Baxter Maiwald And Kaia Ellis Shred Thredbo's Cannonball Downhill

Faster than goannas up a tree, Canyon Australia young guns Baxter Maiwald and Kaia Ellis are two names to watch out for in the coming years.

Baxter Maiwald sends it large on the final jump of Thredbo's Cannonball Downhill.
Baxter Maiwald on the final jump of Thredbo’s Cannonball Downhill.

We met up with the two young shredders at Thredbo’s Cannonball MTB Festival for a bit of a chat about themselves and the Canyon Australia Downhill team, and some filming on Thredbo’s fast and rocky Cannonball Downhill.

As you can see from the video, Kaia and Baxter are real talents, and we wanted to know a bit more about them!

Baxter sends it sideways at the Cannonball MTB Festival Whip Wars.
The crowd were loving the afternoon sunshine and riding action at the Cannonball MTB Festival Whip Wars.

Tell us a bit about your involvement with Canyon?

Baxter:

My involvement with Canyon started 6 months ago when I met Darryl (Darryl Moliere- Canyon Australia’s Marketing Manager) at the National Downhill Championships in Bright.

Since then, I’ve become Canyon’s first Downhill Athlete in Australia, and one of the first athletes to compete on the Canyon Sender on the World Cup Downhill circuit.

Baxter's smooth and flow style on the bike is unmissable.
Baxter was one of the first athletes to compete on a Canyon Sender in a World Cup Downhill race.

Kaia:

It all started when Dirt Art came to Bright to build the Hero trail, and my dad asked Baxter if there was a chance he could get a better price on a Canyon Sender for me, as I needed a new DH bike. Two days later the phone rings and it’s Darryl from Canyon Australia asking if I would like to join the team.

It’s not every day that happens to a 13-year-old, so I’m extremely grateful to Baxter and Darryl for the opportunity!

Kaia is one incredibly talented 13 year old.
Kaia is one incredibly talented 13 year old.

What Canyon Bikes do you currently own, and which is your favourite?

Baxter:

I currently own a Canyon Sender with a fully custom build, including all the best SRAM and RockShox bits, a Spank wheelset and Onza tires. I also have a Canyon Strive, and a Canyon Stitched 360 Dirt Jumper (quite the quiver we think, very jealous!).

My favourite would have to be the Strive, because I spend the most time riding it. For a bike that descends like a mini downhill bike, it climbs so well with the ability to adjust the geometry with the Shapeshifter.

All of Baxter's bikes are adorned in the latest goodies from RockShox.
All of Baxter’s bikes are adorned in the latest goodies from Sram, RockShox, Spank and Onza.

Kaia:

So far I have a Sender CF 8.0 and I think even if I had more bikes it would still be my favourite!

Kaia loves his Canyon Sender!
Kaia at the Cannonball MTB Festival Whip Wars competition.

If you could own any other bike in the Canyon line, what would it be?

Baxter:

If I could own any other Canyon I think I would get a road bike. A road bike is the only discipline I’m missing out of the extensive Canyon range, and would be a great training tool in the off season when there’s not always easy access to good trails.

Baxter has been training hard for the upcoming season.
Sunshine sending.

Kaia:

I’m currently working towards getting a Spectral CF 9.0 EX in black to match my Sender. My old trail bike is a bit worn out, and I need a rad trail bike to get my fitness up for racing. The Spectral will be the perfect bike for the trails around Bright.

Kaia is about to get a fresh trail bike to enjoy the awesome Bright trails.
Kaia’s home town of Bright, Victoria has some of Australia’s best riding.

How do you like to setup your bikes? 

Baxter:

That’s strictly confidential, haha! Basically, stiff suspension with relatively fast rebound, a high cockpit with a long stem and 770mm Truvative Descendent bars. I also run pretty flat brake levers, a low seat set far forward in the rails and hard tire pressures (if you’re wondering why Baxter runs harder tyre pressures, just check out his pace through rock gardens in the video!).

A stiff and fast setup keeps Baxter riding at warp speed.
Baxter likes to run his bike fast and stiff.

Kaia:

It’s hard to find a set up that works, as I only weigh 40 kilograms.

I like to run a very short 30mm stem to get me centered on the bike, tokens and bands in the suspension with low pressures to achieve small bump compliance but progression later in the suspension’s stroke so I don’t bottom it out. Dad and I had a good chat with Troy Brosnan (Canyon Factory Downhill Team Rider) at Awaba last weekend and he gave us some great tips on how to set up the Sender, so we’ll see how that goes. Tyres are Maxxis’ DHR II’s with 22 and 27 psi in the front and rear respectively.

Kaia got a few tips on setting his bike up from Canyon's marquee signing this season, Troy Brosnan.
Kaia got a few tips on setting his bike up from Canyon International’s marquee signing this season, Troy Brosnan.

Tell us a bit about the team structure provided by Canyon and other sponsors?

Baxter:

In the beginning, there wasn’t a ‘team’, as I was the sole Canyon Australia Rider. I still got a tent at races and amazing race support from the legends at Sram Australia though! Since the addition of Kaia to the team, things have gotten even better! Now I have a little pinner to bounce lines off and keep the stoke high in the pits, and now it really feels like a team.

The amazing support we get from Darryl and Canyon and Dylan at Sram is hugely appreciated, and we’ve recently had Fox Head come on-board to keep us looking fresh, and we also have plenty of extra support from Kaia’s Dad Pete! I can’t thank everyone who helps us out enough!

Baxter is incredibly appreciative of the support from all the team's sponsors.
Baxter manuals through the finish at Thredbo’s Cannonball MTB festival.

Kaia: 

The support I get from Darryl at Canyon and Dylan at Sram is amazing. This is all very new to me but I’m beyond happy with how it’s going so far. Fox Head Australia have just joined the team and will be supplying us with all our kit and helmets. Now all I need is a good tyre sponsor (hint, hint, Maxxis).

Baxter and Kaia are rocking fresh new kit from Fox Head Australia.
Baxter and Kaia are rocking fresh new kit from Fox Head Australia.

What events are you planning on competing in this year? 

Baxter:

The team is planning on doing the remainder of the Australian National Downhill Series, Victorian Downhill Series and National Championships. Personally, I’m going to also be doing all 4 Crankworx World Tour stops, all the UCI World Cup Downhill Rounds minus round 1 in Lourdes and hopefully the World Championships in Cairns. Along with these events I will do select other events along the way as they fit in.

Baxter is going to be busier than a one handed bricklayer this season!
Baxter is going to be busier than a one handed bricklayer this season!

Kaia:

I am out of action at the moment with a broken collarbone and will miss a couple of races, but I plan on doing all the Victorian Downhill Series rounds and all the National Downhill Series rounds including National Championships. I also hope to get to Crankworx Rotorua this year.

We're wishing Baxter and Kaia the best of luck for the upcoming races!
We’re wishing Baxter and Kaia the best of luck for the upcoming races!

 

 

 

 

Must Ride: Thredbo All-Mountain Trail

Right now the new trail on everyone’s lips – the Thredbo All-Mountain Trail – has just officially opened from top to bottom, check out the video below, get psyched from the juicy photo gallery and pack your bags to hit the road to Thredbo this summer.


Watch the video here:


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U19 National Enduro MTB Champ, Ben McIlroy and National Marathon XC Champ Brendan Johnston high above the whole country at the start of the new piece of trail.

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What, and where is this?

The freshly opened piece of trail links the top of the chairlift to the start of the existing Kosciusko Flow Trail and the rest of the All-Mountain Trail which opened last summer from atop the Gunbarrel Chair, it gives riders easier access to the start of these two trails without having to ride the ultra-fast and intimidating Eagles Way fire road. From the top, you’re able to ride a massive 30+km descent when linked with the Thredbo Valley Trail towards Lake Crackenback._low9063

Constructed by trail company Dirt Art on super-sensitive National Park land this is one piece of trail that didn’t come easy with many challenges, more on that later.

This particular new bit of singletrack may not be long in length but it’s one of the most breathtaking (puff, puff, puff) pieces of trail we’ve ridden, it is also the highest purpose-built mountain bike trail in Australia, starting at 1930m above sea level where trees don’t even get a chance. It’s high alright! The trail starts behind the top of the Kosciusko Express Chairlift Terminal and the Eagle Nest Mountain Hut, you’ll catch a glimpse of the paved walkway to the Kosciusko summit, the highest mountain in the country, but you don’t want to walk up there this time, the juicy stuff is about to begin just to your right.


Heading to Thredbo to check out the new All-Mountain Trail? We’d suggest you give the Makin Trax Basecamp a try for accommodation. They hosted us for our week in Thredbo, and it was the perfect setup for our crew of six riders. With five bedrooms, to sleep up to 12 riders, a huge kitchen, an open fire and plenty of space to store your bikes, it’s just bloody ideal. They’re doing some great accommodation and lift pass packages too. Take a look!  Makin Trax Images-2365


When you’re up this high the views are bloody massive, the whole Thredbo Valley stretches out before you towards Jindabyne, and in the other direction towards Dead Horse Gap, on a clear day, it’d be rude not to chill on the grass to take it all in and feel small in comparison.

Just like we did on our first run down the trail, you’ll sure run into a dilemma; do you ride it slow and enjoy the view and spectacular terrain, or rip down it fast to feel the flow of the well-built trail? Tough call to make, or simply just ride it many times over, the chairlift is there all day, remember…

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_low9253 _low9215_low9295 _low9361The first 500m of the trail will knock your socks off; it weaves its way through towering granite boulders sticking up into the sky around you, jutting out at all sorts of random angles the striking granite paints a landscape unlike anywhere else on the mountain bike map. Above the tree line, it’s fast and open to ride, as you race around towards river crossings raging with icy cold snowmelt, and jumping between grippy turns and doubling up the rolling nature of the trail. You lose yourself in massive bermed corners and pop out the other side with great speed and momentum.dsc04896_low9411

From top to bottom the landscape changes dramatically, the trail takes it all in, from the low-lying scrub and granite boulders to the gnarly snow gums, and colourful native forest below.

Built as a blue/green rated trail, it’s not too hard to ride.

Have a look at these numbers; the Cannonball Downhill Trail is 3.3km, Kosciusko Flow Trail 4.5km and the new All Mountain Track is 11km. All taking in similar elevation, the All-Mountain Trail has been designed to flow and weave its way down the massive mountain maintaining the elevation for a more mellow and accessible ride, it doesn’t tire your hands and body like the faster downhill tracks do.dsc05124 dsc05112_low9980_low9447

To the credit of trail builders Dirt Art, they have done a brilliant job of linking up unique features on the mountain, cool terrain, and cleverly managing speed to the point we hardly saw any braking ruts in the corners. The berms are also so damn good, deep and supportive, and completely safe to commit to and rail around them off the brakes with confidence.

Wasn’t built in a day.

As we mentioned earlier, this linking piece of trail has been a long time coming, and if you’ve been riding Thredbo over the last 20 years like we have, you’d appreciate every single new development that comes to fruition. Due to the sensitive nature of the terrain and flora and fauna, it went through a lengthy approval process and adding to that is the amount of snow that the area cops every winter.
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Then the Dirt Art crew had to battle erratic weather with wind, snow and rain making life pretty hard up there! The trail surface had to be capped using granite sourced in its immediate environment, with loads of gruelling hours winching the huge rocks around to make the trail ride with good flow.

What’s next for Thredbo then?

Dirt Art is keeping very busy up there, currently they are finishing off a piece of singletrack that will cut out the fire road climb to the top of the Gunbarrel Chairlift, through the gnarly old snow gums this will be the final piece in the All-Mountain Trail construction, with all 620m of descent to the village on premium purpose-built stuff. There will also be a linkage section built to carry riders from above the Friday Flats area back to the Village Square, cutting out the existing climb taking riders over towards the finish of the Cannonball Downhill and Flow Trail._low9454 _low9418 _low0075

All in the five-year plan for Thredbo we’ll expect to see the network double in size with a couple of new trails down the mountain, including an all-new jump/trick trail like Whistler’s A-Line or Crank It Up, a new beginner Flow Trail and a World Cup ready downhill race track. There’s also plans to open a second lift with bike hooks too to distribute riders around during peak times and events.

With the Thredbo Valley Trail’s ultimate plan to stretch from Thredbo, past Lake Crackenback all the way down to Jindabyne, it’s a pretty extensive network of trails!


Heading to Thredbo? We’d suggest you give the Makin Trax Basecamp a try. They hosted us for our week in Thredbo, and it was the perfect setup for our crew of six riders. With five bedrooms, to sleep up to 12 riders, a huge kitchen, an open fire and plenty of space to store your bikes, it’s just bloody ideal. They’re doing some great accommodation and lift pass packages too. Take a look!  


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Thredbo life, ain’t bad at all.

The 2016/17 MTB Season runs from 19 November to 1 May. The chairlift is open for mountain bikers from 9.30am-4pm, and the retail/rental shop is open from 8.30am-5pm.

www.thredbo.com.au

Video: Quietly Frothing, Mt Buller with Josh Carlson

But this trip was different; we were meeting to ride with the one and only Josh Carlson. Ranked number 10 in the world in the highly competitive and thrilling scene of enduro racing, Josh ain’t a slouch on a bike. We’d ridden with him once before in Buller, at the official opening of the fantastic Stonefly descent a few years ago, needless to say, it didn’t end well, and with a thud to the dirt, we learnt never again to try and match his speed through the corners.

There’s a very valid reason Josh is employed to race, while we are not.


Want this in your life too? For resort information, accommodation, trail maps, bike rental, upcoming events and more visit the Bike Buller website here: I NEED to do this!



Hit play on the video below, crank up the volume and jump right in.



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We invited Josh to film him ride Buller like we all do but at his pace. From the hotel, we warmed our bones on the rising sun and set off on our way, we blasted the top of Copperhead and split out to scoot through the town over towards Gang Gangs to begin our big ride towards Mt Stirling, off in the distance.

As we flicked and railed our way down the mint turns of Wooly Butt trail, the morning sun lit up the greenery around us, giving us the warm and fuzzy feels. The trails felt great beneath our tyres and looked like a total dream._low6494 _low6529 _low6545 _low6583 _low6605

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The vast Stonefly ascent lay out before us as we began to climb what must be one of the most picturesque trails in the alpine region, the colours, the running creeks, the bark peeling off the trees ahead of summer and that superb mountain air numbed our fatigue and hid the dull burn in our legs.

Some of the best sections of trail are on this climb, the stark contrasts of the sun-bleached gums, dry and white from bushfire against the vibrant flowers and lush green undergrowth. We pause at Willow’s Breeze and remember a good mate, and push on towards Bluff Spur for a bite to eat._low6750 _low6752 _low6772 _low6791 _low6796 _low6811 _low6830

The Mt Stirling Summit is a real burner; your legs will hate you and your lungs won’t let you forget what you did to them, but getting to the top is so damn rewarding that nothing else matters. The views are enormous, and you can see where you’ve come from, Mt Buller is a long way away, that’s where that sense of achievement comes from.  _low6955 _low6906 _low6949 _low6854 _low6932

When you know you’re at the absolute top, with everything below it’s a pretty sweet feeling. To get down to Mirimbah there is much ground to cover, so we let it rip and hammered our way down the fire trail from the summit to the start of the Stonefly descent._low6966

Ripping past the sign signalling the beginning of the 4km singletrack descent, it was time to turn it up and ride the narrow and twisting trail that we know and love.

Between us and the beginning of the Delatite River Trail is not exactly anyone’s favourite climb, Trigger Happy. It might be scenic, but it is steep and the best way to get to the Corn Hill Summit. We take our time and grind the final climb of the day.

Clancy’s Run is a real ball tearer, with huge swooping bowls and huge banked turns the dusty and rocky trail is not to be taken lightly, but with excellent visibility and predictability the speeds creep up and up, and we were flying.

It’s at the bottom of Clancy’s Run that the formidable Delatite River Trail begins, it may be a fire trail but it’s ridden at the type of speeds that you’d be hard pressed to match anywhere else. It’s a rush, a wild and rapid mad dash down alongside the river and over it a dozen times across gargantuan bridges made from fallen trees. _low6988 _low6996

Bursting out to the valley floor, with bike and body in one piece, buzzing and exhausted, it’s that Buller feeling we came for. Ahh, yeah. That’s real mountain biking all right.

Signing off the epic day is a tradition we can’t miss, watching the sunset with a beer from the Mt Buller Summit. Cheers.

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Must-Ride: Flowtown, Falls Creek


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We don’t think anyone could have predicted just how spectacular Falls would eventually prove to be.

It was back in 2013 that Falls Creek opened their first stage of mountain bike trail development, the latest in a procession of alpine areas to acknowledge that ski seasons were becoming patchier than Trump’s policy detail, and summer is the way of the future. Back then, if you’d been a talent scout for mountain bike trails, you’d have put Falls Creek in the ‘has potential’ column – it was a place with all the bones for an incredible mountain bike park, but there was no meat. Let us tell you, there’s plenty of meat here now – we don’t think anyone could have predicted just how spectacular Falls would eventually prove to be. When you consider that Falls only began mountain bike trail development in earnest three years ago, and that the place is covered in snow for a good chunk of the year, it’s unreal how far it has come.

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Vandy drops off the end of Frying Pan Spur and into High Voltage, with the Kiewa Valley in the distance way below.

This summer sees the completion of Falls Creek’s fourth stage of trail development, including the opening of Flowtown, which will certainly become a signature trail for the region. We last visited Falls in 2015, at the end of the third stage of trail development, but with Flowtown now cranking, along with a regular shuttle service from the crew at Blue Dirt, Falls is the full monty. If you’ve got a mountain biking holiday on the brain, Falls has got to be on the list – it genuinely will go head to head with any of east coast Australia’s best mountain bike destinations. You could quite blissfully spend an incredible week in the Falls/Beauty/Bright zone. You could quite blissfully spend your entire life there, actually!

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Fresh mountain air and afternoon light, amongst the gums.
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Full throttle, on Flowtown.
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Flowtown is full of hits and gaps that are worked into the bench of the trail.

