Norco Search XR Carbon Review: Some Like It Rough

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Norco’s revamped Search XR Carbon gets the latest ‘all-road’ standards, meaty 27.5 x 2.1” tires, and mounts to carry up to five water bottles. Miles was one of the first to get his hands on the Force 1 model and took it on some rugged desert tracks (and beyond) to see what a top-of-the-line ‘adventure-road’ bike can do. Here’s the full review…

For the last year and a half I’ve kept a close eye on the drop-bar gravel bike scene. All in an effort to consolidate my addiction into two bikes that can handle everything. My perfect pair of bikes would include a 27.5+ hardtail for technical, singletrack heavy riding and a drop-bar gravel bike that is tailored for forest service road exploration but can still handle some light singletrack.

There are plenty of bikepack-ready hardtails on the market, many of which we have reviewed, varying from carbon race bikes to beefy steel exploration machines. However, the ‘all-road’ category is a tricky one. Coming from a mountain bike background, I’ve found many of these bikes to feel less stable loaded up with gear. And with some, the aggressive riding position and limited tire clearance can be restrictive to more adventurous riding. Some of the latest options have been reviewed here, but due to their particular specs, standards, design, and capabilities, choosing the right bike becomes ever more analytical. Plenty of us want to keep up speed on the tarmac, smash the gravel, and navigate singletrack all on one bike that is still capable of handling some camping gear and other essentials. Some of us want to go fast… and there are increasingly more options becoming available to do so, including the Norco Search XR Carbon.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

  • Highlights
  • Frame: Carbon
  • Seatpost: 27.2mm
  • Bottom Bracket: PressFit 86
  • Hub specs: 142x12mm (rear); 100x12mm (front)
  • Max tire: 27.5×2.1″ / 700Cx45c
  • Weight: 21lbs (Large)
  • Price: $4,199 (Force 1)

ALUMINUM, STEEL, AND CARBON

Norco’s popular Search lineup has been around since 2015, but the 2018 ‘XR’ iteration is an entirely different bike, creating a class of its own. There are some similarities however, like the option for a carbon or steel frame. Strangely enough, the latter was not offered for the 2016 or 2017 Search, coming only in aluminum or carbon. This year, Norco released more options than you could imagine and stuck with using the more desirable frame materials of carbon or Reynolds 725 chromoly steel. For those not for larger tire clearance and the bikepacking -friendly features of the XR series, Norco still continues to offer the much loved standard Search carbon and aluminum models in various builds for different budgets. Besides the addition of more mounts on the fork and downtube, and hidden rack and fender mounts, the XR models sport a lower and longer geometry that lend to its comfort and control over rough terrain and while climbing. For the sake of checking out the newest and most interesting of the bunch, we took the opportunity to test the Norco Search XR Carbon Force 1, shod with 650B x 2.1” Maxxis Tread Lite tires. Oh yeah, and it has a KS LEV dropper post… can you blame us?

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Over the past few years, besides riding almost exclusively rigid steel mountain bikes, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on a couple drop bar gravel bikes. A Norco Threshold A2, an entry level cyclocross, started things off for me, but lacked bottle mounts and aluminum wasn’t the most comfortable for long distance riding. The largest tire I could ram in there was around 1.5” wide (40mm)… and that left no extra room for debris or fenders. Next up came a 2016 Kona Sutra LTD, a steel workhorse that offered rack and fender mounts, mounts on the downtube, and a build that was much more suited to the demands of bikepacking. Still, once I crammed in some 700 x 2.1” WTB Nanos, as Kona recommends nothing larger than 2.0” tires, there was next to no clearance left under the crown of the fork and between the chainstays. This setup was as close as I got to making it work, but I didn’t quite fall in love with the longer reach on the Sutra LTD that has been known to encourage buyers to size down. After accidentally taking a stab at bikepack racing this past summer, I saw first hand the benefits of a lighter bike and lighter kit. Riding and pushing around less weight – especially in a race scenario — sounds pretty attractive after riding my heavy, but beloved, Surly Krampus for five days with little sleep.

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

For those who haven’t experimented much with carbon bikes suited for bikepacking, the Norco Search XR Carbon is one of those bikes that truly exploits the material’s benefits. It didn’t take long to win me over. Besides being incredibly light, carbon is much stronger than some people might assume and has a snappy, playful feeling that doesn’t suffer when loaded for a multi-day trip. The Search XR does a great job at dampening vibrations on both road and gravel, creating a ride that promotes longer days and faster riding. After a straightforward tubeless setup — afforded by the WTB i23 rims and Maxxis’ Tread Lite 2.1” tires — the ride became that much more supple by running lower pressures. And of course, the bigger and softer tires also encouraged me to push further out past the gravel onto nearby trails.

