2021 Norco Search XR C2 vs 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 on the Durham Destroyer

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I recently had the pleasure of completing the 160km Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy gravel grinder for the second time in less than a year. Last September, I rode my 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 Hardtail. This past weekend I did the same on my brand new carbon-framed 2021 Norco Search XR C2.

This perfectly set’s up the big question…

Understanding that the Durham Destroyer is a true gravel adventure test, with gravel roads, punchy climbs, single track, double track, and 7km of sandy hell, was the upgrade to a gravel-specific bike worth the money?

The Bikes – 2021 Norco Search XR C2 vs 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930

The Vertex 930 was my first quality bike purchase, and to this day I still love it.

With 29×2.2″ wheels attached to a 27lbs aluminum frame, its both a beast, and the perfect all-round bike, carrying me through my first sprint triathlon, XTERRA triathlons, multiple adventure races, thousands of hours riding singletrack, family rides, and most recently, my go-to bike for gravel riding, cycle touring, and bikepacking.

In 2020 it powered quite a few adventures, including the Simcoe County Loop Trail, Cannonball 300, and the Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy.

Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 at Byers Road
2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 Setup for the Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy – September 2020

Without being able to do any races, gravel riding ended up being everything I wanted it to be and more. I’ve enjoyed it so much that a couple of months back I took the plunge, purchasing my first true gravel bike, and a beauty at that, the 2021 Norco Search XR C2.

The Norco Search XR C2 sports a full carbon frame, 42mm tubeless aluminum wheelset, top-of-the-line GRX 810 series components, 1x gearing with 40t in the front and 11x42t in the back, and at just over 20lbs, weighs almost 7lbs less than my Vertex.

Norco Search XR C2 at the start of the Durham Destroyer
2021 Norco Search XR C2 Setup for the Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy – May 2021

Making a Fair Comparison – Fitness

The key to any true comparison is making sure that you’re comparing apples to apples, eliminating the variable as much as possible.

In my mind, two key variables exist – fitness and weather.

As a holdover from my triathlon days, I still have an account with Training Peaks and their ever so insightful Performance Management Chart.

The goal of the Performance Management chart is to measure your fitness and fatigue across the sports you choose, providing you with insight into both your current and projected fitness and fatigue levels.

The blue line on the chart shows my measured fitness over the past year, highlighting for cycling activities.

Training Pearks Cycling Performance Management Chart

Where this next chart, looks at my overall fitness across all activity types.

Training Peaks Multi Sport Performance Management Chart

No matter how you slice it, I was at a much better place fitness-wise in 2020 than I am now.

UNFAIR ADVANTAGE – ROCKY MOUNTAIN VERTEX 930

Making a Fair Comparison – The Weather

Due to the magic of Weather Underground’s historical weather reporting, I was able to pull the weather for both rides.

As you can see below, the weather was virtually identical, with a slight breeze blowing from the south, mainly sunny skies, and temperatues hovering a bit above twenty degrees celcius.

September 2020 Durham Destroyer Wind Chart
2020 Durham Destroyer Wind Direction and Speed
May 2021 Durham Destroyer Wind Chart
2021 Durham Destroyer Wind Direction and Speed

UNFAIR ADVANTAGE – EVEN

Part 1 – Port Perry to Uxbridge – Gravel Roads and Rail Trail

Durham Destroyer 1st Strava Segment
Durham Destroyer – Sector 1

The Durham Destroyer starts in the town of Port Perry, heads north along gravel roads, including a few punchy climbs, before transitioning to approximately twenty kilometres of rail trail.

If there was any section of the route I expected the Search to shine, this would be it.

I’m Not Worthy – Sector 1 – Results:

DateElapsed TimeMoving Time
Vertex 930 – September 20203:05:562:33:43
Norco Search – May 20212:29:032:21:50
Advantage Search

Port Perry to Uxbridge Final thoughts:

Despite taking more photo breaks last year, giving me a rest advantage, I was marginally faster this year, finishing about twelve minutes quicker on the Search.

I will also note that last year I recall feeling defeated early, with each hill feeling more challenging than the last, and this year, whether due to the new bike or simply just knowing the route, being in a much better place mentally.

PORT PERRY TO UXBRIDGE WINNER – NORCO SEARCH XR C2 – 11 Minutes, 53 Seconds

Part 2 – Uxbridge to Lakeridge – Single Track, Double Track, and Gravel

Durham Destroyer 2nd Strava Segment
Durham Destroyer – Sector 2

Shortly after entering Uxbridge, I transitioned onto 20km of mixed single and double track, followed by another 17km of rolling hard-packed gravel.

