Riding (and sending) the Norco Sight VLT 29 eMTB

Time for a bike review! This is why 2020 was such a unique and fun year for me- thanks to support from Jenson USA, I’ve been able to spend time on a plethora of offerings from the various brands that Jenson sells. Jenson is an online retailer here in the United States, and they sell bicycles from all THREE Canadian brands I was able to sample: Chromag, Rocky Mountain, and Norco. Speaking of Jenson, if you want to learn more about the Sight, you can read all about it via my affiliate link here.

Before we talk about the bike, I wanna give a big THANKS to my sponsors- Industry Nine, PNW Components, Shimano, and of course, Jenson USA!

The Norco Sight is a great bike, and it brings up something critical that might not seem obvious when it comes to choosing which eMTB is for you- what’s the status of eBike legality where you live and ride?  This topic is as hotly contested as the debate between “toe-mah-toe” vs “toe-mate-oh,” and sure enough, it does have overarching consequences as to what eBike will make the most sense for ya!  Perhaps the Sight might be a candidate, or perhaps you should look at something else…  Here’s why:

In WA state, you see, we love our reptile-fueled engines, and motorized OHV trails are rather plentiful.   That is, as long as you don’t live in Whatcom County, where I do, as Whatcom County adamantly despises any sort of engine or motor that’s not on 4 smooth tires and adorned with a city parking pass.  We have a mere one OHV trail in our entire county. But I digress.

Jumping an eBike is not for the faint of heart! The Norco does get a little nose heavy, but nearly as bad as some other eMTBs I’ve ridden.

While we certainly love our fire breathing, 50hp gas powered engines, we don’t legally separate them from the meager 1hp electric motors used on modern Class 1 eBikes. 

Technically an “eBike”

In general here in WA, eMTBs are only permitted on trails that also allow full on motorcycles.  And these moto trails are VERY different compared to trails that allow only MTBs.  How so?  Everything is just, well, more… Trail gradients are MUCH steeper, as the extra 49hp of a motorcycle, the 11.8” of suspension, and the 6” wide, 13lb tire all allow for a far more capable machine.  The resulting trail damage is also a lot more, meaning that these steeper trails are also a lot rockier and rutted.  Since the trails are built for far higher speeds, there are more straight aways, allowing for higher top speeds.  All of this ends up compounding, and these moto trails end up placing an eBike in situations that are far more demanding than regular MTB trails.  
This poses a big challenge for eMTB engineers, and we still haven’tdefined terminology for the differences in these trail types.  

Big mountains, big rides, and big rocks. These trails are all designated for motorized use. Ebikes and traditional bicycles are super fun here too, but the demands these trails place on bicycles are fairly extreme.

I’m an avid motorcyclist, and I am now the owner of two of these wonderfully dangerous money pits.  I love these trails on my moto, but on an eMTB, they favor far different ebike attributes than do the mellower MTB only trails.  

29″ wheels front and rear, a carbon frame, a Shimano STEPS motor, XT M8100 groupset, and Rock Shox suspension- these parts are all solid.

The Norco Sight VLT C 29 eMTB is a great ebike for all around trail riding, and I’d say it really shines when taken to MTB oriented trails that permit electric assist bikes. That means the Sight is far more electric bicycle than motorcycle.  That makes sense, as this would be much of the trail riding in Norco’s home province of BC.  You see, in BC, Class 1 eBikes are permitted on all trails that regular bicycles may ride.  The Sight uses fairly traditional MTB geometry- a slack head angle, a steep seat angle, medium to long-ish chainstays, and a long wheelbase.  It also uses dual 29” wheels, and comes specc’d with Maxxis 2.5 Double Down tires.  

The balanced wheelsize is GREAT in corners, and the tidy 2.5″ tires are great in hardpacked berms and on steep take offs. The riding techniques used for regular mountain bikes generally work great on the Sight, too. If your local trails are more bicycle oriented, the Sight is a great choice.

The geometry and the spec works awesome on flowy trails up to 20mph.  Even jumping on the Sight is pretty doable (by eMTB standards), as the battery weight is positioned fairly low on the downtube.  It could indeed be lower, and more importantly, further back, but it’s still pretty good where it is.  

That downtube houses the Shimano battery. It can be replaced should it ever poop out, but it’s not a trailside project.

