That’s right, you’ve heard about it- the mysterious marvel of the mountain bike world- the Norco Optic! Thanks to Jenson USA, as well as to Derek from Norco, I was lucky enough to log two sunny days in Portland, OR, aboard the 125mm travel little shred machine.
Norco really, really, really wanted me to follow their Ride Aligned set up guide to get the bike, well, set up for me. We followed the guide as best we could- turns out, the guide was calling for much narrower bars, taller bars, and a shorter stem than was on the bike. I like to be 100% honest about this stuff, and indeed, I struggled to get acquainted with the bike at first. Not only had we just driven 4 hours, 2 hours of which I spent editing a Patreon Tutorial while in the passenger seat, but we were on new trails, and for me, just about everything on the bike was different.
Normally, when I post reviews, I’ve set up bikes with my personal wheels/tires, saddle/dropper, drivetrain/brakes, and of course, my normal bars/stem. Also, it’s worth mentioning that a longer travel bike would actually be easier to get used to, as there is a wider margin for error, and it would allow me to relax more. The Optic is a great bike, but it requires a good deal of precision- as do all 125mm bikes.
The Ripley comparison is a highly requested topic. The Ripley is a great bike, and I have a ton of respect for Ibis. Heck, I used to work there! The two bikes do have slightly different riding characteristics. First up, I am completely ignoring the Ripley Carbon. To me, the current Ibis Ripley is actually the Ripley AF. With its 65° head angle, the Ripley AF, when set up with a 140 fork, is really in the same ballpark as the Optic. A big difference between the two bikes is that Ibis specs the Ripley as much more of an XC bike, using a 34 Float set at 130 travel, and the rear shock is an XC unit as well- a Fox Float DPS. The Optic has much beefier suspension components, with more travel, and more adjustment. With only two days on the Optic, I can’t give an ultimate end-all, be-all comparison. But the Optic felt easier to get airborne, then more controlled on the resulting slap-down landings. The end stroke of the Ripley AF suspension is fairly regressive, though that bike felt a lot better once I threw the DVO stuff on it.
Now between my Ripley AF DVO set up, and the Optic, well, the differences weren’t huge. Both climbed great. Both descended well. Out of the box, the Optic comes MUCH more suitable for me and my riding style. But with the right suspension upgrades, the Ripley AF is a VERY similar bike. If I had to pick one, I’d pick the one I could actually find, available and in stock, in my correct size. Speaking of size, I get lots of questions about how to size a bike- here’s a whole video I did about that.
Finally, I’d only really want to be on an Optic/Ripley if I were consistently riding trails that were on the flatter side of the spectrum. Here in the PNW, we are lucky enough to have LOTS of elevation. But for those that don’t have such elevation the shorter travel bikes are awesome. When a bike is shorter travel, it can comfortably handle a lot less. Set it up for big hits, and it’ll be stiff in the chunder, and vice versa. With how good longer travel bikes are, I find myself much preferring 140+mm of rear travel, and 160-170 up front. That’s just my opinion though!