Norco Search Alloy 105 Hydro long-term review£1,399.00

Running report on Norco's more affordable adventure bike

Article last updated: July 12 2017

I’ve had the Norco for a couple of months now and we’ve covered around 250 miles together, so it’s about time I updated you with exactly how I’m getting on.

As well as riding this bike for my short but sharp daily commute through the centre of Bristol, I’ve taken it on a few longer road rides too and even had a stab at some local mountain bike trails.

At first, I was concerned that the 60.5cm frame might be a little too large, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve not experienced any discomfort or issues with fit. For me, it’s a definite improvement over the 58cm Norco that I owned a few years back.

The ergonomics of the 105 level shifters seem to work well with my large hands, but they do mark easily
The ergonomics of the 105 level shifters seem to work well with my large hands, but they do mark easily

Everyone seems to give the RS505 shifters fitted to this bike a hard time, mostly because of their looks, but I’ve been rather surprised by them.

Ergonomically I’ve found that the design works well with my large hands, though they do seem to add reach over other designs, and I can see how those with smaller hands might be annoyed by the prominent bump at the bottom of the hoods. 

Their shift action doesn’t feel as positive as the R685 mechanical parts I’m used to though, and I find there’s a need to push and hold ever so slightly when upshifting at the cassette in order to avoid annoying mis-shifts. The large plastic sections at the top of the hoods are easily marked too.

I really can't fault the brakes on this bike
I really can't fault the brakes on this bike

In contrast, I’ve found it near impossible to criticise the brake action from these levers and the brakes themselves provide superb power and modulation. In sodden conditions they do lose a bit of bite, but still remain effective.

Off-road excursions

Bristol’s Leigh Woods and Ashton Court mountain bike trails are an ideal proving ground for an adventure bike, with a series of marked trails that aren’t too technical but do feature a lot of flat and pedally sections. The Search was really good fun here.

It’s fairly obvious that a bike such as this one will rely massively on its tyres in order to perform well off-road and the 35mm Schwalbe Tyragos fitted do manage to cope well in a variety of situations.

With 65psi in each end — that’s the maximum as stated on their sidewalls — I found the tyres rolled reasonably well on the road. Not up there with the 28mm road tyres, but hardly the draggy nature you’ll get from some ‘cross rubber.

The Schwalbe Tyrago tyres can easily cope when the going gets rough but you'll have to watch out for pinch punctures
The Schwalbe Tyrago tyres can easily cope when the going gets rough but you'll have to watch out for pinch punctures

Now, I strongly suspected that this pressure wouldn’t work well off-road, but I was curious to see just how it would handle. Sure enough, 65psi resulted in minimal grip on rough terrain. Stones would ping and flick away violently from the tyre tread and anything other than riding in a straight line was quite a nerve wracking activity.

Unsurprisingly, dropping the pressures to around 45psi transformed the ride in terms of both comfort and grip. I was no longer just hanging on but actually holding the same lines I’d be aiming for should I have been riding my mountain bike. Dropping pressures further brought yet more grip, but the regular dinging of rim to trail was enough to have me reaching for a pump once again. Even at 65psi I managed to inflict one pinch puncture.

It’s clear then that there’s a strong case for tubeless tyres on this bike for those who want to venture off-road, and this is something I’ll definitely be exploring in the near future. Still, the Search was good fun to ride off-road, with a handicap that makes relatively dull trails an excitement.

Tarmac times

In order to properly assess the Search’s road manners I decided to fit some faster rubber, and so on went a set of Pirelli’s soon-to-be-released PZero road tyres.

They’re only 25mm wide, and not the 4-season versions I would’ve regularly chosen for this bike, but they were the only samples on offer and I gladly snapped them up.

The Pirelli PZero tyres with their supple casings and tacky compound have made for a true tarmac transformation on the Search. Because despite its relatively long wheelbase, tall head tube and slightly porky nature, it’s a bike that still rides brilliantly on the road.

Allen heads at the rear axle don't hold quite the same convenience as a quick-release, but they're foolproof and add a touch of inconvenience for the opportunist thief
Allen heads at the rear axle don't hold quite the same convenience as a quick-release, but they're foolproof and add a touch of inconvenience for the opportunist thief

I did puncture within ten miles of fitting these tyres, but the glass shard responsible would have made mincemeat of most tyres. It was at the time of the puncture that I realised Norco had chosen a bolted QR-sized axle for the rear end of this bike. Not that it caused any problems, and actually it's probably a good idea for a bike that is regularly chained up in an urban environment.

Turquoise tape might look great on the shop floor but soon looks pretty rough after a bit of use
Turquoise tape might look great on the shop floor but soon looks pretty rough after a bit of use

Quite predictably, the standard turquoise handlebar tape looks nice when the bike is new but soon ends up looking pretty disgusting.

Something that has impressed me is the frame's paint, which has dealt with the battle of busy bike parking without so much as a single chip.

For now at least the Search is dressed for the roads, and I’m enjoying the extra efficiency on offer. I’d like to try and shift a little more weight from the bike and am currently eyeing up some replacement wheels and perhaps a different chainset.