I’m Not Worthy – Sector 2 – Results:

DateElapsed TimeMoving Time
Vertex 930 – September 20202:42:242:01:50
Search XR C2 – May 20212:37:332:21:13
Advantage Vertex

Uxbridge to Lakeridge Final Thoughts:

Looking back, it’s safe to say that the Vertex had two things going for it, including years of experience riding trails, and perhaps more importantly, no expensive DSLR camera bumping around aggressively in the front bag, causing me to take a more cautious approach than I would have otherwise.

That said, be it inexperience, the camera, or anything else, at least for now, I just feel better riding the Vertex through singletrack, both in comfort and at speed, and the time shows, with a dominant win going to the 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930.

UXBRIDGE TO LAKERIDGE WINNER – ROCKY MOUNTAIN VERTEX 930 – 19 Minutes, 23 Seconds

Part 3 – East of Lakeridge – The Devils Sandbox – Byers and Boundary Road

Durham Destroyer 3rd Strava Segment
Durham Destroyer – Sector 3

At 160km the Durham Destroyer truly throws a little bit of everything at you including gravel, singletrack, and 7km of hell I like to refer to as the Devil’s Sandbox, Byers and Boundary Roads.

I’m Not Worthy – Sector 3 – Results:

DateElapsed TimeMoving Time
Vertex 930 – September 20202:39:472:12:17
Search XR C2 – May 20212:41:382:23:02
Advantage Vertex

Of course, this just tells a portion of the story; if I dig into the Strava segments, I can see that the 2.2″ tires on the Vertex destroyed the 42cc tires on the Search in every way, saving me just over 2.5 mins over a 3.5km sandy stretch of Byers, and a staggering 7 mins over 4km on Boundary.

The Devils Sandbox – Final Thoughts:

From what I can recall, I rode more than I walked last year. In the sandpit that is Boundary, the difference between the 42’s and 2.2’s was amazing, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get my wheels to hold, and it just wasn’t worth the effort.

UXBRIDGE TO LAKERIDGE WINNER – ROCKY MOUNTAIN VERTEX 930 – 10 Minutes, 45 Seconds

Part 4 – Returning to Port Perry on Gravel and Pavement

Durham Destroyer 4th Strava Segment
Durham Destroyer – Sector 4

After all the trails, hills, and sand I encountered so far, the final stretch of the Durham Destroyer feels like a relatively easy combination of hard-packed gravel and pavement, following what feels like a general uphill to Simcoe Street before transitioning to an easy downhill coast back to Port Perry.

I’m Not Worthy – Sector 4 – Results:

DateElapsed TimeMoving Time
Vertex 930 – September 20201:57:381:50:00
Search XR C2 – May 20212:01:191:57:53
Advantage Vertex

Returning to Port Perry – Final Thoughts:

Although this looks like another easy win for the Vertex, in this case it’s not quite a fair comparison. In 2020 I was running low on light and in a hurry to get home, in 2021 I was basking in the glory of another fantastic ride, not taking my time, but not in a rush either.

RETURNING TO PORT PERRY WINNER – ROCKY MOUNTAIN VERTEX 930 – 7 Minutes, 53 Seconds

Final Thoughts – 2021 Norco Search XR C2 vs 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 on the Durham Destroyer

Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 vs Norco Search Featured Image
2021 Norco Search XR C2 vs 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 on the Durham Destroyer
DateDistanceElevation GainElapsed TimeMoving Time
Vertex – Sept. ’20165.891,92411:56:109:34:14
Search – May ’21165.752,00211:25:359:57:05
Winner Vertex

In everyway this looks like an easy win for the Vertex, however I would like to note the following:

Thoughts on the Vertex win:

  • I was in much better shape last year.
  • Having ridden thousands of kilometres of singletrack on the Vertex, I’m much more comfortable on it.
  • Riding a single track with a DSLR bumping around in my front bag was nerve-racking.
  • As great as the 42cc tires are, if you’re riding rough terrain, there is definite value to going wider.
  • If a hardtail is all you have, you’re just starting down the path of exploring gravel; it’s really all you may ever need.

Thoughts on the Search:

  • I love this bike.
  • With lots of different options for handholds, it’s much more comfortable on long rides.
  • Although the times didn’t necessarily reflect, it feels much better on long climbs.
  • I was nervous about moving to the 1x setup, after quite a few long rides it’s given me all the gear I need.
  • It will be interesting to see what happens as I get more comfortable riding diverse terrain on it.

Final thought, I wasn’t planning on re-riding many routes this year, but I’ve enjoyed putting together this deep dive, and I’m now just a bit more motivated than I was before.

In fact, I was just motivated this morning to re-ride the Simcoe County Loop Trail this June 12 or 13 as part of the Butter Tart Festival.

DURHAM DESTROYER I’M NOT WORTHY WINNER – ROCKY MOUNTAIN VERTEX 930 – 22 Minutes, 51 Seconds

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