Long Term Test: Tweaking Our Norco Sight

The latest range of Norco suspension bikes have been so good. First, it was the short travel Optic, then the long travel Range and the Sight in the middle. Using a new frame, great spec and a very well received approach to geometry, they’ve been popular!

We sat down with one of Norco’s bike designers, Owen Pemberton, chatting about frame geometry, wheel size and suspension, it’s an excellent read. “I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?”

Have a read of that piece here – Talking geometry and wheel sizes with Owen Pemberton from Norco. 

Read our review of the short travel Optic here – Norco Optic C 9.2.

We put the Norco Range vs the Trek Slash in a big travel 29er faceoff, have a look at the outcome here – Norco Rance C 9.2 vs Trek Slash 9.8.

And the Sight before we began swapping parts for testing – Norco Sight C 9.2 review.


Norco’s mid-travel trail bike, the Sight comes in 29″ and 27.5″. We are very much a fan of the 29er. Currently as pictured here it is 13.84kg including the ShockWiz and Shimano XTR pedals.
One of the most engaging and lively 29ers we’ve ever ridden. Big love for the Sight.

What’s changed with our Sight then?

Wheels – Wheelworks Flite Wide Alloy Trail 29.

While the wheels from custom wheel builders Wheelworks use the similar rims to the stock spec Raceface ARC 30, these have 35mm internal width rims and have been handbuilt with bladed spokes, they also use high-end hubs with a very positive freehub engagement. There was quite a discernable difference in the ride quality with the wheel change, especially on loose surfaces where we could drop the tyres down a little further to give us more traction.

Going to wider rims are an absolute no-brainer for anyone looking to add composure and confidence to their bike, we’ve been super happy with these.

Wheelworks Flite Wide wheels, 35mm and tough.

Read our full review of the wheels here – Wheelworks Flite Wide Alloy Trail 29.

Drivetrain – BOX One 11-speed drivetrain.

This was an interesting one for us, our first ride of the BOX One drivetrain, a brand previously known mainly for BMX components. The drivetrain is 11-speed with an 11-46 tooth cassette, a black KMC chain and it uses a few unique approaches to the classic task of shifting; the most obvious one is how you shift with your thumb. Instead of two paddles that shift up, and the other shifts down, the BOX One uses one paddle that can be downshifted like normal, but to upshift you ‘poke’ the L-shaped thumb lever inwards towards the shifter. It took a few hours to get used to, but the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.

We fitted a BOX One drivetrain to the Norco, we were very curious!

It only took a few hours of riding to get used to, the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.

The rear derailleur not only looks vastly different from Shimano or SRAM, but it also uses a different approach to chain retention, too. While BOX does suggest using a chain guide with the system, we didn’t drop a chain despite the derailleur’s tension feeling significantly lighter than the Shimano it replaced.

The clutch tension feels very light, but the shifting is very smooth as a result.

Our biggest gripe with the shifter is how it meshed with the Shimano XT brake lever, the architecture of the mount didn’t allow us to roll the shifter upwards to our preference. Though we doubt that would pose an issue for everyone. Overall we were happily impressed with the drivetrain, though it may not stand forth as a stronger option to the other big guns, it’s nice to try something different.

Geeking out with the ShockWiz.

This is one very interesting little device, we’ve had this fitted to the fork and shock for quite some time now and are really beginning to understand how it works. Interestingly though, one thing we take away from deciphering the ShockWiz feedback is to back off the rear shock’s compression even when it’s in open mode and decrease its progresivity by removing volume spacers. This proves the point that the Sight’s suspension is quite supportive and firm, we’re going to delve into this a little deeper in our next long term test update.

The nifty little data collection device, helping us get the most out of the 130mm of travel.

Dropper post – FOX Transfer.

The best dropper post we have ridden, the Transfer is so reliable, consistent and the lever fits so well on the left-hand side of the bar. We’re open to suggestions as to what could trump the Transfer as the best dropper out there if the cost was no factor.

FOX Transfer dropper, our ultimate fave of the dropper segment.

Cockpit – ENVE stem, PRO Tharsis bar, Ergon GE1 grips.

To drop some weight from the front end, we went full carbon with the ENVE stem and PRO Tharsis bar, some of the lightest available. The Ergon grips are huge favourites of ours.

ENVE stem, fancy stuff!
PRO Tharsis bar, seriously light, wide, low and subtle.
Massive fans of the Ergon grips, these are the Factory soft compound, extra tacky!

