Right out of the box this bike has clean classic lines, quality components and slim attractive steel tubes. Overall this bike has proved very impressive, with a few minor caveats, read on!
The Army Green Norco has been a constant companion for 14 months now, and it’s clocked about 3000km’s according to Strava, about 50km’s a week. The longest ride was 10.5 hours moving time, most climbing in a single ride: 4000m. I’ve done numerous 5-6 hour rides as well as many shorter. Most rides are a minimum 80% gravel, many 90%, and the quality of the roads is mostly on the rougher side of the gravel spectrum.
I’m going to break the review down to a component level, then a brief overall ride impression.
Norco has put some effort into this gravel offering, the frame is built from 750 Reynolds steel, steel tubing on the higher end of the hierarchy. It’s the best I could find on a complete off-the-shelf offering with a reasonable price. I’d love to see a Reynolds 853 frame, but my wife wouldn’t! Steel has a reputation for buttery smoothness, and although I’d challenge any bike to be described as butter when you hit 6 inch deep corrugations at 40 clicks. The Search is a smooth bike, that beautiful steel frame absorbing minor chatter wonderfully. The welds are neat and regular and the paint durable. Steel and gravel are like peas and carrot, fish and chips, pies with sauce, craft beer and hipster beards!
Like the frame material the geometry is considered, it’s no Evil Chamois Hagar but it’s more relaxed than the likes of the Cervelo Aspero. Gravel geometry continues to be refined with bikes like the BMC URS leading the pack. All this aside, for me the Search instantly felt great, it’s balanced enough, quick handling enough, stable enough and comfortable enough for anything I’ve thrown at it. On descents it’s the 700cc tyres and rims that are the limiting factor, not the frame geometry. Want something faster downhill? Get a mountain bike. I’m not a bike packer, so mounting points ain’t my thing, but Norco has seen fit to put plenty on the bike. With room for 3 bottle cages I usually put on 2 bottles with water and one stuffed with my tools.
There are enough reviews of the SRAM Rival 1x group around without me covering it here, but I will add some impressions of how it has gone on the Search. A 1x group is a personal preference, with a background more in Mountain Bike than Road, I love the simplicity of a 1x. My main concern on the Search is the gearing ratio’s. With 40-42 it has been sufficiently low for all the climbs I frequent, but only just – and living in North East Tassie there is a lot of climbing. I consider myself to be a strong, albeit slower climber, and a bit of a grinder. So if you prefer to spin, and hit the hills regularly you might consider a smaller chainring, or running a 2x. Functionally it has performed admirably, I’ve dropped a chain a couple of times on real rough fast stuff but barely touched the indexing or bleed the brakes. Six inch rotors and hydraulic brakes are a must on gravel around here, the Rival brakes have performed well, and kudos to Norco for speccing the Search with them.
The bottom bracket is a pain. It’s the one major failing in this bike for me, I’ve replaced it once and finding the propriety Praxxis replacement a nuisance. It hasn’t creaked or been otherwise annoying, so a small tick there, but if the Search had come with a T47 or some other threaded BB it would be close to a perfect bike.
For me, the saddle is a dud. It came off after 5 minutes and was replaced by a Selle SMP Lite 209. This is going to be massively subjective however, make your own call. The Easton EA70 AX bars are great, just the right amount of drop and flare, you feel equally comfortable in the drops descending or on the tops cruising. I did shorten the stem to 100mm, at 110mm it felt really stretched out on the large frame. That 10mm did the trick for me, but again bike fit is subjective.
Wheels and Tyres
This is one area where I thought there could be a little improvement, and it’s not a big deal because both are easily changed. The wheelset is actually decent, light enough, tough enough and so far great to setup tubeless. Could it be tougher, stiffer and lighter? Yep! But on a $3000 bike it was pretty good. The WTB Resolutes that came equipped were decent, good on the gravel, a bit slow on the road, they wore quickly and I got quite a few punctures in the rear toward the end of their life, bearing in mind I ride rough and fast on quite a few bad surfaces. I’ve since changed them for some WTB Riddlers, and couldn’t be happier. Stepping up from 42mm to 45mm widths with a noticeably larger rolling diameter and bag has smoothed out the ride even more. The Riddlers are faster rolling on both road and gravel, and lose nothing in handling.
The thought that Norco has put into this bike was evident on the first ride, and this impression has endured through time spent on it. A simple steel frame, a minimal 1x group, decent wheel set and complementary component choices come together creating a wonderful companion for all gravel adventures. It’s uncomplicated and functional. I’m stoked on the bike, it has handled all put in its path, it handles well on single track, all types of gravel and on the bitumen, really living up to the moniker of a bike for searching out adventure.