2017 Norco Optic C 9.2

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Review - 2017 Norco Optic Carbon 29 from Vital MTB Test Sessions

Surviving Tucson's terrain shows that this one is trail capable, but it's a little more cross country than what is quickly becoming the norm.

Rating: Vital Review
Review - 2017 Norco Optic Carbon 29 from Vital MTB Test Sessions

Entering the scene in the spring of 2016, the new Optic is Norco’s addition to the growing short-travel trail bike market. Featuring 110mm of rear wheel travel, our test bike is built around 29-inch wheels but is also available in a surprisingly similar 27.5-inch option. The Optic was created simply to be a fun bike and is aimed at riders seeking a pedal smashing ride with trail capability. The varied and rocky terrain of Tucson, Arizona was a great place to see if Norco’s latest model lives up to the claims.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame with aluminum stays
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 110mm (4.3-inches) of rear wheel travel // 120mm (4.7-inches) fork travel Read More »

Entering the scene in the spring of 2016, the new Optic is Norco’s addition to the growing short-travel trail bike market. Featuring 110mm of rear wheel travel, our test bike is built around 29-inch wheels but is also available in a surprisingly similar 27.5-inch option. The Optic was created simply to be a fun bike and is aimed at riders seeking a pedal smashing ride with trail capability. The varied and rocky terrain of Tucson, Arizona was a great place to see if Norco’s latest model lives up to the claims.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame with aluminum stays
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 110mm (4.3-inches) of rear wheel travel // 120mm (4.7-inches) fork travel
  • Advanced Ride Technology (ART) suspension design
  • Tapered headtube
  • Gizmo internal cable routing
  • SizeScaled Tubing
  • ArmorLite Resin
  • GravityTune geometry
  • Press fit 92 bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
  • Boost 148mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size XL, no pedals): 29.1 pounds (13.22kg)
  • MSRP $5,199 USD

Featuring a carbon fiber front triangle and alloy rear end, the Optic keeps the traditional Norco look and feel while complementing the company's lineup. It sits right between Norco’s 100mm Revolver and their 140mm Sight in terms of both geometry and travel. It’s also more aggressive than the Revolver on the geometry side, but more efficient than the Sight in terms of pedaling.

The carbon front end is influenced by three Norco technologies known as Size Scaled Tubing, SmoothCore, and ArmorLite. The tubing is beefed up or scaled down in proportion to frame size, ensuring that riders of different heights have a similar ride experience. As the name suggest, SmoothCore is the process by which Norco ensures their carbon has a smooth and controlled surface inside and out through the use of a mandrel system. Finally, while you won't find a downtube protector on this bike, Norco claims their "ArmorLite resin produces an exceptionally strong bond that enhances frame strength and increases impact resistance."

With easy access to suspension components and pivot bearings, the Optic is service friendly while maintaining a clean look. Suspension duties are handled by a purpose built version of Norco's Advanced Ride Technology (ART) suspension design. The linkage is said to "deliver four major benefits to riders: enhanced pedaling efficiency, increased square-edge bump compliance, improved braking performance, and progressive suspension characteristics." Norco tweaked the suspension a bit for this bike by reducing the amount of rearward travel in an effort to control chain-growth and achieve greater pedaling efficiency. The suspension design is paired with a FOX Float DPS Performance Elite EVOL rear shock. The 190x51mm (7.5x2.0-inch) shock has an extra light compression tune, medium rebound tune, light climb tune, standard volume EVOL eyelet, and zero volume spacers stock.

Cables are mostly hidden with close to full internal routing. They enter/exit through Norco's Gizmo plugs that help seal water and debris from entering the frame while allowing you to pull the cable tight to prevent rattling.

The Boost front and rear ends of the Optic keep the bike on par with the latest axle spacing trends, and the frame is compatible with 1X and 2X drivetrains to offer riders more options for gear range. The S3 front derailleur mount is removable should you decide to convert it to a 1X system for the cleanest look.

Other details include a water bottle mount inside the front triangle, 160mm post mount rear brake, Press Fit 92 bottom bracket, ISCG05 tabs, and a healthy ~20mm of mud clearance with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe rear tire. The bike is not specifically stated as 27.5+ compatible and maxes at a tire width of 29x2.4-inches.

