The Optic is Norco’s latest short travel trail bike, available in both 29” or 27.5” wheels and with a carbon or aluminium frame. We took it for a spin…
norco optic – the review
Norco started up back in 1964, and back then were operating out of a converted chicken coop. They quickly moved on, have grown into a global brand and in the last five years have designed and produced some impressive bikes, from trail through to downhill. With senior design engineer Owen Pemberton on board they were early with 650B wheels on trail bikes, with the 140mm Sight Killer B and the 160mm Range Killer B-2 hitting the nail on the head immediately and getting even better in 2014. Their Shinobi was also one of the early 29ers to impress too and was one of our picks in the 2013 Dirt 100.
What’s on offer with the optic?
Norco set out to produce a shorter travel trail bike than their 150mm Sight but still with progressive geometry and a specification that will encourage hard riding when the trail gets rowdy. With two years in development, expectations are high, especially after the numerous press awards dished out to the Sight and Range bikes.
ONE BIKE – WITH OPTIONS
Two wheel sizes are on offer and Norco have spent plenty of time getting the sizes and fit to compare regardless of whether you opt for 27.5” or 29”.
Travel is on the shorter side of things for many riders, but with 120mm (F) and 110mm (R) on the 29” and 130/120mm on the 27.5” you may be surprised as to how capable bikes like this are. The Transition Smuggler, Whyte T-129, Kona Process 111 and Specialized Camber are all sitting in this category and have won us over here at Dirt when fast technical singletrack is high on the agenda.
Norco’s proven A.R.T (Advanced Ride Technology) suspension system has a new linkage, 148x12mm rear spacing, size-specific chainstay lengths and a specific shock tune for each wheels size all play a part in Norco’s ‘Gravity Tune’ system. ISCG mounts are present, with Norco also using these for a removable custom mount for those wanting to run a front mech (rather than making the bike single ring specific), in a similar manner to the YT Jeffsy.
The Norco Optic has either Carbon or 6061 aluminium frame, both with an ali swingarm. Cable and hose routings are internal with Norco’s custom ‘Gizmo’ ports keeping thing tidy and easier to maintain. Frame protection on the swingarm is well designed, giving a quiet ride.
Sizing is bang up to date with good weight distribution through realistic stack and reach, a standard 50mm (29″ bike) or 60mm (27.5″) stem and 760mm bars. Four frame sizes are offered on the 29er (with a fifth smaller XS option on the 27.5″ bike) and the XL size we rode, matched a 68.5 degree head angle with a 486mm reach and a 1206mm wheelbase. Dropper stealth seatposts are standard with 150mm stroke on the L and XL bikes.
Attention is in the detail with the Norco Optic and this certainly shows when hitting the trail. Bikes with these shorter travel numbers used to lean very much towards the XC style of riding where stiffness took a side seat to lightweight gram shaving. Times change, and here with the Optic you get a great combination of an urgent ride with accurate and planted handling.
It’s no secret that we favour the 29 inch wheel when it comes to trail bikes. Market forces are such that the choice here will keep most riders happy but it was the the 29er we were keen to ride first as we had plenty of much loved bikes to compare it with. As with most bikes, switching between frame sizes highlighted how important this is, and the combination of spot-on cockpit and correct reach showed a thoroughly well developed fit.
On the trail these bikes were rapid. ‘Urgent in feel’ and ‘quick off the mark’ are rare comments these days as bikes become burly, capable and ambitious. Sometimes a light trail bike is the right tool for the job, and this Norco Optic, with a dropper post, short stem and a Fox 34 up front held a line in the rough and dished out plenty of traction.
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
The test bikes were the C9.2 and C7.2 and were stock bikes running a fast rolling and lightweight Schwalbe Nobby Nic/Racing Ralph combo. On the kitty-litter trail centre test loop even at sub 30PSI pressures (with tubes) there was a tendency for the bike to skate around; it would be good to get a bike on home turf with suitable rubber and get some comparison runs done.
The Optic is definitely a trail bike and Norco are keen to get this message across. Broader rims (and tyres), a shorter 35/40mm stem and maybe a 780-800mm bar for the bigger rider may be options we’d like to see, but this would edge this bike nearer the Norco Sight and maybe dilute its overal appeal.
So, a light, fast short travel trail bike that will suit a good number of riders wanting to crack on and cover some distance yet not shy away from the tasty stuff. We’ll report back with a longer term test and maybe a head to head with our favourite trail bikes once a bike arrives here at Dirt HQ.