The Norco Optic has evolved - it's fast, it's light, but it is well and truly ready to go large.
Photos: Colin Levitch and others
Norco Bicycles have been hard at work with their range of mountain bikes. After launching the Norco Sight VLT eMTB in November 2018, we got a glimpse of what was to come for the Canadian bike company. With the new Revolver and Revolver 120 released earlier this year, the Range VLT eMTB monster truck and the latest Norco Torrent party hardtail it's clear that Norco are not going to stop updating their bikes to stay not just upto date – but ahead of the curve. The latest Optic shows that Norco have adapted their fast trail bike to suit the progressive demands of riders in Canadian forests and around the globe.
The new Norco Optic has had a progressive design process to create a high-speed, short-travel performance trail bike, with geometry that prioritises confidence, and a suspension platform that is playful and ready to boost jumps. The precision suspension kinematics and custom RockShox DH shock create 125mm of plush rear travel, which is matched to a 140mm RockShox Pike on every model.
In the Australia we range we want to have the following:
Norco Optic C1 $6999 (M, L, XL)
Norco Optic C2 $5999 (M, L, XL)
Norco Optic C3 $4799 (S, M, L, XL)
First rides on the 2020 Norco Optic
The previous Norco Optic came in two wheel sizes with travel sitting at 110mm or 120mm depending on whether you were riding a 29” or 27.5” model. The bike was fun, way stiffer than their 100mm Revolver full-suspension bike at the time, and it was a remarkably versatile trail bike for those wanting something light and fast.
Just as trails are changing, so are our expectations of what a trail bike can deliver, and based in British Columbia Norco's engineers are right at the coal face in terms of how mountain biking is progressing.
While Norco have released a threee bike range of Optics with 29” wheels available in carbon, we were lucky to lay our hands on an Optic C2 ahead of release.
The carbon frame is long and low, and that shouldn't be any surprise. Much of the design language matches the current Revolver XC bike, and the Sight VLT. The top tube is slender and dropped, and the short head tube has internal routing ports on either side to run upto two hoses or cable outers each side. Unlike the Revolver that has the rear shock slung below the toptube with a swing link, the Optic has a reversed shock with the rocker link sitting ahead of the seat tube. With travel at 125mm on the 29” models, Norco have paired the frame with 140mm travel suspension forks. There is no lock out option, as Norco feel confident in their suspension platform and modern suspension units to give the ride you want. If you want a short travel trail bike with rock solid lock out, check out the Norco Revolver 120.
The main pivot is large and wide, with a Horst link rear pivot creating a four bar linkage. Norco put a whole lot of work into the suspension. Basically they designed the suspension kinematics to offer more support for launching off lips, while still being super supple off the top. That means they needed a custom suspension tune to go with the higher starting leverage on the suspension. The custom tuned shocks provide support deeper into the travel.
Our large test bike has a reach of 490mm, there is a 65 degree head angle that is countered with a 42mm offset fork, to balance out the stability with better agility at low speed. It's still a much longer bike than before, but due to a 76 degree seat tube you're place right on top of the pedals and the length feels spot on with the stock 40mm stem.
The wheels are pretty sweet, with DT Swiss 350 hubs laced to NoTubes Flow S1 rims, wrapped with soft compound Schwalbe tyres, with a Magic Mary up front and a Hans Dampf out the back. The bikes come with valves and the rims are taped – so whip the tubes out, pop the valves and some sealant in an you're away. Tyres are 2.35" but you can fit 2.6".
The SRAM GX Eagle drive train is matched with Shimano MT520 4-pot brakes for some solid stopping power – and the carbon crank upgrade is nice. Norco have specced a small 30t chainring, and there is a full ISCG mount on the frame if you opt to fit a chain guide.
First rides on the Norco Optic
My first impression really was how much it feels like the Transition Smuggler I am using as a long term trail test bike right now – if it was designed as a new bike in 2020. There are a lot of similarities in design purpose, but Norco have just laid out some different geometry to suit the rapidly evolving trail bike genre. But the idea is the same – create a bike that can handle some truly rowdy terrain, while still pedalling all day.
But what makes that work anyway? One of the main ingredients is a frame that can support how the bike is going to be ridden. That means stiffness, clearance, and the right mix of numbers for geometry that gets down to business when it needs to.
Like any longer bike, the Norco Optic still needs a little bit of finesse to get through tighter corners – but the thing is, bikes like this stay super composed when you ride them with that little bit of extra input they ask for. Use the dropper, get your weight low, get it forward to load up your front tyre, and your natural weight transfer out of the corner shifts your weight back and the short chainstays help the bike snap around the corner. Drop your heels, extend your legs and loft and you'll be manualling out of corners whenever you like. The Optic is super playful and the suspension has plenty of support while still feeling like it has a whole lot to give when hitting a lumpy rock garden.
What isn't the Optic? Well it's not a light and whippy trail bike. If that's what you're after then as noted earlier, the Revolver 120 is for you. This test bike comes in a shade over 13kg without pedals which is a great weight for such a versatile bike, but if you want something that errs more towards ride all day than charge trails all day, the Revolver 120 is the bike you should be looking for. The Optic is quite possibly the trail bike for just about everyone else unless you have some pretty lofty enduro aspirations - but there needs to be some more trail time on it before making such grand statements like that.