Preface. As a dabbler in the realm of mountain bike journalism (I have a non-industry day job), I’m a bit of an outsider looking in, and was curious about how these things worked. The cynic in me figured the process of flying scribes to idyllic riding zones, wining, dining et al, might not result in untainted, objective journalism, but damn, it sounded like fun. Needless to say, when this opportunity arose, I couldn’t say no (thanks, Cam!). Let’s see what this gig is all about, and attempt to justify my presence.
So, what’s the deal? Norco gathered an intimate group of journos in Santa Rosa, CA – home of Charles Shulz, Russian River Brewing (more on this later), and Annadel State Park – to witness the introduction of a completely new platform in their lineup: the Optic. Curating this event was a gaggle of top tier Norco staff – sales / marketing / design / engineering: all facets covered. Also in attendance was some serious on bike talent: trials guru Ryan Leech, and husband/wife super duo Byrn Atkinson and Jill Kintner – all super nice people, I might add. Anyways, I ramble on. We’re here to check out the new bike and generate impressions within a day and a half of riding; let’s get on it!
My plane parked beside Ed Force One at YVR waiting for fog to dissipate in San Francisco. Flying a 747 to gigs? So Metal.
So what about the bike? Right. The Optic is a new trail bike platform that slots in below the Sight in terms of travel hierarchy. But it’s not just one bike – it’s two! There are both 650b and 29” wheel size variants, as well as aluminum and carbon front triangle iterations (rear frame bits are aluminum throughout the range). There are 3 build levels (for each wheel size) with the carbon front, and two different builds (again, both wheel size options) in the full aluminum. That’s a heap of SKU’s. The bikes I rode – The C7.2 & C9.2 have a MSRP of $6299CAD / $4699USD. The aluminum models start at $3499CAD / $2599USD, and the top tier C7.1 & C9.1 goes for $9699CAD / $7199USD. Here’s a bunch of numbers to get started:
Note the variations in geometry between the wheel sizes. They’re certainly not swapping wheelsets on a common frame. Travel is tweaked as well: the wagon wheeler gets 10mm less on both ends than the 650 (120mm front / 110mm rear vs 130mm / 120mm). Interesting.
On with the show. So we given not one, but two bikes each to ride. I spent our first evening ride on the 650, then alternated between the two wheel sizes on a shorter loop for the duration of day 2. Our venue – Annadale Park – was really quite gorgeous. Different than what I typically ride, for sure – rolling hills and ripping smooth singletrack with fun multiple line options / mini hits / transfers, and a bit of rocky chunk thrown in here and there to keep things interesting. Let’s pummel you with pictures now, my fingers are getting tired.
A tale of two bikes. Decisions, decisions.
Gosh, I’m special.
C7.2 (for 27.5).
And the C9.2. Can you guess the wheelsize? Spot the other difference? The 29’er runs a 50mm stem, whereas the 650 sports a 60mm. The reach of the 29 is longer, so the effective bar reach on the two bikes is identical. All an effort to minimize the handling differences between the wheelsizes.
Allright, I picked one; triumphant pose. I actually put this picture up for my mom (hi, mom!). Norco had a well sorted tech camp running in the background. Photo: Long Nguyen
Intermission (off to the fridge with you).
Since we were in town, a pilgrimage to Russian River had to be made. Pliny is a Grail beer; one of the highest rated in the world, and hard to get hold of (not available in Canada). I was happy to discover a bunch of the crew was similarly minded. The correlation between bike nerdism & beer nerdism is strong.
Back to bikes, damnit.
Up we go. The bikes are similar, but different on the climbs. The suspension is supple and active, with good traction through the tech rocky bits. That suppleness did translate to a bit of movement when putting down the watts, so I tended to flick the climb switch on the shock to climb mode for smoother climbing. Also: the bigger hoops had the edge on tech climbing traction. Photo: Long Nguyen
Top of the short loop climb, before the fun downy bits started. It’s pretty (the bike, too). Brilliant paint scheme / landscape coordination.
Let’s pause for a few details while we’re here.
Control bits: some nice Ruffian-esque house brand grips, solid XT brakes, and the ubiquitous Reverb Stealth. One nitpick: the remote & brake lever do not play well together – I couldn’t rotate the Reverb remote forward enough to my taste. Not the end of the worlds, but I’m obsessive about control placement.
Raceface Bar & stem up top, and a Fox Float Performance fork below. I was pleasantly surprised that the new 34 offered decent levels of mid-stroke support. Note the cable port dohicky – it’s called the Gizmo, and they’re configurable for multiple cable entry options, while keeping crap out, and the cables tight. Clean.
Here’s the Fox Float Performance Elite shock, with EVOL air can – it’s supple. The pivot yolk is a 3-pc bolt together affair. No threads reside within the BB shell, and a stout Raceface Turbine crankset does the leveraging duties.
A look at the rear brake line routing- runs outboard the chainstay rather than internal, like the rear derailleur cable. This I like. Should be able to pull the brake line out (through the large frame holes when the Gizmos are pulled) without having to cut hose fittings. There’s ample clearance around the 2.25 Schwalbe Racing Ralph EVO Liteskin tire. Did I mention I do not like this tire? Tread pattern isn’t terrible, but the sidewalls are too thin for all but the smoothest trails. Even with a good bit more pressure than I typically use, I flatted twice in one day.
Rear dangly bits. XT 11 speed (11-42) generating a reasonable range (though a bit skewed to the low side with a 30T front ring). Note the clean internal cable routing. Wheels are comprised of Easton AR24 rims (24mm inner width) on Sram hubs and Sapim DB spokes. They seemed solid enough; didn’t pick up any dents, despite the pinch flats.
Let’s ride bikes, finally.
While not steep, there were a few scattered chunky bits to keep me from getting too homesick. Again, I was preferring the rollover capability of the big wheels through this stuff. Photo: Long Nguyen
Implied speed! While these trails lacked technicality, they did not lack fun factor. A bit of quickness, with lots of mini hits & line options made for good times. Big smiles were had by all. Photo: Long Nguyen
Between a rock and a hard place lies fun. On the right trails little bikes are so rad. Photo: Long Nguyen
Impressions. I like my North Shore tech-gnar, but some of my most memorable rides have been on less challenging terrain befitting a smaller bike (Chilcotins & Yukon, to name a couple). Launching the bikes on these picturesque rolling trails (as opposed to Norco’s back yard) was a good call, and really helped gain an appreciation for how well useage matched hardware can work. Right tool, and all that. Both bikes were really fun, and surprisingly capable despite my initial concerns about short travel and steep head angles (yeah, I’ve got a distinct bias, and need to get out more).
Interestingly, the spread in character between the two wheel sizes was not a significant as I expected. The geometry and suspension tweaks worked well to mitigate the differences. If I regularly rode smooth pumptrack-ish trails, or were of diminutive stature, I’d probably be looking at the 650. Adding rocks & roots to the mix sways me solidly towards the 29 – there’s no denying the steamrolling capabilities of the bigger hoops, and the differences in agility and fun factor are minimal. Both bikes were good times.
Finally – I’d like to give a big thanks to all those at Norco that put on this shindig – good people, all. I gained a bit extra respect for the company based on the people I met here.
What flavour do you like?