It's a case of Canada VS Spain VS America VS Finland in a trail bike cage match that sees four brands approach the challenge four different ways.
While they're arguably the most relevant and widely used type of mountain bike, the trail category can sound a bit vague in its intentions. I mean, we're all on trails, aren't we? For the Field Test, we narrowed the window to only include bikes with 125mm to 150mm of rear-wheel-travel, and head angles sitting at 66-degrees or slacker. We also employed timed testing in the Whistler Bike Park this year, and all four were on the same Maxxis 'control tires' to make it as fair as possible. The results are both expected and unexpected.
2020 Trail Bike Field Test. Who do you want in your corner?
In the short-travel corner is the 125mm Optic, Norco's all-new reminder that geometry rules all. Those smart numbers, along with a sturdy build kit and suspension that does nothing but impress, reminded us that fun is nearly always better than fast. Need a little more travel under you and prefer to be out in the boonies on an all-day adventure? At just a hair over 28lb, Orbea's 140mm-travel Occam might be the one that belongs in your corner.
When I see an Intense, I think of bald eagles and America, regardless of where the frames are coming from these days. And when I look at the Primer S, I have flashbacks of some of the best corners of my life. It turned out to be more bike than skill, unfortunately for me but not for anyone else wanting to perform the Stone Cold Stunner to their buddies on every other corner.
The André the Giant of this match has to be the rather large and extremely capable Stamina 140, although ol' André never had moves like the Stamina's, may they both rest in peace. Besides both being the biggest of their peers, they also share something else: An early death. Congestive heart failure in a Paris hotel room took André from us, and a two-foot-tall ramp in an empty Squamish parking lot killed the aluminum Stamina. Read all about the specifics of that particular elephant in the room here
So, you've watched the videos, read the reviews, and weighed the pros and cons. It's time to decide: Which bike do you want in your corner?
Mike Levy's Pick: Undecided
2020 Field Test - Editors' Choice
These four machines are remarkably dissimilar given that, for our purposes anyway, they all fall into the same trail bike category. Two of the bikes, the Occam and the Primer, both have some impressive qualities to them, but I'm not surprised to find myself more excited by the Optic and the Stamina. I've always been a sucker for anything interesting, and the machined and glued together Pole is exactly that. It's also an absolute beast of a bike on the descents, but the relatively steep seat angle works wonders on the way back up. Ugh, I hope this doesn't get awkward again.
I'm also a sucker for a bike that's designed to do more with less, which is one way you describe the green-colored Norco Optic. It might have 'only' 125mm of rear-wheel-travel, but it's an impressive 125mm, and we all know that geometry trumps suspension on the priority list.
Norco has some modern numbers for the new Optic while also touting how they're focusing on where the rider's center of gravity is over the bike. Whatever they're doing, it's working; the Optic is a hoot to ride, and far more capable than you might think 125mm should ever be.
The Pole Stamina 140 and Norco's Optic approach trail bike design from different angles; the former being all about traction and going fast, while the latter is more about laughs and going sideways. If I'm honest, I had already earmarked the Pole to spend some more time with me as it's an ideal Squamish trail bike that can easily hold its own anywhere and everywhere, and that's not something that many other bikes can say.
But then the frame failed and, well, I'm feeling a bit conflicted.
But I just rode the Norco yesterday and holy shit was it a good time. They've done some serious wizardry to make 125mm feel this well-rounded, and the handling is out of this world. Put those two things together and you have a bike that's just as much fun toodling down a flow trail as it is taking questionable lines on sketchy singletrack or doing a five-hour epic. What more could you want from a modern trail bike?
Mike Kazimer's Pick: 2020 Norco Optic
The Norco Optic is my pick out of this batch of trail bikes, in large part due to how much fun I had aboard the green machine. I'm not sure what the unit of measure for fun is (Smiles per mile? Cackles per kilometer?), but my fun number was the highest on the Optic.
If I'm on a shorter travel rig I'm typically going to be heading out for longer, more pedally rides, and an engaging bike like the Optic makes it easy to squeeze the maximum level of enjoyment out of mellower sections of trail, with plenty of capability in reserve for when things get more technical.
If you took the Pole Stamina 140's downhill prowess and combined it with the Orbea Occam's easy going trail manners, I'm pretty sure the result would be a lot like what Norco have created with the Optic. While the Pole's geometry numbers made it feel like an enduro bike with a shorter travel fork, which might be exactly what some riders are looking for, I preferred the Optic's easier handling at slower speeds and on tighter sections of trail.
5'11" / 180cmInseam:
33" / 84cmWeight:
160 lbs / 72.6 kg
The Optic's shorter chainstays and slightly steeper head angle help give it a more lively nature, making it the kind of bike that encourages you to goof off, to go for the bonus doubles and creative line choices. And don't forget about that shock – that Super Deluxe Ultimate DH took everything I threw at it without missing a beat, include laps in the Whistler Bike Park on trails I wouldn't typically consider riding on a 125mm trail bike.
At the end of the day, it's the Optic's high level of versatility that puts it on the top of my list for the trail category.