Costs this month

Mileage this month

Original post: May 17, 2017

I'd like to welcome you to this new long-term test format on BikeRadar, where staffers like myself will be introducing the bikes we will be spending plenty of time on over the next few months. Served in a blog-like format with regular updates, you can expect more detail and a lot more insight into where our two wheels take us. We'll also be looking forward to more interactions with yourselves, and we'll be asking for your suggestions on future upgrades or places to ride.

Each of our writers will have the opportunity to choose their own bikes so you can expect a whole variety of machines, riding styles and preferences. Honestly, it's going to be great!

When it comes to off-road excursions the Search is ready to rumble
When it comes to off-road excursions the Search is ready to rumble

My pick for a long-term test bike for the road is this Norco Search, and it was far from a random choice. I wanted a bike that wouldn't intimidate with its price, and the alloy frame manages that nicely coming in at £1,399 complete. Remember, that's now less than half of the price of certain carbon gravel frames.

What swung it for me, though, was a positive previous experience with Norco's gravel offering, specifically a carbon frame Norco Search that I used throughout a majority of 2015. You can read about that bike here.

This Search is the largest available in the UK, with a frame size of 60.5cm
This Search is the largest available in the UK, with a frame size of 60.5cm

Versatility was also key as I wanted a bike that could lend a hand to some occasional off-road exploits yet wouldn't be a chore for daily commuting. Its spec, which you can take a closer look at in the chart below, holds no obvious holes, either. 

There's a good looking alloy frame from a brand with a superb heritage in mountain bikes, a thru-axle carbon fork and flat-mount hydraulic discs from Shimano. Its 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain might be lacking the attractive four arm chainset but the parts that remain are all solid and proven.

Shimano's RS505 shifters are famed for their ungainly looks but I'm curious to find out how they'll compare to the RS685 parts that I've used on a couple of bikes now. The comically named Shinnigrims wheels (complete with a cheeky Shimano-esque font) don't inspire as much confidence but at least the high spoke count and generous rim width seem encouraging. 

The fact this bike arrives with 35mm tyres in place suits me too, and is a big shift from the 28mm tyres in place on the previous generation bike, though I've not had any previous experience with the Schwalbe Tyragos fitted.

The wide and aggressively flared handlebar draws attention away from Shimano's ungainly RS505 shifters
The wide and aggressively flared handlebar draws attention away from Shimano's ungainly RS505 shifters

Another standout part from the spec sheet is Norco's own brand handlebar which, like the part fitted to GT's Grade gravel bike, is wide and aggressively flared. 

The bike was a doddle to assemble, arriving 95% complete from distributor Evans Cycles. Once together, I fitted a Spurcycle bell, which along with being astonishingly expensive has a reputation as being one of the best bicycle bells out there, so I'll be sure to post a full review once I've had enough time with it. 

Last but by no means least was Bontrager's compact Ion 100 R/Flare R City light set which I fitted to the Norco's handlebar and seatpost. These excellent lights are optimised for daytime running and I've found them invaluable for negotiating the sleepy drivers of Bristol.

Spurcycle's very fancy and exceedingly expensive bell (L) and Bontrager's trusty Ion 100 R front light (R)
Spurcycle's very fancy and exceedingly expensive bell (L) and Bontrager's trusty Ion 100 R front light (R)

I'll be posting a first ride update over the next few days so stay tuned for that.

Costs this month

Mileage this month

  • Mileage clocked: 0 to date
  • Most enjoyable ride: is yet to happen

Norco Search Alloy 105 Hydro specification

  • Frame: Norco Search X6 double butted aluminium, Size 60.5cm
  • Fork: Search mid-mod full carbon disc
  • Crankset: Shimano FC-S500 50/34t
  • Front derailleur: Shimano 105 FD-5800
  • Rear derailleur: Shimano 105 RD-5800 GS
  • Shifters: Shimano SL-RS505
  • Brakes: Shimano BR-RS785 calipers with 160mm rotors
  • Front hub: Alloy 15x100mm thru-axle 28h
  • Rear hub: Alloy cartridge bearing 28h QR
  • Rims: Aero double wall alloy
  • Tyres: Schwalbe Tyrago 700x35c
  • Handlebar: Norco Flare 44cm
  • Handlebar tape: Norco Ultra Comfort 3mm
  • Headset: Angular sealed cartridge bearings - tapered
  • Stem: Norco 120mm
  • Seatpost: Norco composite 27.2mm
  • Saddle: Norco 
  • Weight (actual): 10.48kg/23.1lbs (without pedals)
Oli Woodman

Section Editor, UK
With more than 10 years of experience riding mountain bikes, Oli knows the good from the bad when it comes to gear. He's a total bike nerd and loves few things more than fettling with spangly riding bits. Also, he seems to have a talent for crashing hard but emerging unscathed.
  • Age: 25
  • Height: 191cm / 6'3"
  • Weight: 80kg / 176lb
  • Waist: 32in
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Loamy singletrack
  • Current Bikes: Marin Pine Mountain, Pinnacle Dolomite
  • Dream Bike: Honda RN01
  • Beer of Choice: Corona
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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