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

“Adventure-Road”

All-road, Gravel, Gravel-Plus, or in Norco’s case, Adventure-Road. There are a growing number of bike manufacturers tossing around buzzwords like these, and in select cases, we’re eating it right up. The Norco Search XR Carbon keeps up with the trends with ample clearance for standard 700 x 45c as well as 650B mountain bike tires with plenty of room for widths up to 2.1”. Not only did Norco do a good job adventure-terrain-proofing their standard Search lineup by adding various wheel and tire compatibilities, they also threw in a few curve ball features that were both appealing from a bikepacking perspective and eyebrow raising for everyone else. The Search XR is a drop bar all-road adventure rig that will leave a lot of folk asking questions.

I expected the majority of my riding to be on gravel and singletrack with some longer endurance-style rides on mixed roads. Although this is not a long-term review, I rode the Search XR considerably on almost all types of terrain you are likely to encounter, including some you won’t depending on what hemisphere you reside in. My month-long sabbatical began in the Central Okanagan of British Columbia, just as mother nature decided to greet us with lower than average temperatures and a bit of snow. Wet pavement, snow covered trails, and sloppy gravel roads filled the last of my fall riding. With a stroke of luck I found an ultra-cheap flight to Phoenix, Arizona where I could pick up my reviewing duties in the sun, sand, and a wealth of native flora that were quite foreign to me.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Who, or what, is the Norco Search XR for?

The Search XR’s geometry aligns closely with other similar offerings we’ve seen recently; a longer top tube, a slightly more aggressive head tube angle at 72º, and shortened chainstays; although not the shortest we’ve seen in the all-road category. All of this really jives with the 650b wheels, creating a light, nimble, and responsive ride that continuously begs to be taken off-road. The Search XR also has a longer than average wheelbase, from 970mm to 1,054mm depending on the frame size, which adds to the comfort and stability of the bike on longer rides, and this was quite noticeable when loaded with gear. I’ll also add that toe-overlap has been an issue on other drop-bar gravel bikes in the past, but I had no problems with the Search XR, which was greatly appreciated during tight and twisty singletrack.

That said, the long 110mm stem took away from the bike’s ability to tackle some of the more technical features and trails, throwing me into a somewhat aggressive race position. This also made it seem a little awkward to even think about using the dropper post. Off came the stock 110mm stem and on came a 70mm stem with a 15º rise, a big change, but one I believed to be necessary to unleash the bikepacking potential of the Search XR. In this setup, I felt I was in a better position to use the dropper on descents and through chunkier sections of trails. Whereas with the longer stem I felt the dropper was unnecessary and would be better suited to a rigid post for fast, aggressive gravel riding.

So who is the Norco Search XR Carbon for? I think that ultimately depends on where you want to take it, which will then coincide with how you set it up. Straight from Norco it is set up to let you take on a bit of everything, which is what makes it such a joy to ride. Some people may choose to customize it slightly to match their individual needs, like swapping the stem, seatpost, or chainring, for example.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Norco Search XR Carbon Force 1 Build

Being the top of the line model, between the Search XR and Search lineups (both carbon and steel), there isn’t a whole lot missing in terms of components; not surprising given the top tier price tag. Although the gearing would be a little high for my usual riding, I decided to stick with the SRAM 40T X-Sync ring as I was saving the majority of my riding for Arizona gravel. If time permitted, I would have looked into options for a smaller front chainring or a rear cassette expander for some lower climbing gears. This only ever became an issue on steep and loose climbs, which may have been tolerable on knobbier tires, but had me slipping around and pushing my bike up some of the hills in Tonto National Forest.

I had zero issues with the Force drivetrain and the high-end SRAM XG-1180 cassette, which ran smoothly and quietly for the duration of my testing period. Just a quick wipe down with a rag, and a light chain lubrication kept things shifting smoothly and quietly.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

The DT Swiss 350 hubs are an excellent option for bikepacking as maintenance is virtually tool-free, and you’re getting the same durability and performance as the higher priced DT Swiss 240 hubs with only a slight weight penalty. The DT Swiss 350 hubs are also as close as it gets from being completely silent, perhaps not as quiet as the Onyx hubs Skyler reviewed recently, but did not distract me from soaking in the wilderness surrounding me. The relatively low engagement of the 18 tooth ratchet resulted in a few more pedal strikes on some of the technical trails I found myself on, but depending on where you plan to ride this may not be an issue. This ratchet is also an easily upgradable part, which will decrease the 20° rear hub engagement to either 10° or 6.6°.

