The XC/trail crossover category seems to be a thing these days, with Norco taking strong cues from its established Revolver XC bikes and serving up a longer-travel, but still very XC-biased, ride in the Optic 9.3. In this case, $3,800 gets you a 110-millimeter-travel, carbon-fiber, Horst-link frame with aluminum seatstays and rocker, RockShox Revelation RL 120-millimeter fork, Fox Float DPS Performance Evol shock, SRAM GX 11-speed drivetrain and SRAM Level T brakes (our test model came with Maguras, as this was a mid-run spec change). A short-travel KS E-Ten dropper post and 29-inch wheels with Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires round out the package.
With steepish 68.5 and 74.5 head and seat angles held apart by a long 25-inch toptube (size large), the Optic is unapologetically XC-biased, in spite of a 46.3-inch wheelbase (longer than many of the trail/all-mountain bikes in our lineup) keeping things battleship-stable in most terrain. The Optic 9.3 is well balanced, but not exactly playful. It has a businesslike air about it and carves beautifully, but this long bomber is less spry than some at getting airborne. Sit down, hammer until your eyes bleed and let the bike plow through whatever is in the way. Really steep, chunky, technical ups and downs bring out the shortcomings in the geometry, and somewhat heavily damped suspension at both ends upsets what would be otherwise exemplary stability. That said, the bike is impressively planted everywhere else, and is a joy to pedal with conviction.
Nitpicks focus mainly around suspension tune. Lighter compression damping front and rear would make the bike eminently more capable across a wider range of terrain. A lighter wheelset would also go a long way toward advancing the Optic 9.3 to rocketship status, but would come at a cost. Similarly, for those looking for a bike that is more trail than race, a longer-travel dropper would be a must-have. But that'd also raise the price. And price can't be overlooked–this is a fully capable bike featuring the same frame as Norco's $7,700 Optic 9.1. It would serve as the basis for an exceptional race-trail crossover ride, one that with a few hundred dollars judiciously spent would leave a lot of more expensive bikes foundering in its wake.
Q&A with Jim Jamieson, Senior Product Manager – Norco
There was some discrepancy between the Magura brakes our test bike had, and the SRAM Level-T brakes on the spec sheet. Could you please clarify for our studio audience what they may expect to find on the bikes they buy?
Jim Jamieson, Norco Senior Product Manager: When the first Optic bikes launched we had Magura on spec and this carried through later MY16. At that time SRAM still had the DB brakes at this price point and we did not feel that DB was as good of a spec as the Magura. When the new Level brakes were launched these were easy to work with match maker shifters and the brakes were close to Guide feel and style. This led us to a running change into MY17 to change over to the Guide brakes. There were no issues with the Magura brake spec. Just a running change to a newer option.
It looks as if this is the same carbon fiber frame that customers can also find at the core of the top-flight, $7699, Optic 9.1, but here it is on a sub-$3800 bike. Are the frames in fact the same?
The frame is same for all of the carbon models. This model is about making the Optic trail experience accessible to more people. Not everyone can afford our flagship Optic 7.1/9.1 Eagle model, but that doesn't mean that they can't have a full-suspension trail bike. While this is a price point bike, we went with the same philosophy across the line. The frame is easily upgradeable.
The Optic 9.3 is VERY closely related to the Norco’s Revolver family. How would you, in Norco’s words but aimed at educating the consumer, differentiate between the Revolver and the Optic lines?
The Revolver currently only comes in a full carbon frame (no aluminum models available). The Revolver was created as a XC race bike (with our team in mind and racers) in both full suspension and rigid frame models. It is shorter travel 100mm fork and rear wheel travel, compared to Optic 110/120 but in addition to this the geometry is different (slacker HA, designed for a shorter stem and new longer top tube trail geometry. The Revolver frame is 200-250 grams lighter and the kinematics are different (designed more about efficiency in climbing and XC racing). The Optic was a capable trail bike with less emphasis on racing, although it is still a capable race bike for something like the BCBR. The Optic has more tire clearance, and comes spec'd with a dropper post, wider bars, and wider rims. We also made a running change to the tire casings and tire model for the Optic as we realized more and more riders were pushing this bike on demanding trails.