In the context of Victoria’s high country Falls Creek, Mt Beauty and Bright form a tight little love triangle at the eastern end of the strip of mountain bike towns that run across the region like a rich seam of gold: Mt Beauty, Beechworth, Yackandandah, Bright, Mt Beauty and Falls Creek. The Falls crew knew, that being a little more far flung from the population of Melbourne, they’d have to work hard to entice riders up the hill from Mt Beauty. But with visitor numbers doubling every year, and the hugely successful Ignition MTB event seeing almost 400 riders on the hill for Falls Creek’s opening weekend, the message is out there now.

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Lots of this caper to be had.

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The setting couldn’t be more spectacular: resting on the cusp of the Bogong High Plains, hemmed by views of the magnificent Kiewa Valley and rolling alpine meadows, Falls Creek is just a stunning place to be. The stark, white fingers of gums line the surrounding mountains, with the Bogong Dam a shimmering in the backdrop to the village. Sunset from the peak of Mt Mackay alone is worth spending the evening for – the view from the top of Australia’s highest public road across the range to Hotham is truly top notch.

The bulk of the trails are located in the huge bowl that naturally funnels you back towards the village – this accessibility is one of Falls’ real draw cards, with the trails starting and finishing literally on the edge of the village square. Exhaust yourself, and you’re not staring down the barrel of a long slog back to a brew. Stage 4 has also seen the development of a new beginner loop too, which keeps riders within cooee of the village, but is a great gateway into the broader Falls Creek network. Of course, the area’s sensational aqueduct trails, which we explored last time we visited, are all out there too if you’re keen on a mellow day in the mountains. Or, if something seriously epic is what you desire, then the legendary Fainters Track is a must-do as well – a multi-hour mission that traverses the ridges of the surrounding hills before dropping like a stone back into Mt Beauty miles away.


Check out coverage from our previous visits to Falls Creek too:


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Fresh brown trails, and a good set of rubber. Tip it in!
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Towards the end of Flowtown, the trail begins to weave into a few green gullies, crossing small creeks, before ramping up for a ridiculously fast finish.

Laying some tracks on Flowtown, the brand new creation from the folks at World Trail, was the main driver for our trip to Falls this time around and it left us a fizzing at the bung. This all-new 5.5km descent is a gem, linking seamlessly from some of the existing trails, you can effortlessly put together over 20 minutes of face-warpingly awesome descending from the peak of Falls all the way back to the entrance gates hundreds of metres below. The run from Frying Pan spur, into High Voltage, then Wishing Well and finally down Flowtown is just unbelievable fun. Finally, when you pop out on the main road, jelly-legged from almost half an hour of flat out descending, you’ve got the option of either jumping in a shuttle back to town, or taking in the gradual climb back up the recently opened Pack Horse track.

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Granite, gums, a giant on a Giant and good light.

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The visionaries at Falls who’ve made this all happen deserve all the success in the world. Like so many alpine areas, they had to overcome the winter blinkers that have commonly hampered mountain bike development in ski areas, but they’ve made it happen! Each year Falls has bulked up, and now it’s a true contender – make sure you’ve got it on the list this summer.

For all the details, including a full trail map, visit http://www.fallscreek.com.au/mtb

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Thanks for shredding for us, Paul! Sorry we made you crash.

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This Is Paradise: Riding Finale Ligure

You know where this is going, don’t you? Call off the search party, close the Wikipedia entry, stop selling tickets to the debate, because this is it. We’ve found paradise. And it’s called Finale Ligure.

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Words cannot convey the awesomeness. Finale has a huge variety of trails, but they’re all good.
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This photo is taken from the side of an incredible downhill track, which finishes by the beach. Perfection.

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The Shimano Australia crew had rustled together a fine mob for what would prove to be the most memorable mountain biking trip we’ve ever been on. Meet them below:

Left: Damian Breach – Lensman extraordinaire and very (very) proud Canberran. Right: Toby Shingleton – Shimano Australia marketing manager, with a training regime that starts tomorrow/after one more gelato/after one more beer.

Left: Will Levy – Two Wheel Tours head honcho and all-round mother hen. Right: Neil Kerr – Editor of Spoke Magazine and our crew’s dirt abrasion tester.

Left: James Klousia – Token Tasmanian, bends a mean sheet of ply. Bottom left: Chris Panozzo – Australian National Enduro Champion, makes berms quiver in fear. Bottom right: Jon Odams – Pearl Izumi athlete/man model/insurance expert.

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Long-travel bikes are the ticket for Finale Ligure – you’ll do most of your climbing either in a van, or on the tarmac. It’s all about the downhills here.

This flawless little Italian Riveria town is obviously no secret, it’s been the final stop on the Enduro World Series for the past three years, and the destination of choice for thousands of European mountain bikers. But, like the first time you make love, nothing we’d read or seen quite prepared us for the overwhelming reality. We didn’t wipe the grin off our face for a week. Even when our favourite gelateria run out of pistachio, the buzz didn’t die – we couldn’t believe the perfection we’d stumbled into.

"I'll take that one, please."
“I’ll take that one, please.” Ocean, mountains, perfection.
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Atop Monte Carmo di Loano. A few hours later, we’d be back on the beach.

Let us paint the picture. On your left, you have the Mediterranean, sapphire blue, languid and inviting, dotted with white sailing boats. On the coast you’ll find the town of Finale Ligure and its medieval sister, Finale Borgo, both charming spots full of seafood and gelato. Inland just a smidge you hit the mountains, thrusting up to a lofty 1400m above sea level. And etched into the rocky terrain of these peaks, you’ll discover more than 400km of trails, largely accessible by shuttle vehicle.

Did we highlight that there's 400km of trails to play with?
Did we highlight that there’s 400km of trails to play with?
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Every mountain bike town has a trail called Rollercoaster, but few are this good.

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This impossible sandwich of trails, town and sea was our domain for the week, which was ostensibly all about putting the latest Shimano XT Di2 gear through its paces. But to test something properly, you need to ride it a lot. And riding a lot means you need to eat a lot. And eating a lot means you need to ride a lot. It’s a terrible, vicious circle.

The little fella that brought us here. Finale was the ultimate testing ground for the new XT Di2 groupset.
The little fella that brought us here. Finale was the ultimate testing ground for the new XT Di2 groupset. Read our full review here. 
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HOW GOOD IS THIS?!
Riding back into town after a mammoth day. Just a cheeky castle in the background.
Riding back into town after a mammoth day.

Finale Ligure isn’t a trail centre like we’re accustomed to in Australia, where the riding is often fantastic, but the other essential components of a great holiday can be lacking. Here you’ve got a very best of both worlds – world class trails, butted into  a fully fledged holiday town, set up to handle the huge number of coconut-oiled Germans who flock to the sea each summer. There’s no 7:00pm scramble to find a counter meal after your ride (“Mate, kitchen closed at 6:30!”) – waltz down to the town square and you’re spoiled for choice, which just means you can spend more time riding into the late evening.

Cheers, to another awful day in paradise.
Cheers, to another awful day in paradise.

But what really sets Finale apart is the riding itself, and the level of challenge the trails present. “This one we call little Champerey,” explained Peter, our guide, on our first day of riding. “So, it’s steep then? Like the Champerey downhill track in Switzerland?” I asked. “Not so steep, just a little bit steep,” Peter reassured us, before launching off into a trail that was a ‘little’ steep in the way that Trump is a ‘little’ bit offensive. Brakes cooked, perceptions reset, Finale was treating us to a new level of riding.

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Panozzo ripping into another bobsled turn.
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Like many trails in Finale, this one clearly passes through an ancient farming area. The trails flow through old water runs, past ancients walls and abandoned orchards.

There’s no graduated approach to ease you into the trails. You’re all in, or you’re out.

Half way down the insane Monte Carmo descent.
Half way down the insane Monte Carmo descent.

That’s just the way it is – there’s no graduated approach to ease you into the trails. You’re all in, or you’re out. The hand built single track has grown organically over the last 30 years; raw, often unpredictable, nearly always rocky, these trails demand 100% engagement all the time. You’re never on cruise control. Our group suffered a few early casualties, both bike and body, victims of a dangerous mix of jet-lag and over enthusiasm But soon enough we found the rhythm and respect for the conditions, and thankfully everyone made it through the week.

Neil's hip went through all the colours of the rainbow over the course of the week following a crash on day one.
Neil’s hip went through all the colours of the rainbow over the course of the week following a crash on day one.
#lightbro
#lightbro

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There’s nothing manufactured about the riding either, the trails feel a natural part of the landscape, with many of them evolved from centuries-old walking trails or watercourses. Quite often you’ll suddenly pop up out into a little village, the trail literally scooting past the front door of a church, or over someone’s doormat. If you’re game to pull your eyes away from where you’re pointed, you’ll see the ruins of farmhouses deep in the trees, or realise that you’re actually riding through an abandoned olive grove or orchard, or over the foundations of a village lost in time.

Very, very much rock.
Very, very much rock.

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An abandoned NATO base is the kick off point for many of the region's best descents.
An abandoned NATO base is the kick off point for many of the region’s best descents.

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It’s up to you how you want to enjoy the trails of Finale Ligure, but you don’t come here for the climbs. The trails pretty much universally point downhill, so using one of the eight or so local shuttle services is a good way to start. The switchbacking roads are thick with vans towing bike trailers, heading out to the various trailheads in the hills. Some of the most popular runs actually kick off from the site of an old NATO base, about 1000 metres above the sea. It’s a surreal place to begin your ride, amongst the graffitied ruins with the huge turbines of a wind farm whirring overhead, and networks of secret tunnels below. If you want to stretch the legs, riding up to the top of the trails is manageable as the road never gets too steep – just be prepared for a long, steady climb of about an hour and a half.

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Early morning shuttles. LIKE.
Early morning shuttles. LIKE.
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Heading up into the clouds, from the beach.

Many, many miles off them, in all sizes, the longest rock garden on the planet.

Heading further out into the range presents another world of trails, rawer still, and even more epic. Perhaps the most memorable day of the journey was spent out here in the alpine area of Monte Carmo di Loano, the highest peak in the region. A long shuttle was followed by a tough hike-a-bike, but the pay off was truly something else. The trail down had only one predictable attribute, and that was rocks. Many, many miles off them, in all sizes, the longest rock garden on the planet. Even with 170mm of travel beneath us, it was a hysterically bouncy experience, the bike bucking about for kilometre after kilometre, line choice irrelevant, breathlessly trying to keep light and save our rims from the pounding. By the time we were deposited back on the coastline, hours later, our hands were raw and our legs throbbing from staying out of the saddle for the entire trail. It was unbelievable, one of the most memorable days riding we’ve ever had.

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Beginning the grind up to the peak of Monte Carmo di Loano.
The summit.
The summit.
Just a few more steps!
Just a few more steps!

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Epic.
Just look at that terrain.
Standard Finale mid-descent church drop.
Standard Finale mid-descent church drop.
A rare moment of buff trail.
A rare moment of buff trail.
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Rim pinging, flat out fun.

Our trip also coincided with the finale round of the Enduro World Series, and getting to see the level of riding at the peak of this discipline was humbling and thrilling. With Enduro still a relatively new part of the sport, few people have had the chance to actually experience an EWS race in the flesh, and it’s hard to convey just how tough it is. The demands are simply enormous. Some of the stages in the Finale Ligure round were full-blown downhill tracks, but preceded by hour long climbs, rather than a cushy chairlift ride. Over four days of practice and racing, the fitness, focus, preparation and consistency needed to be successful is mind blowing. If you had it in your mind that Enduro was a step back from the demands of downhill racing, then think again, because this game is brutal!

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Just some of the amazing crowd lining the final stage of the 2016 EWS.
Giving Aussie Enduro Champ, Chris Panozzo, some loud (distracting) support.
Giving Aussie Enduro Champ, Chris Panozzo, some loud (distracting) support.

We left Finale feeling permanently adjusted, and not just in the waistline, after a week of pasta, gelato and cheese, but in our outlook too. The convention for developing trail centres in Australia follows the wisdom that accessibility is key – start with more moderate trails to get a critical mass of visitors, then build in the technical stuff to enrich the experience for advanced riders. In Finale, that first step has been skipped – the trails will push even the most skilled riders, but that level of difficulty hasn’t hampered the success of this place as a mountain biking destination at all. We’re certainly not advocating that this should be the approach across Australia en masse, but seeing Finale Ligure certainly gives us the belief that the appetite exists for a truly challenging trail centre experience. We wonder which Aussie destination will be the first to emulate the Finale model?

A big thanks to Shimano for hosting us in Finale and giving us a chance to put Shimano XT Di2 through its paces in fine style – it was a week that will stay with us for a long, long time, as will the two kilos of cheese we ate.


Our test sled for Finale - Canyon's Strive CF. Read more about the bike here.
Our test sled for Finale – Canyon’s Strive CF. Read more about the bike here.
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Taking a breather after an hour and a half climbing up to NATO.
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Tight tech, on ancient walking trails.
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Odams gets in the hunt.
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Under a glowing canopy, Breachy grinds up into the backcountry.

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Innovation, Women and Happiness. In Conversation With Gary Fisher

Sitting in the canteen at the Trek global headquarters in Wisconsin, I’d been given the heads up that an interview with Gary Fisher isn’t like an interview with anyone else. To expect tangents, to see where it goes. Consider this more of a conversation: about growing the sport, about mountain biking’s most underrated innovation, and about his vision for the future.milner_trek_garyfisher_portrait021

It’s been about 40 years now since you started turning road bikes into mountain bikes.

It’s been a long, long time. I really enjoyed when I was 63 because I could say I’m 21 three times over. [He stops and laughs a huge laugh. He turns 66 this year. Sitting there in his riding kit, still wearing the bandana he uses underneath his helmet, and exposing molars full of gold fillings, he looks like a pirate.]

I’ll tell ya, I’ve had an unfair amount of fun. [He laughs some more. I get the sense laughter is never too far away when you hang out with Gary.]

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But you seem to enjoy it.

Oh yeah, I mean, come on. I’m a lucky man you know. I get to come to…I mean, I tell my wife, I’m going out to Madison. What are you going to do out there? I’m going to be out there with 50 women. She goes, ‘Ah, that’s typical.’

What gives you the biggest buzz nowadays?

Changing things. You know? That’s the biggest buzz. My excitement at this moment is [he gets serious all of a sudden] we are going to get in every single high school in the United States and I’m convinced that we can do it.

There are 179,000 high schools in the United States. Imagine if we got 10-20 riders in each one of those schools? This would be a bigger influx of bike riders than ever in the history of the United States. Now THAT is an exciting project.

Is that with NICA [the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, a group doing incredible things in schools in the USA]?

Yeah, that’s with those guys. They’re good people and everything, but we have something to bring to the party; we have an awful lot of business experience and experience with politicians and all that minutia to make this happen.

I am fully confident that we’re going to pull it off [he says convincingly]. It might take 10 years, but we’re going to pull it off.

Did you ever think you’d see something like this Trek Women’s Advocate program happen?

The women’s thing? It’s really funny because last night at [Trek President] John Burke’s house it was a completely different dynamic from the normal get together there. Normally there’ll be guys there, and they don’t talk to each other so much. They give each other a lot of space. That whole thing [the contrast] was not lost on John Burke.

‘THEY’RE JUST COMMUNICATING!’ THE FUTURE OF CYCLING AND HOW WOMEN ARE KEY.jeff-kennel-gary-fisher-interview-2

He said exactly the same thing.

He really recognised that these personalities are different. And now I’m talking to people around here and saying, ‘Well, look!’ You see how the dynamic totally changes when the men are totally outnumbered by the women.

Imagine, the women have always been outnumbered by the men in all these meetings we have within this building [the Trek Bikes Global HQ]. Could we have more meetings where the women decidedly outnumber the men?

Just to see what happens?

Well, I KNOW what’s going to happen. Things will be worked out better in that whole category. We, as a business, have really failed to engage even a good majority of women. I mean a real minority is what we’ve got.

Not many women like going into the man cave. It’s building this whole other environment that a woman feels comfortable going into and working with it.

Why do you think it’s changing now?

Because we’re looking at the obvious. You look at all the stats, like, how many of your subscribers are men versus women? With bikes, with races, with all this, it’s been hovering around 10 per cent. 10-15 percent. Maybe 20 in some good situations. But that is completely unrepresentative of the amount of women that want to ride and enjoy riding.

Sometimes I think women, in general, hold themselves back in growing the sport.

Yeah. We all find that. We are our own worst enemy. In the bike industry, we’ve got real problems. We’re not a force that we deserve to be. You look at Madison Avenue [in New York City, not the band]. All the advertising agencies, they use the bike as an icon of the good life. And it’s one of the top five icons of a good life.

When you’ve made it, you’re going to go out and ride your bike and have a great time. This is real freedom and everything. While that’s great, and we get, in a way, this free advertising, we as an industry have never controlled it, that message.kath-bicknell-gary-fisher-interview-3

We are always doing this whole guerrilla advertising sort of thing, and we’re not a big force. Especially in the United States. Only 40 per cent of people in the United States even owns a bicycle. So there’s a 60 per cent majority that has no idea how much fun we’re having! And that’s really the crazy part.

People look at us riding up a hill and go, ‘That guy’s gotta be miserable.’ And nothing could be further from the truth.

So how do we share the fun?

We start with the kids. [That massive laugh returns again as he switches to his pantomime voice.] Now you see my wicked plan!

[More wild pirate laughter. His expression says this is so obvious and excellent, that we switch instead to a different topic.]

I have another question, one that my brother was wondering when I told him about this trip. When I asked him about innovation in cycling, he commented that bike has basically looked the same for about 100 years.

Given your history in reshaping what a bike can do, what do you think are the most underrated innovations in bike design?

Hmmm. That’s a really good question… The most underrated innovations in bike design…. [he says, thinking…] because they’ve all be rated pretty high…

kath-bicknell-gary-fisher-interview-5I know what it is! For mountain biking, it’s the trail. A good trail makes you look like a genius! [That infectious laughter again.]