Norco's carbon Optic 29er comes in four build kits ranging from $3,799 to $7,699, or can be built from the ground up using the $2,199 frame + shock kit. Two affordable bikes with full aluminum frames are also available for $2,599 and $3,199. The carbon front triangle is said to save 0.77-pounds (350g) over the aluminum version. We tested the Optic C9.2 that retails for $5,199.

Geometry

Norco is known for engineering bikes that maintain front-center and rear-center points throughout the full size range. They've created this "GravityTune" sizing method by not only altering the stack and reach of each individual size to fit riders, but also by scaling the chainstay length between sizes (a shorter bike means shorter stays while a longer bike means longer stays). This puts the center of the bike in the same spot for any given size, helping to maintain even weight distribution, traction, control, and overall performance and ride characteristics across the range.

Our size XL test bike had a very accommodating reach value of 486mm and tied for the longest chainstays in our 18 bike Test Sessions roundup at 440mm. The bike has a 68.5-degree head angle, 74.1-degree effective seat tube angle, and a low 325mm bottom bracket height as measured by Vital's testers.

Suspension Analysis

Using the bike industry's leading linkage analysis software, André Santos, the Youtube suspension whiz, was able to determine a close approximation of the Optic 29's kinematics for the purpose of this review. These charts provide great insight into several key factors that impact how it rides. Those unfamiliar with these types of graphs should watch André's excellent series of suspension fundamentals videos. The results of his analysis are as follows:

Observations:

  • Norco's 29-inch Optic has enough progressivity for a short travel trail bike at 12%.
  • The bike is sold with 1X and 2X drivetrain options. The pedaling efficiency is better optimized for a 26-tooth chainring, with anti-squat values ranging between 90-100%. For a 30-tooth chainring the values range from 65% to 80%, and for a 36-tooth chainring the values range from 10% to 65% (for smaller and bigger cogs, respectively).
  • Given the relatively low anti-squat values and the low amount of travel, the total pedal kickback is also quite low.
  • Anti-rise of 35% meaning that the suspension is very isolated from braking forces.
  • Overall, the Norco Optic 29 is a slightly progressive trail bike with good pedaling efficiency on a 26-tooth chainring.

How does science meet the dirt? Did our real life ride time confirm the analysis? It's back to Vital's testers to hear how the Optic performed on trail.

On The Trail

We put the Optic to the test on some of Tucson, Arizona’s classic trails descending down the iconic Mount Lemmon. Between Bug Springs, Prison Camp, and La Milagrosa trails, the challenging loose-over-hard decomposing granite terrain made traction hard to come by. Blending slow and fast technical features, these trails were perfect for getting a feel of a bike's technical handling ability and rear end suspension performance. A solid mix of steep and grinding climbs littering the mostly downhill terrain provided excellent insight into the climbing and sprinting performance of the Optic.

Throwing a leg over for the first time, the Optic was relatively easy to get comfortable with. For us, the 760mm Race Face Turbine bars were a tad on the narrow side and we had trouble getting all of the controls situated comfortably. We ended up settling for less than ideal Reverb lever placement on the lefthand side as it was not getting along with the Shimano front shifter and brake lever. Although our test bike did not come with it, the C9.2 build kit does come with a Race Face Narrow/Wide Cinch chainring for riders wanting to swap to a 1x11 drivetrain. This would eliminate much of the cockpit setup headaches we faced with our test bike. After settling in, we set the sag on the suspension to the recommended 30%. The initial setup was relatively quick and provided a solid baseline for testing.

Despite having a short 50mm Race Face Turbine stem and a reasonable headtube angle compared to other bikes in the same travel range, the Optic did seem to have a more traditional XC feel to it. Featuring 440mm chainstays combined with a 486mm reach on the size XL, the Optic is notably longer in these areas than many other bikes in this category. The overall wheelbase is slightly shorter by a few millimeters, however, which made keeping our weight over the front on climbs easy yet explains the need for a bit more focus on rough and speedy descents.

Despite having a short 50mm Race Face Turbine stem and a reasonable headtube angle compared to other bikes in the same travel range, the Optic did seem to have a more traditional XC feel to it.