Saddle – Ergon SMA3-Comp.

Saddles are a personal thing, while the SDG saddle that came on the Norco was a good fit for our backsides, we wanted to lose some weight from the bike and try something new. The SMA3 Comp saddle comes in two widths – medium and small – we’ve got the medium on there now, and the saddle feels firm but not too hard, and the material and shape allow us to move around it as we ride in and out of the saddle.

The Ergon SME3 Comp saddle is quite flat and smooth, with a firm padding.

What’s next?

While we’re never going to set records for the lightest trail bike out there, the Sight makes it up in other areas. We’re going to try some 2018 FOX suspension, Bontrager carbon wheels, XTR brakes, TRP Quadiem brakes, Schwalbe Addix tyres, a SRAM Eagle drivetrain and try to find a water bottle cage and bottle that fits in the tight space.

Time to ride!

Tested: Norco Sight C 9.2

The Sight in Derby, Tasmania. A truly wonderful place to ride a bike.
The Sight in Derby, Tasmania. A truly wonderful place to ride a bike.
The fluid lines and chunky shapes of the Sight are quite tidy, their latest release bikes are looking very tidy indeed.
The fluid lines and chunky shapes of the Sight are quite tidy; their latest release bikes are looking very tidy indeed.

What is it?

The Sight sits in between the Range and Optic in Norco’s catalogue, a mid-travel trail bike available in both wheel size options. The Sight could be dubbed the middle child of the Norcos, with parts, and a shape that strikes a sweet spot between the lean cross country scene and the burly enduro crowds. In fact, we’d say that this is the type of bike we would hope more mountain bikers consider instead of being attracted to a race bike, or what the pros ride.

Winding the wagon wheels up to speed on our home trails.
Winding the wagon wheels up to speed on our home trails.

We have 140mm of travel up front, and 130mm out the back (the 27.5″ version has 150/140mm), it’s a good amount, not too much, not too little, just right for riding hard on rough trails up and down, right?

The frame is quite compact, low and drew many comments from onlookers it doesn’t look like a typical 29er at first glance. The proportions are nice, the finish is very classy, and the internal cabling managed by the rubber clamps at the frame ports hold the cables from making noise inside the frame and can be easily accessed too, it’s an excellent cable management system in an area that a lot of other brands still battle with.

The frame is quite compact, low and drew many comments from onlookers it doesn’t look like a typical 29er at first glance

The Sight C 9.2 a full carbon frame save for the aluminium chainstays and two-piece rocker linkage, and with no quick release axles at either ends the profile of the bike is quite narrow – great for sneaking past rocks – but make sure you have an allen key handy for wheel removal.

One thing that irks us is the super-tight space provided for a water bottle cage; we’re still experimenting on what size water bottle and cage combination doesn’t come into contact with the rear shock lockout lever and rub the underside of the top tube. Suggestions anyone?

We’ve got more details on the specifics of the new bike on our feature on the Sight release here – Meet the new Sight Carbon – read further on the unique frame geometry that changes with the frame sizing and more.


27.5″ or 29″?

While we admit rolling our eyes and letting out a sigh of disdain when we have to talk about wheel sizes, who wants what size, what’s the best size for what type of trail, blah blah, options are a good thing? The Sight (along with the shorter travel Optic) are available in both wheel sizes, big for momentum, small for agility. We chose the 29er because to review, in our opinion, this category of bike is well-suited to 29″ wheels. That said if you’re after a more nimble bike to ride on the trails and a more precise and sturdier wheel on your bike, the 27.5″ version is available. We rode the Optic in both wheel sizes recently, have a look at our thoughts on the two bikes here. Riding two wheel sizes of the same bike, the Norco Optic.


How’s the spec stack up?

Norco is always pretty good at choosing the right parts for the intended use, and this is no exception. We packed this bike and took it for a week of riding – not racing – in Derby to cover the Enduro World Series, and we didn’t change a thing, and it is still completely 100% stock.

Flow's Sight in Tassie, of all our trips down there, we loved riding this bike for sure.
Flow’s Sight in Tassie, of all our trips down there, we loved riding this bike for sure.

