Whether it's a U.K. winter or Moab slickrock, bike design is always heavily influenced by local geography. For brands like Norco, whose home base in Vancouver, British Columbia, affords them easy access to some of the world's best and most challenging mountain bike trails, that's meant many things over the years. More recently, as the popularity of skinnies has diminished and the star of enduro has risen, the focus has been on building hard charging mountain bikes capable of being ridden all day.

Even when Norco builds a short travel trail bike, they can't get away from their roots. Big bars and a dropper help keep this rig shred worthy.

Even when Norco builds a short travel trail bike, they can't get away from their roots. Wide bars and a dropper help keep this rig shred worthy (click to enlarge). Photo by Long Nguyen​

While that makes sense for those of us that are topographically privileged, much of the world's population resides in places with only minor elevation change. For those riders, even an aggressive 140mm travel platform might seem like too much on most occasions.

Ultra clean internal cable routing and room for a water bottle? What's not to love.

Ultra clean internal cable routing and room for a water bottle? What's not to love (click to enlarge). Photo by Long Nguyen​

Based on this sort of feedback from dealers, racers, and enthusiasts, Norco set out to build a new bike that would sit somewhere between their XC race oriented Revolver and their capable all mountain bikes. What they came up with is the new Optic series, their interpretation of a modern trail bike.

There are two different bikes under the Optic name, a 27.5" version and a 29er, but both are designed to meet the same goals, and share similar ride characteristics. In order to achieve this, Norco used every tool available to them in the form of geometry, suspension, and spec.

Outside of the choices made to ensure similar ride characteristics, you'll see that both bikes share similar specs along all price points. Think wide bars, short stems, and dropper posts.

Outside of the choices made to ensure similar ride characteristics, you'll see that both bikes share similar specs along all price points. Think wide bars, short stems, and dropper posts (click to enlarge). Photo by Long Nguyen​

For example, while both models have slightly different reach and stack numbers, when you consider that Norco has spec'd a 50mm stem on the 29er, and a 60mm on the 27.5", the reach and stack numbers are effectively the same. They've also made adjustments to geometry. The 29er for instance has a head tube that is 5 degrees steeper and uses a fork that has 7mm more offset to help compensate for wheel size and create similar trail dimensions. Going even further, both models have different amounts of suspension. While the 27.5 pairs a 130mm fork with a 120mm rear end, the 29er has 120mm of travel up front and 110mm out back.

The 27.5 Model is available in sizes XS-XL, while the 29er ships in sizes S-XL. Norco chose not to build a XS version of the 29er because they felt the frame geometry would be compromised.

The 27.5 model is available in sizes XS-XL, while the 29er ships in S-XL. Norco chose not to build a XS version of the 29er because they felt the frame geometry would be compromised (click to enlarge).​

The attention to detail also extends to subtle changes in frame construction and geometry between different sizes. Norco uses size scaled tubing, so as the frame sizes go up, so does the cross section of the frame. This helps tune the stiffness of the frame for different sized riders, and ensures that smaller, lighter riders won't be stuck riding something designed to meet the performance and stiffness goals required by those at the other end of the bell curve.

Continue to page 2 for more first impressions of the new Norco Optic Trail platform »



Norco tunes the frame construction and the rear end for each size run to help ensure the same handling characteristics for riders, whether they're on a XS or XL.

Norco tunes the frame construction and the rear end for each size run to help ensure the same handling characteristics for riders, whether they're on a XS or XL (click to enlarge). Photo by Long Nguyen​

The rear ends of the bikes are also different across sizes, so that rear centers increase proportionally with the front center measurements. This ensures that larger frames have longer rear centers than small frames, which helps with weight distribution and balance.

We found the Optic to be a capable trail bike that slots in nicely between XC crusher and all mountain sender.

We found the Optic to be a capable trail bike that slots in nicely between an XC crusher and all mountain sender (click to enlarge). Photo by Long Nguyen​

Having spent time on both platforms, it's remarkable how well Norco hit their intended goals. The Optic isn't designed to be a super gnarly trail bike; that's what their Sight is for. But it is more than capable of blasting technical cross country trails. On the other hand, it's not quite as efficient as the XC race oriented Revolver, but it's not far off.


Regardless of wheel size, both frames are agile, although with identical suspension settings, I found the 27.5" was slightly easier to bunny hop. This is pivotal because despite having more travel than its big wheeled counterpart, I found that I was constantly pulling up on the little bike to double up rough sections, whereas I could simply charge the same terrain with the 29er. While I had more fun throwing the 27.5" Optic around, the effort it took to ride fast tired me sooner.

Both versions of the Optic utilize Norco's version of a Horst link suspension, called A.R.T., which they've tuned to offer a smoother more balanced pedaling feel than their longer travel models.

Both versions of the Optic utilize Norco's version of a Horst link suspension, called A.R.T., which they've tuned to offer a smoother more balanced pedaling feel than their longer travel models (click to enlarge). Photo by Long Nguyen​

If I had to choose between the two, it would honestly come down to what best suited my local trail network. For mostly smooth terrain with flowy corners and sweeping senders, the 27.5" Optic would be a blast. However, if I was being honest, the 29er was only slightly less playful, but felt faster in repeated back to back laps on the same trail.

If you're interested in a versatile trail bike with an slight XC bias, prices for the alloy Optic start at $2599. Although I would suggest saving up an additional $500 and springing for the version with the 34 Fox fork, KS dropper, and SRAM DB3 brakes. A carbon build can be had for $3,599 and the model we tested retails for $4,699. The ultra fancy model with the XX1 drivetrain, Fox Factory bits, and DT Swiss Carbon wheels retails for $7,199.

For more information visit www.norco.com.