Review: Norco Sight C3 29er

Review: Norco Sight C3 29er

The trail-oriented Sight has been a staple in Canadian-based company Norco’s range for a few years now and last year it received an update to its four-bar ART suspension layout. The Sight is now available in both a 27.5 inch wheeled version, which features 140/150mm of travel and the 29er version I tested, which has 130mm travel out back and 140mm up front....

Frame

The Sight has a carbon front triangle and seatstay with an aluminium chainstay, along with a bolt-thru alloy rocker-link. The design retains the four-bar horst-link with a rocker driven shock, but a change to the location of the chainstay pivot point provides for a little less anti-squat than previous iterations, for improved compliance pedalling over rough ground (thanks to lessened pedal-kickback). Norco says the double-bolted-together rocker ensures the rocker is straight and true, rather than potentially twisted if it had been welded together. There is 148 Boost wheel spacing, a tapered steerer and press-fit BB (boo!), along with internally routed cabling. A drink bottle fits easily in the front triangle. Lastly, I reckon the navy blue with green accents is subtle but classy (like you perhaps?).

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Parts

In terms of parts, a DVO Diamond fork was a new one for me, mated to a Fox DPS shock. SRAM alloy cranks and GX1 Eagle 12 speed drivetrain, with SRAM Level T brakes. A SRAM rear hub and Novatec front hub were laced with 32 J-bend spokes to WTB I-29 rims (29mm internal width) with Maxxis Minion DHR and DHF Exo tyres. A Trans-X 150mm dropper-post clamped an SDG Duster saddle, while a Norco branded bar and stem provided the steering.
Cabling was internal, with little plastic ‘doors’ to tighten to make it easy to run them and to keep the lines rattle-free. The rear brake line can be routed cleanly to either the left or right, allowing for NZ’s preferred left-rear brake lever without having to get inventive.

Geometry

Before getting into the specific length of the Sight I rode, it’s worth giving credit where it’s due and pointing out that Norco engineers have put more thought into geometry and size considerations than most brands. There’s several ways they’ve done this: first is what Norco call ‘Gravity Tune’, a not-great name for a really great concept, which is to make the back end of the bike grow with each increasing frame size just as the front end grows, as opposed to leaving chainstays the same length across frame sizes. Chainstay lengths on the Sights range from 420mm on the extra-small 27.5 to 440mm on the XL 29er. This might not immediately seem like a huge deal, but it means each differing size retains the same front-to-rear wheel weighting ratio that the designer intended (and all the pro riders gave feedback on), rather than larger sizes getting progressively more rear wheel biased and smaller sizes progressively more front wheel biased. Cleverly, Norco don’t actually build different length chainstays but instead simply move the bottom bracket position in each size of front triangle – which has the same effect but doesn’t require new moulds for each length of back-end. Smart! (Bike-nerds can roll that one around in their head for a while. I know I did…)

The second geometry-centric thing Norco has done is list what they call ‘reach-plus’ and ‘stack-plus’, which is Norco’s way of taking into account stem lengths fitted to each bike. Norco believe the stem length is something that should be chosen for it’s impact on handling, not for it’s impact on fit.

Lastly, while this isn’t about geometry, it is about making bikes work across different sizes, and that is ‘size-scaled-tubing’, which is making tubes bigger and stiffer as frame sizes increase, relying on the reasonable (and mainly correct) assumption that as riders increase in height, they increase in weight. The idea here is that each rider experiences the same stiffness and tuned ride quality across all the frame sizes. These are all clever and thoughtful elements to Norco’s frame design that can’t be measured easily, nor will they draw as much attention as titanium shock bolts or carbon rocker links, but they’ll way make more difference to the actual ride quality of the bikes. Kudos Norco.

On to the geo of this large Sight 29er: it’s ‘modern’, with the current longer, lower, slacker motif applied. At 181cm I rode the large. Reach is 458, head angle is 67 degrees, BB is a middle-of-the-road -to-low 337mm, and the chainstays on the large are 435mm. The seat angle is a virtual 74.1, but in what I think is Norco’s only geometry-logic-fail, once the seat is at ride-height, it’s at least a degree slacker than listed in use (because the actual tube is angled back much more slackly than 74.1). Still, in practice I could get the seat where I like it in relation to the BB by slamming the seat forward in the rails, so I was happy enough.

Suspension Set-Up

This was the first time I’d ridden a DVO fork and I found it had a ton of adjustments, as well as an ultra-tidy removable mudguard.  I ran just on 22% sag and got an ideal amount of ramp-up for most of the riding I did. DVO use a coil negative spring, which is adjustable, meaning you can make the top of the fork’s travel (what DVO call Off-the-top or OTT) as supple or firm as you prefer. I found I needed to wind it on a few turns more than DVO recommended to get the fork to feel as supple as I wanted it to be. I ran the recommended pressure for what proved to be an ideal spring-curve, providing occasional inaudible bottom-out on big drop situations. I experimented with the high speed and low speed compression but even combined they didn’t provide enough additional support to measurably change the amount of travel I was getting on a large drop I rode off repeatedly.  DVO don’t have a plastic ‘token’ arrangement for volume adjustments; instead you’ll need to drop some oil in to the spring side to get more end-stroke ramp up. One thing to watch, the low-speed compression dial is ‘backwards’, in that turning it anti-clockwise is increasing the damping. Just follow the numbers visible on the dial and you’ll be good!

