- Norco Rampage
- Monster freeride hardtail
- 150mm fork, 150mm rear hub
There’s a definite trend amongst long-time mountain bikers to try something a bit different, stretch themselves a bit, push the envelope, even. We know plenty of riders who’ve migrated from the hills and the singletrack into the woods, the drops and the North Shore constructions. If you’re going to have a stab at that sort of malarkey then it’s likely that your lightweight trail bike isn’t going to hack it. Or it might unless you get it wrong, and let’s face it, you will at some point get it wrong.
Which is where bikes like Norco’s Rampage come in. It’s designed specifically for, well, riding off things. Norco is a Canadian brand, and apparently the Canadians invented riding off things, so the heritage is there. The Rampage is second-to-top in Norco’s “Shore Hardtail” line-up, with just the frankly preposterous 170mm-forked Torrent above it.
The most cursory of glances at the Rampage frame reveals Norco’s design philosophy. The two tenets of frame construction over at Norco appear to be “Make it small” and “Make it strong”, with the latter backed up with the handy rule of thumb, “If in doubt, add more metal”.
Make no mistake, this is a seriously burly bit of kit. Aluminium doesn’t weigh very much, and this is a heavy bike, so you know there’s a hell of a lot of metal in it. It’s not hard to see where it is, either. The flared octagonal down tube starts out massive at the bottom and gets bigger at the top, where it meets a big, thick head tube and a top tube that in this context looks fairly slim but is in fact pretty big. Oh, and there’s a gusset at the head/down tube junction.
The back end is similarly chunky. The chainstay yoke behind the bottom bracket is made up of two lengths of rectangular bar stock. No fancy machining, hollow forgings or anything here – just solid metal. The chainstays are deep vertically, the seatstays have a square cross-section and the dropouts are hefty forged items.
Unusually for a hardtail, the Rampage (and its Torrent brother) runs a 150mm wide rear hub with a solid 12mm axle. This has a number of advantages – the wider hub means a less-dished and hence stronger rear wheel, and you’ll have to try very hard indeed to bend a 12mm axle.
Not all “ickle jumpy bikes” are available in a choice of sizes, but the Rampage can be had in S, M or L versions. They’re all very low-slung – the M shown here measures 16.5in centre-to-top – but actually quite long. The effective top tube on the M is just over 23in. Of course, effective top tube is all-but irrelevant on a bike like this on which you’re rarely going to be sitting down, but it comes with a proper length seatpost so you can actually get the seat up to pedal it, and it almost feels like a normal bike then.
You’d expect this sort of bike to come with a selection of beefy parts, and the Rampage doesn’t disappoint. It’s immediately obvious that Norco has put most of its money into the fundamentals and saved on the stuff that’s likely to wear out or break anyway. You get an 8spd transmission with a low-rent HG30 cassette and Alivio shifters. The spec list says there’s an XT rear mech but the test bike came with an LX – no problems there, whatever it is it’ll probably come off the first time you muff that skinny line and LX is cheaper to replace. The Alivio front mech is an actually rather nasty pressed-steel device, but it works, shifting competently between the two rings on the Truvativ Hussefelt chainset. ISIS bottom brackets are somewhat out of favour these days, but on a bike like this axle strength and secure cranks are a higher priority than bearing life so we’ll let it off.
It’s the rest of the gear that really makes this bike what it is, with the key element being the 150mm travel Marzocchi Z1 FR2 fork. This is pretty much the same as the Z1 FR1 that we tested and liked earlier in the year, only without the ETA travel lockdown feature. You’re highly unlikely to ride this bike up anything that needs a fork lockdown, and we didn’t miss it. The wheels spin on unbranded hubs but feature guttering-width Sun Singletrack rims and DT Swiss spokes. Tyres are a 2.5in Kenda Blue Groove/Nevegal combination, and they come up big.
Bar, stem and saddle are all from Titec. We were pleased to see a low-rise El Norte bar – the front of this bike is pretty high up already, there’s no need to slap a 2in riser on there too. Bringing it all to a halt are Hayes HFX-9 brakes, with 8in rotors at both ends. Do you need an 8in rotor on the back of a hardtail? Almost certainly not, but it certainly looks the part, and on the sort of trails this bike relishes we’ll take all the help we can get.
It’s a pretty solid spec where it matters. If this was our bike we’d swap the rear mech for a less vulnerable short cage on and shorten the chain a lot – it slaps about quite a bit. Other than that and the ISIS BB, no complaints really.
The Rampage is one of those bikes that rides exactly how you expect it to. The high front and tiny frame make it feel quite odd on level ground, but point it downhill and it all makes a lot of sense. The steeper it gets, the better the Rampage likes it. You can ride down almost anything on this – even though the frame’s not all that short, the stem is and the back’s so low that you can hang way off the back, hide behind the big fork and just aim for the bottom.
On less vertiginous trails you’ll need to work the front end to get round corners at any sort of pace – ride it like most regular bikes and the front’ll be skipping across the trail in no time. Haul yourself up the front, push the wheel into the corner and it’s just fine. There’s tons of grip from the Kenda tyres once you’ve got the weight distribution right.
Drops are probably this bike’s very favourite thing, though. The hefty wheels make it stable in the air, you’ve got so much room at the back that you can take full advantage of your long-travel legs and the fork’s there to save you from slightly wonky landings. Unless you’re completely suicidal, the limiting factor is not the bike, it’s the pilot.
Despite the presence of a granny ring and a seat that’ll reach pedalling altitude, this isn’t really a bike for riding around on – you can achieve a fairly sensible pedalling position but the short stem and slack angles will work against you on hills, and the weight’ll have you in the granny ring earlier than most. But that’s not really what the Rampage is for. If you feel compelled to push your limits and want a bike that won’t let you down, you won’t be disappointed.
Positives: Tough as the most elderly of old boots, braver than you are, good bits where it counts
Negatives: Possibly more bike than you need, somewhat single-minded, slightly low-rent transmission
Most bikes we look at are, to a greater or lesser extent, all-rounders – we don’t get many that are very good at one thing and not really terribly good at anything else. The Rampage is really quite single-minded, although it’s pedallable enough to take on a fire-road cruise to the top of something ludicrous to ride down. One thing’s for sure, though – it’ll tackle anything you dare to try and you won’t break it.
Performance : 4/5