I had this experience two years ago – we went to the 25th anniversary of the European World Championships. They were in France and they were held in a ski resort. It was on hiking trails, basically. We were given the opportunity to ride the original course. It hadn’t been ridden in years. And here I am riding this course and we’re walking all this stuff. It was just unrideable. It was ridiculous.

Because it hadn’t been maintained? Or because it wasn’t ridable in the first place?

It wasn’t built for mountain bikers to start with and it wasn’t…it was a really crummy trail. And quite honestly, in the beginning days of NORBA and all that we held all these races, especially up in ski resorts, because they were willing to pay for us to come up. [NORBA was the National Off-Road Bicycle Association and ran from 1983-2004, a bit like Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA), but more NORBA-y]

They loved us. They had a famous event and they didn’t have many spectators. It would fill all their condominiums for a week and they wouldn’t have to deal with the public.

I used to be on the NORBA Board of Trustees. And I used to be complaining all the time saying, ‘Can’t we make a course that’s actually faster with the bike than without the bike?’

Such a crazy idea!

Yeah! And I rode this course. And I’m going, this is a miserable piece of crap. It’s a miracle that anybody got beyond riding stuff like that to actually enjoy the sport.

What do you think are the big limitations that we have to overcome now?

In the States, acceptance from the other 60 per cent. And those are mostly guys like me. Old white guys. And they’ve got the money and the power and everything. And they’re the ones that are saying ‘no, never, you’re going to have to pry my cold, dead fingers off my steering wheel. The car is the answer and it’s the only way.’ And they’re entirely wrong.

[The conversation detours as we take a tour around the world, the history of transport, health, the medical system and lots and lots of un-fact-checkable-but-very-motivating stats.]

What advice would you give to people who are already part of the riding community now?

To go out and teach somebody how to ride right. And tell them what it’s all about. And talk about all the…all the medical papers, peer reviewed, that say what we’ve been saying all along: I’m very happy when I ride a bike. I’m healthier. I’m more intelligent.kath-bicknell-gary-fisher-interview-2

There’s also this thing where you’re doing this thing. Skaters do it, surfboarders do it, skiers do it. And you’re doing this motion. And this motion has been proven to create happiness in your brain.

Flow.

Yeah! It’s why we dance! It’s why we do all this stuff you know! It creates happiness.

And after all, at the end of the day, what are you really after?

What are people really after?

Well, OK. The top five death bed regrets, right?

Which are?

Which are…

I should work more!

No, it’s never that!

No, it’s…people don’t lie [at that point]. They look back on life and they say, I wish I’d taken better care of myself, my health. I wish that I kept my friends. I wish that I told everybody around me how I really felt. And I wish I had tried to do what I really wanted to do.

[As we wrap up our interview, I can’t help but think that Gary is a man who has certainly done just that. And in the processes, he’s swept along a whole wave of people who can now call themselves mountain bikers with him.]

Thank you.

 

‘They’re Just Communicating!’ The Future of Cycling and How Women are Key.

Last week, Wisconsin was the destination for around 60 bike-mad ladies, including seven working in media. We were there for the first ever Trek Women’s Summit at the company’s sprawling global headquarters. Based in a small town called Waterloo, and with a series of rooms for every part of the bike design and manufacturing process, the impact of the company has extended far beyond the walls of the shed.

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Jim Colegrove who’s the man behind Trek’s OCLV carbon fibre process.

I’ve long respected Trek’s approach to women in cycling. They’ve invested in the women’s market since the mid-90s. They offer scholarships for women to skill up in the workshop. And the riders headlining their Factory Racing teams are women. Not just racing, headlining: Emily Batty in cross-country, Rachel Atherton in downhill, Tracey Mosely (now retired) and Casey Brown in enduro and Katie Compton in cyclocross.

‘It’s a woman’s bike if a woman is riding it,’ Trek said last week, one of the most sensible things that’s been said about bikes for women in years.

While Trek lay claim to developing the first ‘women’s specific’ bike, today, with better research into what works and doesn’t for riders of all types, data from bike fits is also supporting person specific contact points rather than a unique frame. This is something that stands out in the 2017 product line and the bikes ridden by their factory riders.jeff-kennel-trek-summit-12

‘It’s a woman’s bike if a woman is riding it,’ Trek said last week, one of the most sensible things that’s been said about bikes for women in years.

I arrived at the summit curious to learn more about the company, their ethos and how they see this sport developing in the future. I was also curious to meet their new advocates, and learn about how the cycling scene in the USA overlaps and contrasts with our own.

Trek’s Women’s Advocate program

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In recent years, women’s advocates and ambassadors have become a central part of successful marketing strategies from several companies in the bike industry.

The aim of the summit was to celebrate and educate the company’s newly announced women’s advocates. In whittling applications down to just over 50, Trek selected ladies from all over the USA and Canada, including a couple from Brazil and Mexico. Most are already working in the cycling industry, with the majority working in shops, or teaching clinics. They’re supported with some product, but the real value for these women is in networking, resources and being skilled up and empowered in how to do what they do even better.

Ambassadors can build participation in their local communities through regular rides, skills clinics, social media, and being a point of contact for riders new to the sport.
Ambassadors can build participation in their local communities through regular rides, skills clinics, social media, and being a point of contact for riders new to the sport.

I could happily write you a feel good piece about how wonderful these advocates are, but I’m not going to. Like ambassadors for other brands in Australian cycling communities, the fact that these ladies are pretty special is as obvious as saying bikes have wheels. With so many extraordinary people gathered in one place, I found myself asking three questions about the bigger picture:

What’s one thing you would like to see change in cycling over the next 5-10 years?

What do you think it would take to make that happen?

How do you think these women are part of that change?

The answers people gave revealed as much about what makes them great in their own roles within the sport as it does about the role of women in taking this sport to the next level.

John Burke, Trek President

John’s response was that he wants to see an increase in safer places to ride. ‘If you do that, you’ll get a lot more people to ride,’ he said.

‘I think we’re at a very interesting place where we’ve got huge environmental issues that nobody even knows how big the environmental issues are. And that will continue to rear its ugly head, and that will spur people to action.

‘You’ve got congestion issues in the cities which aren’t going away. And then you’ve got health issues because people are getting unhealthier. Cycling is the only thing I know that addresses all three.’ A powerful pitch for the future of cycling indeed.
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John’s response was that he wants to see an increase in safer places to ride. ‘If you do that, you’ll get a lot more people to ride,’ he said.

So how are these women part of that change? This, from John, was the most telling response of all. He started off referring to the welcome drinks held at his home, which the summiteers had shared the night before.

‘So I’ve had a lot of events at that house and a lot of them are 80 per cent guys. It was fascinating just doing the people watching thing last night,’ he said.

‘One of the things I found to be very interesting is that when you have all these guys come to the house, they don’t know anybody so they just sit there and they’ll find one person and talk to them in the corner. And that’s their night.

‘When you take a look at women, they didn’t know anybody either and it was just…’ he makes a sound kind of like a fizzing rocket taking off and heading into outer space. ‘And you’ve got groups of six and eight and 10 and they’re just communicating!’ Talking with John, you could see the cogs ticking as he recognised the value of this to the sport as a whole.

‘You’ve got all this stuff going on and when men get involved in cycling, they do it for themselves. When women get involved in cycling, they do it for the group. So, the more women you can get involved in cycling, they can spread the message more. I also think, the more women who press the issue of safe places to ride can have a huge influence.’

Gary Fisher, the man with the moustache.

Gary Fisher is one of the people who invented mountain biking in the 70s. He’s seen a lot and done a lot. He, too, suddenly became aware of the possibilities that come from switching the balance of women to men. His vision for the future of cycling? ‘To be more available.’

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What do we need to do that? ‘More safe places to ride and more education,’ he said.jeff-kennel-trek-summit-17

And how are these women key? ‘These women? Come on!’ he said with a thick accent I’d oddly never imagined when pouring over historical images from the sport.

‘Women talk. Women have intellect. Like crazy. And women actually control much more than men will give -’ he stops mid-sentence…

‘We try to be complete here,’ he said next, talking about Trek more broadly. ‘We’ve focussed on guys for so long. It’s been our bread and butter. Old white guys, in the last 10 years have been the industry’s bread and butter.’

In a separate interview we’ll publish later, Gary spoke about his curiosity to see what happens when switching the balance of women to men in company meetings to see what insights arise and decisions are made.

Candace Shadley. One of those women who create a massive wave, and is simply excited to see more people jump on (a) board and surf it.

Based in Whistler, Canada, Candace runs the Trek Dirt Series mountain bike camps. She’s seen as a pioneer in this area, coaching over 1000 riders a year. This is an impressive amount when you consider the number of months when the country is covered in snow, and the gnar factor of iconic Whistler trails.

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Candace would like to see ‘more women integrated in to the sport and respected for what they do.’ She’d also like to see more people crossing disciplines. More cross-country riders hitting up the bike park for instance. The bonus is she can already see all these things happening. The sport is exploding and riding one discipline only is becoming a thing of the past.

‘There are so many people that are drivers and doers and shakers and motivated,’ she said. ‘And bike technology always gets better so you can take the same bike in various areas and that helps. We’re going in such a good direction. We just need to keep going there,’ she said.

So what happens next? ‘We’re sitting in a room of 50-something super motivated women,’ Candace said. ‘At a company that’s made a massive commitment to that.

‘I think that having the people here shows that they can go further because there are more people, more empowered, with more resources and more support to keep doing what they’re doing and do it even better.’

Kate Nolan, one of the Trek Women’s Advocates based in Indiana, but helping people to fall in love with the outdoors everywhere.

Kate Nolan co-owns an adventure company with her wife, called DNK Presents. Given her new advocate role and the context of the summit as a whole, she said she really just wants to see more women on bikes.

She sees education and awareness as key to creating this change, but phrased it in terms of making ladies feel more comfortable. ‘Women apologise more than men,’ Kate said. ‘You always hear women like, ‘Oh I’m sorry, my backpack’s not right,’ or, ‘Oh I’m sorry I’m going too slow.’ Giving them a safe place just to get out and have a good time and be surrounded by other women.’

While we need industry driven change at a higher level, it’s people on the ground, like Kate, who know how to cater to the riders who don’t already feel comfortable on bikes. This is central in shifting the gender balance too.

For Kate, as well as a lot of the other skills coaches I spoke to, they were quick to speak about what cycling gave people in their lives away from the bike too. Better health, a stronger sense of self, more assertiveness, able to tackle bigger life problems and challenges in the workplace. It was these bigger benefits of participation that appeared to be what motivated these ladies the most.

On diversity, confidence and change

So where does that leave me? What were my thoughts?

I often find myself straddling a fine line working in cycling media. On one hand, being female means I’m often asked to write stories and reviews catering to a much broader range of women than the industry often acknowledges.

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We’re getting better at acknowledging the diversity of women in the sport. We’re seeing women and girls as people, as leaders, as articulate, as wanting to do different, compelling and passion-driven things.

In trying to grow the women’s side of the sport it’s important to balance a narrative that’s welcome and inclusive to people who’ve only recently discovered the bikes, but also speak to riders who have been in the sport for a much longer time; riders who don’t always identify with this nurturing, developmental narrative, or bikes developed as part of this stance. Many of these women, by contrast, want to ride things that are steep, challenging and technical. And ride it fast.

This is not to say that Trek, or other brands, haven’t been advancing the women’s side of the sport. Swap ‘women’ for ‘wheel size’ and you’ll see that there’s no right answer or single way to move these debates forward. But, as Gary Fisher later said, ‘Change happens very slowly and then it happens rapidly. And then it happens slowly again. And we’re going into a rapid change period.’

I left the summit feeling lifted. I feel like the industry has finally started to talk about women in cycling the way women do. As multiple, diverse, as having different aims and opinions, as sometimes being more comfortable on a nimble-handling or high-performance bike with modified contact points, as sometimes being better suited to a unique frame. As wanting to shred, as wanting to travel, as chatty, as ambitious, as articulate, as influential. As part of a much bigger picture. As confident. As valuable. I can’t wait to see where this takes the sport next.

 

Travis Knows What’s Up – Talking Bikes and Stuff with Travis Brown

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Throwing back to the late nineties and the VW/Trek Racing Team. 26″ wheels, V-brakes and short socks.

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Travis was Trek’s first professional mountain bike athlete, signing on the Trek VW Racing Team way back in 1993. In 2005 he may have retired from full time racing, but his responsibilities shifted into turning his incredibly valuable experience into a way of helping develop product.

So, Travis, what’s keeping you busy at Trek these days?

I’m managing the field testing for all mountain bikes, from cross country hardtails to downhill bikes, I have a network of riders that test prototype bikes and products, and deliver me their feedback. They are riders that are just the most ingrained users and can put the miles and time in on those products and bikes.

Who are these lucky people that get to ride secret prototypes?

Everything from trail riders that don’t race, to inspiring neo-pros that are trying to make a career out of racing. I also tap into the pro teams for a resource too, the ones that are interested and willing to take the time to be a developing resource.

What makes a good field tester?

It’s a skill set and a personality with the sensitivity to understand differences between one bike and the next bike, and the ability to communicate that to myself or other product managers and engineers.

Testing the Trek Farley on snow, fat bike territory.
Testing the Trek Farley on snow, fat bike territory.

By the time the product makes it to these field testers, what’s still yet to do?

For the most part a lot of the development has been done by the time I get stuff to my Colorado test group, we’re hopeful that it’s at the level that a consumer would be happy with. But the reason that they have it so far ahead is to find any issues a consumer or retailer may experience, from the tiny fit or compatibility issues, to even how bikes are packaged to a dealer.

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Big momentum and tight handling on the Stache 29+ bike.

In between managing the field testing, I’m also spending time on my own trying to come up with the next innovation along with the other product engineers and core team.

What other racing have you done since?

To understand all the genres of mountain biking since the early days, just take a look at how many categories of trail bikes there are now. While I was still racing I was doing plenty of racing outside the realm of traditional XC, like Super D racing, Enduro. I’ve done some bike packing missions, to understand the evolving segment too.

I was always racing cyclocross as a winter supplement, I find that because of the short duration and style of the course it’s such a dynamic and close racing, loads of passing and for spectators they can see the whole race develop which is a hard thing in bike racing. And in the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of fat bike racing, especially now that we’ve been doing a lot more with fat bikes, with frames and tyre projects in the pipeline.

Bike packing field testing.
Bike packing field testing.

What is a fat bike race?

All on snowpack, they’re traditional cross country lengths for the most part, it’s fun because the conditions of the snow can be so broad. The optimal tyre pressure for one race might be nine pounds of pressure and another race with the same tyre might be three pounds of pressure. Riding the wrong pressures in the wrong conditions you just can’t compete.

Where’s heart of the fat bike racing scene?

Midwest, US. There’s races that have 1000 people at the start, there is a series in Colorado that I do a lot of races, there’s a Great Lakes series, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and obviously Alaska where the whole genre was born.

And this all gave Trek the Farley?

Yep, we’re up to our fourth year with the Farley, just last year the innovations of that bike saw us move from 26” to 27.5” tyres and we found that in the softest conditions we might be running 2 to 5 psi the overarching thing is tyre volume and being efficient over that terrain. So we increase the volume by going wider and bigger diameter.

The core focus for you has been the Farley and Stache?

Yes a lot of Farley and Stache, because those products require unique geometries they require tyres, rims, forks. It’s like building an entire bike from scratch. Finding the best head angle and offset that suits a bike with 27.5 x  4.5” tyres resets everything.

The Stache, it’s  29” plus bike, not something we see a lot of at all, with plus bikes typically using 27.5” wheels? Why 29?

We went with 29 Plus as the dedicated platform for the Stache because the rationale is that if you’re the type of rider willing to take a small weight penalty for a lot of extra control and traction, and the ability to run a low pressure and you’re the same person comparing 27.5 and 29, we went 29”. We prototyped both wheel sizes, 27.5 and 29 as soon as we built a tyre, and for the application of a hardtail we came out with the 29 to be the superior option.

Trek Stache 9.6
Trek Stache 9.6
Stache 7.
Stache 7.

We came up with some pretty creative frame shaping strategies to make the chain stay as short as anyone could possibly want it, with the elevated chain stay design the shortest stay position on the Stache is 405mm and up to 420mm which is short for any type of bike.

A cobbled together 'test mule', the result of this project is the Trek Stache.
A cobbled together ‘test mule’, the result of this project is the Trek Stache.

We tested out a lot of bikes, cobbled together aluminium mules with all sorts of designs, but when we rode the elevated chain stay bike it made the monster truck wheels ride like something it doesn’t look like at all.

What’s the Stache?

Ride one, it’s hard to communicate the capability of a hardtail with 29×3” tyres amongst the realm of trail bikes and long travel dual suspension bikes. Until you ride it words just fall a bit short.

Roo spotting Down Under.
Roo spotting Down Under.

Where should it be ridden?

Anything where traction is a challenge, it is directly related to the tyre pressure you can run in the tyre. Whether you’re running a regular 29” bike and you might get down to 23 psi and the risk of pinch and rolling the tyre, on the Stache you’ll easily run 15-16psi and then there’s so much more rubber on the ground. Cornering, braking and climbing confidence is awesome. You’ll take lines you wouldn’t even dream of.

The key to the Stache's short rear end is in the elevated stays.
The key to the Stache’s short rear end is in the elevated stays.

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To get the same capability on a dual suspension bike the cost goes up, you have the most capability for the dollar on that bike.

Travis Knows What's Up – Talking Bikes and Stuff with Travis Brown

Inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2006, The Durango born and bred legend Travis Brown has helped Trek maintain its place as one of the best mountain bikes you can own. We recently had a great opportunity shoot the wind, ride sweet trails and spot kangaroos with one of the sport’s historic icons.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.55.12 AM
Throwing back to the late nineties and the VW/Trek Racing Team. 26″ wheels, V-brakes and short socks.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.55.01 AM MBA 4_01_347-2 847S4874-2

Travis was Trek’s first professional mountain bike athlete, signing on the Trek VW Racing Team way back in 1993. In 2005 he may have retired from full time racing, but his responsibilities shifted into turning his incredibly valuable experience into a way of helping develop product.