Shimano takes care of most of the bits, with the robust and reliable Shimano XT, even down the hubs too. Unfortunately, the XT drivetrain fell victim to the notorious grinding and noise in the wet and dry, even with care taken in cleaning and lubing the chain still would grind and groan over the cassette when we got out of the saddle and put massive torque on the pedals. And we did drop the chain a couple of times too, a bummer for our confidence.

Shimano XT cranks with a 32T chainring. Not the quietest unfortunately.
Shimano XT cranks with a 32T chainring, not the quietest running drivetrain, unfortunately. It does come with a chain guide though, but ours was assembled with too much of a heavy hand and resulted in a stripped thread.

The bike is fitted with a One-Up S3 chain guide mounted neatly via the ISCG mounts, but as we assembled the bike, we found the screw holding the plastic guide to the backing plate overtightened and spinning in its thread. It’s an excellent little guide, but a plastic thread holding it together didn’t work out too well, so we had to ditch the guide and risk a dropped chain on rough trails.

The tyres are amazing too, we’ve not ridden the super-aggro Schwalbe Magic Mary on a bike with less that 160mm of travel

There’s plenty to be positive about the spec though, we loved the powerful Shimano XT brakes, the shifting was always precise, and the new 11-46T cassette may be heavy but offers up a great range of gears.

A 32T chainring with he 11-46T cassette is plenty of gears for tackling all of the trail.
A 32T chainring with the 11-46T cassette is plenty of gears for tackling all of the trails.

The tyres are fantastic too, we’ve not ridden the super-aggro Schwalbe Magic Mary on a bike with less that 160mm of travel, but in 2.35″ size on 30mm wide rims, it’s quite fast rolling yet still very grippy on the technical climbs and through the turns. Both the tyres are excellent; we found the Sight to have gobs of traction on the trails.

Tyres with real bite!
Tyres with real bite!

Suspension bits.

The new trunnion mount RockShox Deluxe rear shock.
The new trunnion mount RockShox Deluxe rear shock.

RockShox takes care of the bounce, at both ends with the new Deluxe RT3 shock with the trunnion (frame linkage mounts on the side of the shock, rather than on top) mount. We used the ShockWiz suspension setup tool on both the fork and shock to guide our setupconfiguration and with two Bottomless Tokens fitted inside the fork as standard we didn’t have to do too much to get it dialled, just fine tuning of the shock pressures was all we needed.


How’d it ride then?

This is the type of 29er that will actually win the wheel-size cynics over; it’s a very agile, quick handling and confident bike to ride. The suspension amount isn’t huge, so coming off a lot of other longer travel bikes we’re currently testing like the Canyon Strive, Norco Range, Trek Slash etc, this bike feels so light to ride and engages with the trail.

This bike feels so light to ride and engages with the trail.

The Sight felt at home manualling sections of trail, hopping up steps and nosing into tight landings, we quickly felt at home on it, and natural like we were on a 27.5″ bike but relished in the momentum and traction that the 29″ wheels have. The supple-yet-supportive suspension, frame geometry and grippy tyres let the Sight keep up with bigger travel 160mm bikes but drop them on flatter trails and climbs in no time.

While we will always find 29ers a little less natural to jump, it's not hard to get used to and we were jumping loads of good stuff in Derby and at home.
While we will always find 29ers a little less natural to jump, it’s not hard to get used to and we were jumping loads of good stuff in Derby and at home.
The aggressive tyres and quick handling geometry combine to give the Sight excellent singletrack manners.
The aggressive tyres and quick handling geometry combine to give the Sight excellent singletrack manners.

The supple-yet-supportive suspension, frame geometry and grippy tyres make the Sight come alive through the singletrack when you need to think quick and maintain speed. On the amazing trails of Derby in Tasmania, we hooked hard through the perfect berms and tackled the raw and gnarly race tracks of the EWS without a worry at all.

If you watched any of the coverage of the EWS in Derby, Tasmania you’d understand the type of trails we took this bike through. While it may not have been our choice to race on – we’d opt for the bigger travel Range to let the speeds at race pace be more manageable – the Sight held its own so very well. Standing up on the pedals with one finger on the brakes the bike is confident at rolling down steep chutes, squeezing through tight gaps in massive boulders and pounding straight rock gardens at hectic speed.


What we’d change?

We’d fix the chain guide straight away, and look for a few areas to drop some weight out of the bike like the aluminium cockpit, saddle, etc. Other than that, the Sight is ready for it.


Who’d suit the Sight?

