Short-travel 29ers are the most ferocious circle pit in mountain biking right now, and Norco’s new Optic can totally own both the rowdiest double black mosh or an epic backcountry ballad.
Design and geometry
Norco has been using the same rocker link four-bar suspension design template on its trail bikes for years but the geometry numbers on the Optic’s carbon mainframe sticker are totally contemporary. A 65-degree head angle and 76-degree seat angle are separated by a reach of 480mm (medium) while an extra large measures 30mm shorter and longer respectively. The bottom bracket hangs 37mm below the axles and 337mm above the trail on all sizes. To its massive credit - and presumably considerable extra cost - Norco fits a different length alloy back end to every size, ranging from 425 to 440mm. This ‘Ride Aligned’ approach also sees the suspension kinematics tweaked slightly for likely rider weights on each size as well as providing a rider-referencing smartphone set-up app, which is the most accurate we’ve ever used.
As well as the same carbon/alloy frame, all three bikes in the range (C3 is £2,995, C1 is £4,995) also use the same totally custom length, custom tuned, ‘sawn off’ 45mm stroke RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH piggyback shock to give 125mm of travel, but more on that later.
Practicality is high on the Optic, too. Even on the shorter chainstays you can still sneak in a 2.6in 29er tyre and the internal cable routing is sealed with rubber plugs that keep everything inside quiet and dry. There’s plenty of rubber frame armour, a standard bottle cage mount and a bolted accessory mount under the top tube ready for the ‘next big storage thing’. The only thing we called Norco out on was the press fit rather than threaded bottom bracket design, but the company told us they’ve actually had more issues bonding threaded sections into carbon than they have with press fit, so maybe we need to wind our neck in.
Components and build
Speccing a short-travel trail bike is a tough gig as there’s always a temptation to try and make the bike lighter than the inevitable longer-travel sibling in a brand’s range. Unless it seems you’re Norco, in which case you'll just say, ‘give the bike what it needs to ride as well as it can and that’s what it’ll weigh’. That’s most obvious with the relatively hefty enduro-grade Stans Flow S1 rims and super-reliable-but-slow-engaging DT Swiss 350 hubs. Schwalbe’s legendary Magic Mary ultra control front tyre and intermediate Hans Dampf rear are both orange stripe ‘Addix Soft’ compound that favour grip over outright rolling speed. If 2.35in sounds a little narrow a caliper check shows that - typically for Schwalbe - they blow up a lot bigger in reality and carcass control is impressive even at low pressures and high shear loads.
The 140mm travel RockShox Pike Select+ short offset fork has more travel than the rear shock but spring feel and damping is a near-perfect match. 780mm bar and 45mm stem keep control naturally weighted and well leveraged and all models get the excellent, subtly shaped Ergon GA30 grips.
The SRAM GX Eagle shifter sits fine with the budget but impressively well controlled and predictable Shimano MT520 four-pot brakes. A southpaw lever triggers the equally cost-conscious but reliable X-Fusion Manic dropper post. The only bit of posh you’ll find is the SRAM X1 Eagle crank, where carbon saves serious grams over alloy at the risk of rupturing the weave on rocks after a while. That keeps weight just under 14kg for a large, so right in the ‘that’s what all bikes seem to weigh these days’ ballpark. It’s worth noting that if you’re on a tighter budget or less worried about weight the NX-equipped Optic C3 gets the same frame, shock, rims and tyres with a Pike Select fork for £600 less.
Ride, handling and performance
The geometry numbers of the Norco are well established as a great setup for good time riding so it’s no surprise that the Optic feels sorted as soon as you grab hold of the grips. What stands out is the way the whole resonance of the bike feels absolutely spot on through those same grips. That might sound like nonsense but if you’ve ridden enough different bikes you can get a really good sense of the dynamic character/damping/stiffness levels before you even turn a pedal. With the Optic there’s an instant, richly communicated connection with the trail that immediately dilates blood vessels and boosts your confidence whatever ride is on the agenda. It runs right through every turn, drop, rock garden or tech climb of every ride too, whether that’s close combat in the local woods, bike park berms or with arms numb from the elbows down on a super tech, storm-lashed descent towards the finish of a Scottish Highland epic.
