The new Norco Search XR C2 is the Canadian mountain bike brand’s take on the ultimate do-it-all bike. Have they managed to strike an even balance between gravel, commuting and bikepacking capabilities, or will you still have to hang on to the fleet of bikes in your garage?
The Search XR C2 is already the third generation of Norco’s carbon gravel bike since they presented it for the first time in 2018. The Canadian brand claims to have designed a bike capable of replacing several bikes that specialise in a single discipline. Instead of owning one bike for gravel riding, one for commuting, and one for bikepacking, Norco tell us we can replace them all with the Search XR. Doing so wouldn’t only be a lot easier on our bank balance, it would also keep our garage looking a lot tidier and spares us the agony of having to decide which bike to take every time we go out for a ride only to second guess our choice a few kilometres in. At the core of this ambitious claim is a full carbon, metallic brown frame with asymmetric chainstays to offer enough clearance in muddy conditions for up to 700 x 42C or 650 x 51B tires. The curved, oval seat stays are meant to dampen vibrations, allowing the rider to stay fresher for longer and tackle rougher roads without constantly having to stand up out of the saddle.
According to Norco, the seat tube of the Search XR C2 also offers added comfort as its profile slims down towards the bottom where it meets the BB, offering flex where it’s needed. The dimensions of the tubes are adapted specifically for every frame size. By doing so, the bike should offer a suitable mix of stiffness and comfort regardless of the size of the rider and frame. The smallest sizes, 45.5 and 48 cm come standard with 650B wheels, whereas frame sizes 50.5 to 60.5 cm all roll on 700C wheels. Instead of simply taking a road bike and swapping the slicks out for a set of knobbly tires, Norco have adapted the geometry to make it more suitable for off-road conditions. The angles have been slackened and the wheelbase is longer: Norco call this their Search XR Adventure Geometry. Supposedly, this will instil the rider with confidence on steep and rough terrain by placing them centrally between the wheels. In order to make the bike packers and commuters amongst us happy, the Canadian brand have outfitted with the frame with mounting points for mudguards, fenders and plenty of bottle cage bosses.
The Norco Search XR C2 in detail
The Norco Search XR will be available in a total of five versions and besides the carbon models, they’ll also be offering the bike with an aluminium or a steel frame. The range starts with the Search XR A2 featuring an aluminium frame and a Shimano GRX RX400 and Tiagra drivetrain combination, priced at € 1,299. For those who love the feel of steel, you’ll be able to get in on the fun starting from € 1,999, including Shimano’s full GRX groupset. For this review, Norco sent us their flagship Search XR C2 featuring a carbon frame, mechanical GRX RX810 groupset and finished off with aluminium components from Easton for the stem, handlebar and wheels.
Drivetrain Shimano GRX ST-RX810, 1 x 11, 40T
Cassette Shimano SLX 11–42T
Brakes Shimano GRX BR-RX810 160 / 160 mm
Wheels Easton EA70 AX
Tires WTB Resolute TCS 700 x 42C
Seat post X-Fusion Manic Gravel 50 mm Dropper
Handlebar Easton EA70 AX, 440 mm
Stem Norco SL, 110 mm
Weight 9.17 kg in size 55.5
Price € 3,499
The Norco Search XR C2 on test
The Search XR C2 features a beautiful, subtle brown paint job. The decals are kept nice and inconspicuous, proving that sometimes less really is more. Despite having an additional cable for the dropper post, which you can operate with the left-hand shifter, the cockpit is kept neat and tidy. Unfortunately, the front brake cable on our test bike rubbed against the head tube with every movement of the handlebar and the paint job started looking worse for wear after only 1,000 kilometres. Combine this with the slightly skew head badge and the frontal view of our test bike won’t do much for the gravel fans amongst us with a love for attention to detail. However, the internal cable routing didn’t cause any trouble, remaining rattle-free and quiet even on the roughest cobblestones and trails.