Because it strikes such a nice balance between a heavy-hitting enduro rig or a short travel trail bike, the Sight will suit quite a wide range of riders. The 29″ wheels give the bike high confidence and traction, the frame geometry is quick-handling, and the suspension supple and balanced.

Last light on the Blue Tier.
Last light on the Blue Tier.

Talking Geometry and Wheel Sizes with Owen Pemberton from Norco

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The decision to offer the Optic in two wheel sizes gives riders choice, but damn it sure made for an involved development process!

The decision to offer two wheel sizes is interesting, can you tell us a bit more about it?

What you’ll find with the Optic is that both wheel sizes have very similar ride characteristics, and so it’s quite a subtle difference between them. It’s not like some other brands were their 29er and 650b versions of the same bike are very different. Choosing between them will really come down to your own personal preference. What you’ll find is that the 29″ Optic just doesn’t have the downsides that 29ers traditionally had, because we’ve been able to get the geometry so close to the 650b, to the point that it’s basically identical between the two wheel sizes.

650b was an instant home run, anyone who tried it after riding a 26″ bike for years, it just felt like riding a bike, but it rolled over things a little better and had a few other advantages. That was the beauty of 650b.

Why did you decide to go for two wheel sizes then?

Honestly, I think if we were making that decision now, we might not have gone for two different sizes. But you need to remember we were making that call like two years ago. And at the time, there was very little appetite amongst consumers for 29ers outside of hardtails and pure XC bikes. I mean, there were some aggressive style 29ers, like the Specialized Enduro 29 and BMC had a couple of all-mountain style 29ers, but it was really only ‘in the know’ kind of riders who were picking up on them. There was definitely not the same appetite for 29er then as there was for 650b. 650b was an instant home run, anyone who tried it after riding a 26″ bike for years, it just felt like riding a bike, but it rolled over things a little better and had a few other advantages. That was the beauty of 650b.

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Whereas, the older version of 29ers didn’t feel familiar – they felt like a very different kind of bike. They go fast, they’d plough over things, but they felt different, and while in some situations they cornered better than a 26″, in others they didn’t. For bigger riders, and with a select few bikes, they were a viable option, but for most people they still weren’t.

But as I said, there were a few 29ers that were pushing things, like the Specialized Enduro. And when I looked at the rear-centre length of that bike, it was the same as what we had on our large 650b bikes, so it made sense to me that anyone who rode a large Norco 650b would probably get along well with a 29er that had that same rear-centre length.

 I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?

At the same time I was having conversations with a number of people about 29ers and I was consistently hearing feedback that people would ride up one size on their 29ers and slap a shorter stem on there, and that helped with the handling, overcoming the weight of the bigger wheel and tyre.

So that thinking gave us some starting points about how we could create a 29er that handled as well as our 650b bikes, because people were loving the way they rode.

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The wheelbase on both bikes is within a millimetre.

So circling back round to your question about why we did two wheel sizes, I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes? And we figured we could, but the question was whether consumers would accept it, so we decided to do both. And now, in the last six months, we’ve seen a flood of aggressive 29er bikes. It seems like quite a few manufacturers were on the same page as us, but we didn’t know that two years ago!

I think what we’re doing with this bike is a little different to what some of our competitors are doing though. Some of our competitors are looking at a shorter travel 29er as a really aggressive bike – kind of like a short-travel Enduro bike, like the big wheels are a substitute for travel. But we’re saying it’s not, this a trail bike; yes, it will go a little faster and carry more speed with the bigger wheels, but if you land a decent sized drop, your ankles are going to tell you that you definitely don’t have 160mm of travel there.

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The Optic is not a short-travel Enduro bike – it’s a trail bike, through and through.

Tell us a bit about the prototyping process for the Optic?

We spent a lot of time and money developing a full suite of test bikes in all sizes and both wheel sizes for the Optic. Basically, everyone at Norco who rides mountain bikes as well as a lot of local riders who we use, were brought in on the process. We stipulated that riders should ride both sizes back to back, and it was interesting to see how people’s views changed. What it really showed is that there is room for both wheel sizes, especially on the smaller size bikes – I mean, I ride a small, and it was the first time I’ve been able to really ride a 29er how I like to ride, thanks to having a 425mm rear centre.

One thing I think a lot of consumers don’t understand, is that the whole tyre/chain-ring/chain-stay envelope is the most frustrating area of bike design. Everything is so tight in there.