Frameset

  • Frame Search XR Carbon
  • Fork Search XR Carbon
  • Color Grey

Drivetrain

  • Front Der n/a
  • Rear Der SRAM Force 1
  • Cassette SRAM XG 1180 10-42t
  • Chain SRAM PC-1170
  • Crankset SQUARQ Prime Carbon 1 X-Sync 40t
  • Shifter SRAM Force 1x
  • Brakes & Rotors SRAM Force Hydraulic Disc, 160mm

Components

  • Headset Angular Sealed Cartridge Bearings
  • Stem Norco SL Alloy
  • Handlebar Easton EC70 AX, 16 deg flare
  • Grips Norco Super Griptacular w/gel
  • Seatpost KS LEV Integra Dropper Post, 27.2 x 65mm 
  • Saddle WTB Volt Team w/ Ti Rails

Wheels

  • Front Wheel WTB Frequency Team i23 27.5, Thru-Axle, 12 x 100mm
  • Rear Wheel WTB Frequency Team i23 27.5, Thru-Axle 12 x 142mm 
  • Tires Maxxis Tread Lite 27.5×2.1″, Folding / Tubeless Ready

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

I had a few issues early on with the KS LEV Integra dropper post not dropping, due to insufficient cable tension caused by stretch, so nothing directly related to the post itself. It’s also a bit of a hassle to gather up any extra slack to tighten the tension from the post if the barrel adjuster had already been cranked, and definitely not something I’d want to deal with on the side of a trail.

The Maxxis Tread Lite tires are semi-slick mountain bike tires, and although the centre tread is very minimal there is a decent side knob that still allowed for traction on tight corners. The tires offered reasonable performance in most terrain I rode on, and really held up well on the rough gravel roads and dry singletrack on the Black Canyon Trail. I was a little worried I would be dealing with sidewall repairs around every corner, due to the 120TPI casing of this race tire, but after nearly 300 miles of Arizona riding the tires are repair free and looking good. Running tubeless at pressures between 25 and 40 PSI meant the bike felt a big sluggish on pavement. And on a few longer (~100km) day rides where my route was half pavement, half gravel I was happy to get off the smooth stuff and onto dirt. This could of course be overcome by pumping up to recommended pressure of 60 PSI during long sections of pavement or by swapping over to some skinnier 700C wheels as the frame works with both sizes; but I am the kind of rider that prefers to set and forget.

The dusty and dirty conditions I encountered led to zero mechanical issues to speak of, and the only real problem that stood out was the regular pedal strikes on the fist-sized rocks that riddled the trails due to the Search XR’s low bottom bracket height (-70mm BB drop/275mm BB height for the 58cm). But then again this isn’t a drop-bar mountain bike, so that didn’t surprise me.

Some people will be put off by Norco’s decision to use a press-fit bottom bracket for a bike that is clearly outfitted to tackle some fairly remote terrain. I will say I experienced no problems or creaking during my rides, and it is just as silky smooth as it was when we assembled it. The Search XR steel models are also spec’d with press-fit bottom brackets as well, so unfortunately there is no winning there for some. More specifically, the entire line is equipped with PF/BB86, a road standard adopted by Scott, Giant, Pivot, and many others that allows a wider bottom bracket shell that doesn’t affect crank width. It’s worth noting that Wheels MFG makes a threaded PF86 BB that supposedly makes changing out bearings a breeze, and creaks a thing of the past.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Ridin’ Dirty with the Norco Search XR Carbon

I jumped on the opportunity to fly into Phoenix, Arizona this past month to tackle some new terrain (I’ve never travelled to Arizona). Little did I know that I’d be putting the Search XR through some of the roughest trails and roads around. Although I admit to slowly easing into things with the Search’s carbon frame, by the end of the week I knew this bike was not something to baby and wipe down with a microfibre cloth after each ride. It begs to be taken on the rough stuff, and boy does it like it.