Turned loose on the descents of Mount Lemmon the Optic was a bit tentative, but still managed to keep it fun. We felt that the Optic preferred to be a bit more cautiously ridden with both wheels on the ground, but riders with a bit more skill could begin to push it. Not really begging for much more though, the Optic was a bit complacent in its personality but occasionally would surprise us with a certain level of playfulness. If we let our guard down, though, we were quickly reminded that this bike is still a short travel ride with just 120 and 110mm of front and rear travel.

When the bike was first introduced we had the opportunity to ride it in Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, California on less technical trails. Fast and flowing singletrack is where the Optic really came alive, with another Vital tester noting how receptive the bike is to pumping rolling terrain. Popping off obstacles and back-siding everything in sight earned loads of extra speed on smoother trails.

In Tucson, we found the end of the 110mm of rear travel a little more often than desired. The ART rear suspension didn’t have ton of mid-stroke support, and while the bottom-out resistance was there we were still finding the end too easily. We found that simply upping the overall air pressure to increase the sag closer to 20% gave us the support we were looking for. The decrease in sag didn’t affect the small bump or traction of the rear end in a notably negative way, therefore riders may find less sag or a larger air volume spacer may be required to get more support. Overall, the rear end of the Optic did its job but was neither exciting or glaring with issues – just simply functional.

Fast and flowing singletrack is where the Optic really came alive, with another Vital tester noting how receptive the bike is to pumping rolling terrain. Popping off obstacles and back-siding everything in sight earned loads of extra speed on smoother trails.

Considering the Optic isn't packing a ton of heat in the travel and suspension department, we were surprised to find it had a relatively heavy feel to it. The scale concurred at 29.1-pounds (13.22kg). The geometry and travel range suggests it should be a snappy, responsive rocket ship when sprinting and climbing, but we found the Optic to be slightly uninspiring in these departments. Body position when seated was comfortable in an all-day-seated type of way and the double front chainring setup had us spinning to win… though perhaps a little too much.

Climbing performance improved noticeably with the decrease in sag to 20%, but we still found that the system was still not completely immune to pedal input. With the shock fully open we noticed a decent amount of suspension movement, and when sprinting or climbing out of the saddle power was lost in translation. We found the Optic was best balanced in traction and power transfer in the middle low-speed compression setting. When things smoothed out, we dabbled with the firmest compression setting as well which gave us the best power transfer. Despite feeling a bit heavy and not impressively efficient, the Optic managed to clean some slow tech climbs with grace. The geometry certainly made climbing comfortable and easy to keep weight over the front wheel, leaving us with confidence in its climbing ability.

Not really begging for much more, the Optic was a bit complacent in its personality but occasionally would surprise us with a certain level of playfulness. If we let our guard down, though, we were quickly reminded that this bike is still a short travel ride with just 120 and 110mm of front and rear travel.

Build Kit

Featuring a mix of Shimano XT 2x11 drivetrain and brake components, FOX suspension, Race Face wheels and cockpit, and a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post, the Norco Optic C9.2 build kit is a mix of worthy components and what we consider to be a few key oversights.

Norco specs size small Optics with a 100mm Rockshox Reverb Stealth dropper post, mediums with 125mm, and both the large and XL sizes with 150mm droppers.

Up front, the 120mm travel FOX 34 Float Performance Elite fork contains the FIT 4 damper – the latest in FOX damping performance and adjustability – but holds its value by not featuring Kashima coated stanchions. The 34 is a solid match for the Optic, providing sufficient stiffness and a smooth feel throughout the travel. Featuring low-speed compression and rebound adjustably, the Elite model is easily tunable to your preferences. The fork performed well during the test leaving us confident in its future reliability.

While Norco's website says this bike comes with 2.35-inch Nobby Nic tires with SnakeSkin casings, that's not what was on the test bike. Sporting non-tubeless ready, paper thin 2.35-inch Schwalbe LiteSkin Nobby Nic / Racing Ralph tires front and rear, we immediately were forced to swap the tires out with some burlier Maxxis tires to get the Optic rideable in the Tucson desert. We thought cheap, light OEM tires were a thing of the past after seeing most bike brands shift to a performance oriented tire spec.

Norco opted for the price point option from Race Face with AR 24 rims laced to SRAM MTH hubs with Sapim double-butted spokes. After day one of testing, the rear rim was littered with a couple of big dents and flat spots and the front was also dinged up. After blowing the rear tire off the rim on an off-camber landing we decided to retire the wheel for further testing. Leading up to the damage we also had a few loud pops come from the ratchet of the rear hub. Nothing failed immediately, but the sound was enough to raise some potential concerns. Although the rims did not come set up tubeless from Norco, Race Face does offer a tubeless kit for aftermarket purchase.