The Fox Evol (with low volume can) rear shock proved very similar feeling to the DVO fork, providing neutral feeling suspension out back, with good small-bump response and just enough bottom-out support to mean I didn’t need to get inside the can and add or subtract anything in the air volume. For both the fork and shock, support was ideal for my 82kg ready to ride weight, on rattly Wellington tracks. But if I were going to be hitting bigger drops regularly or if I was heavier, I’d probably reduce the volume in both the fork and shock.
 

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The Ride

Neutral: it’s hardly the most exciting way to describe the way a bike rides, but that’s how I’d classify the Sight, and I mean it as a proper compliment. The suspension action in the rear was smooth and composed – not falling away or ramping up in various places. Under heavy pedaling efforts the Sight is fast, though while there isn’t any noticeable squat, it’s not quite as rapid over the first few metres as some other bikes with similar amounts of travel (or indeed, the previous iteration of the Sight). The trade-off for that slight loss in acceleration under sprinting is a really comfortable and efficient ride over rough ground, pedaling or not. You could also choose to run the bike in the shock’s middle compression setting for a little extra pep, as it’s still quite a usable setting downhill, even if it does remove some of the bikes comfort uphill.
 

As a trail bike you plan to ride all the time, and maybe race occasionally (either XC or enduro, it could happily do both with a change of tyres for each discipline), it’s very hard to fault the behaviour of the Sight. The position is comfortable for steep climbing, the back end is long enough to prevent front wheel lift but not so long as to make it hard to loft the front end when needed. Cornering was aided by the super-grippy Minions (though I’d have preferred the fancier 3C rubber versions for when it gets wet). Charging into really fast, rough and rocky chutes proved that while 130/140mm is fine for getting through unscathed and the bike feels very balanced front-to-back, I did notice I didn’t come through such chutes with quite as much wild abandon as the 150/160mm bike I’d been riding previously. The 130mm Sight gives a smooth ride and uses its travel well, but 130mm isn’t 150mm. But it’s not 110mm either, so, happy days for us trail riders.

It’s worth noting the carbon/alloy frame felt amply stiff without ever feeling rattly or jarring and the bike was quiet, with no rattling cables or chain-noise. The 12 speed GX groupset was trouble-free, gave smooth-enough-shifting into easier gears and really great shifting under load into harder gears and provided more than enough range for all the ups and downs I went up…and down.
In terms of comparison, interestingly, the Sight’s geometry means it fits almost identically to a Santa Cruz Hightower (non-LT) and because of that the ride often feels quite similar. However, the rear suspension action is what separates the two, with the Hightower edging out the Norco in sprinting pedalling situations and big-hit bottom out resistance, while the Sight edges out the Hightower with better small-bump response and better technical climbing chops (thanks to that traction).

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Niggles

I was wary of the SRAM Level T brakes because, well, they don’t have four pistons. But in use there wasn’t much to fault. I took them down Wellington’s steepest longest brakes-on descents (which admittedly aren’t as long as Nelson’s version of such descents) but I couldn’t get them to overheat or change feel. They did feel very slightly more on/off than Guides, but I adapted that quickly enough and stopped noticing. One other thing, I’ve owned and ridden several of the SRAM hubs fitted to this Sight and I haven’t had the best experiences with them (periodic loosening, a hard to find 14mm allen key is needed to adjust them, bearings that get rough quickly and a freehub that makes weird noises when you give it some). For something that is such a pain to replace, I think a six and a half grand bike deserves a better rear hub. Still, aside from the odd ‘pop!’ under sudden heavy load, the one fitted to this bike was fine for the time I used it. Also, I hate those SDG Duster seats – they look stylish but they’re too flat so give nothing to push against uphill. Still, other people apparently love them, so what do I know? (That those other people are wrong!)
 

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Conclusion

The Norco Sight C3 is a trail bike with excellent performance for all day riding, it could hold its own in the odd XC race (with a tyre swap and the shock in trail-mode) and have your back on most enduro courses in New Zealand. It looks awesome, fits great, has a comfortable traction-enhancing ride and doesn’t do anything weird. Norco have also taken the time with size-specific geometry and frame-tube choice to make sure it works well for every size of rider. The rear hub is, in theory, beneath the quality of the rest of the bike, though the DVO diamond’s performance and looks almost make up for that. Overall, it’s exactly the kind of bike I prefer to be riding as my daily-driver.

 

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Key Specs

  • Frame: Carbon fibre with Alloy Stays
  • Rear Travel: 130mm
  • Front Travel: 140mm
  • Shock/Fork: Fox Float Evol/DVO Diamond
  • Drivetrain/brakes: SRAM Eagle GX/SRAM Level T
  • Wheels/tyres: SRAM/Novatec hubs/WTB I29 rims/Maxxis Minion tyres
  • Price: $6499
  • Distributed by: Marleen Wholesalers

Photos by Digby Shaw