On the market for close to two years now, the Norco Optic was progressive toward the end of 2019 and still fits right in with the newest of the trail bikes we tested in our recent roundup. When Norco redesigned the Optic, they started from scratch. Some might even say that they had a completely new vision for the Optic.
Gone are the 27.5″ wheels and the 68.5° head tube angle. Travel has been increased, and the Optic is bred to be a good time on 29″ wheels. It gallops uphill and dances down.
The Optic, with 125mm of rear travel and a 140mm fork comes in carbon only, with an aluminum rear triangle. The bike starts with a $4,100 C3 build kit and the range climbs up to a $10,500 SRAM AXS equipped kit. We tried out the mid-range C2, with a SRAM GX drivetrain, Shimano BR-MT520 4-piston brakes, Stans Flow wheels and DT Swiss 350 hubs, and RockShox suspension.
Geometry on the Optic starts with a 65° HTA, and a 76° STA. Norco was an early trend-mover with size-specific chainstays. Our medium-sized test bike has 430mm stays, a 450mm reach, a 415mm seat tube length, and a 680mm standover height, with a 1,196mm wheelbase.
That geometry raised some eyebrows when the bike first debuted – as did the 120mm-travel Santa Cruz Tallboy — but it seems that riders have warmed up to aggressive geo on short-travel bikes now.
Our testers for this bike are Matt Miller (rider profile below) and Chris Schieffer.
Test pilot profile height: 5’8″ (173cm) weight: 165lbs. (75kg) testing zone: Colorado Front Range
It’s almost like everyone knows that descending is the fun part these days, as 100mm-travel XC bikes are nearly the only ones sticking with conservative geometry. Most, like Norco have found a blend of angles that are optimized for descending, while still providing a comfortable position for climbing.
The Norco feels upright, but not so stacked that it’s like riding a townie. Most will initially notice how snappy the bike feels under pedaling power. Pedaling input is responsive and the stiff, 30.3lb carbon bike excels at accelerating. With the Horst link design, Norco has found a curve on the Optic that is noticeably progressive and ramps up quickly. Our test bike was set up with two volume spacers, about half as many as are recommended for a beginner on the Norco Ride Aligned setup guide, and the rear end still felt very progressive. We wanted to keep those final two spacers as we were still getting full travel out of the rear.
That’s helpful on buff trails, and the Optic feels like a rocket on these types of climbs, but the suspension was reluctant to soak up ledgier, chunkier climbs. We tried backing out the low-speed compression, stuffed awkwardly between the shock and the down tube, and reducing pressure in the shock, but the Optic still felt a little too firm for some technical climbs.
That firm, progressive leverage curve yields similar results going downhill and the Optic feels like a big, pump track or flow trail bike. Its snappy handling makes the rider want to corner too late, just so they can cut into an apex and blow up a berm for the fun of it. The short offset fork handles any slowness that the slack HTA may imply and the short chainstays add to a shorter-travel trail bike that is quick and precise.
On flow trails, the support in the suspension is ample just like it is in the climbs, where the Optic’s suspension wants to stay up nice and high. Darting through corners, berms, and jumps, the Optic feels made to carve and pop.
That progressivity and support has its downsides though, and the Optic can be hard to get along with on steep and repetitively chunky trails. The bike tends to feel pretty stable over most terrain, but it isn’t the most planted through the rough stuff. The suspension seemed to have a narrower margin than others in terms of setting it up, and it took some time to get it feeling just right.
The Optic doesn’t feel like it’s skipping off rocks, like a well-thrown flat stone on a calm river, but there’s a finite amount of sensitivity through its initial stroke. Just like on the climbs, we found this bike feels the best on fast and buff flow trails.
At $5,000 the Optic C2 isn’t what we’d call a value or budget build. There are some nice pieces of kit on here, like the SRAM GX drivetrain, and the Stans Flow/DT Swiss 350 wheel build, and RockShox suspension, but we would have been happy with some tweaks as well.
Neither of our testers were blown away by the suspension performance, and would have swapped the Super Deluxe Ultimate shock with reservoir for an inline model, and passed on the savings for a set of better brakes. While the initial sensitivity might have taken a hit, the Shimano, BR-MT520 4-piston brakes weren’t as chompy as we would have liked. That low-speed compression dial, upside down and hard to reach, isn’t ideal either.
There seem to be a lot of fans of Vittoria tires, but both of the Optic’s testers thought that a meatier tire on the rear would have been welcome, since the Martello had some trouble finding grip in our dusty and loose trails in Colorado.
The Norco Optic C2 is an excellent bike — in certain conditions — and a good bike overall. With its firm, progressive suspension, the Optic felt best on flow trails and mild chunk, but in steep and repetitively chunky trails, the bike loses some confidence.
People who want a trail bike that will handle near everything though, and love jumping, carving, and manualing will love the light, poppy, and supportive feel of the Optic.
- Very supportive pedaling platform makes it an efficient climber
- Lightweight and do-almost-everything trail bike
- Great looks and fun on flow trails
Pros and cons of the Norco Optic trail bike.
- Not the best bike for real rocky or technical trails
- Brakes could be better
- Suspension can feel too progressive at times
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