Norco Optic A9.1 first ride review£2,099.00

Capable, cost effective and naturally efficient all-rounder

Optic bikes are a new ‘family’ for Canadian brand Norco, with parallel versions in both 650b and 29in wheel sizes, plus carbon and alloy frame options. The Norco Optic A9.1 is tight on price but big on tyre diameter and firmly-sprung speed.

Norco Optic A9.1 spec overview

  • Frame: Aluminium, 110mm / 4.3in travel
  • Fork: Fox 34 Float Performance, 120mm / 4.7in travel
  • Shock: Fox Float DPS Performance EVOL SV
  • Drivetrain: SRAM GX with Race Face Æffect cranks (1x11)
  • Wheelset: Alex DP23 rims on SRAM hubs
  • Tyres: Schwalbe Nobby Nic Performance (f) and Racing Ralph Performance (r) 29x2.25in tyres
  • Brakes: SRAM DB3
  • Bar: Norco, 760mm
  • Stem: Norco, 55mm
  • Seatpost: KS eTen dropper
  • Saddle: SDG Circuit MTN
  • Weight: 13.91kg / 30.64lb, large size without pedals

Norco Optic A9.1 frame

While alloy 29ers are an increasingly busy bike bracket, the Optic chassis is still an interestingly different mix of bluntly practical fixtures and exotic, asymmetric tube shaping.

The 148mm Boost back end gives useful future-proofing

The practical fixtures include external mainframe cable routing with angled, bolted clamp blocks for easy servicing and cleaning. The Race Face bottom bracket is a durable external thread-in (rather than press-fit) unit too.

What starts as a relatively conventional hydroformed mainframe gets crazy-wavy towards the seat tube, with a snaked offset down tube. That means the lower shock mount has to be sideways kinked to centralise it and the seat tube gets an offset S-bend base with side-entry dropper routing.

I'm not entirely sure why, because the alloy Optics are all single-ring and it seems a lot of trouble to go to for extra chain guide clearance.

Get some speed into its stride and the 29in wheels start to skim over trouble in an impressively balanced and efficient way
Get some speed into its stride and the 29in wheels start to skim over trouble in an impressively balanced and efficient way

The chainstays are also asymmetric, with a big drop on the driveside to leave acres of space there too, so maybe we’ll see a cheaper multi-chainring version of the bike appearing later.

The 148mm Boost back end gives useful future-proofing. While the linkage-to-seatstay pivots are single-sided, you get a double-sided clevis joint on the chainstay pivots for decent tracking stiffness.

A three-piece bolted rocker link on the seat tube completes Norco’s proven ART suspension layout, which delivers 110mm of travel.

Norco Optic A9.1 kit

As well as being colour-matched to the frame and rim details, the Performance series Fox 34 Float fork and Float DPS EVOL rear shock both have three-position compression damping adjusters.

The transmission is good for the price too — 11-speed SRAM GX1 cranked round with a Race Face Æffect chainset.

The PC-1130 chain is a potentially rust-gathering down-spec though and the DB3 brakes are low on both feel and power, thanks partly to the 160mm rear rotor.

Long(ish) and low but not all that slack, the Norco offers an alternative take on progressive geometry
Long(ish) and low but not all that slack, the Norco offers an alternative take on progressive geometry

The Alex rims and Schwalbe Nobby Nic front and Racing Ralph rear tyres are tubeless-ready, with room for something chunkier at the back when winter starts the semi-slick tread spinning.

There’s enough control from the 760mm Norco bar and 55mm stem to save your neck if things start slipping and the KS eTen dropper post is a bonus at this price.

Norco Optic A9.1 ride impression

It’s the tyre spec that’s a giveaway to the Optic’s happy place, not the dropper.

At just under 14kg for our large sample it’s no lightweight, but you wouldn’t know that unless you had to lift it over something.

The use of a Small Volume can on the rear shock keeps the naturally neutral ART suspension taut and efficient in feel. It lets you have travel when you need it, but keeps tight lipped when you don’t, rather than pillowing along and making the pedalling feel mushy.

The Performance series 34 fork is an exact match in temperament up front too. Combined with the hard-compound tyres, this can make the Optic feel insensitive and under-gripped at first.

Get some speed into its stride, though, and the 29in wheels start to skim over trouble in an impressively balanced and efficient way that mileage fans will really appreciate, with the option to go tubeless (or fatter tyred) if you want a more tactile feel.

While the brakes and 68-degree head angle mean it’s no hooligan, there’s enough cockpit control and suspension in reserve to tackle (if not flat out attack) any technical descents you find too.

Norco Optic A9.1 early verdict

Efficient suspension and fast wheels make it a well-priced red grade or wilderness epic option.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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