Take one part new-school geometry, one part short yet capable suspension, then add in a sprinkling of components that you're more likely to see on an enduro bike before it's baked for a year or so behind closed doors. That isn't a new recipe, of course, but with each ingredient getting better year after year, it's one that's tastier than ever.
With 125mm of travel, a 140mm fork, and 29" wheels, Norco's
all-new 2020 Optic is their take on short-travel and big fun.
Our test bike, the $4,500 USD C2, gets an SRAM GX / X1 drivetrain combo and a Pike Select Plus fork. All six models get carbon front triangles and aluminum rear ends.
First, what the heck is this thing? I mean, 125mm is light-duty trail bike stuff, yet all six Optic models come with four-piston brakes, a Magic Mary tire up front, and a custom-tuned RockShox DH-specific shock without a pedal-assist lever. So, not exactly your warmed-over cross-country rig that's been over-forked to under-deliver. I've used the new Optic for everything from all-day missions to all day in the Whistler Bike Park and, spoiler alert, it's been a blast.
Trail bike? Yeah, sure, but that’s probably not giving it enough credit.
Sticky tires and four-piston brakes come stock on all version of the Optic.Geometry
Forget about how much travel it has - let’s talk about the Optic’s geometry. At 5’10” Norco says that I should be on a large with a 480mm reach, so it’s relatively roomy upfront. It doesn’t feel too big when you’re seated, though, thanks to that 76-degree SA and the 435mm rear-end length. The head angle is a relaxed 65-degrees, and there aren't any silly geo adjustments to be seen.
Norco is doing something called ‘Gravity Tune’ with their geometry that sees the rear-end get longer as the bikes go up in size, but they also say they didn’t just use the longer, lower, slacker sprinkles to sweeten up the Optic’s handling. Instead, they looked at a whole bunch of already available data that told them the dimensions and weight of the average person, which then told them where the center of gravity would be when the bike is being ridden. That let them come up with geometry for each of the four sizes that put that COG where they wanted between the front and rear axles.
The large-sized Optic gets a 480mm reach and 435mm rear-end, while all sizes get 76-degree seat angles and 65-degree head angles.
There are small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes, which each one growing 5mm at the back and 30mm at the front. The forks are all sporting 42mm of offset, and every model comes with a 40mm stem that Norco says shouldn’t be changed out. Instead, they want riders to use different width handlebars should they need to tweak the fit; wider bars mean a longer reach and vice versa. Suspension
125 millimeters isn't many millimeters, but Norco has squeezed a lot of performance out of what they're working with. The previous Optic used a suspension layout that looked a lot like this, a Horst Link, with a little rocker arm that compresses a vertically-mounted air-sprung shock. Nothing crazy, and the same idea is used here, but the pivot locations have changed and it’s going to perform very differently to that older bike.
Big shock on a little bike, and there's no pedal-assist lever to be seen on the Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock.
The leverage ratio at the start is higher, for one, which should make it relatively supple for a short-travel bike that’s meant to smash into things. Norco says that it’s far more progressive, too, and there’s an aggressive high-speed compression tune in the shock, all of which should make it more capable than one might think.
Speaking of the shock, let’s take a look at it because it’s a bit out of the ordinary. It’s a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock that, as the name suggests, you’d usually only see on longer-travel bikes. The piggyback means that it has more oil in it than a lighter weight in-line shock, so it should be more consistent over long, rough descents. There’s no lockout-lever to make the bike pedal better, but any bike with this little travel should move well without a cheater switch. Models
Norco is offering six different complete Optics, starting with the SRAM AXS or Shimano XTR-equipped versions pictured above that go for $7,500 USD and $6,600 USD.
The C2 and C2 W retail for $4,500 USD C2, with a spec that includes a SRAM X1/GX drivetrain, Shimano BT520 four-piston brakes, and a Pike Select Plus fork.
The entry price for a complete bike starts at $3,600 USD for the C3, and Norco is offering both it and the C2 in women’s models as well. If you want a bare frame and that Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock, it’ll cost you $2,299.
You'll be able to watch our Field Test video review of the new Optic soon, and while Kazimer told me that I'm not supposed to spill the beans until then, I'll leave you with this: It was the most popular - and most talked about - test bike of them all.