Fit with Shimano XT brakes front and rear paired with 180 and 160mm rotors, respectively, the Optic had powerful and reliable braking performance. The spec of XT brakes is fitting for the price point and we had no issues with the brakes during the course of the test.

The 2x11 drivetrain is a full Shimano XT affair with the exception to the Race Face Turbine Cinch crank and 36/26-tooth chainring set, and the Optic’s shifting was crisp and precise. During the course of the test, however, we dropped the chain off the front chainrings to the outside and inside several times, interrupting descents. Despite having a clutch, the combination of the longer chain and derailleur cage designed to accommodate the two chainring setup was incredibly noisy with the chain slapping around on rough descents. While a chainstay guard is shown in photos on their website, Norco did not include frame protectors on the chainstay or seatstay of our test bike which amplified the racket caused by the chain.

The nice thing about the 2X setup on the Optic is that it buried any of our reserves about leaving the 2X drivetrain behind. Although our bike did not come with it, buyers will receive a 1X Race Face Narrow/Wide Cinch chainring included with this build which should help keep the drivetrain quieter and hopefully have fewer issues with chain retention. While overall range and anti-squat values will be reduced, combining the 30-tooth 1X chainring with the 42-tooth cog on the Shimano cassette will provide an easy enough gear for most climbs.

Buyers will receive a 1X Race Face Narrow/Wide Cinch chainring included with this build which should help keep the drivetrain quieter and hopefully have fewer issues with chain retention.

At $5,199 MSRP, the Optic C9.2 build can seem a bit pricey when considering some of the budget spec employed on the carbon and alloy frame. The 2X drivetrain shifted fine but had major issues with chain retention, the wheels didn’t last long, and the tires had to be replaced out of the box. For these reasons we believe that Norco put some value in less crucial areas of the spec while neglecting other key components.

Long Term Durability

Despite being a 110mm x 120mm travel bike, the Optic’s carbon and aluminum frame held strong in the rough Tucson terrain, leaving us with a vote of confidence for its long term durability. The ART suspension design uses adequately sized bearings that are easily accessible for maintenance down the road. The cables are held tight in the frame and do not drag on the paint causing cosmetic damage. Because the rear wheel gave in on it maiden voyage, we can see a rim or wheel replacement in the near future for potential buyers.

Having lost the chain multiple times in both directions off the chainring, over time the cranks and bottom bracket will be scuffed and scraped by the chain. Norco did not provide any sort of chainstay, seatstay, or downtube frame protectors, and as a result we noted multiple paint chips from chainslap and flying rocks. With some 3M Mastic tape in a few key places the Optic could be well protected and would be much quieter. With a few essential upgrades and a bit of quieting the Optic has the potential to be a long lasting rig with the frame showing no glaring weaknesses during our test. Norco backs it with a five year limited warranty and crash replacement program. Detailed bearing, hardware, and frame specifications are available here.

What's The Bottom Line?

When the Norco Optic 29er launched in early 2016, we said that "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." After getting it in a wider variety of terrain, it's safe to say that Norco is on the right track but certainly left themselves room for improvement. While the Optic occasionally surprised us in the fun department, it wasn't very inspiring to ride with its traditional XC feeling geometry and a rear end that just didn’t seem to excel in any particular area.

Despite our criticism in true trail worthiness, the Optic is a decent allrounder that we feel is best suited for the rider looking to gain some travel and trail capability while stepping up from their XC ride. That person will find familiar handling and geometry, good pedaling efficiency (especially if they enjoy 2X drivetrains), and should be someone who prefers fast, smooth trails and keeping their wheels on the ground. The Optic showed glimpses of its potential throughout the test, which left us thinking that with a few minor geometry tweaks, improved wheels and tires, and a slight diet, the bike could solidify its presence in the short-travel trail category.

