Words by Flow | Images by Flow

Today, the Norco Optic can finally emerge from the misty forest of North Vancouver and come out in the world! Norco have been working on this bike for a long time, and once you start to learn some of the detail behind this bike’s development, you’ll begin to understand why it has been such a process.

While on the surface the Norco Optic might look like it’s simply an extension of existing Norco designs (it’s easy to just see it as the little brother of the Sight), in actual fact the Optic represents a pretty serious progression in trail bike geometry and it pushes the envelope in terms of how wheel size should impact on a bike’s handling.

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Can you tell them apart at first glance? There are two wheel sizes for the Optic, but the bikes are damn near identical.

But before we delve into all the tech, it’s also important to note that this bike really fills an important gap in the Norco lineup. We’ve been crying out for a bike to slot into the space between the cross-country racer Revolver (reviewed here) and the all-mountain Sight series (reviewed here), and we’re happy to see that Norco have delivered and then some.

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So what is it? The Optic is an aggressive short travel trail bike, available in two wheel sizes (29 and 27.5), and with both carbon and alloy framed models – the carbon frame saving around 350g over the alloy. Pricing in Australia starts at $3499 and the five-model line up tops out at $8999, so there’s a full gamut of spec and build variants on display.

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In terms of performance, we can assure you it’s the real deal too. Shortly we’ll be publishing our First Bite review of the Optic C9.2, which we were fortunate to secure for testing ahead of the bike’s official launch. In the brief time we’ve had onboard the bike so far, we’re completely stoked – it’s the hard riding, grin making, effortlessly cornering trail bike we’d been yearning for Norco to build. We plan on hanging onto this bike for some time yet, and we’ll have a full review soon.

As we noted above, the Optic comes in both 29er and 27.5″ wheel sizes, and that’s the case across the entire range. At every price point you have the option of choosing the wheel size you prefer. With the difference in wheel size you’ll also see a slight difference in travel – the 29er is 120mm front / 110mm rear, the 27.5″ get 10mm more at both ends. The 29er is available in four sizes (S/M/L/XL) while the 27.5 gets an XS in addition too.

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The 29er has a shorter head tube, a 50mm stem (versus a 60mm on the 27.5″ bike) and the fork is 120mm, not 130mm as on the smaller wheeled bike.

So, we hear you say, what’s so progressive about that? It’s true – lots of brands offer a choice in wheel sizes across a particular line of trail bikes. Take for instance Trek, who offer a 29er and 27.5″ version of the Fuel EX. Or the Specialized Camber which too comes in both wheel sizes and also has a 10mm travel difference between them. Or the Scott Spark as well.

But where these other bikes differ from the Optic, is that with them the difference in wheel size also sees a marked change in the geometry and the bike’s handling and ride character too. On all of the bikes we’ve listed above, you’re not just choosing a wheel size preference, you’re also having to decide between very different feeling bikes that have truly divergent behaviour on the trail.

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This is where the Optic is very unique; no matter what wheel size or frame size you opt for, the Optic has been designed to have exactly the same measurements, handling and ride feel as its counterpart in the other wheel size. If you take size medium 29er and a size medium 27.5 Optic, all the measurements that really dictate how a bike ‘fits’  you and the trail are the same: the rear-centre, the reach from the BB to bar, the stack heigh and the wheelbase are virtually identical (the wheelbases differ by one or two millimetres). The head angles are slightly different as well (half a degree steeper on the 29er), but that too has been a very calculated call to help ensure the bikes have the same steering feel and responsiveness.

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This bike really doesn’t feel like your average 29er short-travel bike.

It’s an impressive achievement, to isolate the wheel size so it becomes the determining factor when you’re making the call between 29er and 27.5″. The idea is that choosing your preferred wheel size shouldn’t mean compromising on handling or attitude. Your choice with the Optic is not a call between hugely different geometries or suspension feels or attitudes (both bikes are total trail shredders) – instead you’re simply making the call between the subtle difference of acceleration and roll-over abilities between a 29″ and 27.5″ wheel. It’s not all marketing fluff either – we’ve been riding both bikes on our home trails and there’s a lot more that unites these bikes and divides them.

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The familiar ART suspension system in a 120mm travel format on the 27.5″ bike.

In the next day or two we’ll be publishing an in-depth interview with the Optic’s designer, Owen Pemberton, where he really gets into the nitty gritty of geometry, wheel size and suspension development. If you’re a techo, you’ll love it, the man knows his stuff!

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Take a look at the numbers and you’ll see how damn near identical the key measurements are – the wheelbases of the 29 and 27.5 are within a millimetre or two, and when you incorporate stem length into the reach measurement, it’s the same across both wheel sizes too.

When it comes to the bike’s features, the Optic has a mix of familiar and new construction for Norco. Both the 27.5 and 29er Optic make good use of the new Boost rear hub spacing, which not only allows for a stiffer rear end but also enabled Norco to get the Optic’s rear-centre measurement so short (it’s just 425mm in a size small, and yes that’s with a 29″ wheel).

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A Boost rear hub spacing is an integral part of the package, allowing much shorter stays than in the past on a 29″ wheel.

The suspension system is the proven ART design that has been so highly praised across the industry, and on the Optic the suspension rate ramps up quite noticeably, a clear indicator that the bike is designed to be ridden hard. Up front, all Optics get a FOX 34 fork too, with the Optic 29 getting a Boost version as well. We’re very happy Norco didn’t faff about with a lightweight 32 fork on this bike.

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The neat Gizmo cable system.

Norco have a new cable management system on the Optic as well, which allows you to run up to five cables internally and has roomy access ports to make the job of threading cables much easier. While most Optics come with a single-ring drivetrain, the frame has a unique removable front derailleur mount that attaches via the ISCG tabs. It’s an ingenious solution, meaning the frame looks super clean with the front mech removed, rather than having the usual front derailleur tab sticking out like a sore thumb.

We’ve got lots more to come on the Optic over the next few days and weeks. We’re very excited about its release and its promise on the trails so far is immense. Nice one, Norco! You guys are alright! For more on the Optic, take a look at Norco’s microsite here.

 

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