PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
2020 NORCO OPTIC C2
Short on travel, not on capability
Words by Mike Levy, Photography by Trevor Lyden
People have been riding under-gunned, short-travel bikes long before they became capable enough to challenge longer-legged machines. That's a more recent development that came about thanks to evolved geometry, larger diameter wheels, and ever-improving suspension systems, all of which you'll find on the all-new 2020 Norco Optic trail bike.
While it has just 125mm of rear-wheel-travel, other numbers offer a clue as to its abilities; a relatively relaxed 65-degree head angle, a roomy 480mm of reach on our large-sized test bike, and its 140mm Pike up front. Oh, and four-piston brakes across the range.
Yeah, something tells me that this thing ain't your warmed-over cross-country rig that's been over-forked to under-deliver.
Norco Optic C2 Details
Intended use: Trail
Wheel size: 29''
Frame construction: Carbon fiber, alloy rear
Head angle: 65-degrees (geometry
Chainstay length: 435mm
Reach: 480mm (lrg)
Sizes: Sm, med, lrg (tested), xl
Weight: 30.9 lbs / 14.0 kg (as pictured)
Price: $4,500 USD
More info: www.norco.com
Our test rig isn't the no-expenses-spared AXS ($7,500 USD) or XTR-spec'd ($6,600) models, but rather the $4,500 C2 version that sits, a bit confusingly, three down from the top. There's a matching C2 Women's model, and both get the same SRAM X1/GX drivetrain, BT520 four-piston brakes from Shimano, and a Pike Select Plus fork. Every single Optic model, as well as the frame-only option, all come with a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock that, as you might have guessed, is more likely to be seen on a downhill sled.
Since we're talking about suspension, you'll find a compact Horst Link layout on the back of the new Optic that looks a lot like, well, the Horst Link layout on the back of the old Optic. Don't be fooled, though, because the pivot locations and design have changed enough that it's nothing like its predecessor. Compared to the old Optic, the leverage ratio is said to be higher at the start to make it relatively supple for a short-travel bike that’s meant to smash into things. It’s far more progressive, too, and the shock gets a custom high-speed compression tune. When you've only got 125mm of travel, I guess it better be good. Climbing
With a 65-degree head angle and relatively long reach and wheelbase, the Optic's geometry numbers are a departure from what you'd traditionally expect to find on a bike in this travel bracket. But while it's not exactly the ideal machine for those awkward, slow speed chess matches that have most of us only dreaming of going dab-less, it does just fine on singletrack that the average rider would still consider enjoyable. It deals with tight, tricky sections in the same way as most modern trail bikes, which is to say that the handling probably won't be the make-it-or-break-it factor for most of us - that'll still come down to skill and desire.
So yes, the Optic doesn't climb like a cross-country bike, 125mm or not. A little extra planning may be required to get through those too tight, 200-degree switchbacks with your feet still clipped in and your dignity still intact, but the steep seat angle helps create a very comfortable climbing position. It was ballsy of Norco to spec a shock without some sort of on-the-fly pedal-assist; doesn't tradition tell us that riders looking for short travel rigs care more about efficiency than anything else, firstborn and that aforementioned dignity included? Sure, but as I've already said a half dozen times, the Optic ain't really for them. Regardless, it doesn't feel like an Ibis Ripley when on the gas, but neither Kazimer nor I ever wished for a lockout on it.
If you're still equating suspension travel with climbing abilities, the new Optic might not be the rapid ascender that you're expecting. But, consider it as a trail bike bent on making you laugh while snatching a few KOMs on the way back down, and the picture that Norco's painted makes much more sense.Descending
Agile. Playful. Nimble. More fun than a barrel of monkeys, and on and on. My plan is to not use any of those tired old adjectives when talking about the Optic's descending abilities, but I can't promise you anything given how often this oddly-green-colored bike had Kaz and I laughing. And aren't those most often the moments when you're getting a bit loose but not so much that you think you're gonna get plastered all over some tree? With its long front-end, 435mm chainstays (on our large), and a 65-degree head angle that all make you feel as if you're down low and between the wheels, there are plenty of those in control but also just a lil' bit out of control times when on the Optic.
But don't mistake that for it being nervous, because that's the last thing the Optic is guilty of being. The Orbea Occam and Intense Primer both have more travel, sure, but it's the Norco that felt less skittish and on-edge during our timed testing. As luck would have it, the Freelap system was powered up just as the skies opened up, making for a tricky afternoon with plenty of close calls, regardless of the bikes we were on.
The Optic wasn't slow in the slippery conditions, despite the relative lack of travel, but that's only because we trusted its impressive, sure-fire handling.
Geometry rules all, and Norco nailed it with the Optic by using numbers that let you ride not just above its (impressive) 125mm of travel, but also like your only goal is to have as much fun as possible out there. After all, that's not a terrible plan.
Something else that rules: the Optic's rear suspension. It's efficient, but that's expected and boring. Less expected is how slippery and active it is for just 125mm of travel, especially at the top of the stroke. There's support, too, and neither Kazimer or I had any end-of-travel, end-of-life incidents when we clanged into the bottom unnecessarily. All of that is expected from a bike with more cushion, but it's not all that common from one with this little.
In case you can't tell, the new Optic impressed everyone who rode it during our two-week-long Field Test session. It's also yet more proof that when your geometry is on-point, short on travel doesn't have to mean short on capabilities.