by Wil Barrett
November 9, 2016
The 2017 Norco Optic is available in 27.5in and 29in versions. We put the Optic C7.2 to task to see whether less might actually be more.
The Optic is what Norco calls a fast pedalling trail bike, which aims to mix the efficiency of an XC bike with the fun factor of ‘All Mountain’. So there it is. In Canadaian speak, ‘Trail’ is the space between XC and Enduro. Or in other words, it’s what most people ride at the weekend. Admittedly when Canadians start talking about ‘progressive trail geometry’, you get the feeling that they had an eye on the gnarr when they designed this ride, or at least when they started to market it.
The Norco Optic slots in between the Revolver 100mm travel XC marathon bike, and the 140mm travel Sight. The Optic is available in both 27.5in and 29in wheelsizes, so you can choose the hoop diameter that’s preferable for your riding. I’ve been testing the 27.5in model, which comes with 120mm of rear wheel travel, while the 29in version has 110mm of rear wheel travel. With its dual wheelsize option and trail-oriented geometry, the Optic occupies a similar space to the likes of the Specialized Camber – a bike that is also available in 29in and 27.5in versions.
Suspension on the Optic is all handled by Fox. You get 130mm of travel up front courtesy of the generously-sized 34 chassis. It’s the air-sprung Float model, with a 3-position adjustment for compression damping via the sealed FIT damper. The back end travel is also handled by Fox with a Peformance Elite FLOAT DPS shock that offers the sameOpen, Medium and Firm compression settings.
Working with the Fox shock is Norco’s A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) suspension design. This is a variation of the tried and true Horst link, with a four-bar platform that uses a one-piece rocker linkage to drive the rear shock. Norco claims that the rearward and upwards axle path helps to decrease pedal bob, while increasing square-edge bump absorption. Norco’s engineers also claim the rearward axle path decreases braking input on the rear suspension. The Optic features a progressive leverage curve, with sufficient ramp-up towrds the latter part of the travel.
Regardless of wheelsize, all Norco Optics are available in sizes from Small through to X-Large. However, the 27.5in Optic is also available in an X-Small size, which should suit shorter folks well. One thing that isn’t unique to Norco, but is still quite uncommon is the use of varying reac centre lengths. Rather than only contentrate on increasing the top tube length as the sizing goes up, Norco also increases the rear centre length. They call this ‘Gravity Tune’, and the idea is to keep the rider balanced between the front and rear wheels, with a similar weight distribution between all of the different frame sizes.
As an example, the rear centre length on our Large sized Optic C7.2 test bike is 435mm. On an X-Large frame, the rear centre is 440mm, and on an X-Small, it’s 420mm. However, Norco doesn’t achieve this by using different chainstays. The chainstays are actually identical between all of the frame sizes. What they do is change the position of the bottom bracket shell in the front triangle in order to modify the distance between the BB and the rear axle, which is how they deliver different rear centre lengths between each size. Clever indeed!
The Optic series is available in both carbon and alloy versions. The Carbon Optics only use carbon fibre for the front triangle, whereas the rear end remains alloy. Norco doesn’t believe the cost and weight differential is worth it to go for a full carbon frame. On the note of weight, Norco claims the carbon Optic drops 350 grams over the cheaper full-alloy version.
The carbon itself uses the contemporary construction method of having the carbon fibre wrappred over a solid silicone mandrel, which allows for higher compaction during the curing process to achieve denser walls that are smooth on the inside as well as on the outside. That’s where the ‘SmoothCore’ name comes from. In addition to this, Norco employs what they call ArmorLite resin, which is supposed to be super strong to increase the impact resistance of the carbon tubes. All clever sounding stuff.
The Optic C7.2 features internal cable routing, with the gear cables running full-length outer from shifter to derailleur. Each cable entry and exit point features the GIZMO bolt-on port, which features a rubber construction that seals the frame watertight. To stop cables and hydraulic hoses from rattling inside the frame, you can loosen the bolt for the Gizmo port, tug the cable taut, then tighten the bolt down to secure the cable/hose in place. It’s quite a neat system for internal routing, and the Optic certainly proved to be a quiet operator throughout my time with it.
Interestingly, Norco ships the Optic C7.2 with two drivetrains. Out of the box it’ll come with a Shimano Deore XT 2×11 drivetrain, complete with Race Face Turbine cranks that run a Boost offset to match the Boost 148x12mm dropouts. However, Norco includes a narrow-wide chainring in the box, which allows you to choose what setup you would like to run. Nice touch!
Our test bike arrived at Singletrack Towers with the 1×11 setup, so I didn’t get a chance to try the Optic with a front shifter and derailleur. Not that I really minded that much.
The wheelset is a custom built affair, with Easton AR24 rims laced to sealed bearing SRAM hubs. They’re not flashy, but they do the job well, and with a 24mm internal width, the AR24 rims offer good support for tubeless tyres. Norco has spec’d a Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.25in on the front, and a Racing Ralph 2.25in on the rear. As for stopping duties, Shimano Deore XT brakes take care of that with minimal fuss as to be expected.