So, Travis, what’s keeping you busy at Trek these days?

I’m managing the field testing for all mountain bikes, from cross country hardtails to downhill bikes, I have a network of riders that test prototype bikes and products, and deliver me their feedback. They are riders that are just the most ingrained users and can put the miles and time in on those products and bikes.

Who are these lucky people that get to ride secret prototypes?

Everything from trail riders that don’t race, to inspiring neo-pros that are trying to make a career out of racing. I also tap into the pro teams for a resource too, the ones that are interested and willing to take the time to be a developing resource.

What makes a good field tester?

It’s a skill set and a personality with the sensitivity to understand differences between one bike and the next bike, and the ability to communicate that to myself or other product managers and engineers.

Testing the Trek Farley on snow, fat bike territory.
Testing the Trek Farley on snow, fat bike territory.

By the time the product makes it to these field testers, what’s still yet to do?

For the most part a lot of the development has been done by the time I get stuff to my Colorado test group, we’re hopeful that it’s at the level that a consumer would be happy with. But the reason that they have it so far ahead is to find any issues a consumer or retailer may experience, from the tiny fit or compatibility issues, to even how bikes are packaged to a dealer.

_LOW7383
Big momentum and tight handling on the Stache 29+ bike.

In between managing the field testing, I’m also spending time on my own trying to come up with the next innovation along with the other product engineers and core team.

What other racing have you done since?

To understand all the genres of mountain biking since the early days, just take a look at how many categories of trail bikes there are now. While I was still racing I was doing plenty of racing outside the realm of traditional XC, like Super D racing, Enduro. I’ve done some bike packing missions, to understand the evolving segment too.

I was always racing cyclocross as a winter supplement, I find that because of the short duration and style of the course it’s such a dynamic and close racing, loads of passing and for spectators they can see the whole race develop which is a hard thing in bike racing. And in the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of fat bike racing, especially now that we’ve been doing a lot more with fat bikes, with frames and tyre projects in the pipeline.

Bike packing field testing.
Bike packing field testing.

What is a fat bike race?

All on snowpack, they’re traditional cross country lengths for the most part, it’s fun because the conditions of the snow can be so broad. The optimal tyre pressure for one race might be nine pounds of pressure and another race with the same tyre might be three pounds of pressure. Riding the wrong pressures in the wrong conditions you just can’t compete.

Where’s heart of the fat bike racing scene?

Midwest, US. There’s races that have 1000 people at the start, there is a series in Colorado that I do a lot of races, there’s a Great Lakes series, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and obviously Alaska where the whole genre was born.

And this all gave Trek the Farley?

Yep, we’re up to our fourth year with the Farley, just last year the innovations of that bike saw us move from 26” to 27.5” tyres and we found that in the softest conditions we might be running 2 to 5 psi the overarching thing is tyre volume and being efficient over that terrain. So we increase the volume by going wider and bigger diameter.

The core focus for you has been the Farley and Stache?

Yes a lot of Farley and Stache, because those products require unique geometries they require tyres, rims, forks. It’s like building an entire bike from scratch. Finding the best head angle and offset that suits a bike with 27.5 x  4.5” tyres resets everything.

The Stache, it’s  29” plus bike, not something we see a lot of at all, with plus bikes typically using 27.5” wheels? Why 29?

We went with 29 Plus as the dedicated platform for the Stache because the rationale is that if you’re the type of rider willing to take a small weight penalty for a lot of extra control and traction, and the ability to run a low pressure and you’re the same person comparing 27.5 and 29, we went 29”. We prototyped both wheel sizes, 27.5 and 29 as soon as we built a tyre, and for the application of a hardtail we came out with the 29 to be the superior option.

Trek Stache 9.6
Trek Stache 9.6
Stache 7.
Stache 7.

We came up with some pretty creative frame shaping strategies to make the chain stay as short as anyone could possibly want it, with the elevated chain stay design the shortest stay position on the Stache is 405mm and up to 420mm which is short for any type of bike.

A cobbled together 'test mule', the result of this project is the Trek Stache.
A cobbled together ‘test mule’, the result of this project is the Trek Stache.

We tested out a lot of bikes, cobbled together aluminium mules with all sorts of designs, but when we rode the elevated chain stay bike it made the monster truck wheels ride like something it doesn’t look like at all.

What’s the Stache?

Ride one, it’s hard to communicate the capability of a hardtail with 29×3” tyres amongst the realm of trail bikes and long travel dual suspension bikes. Until you ride it words just fall a bit short.

Roo spotting Down Under.
Roo spotting Down Under.

Where should it be ridden?

Anything where traction is a challenge, it is directly related to the tyre pressure you can run in the tyre. Whether you’re running a regular 29” bike and you might get down to 23 psi and the risk of pinch and rolling the tyre, on the Stache you’ll easily run 15-16psi and then there’s so much more rubber on the ground. Cornering, braking and climbing confidence is awesome. You’ll take lines you wouldn’t even dream of.

The key to the Stache's short rear end is in the elevated stays.
The key to the Stache’s short rear end is in the elevated stays.

_LOW7380

To get the same capability on a dual suspension bike the cost goes up, you have the most capability for the dollar on that bike.

The Numbers Game

I’ve never been any good with figures, but increasingly my conversations about mountain biking feel like I’m reading a barometric pressure chart – my poor brain sometimes struggles to attribute meaning to numbers being flung my way. And every year the mountain bike numerical soup gets thicker, swimming with new component or frame standards that sound like an international dialling code.

"You know what moments like this really need, mate?" "No, what?" "A discussion about wheel sizes."
“You know what moments like this really need, mate?” “No, what?” “A discussion about wheel sizes.” “Dickhead…”

The thirst for evolution and incremental improvements is the driver, and don’t get me wrong, I love the way bikes are always progressing. I just wish there weren’t so many numbers that went along with it!

Go back fifteen or so years and it wasn’t so. The only numbers thrown about were frame size and travel – you certainly didn’t need to specify wheel size because wheels had one size. Now you can’t talk about wheels without sounding like you’re rattling off the dimensions of package you’re shipping.

Definitely not thinking about bottom bracket measurements.
Definitely not thinking about bottom bracket measurements.

The times-table of axle sizes and hub widths was much simpler too: 90% of mountain bikes had the same axle and hub widths, with downhill bikes the only exception. Admittedly most riders’ wheels were being held in by ridiculous little chopsticks, never may they return, but that’s not the point. Now we’ve Boosted the issue to include 100×12, 100×15, 110×15, 142×12, 148×12 and 157×12 too, plus good old 110×20, 150×12, 100×9 and 135×10. The answer is 15,964 by the way.

29,1x11,157x12,110x15
29,1×11,157×12,110×15

A handlebar was just a handlebar. It had the diameter of a handlebar and was about one handlebar wide. Yet now we agonise over just how much to trim (or not) off our 808mm bars and debate the merits of 31.8 and 35mm clamps.

Dare we get started on bottom brackets? Once 68mm or 73mm (both threaded), the bottom bracket options now read like the Australian Standards sticker inside your helmet: 68mm, 73mm, BB92, BB98, BB30, PF30, BB386 and about a dozen other variants on the theme too. Or drivetrains? 3×9 has become 1×10, 1×11, 1×12, 2×10, 2×11 and 3×10…phew.

Not concerned about hub widths.
Not concerned about hub widths.

While I’m not sure if my improved numeracy can be called an upside, in some ways the onslaught of number has made actually getting out on the bike even more of an escape. Once you’re on the trail, you can forget about the fact your bike’s running 27.5, 2×11, 148×12 with BB92, you’re just riding, and hopefully that never changes!

The important numbers: how far and how long you rode this week.
The important numbers: how far and how long you rode this week.

Five Questions: Jurgen Falke of Merida and Pete Stace-Smith of Norco

The pair were on hand in Brisbane at the Advance Traders 2017 show recently, so we cornered them to ask them five quick questions about the industry.


What is the difference between innovation and marketing?

PS-S: I think you can market anything, even though it may not have innovation. Whereas innovation will standout if it’s marketed or not. I believe we can do a really good job at innovating, we just don’t have the clout other brands might have it to market it, whereas other brands might do a huge job of marketing but don’t have innovation to back it up. Those are two separate things but they are kind of linked.

JF: It’s quite a good question! I would say marketing is a tool to underline the innovation. Innovations are not always self explaining. We are not a marketing driven company, we look more for technical innovation and try to convince that the product works as we intended it. We are not the guys making the biggest story around it.

What is the most influential product or development for mountain biking in the past five years, and in the last 12 months?

PS-S: I’d like to say wheel size. It was almost like a light switch in many ways when we started developing super cool trail-worthy 650 bikes, and we’re starting to see the first generation of super cool trail-worthy 29ers now too.

In the last 12 months, it’s hard to put it down to one thing, because there’s such innovation with materials, designs and everything else. If I had to, I’d say something like a carbon 29er trail bike. Trail, I’m going to put the emphasis on trail there, like the Optic.

JF: For the last five years, actually the biggest changes and the biggest effect on riding is the change in wheel sizes. Having different wheel sizes for different applications is the most important development, far more important than say drivetrain things.

More recently, 1×12 by SRAM is really interesting, it’s the first time in my personal conviction that a 1x system gets rid of the limitations of a too narrow bandwidth. It’s just a question if they will be able to bring this technology down to a commercial price point which is reasonable for normal consumers.

Your most profound mountain biking moment?

PS-S: Ah, fun! Going back many many years, I’m going to say the thing that changed my mountain biking overnight and sent me down a path that’s probably a little steeper and deeper was learning how to wheelie drop. I remember distinctly the day I wheelie dropped off the end of the log and got it dialled. And then I went back and did three feet, then four feet and five and six, and once you start doing that, you know what it’s like – off you go!

JF: For me it is an experience linked to a place. It was in 2011 I spent three days riding in Moab, together with the SRAM guys, Greg Herbold, we had a great time – it’s a fantastic place to ride, in a completely different way to what is possible in Europe. I think it was the absolute highlight in my mountain bike life.

Who has been the most influential person in mountain biking for you personally, and also the most influential person for the broader industry as a whole?

PS-S: Those are good questions. Personally, for me, a cool cat, a guy like Jay Hoots, who has taught me a lot about riding, and to follow down tracks all over the worlds and has opened my eyes to what is possible on a bike as a whole and therefore wanting to try it.

For the industry, I’d say Keith Bontrager. Keith was a bit of a behind the scenes guy who did a lot to make mountain biking safe. I remember him saying, “weight, price, strength: choose two.” And that’s still really, even today, relevant to everything we do.

JF: It’s not really people that are influencing me that much. It’s more or less always the best product of the leading brands, setting the level high and encouraging me to develop products that compete with them at an eye-to-eye level.

And for the industry, visionaries like Mike Sinyard are definitely the motors behind certain developments. But again I don’t see individual people as game changers.

What is one thing you would like to change about the mountain bike industry, and what is one thing you would you never change?

PS-S: What wouldn’t I change? I wouldn’t change the fact that there’s such exciting changes still happening now. I’ve been in mountain bikes since like 1980, and yet every year I’m still excited about new stuff coming down the pipe, and every year there are still real technology changes which is making my riding better, and making riding better for everyone. And you know what, I see what’s coming down the pipe for 2017 and beyond and there’s even more cool stuff coming.

And what would I change? I think that’s there’s a lot of me-too’ers and copycats, and stuff that is marketed as the latest and best which isn’t really the latest and best. So a little less ‘murketing’ and a little more delivery.

JF: I would never change trying everything that’s possible, even if it turns out later to not make any sense. All this kind of being a bit crazy and trying new things is something I’d definitely never like to see change.

And I would like to change the over segmentation and over specialisation of the industry. There are too many specialised products for every possible, specific application. I still think it’s quite cool to have a bike with a broader range of use, that’s possible to have lots of fun in different conditions, that’s not necessary to have five different bikes for five different types of riding.

Wheel Talk, with Wheelworks

We got Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas on the line to answer a few questions about why all wheels are not created equal, and to dispel a few myths around the oft-called ‘dark art’ of wheel building.


Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Three Wheelwork’ers, Gavin, Tristan and Jesse, from Wellington.

We’re going to be testing the Flite Wide Carbon wheels, which boast a 34mm internal width. From our perspective, we feel that rim width can really transform a bike in so many positive ways. Given the performance benefits, why do you think it took so long for wide rims to come about?

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
How every good wheel build begins.

We’ve been building and riding wide rims for about 5 years now and it’s great to see them become popular and mainstream.  From our point of view there aren’t many downsides to rims with an internal width of 30 to 40mm, and as you know there are a whole lot of positives.

After the move from 26” to 29” and then 27.5” that most companies felt they’d already overloaded their customers and their supply chain with wheel changes

I think the delay with seeing these rim widths becoming adopted by the industry is that after the move from 26” to 29” and then 27.5” that most companies felt they’d already overloaded their customers and their supply chain with wheel changes and that the move to wide rim wasn’t a priority for them.

I don’t think we’ll see much change in rim widths over the next few years.  I think that rims will go as wide as 40mm for 2.8-ish tyres but for everything from XC oriented 2.2” to enduro oriented 2.5” will use rims in the 30-40mm range.  We’ve been running everthing from 33mm cyclocross tyres on 30mm rims and there really is zero downside to wider rims.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Just like with alloy rims, there’s a huge range of quality in carbon rims too.

Our test wheels are carbon. What are the most common misunderstandings, myths or mis-truths about carbon rims?

My big frustration is that all carbon rims, whether they’re good or bad, get lumped into this same category of “carbon rims” and talked about like they’re the same and this isn’t fair or accurate.  There are plenty of good quality aluminium rims which are much better in every measurable way than a cheap carbon rim.

There are plenty of good quality aluminium rims which are much better in every measurable way than a cheap carbon rim.

Modern, high-quality, carbon rims like our Flites are the lightest, stiffest, and most durable rims available.  The only downside is that they’re more expensive than aluminium.

 

You also offer an alloy Flite wheel set. Can you have an alloy-rimmed wheel that’s as strong as a carbon-rimmed wheel? Are there any inherent limitations or advantages to an alloy rim?

Alloy wheels are far from dead and there is heaps of product development still going into them.  Modern wide alloy rims are a big improvement on the narrow, flexy things of yesteryear.  In general an alloy wheelset will be heavier and less stiff, but will be cheaper.  Alloy rims tend to dent when they’re whacked…this can be a good thing and is why you see EWS racers using alloy, whereas good carbon will take a pretty serious beating with no damage at all but whack them hard enough and they will crack.  In general alloy rims should be treated as a consumable item for an aggressive rider…they’ll dent and eventually have a hard time holding an airtight tubeless bead.  Good carbon rims don’t suffer from these dents and will outlast alloy.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Strength, stiffness and durability are all very different attributes, even though they often get lumped together.

Where does a wheel actually derive its strength from? How much is a product of the rim versus the build quality etc?

Stiffness, strength, durability are three terms which get used and I think it’s worth clearing these up as they’re very different but often get confused.

Once a wheel has ‘enough’ stiffness the rider won’t notice twice as much stiffness.

Lateral stiffness is how much the wheels flex when loaded sideways during cornering, landing crooked (come on, admit it!) knocking off rocks or riding off-camber roots.  A stiffer wheel provides a more direct, confidence-inspiring ride.  A wheel which isn’t stiff enough is vague or mushy to ride.  Once a wheel has ‘enough’ stiffness the rider won’t notice twice as much stiffness.  I think of it like having a waterproof roof on your house:  if it’s not waterproof enough then it will drip in the rain but once waterproofed it doesn’t matter if you double or quadruple that waterproofness as you’re still going to remain dry.  How much lateral stiffness is ‘enough’ depends on the ride weight and style, and on their bike.  Also worth noting is that a super stiff wheel won’t be noticed when clamped into a super-flexy fork with a flexy stem and flexy handlebar.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Getting the spoke lengths exactly right helps prevent any weak spots or stress concentrations for better durability.

A big myth here is that high spoke tension builds stiffer wheels

Lateral stiffness is built into a wheel mainly by the rim’s shape and material but the spoke type, number of spokes, lacing pattern and hub flange dimensions also play a role.  A big false myth here is that high spoke tension builds stiffer wheels:  There is no scientific reason for this to be true as the spoke’s Modulus of Elasticity isn’t affected by tension and our lateral stiffness testing confirms it isn’t true.  Lowering spoke tension won’t change how the wheel feels unless you lower the tension so far that the wheel falls apart.  Conversely increasing spoke tension won’t make the wheels feel any stiffer or more responsive but the higher tension will place more stress onto the rim, hub, and spokes and will cause these items to fail sooner.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Higher spoke tensions don’t necessarily equate to a stiffer wheel, despite popular myth to the contrary.

Vertical stiffness is another myth.  Wheels don’t flex vertically in any amount which could be significant.  Your tyres have around 60mm of vertical flex so adding, say, 1mm of rim flex just won’t do anything.

Strength is how a wheel will respond to one, single, hard impact:  A cased jump, a hard strike onto a root, etc.  Strength mainly comes from the rim’s design and a good, strong rim poorly laced to a cheap hub will still be strong.

Durability is how well a wheel responds to prolonged riding and continued impacts.  A  wheel’s durability is much harder to measure and building durable wheels is not easy.  This is where some of the ‘black art’ of wheelbuilding comes in and although no single silver-bullet will give you excellent wheel durability – there are plenty of small steps, custom tools, and minor tweaks that can be done during the wheelbuild process to increase durability.  We’ve been doing this for over 10 years and wheel durability is a huge area of focus for me and the reason we’re able to offer lifetime guarantees on wheels.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
‘Grimlock’ is Wheelworks’ custom press that subjects wheels to forces far beyond what a rider is capable of.

We notice you offer a lifetime broken spoke warranty. How can you do this?