The Norco isn’t the quickest in acceleration, but once you’re up to speed, the bike rides efficiently and is happy holding that speed. While the combination of aluminium Easton EA70 AX rims and WTB Resolute tires (set up with tubes) offers plenty of traction on every kind of terrain while also rolling fast, the wheels are relatively heavy with a high rotating mass. We wholeheartedly recommend converting these to a tubeless setup; the rims and the tires are both tubeless-ready. Besides adding comfort, this will also make the wheels somewhat lighter.
Once you’ve covered the inevitable stretch of asphalt between your front door and the nearest gravel road, the Norco wants to be ridden fast. Only then can it play to its strengths and reveal the benefits of its geometry. As long as the trails aren’t too tight and corners are nice and open, the Search XR C2 is just the bike for the job. It encourages you to stray from the most worn lines, to try out the straight line instead and just fly over all obstacles in your path. When things get steeper, the bike never feels overwhelmed and remains feeling stable and composed. Thanks to the length of the wheelbase and the slackened angles, the bike always remains stable and the handling predictable, installing less experienced riders with the confidence to push their limits. However, when the trail becomes very tight and winding, littered with switchbacks, the bike quickly reaches its limits. It lacks the necessary agility here and isn’t able to deliver the same kind of fun handling as it does in more open terrain.
What works well in even and moderately rough terrain inevitably leads to sore legs as soon as you load the bike up with bags: the combination of a 40 t chainring up front and an 11–42 t cassette on the rear demands a powerful and fit rider if you want to get up the climbs while hauling all of your bikepacking gear. We would have preferred if Norco had specced the bike with a 38 t chainring for easier climbing.
Thanks to the dropper post, you’re able to lower your centre of gravity and move your weight around on steep descents without being hindered by the saddle. Despite being relatively short at 50 mm, the X-Fusion dropper improves the bike’s descending capabilities immeasurably and we wouldn’t want to ride technical trails without it. However, there are two sides to everything. For all the benefits that the dropper post gives you, it also means that the Search XR C2 can’t be classified as a comfortable bike. The frame offers little flex and bumps are passed on to the rider unfiltered, especially at the front with its stiff handlebar, fork and wheelset. There isn’t much compliance to speak of at the rear either. Hydraulic dropper posts simply aren’t able to offer the kind of compliance you get from one made of carbon fibre. We recommend investing a bit more time in finding a suitable rear tire pressure to achieve the necessary compliance if you want to spare your back, after you’ve converted to tubeless, of course. Unless you go tubeless, it’ll only be a matter of time until you get a puncture. For more information and tips on gravel tires, check out our in-depth article here.
As a do-it-all bike, the Search XR C2 obviously also had to prove itself as a commuter in day to day life as well as demanding bikepacking trips. With a multitude of bosses and attachment points, you’re not only able to carry plenty of water and attach fenders, but you also won’t be short of luggage capacity either. Besides being able to attach a classic pannier rack on the rear, the bottle cage bosses on either side of the fork allow you to carry additional water or gear. As stiff as the frame is, it doesn’t flex excessively even with all of your luggage and water attached, which is great for loaded riding.
Our conclusion on the Norco Search XR C2
With the Search XR C2, Norco have designed a very capable gravel bike, able to excel in every terrain. With it’s composed handling and the dropper post, it instils you with the confidence to take on all kinds of trails, which is especially useful to less experienced riders. The only things clouding the otherwise positive impression are the bikes lack of agility and quick acceleration. The frame’s stiffness serves well to carry heavy loads without excessively flexing, though the chainring is too big for long climbs and loaded riding. Thanks to a multitude of bosses and attachment points, the Norco will perform just as well on your daily commute with fenders and a pannier rack. That said, it isn’t the most comfortable.
- very stable and composed
- dropper seat post
- stiff frame capable of hauling heavy loads
- numerous bosses and attachment points
- lack of agility and acceleration
- mediocre comfort
- chainring is too big for long climbs and bikepacking
For more information on the Norco Search XR C2, visit norco.com
Want to find out more about alternative options for a gravel bike? Then take a look at our big gravel bike group test!
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Words: Photos: Benjamin Topf