Over 50 years ago in 1964, Bert Lewis, founder of Norco Bicycles, started producing bikes out of a converted chicken coop in a small town in British Columbia, Canada. His passion for building bikes drove the company to become what it is today. Norco currently sells over 125 different models of bicycles worldwide and sponsors many elite athletes, such as Jill Kintner, Bryn Atkinson and Adrien Loron. Utilizing the input of these athletes, as well as input from Norco’s factory race teams, has allowed the company to strive for excellence in every bike it has developed. As icing on the cake, the company’s location in British Columbia provides an amazing testing ground. Norco’s bikes are built to handle every epic trail the North Shore has to offer.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Norco Optic is a mix between an efficient cross-country rig and an agile trailbike. The Optic is sold as either a 29er with 120 millimeters of travel up front and 110 millimeters in the rear, or as a 650b version, which is the one we tested, that sports an extra 10 millimeters of travel front and rear. The Optic Carbon 7 lineup, which utilizes the 650b wheel size, offers fast and agile bikes perfect for shredding a diverse set of trails. Considering that the Optic was developed to handle North Shore’s finest, we could only imagine the potential of this little ripper.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Going internal: Norco developed a cable-routing system called GIizmo that keeps internal cables silent and free of water and dirt. The cables are simply ran through a guide that is tightened down with a small Allen wrench.
The Optic’s frame—whether you choose carbon or aluminum, 29 or 650b—is built with A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) suspension. A.R.T. suspension is actually used on all of Norco’s full-suspension models, from its cross-country rigs to its downhill bikes, but the bikes are engineered with special kinematics and shock tunes to achieve the appropriate suspension feel for the bike’s intended purpose. The Carbon Optic’s frame features Norco’s proprietary Gizmo system that keeps the internally routed cables silent and free of water and dirt. Norco pays close attention to tube diameter, using its Size-Scaled Tubing Technology. The process involves changing the diameter of the carbon tubes on different-size frames to achieve the appropriate stiffness for a heavy rider on a larger frame and a light rider on a smaller frame.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Norco’s Optic Carbon 7 lineup consists of three models: the C7.1, the C7.2 and the C7.3. The 7.3 is the carbon entry-level model and costs $3800 with RockShox suspension, SRAM GX, a 1×11 drivetrain and an internally routed dropper post. The C7.1 that we tested is the top-of-the-line version and features carbon wheels, Fox suspension and a SRAM XX1 drivetrain. The Optic C7.1 also has a lightweight Race Face Next crank and Next 760-millimeter carbon handlebars. The C7.1 model has plenty of flashy parts to drool over, but the enticing value of the C7.3 makes it a great option. Regardless of spec, the Optic’s frame is going to be its standout feature.
The drivetrain: Norco’s Optic 7.1 has an XX1 drivetrain that shifts smoothly and offers a wide range of gears. Norco even took the Optic another step further by adding a lightweight Race Face Next crank. Overall, the Optic’s drivetrain is high end and works well out on the trails.
When it’s time to stop: The Optic comes spec’d with SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes that are lightweight and strong enough to bring a downhill bike to a stop. The 180-millimeter front and 160-millimeter rear Centerlock rotors provided great performance thanks to their two-piece construction.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Fox is one of the leading innovators in mountain bike suspension, and its Factory Series forks and shocks provide great performance in an easy-to-use package. We simply set our bike with 30-percent sag front and rear and then centered the knobs in a neutral position. After we made a few on-the-trail adjustments, our suspension was dialed.
A.R.T suspension: Advanced Ride Technology suspension is used throughout Norco’s full-suspension line-up. Norco’s cross-country rigs go all the way up to their downhill bikes and are engineered around the A.R.T suspension, but are modified to achieve a desired feel for each bike’s intended purpose.
The Optic’s fit puts it into the modern trailbike category. It features a 60-millimeter stem and a long front center with a short rear end. Looking at the numbers, the Optic seems designed to meet the needs of aggressive cross-country riders or trail riders looking to conquer longer days in the saddle. The Optic is ready for rowdy descents but can still hold its own on the way back up.
In or out of the saddle: The Optic’s suspension is tuned to optimize climbing efficiency in or out of the saddle. Our test riders found this bike had a sporty feel on the climbs, making it a great tool for longer rides with big gains in elevation.
The Optic’s light and nimble frame accelerated up climbs quickly and efficiently. We rode the Optic up a wide variety of climbs—from technical, rocky trails to steep fire roads—and found that this bike could easily hang with other cross-country bikes while also packing a little more suspension for the way back down. The Optic also rewarded riders, whether pedaling in or out of the saddle, with forward momentum and a planted rear end. The Optic is no slouch heading up the hills.
Quick and nimble: The Optic comes in two forms—a 29er version or a 650b version, which both offer a quick and nimble feel, but the 650b version we tested was exceptionally agile. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen the Optic on the podium at pro-level dual-slalom races.
The Optic has an agile feel that allows it to be tossed into the corners with ease. The Fox suspension stayed high in its travel, giving our test riders the ability to push out of the corners and create speed. Stiff DT Swiss wheels also played a major role, as they had little to no lateral flex and were lightweight enough to give our testers the ability to quickly spin them up to speed.
A high-end build deserves high-end brakes. The SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes on the Optic are strong enough to bring a downhill sled to a stop, yet they are also very manageable out on the trails. Fox also contributed to the braking performance of this bike by tuning its fork to handle heavy braking forces. The fork never dove when we grabbed a handful of front brake. Last but not least, the Schwalbe Nobby Nic front and Racing Ralph rear tires dug into the ground well, further increasing the Optic’s braking performance.
Cross-country trail blend: The Optic was built in B.C. to handle “Canadian cross-coun- try trails.” These trails require a bike that can tackle steep technical climbs along with gnarly descents. The Optic blends those features well, making it a great lightweight trailbike that’s highly capable in most situations.
Having a little less suspension travel than the average trailbike can cause the Optic to feel out-gunned on gnarly technical sections. That said, however, the Optic truly shines on singletrack and flowy, pump-track-style trails. Its progressive suspension ramps up fairly quickly, making it a blast to rip down the mountain. Trails with big rocks and drops will require the rider to be a little more focused, but with the right send-it attitude, the Optic will gladly take on the challenge.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
We converted this bike to a tubeless tire system, as every Optic rider should. We used a pair of TruckerCo valve stems and some Orange Seal sealant. The DT Swiss rims and Schwalbe tires were super easy to bead up and retained the same air pressure day after day.
Aggressive riders may find the 760-millimeter bars too narrow and may want to swap them for something wider, while cross-country riders may find them to be a good width. Know your riding style.
The Optic C7.1 is a spare-no-expenses build that combines a well-built frame with some of the best parts on the market. The combination of high-end parts, however, brings the C7.1’s price up quite a bit. The 7.2 and even the 7.3 models offer exceptional build kits at a much lower price. Those bikes may need some upgrades down the line, but most riders will be more than satisfied with the stock components. If, however, you can swing the C7.1, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a trail ripper and an efficient pedaler. Riders seeking a fast bike that blends the best characteristics of a cross-country bike with an aggressive trailbike will find the Optic C7.1 ideal.
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