Because we’ve figured out how to ensure they don’t break! As part of every wheelbuild we measure the rim and hub and calculate the spoke length.  We then cut spokes to the exact right length, down to 0.1mm accuracy, specific to that wheel to ensure we’ve got full thread engagement in the nipple.  If the spokes are too short they’ll break the nipple, if they’re too long they’ll break at the first thread.  When they’re the perfect length and combined with our other steps, we can guarantee they’ll never break.

There are two types of warranty:  one where the manufacturer expects the product to fail and be replaced, and one where the manufacturer puts steps in place to nearly eliminate possibility of failure.  We offer the second type of warranty and I’m extremely proud of the durability of our wheels.

You’ve mentioned to your ‘grimlock’ machine, which pre-stresses the wheel. Can you explain how it works and the importance of this process?

If you’ve ever ridden a brand-new bike you’ve likely heard a popping sound coming from the spokes as they settle in, unwind themselves, bend themselves slightly, and loosen off.  With some hand-built wheels you’ll hear that they need to go back to the builder after they’ve ‘settled in’ to be re-tensioned and re-trued.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
After Grimlock, the wheels go backing into the truing stand.

Grimlock allows us to apply a vicious amount of force into the wheel in a really controlled way, and basically over-load the wheel well beyond what will happen when you ride it.  The first time a wheel goes into Grimlock it loses about half its spoke tension so we need to re-tension and re-true the wheel.  We alternate this process of re-tension and re-truing, and putting the wheel through Grimlock until the wheel comes out of Grimlock as true as when it went in.  At that point the wheel has been stressed well beyond what a rider can do and we’ve got full faith that barring a huge crash the wheel will never go out of true.

Do spoking patterns really have an impact in the world of mountain biking? How do you lace mountain bike wheels and why?

There are a few little things that lacing patterns impact but nothing too significant.  We lace most carbon rims with a 2-cross pattern which reduces the angle that the spoke enters the rim and helps with rim durability a little.  We lace the rear wheels so that the ‘pulling’ spokes bring the crossing in towards the centerline under power to give a bit more derailleur clearance, but with modern 142 and 148mm dropouts being so stiff and modern 40-plus tooth cassettes this doesn’t have a significant effect for most people.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Checking the dish.

What is the next frontier for wheel development?

The area between Plus and non-Plus is pretty blurred at the moment and you’ll see that continue, but the industry will settle on 30-40mm rims for non-Plus bikes, 40-50mm for Plus sizes and those horrible 23mm rims will be a relic of the past like V-brakes.

Carbon rims will continue to drop in price and will be spec’d on lower-priced bikes but the high-end stuff will remain at a similar price.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build
Short black? How did you know?

If you look at the holistic development of the bike I think that wheels are in front of the curve.  I think we’re unlikely to see really significant changes to wheels in the next few years but there will be lots of development in tyres to make the most of wider rims.

Wheelworks Flite Wheel Build

Bikes which can accept both super-wide 27.5” tyres and 29” tyres will be increasingly common.  What we’re seeing riders owning this type of bike can drastically change how the bike rides by carefully selecting two wheel and tyre combinations so they no longer have a need for an XC bike and a Trail bike and just swap wheels instead.

At the moment we’ve got a mess of axle ‘standards’ which are confusing for riders and make life harder for everyone in the industry from frame companies to dealers so we’ll see the industry settle on a single standard which works.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Tristan! We’re looking forward to putting your wheels to work! 

When the Love Affair is Over

Mountain biking can be a lot like a love affair. Like any new relationship, the lust phase is pretty exciting. Everything is new and different, we’re learning heaps and being exposed to new challenges. But like a relationship, it’s easy to become complacent, to lose the spark, and to stop trying. Chances are, the things that motivated you in your early days of mountain biking aren’t the same as now, especially if it’s have been static for a while. Other things have a tendency to take up your and your mates’ time and energy, and it can get harder and harder to get out for a ride, or to drag your friends out on the weekend.

Flow-Nation-Mount-Beauty-Falls-Creek-218
A bunch of similarly motivated mates makes it easy to keep the stoke high.

If you or your friends have lost the spark, here’s how to transition that love affair with mountain biking from the early lust phase to a long-term, sustainable relationship.

The Signs

You:

  • Your bike has dust on it (and not from riding);
  • You’ve gotten rid of mountain bike pages/likes from your Facebook feed;
  • You have no idea who’s leading the EWS (worse, you don’t know what the EWS is);
  • It’s been at least six months since you bought a part or component for your bike.

Your riding mates:

  • They don’t reply to your messages about riding this weekend;
  • They haven’t shown up for a group ride in at least three months;
  • They stop liking/posting mountain bike-related stuff on Facebook.
LOW8013
How do you get THIS pumped again?

The Excuses

You:

  • I’m too (insert one of the following: tired, busy, broke, unfit);
  • It’s too (insert one of the following: hot, cold, wet, dry).

Your riding mates:

  • As above.

LOW0158-2The Reasons

Jokes aside, there are lots of reasons that people fall out of love with mountain biking. Here are a few of the most common:

  • It takes too much time;
  • Skills don’t progress and things feel boring;
  • Riding the same trails without any change;
  • It’s too expensive;
  • To get beyond a moderate skill level is often scary;
  • There aren’t people to ride with regularly;
  • Injury;
  • Lack of fitness.
LOW01911
Improving your skills can help feed back into increased motivation.

Understanding what’s going on

It’s pretty normal for things that started off as new and exciting to lose their lustre over time. Most humans find it hard to sustain interest in anything without some sort of ongoing reinforcement. To understand this, we need to understand something called self-determination theory.

According to proponents of this theory, motivation comes in two flavours: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is external, for instance, being given a bonus for staying late at work, or going for a ride because your friends want you to. Extrinsic motivation can be pretty powerful but there are two downsides: i) it’s short lasting and, ii) the amount of stimulus/reward required for motivation increases over time. In other words, the first time your boss offers you $200 to work a Saturday you might say yes, but the second time you’ll want a lot more, and by the tenth time it’s unlikely that any reward would be sufficient.

It’s pretty normal for things that started off as new and exciting to lose their lustre over time. Most humans find it hard to sustain interest in anything without some sort of ongoing reinforcement.

Early mountain biking experiences are a lot about the extrinsic reinforcement: you ride because your friends or partner are into riding, or because you’ve got a new bike, or because you want to be able to ride as well as your mates. But because of the diminishing return (e.g., the bike doesn’t stay new and requires upgrades and maintenance, your skills don’t progress without a lot of work), motivation can drop off pretty quickly.

LOW0159
Riding somewhere new can be the motivational nudge you need.

The other type of motivation is intrinsic motivation. This motivation is internal: you want to do something because it means something to you, rather than because someone else wants you to, or because you’ve been offered an incentive. Sustaining an interest in mountain biking has to come from internal reasons in order to be lasting – doing things because other people want you to, or because you feel pressured to, simply won’t last.

Try something new: a new trail, location, skill.

Breaking down barriers

Sustaining a mountain-biking habit is difficult. It requires time, money, access, and people to ride with. As well as developing an internal motivation to ride (see below), reducing the barriers to riding will make things a lot easier.

For you:

  • Schedule time realistically. If you have to drive for ages to ride, share the ride with a friend. Negotiate the time with your partner in advance;
  • Take some time to develop your skills. Take a skills course, or just find somewhere to practise (preferably with a friend who’s a little better than you). If you just go out and ride, you’ll probably end up riding around the same obstacles over and over again. Stop and session – this will also help with any fear issues that are getting in the way of your enjoyment (check out this article for some advice on improving skills: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/dealing-with-real-fear/);
  • Try something new: a new trail, location, skill. There’s a lot of information out there… If you don’t have people to ride with, try a forum like Rotorburn – mountain bikers tend to be pretty friendly people!
  • Don’t get fixated on what you don’t have – mountain biking doesn’t have to be about the latest gear (read here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/why-you-dont-really-need-to-upgrade/);
  • Try riding more mindfully (read here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-riding-in-the-here-and-now/);
  • Try to get a bit fitter. An off-mountain bike training program (gym work, some running, or time on the road bike) makes a big difference – riding is just more fun when it doesn’t hurt as much…
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Targeting an event, race or trip away can help bring the love back too.

For your friends:

  • Don’t give up on them – keep in touch;
  • Don’t nag. Instead, make it easier for them: offer to pick them up and drive, find somewhere to ride that takes less time to get to, or see if you can do a skills-course together. Basically, you want to find out what’s in the way of their riding enjoyment and what you can do to help;
  • Make sure they have fun first ride back. Dragging someone out on a painful epic or scary descent (even if it’s easy for you) will make it worse. No one likes being the guy at the back!
  • Follow-up: getting someone back into riding requires patience and reinforcement. Remember, we’re after intrinsic motivation.

Keep in mind that a lack of barriers doesn’t guarantee motivation. I’ve lived within five-minutes ride of awesome single track, with good riding buddies, and perfect weather, and still struggled to get myself out the door.

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Lifting your head and appreciating the surroundings you’re in can restore your appreciation for mountain biking too.

The long-term love affair

Figuring out what’s reinforcing for you and your friends is the best way of maturing an early infatuation into a long-term interest. There are a heap of reasons people stay interested in mountain biking including but not limited to:

Skills: Continuing to learn new skills keeps mountain biking interesting. Learning new, faster, or more efficient ways to ride is a start. How about your bike? Are you interested in learning how to do your own servicing (even the basic stuff like bleeding your brakes or changing your chain)? Remember to be gentle on yourself with this one – it’s easy to get disheartened when things don’t progress as fast as you’d hoped.

Challenge: Not quite the same as skills, but related. As your skills increase, you’ll want more challenge. Riding new trails, trying new features that you’ve always gone around, and riding with people who are better than you, all help to up the challenge.

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Find a new, beautiful place to ride, and regain the love.

Relationships: This is a big part of mountain biking for a lot of people. Riding by yourself can be great, but riding with people you know and trust can make even an average ride a lot more fun. Take some time to cultivate mountain-bike friendships.

Involvement: Getting involved in something bigger than just you and your riding can make a big difference to your connection to the sport and the wider mountain-biking community. Joining a local club or shop-ride group, volunteering for some trail building or maintenance, or engaging with others on MTB forums can keep you connected.

Novelty: Riding the same stuff, no matter how challenging, can be really boring. While it’s great to have a local ride, it’s really important to try new things. There’s nothing like that new trail feeling.

Aesthetics: Last, but not least, we often forget that riding takes us to some really beautiful places. Instead of focusing exclusively on a Strava PB, stop from time to time and appreciate the view. Realising that you’re somewhere beautiful goes a long way to making a ride that much more rewarding. 


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams has a PhD in sport psychology, is a registered psychologist, and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about the joys and perils of being human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy lives and works in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

 

Must Ride: Beechworth, the Dream Town

We’ve spent plenty of time here before over the years filming and shooting videos for Flow themed around tourism, trails, road trips and beer. But this time a family holiday brought one half of Flow (the better half) to the iconic town of Beechworth for a few days of quality time, but not without a bike of course. Beechworth’s well-preserved township and rich Australian history give it the feeling of stepping back in time, around six hours from Sydney and three from Melbourne is more than enough to give the feeling of a proper getaway and also keeps the trails safe from the hordes of skidding tyres.

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That iconic main drag, looks like a movie set from a gold rush film. Is that Ned Kelly driving a Hilux down there!?
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We chose the new Pivot Switchblade set up with 27.5+ tyres to join us on the trails of Beechworth, a VERY good decision indeed! This bike loves slippery surfaces and technical terrain.
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Perfectly signed and marked, just rock up and shred! There’s even street signs in town pointing you in the direction of the MTB park. A real mountain bike town!
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Go on, just ride.

With a population of less than 3000 people it’s a surprise the town has amazing purpose-built mountain bike trails within a quick ride from the main drag, and plenty of adventure riding beyond that. The Beechworth MTB Park and Flame Trees have two trails in the Dirty Dozen, North East Victoria’s best trails handpicked by locals.

Check out the full dozen here – www.thedirtydozen.com.au.

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Yeeeeaaaaa!
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Thread through the chunks of granite and play with the varying surfaces under your tyres.
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When in town…
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Picture-perfect township.
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New school freeriding, find a boulder and ride up and down it, there’s a lot to explore around the place.
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Wade Simmonds!?
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Tanswell’s. The centre of town, good place for some live music, pub grub, cheap accomodation and meeting some cheery locals. Bridge Road Brewery is just out the back too, no need to go far…
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Out of town exploring some local trails and ‘fire roads’ in the surrounding hills.

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Big cheers to Derek and Chris for good yarns, local welcome and letting us tag along for a ride. Legends.

When we think of Beechworth we immediately think of sweet trails and er, beer! The local brewery Bridge Road Brewers is one of the finest craft brewers in the country, exporting all around the country its great quality brew. Aficionados know what we’re talking about, this place is beer tasting heaven and we feel even warmer and fuzzier with a hoppy pint in our hands knowing that the brewery is also heavily involved in the mountain bike scene, supporting development, events, and the local club the Beechworth Chain Gang.

You’d be mad not to try the tasting sample plank with 11 distinct beers brewed a few strides away from the bar. The pizza is seriously delicious too, take our word for it. And the pretzels. And the open fire…
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Exploring the fire trails in the National Park, right up to Barry’s Falls.
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Derek Visser, local legend. One of the locals keeping the trails running sweet for us city folk to have the best possible time.

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Squamish, Canada? No.
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The trails in the mountain bike park are sublime, we relish in the open and flowing nature of the trails through the sparse forest littered with grippy granite boulders and drifty soil. Heavenly stuff!
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Beechworth is right on the Mountains to Murray Rail Trail, calm gradients of endless flowing cycle path. A nice way to roll about the place and see the beautiful and austere Victorian countryside at a slower pace.

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Open corners! Flow to the max.

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Want To Ride Beechworth?

For more on what this place is all about head to our most recent Flow Nation trip to the region here: Flow Nation, Beechworth.

Trail locations of the two main trails in town: Beechworth MTB Park and Flame Trees.

Here’s a throwback to Flow’s first visit to the region.

Flow Nation Beechworth video.

 

The Dirty Dozen video from all five destinations in the region. Mt Buller, Mt Beauty, Bright, Beechworth and Falls Creek. Road trip!

Cheers!

Bike Fitting Fundamentals: A Case Study with Dylan Cooper

It’s Saturday morning and the familiar smell of glove funk and chain lube is wafting in the air. You’re out on your local ride feeling indestructible. Unfortunately you come to realise that you are not. Frustratingly it’s not your fitness that gives out but that recurring injury that has plagued you for what feels like as long as you can remember. Personally at this point I’d be justifying a more expensive bike for myself as an investment in my health. However the first three bikes didn’t change the issue, why would the next? You may have spent thousands of dollars on your dream bike, why not make sure the bike fits you and more importantly that you fit the bike. Not only will you be more comfortable and efficient on the bike, but it also less likely to get injured.

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Dylan Cooper at Port to Port MTB 2016.

Have you thought about paying some attention to that ache and visiting your local therapist with a good knowledge of cycling biomechanics?

At this point, I should probably disclose that I work as Physiotherapist at Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy in Canberra and have a particular interest in bike fitting. I’ve seen many broken and battered bodies ranging from the elite to the highly recreation. Mountain bikers certainly provide some of the most interesting stories as to how they ended up with that stiff knee, broken shoulder or achey back. Unfortunately the mere act of pedalling a bike is highly repetitive and restrictive on the body. There aren’t too many sports where you are fixed at the feet, pelvis and hands then ask your poor body to repeat the same movement thousands upon thousands of times. Not to mention the odd loss of skin.

There are a few things you can do to make that Saturday morning ride more comfortable and enjoyable. The first seems like the most obvious. Have you thought about paying some attention to that ache and visiting your local therapist with a good knowledge of cycling biomechanics?

If the problem only occurs whilst riding then it is safe to say the bike has something to do with it. Once again don’t go blaming the new 27.5” carbon fibre dually that you just bought, it could still be your body that needs fixing to allow you to use the bike to its full potential.

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Even veterans of the sport can improve their bike fit.

Recently I had the pleasure of working with Dylan Cooper from Trek Racing Australia to help solve a few of his long term aches and pains and get the most out of his bike. Before even looking at bike position and pedalling technique we like to run through a full musculoskeletal screening to check muscle length, joint range of motion, pelvic alignment, key muscle strength and motor control. Then there are structural components to check such as foot abnormalities and leg length differences. When it comes to feeling great whilst riding it is just as important for the body to be able to cope with a cycling position, as much as the bike being the correct fit for the body. Having said that there are some adjustments you can experiment with yourself.


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Saddle height is crucial, even if you’re on a trail or Enduro bike with a dropper post. It’s handy to measure and recored your ideal height, so you can quickly get the set up correct if something slips, breaks or needs replacing. 

Saddle Height

Saddle height is one of the most important measurements on the bike. Too high and the pelvis will roll side to side on the saddle, and potentially aggravate the lower back. Too low and there is significantly more compressive forces going through the patella-femoral joints (kneecap joints), as well as decreasing overall pedalling efficiency. The correct height is a happy balance between staying steady on the saddle and getting the correct amount of knee extension to maximise drive through the pedals.

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Measuring ankle angles to re-check seat height.

Being a very technically minded rider, Dylan had his saddle height near spot on. The only adjustments that needed to be made was a mild increase in height and the packing out of a cleat to compensate for a slight leg length difference. This allowed Dylan to gain better and more consistent contact with the pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

Dylan’s Comment:

“I’d messed around with saddle height for years, but wasn’t ever 100% confident with it. Having Simon confirm it was correct was reassuring and also meant if I didn’t feel right on the bike it was probably due to another set up issue. Having things measured and noted down also” helps. Now when I get my bikes each season I can just refer to those measurements and know they’re correct.

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The knee cap should be over the axle of the pedal in the 3 o’clock position for optimal fore/aft position.