First, this bike is much lighter than the steel bikes I am familiar with and this has a huge impact on the feeling of the bike when fully loaded. Although there were some definite necessities in my packlist due to some remote sections, lack of resupply points, almost no water sources, and chilly nights, I was still amazed at how light the entire setup felt. To put things into perspective, I carried no backpack and almost always had 5 full water bottles, a lightweight 2-person tent, summer sleeping bag, a bit of camera equipment, canister stove, and all of the other important items for desert style bikepacking. I rarely felt the Norco Search XR Carbon was outside of it’s comfort zone anywhere along my route which includes the city of Phoenix, rugged gravel service roads through Tonto National Forest, and the popular Black Canyon Trail’s singletrack. Whether it was long stretches of washboarded gravel roads or rocky and narrow singletrack, I was constantly surprised at what this bike could handle; and more importantly, what I could ride comfortably for multiple 8+ hour days in a row.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

With a good tubeless setup and my slightly modified positioning on the bike, I’m willing to say this is perhaps the most comfortable bike I’ve ridden in a very long while. It also happens to be the most expensive bike I’ve had the pleasure of riding for any length of time, and I was ultimately blown away by its performance in Arizona. The roads and trails I navigated were primarily shared with full suspension mountain bikes and aggressive looking all-terrain-vehicles, and were definitely on the rougher end of the spectrum when it comes to all-road style riding. Even so, my hands, back, and bum have never felt better!

  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking
  • Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

It’s worth mentioning some of the interesting details that sparked some conversations after the Search XR’s release, including DAS BOOT, SASSY, and NINJA. DAS BOOT is simply a rubber seatpost clamp cover designed to keep any gunk or water from entering the frame via the clamp area. It seemed to do its job just fine, and also includes a small hole and screw for a rear rack mount. SASSY or “Secretly Attachable Seat Stay Yoke” is an optional plastic bridge that acts as a fender mounting point if needed, and a zip tie on each side, it’s surprisingly sturdy enough to handle a fender. The lack of seat stay yoke adds to the ability of the Search XR to absorb chatter, and I think that definitely played a part in my comfort along the Fool’s Loop. NINJA refers to the “Not Instantly Noticeable Junk Attachments” are simple threaded inserts just behind the rear axle for fenders or potentially rack compatibility, which is often not ideal or impossible on a carbon bike.

  • Model Tested Norco Search XR Carbon Force 1
  • Size Tested Large (58)
  • Color Grey
  • Weight 21 lbs
  • Place of Manufacture Taiwan
  • Price $4,199 (CAD $5,599)
  • Contact Norco.com

Pros

  • Not a delicate carbon race bike that needs to be pampered, and can handle some surprisingly rough terrain with ease.
  • Clearance for up to 27.5×2.1″ tires, accompanied by thru-axle hubs make a stable and reliable base. Also compatible with 700c tires from 28c up to 45c.
  • Lightweight and ultra comfortable for long days in the saddle over bumpy trails and roads.
  • Multiple bottle and accessory mounts make carrying water and bikepacking gear easy.
  • High end components and a solid build.
  • Size scaled for smaller riders means geometry is consistent and better proportioned for the rider.

Cons

  • PF86 Press-fit bottom brackets will likely be a gripe for many people interested in this bike, but we had no problems.
  • 3 bolt anything cage mount in the main triangle is of little use due to the small triangle, would have been nice to see those on the downtube.
  • Gearing might be a little high for some loaded up for bikepacking, so a chainring swap or cassette expander may be needed.
  • Dropper post is slightly awkward to use with the longer, stock stem.
  • Not cheap. Although I do think you get what you pay for, and that includes a drop-bar bike capable of taking on most types of terrain right out of the box. Check out the XR Steel and XR Carbon Apex models for cheaper alternatives.
  • A bit sluggish on pavement without pumping up to a higher pressure, as expected for 650b x 2.1” tires.

Norco Search XR Carbon Review, Bikepacking

Wrap Up

This is an expensive bike. We are the first to admit that this won’t necessarily jive with all of our readers. However, the Norco Search XR Carbon is also a very capable bikepacking rig that opens up even more terrain opportunities for those who can’t get away from drop-bar gravel bikes. For those who can’t avoid some paved riding to escape urban areas on the way to rougher and more remote trails, the Search XR will perform relentlessly all day long. The multiple wheel size options, various rack and bottle mounts, and clearance for decent sized 650B tires makes this bike a great potential option for endurance bikepacking races that would benefit from a lighter overall package.

Riders on the hunt for a super comfortable platform, day after day, will also appreciate and benefit from the carbon frame and fork, which do a great job soaking up whatever terrain irregularities are thrown your way. If carbon isn’t your thing, then the Search XR Steel lineup offers many of the same features but are based around a Reynolds 725 chromoly frameset, an option we are also quite interested in.

Lastly, do not be fooled by the Search XR’s shiny paintjob or high price tag. This bike likes it rough.

