All-road is an ever-expanding category, which could very well take the place of a traditional road bike for many people that don’t participate in road races and criteriums. The Section series from Norco fits right in, with clearance for 32mm tires (plus fenders), disc brakes, and many levels of parts spec. While steel and aluminum versions are available, we reviewed the top-end carbon model with Shimano Ultegra and Novatec carbon wheels.
Norco Section Carbon Ultegra SL all road bike review
Norco is serious about drop bar bikes, and have expanded their line-up to cover every imaginable type of surface. The Tactic is for road racing, the Valence covers endurance road and club riding, and the Search is a full-on adventure bike, with clearance for wide 650b tires.
However, Norco felt that there was too much of a use gap between the Valence and Search, creating a new all-road line called Section. It has steel, aluminum, and carbon versions available, all ready for fenders and 700x32mm tires. We tested a top-end Section Carbon Ultegra SL model for several weeks.
First impressions count for something, and the appearance of the bike garnered quite a few unsolicited compliments. The Ultegra SL build is almost entirely blacked-out, making your friends and Batman jealous.
Drivetrain spec is Shimano Ultegra mechanical 2×11, using an 11-32 cassette and Praxis Zayante Carbon DM crank with 50/34 rings. While the gearing is a bit low for my flat Florida riding, it’s an appropriate spec for the majority of riding locations.
One spec change I’d like to see is a move to the clutch-equipped Ultegra RX rear derailleur. No word as to why it wasn’t used, but my experience tells me it’s probably due to a timing or inventory issue, rather than a conscious choice to go clutch-less.
The blacked-out Praxis crank looks great and shifts well, though wasn’t quite up to Shimano-level-smooth. Norco added a nice touch with an integrated chain catcher for the small chainring.
Ultegra hydraulic brakes handle the stopping duties, and work great when set up properly. While the rotors were straight enough from the factory, the pads needed to be opened up and the calipers realigned to eliminate noise.
Rolling stock includes Novatec R3 Carbon Disc rims with Hutchinson Sector 32 tubeless-ready tires (set up with tubes from the factory). The big tires felt right at about 60psi for my ~195lb weight, and helped to take the edge off rough roads. While I didn’t test the bike using fenders, Norco claims that you can fit full-coverage fenders plus 32mm tires with no problem.
The 27.2mm seat post ended up being a couple centimeters too short for me, with about 300mm of usable length. For testing, I swapped it out with a longer Truvativ aluminum post I had sitting around, along with my road saddle of choice, the Selle SMP Avant. All I can guess is that short posts are being spec’ced to save weight, since this is the second bike in a row that I’ve tested with a too-short post (my saddle height is normally about 77.5cm from the center of the BB to the top of the saddle). [Editor’s Note: Norco contacted us after this review to let us know that some of the very early bikes were built with an incorrect post length, but that production models will have a longer 400mm post.]
The bar choice was right on-point for me – the Easton EC70 SL with 6-degree flared drops. I like short-drop bars, and the 125mm compact drop was perfect, along with the compact reach and high hood positioning. It might not look traditional, but I find this type of setup to be very easy to ride and handle regardless of road surface condition. The Norco Super Griptacular Gel tape felt outstanding and rivals expensive aftermarket tape.
Norco includes a whole mess of spare parts for you, including tubeless valves, a spare seat post binder assembly, brake parts, and more. The mechanic in me appreciates this immensely.
My complete 55.5cm test bike weighed in at just over 19 lbs without pedals or bottle cages.
Norco offers six sizes for the Section Carbon. I’m just a shade over 6 feet tall with long-ish legs, and typically sit somewhere between a 56 and 58cm bike from most manufacturers. In a perfect world, I need the head tube of the 58 with the top tube of the 56, and have owned more than one custom bike to accommodate this. With the Section Carbon, I opted for the 55.5cm frame, since I normally err on the smaller side with all-road or gravel bikes. The reach to the bars ended up perfect, but in order to get the bars up in a realistic place, I had to flip the stem.
Out on the road, the Section Carbon tackled a mix of smooth roads, rough pavement, and even some beach paths strewn with wind-blown sand piles. I wouldn’t call the bike’s ride quality buttery smooth, but it’s consistent with my experience of deep-section carbon rims combined with large diameter carbon frame tubes and beefy front forks. That’s okay, because many customers want stiff bikes, and today’s big tires definitely help to take the edge off. The Ultegra SL build we tested comes in at a competitive $4,449 – a fair price considering the carbon wheel spec and nice build all-around.