed to have just the right amount of travel and tire diameter to tackle all these obstacles. The bike rolled over all these obstacles and it was still easy to maneuver around all the trees. When the trail opened up a little bit, the bike carved through the corners confidently. The rear of the bike was extremely stiff laterally and it held a line with ease.

I rode everything the trail had to offer and got down to the bottom safely. The Norco Range demonstrated some of the true potential of this new wheel size. I can't wait to do a long term test on these bikes. Would I go for the Sight or the Range? Well the Range has more flair and style but I would probably start with the 140 mm Sight for the trails of Norcal. It felt like it has 150mm of travel and it seemed ready for all I could throw at it. The Sight is probably the ideal 'one' bike stable while the 160 mm Range can complement a 29er hardtail second bike.

It's just a first impression but I can see why the folks at Norco are so excited about their new bikes.