Miles Arbour

Rider Profile

Based out of Kelowna, British Columbia, Miles enjoys riding flowy singletrack, exploring service roads, and often finds himself further from home than he planned. The Norco Search XR was loaned to Miles for this review.

  • Height: 6’1” (181 CM)
  • Weight: 185 lbs (84 KG)
  • Inseam: 33” (83.8 CM)
  • Current Location: Kelowna, BC
  • Favorite Beer: Something Dark
  • Favorite Route: The Fool’s Loop
52 Comments
  • Doug Reilly

    Miles, great write-up!

    I’ve been searching for the best one-quiver bike for a while, in part because I live in a trailer and have little room to keep precious gear out of the elements. Until recently I had a fat bike and a road bike, and like a horse and donkey I’ve been trying to figure out what happens if I mate them. I think, depending on which genes are dominant, the answer is either a rigid 27.5 plus mountain bike that can run 700c wheels for road, or an “all-road” bike like the Norco, the new Fuji Jari, or the Diamondback Haanjo, all of which can take 2.1″ tires. The former seems to have a little more versatility, the latter less weight and maybe obviates the need for two wheelsets.

    My question always boils down to: which one can best take me where I want to go in the simplest, most comfortable and lightest package. Not a unique question, I know. But I’ve tried to gauge this through the many reviews on this site and it’s still a hard question. Seeing that the Gravel Growler in Vermont could be done on a carbon Warbird was instructive, as is your exploration of Arizona trail and singletrack on the Norco.

    But your section on who this bike is for kinda skirted this central issue. So…where wouldn’t you take the Norco? And would this question change if (like me) you weren’t priortizing rolling over every obstacle at break-neck speed. I’m a very pokey mountain-biker who’s out there for the scenery and the ramble. My plans don’t usually involve leaving the ground (voluntarily!)

  • Ben

    Just what I’ve been waiting for – the first proper review I’ve seen of the Search XR, and a very thorough and well balanced one at that!! This or a Ti gravel bike for the Silk Road Mountain Race…it’s gonna be a tough call.

  • Florios

    Hi! I was also interested in this bike, but in 700C version and 2×11. I was wondering if you could attach a front rack (Tubus Tara) on the carbon fork (using Oertlieb front packs). Thanks for your advice!

  • It looks like that wouldn’t be a problem, using one of the fork mounts up top and the mount by the axle. Good question!

  • Thanks for sharing Doug, and a good question. I left it somewhat open-ended in the review but I think the Search XR wouldn’t be the most appropriate option for any routes that would be better suited for a full-suspension bike… there were a few sections on the Black Canyon Trail where I really had to slow things down (which was hard) around technical sections and drops. Where on my 27.5+ rigid Karate Monkey, I would have continued riding without interruption. With that said, I still rode over plenty of obstacles that I wouldn’t even guessed the Norco would handle that well. I think that is the main thing to consider… big drops, super technical or loose and chunky terrain via singletrack ; not what this bike was designed for. Hope that answers it for you!

  • Dr J

    It’s nice, but what I don’t understand about bikes like this one is that:
    – it can run 700C wheel with 45mm tire (diameter of 712mm),
    – or can run 650B wheel with 2.1″ tire (diameter of 690mm).
    The difference in diameters of these two wheels is 22mm, which means that BB drop will change a lot once you switch to different wheel size. If Norco’s geo was designed with 700Cx45mm wheels in mind, once you switch to 650Bx2.1″ wheels the BB height will decrease by 11mm and you will suffer from frequent pedal strike. (There’s a chance that geo was accounted for that and bike comes with higher BB to begin with).
    So yes, it can run different wheel sizes but it doesn’t mean it should.

  • You raise a good point, but a lot of this depends on the style of tire and how much volume the 700 versus 650b tires have. Not all are equal. I do know that that riding this bike on 650b x 2.1″ wheels was a heck of a lot more fun than if I had the 700c version… especially for the rough terrain I brought it on. It would have been great to do a side-by-side comparison though. Cheers!

  • Brendan VDB

    Great review. Love this bike, built mine up with the Wheels MFG BB you mentioned, awesome BB that takes away any worry of press fit.

  • multisportscott

    Not sure Search XR was “designed with 700 x 45mm wheels in mind”, it has clearance for these but I’m not sure that implies they were designed around that tyre size. They also say it’s compatible with 700x28mm which might mean hitting your pedals with every rotation in this case ;-)

  • Most bikes that flip flop between 27.5×2.1 and 700c were designed around 38 or 40mm tires. Note that the Apex model is specced with “Clement X’Plor MSO 40c/42c” …

  • multisportscott

    Yep, I’ve been keeping a very keen eye on these style bikes hence my comment. I think people get a little excited when there is an inference that you can use MTB tyres that these bikes are single track shredders that’ll replace a hardtail…..