Saddle Fore aft position

Fore aft position of the saddle has an effect on the how your body creates power. Too far forward and the thigh muscles become dominant and potentially cause knee pain. Too far back and you may compromise your ability to push through the pedals or end up in a position unfavourable to the lower back. Ideally the posterior surface of the knee cap should be over the pedal axle when the pedal is at “3 O’clock” in the pedal stroke with your ankle at its usual angle at this point of the pedal stroke. Once again Dylan wasn’t too far off the mark here and didn’t have any real low back or knee complaints.

Dylan’s Comment:

“This is another one I always played around with, especially when saddles change shape and length each year. Having this measured accurately gave me the confidence to commit to my set up.”

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Checking cleat position and float.

Cleat position

Cleats can be trickier to get the positioning right on. The simplest way I can explain cleat position is aim for the middle of the balls of the foot. If in doubt go with what feels comfortable and stable. It’s in this region that Dylan’s kryptonite began. Dylan complained of having long term pain on the outer border of the foot, particularly down long descents where there was a lot of pressure through the feet. He has experimented with a multiple pairs of shoes and orthotics however the problem has remained.

On assessing Dylan’s feet, I was quietly happy that he hadn’t been blessed with perfect genetics. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be fair on the less cardiovasulcularly gifted riders such as myself. He had an abnormal foot type where his big toe joint had dropped and was causing his forefoot to roll outwards leading to excessive pressure on the lateral border of the foot. Dylan also had excessively pronated feet (flat arches) which pushed his knee towards the top tube during his pedal stroke. It should be mentioned here, that excessively pronated feet unlocks the midfoot axis and hence one doesn’t have a rigid lever to push on the pedals. Hence with a mobile pronated foot, one loses energy in the transfer of power to the pedal.

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Assessing forefoot position for optimal pedal contact and potential foot pain

Again, cycling is a bugger for showing up any biomechanical flaws. Carbon fibre cycling shoes with little give can potentially make for a very uncomfortable riding experience. To fix the problem, we made a pair of customized orthotics for Dylan designed to allow even pressure through the balls of the feet to compensate for his dropped big toe as well as provide adequate arch support to control the excessive pronation. This helped alleviate the foot pain and created a more stable platform for pushing through the pedal. It also enabled Dylan to keep his knee in line with the pedals rather than tipping towards the top tube, meaning a more efficient pedal stroke.

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As part of the fit process, Dylan’s left vs right leg power was assessed.

As an adjunct to this remedy Dylan was also taught gluteal (buttock muscle) stabilising exercises in the cycling position. The gluteal muscles are important for cyclists as they are the main stabilisers for the hip joint. Without good gluteal function the knee can have a tendency to go in and out during the pedal stroke rather than straight up and down. This can potentially cause pain or injury to the knee, as well as decreased pedalling efficiency.

Dylan’s Comment:

“The corrections in my feet and focusing on specific glute strengthening exercises has been the biggest revelation. I’ve put up with excruciating pain in my feet for most of my cycling career, especially in the heat. And I’d tried almost everything to fix the issue. But in the end I gave up. Having this sorted out in one sweep was amazing. And, combined with glute strengthening I can notice the difference in power and efficiency.”

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Again, knowing your measurements helps. The seat/bar distance is something we pay more attention to on the road, but it’s important on the mountain bike too, particularly if you’re spending long periods of time in the saddle during a marathon race for instance.

Stem length and position

The front end of the bike is mostly about comfort and control. Handlebars too close to a rider can create issues through lower back. Too far away often leads to neck issues. On a road bike an aerodynamic body position needs to be taken into account, however not so low as to compromise back position or pedalling efficiency. On the mountain bike it is safe to say that aerodynamics isn’t as big a priority. I certainly haven’t seen anyone descending Mt Stromlo on aero bars lately.

Headstem length, handlebar height, handlebar width and brake position are very much a personal preference depending on riding style. It is useful to keep in mind what effect each change has on your back position if you plan on riding up the hill as well as down. Keeping the lower back in a neutral posture by maintaining the natural slight inward curve of the spine allows the leg muscles to drive from the most stable base, and generally feels a lot more comfortable several hours into a long day in the saddle. Dylan, much like many of the elite level cyclists, was running a very aggressively low handlebar position to allow for excellent cornering and climbing control. With good core strength and muscle flexibility he could hold this position easily without compromising his low back posture.

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Fitting a stem measuring device to assess the best possible handlebar position.

For many of the cyclists that I meet a headstem too long can lead to poor upper back and shoulder position. If the handlebars are too far away the natural response is to push the shoulder blades forward to maximise the length of the arms. Riders will also often shorten the headstem in response to low back pain however sometimes this is counterproductive. By shortening the reach it can be like pushing two ends of a piece of bamboo closer together. The result can be more bend and more low back pain. Conversely the same can occur if the handlebars are too low as riders with poor flexibility will be forced to bend more through the back to reach the handlebars. We usually use a sizing stem which allows observation of posture whilst pedalling in many headstem degrees of drop, raise and length.

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This shot is of Dylan’s Trek Superfly 100 from 2015, but you can certainly see that aggressive front end position he prefers.

Dylan’s Comment:

“I definitely run a low and long position, mainly to keep stretched out and have more range to ‘work’ the bike with. Too many riders assume a higher and shorter cockpit set up is better for descending, unweighing the front end too much and not keeping their body weight balanced between both wheels. This is a key thing to get right if you want to handle a bike well, but also avoid back pain.”

Sorting out orthotics to alleviate foot pain. This also allows better contact and power transfer through the pedal.
Sorting out orthotics to alleviate foot pain. This also allows better contact and power transfer through the pedal.

Brakes and shifters

Ok so most of you have figured out already that braking with 4 fingers doesn’t feel good. However for those of you new to mountain biking the brakes needs to be adjusted such that you are only using your index finger. To maximise your braking capacity the curved tip of the brake lever shoulder be lined up with the index finger. Play with the reach adjustment where possible to maximise the comfort levels. Once the brakes are set the shifters are adjusted to where it feels most comfortable and accessible.

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Having your brake lever positioned so that stress is reduced on your tendons and muscles will reduce the risk of arm pump.

Attention also needs to be paid to the angle of the wrist. Hand and finger musculature works much more efficiently when the wrist is in a neutral position, which on a mountain bike is as if you were punching the handlebars. Too much angle at the wrist forwards or backwards can lead to impingement or tendon injuries, and is far more likely to increase the dreaded arm pump.

Dylan’s Comment:

“This is such an important, but neglected, aspect of setting yourself up on a mountain bike. A lot of people I know run their levers way too high and it forces them to compensate with other parts of their body.”


Where do you start?

If you do decide to experiment with different positions I suggest you make small changes at a time. Allow your body to adapt and respond to your new and hopefully improved setup. If in doubt there is no harm in asking for help. Getting your position right on the bike is much easier with a second set of eyes watching from angles that you may only achieve whilst riding past a photographer in a race. If you are anything like my friends you’ll be more preoccupied with striking the best cornering pose than holding the perfect pedalling posture. In that case why not go get a bike fit.

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching someone ride a bike worth more than my car with a horrible seat position or headstem that just isn’t right for them

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching someone ride a bike worth more than my car with a horrible seat position or headstem that just isn’t right for them. Personally I would highly recommend a physiotherapist with bike fitting experience as there is often as many problems that need solving on the body as there are on the bike. You may be needlessly putting up with problems that can be easily fixed and make your riding experience so much more enjoyable.


About the Author:

Simon Davis works is a senior physiotherapist at Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy in Canberra. He is an avid mountain biker and has a special interest in treating cycling related injuries and correcting lower limb biomechanical issues. He regularly performs bike fitting assessments for all cyclists from weekend warriors to the elite level professional rider.

About the Rider:

Dylan races for Trek Racing Australia and has nearly 20 years of racing experience. He’s won countless national series races and represented Australia at the World Championships 7 times, as well as many World Cups. As well as 10 years of skills coaching experience, Dylan has raced internationally for years and won across various disciplines, including cross country, marathon, short track, road, and enduro. He’s passionate about getting people into this great sport and loves seeing people improve.

A Very Good Toy…

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Our very first experience on an e-bike was on board the Specialized Turbo Levo.

While e-mountain bikes are already a common sight across Europe, Australian trails are yet to really see much pedal-assisted traffic. We’re aware just how divisive the e-bike debate is, but overwhelmingly the opinions being slung around come from an ideological standpoint, rather than any kind of practical grounding.

And that’s exactly why we thought it was about time to get ourselves some first-hand experience, so our own opinions on the matter were more than just assertions and guesses, like most of the discourse.

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Here’s the juice.

Yesterday we joined a crew of Specialized dealers for ride on the Turbo Levo. Specialized aren’t the only player in the e-mountain bike game here, but there’s something about the Levo which has made it a bit of a focal point of the e-debate – perhaps it’s because e-bikes have largely been a European thing, and Specialized are the first large US brand to make a move?

Overwhelmingly the opinions being slung around come from an ideological standpoint, rather than any kind of practical grounding.

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Your second set of legs lives in this box.

While a two-hour ride by no means makes us e-xperts (get it?!) it was certainly enough to answer some of our own questions about e-bikes and the Levo in particular. As you read on, remember that we’ve only had experience with the Levo, so we’re well aware that our experiences might not accurately translate to other brands of e-bikes too.

We want to deliver, without bias or prejudice, the answers to a few of the questions that we had prior to our first e-xperience.


Do they damage the trails more than a normal bike?

NO. Not that we could see or otherwise detect. We definitely didn’t find ourselves wheel spinning or skidding any more than a regular bike, the two things that really ruin trails. The Levo only delivers power when you pedal (you can’t just sit there and wheel spin), and it actually cuts out on delivering any assistance if you’re pedalling hard, so we didn’t find it breaking traction more than a standard bike.

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With a standard 29×2.3″ tyre, we didn’t notice any more wheel spins or skidding than we’d expect on a regular bike. We think this would be even further reduced with a Plus sized tyre.

We were riding the ‘regular’ tyred version of the Levo, with 29×2.3″ rubber. We would have to imagine that if we were on the 6Fattie (Plus tyres) Levo, we’d have had more grip, which would have further reduced any skidding or wheel spinning.

The pedal assistance cuts out a 25km/h. Beyond that pace, you’re just manually pedalling a very heavy bike.

Do they present a danger to other trail users?

NO, we don’t think so, but some people may argue otherwise. As far as we could discern during our short ride, the only time you have a truly big speed differential between yourself and other trail users is on the climbs. On the descents and in the singletrack, your maximum speeds is still going to be limited by how good a rider you are, so you’re not really going to be pushing the pace beyond your usual limits.

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A speed sensor operates of a magnet on the rotor, cutting the pedal assistance out above 25km/h.

We’re not sure about other e-bikes, but on the Levo at least, the pedal assistance cuts out a 25km/h. Beyond that speed, you’re just manually pedalling a very heavy bike, so in fact you can probably hit a higher top speed on a regular bike.

That said, your average pace IS faster, because you can get up to speed more quickly after slowing down and you don’t fatigue at the same rate as a normal bike. So possibly you could make the argument that a higher overall speed is dangerous and that you have less reaction time because of the acceleration.

Are they heavy? 

YES. The Turbo Levo we rode is 22kg. That’s about 8.5kg more than an equivalent non-pedal assisted bike. When it comes to lifting or transporting the bike, it’s a lot of heft. We’d hate to be putting one on roof racks with our child-like arms.

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With the extra weight on board, the suspension works a little harder.

Do they feel heavy on the trail? 

YES and NO. Hopping, manualling or pre-jumping the bikes takes a lot more effort, partly because of the weight, and partly because of the long chain stays too. Because of the weight and the longer rear end, slow speed manoeuvres like ledge drops were intimidating at first – we were worried the front end would drop, but we got used to it, you just needed more body language.

You only need a tiny run-up to get up to speed and launch off a lump in the trail from an almost stand still.

On the flipside, the weight is largely hidden by the pedal assistance, and not just on the climbs. We found that the pedal assistance lets you use trail features to your advantage in ways you couldn’t on a normal bike. For example, you only need a tiny run-up to get up to speed and launch off a lump in the trail from an almost stand still.

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Half a tank of gas.

Are they more stable than a regular bike?

YES. The extra weight, and its location low in the frame, makes the Levo very stable. Compared to a regular bike, it feels much more ‘moto-esque’ in terms of how it holds its line. As a bit of an aside, this highlighted to us how good the suspension and tyres are too. The extra weight makes them work overtime.

Do they descend faster than a regular bike? 

NO. We don’t think so. Perhaps the extra weight and stability that comes with it allows you to carry more momentum, but that’s not a big impact. In general, your ability to descend quickly is limited by your skills or the trail/terrain, and the pedal assist doesn’t change that.

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Getting an efficient pedal stroke is less important, so we rode with the seat lowered a lot.

Do you set them up like a regular bike?

YES and NO. In terms of suspension and tyre setup, we added a little extra pressure to handle the extra weight, but that was it. Where our setup was different was our seat height. Our bike was equipped with a dropper post, but for much of the ride, we kept the seat lowered most of the way down. The pedal assist means there’s less need to have the seat at full height to get maximum efficiency, so you can run it low and enjoy the lower centre of gravity and only pop it up when you want to stretch your legs on a climb or smooth section.

You can obviously turn the power down, but let’s get real here, most people are going to always opt for maximum assistance.

Is the drivetrain able to handle all that power? 

KIND OF. Shifting gears under any kind of power is a bit frightening at first – they CLANG into place with all the load on the chain. You quickly learn not to shift under load. We had one derailleur destroyed in our group (due to a stick) but we almost ripped our derailleur off too after dropping the chain twice. Because of the load the drivetrain is under, it seems that when things do go wrong, they do so quickly and comprehensively. You seem to lose that split second window to lock the rear wheel and avoid ripping your mech off, so keeping it all in good working order will be key.

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We found that compared to a standard bike, we shifted less often, and spun the pedals a lot more, rather than stomping.

We can envisage the development of more e-bike specific drivetrains. SRAM have announced EX1 recently, catering for the unique demands of e-bikes. With specific brakes to deal with the weight of the bike, and a drivetrain that can handle the changing of gears under the increased power.

Does your heart rate get up?

YES. But not a lot. We were riding on bikes in full-blown Turbo mode, so they give you maximum assistance. Only on a couple of occasions did we feel like we were really exerting ourselves. In twisty, technical terrain the weight of the bike makes you work a bit, throwing it about, but on the whole you burn a lot less energy.

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The battery on the Levo weighs in at about 3.5kg and is housed in the down tube.

You can obviously turn the power down, but let’s get real here, most people are going to always opt for maximum assistance, unless they have a really long ride planned and need more battery life.

Does it climb anything like a normal mountain bike?

NO. The technique we found ourselves using to climb on the Levo was very different. You tend to stay in the saddle a lot more and keep pedalling a light gear – you don’t need to get up and crank out of the saddle, pulling on the bars. This means there’s a lot of grip on the rear wheel too, as it’s always weighted.

You also don’t need to plan ahead in the same way. So much of technical climbing is about maintaining momentum, and that ceases to be an issue, as you can regain lost speed so easily.

There’s no denying that much of the skill associated with climbing goes out the window.

Does it take the skill out of mountain biking? 

YES and NO.  On the climbs, 100%. There’s no denying that much of the skill associated with climbing goes out the window – you don’t need to be able to finesse your way up a climb, balancing grip and pedalling forces. You can just stay seated or just out of the saddle, and keep clawing up on the Levo.

In all other areas, no, you still need to be a skilful rider to go fast. It won’t make you corner like Sam Hill on cut spikes, even if it will give you legs like Nino.

Is the power hard to control?

KIND OF. We think that you’d adapt quickly, but during our brief outing we found slow speed riding a bit awkward, partly because any input on the pedals results in acceleration, even a light touch. This lead to some silly crashes, where we’d get off line and in trying to pedal our way out of trouble end up accelerating into the scrub. Reducing the motor’s sensitivity is possible, but we didn’t have time to do so.

An e-bike kind of distorts that picture, like one of those wonky mirrors that make it look like you’ve got huge muscly legs.

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We can envisage the development of more e-bike specific drivetrain components.

Is it a mountain bike?

KIND OF. In some ways, we found the experience was just like riding a regular mountain bike, especially on the descents,  it feels just like a slightly heavier version of what we’re all used to. In the singletrack too, it feels relatively familiar, the big exception being the acceleration and general momentum. It still corners and basically behaves like a mountain bike, we guess. But then we also were struck by just ‘moto-ish’ it all felt – the extra weight, the stability, the acceleration, the lower seat height.

Especially on the descents,  it feels just like a slightly heavier version of what we’re all used to.

Obviously on the climbs, the experience is far removed from that of riding a normal bike. That goes without saying.

The thing that’s harder to quantify for us, is that it doesn’t feel ‘natural’, for want of a better word. Normally, you’re very in tune with a mountain bike.  Despite all the tech that’s crammed into a mountain bike, it’s still all about you – there’s a direct relationship, you know what you’re capable of, and what you put into the pedals you get back out. An e-bike kind of distorts that picture, like one of those wonky mirrors that make it look like you’ve got huge muscly legs! What you put in isn’t what comes out.

In the singletrack too, it feels relatively familiar, the big exception being the acceleration and general momentum.

Will they be popular?

YES. That’s a no-brainer. Just like we’ve seen amongst commuter bike sales, e-bikes will start to take a larger and larger share of the market. Regardless of whether or not they’re allowed into trail centres or National Parks, they’re going to sell.

Our big hope with their arrival, is that rather than luring traditional mountain bikers away, e-bikes might convince some current moto riders to give it a crack and try e-bikes as something of a middle ground. We know we’d rather share the trails with e-bikes than motos, that’s for sure!

The Middle Power: Could 27.5+ Kill 650b?

We’ve ridden a good handful of 27.5+ bikes now, certainly enough of them to give us a decent picture of their merits. We’re firm fans. In the sandy, rubble-filled, rocky and generally slower-speed trails near Flow HQ, the Plus format is ideal. The bikes float over sand, find braking and climbing traction where we’ve never had it before, and corner on the slippery turns like crazy.

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Hardtails are prime for a Plus invasion.

