Mountain Bike Action Bike Test: Norco Optic C2 Trail Bike
Norco Optic C2
Suspension front/rear: 140mm / 125mm
Tire Size: 29″
The 2020 Norco Optic is a heavy hitter in a small package. Don’t let its 125mm of rear travel fool you into thinking it is anything less than a highly capable trail bike. With progressive geometry and a 140mm-travel fork, the Optic charges trails with authority and “steeze.” The Mountain Bike Action Crew was pleasantly surprised with Norco’s Sight, tested in our May issue, so we had high expectations when it came time to test this shorter-travel option. Here’s how the all-new Optic stacks up against the competition.
The highlight of the new Optic is a completely redesigned frame featuring a carbon front triangle and an aluminum swingarm. Norco pushed the boundaries of trail bike geometry with a progressive, 65-degree head tube angle and 76-degree seat tube. Chainstay lengths vary from 425mm on a size small up to 440mm on a size large. The 5mm increments help tune frame geometry to different rider heights. Norco ditched the 27.5-inch wheel size, only offering the new Optic with 29-inch wheels.
Norco designed the bike for tire clearance up to 2.6 inches and offers room to run a water bottle inside the front triangle. Additionally, bottle mounts are located u Additionally, under the top tube, allowing for additional mounting points for accessories. The frame has a Press-Fit bottom bracket, internal cable routing and Boost hub spacing.
To set the Optic apart from other trail bikes, Norco made a phone call to RockShox and asked for a custom-built Super Deluxe Ultimate DH shock. You read that right: Norco used a downhill shock on a trail bike to deliver 125mm of plush suspension. Best of all, the new shock is found on every Optic model, ensuring bikes at every price point receive the same ride quality.
Moving to the rest of the bike, Norco spec’d our $4699 build with a SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed drivetrain and a RockShox Pike Select Plus fork. An X-Fusion Manic dropper post provides between 125- and 170mm, depending on frame size. The bike rolls on Stan’s Flow S1 wheels with DT Swiss 350 hubs and relies on 2.35-inch Schwalbe tires for traction. Last but not least, Norco offers four-piston brakes across the range.
The Optic continues to pivot on a Horst-Link design; however, it has been redesigned to be more supple off the top and more progressive towards the bottom. The new shock is absent of a pedal switch or on-the-fly compression lever, but has a low-speed compression adjustment under the shock. This is not something you can adjust while riding and is even a little tricky to adjust while off the bike. Norco strongly believes its bike doesn’t need the aid of a compression switch, relying on suspension tune to control its 125mm of travel.
DOWN AND DIRTY
The Optic’s short-travel rear end means business, while the longer-travel fork yells, “Party time!” The key to finding a balance between the front and rear end is suspension tuning. Luckily, Norco makes that easy with its Ride Aligned Tuning Guide. Head to Norco’s website and fill in your rider weight, height and riding style, and Norco will give you a base tune to get you rolling right.
It’s hard to strike a balance between climbing and descending, especially when combining a downhill shock with a progressive, long, slack and low geometry. That said, Norco did a nice job offering a supportive feel during seated climbing and managed to maintain minimal shock movement when powering out of the saddle. A few of our testers found themselves reaching for a non-existent compression lever during long, steady climbs, but mostly out of habit and not because the bike actually needed it. During technical climbs, the Optic holds traction well and delivers forward momentum as you press on the pedals.
Riders familiar with modern bikes will find themselves right at home, while cross-country riders and some trail riders will miss the old Optic’s more conservative feel. With that in mind, our test riders would happily spend long days powering this Norco up and down the trails.
When the trail’s peak and the single-track begins to flow back down, the Optic shows just how capable a well-designed bike can be. Oftentimes our riders were blown away when we told them the Optic only has 125mm of travel. Sure, a harsh hit reveals that quickly; however, on fast single-track, the Optic feels just as stable as many 140mm-travel bikes. The only difference is, when you make a mistake, the shorter travel is less forgiving. As far as suspension performance and geometry are concerned, we couldn’t ask for a better combination.
Where the Optic could use some improvement is its brakes and cockpit. While the brakes feature four-piston calipers, the rotors are base-model quality at best. Swapping out the rotors for a higher-end spec would pay dividends in braking performance. The cockpit was another component that just didn’t impress us much. Riders looking to gain the utmost control may want to swap the bar and stem for a higher-end package.
Norco knew it couldn’t have it all within the price points offered, so some components had to be compromised in order to offer the best bang-for-the-buck. Luckily, Norco took care of the critical parts, offering a quality suspension package and a well-spec’d drivetrain. Where the bike could use some help is the brakes. It wouldn’t cost much to swap out the resin pads and rotors for something higher in the food chain. This would let those four-piston calipers do what they do best. Some of our riders were not especially fond of the Fizik saddle or the Schwalbe tires, but those are more personal items that will need to be tested by you.
The all-new Optic is set to get wild on the trails and make your overall experience more fun. It’s not a full downhill smasher, nor is it a hill-climb racer, but it blends those two styles quite well. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a trail bike; it delivers performance on every part of the trail. Riders looking to experience what a modern trail bike has to offer will find themselves right at home aboard the all-new Norco Optic.
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