Words and Product Photos by Fred Robinson / Action Photos by Long Nguyen

Not all of us need a descent destroying “mini-DH” bike, and not all of us need a climb crushing XC rocket… some of us just want a mountain bike. Aimed squarely at what Norco deems as “modern trail riding,” the new Optic is said to be just that. Boasting efficient pedaling, agile handling and capable geometry, the new Optic sits right between Norco’s 100mm Revolver and their 140mm Sight in terms of both geometry and travel. It’s more aggressive than the Revolver on the geometry side, but more efficient than the Sight in terms of pedaling. With one main goal in mind, the Optic was created simply to be a fun bike designed for a wide range of trails. Offered in both alloy and carbon, as well as 650b and 29-inch wheeled options, Norco has brought to the table a mildly-aggressive (sort of like Sriracha), short travel machine available in quite the variety of build kits and configurations.

Norco spent nearly two years developing the new Optic, which they told us became mostly a study in geometry. We all watched as the almost niche segment of 29ers slowly made its way to the mainstream, as well as how quickly a lot of us adopted 650b wheels on bikes intended for more aggressive riding. Norco sought out to see why the transition to 29" took so long while the jump to 650b was pretty quickly accepted. Their answer: geometry. When Norco first started launching 650b bikes, they took a firm stance on maintaining as much of same geo as possible from their 26-inch bikes, and built the new rigs around the larger wheel platform. And in their words, it worked. Their larger wheeled bikes were widely praised. They’ve continued that practice for the new Optic, which has been optimized for 29-inch wheels based on they've learned from their 650b bikes.

While we're on the topic of geometry, Norco is known for engineering a bike that maintains the front-center and rear-center points throughout the frame's available sizes. They've done this by not only altering the stack and reach of each individual size to fit riders, but also by scaling the chain stay length between sizes (shorter bike, shorter stays / longer bike, longer stays). This puts the center of the bike in the same spot for any given size. For the Optic, they've taken that idea one step further by engineering both the 650b and the 29-inch options to have the same rear center and similar reach / stack numbers. You'll notice the 650b bike is spec'd with a 60mm stem, while the 29er utilizes a 50mm stem. Norco says you shouldn't feel a difference in terms of the contact points between the two. We were given the unique opportunity to ride both the Optic C9.2 (29er) and the Optic C7.2 (650b) back to back, allowing us to feel the benefits of the two different wheel sizes, while maintaining the same overall ride quality between the two platforms.

Norco Optic Features

  • Available in both mid-modulus carbon and custom from aluminum
  • A.R.T. suspension
  • 29-inch and 650b options
  • Rear Travel: 110mm (29er) / 120mm (650b)
  • Front Travel: 120mm (29er) / 130mm (650b)
  • Boost 148 axle spacing
  • Front derailleur compatible via S3 Mount (side-swing derailleurs only)
  • ISCG 05
  • Gravity Tune geometry
  • GIZMO internal cable management
  • ArmorLite Resin (carbon frame only)
  • SmoothCore (carbon frame only)
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (29er) / S, M, L, XL (650b)
  • MSRP: $2,599 - $7,199 USD
  • Carbon Frame Only Option: $2,099 USD

Norco Optic Carbon Geometry

Norco Optic Aluminum Geometry

Initial Impressions

Norco set us up on both the Optic C7.2 and the C9.2. Highlights of this build include the new FOX Float DPS Performance Elite EVOL shock, FOX 34 Float Performance Elite fork, a reasonably wide Race Face Turbine 760mm bar, Shimano XT 11-speed drivetrain and brakes as well as a 150mm RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper. It's worth noting that Norco specs each size frame, in regards to the dropper's travel, relative to the frame's size. The small and extra small Optics come with a 100mm dropper, the medium Optic comes with a 125mm dropper, and both the large and extra-large Optics come with a 150mm dropper. Attention to detail like that is seen throughout the bike, with the inclusion of Norco's Gizmo (Gunk Inhibiting Zero Muck Orifice?) internal cable routing system, integrated stay protection with the derailleur cable running through the stay to protect it from slap, and specing the 29er with a 10mm shorter stem to keep the reach consistent between the two wheel sizes.

We often see companies vary the spec in terms of bar width, fork selection and rim width between build kits. Norco was careful to keep these things consistent. All of the Optic's various kits maintain the 760mm bar width, a FOX 34 fork, FOX DPS EVOL shock, 24/23mm wide rims (which may be changed to a wider spec in the future) and 180mm front / 160mm rear rotors (also may change to 180 f/r in the future). Norco was also able to work with FOX in bringing the Trail Tune used on their 27.5 Float into the 29er fork, as well. This too, was done in an effort to maintain the performance and ride characteristics between the two platforms.