  • multisportscott

    Awesome review Miles, thanks.
    How much clearance is there with the 650b x 2.1″ tyres? Could you squeeze anything wider in there?
    I’m off to have a look at the Ultegra model this week, I was really keen on a steel version but it seems Norco are completely sold out and the NZ distributor missed out on getting any :-(

  • Thanks for the kind words. I’m afraid there isn’t a heck of a lot more clearance in there for something wider, maybe something with a bit more knob in the center of the tread though.. it’s tight!

  • multisportscott

    Cool, thanks, I suspected as much.
    I really liked the fact you talked about toe overlap. I will be replacing a Ibis Hakkalugi cross bike which I absolutely love BUT the limited tyre volume is too restrictive for the type of riding I’m currently doing. In fact, I can squeeze some Nano 40c in the fork but suffer terrible toe overlap with those tyres. I struggle to get anything over 35c in the rear.
    The Hakki MX looks good but is not “adventure” enough lacking additional water cage bosses on either the downtube of forks, and of course there’s also the Ibis price tag ;-)

  • Lewy

    Great review. I can’t afford to buy one so I ended making my own from parts I had laying around and parts from a mate. I can run a 29×2.2 out back and up to a 29×3.0 on the front as I fitted a steel Firestarter fork. http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1ba2d6b85abab2b48287441e4dc534e000e1193acee1086b775115d925eea7f3.jpg

  • Jamie

    Fabulous review Miles! I’m going to my lbs to try out the Apex Search XR on rollers for starters and hopefully try it this spring on the roads for a more real-life feel. Curious, would you consider the 105 steel version over the carbon Apex version? How would you compare it to the Kona Sutra LTD? It’s going to be a tough decision for me as the finalists are :(Kona Sutra LTD, Specialized Sequoia, Niner RLT Steel or Norco Search XR)

  • Thanks Jamie! Personally, I’d likely lean towards the steel 105 model if I was juggling between that and the Apex Carbon. I’m willing to guess the ride feel would be pretty similar and for the price difference, it’s pretty hard to beat that Steel model. It’s not a bad deal. Similar to the Kona Sutra LTD, but I found I often had toe-overlap problems on the Kona and I didn’t with the Search XR. I also never seemed to dial in the fit for me with the Kona, and with a stem swap on the Norco I was feeling super comfortable all day. That is likely just a quirk specific to my body and geometry preferences though… You’ve got some solid finalists to choose from, you should stay tuned for a Kona Sutra LTD review in the works.

  • Thanks for sharing, it’s amazing what you can put together without spending much money!

  • Touchpadking

    How does this compare to a salsa warbird or salsa cutthroat?

  • Jamie

    Thanks for your input Miles! I wonder if a Surly Straggler would be a bike to consider for those fire roads etc.? Regardless, keep up the good work.

  • Logan Johns

    Logan is right. The bike was designed around 38c tires as a starting point. If you run 45c, then your BB will be a few mm higher, if you run 27.5″ x 2.1″ then your BB will be a little lower. But BB height in either configuration is well within design parameters. You can even run 28c tires and the resulting BB height is the same as a standard race road bike.

  • Funny you mentioned the Straggler, I think I’ve had a little crush on that bike this year more than any other bike, maybe it’s about time I try one out…

  • I’d say the Search XR is much more comparable to the Warbird in terms of geometry and specs than the Cutthroat. The Cutthroat is still a mountain bike with drop bars, putting you in a way more upright position that is tailored for singletrack. I would almost position the Search XR right in between these two bikes actually, in terms of what it can handle, the geometry, and bikepacking friendly features. We’ve reviewed both, so take a look: http://www.bikepacking.com/bikes/salsa-warbird-review/ …… http://www.bikepacking.com/bikes/salsa-cutthroat-review/

  • Kendawg

    I just finished a similar quest looking for that 1 quiver bike. I settled on the Haanjo EXP after considering the same bikes as you. All similar machines but the massive gear range and price of less than half of that of the Search XR won me over. I don’t know if the question should be why is the Norco so expensive or why is the Diamondback so inexpensive. Perhaps this website has a review in the works for the Haanjo EXP and the Fuji Jari; if not they should consider it.

  • Both cool bikes, maybe somewhere down the line we will get to take a look at them.

