Considering that it’s only got 110mm of travel, the Optic has proven to be far more capable than it ought to be. But does this capability come at a cost?
With the notable exception of Specialized, Norco has been using a Horst Link suspension design for longer than most. It’s had a long time to refine its ‘ART’ set-up, and it shows. Unusually, its ‘Gravity Tune’ geometry sees the rear centre grow with the front centre as you go up through the frame sizes, the aim being to keep handling consistent.
The solid spec includes mid-range Fox dampers, a 150mm Rockshox Reverb post (on the XL) and a relatively wide bar and short stem.
While the 2×11 gearing will suit some riders, it’s good to see a 30t single ring included. If you can live with the 11-40t range, fitting that would knock 450g off the Optic’s so-so 13.2kg mass and improve chain security.
Norco Optic C9.2 ride impression
For a bike with just 110mm of rear travel, the Norco’s fast, forgiving ride is seriously impressive. The 760mm bar and 60mm stem inspire confidence to attack technical trails, and the suspension doesn’t let you down when you do just that.
While the Fox 34 Performance Elite fork doesn’t have the slippery Kashima coating of the Factory version, it’s pretty similar in performance. It provides a good balance of sensitivity and support, and is noticeably more refined than the Performance fork.
Out back, Norco’s smoothly progressive ART layout builds on the suppleness provided by the EVOL-equipped Float DPS shock. Together, they provide a sensitive start to the stroke for great traction over chatter, with plenty of support gradually building through the mid stroke onwards. This results in a ‘stuck down’, calm and forgiving feel over rough ground.
The Optic felt relatively smooth and surefooted over braking bumps and it seemed like the half-carbon frame was adding a little extra damping, and the compliant Race Face AR24 rims may contribute to this forgiving feel in the rough too.
The Optic felt relatively smooth and surefooted over braking bumps. It’s like there’s more than 110mm of travel Steve Behr / Immediate Media
The bike has a 68-degree head angle and 1,210mm wheelbase, and it’s easy to ride at lower speeds without feeling twitchy when things get faster and rougher.
The Gravity Tune geometry meant my XL bike had 440mm chainstays. Long stays make manuals harder and turning slower, but also mean it’s easier to weight the front wheel in turns and calm the handling in gnarly terrain.
Part of the reason for the Norco’s active suspension is a fairly low level of interference from the forces of the chain and brakes. This does mean that, with the shock left open, the Optic bobs more when pedalling out of the saddle than other similar bikes such as the Trek Fuel EX 9 29. It’s most pronounced in the big ring, which makes the Norco feel a little lazy when sprinting and means you’ll be toggling the shock’s lockout pretty often if you want to go fast. Fitting a small single ring would improve things a little.
Norco tailors the chainstay length of its bikes to best suit each frame size Steve Behr / Immediate Media
At 73.5 degrees, the Optic has a pretty slack effective seat angle. This makes it more of a struggle to keep the front wheel down on steep climbs. Despite the low gearing options, it’s not a particularly comfy or rapid climber.
The narrow Schwalbe tyres are a little sketchy on hard ground and make bumpy singletrack hard work, though the Nobby Nic up front gripped relatively well on soft ground. The Shimano XT brakes had a wandering bite point too.
The Optic may not be the sprightliest on the climbs, but the dialled suspension breeds a forgiving yet playful ride feel that I really enjoyed straight out of the box.