For us, the Plus format is really just an evolution of how we’ve been setting up our personal bikes too; we, like many people, have been running ‘Plus-ish’ configurations, with wide rims and big rubber, for a couple of years.

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We’ve long been semi-mid-fatting our bikes with mods like 40mm rims.

We’re well aware that the style of trails we often ride aren’t what everyone else encounters. On the hardpacked trails of Canberra or Adelaide, or the red dirt and clay of Cairns for instance, a Plus bike mightn’t be the right tool for the job.

On the fast, handpicked trails of Canberra for example, perhaps 27.5+ would be out of place.
On the fast, hardpacked trails of Canberra for example, perhaps 27.5+ would be out of place.

We’ve had numerous chats with designers about their frustration with having to add another wheel format to their range.

Either way, in many instances, Plus bikes do have some pretty clear advantages over a regular 27.5 bike, certainly enough to justify their existence. This doesn’t make everyone in the industry happy, and we’ve had numerous chats with designers about their frustration with having to add another wheel format to their range. One engineer, who we won’t name, summed it up when we asked him if 27.5+ would survive: “There’s something to it (27.5+). Which is frustrating in a way, because they’re not beneficial enough to take over, but the format has enough advantages in some situations that it’s not just going to disappear either.”

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The Norco Optic in a 29er has virtually identical dimensions and handling to the 27.5 version.

It wasn’t long ago we assumed we’d all be on 26″ wheels forever, so the possible demise of the 27.5 wheel isn’t so silly really.

So it that it? End of story? Are we going to have three common wheel formats – 27.5, 27.5+ and 29er –  from now on? Maybe.

And we say maybe, because what if we’re looking at this the wrong way. What if we shouldn’t be debating the survival of 27.5+, but should be asking if this is actually the beginning of the end for regular 27.5″ wheels? Hear us out here. It wasn’t long ago we assumed we’d all be on 26″ wheels forever, so the possible demise of the 27.5 wheel isn’t so silly really.

There’s plenty of evidence to support this notion. We see three main points. 1) Improvements to 29ers 2) The potential benefits for manufacturers 3) The sequence of development.

First point:

29ers don’t suck now. In fact, they kick arse. Without a doubt, 27.5 emerged at least partly in response to 29ers initially handling like a Winnebago, and that just isn’t the case any longer.

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Boost rear hub spacing has allowed 29ers to be more fun and agile than in the past.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening with frame design and geometry for 29er bikes. With the emergence of Boost hub standards, single-ring drivetrains, new fork offsets and other design improvements, we’re beginning to see the convergence of 29er and 27.5″ frame geometries. 29ers aren’t big boats any more, in fact, it’s totally possible to put together a 29er which echoes the dimensions of a 27.5″ bike now, and which handles, in many peoples’ opinions, just as well as a smaller wheeled bike.

We’re beginning to see the convergence of 29er and 27.5″ frame geometries

The new Norco Optic is a case in point; one of the overarching goals of that bike’s design was to make the 29er and 27.5″ versions handle as close to identically as possible. And the bike’s designer Owen Pemberton freely admitted to us that if they had their time again they might not have developed the 27.5″ version at all, so good is the 29er.

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Pivot’s Mach 429 Trail is another example of how 29ers emphatically don’t suck.

We can point to stacks of examples that show just how far 29er geometry and frame design has evolved, and how many of the handling traits we previously associated only with 27.5 (or 26″) can now be found in some 29ers.

Second point:

There are big benefits to bike manufacturers if 27.5″ goes the way of the dodo.

Consider this: unlike 29ers and 27.5″, 29ers and 27.5+ bikes can share the exact same frame. 

We’re already starting to see manufactures cotton onto this and develop bikes that can happily run 27.5+ or 29er wheels. Take the new Pivot Switchblade for example, or the Santa Cruz Hightower, both of which will run either 29 or 27.5+.

 It’s like a half and half pizza – same pizza, two very different flavours, everyone is a winner.

Bikes like the Pivot Switchblade allow you to run either 29" or 27.5+ wheels in the same frame.
Bikes like the Pivot Switchblade allow you to run either 29″ or 27.5+ wheels in the same frame.

Sure, you might have to make some small tweaks (like using slightly longer travel fork for the marginally smaller 27.5+ wheels), but essentially with one frame you can offer up two very different bikes, for two very different rider or trail types.  It’s like a half and half pizza – same pizza, two very different flavours, everyone is a winner.

At this stage, most people are inclined to view these bikes as a manufacturer hedging their bets, but maybe they’re actually just ahead of the curve.

Last point:

Please allow us to indulge in quick bit of ‘what if’ thinking here for a second, and let’s pretend the sequence of development was reshuffled.

Imagine for a moment that the 27.5+ format was developed before 27.5″.  If that were the case, do you really think ‘regular’ 27.5 would exist? We doubt it. Every aspect of bike development has been moving towards increasing grip, larger tyre volumes, wider rims – if 27.5+ had been developed first, it’s fair to assume that ‘regular’ 27.5″ would be seen as a backwards step.

Specialized-Fuse-Expert-6Fattie-14
If 27.5+ had arrived first, would we have ever developed ‘regular’ 27.5?

In this alternative reality, there’d have been 29″ wheels for the people who wanted lighter, faster-rolling wheels with a more precise feel, then there’d be 27.5+ for everyone else. (Ok, maybe downhill bikes would still have 27.5 wheels, but you get the drift).

Instead, just because 27.5 got here first, it’s now 27.5+ which has to prove its worth. It could have just as easily been the other way around.


This is all pure crystal ball gazing, of course, but with the mad pace of bike evolution now, who’s to say where we could end up. 27.5+ may well end up just being a diversion in the course of bike development. More likely, it may end up sticking around as a third option. Or maybe, it might end up on equal footing with 29er and we’ll see classifieds full of 27.5” bikes soon! What do you think?

E-Bikes: Would You Do The Electric Slide?

Part 1) The Ageing Old Mates. 

On my usual squeeze-it-in-before-dark loop, I ran into two local legends who I have not seen in many years.

Troy and Chris were some of the crew I really looked up to when I was first getting into mountain biking, I’d ride with them whenever I could. Chris could do the sickest wheelies you’ve ever seen (still can) with a massive grin underneath his massiver moustache. Troy was forever crashing (allegedly he once hit a tree branch so hard with his head that he snapped the seat tower off his old Intense Uzzi) but he was always riding, and usually had the best bikes. I’d tag along with them and a bunch of riders every Sunday. It was a bloody good time, and it makes me happy even writing about it.

Stopping for a chat, Troy told me he was just getting back riding after five years of kids, work, and life. Chris hadn’t really stopped riding, and he seemed stoked (he ALWAYS seems stoked) to have Troy back out there too.

It’s pretty hard to begrudge them wanting to make the most of those precious hours each week when they can escape for a pedal.

After a few minutes of chin wagging, the conversation turned to e-bikes, and Troy and Chris really got going – they are all for it. Both of these fellas are at the age where you’re entitled to slow down, get rounder, take the easy options sometimes. And for these guys, the promise of electric-assisted mountain bikes had them positively foaming with excitement. I asked them why, and they had no shortage of reasons, but in a nutshell, an electric-assisted mountain bike was going to let them ride more of the trails they enjoyed.

With a bit of help from an electric motor, they reasoned, they’d be able to climb faster, with less suffering, letting them squeeze in longer rides with more descents and allowing them to enjoy those descents more too because they’d be feeling fresher.

These guys don’t go as fast on the climbs as they once did. They’ve also got a lot less time on their hands to ride, thanks to family and work demands. They just want to cram as much enjoyment into a tight window of riding opportunity as is possible.

When you look at it through their eyes, it’s pretty hard to begrudge them wanting to make the most of those precious hours each week when they can escape for a pedal.


FLOW1478Part 2) The Committed Cyclist

A few weeks back, I was visiting my mate Pat, in Brisbane. Pat’s one of those guys who manages to find more hours in the day than most of us – he works a demanding job, he and his wife raise three kids, he’s always renovating his house, and in the midst of it all he manages to squeeze in an impressive number of hours on the bike too. By all rights, Pat is at a stage in life where he could quite easily let mountain biking drop off the radar, but he hasn’t.

He’s the guy who gets up at 4:30 to punch out 60km of hills and still arrives at his desk with his first coffee while while most riders are making excuses. He’s strong on the bike, but he has to work on it, it doesn’t just happen naturally; he trains, he races often, he’s been known to use a calorie counting app.

The helping hand of a motor isn’t just a matter of equipment choices, it’s changing the nature of the sport.

In one of our many bike-related chats, we turned to e-bikes. Pat’s face soured, he clearly wasn’t a fan. I wanted to know what his opposition to electric-assisted bikes was. There wasn’t a standalone, single issue that Pat could put his finger on, more a feeling that it just wasn’t ok.

“Don’t you think it kind of defeats the whole point of mountain biking?” asked Pat.

For Pat, the idea that you’d want to bring electric assistance into the trails doesn’t make sense – having the helping hand of a motor isn’t just a matter of equipment choices, it’s changing the nature of the sport.

In Pat’s viewpoint, an intrinsic part of mountain biking is the work you put into it. Reward for labour; the harder you put in, the better it gets. Climb a long way, you get a longer descent. Train well, you can ride further and enjoy it more. Electric assistance throws that equation out of whack.

It’s also about the purity of it all (and I’m putting words in Pat’s mouth here), the direct relationship between your efforts and the feeling of flying through the trail. Electric assistance introduces something foreign into the experience, which for Pat would make it something other than mountain biking.


What do you think? Do you share a philosophical allegiance to either of these viewpoints? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook. 


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Cairns World Cup: XCO Finals

Under 23 Men

The young fellas got it started this early morning, with a strong Australian contingent in the Under 23 men’s race. Scotty Bowden gritted his teeth and hung on for seventh place, the best placed Australian. Trek Australia and the TORQ Merida team had a stack of strong performances too, and massive praise must be given to both of these teams for supporting young riders in Australia.

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Tas Nankervis.
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Wearing plate number 6, Scotty Bowden was the highest ranked Aussie, and he finished that way too, with a solid seventh.
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All clear. Dion Shaw, Focus/4HAW team manager and true supporter of Australian racing, helps Bowden keep focused.
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The pre-race jitters.
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Reece Tucknott in the zone. The West Australian finished in 20th place.
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The Trek Australia team had a huge showing in the Under 23s, including Michael Potter, front, and Callum Carson, rear.
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Sam Gaze is on the rise. He’s the Commonwealth Games silver medallist, and he did the job here today in a tightly fought sprint finish.

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Callum Carson sails in the Rodeo Drop on lap one.
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Nankervis getting crooked in the rocks.
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Last lap grimace from Bowden.
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Geole Bertolini, fifth place.
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Crocslide is a pretty serious bit of track! Milan Vader from the Netherlans tames it.
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Sam Gaze leads the trio of front runners into Jacobs Ladder.
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Tucknott getting into the rhythm.
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Bowden sending the Rodeo Drop.
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A calm Michael Potter floats down the rolling descent.
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Cheers, Felix Smalley!
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Reece Tucknott, airing, not tucking.
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Float like a butterfly, land like… well, some smoother than others – we’ve seen some pretty crazy touchdowns on Rodeo Drop this weekend!
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Team Aussie.
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Nankervis rolls into the top of Jacobs Ladder.
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Tucknott in the greenery.
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Lush.
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Titouan Carot on the wheel of Sam Gaze.
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Gaze on the inside line.
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Carson, loving it.
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A focused Gaze. Ha!
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Lots of line options made the descent fun to watch. Rollers, berms and jumps all over the show.
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Luke Brame, 33rd today.
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Brame once again.
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Toki Sawada, from Japan.
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Tristan Ward had a pretty decent crash early on, with a mid-air bike ejection. Always exciting to watch this guy!
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It must be hot with those sideburns in Cairns! Felix Smalley is a stylish rider, for sure.
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Open jerseys from the European contingent!
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Sebastian Carstenen Fini from Denmark.
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Bowden into the steeps of Jacobs Ladder.
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Sam Gaze with a very early celebration! He was almost rolled on the line!
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Gaze knew he had the sprinting legs today, and we bided his time till the very end.
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Stuffed.

Elite and Under 23 Women

With a small Under 23 women’s field the decision was made to combine their racing with the Elite women’s, which was a good call as it also ensured the younger riders had a great crowd in attendance. American super-star in the making, Kate Courtney, took the win, looking comfortable the whole time. She’s set for big things, no doubt. Holly Harris, always positive, was the lone Aussie Under 23. She tamed every section of the intimidating course and will surely carry a lot of great racing knowledge away from this one.

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Bec Henderson, ice vest on, trying to keep cool under the pressure of expectation.
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Start straight sprint.
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Bec Henderson ran a double chain ring, instead of her usual single ring, so she’s have lots of top-end gears to get clear of the rest of the field early on. She wanted to avoid any potential bottlenecks and she led lap one.
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Samara Sheppard.
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Holly Harris.
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Annika Langvad, number two plate, number one position today.
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The dusty, loose surface caught a lot of people out today. There were plenty of crashes, some small, many pretty big!
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USA’s Kate Courtney was the daylight winner in the Under 23 women’s. 3:35 back to second!
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A dusting of Cairns on Karla Stepanova.
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Peta Mullens finished down the field today, but the popular Aussie got a lot of crowd support from go to whoa.
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Bec threads the descent.
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Ingrid Richter dropping in.
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Bec Henderson turns the screws and moves ahead of Catharine Pendrel.
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Holly Harris had the roughest sections of the track in hand.
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We have no words.
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この男は非常に汗をかいている必要があります。
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Mio Suemasa, former DH pro, now XC racer. She was absolutely SLAYING the descents.
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Cheese grater.
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Cheese.
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Stars, stripes and a gold medal for Kate Courtney.
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Elisabeth Brandau. Tuffs are coming back!
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Peta Mullens, in the shrubs.
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Mullens again. A hard day out!
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Harris out in the open section of course. The cross country is very spectator friendly in Cairns.
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Seventh for Emily Batty – it was a solid start to the season for team Trek.
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Annika Languid takes round one!
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Linda Indergand was just 10 seconds off the pace. Silver today for the Swiss rider.
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A career best finish, her first World Cup Elite podium, all in front of a home crowd! Congratulations, Bec Henderson!
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Good vibes!
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Helen Grobert, just off the podium today, in sixth.
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The heat and intensity took a real toll today. Esther Suss feeling it.
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Eva Lechner. Victorious here in 2014, sweaty and bruised in 2016.
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Kate Courtney, first. Catherine Fleury, second. Olga Terentyava, third.
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Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early….etc.
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Eww! Champagne!
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Bec hits the big time, off to a flying start in 2016.
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Rio-bound, for sure.
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Cheers, Annika, we were getting hot anyhow.
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Left to right: Pendrel, Indergand, Langvad, HENDERSON, Spitz.
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Champagne monsoon.
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Proud dad. The Henderson family are a great crew.
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Superfans.
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Celebrations over.

Elite Men

The Elite men’s race was the closing event of the weekend, and all Australian eyes were on Dan McConnell. He got things started in exciting style, leading out the start sprint, and soon finding himself in the lead group of four, which also included a very composed looking Nino Schurter.

On the fifth of seven laps, Nino decided it was time to go – he just found another gear and the rest of the lead bunch began to suffer. McConnell hit the wall, going backwards over the final two laps, while Schurter soon found himself riding on his own up front, a position he’s very familiar with. Maxime Marotte was the only rider who could keep Shurter in sight, while Absalon rode like a man possessed back into third place after a flat tyre on lap one ruined his dreams of winning again in Cairns.

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Dan McConnell. Many riders were tipping him as the man to beat, but it wasn’t to be.
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Flow favourite, Marco Fontana. 9th place today of the stylish Italian.
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It was hot, hot day out, and riders were doing everything they could to get cool before the racing kicked off.
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Shaun Lewis.
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Kyle Ward’s last international race, the Oceanias, ended with a massive crash. Better luck today, 72nd in the huge field.
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Ice vest for the ice man.
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Fontana. The James Bond of mountain biking.
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In the dusty, hard packed conditions, riders were looking for fast-rolling treads.
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Schurter. The current World Champ is just insanely strong.
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McConnell leads them out on lap one.
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Brendan Johnston is in the hunt for a place at Rio, but today was a tough one for him.
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Foot out, Fontana.
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Cam Ivory, also hoping for a spot in Rio, had a rear flat but still got a great result. 37th today.
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All on his own on lap six. Schurter says it’s time to finish the job.
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“Do something crazy,” we yelled. So Paul Van Der Ploeg did! The big man was pulled from the race, but jumped straight into the commentary booth to keep the crowds entertained there too. Legend!
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Brendan Johnston on Crocslide.
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McConnell on the tail end of the leading four. Maxime Marott, in the yellow and black, was the only rider who could keep within cooee of Schurter.
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Shaun Lewis.
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Absalon will be frustrated with third place. He rode damn hard to get back into contention after a flat.
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The course includes a loop right through the event centre, which was awesome for spectating.
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A good crowd lined Crocslide all day.
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Cam Ivory, boosts!
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Schurter, no one else in sight on the final lap.
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Julien Absalon, the legend. Will this be his last World Cup season?
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McConnell was running a dropper seat post (as was Absalon) freeing him up on the descents.
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German National Champ Manuel Fumic was placing highly until a flat in the final lap dropped him back down the rankings.
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Dusty conditions meant Crocslide was basically a controlled slide from top to bottom, it was super slippery in there!
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The run-in for the Rodeo Drop is pretty tricky, with a steep roller.
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Swiss power.
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Well, that’s disappointing now.
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Stephane Tempier.
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Victor Kortezky.
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Numero uno.
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McConnell got a lot of crowd love down Jacobs Ladder.
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Miguel Martinez raced here in Cairns back in 1996! He’s still at, and strong too, 48th today.
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Nino.
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Mathias Fluckiger took fourth today.
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Bouncing around on the rocks.
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Anton Cooper didn’t have a good day, 62nd and one lap down.
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Maxime Marotte. Thirsty work, chasing down the World Champ.
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The sharp rocks caused plenty of tyre-related carnage.
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Jacobs Ladder.
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With the whole race being streamed on Red Bull TV, plenty of savvy people were tuning in to check out the coverage from other areas of the course.
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Ivory.
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There was 25km (TWENTY FIVE!) of bunting used in Cairns. Here’s where it was joined together. Amazing! Do we get a prize?
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PDVP.
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John Odams! This man races it all. He’s a serious Australian mountain bike stalwart and it was awesome to see him having a crack in Cairns.
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Excuse me, may I squeeze through here?
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McConnell’s dropper equipped Trek Procaliber.
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Oui, it’s a nice corner.
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Snaking through the jungle.
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The big man flies.
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It hurts racing at this level.
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Bell lap, all on his own.
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Fontana.
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McConnell, cooked.
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31st was not the start to the season McConnell was hoping for.
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Jose Hermida! 42nd today for the moustached madman.
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Ivory’s performance today will have the Olympic selectors paying attention.
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McConnell, gracious enough to smile when he probably wanted some quiet alone time.
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Lunge!
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Yes, I am the man!
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Little Mig!
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Absalon. The legs of a legend. Scary.
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Number 18!
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Rooster tail.
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Schurter is running the new SRAM Eagle groupset with a 38-tooth ring.
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The gauntlet has been thrown down. Who can topple Schurter this season?
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Holy race squad!

