SIZE ISN'T EV­ERY­THING

The Norco Op­tic 9.2 is prov­ing that it re­ally is a trail bike for all con­di­tions.

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Outdoor Bike Lane - WORDS James McCor­mack PHO­TOS Justin Walker

I’M NEARLY SIX months into rid­ing the Op­tic, and I can say I’m still get­ting a lit­tle fris­son of joy pretty much ev­ery time I climb aboard. It’s just a damn plea­sure to ride the thing on both the ups and the downs. But it has set me won­der­ing ex­actly how this has been achieved, that a bike that climbs so well, a bike which can be stiff­ened up with a flick of switch to near hard­tail/ rigid ca­pa­bil­i­ties can also be a bike which can de­scend so smoothly. There are, of course, mul­ti­ple fac­tors: head tube an­gles, stem length, wheel­base and so on, but what gen­uinely in­trigues me the most has been the Op­tic’s sus­pen­sion, so I con­tacted via email its de­signer Owen Pem­ber­ton to chat about it.

“In the past,” says Pem­ber­ton, “it was of­ten big­ger travel bikes that would have a pro­gres­sive ac­tion with shorter travel bikes hav­ing more of a flat­ter curve. [But] I think with the Op­tic we’ve shown that it’s al­most more im­por­tant on shorter travel bikes. With less travel to play with it is im­por­tant to get the ut­most per­for­mance out of ev­ery mil­lime­ter.”

I had never re­ally thought about be­fore, but Pem­ber­ton is 100% right. You tend to think it’s bikes with loads of travel where sus­pen­sion is more im­por­tant; in fact, it’s shorter travel bikes that truly have to make the most of what they’ve got. Un­for­tu­nately, that hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily played out in bike de­sign; un­til re­cently, for many short travel bikes it al­most seemed qual­ity sus­pen­sion has been an af­ter­thought. That’s chang­ing, how­ever, with the cur­rent crop of more ag­gres­sive short travel bikes like the Op­tic.

That not to say on big drops and over rougher ter­rain I’ve ever mis­taken the Op­tic’s sus­pen­sion for a that of a plush 160mm travel en­duro bike; it is, none­the­less, a bike that re­ally likes to be rid­den hard. Up front, the Fox 32 fork would—with 120mm of travel—usu­ally come stock with a firmer, more XC-style com­pres­sion tune; in­stead the Op­tic is specced with softer com­pres­sion. And on the rear, the en­tire bike, says Pem­ber­ton, “was de­signed to be used with, and take ad­van­tage of, a smaller vol­ume Fox Evol air shock.” He tweaked the po­si­tion­ing of the Op­tic’s pivot points so that— geek alert!— its lever­age rate (how far its wheel trav­els com­pared to shock travel) com­ple­mented the Fox Evol’s spring curve (i.e. its re­sis­tance to com­pres­sion; the curve refers to how that re­sis­tance changes rel­a­tive to travel). The re­sult, Pem­ber­ton says, “[is the] very pro­gres­sive feel; bot­tom­less and with that il­lu­sion of more travel than 110mm. On the de­scents, it takes a very large, high speed im­pact to reach bot­tom out, which will hap­pen on oc­ca­sion, but for the most part the travel holds the rider just above bot­tom.”

Pro­gres­sive sus­pen­sion, nor the match­ing of lever­age and spring rates, is hardly the do­main of the Op­tic alone; it does, how­ever, achieve them par­tic­u­larly well. And as for be­ing held “just above bot­tom”, I can def­i­nitely at­test to that; on just a few oc­ca­sions have I man­aged to take a hit big enough to push the O-ring travel in­di­ca­tor off the shock. It just seems to hover right at its limit, to the mil­lime­ter, with­out ever fall­ing off. Not even the twome­tre drop near my place that I’ve hit on the Norco on sev­eral oc­ca­sions has seen me bot­tom out. But, cru­cially, that’s de­spite the shock still be­ing sup­ple over smaller bumps; on rides with­out big hits, I still seem to be able to use most of the avail­able travel. Pem­ber­ton cred­its this in part to the cus­tom light com­pres­sion tune given to the Evol shock, mak­ing it sen­si­tive in the begin­ning of its stroke.

The net re­sult: an all-round rip­per, a bike that just loves to go fast. Not only has the Op­tic given me Strava PBs on the climbs and flats, I’ve hit a few on de­scents as well. And it’s still been per­fect for my long-dis­tance bikepacking for­ays. Who could ask for more?

IT’S JUST A DAMN PLEA­SURE TO RIDE THE THING ON BOTH THE UPS AND THE DOWNS.

The Op­tic’s 110mm of travel feels like a lot more thanks to the pro­gres­sive, bot­tom­less feel of the sus­pen­sion.

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