What are the actualities outside these anecdotes though? First up, the geometry is spot on. The short-offset fork, head angle and bar width work beautifully together for power-assisted poise with zero flop at low speeds. The extended reach means you could even go shorter with the stem if you wanted but we didn’t feel a pressing need. The seat angle is steep enough to play silly buggers chasing e-MTBs up scree-line climbs but doesn’t shove you so far forward you’re constantly shuffling back on the Fizik saddle when cruising. The back end is short enough that the bike doesn’t hang up on switchback apex rocks, and it breaks away for a perfect ‘schralp’ just before the front tyre lets go when you’re going sideways in loam. The Schwalbe tyres are equally well balanced and the soft compound tyres still roll pretty rapidly. Add efficient pedalling and the suspension, and the 14kg weight never feels too grim, even when a long, limit-of-legs climb suddenly ramps up at the end.
It’s the suspension action that takes the Optic from great to genuinely outstanding though. It’s worth warning that (like a lot of pure race bikes) the shock tune feels worryingly harsh in the car park, as Norco has deliberately amped up the high-speed compression. Start rolling though and the low-speed progression is buttery smooth over the stutter bumps, roots rocks and debris that can unstick tyres under power or biting into a turn. Stay seated and there’s minimal pedal-related movement from the shock under power and only a small amount when out of the saddle, so it feels crisp and encouraging under power despite excellent ground connection.
Despite the travel discrepancy, the long negative spring and Charger damper on the Pike fork produce an identical performance upfront so you feel totally centred in suspension and geometry terms. That lets you force weight very naturally and aggressively into the trail, and that’s where the Optic lives it’s best life. The harder you drive it, the more that DH-spec shock and excellent chassis/tyre dynamic tense up and fire you forwards whether that’s off the backside of boulders or ankle-bending berms. Because there’s only 125mm of superbly damped control, there’s no bounce, over travel or wallow to disturb that dialled-in geometry either so the whole bike feels permanently poised and on point. Several testers even admitted that the rear damper felt better than their own custom-tuned £1000+ coil shocks, and all from just 45mm of movement.
While the race-ready tunes on some bikes will shake meeker riders to pieces or just refuse to co-operate below warp speed, the Optic is totally happy to coax the best out of less aggressive riders - or ones shelled out at the end of an epic - too. The impressively accurate Ride Aligned app algorithm makes setup totally easy, even if it’s your first full-suspension bike. The shock is relatively pressure-sensitive too - 10 per cent makes a big difference - so don’t stray too far from Norco’s numbers. The only thing to be wary of is very fast pad wear on the Shimano brakes, but in terms of control, they’re great.
We’d heard a lot of things about Norco’s Optic before we rode it but we’d also had some issues with shock tunes on its 2019 Sight bikes so we approached this minty trail missile with our usual cynicism. However, as soon as we had our hands on the grips the Optic just felt totally right and, over two months of riding from mellow-loam matinees to out-there mountain epics, it’s never put a wheel or shock stroke wrong. The geometry and chassis dynamic is excellent, the component spec is superbly pitched to flatter feel and capability and the suspension is pretty much a perfect balance of ingredients to cook up a flat-out banquet on every trail. It’s practical, well priced and even the cheaper bike still packs all the play essentials into the package.
Tech Specs: Norco Optic C2
- Discipline: Trail
- Price: £3,595
- Head angle: 66-degrees
- Frame material: Carbon mainframe and alloy swingarm
- Size: Large
- Weight: 13.9kg
- Wheel size: 29-inch
- Suspension (front/rear): RockShox Pike Select + 140mm travel/RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH 45mm stroke 125mm travel
- Components: SRAM GX Eagle 10-50T 12 speed gearing and shifter. SRAM X1 Eagle 30T chainset. Shimano MT520 brakes with 180mm rotors. Schwalbe Magic Mary Super TLE Addix Soft front and Schwalbe Hans Dampf Snakeskin/TL Addix Soft rear 29 x 2.35in tyres on Stans Flow S1 rims with DT Swiss 350 hubs. TranzX 780x35mm bar and Norco 45x35mm stem, X-Fusion Manic dropper post, Fizik Taiga saddle