The cockpit is decked out with 760mm wide Raceface Turbine bars and a 70mm long stem that both use the 35mm diameter. I can’t say I’ve noticed any difference between the 35mm and 31.8mm handlebar diameter, except from an aesthetic standpoing – the 35mm bar looks quite rotund relative to the rest of the components. To support your backside, there’s an SDG Circuit Mtn Saddle with a Rockshox Reverb Stealth dropper post.
Getting the measure of the Optic
The first thing that struck most people about the Optic was how light it felt for a bike that looks ready for almost anything. The big Fox 34 fork, low-slung carbon front triangle and wide hub spacing gives the Norco a big and stable appearance for a lightweight trail bike. This leanness certainly helps with the stated intention of being fast pedalling, and is an immediately obvious benefit when going uphill.
Unfortunately, I found the tyres too lightweight for my usual stomping ground. After 3 rides and 3 flats ,the Racing Ralph had to be replaced with a Continental X-King, which offered loads more grip and didn’t puncture. At the same time I opted for some more ‘up for it’ rubber on the front with a 2.3in Vredestein Bobcat. Given the capability of the Optic’s geometry and suspension package, the chunkier front tyre transformed the ride from something that was a bit nervy and sketchy, to a far more assured and enjoyable experience.
For bombing around trail centre riding the Optic was a lot of fun. With its light overall weight, the Optic is more than happy zipping around curvy singletrack and darting up the climbs. However, it’s no super-firm XC race bike. The Fox 34s and the A.R.T suspension platform gave a very controlled and comfortable ride. It’s not like you’re on a 150mm Enduro bike, but for the majority of trails the Optic was superbly capable. Taking it onto steeper terrain did take it a bit out of it’s comfort zone. It will still cope, but it became apparent that the 68-degree head angle is better suited to tearing around the woods than purely plummeting downhill. If that’s more your type of riding, consider the incoming 140mm travel Sight or 160mm travel Range.
I did drop the chain with annoying regularity, so the Optic would really would benefit from a chain device. I’m guessing that the long-cage rear derailleur is responsible here, as Norco have spec’d the long-cage mech to make the Optic C7.2 compatible with the 2×11 setup. Ideally for the 1×11 setup, you’d be running a medium-cage mech to reduce overall chain length and keep things tighter.
Also, with the 1×11 setup, the 11-40t cassette lacks range. The Optic is a bike that wants to be ridden fast, so at times I found myself spinning out and yearning for a 34T or 36T up front. However, you’d really need to sub in a wider cassette at the same time, as the 40t sprocket isn’t low enough of a climbing gear if you go bigger than a 32t chainring. The good news? Norco are now spec’ing the XT 11-42t cassette on the Optic C7.2 as a rolling update.
Elsewhere, the Optic C7.2 parts spec performed without fanfare. The Reverb dropper post went up and down many times without issue, though it would be nice to see an under-the-bar remote given that our test bike was setup as a 1×11. The Shimano Deore XT brakes were mint, and there was very few creaks and growns from the green machine during my time with it.
In summary, the Optic is a trail centre ripper in a lovely colour with curiously muted decals. It has a great suspension platform, superb forks, along with agile handling that suits speeding along twisty singletrack. Personally for my steep and technical local trails, I’d be making some gearing modifications, though with the updated Optic C7.2 bikes coming with the 11-42t cassette, that should offer a little more versatility, and it’s great that Norco offer you both a 2×11 and 1×11 setup with the one bike. I’d also be favourable for tougher and more aggressive rubber, as the Optic is much more capable than the flimsy stock Schwalbe Liteskin tyres.
Otherwise the Optic is a well-put together trail bike that is light, efficient and loads more fun than a strict XC bike. If you’re not so serious about racing, this could be the XC bike for you.
Norco Optic C7.2 Specifications
- Frame // Optic Carbon Trail, carbon fibre front triangle, alloy rear
- Fork // Fox Performance Elite 34 FLOAT 130mm travel
- Shock // Fox Peformance Elite FLOAT DPS, 120mm travel
- Hubs // SRAM Alloy Sealed, 110x15mm front & 148x12mm rear
- Rims // Easton AR 24
- Tyres // Schwalbe Racing Ralph 27.5 x 2.25in EVO Liteskin
- Chainset // Raceface Turbine Boost 36/26T (32T single ring included)
- Front mech // Shimano Deore XT 2×11 Side Swing
- Rear mech // Shimano Deore XT, 11-speed
- Rear shifter // Shimano Deore XT, 11-speed
- Cassette // Shimano Deore XT, 11-40t, 11-speed
- Brakes // Shimano Deore XT w/180mm front & 160mm rear rotors
- Stem // Race Face Turbine Basic 35, 70mm
- Bars // Race Face Turbine 35, 760mm wide, 20mm rise
- Seatpost // Rockshox Reverb Stealth, 31.6 mm
- Saddle // SDG Circuit Mountain, chromoly rails
- Size tested // Large
- Sizes available // X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 26.62lbs / 12.1kg