Visit www.norco.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3 stars - Good
  • Descending: 3 stars - Good
  • Fun Factor: 3 stars - Good
  • Value: 3 stars - Good
  • Overall Impression: 3 stars - Good

Bonus Gallery: 19 photos of the 2017 Norco Optic Carbon 9.2 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Dylan Stucki - Age: 28 // Years Riding MTB: 17 // Height: 6'5" (1.96m) // Weight: 195-pounds (88.5kg)

"I'm a fun-haver, always looking for new ways to interpret the trail. Gettin' sidewayze and balls out fast is rad too!" Dylan brings some serious speed to the Vital test crew, a heavy dose of hijinks, and routinely breaks things you think can't be broken. He's been testing mountain bikes and parts for several years which gives him good perspective on the full spectrum of what's on the market.

Mint Henk - Age: 32 // Years Riding MTB: 18 // Height: 6'0" (1.83m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Ragged, with a hint of Neanderthal." We decided to bring Mint onboard after watching him absolutely rocket up and down Colorado's high country like it was no big deal. Meanwhile we were huffing and puffing trying to keep up. Mint is the real deal, and he brings a fresh eye to the Vital MTB testing game backed with years of relevant experience.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

About Test Sessions

For five years a dedicated crew of Vital MTB testers have been bringing you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. This time around we rode 2017's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes on a wide variety of rowdy trails in Tucson, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Arizona Cyclist. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Specialized, Five Ten, ZOIC, Sombrio, Race Face, and EVOC. All photos by Lear Miller.

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Specifications

Product Norco Optic C 9.2
Model Year 2017
Riding Type Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
S, M, L, XL View Geometry
Size S M L XL
Top Tube Length 571mm 602mm 632mm 662mm
Head Tube Angle 68.5° 68.5° 68.5° 68.5°
Head Tube Length 93mm 90mm 100mm 110mm
Seat Tube Angle 75.4º 74.9º 74.5º 74.1º
Seat Tube Length 410mm 445mm 485mm 530mm
Bottom Bracket Height 332mm 332mm 332mm 332mm
Chainstay Length 425mm 430mm 435mm 440mm
Wheelbase 1114mm 1144mm 1175mm 1206mm
Standover 755mm 755mm 760mm 780mm
Reach 414mm 441mm 464mm 486mm
Stack 601mm 598mm 607mm 617mm
Frame Material Carbon Fiber
Frame Material Details SmoothCore construction
Rear Travel 110mm
Rear Shock FOX Float DPS Peformance Elite EVOL
Fork FOX 34 Float Performance Elite 29, Boost 110x15mm
Fork Travel 120mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered
Headset Cane Creek 10 Series
Handlebar Race Face Turbine, 760mm x 20mm
Stem Race Face Turbine Basic 35, 50mm Length
Grips Norco Lock-On
Brakes Front: Shimano Deore XT Hydraulic Disc with 180mm Rotor
Rear: Shimano XT Hydraulic Disc with 160mm Rotor
Brake Levers Shimano Deore XT
Drivetrain 1x, 2x
Shifters Shimano XT I-Spec, 2x11-Speed
Front Derailleur Shimano XT, 2-Speed FD, Side Swing Front Pull (S3 Mount, e-Type, no Plate)
Rear Derailleur Shimano XT Long Cage, 11-Speed
ISCG Tabs ISCG 05
Chainguide N/A
Cranks Race Face Turbine Cinch 2x11, Boost
Chainrings 36/26 Tooth (1x30 Tooth Single Cinch Ring Included)
Bottom Bracket Race Face Press Fit BB 92
Pedals N/A
Chain Shimano HG-600-11 11-Speed
Cassette Shimano 11-42 Tooth, 11-Speed
Wheel Size 29"
Rims Race Face AR 24 29", Tubeless Compatible
Hubs Front: SRAM MTH 716, 15x110mm, FOX 15mm QR Axle
Rear: SRAM MTH 746, 148x12mm XD, DT RWS Eco Ratchet with Maxle Thread Axle
Spokes Sapim Double Butted Black
Tires Nobby Nic Front and Rear, 2.35" with SnakeSkin, Trailstar Compound, TL
Saddle SDG Circuit Mtn with Chromoly Rails
Seatpost Rockshox Reverb Stealth
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp Standard
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 148mm x 12mm
Max. Tire Size 29 x 2.4"
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Green/Blue
Warranty 5 Year Limited Frame, 1 Year for Norco Branded Parts
Weight 29 lb 2.3 oz (13220 g)
Miscellaneous
Price $5,199
More Info

​Norco Website

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