Overall, we were impressed with the level of kit offered on our C7.2/C9.2 test bikes. After dialing in our suspension with the on-site FOX techs, it was time to get the bikes out on the trail.

Bryn Atkinson showing us what the Norco Optic 29er is capable of.

On The Trail / First Ride Impressions

As mentioned, we were able to spend a couple days riding both the 650b and 29" versions of the Optic. Since both frames were carefully engineered to offer the same ride quality, with the main variance being the wheel size, we were able to really hone-in on where each wheel size shined, and where it didn't. Norco took us out to Annadel State Park, in Santa Rosa, CA to test the new bikes. The ride started with a roughly four mile climb covering 1,300 feet of elevation. The trail consisted of a mix of both fireroad sections and rocky singletrack, though not particularly technical. Both the 650b and 29 wheeled platforms exhibited little to no pedal-bob, even with the shock left in the open position. While both bikes climbed quite well on the smooth fireroad, when the trail got rocky, the benefits of the larger 29" wheels was readily apparent. The 29er rolled over the rough sections far easier and smoothed out the trail considerably which saw us exerting a good amount less energy when compared to the 650b sled. That said, both bikes still climbed quite well. Norco tweaked their A.R.T. suspension a bit for this bike by reducing the amount of rearward travel. This was done in an effort to control chain-growth in order to achieve greater pedaling efficiency, and it seems to have worked. The Optic is definitely a good climber.

Descending on the fast, at times flowing and at times rough trails in Annadel State Park is when the Optic really came alive. Sure, the trails weren't the steepest out there, but that's not what this bike is made for. Despite the somewhat rough terrain, the bike stayed composed and on-line allowing us to let go of the brakes and blast the trail as fast as we were capable of. While we did feel some harshness on the more abrupt square-edge hits, this was far less pronounced on the 29er and to be expected on a bike that's been optimized to pedal well by reducing the amount of reward travel. One standout characteristic we found with the Optic is the bike's very receptive to pumping terrain. Popping off obstacles and back-siding everything in sight quickly earned us extra speed. While we didn't notice a big difference in playfulness between the two wheel sizes, with both allowing us to pick up the front end and play with our line, the trails did lack tight turns and tight sections in general. So, in the end, considering the trails we were riding we much preferred the 29er version (did we really just say that?). If we were to test the bike on trails with tighter corners and less rocks, there's a good chance we'd prefer the 650b bike. But that's why Norco is offering the Optic in both configurations with very similar cockpit and rear-center layouts. You pick which best suits your needs.

We did notice a couple things that could be improved with the Optic. While the internal cable routing helps keep the bike looking tidy, it did make a bit of noise on rough bits of trail. Luckily the cable openings are wide enough that if we would have had the bike for a longer period of time, we likely could have remedied the issue by either zip-tying the cables together or stuffing some kind of low density foam material in the down tube to quiet it down. Also, the Schwalbe Liteskin casing wasn't quite up to the task, and we noticed quite a few flats within the group over the two day riding period. Thankfully, tires are a rather disposable component and can be swapped out easily.

Jill Kintner using the natural terrain to her advantage.

Despite these few quips, and from our short time on the new Optic, we think Norco's goal of creating a fun trail bike was definitely accomplished. We were white-knuckling sections of trail we didn't think possible on a 120/110mm bike. We found ourselves popping of this and that and really enjoying the downs on the Optic, while still able to climb back up to the top (despite our tester's lack of climbing agility and fitness). While the Optic didn't particularly standout in any specific condition, whether descending or climbing, what did standout was just how versatile the bike was. This made earning our descents a bit more enjoyable, while still being able to open it up on the descents without the bike feeling nervous or twitchy. That said, the Optic definitely put a smile on our face, and that sounds exactly like what Norco intended on doing by introducing us to the Optic.

For more details on the Optic, which is available now, visit norco.com.

Norco Optic Build Kits

Optic C9.1 (MSRP: $7,199)

Optic C7.1 (MSRP: $7,199)

Optic C9.2 (MSRP: $5,699)

Optic C7.2 (MSRP: $5,699)

Optic C9.3 (MSRP: $3,599)

Optic C7.3 (MSRP: $3,599)

Optic A9.1 (MSRP: $3,099)

A7.1 Version Shown

Optic A7.1 (MSRP: $3,099)

Optic A9.2 (MSRP: $2,599)

Optic A7.2 (MSRP: $2,599)

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