  • Rob Grey

    the dropper is kind of a strange spec on a bike this, in my opinion, and i’m still wary about press fit, but this otherwise looks like a real winner. many bottle mounts, much happiness. and perhaps versatile enough to pare the quiver down to two (yeah right).

    great review, thanks for all the good work.

  • I think the dropper was added to keep the riders that can’t go out without one happy / opens up some more chunky terrain potentially while descending .. honestly I didn’t find myself using it very often. A great conversation starter….

  • Rob Grey

    the angles don’t scream sit-on-the-rear-wheel steeps to me, but then again, i’ve been known to ride my el mar (71° head tube) on the shore. so, why not, right?

    anyway, the steel version of this one is very close to taking my next paycheque away from the sutra ltd. just when i thought i had it figured out…

  • Cyclocross frames have their BB 10mm higher than a road frame. Maybe in this case, using 650 wheels you get a road bike BB height and using 700 it will be like a cyclocross bike. Depends on which direction those 11mm difference moves, specs would keep between normal values I think.

  • Mark Connelly

    If you pedal strike in corners, then don’t pedal in corners, or don’t corner with the inside pedal down. More poor technique then bike geometry.

  • smilingcdn

    Hi, thanks for the review of the Norco Search XR. I’ve read several of your reviews now, including the Cutthroat and Warbird. Really like how your team personalize the reviews. Combining the two comments from Doug Reilly and Touchpadking, I’m looking for a bike that can take tough road winter Alberta commuting (icy ruts, slushy stuff, sometimes plowing through a couple of inches of snow, but never smooth, etc.) and side summer dirt trails with young kids. I’m a bigger guy 245lbs, 6ft (31 inseam but longer arms) and load another 20lbs on rear racks so hoping to get into wider tire drop bar bike. I currently use a ML Giant Revolt for winter and 59cm Kona steel Rove for non-winter. Looking to combine them into a nicer ride that can take 40mm tires and up. Seems like anything 35mm or lower and less than 32 spokes for rear wheel has me in the bike shop every other month. Not happy with Revolt and Rove has me too stretched out and bent over (but as fitted at LBS). I’m faster in the Revolt. Thoughts on 55.5cm Search XR vs Large Cutthroat for this application? Both probably overkill for what I need but I’m searching for something faster than the Rove but can take wider tires like the Revolt. So looking to upgrade frame and tire size. Appreciate any feedback or initial thoughts. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the kind words and for reaching out – I think if you’ve had some problems with longer reach bikes and being stretched out, I’d consider the Cutthroat first. Only saying this because it is much more based around mountain bike geometry and you’ll likely find it more comfortable, I haven’t spent any significant time on one yet but I did test ride a large and was instantly surprised at how comfortable and upright I found myself while riding in the hoods. You’ll likely need to go way shorter with the stem on the Search XR, and play around with positioning a bit… but it could work as well.

  • Fabián Morgenstern

    hello, the bikes of now are more and more versatile and allow us according to the path or path that we choose, leave them at our whim with just a change of wheels … great merit of this Norco

  • smilingcdn

    Thanks for the comments and quick reply. Just waiting for some nicer weather to test ride the Cutthroat and XR (maybe steel version as well). Considering you are taller and 2” longer inseam, I probably should give the Medium a try as well. So nice to have these many choices…maybe too many….

  • brenton

    Awesome write up Miles and I’m only a little envious of your ride! Appreciate the attention to details that will help inform the next purchase. Unfortunately, it looks like Australia will only get the steel Search XR S in the 1x option; the only carbon frame will be the Search XR Ultegra. There have been a few alternative bikes mentioned in the comments, but not the Bombtrack Hook Ext which is being offered in both steel and carbon for 2018. Any thoughts/knowledge of the Hook EXT C compared to the Search given a very similar use as you discussed? Cheers

  • Spitch Grizwald

    I would NOT use a zip tie on a carbon seat stay! Add the grit expected to be accumulated riding this type of bike, and you WILL get wear. I’ve seen it in our shop on carbon forks – not a reassuring thing to look at.

  • Carmen Cavolo

    yo, Miles, I saw you while you were on this ride in Arizona and doing the bike review. We chatted as you were about to drop down the big, long descent to Horseshoe Reservoir (or I could say after you did the big long ascent from the Phoenix valley!) I was unloading my Salsa Mukluk with my binoculars and tripod equipped along with my shotgun to do some wildlife watching and/or quail hunting. I ended up not even pulling out the shotgun, though I heard many quail. I was just enjoying the views and the ride that night. I wondered how your trip went! Glad to see a mountain lion, herd of javelina, or Sasquatch didn’t get you!