The 620wh battery should be plenty for rides on regular trails.  However,  these moto trails where we ride in WA state are so much steeper that they end up burning through batteries very quickly.  The Norco’s battery is replaceable, but not on the trailside.  This is a bit of a detriment, as the bikes that allow the rider to swap in a battery mid-ride are a much better match for the demands of the moto trails.  I had no issues carrying a spare 500wh Shimano battery in my Camelbak while riding the Intense Tazer or the Devinci AC.  Those bikes ended up having 1000wh ranges, over 30% further than the Sight.  Sure, not everyone wants to carry a 6lb battery in their pack, but it’s really not that bad, and for a ride of that caliber it’s a good idea to bring some water, food, and emergency supplies anyhow.    

The older Shimano Steps E8000 is a reliable motor with a good track record. Replacement parts are plentiful, and should anything bad happen to it, the newer Shimano EP8 motor uses the same mounting system.

I can’t stop praising Norco for the intelligent spec of the Sight.  The stock Maxxis Double Down tires are indeed up for the task of a 50lb eMTB charging through jagged rocks.  Normally I run WTB Tough Casing tires, but I have nothing but good things to say about those Maxxis units.  Especially for hardpack MTB trails, the stock tires were very good, but for the loose and steep moto trails I did really enjoy going to my usual WTB 2.6 tire combo.  The taller, more aggressive knobs on the WTB tires meant more braking, cornering, and climbing traction. The higher volume meant I could safely run a slightly loser pressure.

I had no issues with the stock XT/E13 wheelset, and found their ride quality to be great. The rear hub has 36 points of engagement. Just to try it, I threw on my Industry Nine Enduro 315 carbon wheelset. With 690 points of engagement, the throttle control was noticeably improved. The carbon rims where definitely stiffer than the E13, but that difference wasn’t as noticeable on the rough and loose OHV trails as it would be when ridden in bike parks or on true MTB style trails.

The Shimano XT M8100 groupset is the same as what I run on many of my normal bicycles, and I really like these components.  And the addition of an E13 chainguide is great, too.  

The stock seatpost is a Tranz-X unit with a 34.9 diameter and a full 170mm drop on the size medium.  This is a solid post, and the only change I made was to add a PNW Components Loam Lever.  The Loam Lever made for a seamless actuation, and a much more comfortable feel.  

The stock handlebars, stem, and grips were fine, though I did swap on my usual PNW Components Range stem, the new Loam grips, and the KW Range bar cut to 760mm wide.  I enjoyed having a little higher handlebar than the stock unit.  

The rear shock on the bike, a Monarch Plus unit, is positioned sideways to allow for the large downtune.  The Monarch is a good shock, and felt solid on the trail.  I wouldn’t have minded a tad more high speed compression, but it wasn’t far off the mark.  

The fork, a Lyric 160, was in need of a rebuild.  Rock Shox forks are very well made, and tend to last a long time without needing new seals or oil.  The Lyric could have been set up withy a tad more travel, as a heavier eMTB benefits from a bit more travel than a standard bike.  I also noticed a little more flex in the Lyric than I would have liked, but it’s totally fine, and much better than the 180mm Yari on the Niner WFO e9.  

I had a great time on the Sight, and I really enjoyed a lot of things about the bike- the intelligent parts spec, the attention to detail, the overall light feel (51lbs!), the matching 29” wheels, and the Horst link rear suspension.  

If you’re lucky enough to have eBike access to traditional bicycle trails, then the Sight is absolutely a great choice.  If you’re riding more rugged OHV style trails, then I’d suggest looking for something that uses a 27.5×2.8 rear tire, perhaps a beefier motor (like the new EP8 from Shimano, or the Bosch CX4), ~170+mm of travel, 40mm inner width rims, and perhaps even a dual crown fork.  

The longish chainstays required quite a yank to get the front wheel up, but when ridden with a “wheels-on-the-ground” riding style, they felt predictable and stable.

Have a look at the new Norco Sight VLT 29” that I’m riding here via my affiliate link: http://bit.ly/NorcoSightVLTc3JKW

Did you know I post a new riding tutorial every month?  These are ONLY posted to my Patreon page, so join now to see these rad videos!  Here’s the full list of my riding tutorials posted through November 2020:

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