425mm?! That must be the shortest out there!

I think there are a couple of manufacturers in that ballpark, but we’ve been able to get that length and also be front derailleur compatible, which we’re very proud of. Whether or not you feel that front derailleurs are still relevant, there are plenty of places in the world that still want them, so it’s good to be able to offer that option. In every size were we offer both a 29er and 650b, the rear centre length is exactly the same on both wheel sizes.

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You’ll find short stays on both wheel sizes – 425mm on the size small. Like other Norco bikes, they employ Gravity Tune, so the rear-centre is longer on the larger frames.

Is that something that was made possible by Boost rear ends?

Boost was definitely a huge part of that. One thing I think a lot of consumers don’t understand, is that the whole tyre/chain-ring/chain-stay envelope is the most frustrating area of bike design. Everything is so tight in there. When there were first rumblings about Boost a few years ago, it was like ‘really, is this necessary?’ Because a lot of the talk then was about wheel strength and stiffness, and we just didn’t see people pushing the wheels so hard that they needed an extra few percent stiffness. But the real benefit of Boost was that it got an extra 3mm of chain line in that area, and 3mm to us was like “done! Sold!” It just allows us to get better geometry. And for us as a company, geometry is what drive our designs – we’re always looking to get the optimal geometry for any bike, and Boost has a allowed us to do that on all sizes.

Steepening the head angle may have given you a similar steering feel, but the handling is very different, you’re not going to ride the bike the same.

One of the interesting things with the Optic is the use of a consistent stem length across all sizes. Can you elaborate on why?

One of the things I was hearing from people who were quite heavily invested in 29ers three or four years ago, was that running a shorter stem means the handling matches more closely to what you’re used to with a smaller wheel. So we did some research to see exactly how this worked in the real world. And what we found was that in the past quite a lot of 29ers had dramatically steeper head angles, and this was in order to reduce the trail (ed. Now were moving into territory that might not be familiar for many people – for a good explanation on what trail is, have a look here) and give it a quicker handling feel in spite of the bigger, heavier wheel. The only problem with changing the head angle like that is, well, you’ve got a dramatically different head angle! And that has an impact on how the fork is pointing at objects when you’re descending down steep stuff and so that really changes how you will ride the bike. So steepening the head angle may have given you a similar steering feel, but the handling is very different, you’re not going to ride the bike the same.

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A tiny 50mm stem on the 29er, whereas the 27.5 has a 60mm, across all sizes. Finding the right balance between stem length, head angle and fork offset was a real challenge to keep the steering feel consistent between both bikes.

But what we discovered, is that the sweet spot in terms of delivering the same handling across 650 and 29er, is that the 29er can be half a degree steeper and with a 10mm shorter stem. The steeper head angle reduces the trail slightly, and the shorter stem gives you more leverage over that wheel, so you can get the same steering feel without having to dramatically steepen the head angle.

Of course, there are some slight differences due to tyre contact patch and the like, but the end result is that when you start to get playful on the bike and really engage with the terrain, the Opitc 29 doesn’t feel like your old 29er, it feels like one of our 650b bikes.

Another element that has a big impact on handling is wheelbase, and what we’ve been able to do with the bikes is not only get the exact same rear-centre measurements across both wheel sizes in any given frame size, but we’ve been able to get the front-centre within a millimetre or two as well. And that means your weight balance between the two contact patches of the tyres is the same too.

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Now bringing it back to the stem lengths, which was your original question, it’s the final piece of the sizing puzzle. When you look at the bikes on paper, the reach measurement (ed. horizontal distance from bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 650 and 29er is slightly different, but when you incorporate the stem length we’ve proscribed into the equation (60mm on the 650b bike, 50mm on the 29er) then the reach between the two wheel sizes is identical. From your feet to your bars, and your saddle to your bars is the same.

When I first came to this job, one of the conversations I had was that I felt that in any given model, every frame size should have the same stem length and that should be whatever handled best.

So essentially, the 650b and a 29er fit exactly the same, and they handle as damn near as we feel is possible the same too.

A little while ago I read an interview with you where you talked about the idea of 120mm-travel trail bike with a 65-degree head angle, and I must admit I thought that’s what the Optic might have ended up being. 

Well it is an interesting concept, and I do think that’s a viable geometry. But we also still need to sell bikes, and what I’ve learned is that the mountain bike consumer is generally a pretty conservative kind of buyer.

