• Climbing Ability 70% 70%
  • Downhill Ability 80% 80%
  • Overall Fun 80% 80%

Travel: 125mm rear/140mm fork

Head Tube Angle: 65

Seat Tube Angle: 76

Reach: 480mm (large frame)

Weight: 30.2 lbs

Price: $5,799

What We Like: App to dial in custom suspension settings

What We Don’t: Slow on climbs

If you are looking to spend some serious time in the saddle, this Optic is built for those days. It may not climb super fast, but it is comfortable and puts the rider in a good position for climbing to keep things moving. The downhills are a blast because the bike has a ton of traction and demolishes small bumps for breakfast. The modern geo on the Optic frame puts you in a super stable position for the downhills, providing so much confidence it’s crazy. There is an Optic build out for every price bracket. Norco also offers the Optic in a fit for both genders, one of the few companies to do so.

We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund Gear Hacker. Some of the links in this website are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase an item we review, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!

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No need to preface anything about Norco, they’ve been in the game a while and are a well-known brand in the cycling world. The Optic is Norco’s trail bike and with a 125mm rear travel paired with a 140mm fork, this bike can party. If you need any proof of that, Norco posted a 1000-fps video of a rider on the Optic, and it has to be one of the most visually appealing biking videos I’ve seen in a long time.

With lots of capability and some serious snap being created by the back end, this bike is a hard one to categorize, and we think that’s exactly what Norco wanted. With the scale of that company and their ability to create a greater variety of bikes, they seemed to want to play a bit more with the Optic and make it slightly uncategorizable. While it is still only a 125mm rear travel 29er, it feels like it can handle so much more.

The Best Short Travel Mountain Bikes: Norco Optic - Gear Hacker

The Bike

With the 2020 version of the Optic, there have been some geometry and build changes. The bike comes with a fairly slack 65-degree head tube angle and an all-aluminum back triangle. The aluminum is to help reduce the price while adding higher quality components like the fork and brakes.

Norco also built this frame with a certain geometry in mind, and there wasn’t a rear shock that would fit in well with their plans, so as a large company can, they got RockShox to build a custom rear shock. The customized RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate DH is what came out, then Norco installed it upside down so that you can fit a 750ml water bottle on your bike. Wasn’t that considerate of them!

The Best Short Travel Mountain Bikes: Norco Optic - Gear Hacker

Climbing

Not as fast as its counterpart the Santa Cruz Tallboy, the Optic has an in-saddle efficiency that is hard to argue with. Unfortunately, once you’re out of the saddle putting the power down, things seem to get a bit squirrely. The reach on a large frame is 480mm, fairly long for modern geometry, but it feels good. The 76-degree seat tube angle does keep you in a comfortable position for climbing, but it just doesn’t feel like a climber. The rear shock does not lockout, but most riders have said that they didn’t feel like it was necessary.

The Optic won’t climb like a cross country bike, but it wasn’t designed to. It’ll get you to the top of the mountain, and with that 750ml water bottle in your triangle, you’ll be well hydrated when you get there. Then the fun begins because now you get to go down.
The Best Short Travel Mountain Bikes: Norco Optic - Gear Hacker

Downhill

Oh… so this is why there is a 140mm fork on a short travel 29er because this bike wants to hit the chop and plow right through it. Now we get it! What a honey badger this bike turns into when you point the front wheel downhill. Tucking in behind the 65-degree head tube and perched above a 435mm chainstay (on a large frame), you feel like you’re in the cockpit of a rally car. The geometry of the Optic places the rider in a super-secure position for zipping around berms and popping kickers on the way to a good time.

The handling offered by the geometry makes the limited rear travel seem to be forgotten as you fire into single track and chase some PRs. The Optic is solid and doesn’t feel too skittish while powering downhill even when things get slippery.

The four-piston brakes are good, but they’re not the best for wet environments as they are resin pads and rotors and just don’t seem to hold up as well in wet environments. So if you are in the PNW or a wet area, you may need to change out the whole system for metal pads and rotors, which can be a bit of a drag but is definitely something to consider.

The Best Short Travel Mountain Bikes: Norco Optic - Gear Hacker

Build Options

Norco has built out a few options for the Optic. If you are going for a frame only, it will run you $3,099, similar to Evil the Following. From there, the least expensive build-out option is the C3 at $4,700, and the prices rise all the way to the C AXS that is an eye-watering $13,000. Although, at that price, we’re in the wireless shifter world, so the price makes a bit more sense.

Each build option with the expectation of the C AXS comes in a women’s fit as well.

Norco Optic: The Best Short Travel Mountain Bikes - Gear Hacker

The Bottom Line

Norco has built a bike for a rider that is looking to spend some time in the saddle but also is looking forward to smashing some downhill sections. The geometry may be a bit modern for riders who like a more standard geo, but isn’t it always good to broaden your horizons? At least that’s something my mom keeps reminding me…thanks, mom.

Are you going to beat your friends to the top of the hill? Probably not, but will you beat them to the bottom? Almost assuredly. While the Optic doesn’t fit into a certain category of mountain biking—though not a lot of the new bikes seem to either—every geometry is becoming more versatile and capable, and the Optic is capable of creating a good time.

Did we mention that Norco has an app that will help you dial in the fit and suspension settings for your body type, style of riding, and terrain? Well, they do, and it’s pretty rad, the Ride Aligned Design System is going to help take a mass production trail bike and help make it feel like a custom fit professional trail bike in no time. It is a handy little app for making an already cool bike that much cooler.

The Best Short Travel Mountain Bikes: Norco Optic - Gear Hacker

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We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund Gear Hacker. Some of the links in this website are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase an item we review, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!