Norco Optic C2Check Out the Full Specs and Review
When you think short-travel, you probably think lightweight, über-efficient bikes with steep head angles and rear suspension that doesn’t work all that well. That pretty well describes the last Norco Optic we tested, at the 2017 Bible in Bentonville, Arkansas. We called that bike “unapologetically XC-biased,” “not exactly playful” and an “XC-race refugee.” We were, in short, a little underwhelmed and a lot confused as to whom the Optic was for. It was efficient, obviously, but also long and stable and yet over- damped in a way that prioritized climbing.
The new, 29-inch-wheeled Optic is a different animal entirely—in a good way—but perhaps no less difficult to categorize. Its rear wheel gets 125 millimeters of travel, which is paired with a 140-millimeter-travel fork and a 65-degree head angle. Let’s stop and think about that for a moment: A 65-degree head angle on a 125-millimeter-travel bike. Those numbers place the Optic right on the edge of an emerging category of very capable bikes boasting paltry travel and what just a couple years ago would have been considered all-mountain or enduro geometry. Its next of kin in Park City was the Santa Cruz Tallboy, which is similarly slack in its low setting, and has 5 millimeters less rear travel.
Both bikes are quick uphill, but the Tallboy feels fast where the Optic just feels efficient. The Norco was as comfortable to sit on as every other steep-seat-angled bike at this year’s Bible—which thankfully was almost every other bike—and wasted seldom few watts as long as testers’ butts were on the saddle. We were mixed on how much monkey motion there was when standing, or at least divided on the extent to which it bothered us. One tester felt it was too bobby for a 125-millimeter bike, and couldn’t hold a candle to the Santa Cruz, while the other two agreed that it wasn’t especially supportive of standing efforts, but they also didn’t feel discouraged from putting the power down. There was unity behind the argument that the longer-travel Orbea Occam climbed faster than the Optic, but that really says more about how remarkable the Occam is than it does anything about the Optic. Plus, our Occam was 2 pounds lighter and almost two times the price of our Optic.
If all we did was climb or ride flowing, mellow trails, we might have wound up as mystified by the new Optic as we were by the old one. Thankfully, our test loop included everything from steep, root-ridden pitches, drops, jumps and high-speed bumps to mellower corners and ripping ribbons of meadow singletrack. It was in the gnarlier sections where the Optic revealed its special purpose. This is a bulldog of a short-travel bike. It blends the playful sup- port of short travel with geometry that asks, “I can take it. Can you?” That’s not to say the new Norco’s suspension doesn’t work well. It’s actually impressively supple for its travel, probably even more so than any 125-millimeter bike we’ve ridden. But it’s still a short-travel bike, so your legs are going to have to back up the squish when the trail turns south. Indeed, it’s a bike that rewards an active riding style in all situations. Its supportive feel encouraged testers to manual, pop and play at every opportunity, and there was ample ramp to guard against harsh bottom-outs when the play went too far.
So, what is the Optic? Is it a big-wheeled jibber? A big bike for small terrain? A backcountry quester? Uh, yeah. It’s all of that and more. It’s a trail bike that does more with less, most reminiscent of a Transition Scout or Santa Cruz 5010, but more capable than either of those and certainly more efficient than a Scout. It does have a certain small-wheeled feel about it, perhaps because of the mismatched travel, or maybe just because of its capacity for hoodwinks. This much is for sure: If you’re after a fast, fun, playful, and capable short-travel bike that doesn’t have short-travel limits, the Optic is definitely one to check out.
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