When I first came to this job, one of the conversations I had was that I felt that in any given model, every frame size should have the same stem length and that should be whatever handled best. I come from a downhill background, and I’ve always put whatever stem length on my bike gave the best handling. Whereas it seems that there’s a very pervasive road bike style of thought around this issue in much of the industry, where it’s all about using the stem length as an instrument of fit, as opposed to handling.

But that just doesn’t make sense – you don’t steer a road bike, you lean it, whereas a mountain bike involves a lot more input at the bars. They’re a completely different bike, and so you need to have a completely different understanding of how the stem length is looked at. And it’s crazy to think that mountain bikes are still evolving away from this!

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A road bike and a mountain bike sure aren’t turned the same way, so why should we have the same approach to stem length, reasons Owen Pemberton.

I mean, a lot of mountain bikers still look at top tube lengths, not reach, which is really only relevant to when you’re sitting down as opposed to standing up, which is where most of your riding is done on a mountain bike. What I’m trying to work towards is a completely different understanding of bike design than that you’d find on the road.

You don’t steer a road bike, you lean it, whereas a mountain bike involves a lot more input at the bars. They’re a completely different bike, and so you need to have a completely different understanding of how the stem length is looked at. And it’s crazy to think that mountain bikes are still evolving away from this!

Anyhow, we are moving away from that traditional approach. And what I was getting at in that interview, is the notion that perhaps one day we could end up with, say, an Optic and Sight and a Range, all of which have the same geometry and fit exactly the same, but with different amounts of travel. For a rider like me, that be perfect, I like to ride down the steep stuff and go fast, but I don’t need all the travel as I don’t hit the big drops or big jumps.

Now that is a really interesting concept! The same geometry, the same fit, different travel. Tell us about the suspension on the Optic. We notice both bikes have slightly more travel up front.

Yes, that really comes from looking at what we do – if we’re building up a bike, we tend to go slightly more travel up front. On trail, it just feels better, it balances out when you’ve got a lot of weight on the front wheel.

We did some cool custom work with FOX on the 29er fork too. Normally FOX would spec a 120mm 29er fork with a firmer, cross-country tune, but we’ve had our forks on the Optic 29er given more of a Trail tune, so a softer compression tune, which helps ensure that both the 29er and 650b bike have very similar suspension feels too.

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The 29er and 27.5″ both have the same fork tune, which was a custom request – normally the 120mm fork would have a firmer XC tune.

What about the rear suspension rate?

In terms of the rear end, it’s designed to be very progressive. We’ve equipped it with a smaller volume air can, and that’s to ensure it’s nice and progressive – it’s only quite short travel, but it’s capable of being ridden very hard, so we wanted to ensure the rear end wasn’t going to be bottoming out constantly. Trust me, if you ride it like it can be ridden, you’ll get full travel. Probably one of the most consistent comments I hear is “it feels like it has more travel than it actually does, but I’m still not bottoming it out”, which is exactly what we wanted.

On the shorter travel bikes, they’re already less inclined to have suspension bob, but you’re also pedalling a lot of the time, and over all kinds of surfaces, so having less anti-squat allows the suspension to work its best with minimal impact of chain tension on the suspension.

Compared to a Sight for instance, the suspension is more progressive, and it also has less anti-squat. That’s something that some people haven’t quite understood our thinking around, why we have less anti-squat. But let’s look at the extremes, for example the 160mm-travel Range and a 100mm-travel Revolver.

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The rear end is super progressive, so even though travel is limited you don’t blow through and bottom out with hard riding.

With the Range, we have a lot of anti-squat built into the suspension, and that’s because that bike is primarily climbed up fireroads, then rallied down really rough, steeper descents where you’re not pedalling much. So you can have a lot of anti-squat to keep that large amount of travel stable, while you pedal on a smooth surface where there’s not so much pedal kick back.

Whereas on the shorter travel bikes, they’re already less inclined to have suspension bob, but you’re also pedalling a lot of the time, and over all kinds of surfaces, so having less anti-squat allows the suspension to work its best with minimal impact of chain tension on the suspension.

What we found works better, is actually the opposite of what most people think – most people assume a cross-country bike should have more anti-squat than an Enduro bike, but in practice it works better the other way around.


 

For more on the Optic, take a look at our news piece, and hold tight for a full review soon!

 

Norco’s New Trail Bike: Optic 29er and 27.5″

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.