  • Just shim it with a small piece of old tube to protect the frame from wear.

  • Spitch Grizwald

    That would help, certainly. Electrical tape might work too, and might keep more grit at bay.

  • Eat More Lard

    I’d be very interested to compare this to the Ibis Hakka MX which has a similar spec and flexibility.

  • Hi Carmen! Still very impressed with your setup, and glad to have ran into you. For those wondering… http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/507bcc8ac6c09b6377011132f6a1ef0ea4a89bcbee78840c4eb150099b4f6f64.jpg

  • Very similar specs and geo by the looks of it – still missing a few of those mounts that really set the Search XR apart though in my opinion. Not a deal breaker for everyone though.

  • Hey, sorry for missing this – the Hook EXT C is another great option. Lines up pretty closely with the Search with a few differences in the geometry that you may want to consider. Otherwise, it’s a toss up! Hard one…

  • Marc

    Right now I am trying to decide between the Search XR-S 105, the Jamis Renegade Exploit and the Breezer Inversion Team. Most of my riding will be commuting on mainly road but it will also be my main gravel bikepacking rig. Has anyone ridden more than one of these bikes that could weigh in? I am leaning towards the search because of the versatility, however the breezer is intriguing because I can get the Ultegra groupset for the same price as the 105 on the Search. Awesome review by the way, its one of the main reasons why the Search XR is at the top of my list.

  • Tim Rice

    you know what I hate the most about Norco… Their lack of response to any youtube video, lack of interaction on social media.

    and flat out lack of bike shops carrying them. I am Midwest too. bike shops plenty!!
    Specialized Sequoia Pro module (frame, seatpost, stem/bar) $1,500 vs Norco Search XR-s $900 + $200 for the Specialized CG-R seat post, and $200 for EC70 AX. very similar.
    Lots of favors go to the Search , stack, reach, TT(effective), wheelbase, shorter chain stays, standover, but the Sequoia wins the higher BB by 6 mm. This BB is a bigger factor when Considering the WTB byway tires. In all fairness I hate the 74 drop on the Trek Crossrip. (I pretty much hate everything about it. haha) Especially on a 30c, but it is livable on a 700×38 pedals get beat up on the tarmac. I wouldn’t ride like that on gravel (Well I might). Not so sure I’ll like the 73mm BB drop with a 650×47. Fine I can ride a 700×38/40 but I don’t think there is any out there that will give me a fast roll plus some side bite like the Byway tires. I’m also worried that a 650×47 on the Search XR will leave me with an undesirable wheel flop feeling like the Cannondale Slate has.
    Is there a reason Norco doesn’t give the Trail number on their geo chart? Irritating! thats bad for
    I was going to pickpack, but I’ll probably do a mix. A huge saddle bag would irritate me, and considering I’d be mostly roads/gravel. rear rack with front panniers which allows for the CG-R gobbler seatpost. and mix it up. hate bar bags so probably work on some king cages with anything bags on forks.
    Not sure which way to go….. Foul weather and a fender need also has me leaving the Supersix himod di2 sitting at home. So the Carbon Search XR when it doesn’t have stuff strapped to it with a 700×38 Compass tire just screams fast enough well a FUN fast. ;)

  • Thanks Marc – hopefully someone will chime in here regarding the comparison… @loganwatts:disqus ?

  • Bernhard Philipps

    Hi Miles, Love Your review. I am a bit stuck with the sizes. You state in Your review, that You are 6’1″ and in metric 181cm tall… that does not seem to compute. Please help me as I am looking for a Search XR. I am 182cm tall, my INseam is 86cm…would the 58 or rather the 55.5 be the right tool??? And by the way how tall are You really?
    Thanks, as it is difficult to find a dealer for a testride here.

  • Marc

    Thanks for the reply Miles, tried to go with the Norco Search XR Steel but Norco is completely out of the steel frame (both models) until next years comes out.

  • Good eye! My bad! I’m 185cm tall. You’d be fine on the 58 for sure – I wouldn’t go smaller. You even have a slightly longer inseam than me.

  • Andy Brinton

    Would you consider the steel version of the XR with 650B wheels for the BC Epic 1000?

  • Good question! I think as long as you are running a solid tubeless setup, and maybe avoid a light casing tire (get something durable) you’d be just fine! Especially if you are planning on racing it…

  • Andy Brinton

    Thanks. I heard the course can be deceiving around how tough or is on tires.