Norco Search Ultegra/105 review£2,100.00

Canadian mountain bike brand’s take on an all-road machine

BikeRadar score4/5

Canadian brand Norco has a huge reputation from mountain biking and already produces some impressive road bikes too. Surely then, few companies are as well qualified to produce an adventure road bike – the Search.

In a game of top trumps this Norco would be a solid card – its carbon frame and fork, Ultegra/105 drivetrain and Shimano hydraulic brakes alone go a long way to justify the retail price. Another highlight is the cyclocross derived, tubeless-ready wheelset from Alex Rims, spinning on thru-axles of the same standard used for most mountain bikes right now (15mm Maxle front, 142x12mm rear).

We tested the search thoroughly on all sorts of terrain:
We tested the search thoroughly on all sorts of terrain:

The Search is a great looking bike, and one that stands out from its competition

The compact frame of the Search leaves a lot of exposed seatpost – namely a skinny carbon own-brand item. Subtle mudguard mounts feature at each end and you'll find two water bottle mounts.

The frame uses Norco’s proprietary ArmorLite resin, which along with providing a stronger bond to the carbon itself, is also lighter and more impact resistant than a traditional resin. The finish and attention to detail of the frame is great, including the well thought out internal cable routing, and we think the graphics and paintwork bring something fresh to this segment. Our 58cm Search tipped the scales at 9.1kg / 20.1lbs complete.

Related: Norco Search Ultegra/105 - just in

The Search's carbon fork uses a previous generation version of the RockShox developed Maxle standard, and its spin-to-release design is usually convenient if not subtle. On our bike this wasn’t the case, an unusual fork alignment issue meant that swapping out a wheel became a slow, tension-filled exercise trying to encourage the threads to line up, with the constant fear of cross-threading.

A second test bike had better alignment but the Maxle itself had to be adjusted just to be able to get things suitably tight. We informed Evans Cycles, Norco’s UK distributor, which hadn’t heard of the issue before and is looking into it.

The 142x12mm maxle rear end is a part commondly used in mountain bikes:
The 142x12mm maxle rear end is a part commondly used in mountain bikes:

The Norco’s rear triangle delivers a smooth ride despite absolute accuracy

This bike is very impressive on paved roads, hustling up to speed with ease, and the aggressive 72.5-degree head, 73-degree seat angles mean it handles swiftly. The long wheelbase adds stability, while the reach and stack figures put it firmly at the sporty end of sportive. The 28mm Continentals feel pleasantly plush, yet still quick enough on the road, and the climbing’s unhindered by the midweight wheelset, the hill-friendly 50/34 and 11-32 drivetrain pairing helping.

Head downhill and the Shimano 785 brakes paired with 160mm mountain bike rotors allow for plenty of well-modulated power whatever the weather. We encountered no vibration or excess noise issues despite hundreds of miles of testing.

The mix of Shimano 105 and Ultegra bits not only looks the part but performed flawlessly; an integrated chain catcher means that the frame is protected should things go awry at the front derailleur, too. A slight disappointment comes in the form of the Shimano press-fit bottom bracket, in our experience it's a case of when rather than if it'll start to creak.

The shimano hydraulic discs performed brilliantly throughout testing, and norco's choice to run a 160mm mountain bike rotor is a smart one:
The shimano hydraulic discs performed brilliantly throughout testing, and norco's choice to run a 160mm mountain bike rotor is a smart one:

Shimano's hydraulic discs provided consistent and well modulated stopping power

Taking the Search off-road, it didn't offer a ride that was quite as impressive as some of its competition. The back end does a grand job of diluting buzz, the skinny post and 'stays seem to really help while that widely spaced and heavily braced rear axle makes for a bike that sticks to its line well – and the colour-matched Fizik saddle was really comfortable, too. 

It's not quite the same story at the front end, which can feel stiff to the point of brutality. Perhaps it's the fork with its 15mm axle, or maybe it's the alloy Ritchey cockpit – it may well be a combination of both, but you'll want to be gripping loosely when the going gets rough.

Lowering tyre pressures helped, but we'd recommend fitting wider, tubeless rubber to get the most out of this bike – Norco reckons 35c should go in without issue.

It's worth adding that on one technical rocky ascent we threw at it the Norco excelled, the Contact Contis grip well on dry gravel roads, and the low gearing helps you grind up the steepest sections in the saddle to maintain grip. On soggier dirt the tyres were impressive – with very little tread there’s not much chance of them packing with mud; they simply cut a path through. On a slick chalky clay section though, they offered little in the way of traction, so we had a comedy play-out of the rear wheel half spinning, then gripping and sideways two-wheel drifting on off camber sections too.

We must remember though, this isn't a mountain bike. If you're coming at it from a roadie perspective, you'd be unwise to expect miracles – the Search's pedigree and some of its details might hint at it being an off-road demon, but the reality is that it’s happiest on surfaces that bear at least a passing resemblance to a road.

The low gearing helps you grind up the steepest sections:
The low gearing helps you grind up the steepest sections:

The low gearing helps you grind up the steepest sections

With that in mind, where we found the Norco to excel was on a mixed commute, where it has the pace of a regular road bike but its off-road capability is enough for you to take shortcuts and lines you wouldn't normally on a bike dedicated only to tarmac.

Bump up and down kerbs as you wish, get that back wheel sliding, even throw in the occasional bunnyhop. Ask yourself – how often will you really be taking this bike properly off-road? Because it's only when you do so that you'll notice any shortcomings. 

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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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