Tested: Norco Sight VLT 2
Think of Norco and images of the Canadian bike brand’s 55-year history spring to mind: the British Columbia HQ, big-mountain free-ride heritage, history of innovation (it was the first North American brand to introduce a mountain bike with front suspension – the Rampage – in 1991), and tough bikes that offer plenty of big-trail bang for your buck are all synonymous with the brand.
With the MTB world’s expansion to encompass electronically assisted bikes, the market’s growing confidence in the technology and its many benefits for riders; it is no surprise Norco has jumped on board. The Canuck brand waited a wee bit longer than most to come up with its own interpretation of what an e-MTB should be but, as with all the bikes Norco produces, the Sight VLT has been worth that wait.
The Norco Sight VLT (short for ‘volt’ – geddit?!) is available in two variants – the $9499 VLT 1 and the $7999 VLT 2, tested here. Norco has taken a look at what the market already offers, then gone and done its own thing, incorporating the latest in tech, in the form of the Shimano STEPS E8000 motor and 630Wh battery, which combine to form a punchy combo in terms of power, and the additional benefit of longer battery life (some competitor brands run a smaller 500Wh power source).
Appearance-wise, the Sight VLT’s silhouette looks little different to its mechanical namesake, with only the oversized downtube and top tube (there’s no ‘tacked-on’ battery cluttering up the front triangle), beefier components, and subtle geometry tweaks hinting at something more. The rear triangle is alloy (on both models) and is well finished, blending in with the front triangle’s svelte carbon.
For $7999 the VLT 2 offers a decent spec level to match the schmick frame. The frame is low, long and extra beefy (a necessity to cope with the extra torque from the electric motor, on top of rider input). Compared to the mechanical Sight, Norco has tweaked this pedal-assist variant’s bottom bracket height slightly, slackened the head angle by half-a-degree (66 for the Large), steepened the seat angle (75 degrees), slightly stretched the top tube, shortened the cranks (165mm) added 10mm of travel front and rear, and lengthened the wheelbase, all with the aim of replicating the previous-gen Sight’s stable ride. The alloy rear triangle is connected to the trunnion-mount Rockshox Deluxe RT shock via an oversized rocker, and features a 440mm chain stay length.
The Sight VLT runs 27.5×2.6 Maxxis rubber front and rear (rather than the more common 2.8) for optimum manoeuvrability and slightly less weight. These tyres are wrapped around a set of WTB i29 rims, laced with Sapim Race spokes on the front and DT Alpine on the rear. The front hub is a Novatec Boost jobbie, while out back – where all that power is transferred – there’s an e-MTB rated DTSwiss H370.
The Shimano STEPS E8000 motor and 630Wh battery sit neatly in the frame’s bottom bracket junction. The inbuilt battery cannot be removed for recharging but there’s a charger supplied with the bike (Norco claims a 4.5-hour charge time). The E8000 is activated via a push-button located on the inside of the downtube, while the three assist modes (Eco, Trail and Boost) are accessed via the bar-mount shifter on the left. The dropper-post switch is also on the left side of the bars, while the single-click, e-MTB-specific SRAM shifter calls the right side of the bars home.
The Rockshox Pike and Debonair RT both have sterling reputations in regards to suspension performance and have been re-tuned both to cope with the additional heft of an e-MTB, too, while the 160mm/150mm of travel is more than welcome. The drivetrain is a mix of Shimano cranks (with 32T chain ring) and SRAM NX (e-MTB specific) 1×12 with the resultant wide gear range always welcome – assisted or not. The only bummer to possibly single out is the 150mm TranzX dropper post; the top-spec VLT 1 has a Fox Transfer dropper and it would have been great to see this unit fitted to the 2 as well. Minor quibble aside (note: the TranzX performed without fault during testing), the Norco Sight VLT 2 offers good value in the e-MTB segment – and shapes up well in the value for money stakes even against its top-tier VLT 1 stablemate.
Jumping on an e-MTB after having spent your entire MTB life riding a ‘traditional’ mechanical rig, the first thing you notice is the bike’s weight. At a feather under 23kg, this is no svelte XC mile-burner, and you shouldn’t expect it to be; it ain’t no ‘ordinary’ bike. And anyway, the whole weight ‘issue’ is soon deleted; it only takes that first feel of an assisted pedal stroke to realise that this is a whole new world. It would be stating the bleeding obvious to say your riding technique needs to change with the Sight VLT 2 (or any e-MTB), but it is worth that small effort; once you’re technique is dialled, this thing is an absolute hoot. The complete package simply works; the beefed-up frame, suspension and brakes combine effectively to harness all the benefits of a pedal-assist setup, while minimising the effects of that additional weight.
Norco set out to replicate the riding experience of a regular MTB, and the VLT 2’s overall performance achieves this goal. A lot of this is due to those oh-so-subtle tweaks to the geometry and strengthened components, but it is also due to the – again, subtle – operation of the Shimano STEPS motor. Far from being intrusive or too sudden, power delivery is seamless and linear; there’s no urgent ‘jump’ when it first engages as you pedal. Boost is the most dramatic and effective mode (and also draws the most power), but it still allows for excellent control from the rider, with the grunt there and available, but never unwieldy in how it is delivered through the pedal strokes. During testing it was Trail mode this rider used the most; it offered good power duration and plenty of assistance on those big climbs. That’s also where the SRAM NX 1×12’s 50-tooth rear cog excels; that wide range of ratios plus power-assist was a (very welcome) revelation on the ascents.
In terms of overall bike handling, the VLT 2 has it nailed; kudos should be paid to the Norco engineers for the planted feel this bike exhibits across all terrain types. The reasonably short chain stays (in e-MTB land, anyway), the powerful 200mm brakes and aggressive geometry make the VLT a surprisingly flickable bike once you get used to its heft, with the caveat that it can be a slight handful on the super tight and slow stuff. Spend a few hours on it, throwing it around more open trails and getting it airborne, and you forget you’re riding a pedal-assist mountain bike.
The Norco Sight VLT 2 is a welcome entry into the burgeoning e-MTB market. By focusing on duplicating the sublime ride experience the brand is known for, the VLT 2 hits the target of reproducing the same grin-inducing performance that a regular MTB does. It is a more-than-capable trail/enduro bike that actually gains you back ‘time’ in terms of how much fun you can have on the trails, in less actual time – and at a compelling price point for its market segment.
RRP: $7999 www.norco.com