And so concludes a wild few days in the vines, mud and dust of Cairns. It was fantastic that the weather came good after a dicey start, letting this venue really show the world what riding in Cairns is all about. We’re sure that the crowds and racers are all now feeling just as pumped as we are about returning to Cairns next year for the World Champs! We’ll see you there.

 

 

 

Cairns World Cup: Downhill Finals

We said yesterday that Button was one of the most under-rated riders on the circuit, and we knew a top 15 or maybe even 10 was within his grasp, but to see him sitting in the hot seat almost to the very end of racing today was amazing. In his first World Cup race in years, the laconic, wry veteran of the Australian scene ended up in fifth, behind Gwin, Hannah, Brosnan and Bruni.

Take a look at that podium again – three Australians. And it’s not like the rest of the world weren’t in attendance, the field was stacked with all the big names.

The course was in perfect form too. After two days of sun and drizzle frustratingly swapping shifts, Cairns gave us the blue skies that we’ve all been hanging out for, and the track dried up into a grippy, fast surface for racing. It was great to see this venue finally present conditions that allowed riders to really perform – this track might cop a little bit of flack for the final sprint, but riders and fans were loving it come race day.

You can always trust Queenslanders to go all out in the fan department, but Cairns locals took it to another level of madness in the rock garden. The noise could be heard from almost the bottom of the track; if it made noise, you’d be able to find it alongside the track today! How anyone focused on their line in there is beyond us!

Mick Hannah came so close to making magic happen in front of his home crowd, and while he couldn’t take victory, it was great to see just how pumped up he was after crossing the line. A third today shows us that Mick Hannah is far from done with World Cup racing, he still has all the pace to cut it and he’ll be full confidence now.

Brosnan was the last rider down the hill, with Loic Bruni the man to beat. The battle between these insanely talented Specialized riders is going to be very exciting to watch over the next few years we feel. The Frenchman was too quick though, and Bruni was handed his first World Cup gold – we’re sure it’ll be the first of many.

The dream upset we’d been hoping for in the women’s didn’t come up, but Tracey Hannah has got to be happy with second place behind the dominant Rachel Atherton. Short of a serious mistake by Atherton, it was always going to be a big ask for Tracey to knock the Brit off her perch. And with both riders having a clean run, Atherton did it again by seven seconds, adding time to her lead with every split. Danni Beecroft will be happy with a top ten too, as she makes a return to World Cup racing.

The junior field always has a super strong local contingent at World Cups and today saw a fleet of Australian under-19 riders cut loose. In the junior men’s field, Brit Matt Walker spoiled the party for the otherwise all-Australian top-five. Remy Morton rode into second, which is pretty impressive after coming to almost a standstill in the rock garden, with Harry Bush in third, Jackson Frew in fourth and Josh Clark in fifth. Sian Ahearn was the lone under-19 woman and she should be stoked with the way she rode too, hopefully we see more young Australian women following in her footsteps.

The excitement and hot tropical sun has us zapped, so we’re going let a huge photo gallery do most of the talking now. Enjoy! See you soon for the XCO!

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Cairns World Cup: A Taste of Possibility

The day started in soggy fashion, riders emerging from the downhill track coated in filth, which sent mechanics from the more well-resourced teams into a frenzy of mud-proofing. Spike tyres, silicone spray, moto-foam in every crevice – it was all about making the bikes shed mud. The particular blend of Cairns mud is so gloopy, it can easily add a few kilos to a bike, which you’ve then got to haul across the dreaded flat sprint into the finish, so keeping it mud free is all important.

As it would pan it, all the panic was soon replaced with more positive vibes as the tropical sun that’s been playing hide-and-seek these last few days finally made a more sustained appearance. Things dried out fast with the 30-degree heat and breeze, leaving the track in ideal condition for downhill qualifying.

Far more cross-country riders were in attendance today as well, with the first official practice sessions getting underway. The XCO course here in Cairns draws universal praise from riders; it’s not just a straight up and down sufferfest, but has some genuinely good fun flow to it as well as plenty of technical challenge. The huge Australian junior contingent eagerly made the most of practice, mixing it up with sweating Europeans who were heard cursing the humidity.

We didn’t catch a glimpse of either of Australia’s medal hopefuls Dan McConnell or Bec Henderson, but Julien Absalon was out there and riding with a dropper post too. He was happy to point out that even if it didn’t actually make him go faster, he was having a lot more fun with it on the bike!

The crowds on course for downhill qualifying were doing their best to make it feel like race day up there. We hope they’ve all still got voices left to yell for tomorrow!

They’ll have plenty to scream about too, with Mick Hannah and Troy Brosnan qualifying in first and second, ensuring they’ll be the last two riders down the hill tomorrow! The atmosphere is going to be wilder than Bull Riding night at Slippery Jim’s Backpacker Shed, Cairns. Tracey Hannah has been looking solid and focused this week too, and her third place today shows that she’s right on pace with Manon Carpenter and Rachel Atherton too. A Hannah double would be the dream outcome; we’ve had a taste that it’s possible now, so join us tomorrow to see if it can become reality.

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Lanky Russ Nankervis letting it run on the jump line of the XCO descent.
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The XCO descent is super varied – up top it’s steeper and more technical with slower rock rollers and chutes, down low it’s a fast, flowing run with multiple line options.
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Julie Bresset, 2013 World Champ, looking comfortable in the greasy run in to the Rodeo Drop.
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The Rodeo Drop is a pretty sizeable huck on an XC bike. There is a wheels-on-the-ground option, but it’s much slower. Plenty of riders spent time here today, sessioning this section till they had the speed for the run-in dialled.
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Small lady, big drop! This really gives you an idea of how decent a drop it is!

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Holly Harris is riding impressively! She spent a bit of time sizing up the main line on Jacob’s Ladder today, before rolling in and nailing it.
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The TORQ Team watch on as another rider commits to Jacobs Ladder.
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Ethan Kelly, in baggies and smooth as you like.
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The XCO course has been mellowed a little since 2014, but it’s still rocky as hell in many places, and there were plenty of white-knuckled moments on course today during practice.
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Jacobs Ladder is definitely on the steep side of what you’d ever want to attempt on an XC bike with your seat up. But to take the B-line will costs at least a few places.
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PDVP, the big man making some rocks rumble.
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Tristan Ward was impressive at the National Champs recently, so expect some full-throttle riding. Checkers or cooked.
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Aaron Gwin graffitiing some poor child’s clothing.
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Rachel Atherton chills out with her helmet cam footage and an icy pole. That’s the factory racing life – beats pitting out of the back of your Corolla with packet of Twisties and a borrowed pressure washer.
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You should see the other guy.
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As the course dried up, the pressure washer queue got much shorter.
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That’s a choking hazard there, Tim! Timmy Eaton keeps his perm dry.
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Nothing suss here.
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Josh Button is racing the entire season of World Cups. This guy is one of the most under-rated riders on the circuit. 15th in qualifying today.
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Mean pins on Connor Fearon’s pedals to bite through the gloop.
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Scary looking spikes to match his pedals too. Fearon’s rig once again.
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The exit of Alien Tree was still causing dramas, even with the drier conditions it was greasy. Quentin Chanudet.
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Keegan Wright taming the squirrel.
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Thankfully it was a much more relaxed day for the paramedics.
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Remi Thirion. Respect to Flipper for the inspiration.
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Thomas Crimmins doing all he can to not snag up in the rocks before a deafening crowd. 67th qualifier.
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Jack Moir. He’s not yet at 100% after surgery, but he’ll be back to his best soon. He’s sensibly wearing some shoulder protection for peace of mind. Keep it upright, Shark Attack!
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Neil Stewart scraped into the finals, 75th qualifier, with the sickest whip on track too (see below).
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Ooommmmppppffffff!
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Dean Lucas rode into 53rd. He’ll want to go much better than that tomorrow – he’s had a taste of the podium before.
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Somehow Laurie Greenland rode this out to the amazement of the crowd. Madness! 29th qualifier.
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It may have only been qualies, but the crowd up top was big and loud. It felt like race day already. Tomorrow will be huge with all the locals off work, well lubricated with XXXX and hoping for crashes.
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Luca Shaw will be happy with 34th. He’s got a lot of promise as a first year Elite.
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Ed Masters didn’t seem on full pace today, but still rode into 35th. His brother, Wyn, was quite a way back in 74th.
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Loic Bruni had magic tyres on today, finding traction where other people were in a world of floundering. Sublime stuff from the World Champ.
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RatBlur! Josh Bryceland always seems so casual. He bounces and slides his way down, never looking the fastest but somehow setting blistering times. The crowd love him too, and so do we.
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It’s no surprise to see Troy as the fastest qualifier today. His riding flows like water, and he’s spent plenty of time on this track. We hope he can string it together tomorrow.
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Stevie Smith skipping over the roots, feet up. He’s a real dark horse, and looking for a comeback after two season hampered by injury.
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Danni Beecroft is back on it after a year recovering from a nasty broken elbow.
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Local superstar Tracey Hannah took third today, but she only wants the top step here in her hometown.
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The local Mens Shed had the absolutely golden idea of running a sausage sizzle up the top of the hill. Market cornered! They’d better have lots of stock for tomorrow!
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Jackson Frew pops out of the corkscrew. Nailing the right line here was crucial to set up for Mick’s Drop and the stutters beyond.

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A Bird Flew Over the Carnage Nest.
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Eliot Jackson keeping it uncharacteristically low and straight. Something must be wrong!
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Dave McMillan will always, always put on a show. He carved so hard off the lip of this jump that he almost ended up in the crowd. 63rd for the Vanzac.
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Neat form from Jordan Prochyra. 80th qualifier with two crashes! He’ll be the first elite down the hill tomorrow.
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Neil Stewart takes us to Whip School.
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Rim gooning.
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Sik Mik showed us he can win here with a second place in qualies today. He’ll be wanting this one more than ever. Go for it, mate! We want to see Cairns go into meltdown if you win!
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Mad man Remi Thirion always takes the big line. 20th place today.
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Blenkinsop sailing into the stutters. He was one of the few riders quading into this section with amazing precision.
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Sam Hill rode into 24th hampered by illness. He’s not at full speed, but you never know with this guy, he keeps his cards close to his chest.
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Minnaar might be somewhat outshone by Ratboy of late, but you’d be mad to think he’s past it. 37th today, but there’ll be more speed in reserve.
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Mike Jones, fully committed.
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Fearon blasting into the stutters and 9th place, six seconds back.
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Loic Bruni is just incredible to watch. He’s stronger, faster and now better supported than ever.
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Gee Atherton was very fast in the upper parts of the course, losing a bit of pace down low. He won here in 2014. Will it be an Atherton double again?
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Stevie Smith. Railing above the stutters.

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100% PINNED. Gwin has a style all of his own, and it’s STRONG.
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Tracey Hannah using all the travel she has as she touches down on the Ridgeline.

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A bird’s eye view of the event centre. There’s more elevation here than you’d imagine when you first see the hill.



 

Cairns World Cup: Practice Makes Carnage

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Dramatic scenes of sugar cane and big mountains.
Dramatic scenes of sugar cane and big mountains.
Batty locals going balmy.
Batty locals going balmy.
A warm welcome to a city excited to host this event.
A warm welcome to a city excited to host this event.

Cairns has had an incredibly dry ‘wet’ season so far, but that has been threatening to change today. Showers blowing through ensured that even the dense jungle canopy couldn’t keep the rain out, turning sections of the course into an icy gloop that had a least one World Champion Frenchmen muttering, “merde”.

We’re not likely to see the weather deteriorate to the extent of the 2014 World Cup here (AKA. The peanut butter suprise) but mud is definitely going to be part of the game once again. Who can keep it upright when they roll the dice in some of the truly slippery sections?

Mick Hannah, hunting through the Ridgeline. He'll be aching to do well here.
Mick Hannah, hunting through the Ridgeline. He’ll be aching to do well here.

Besides the threat of rain, the other story of the day was, unfortunately, injury. No one likes to see a rider down, but three serious injuries in quick succession on the high speed Ridgeline jumps put things on hold for a couple of hours, while the riders were carted out. Our thoughts and healing vibes go out to all the riders and their families, as there were some pretty frightening scenes.

We also hope that the UCI can work out a better plan for handling severely injured riders on this course, because it’s horrible to see a rider in pain laying trackside when they should be in ER half an hour ago. While the far more important issue is getting the riders to care safely and quickly, the delays also meant that practice was cut short for both Group B and A, which raised a few grumbles on the hillside.

No rain shortages here, despite a comparatively dry 'wet season'.
No rain shortages here, despite a comparatively dry ‘wet season’.

To the UCI’s credit, after the injuries, they were quick to step in and slow down the entry to the jumps by bunting the run-in a little tighter.

The course is largely unchanged from 2014. The rock garden is still one of the most intimidating pieces of trail you’ll ever see; with a bit of mud on it, it’s slicker than a greased piglet. When you see the world’s best riders reduced to a tripodding, traffic-jammed pile you know it’s hard to ride. Brook MacDonold and Josh Button were just about the only riders we saw hammer through cleanly on their first run. Josh Bryceland was reduced to a giggling mess, “Oh my word! I’ll be putting on flat pedals for sure!” he laughed in his usual Manchurian way.

As noted above, the Alien Tree is causing all kinds of dramas too – high line, low line, no line, it doesn’t matter. Only the most committed are getting by without a dab. Speaking of commitment, the way riders were sending the final massive triple on the Ridgeline was pretty terrifying to watch – the sound of rubber and carbon in severe protest as it slams to the ground from 20 feet up at 50km/h is awesome.

The Corkscrew and Mick’s Drop are unchanged, but the whoops have been given a bit of a sharpen up, so they’re even more imposing than before. Two years of weather have made sure the bottom section of the course is raw and exposed – ruts and roots, a proper bobsled. Finally, riders will need to find a little more length than before to clear Ronning’s Ramp, the last jump on the course has been stretched out to give riders a bit more down ramp to work.

As we type, the rain has stopped sprinkling, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? This is Cairns after all.

Aaron Gwin looks insanely stable. A likely winner we feel.
Aaron Gwin looks insanely stable. A likely winner we feel.

Cairns Day 1-19

Brosnan, second in timed practice, still looks like he's riding well within his limits.
Brosnan, second in timed practice, still looks like he’s riding well within his limits.
A toe is not a camel. Appropriate footwear.
A toe is not a camel. Appropriate footwear.
Plenty of this action today!
Plenty of this action today!
Brosnan once again, lethal style.
Brosnan once again, lethal style.
Sam Blenkinsop's style is unmistakable.
Sam Blenkinsop’s style is unmistakable.

Cairns Day 1-13

Atherton, returning from orbit on the Ridgelne.
Atherton, returning from orbit on the Ridgelne.
The Syndicate bros survey the rock garden carnage.
The Syndicate bros survey the rock garden carnage.
Wreckage. Yuck....
Wreckage. Yuck….
Praying for better weather.
Praying for better weather.
After the serious crashes, the UCI re-bunted the course to slow things down.
After the serious crashes, the UCI re-bunted the course to slow things down.

Cairns Day 1-7

Half icy mud, half pointy rocks - it's not a friendly track.
Half icy mud, half pointy rocks – it’s not a friendly track.
Glooped.
Glooped.
The waiting game.
The waiting game.
Remy Morton, burying into some gnar.
Remy Morton, burying into some gnar.
Out of the whoops in a rare spot of sunshine.
Out of the whoops in a rare spot of sunshine.
Graeme Mudd is going to do very well here - top 15 finish at least.
Graeme Mudd is going to do very well here – top 15 finish at least.
On the gas in the final sprint to the finish. It's definitely a faster finish than in 2014.
On the gas in the final sprint to the finish. It’s definitely a faster finish than in 2014.
DISASTER.
DISASTER.
Loris Vergier building speed in Generator, lining it up for Ronning's Ramp.
Loris Vergier building speed in Generator, lining it up for Ronning’s Ramp.
Spike tyres were pretty standard fare today, and probably will be all weekend.
Spike tyres were pretty standard fare today, and probably will be all weekend.
Heaps rooted, mate.
Heaps rooted, mate.
Tahnee Seagrave will find more pace before Saturday. She took silver in Lourdes, can she go one better?
Tahnee Seagrave will find more pace before Saturday. She took silver in Lourdes, can she go one better?
The ruts are growing faster than underpant mushrooms in a backpacker van.
The ruts are growing faster than underpant mushrooms in a backpacker van.
Jackson Frew, cranking it over.
Jackson Frew, cranking it over.
The Queen. Rachel Atherton.
The Queen. Rachel Atherton.
Ratboy. Long hair, don't care. The kid is a unit, but we love him.
Ratboy. Long hair, don’t care. The kid is a unit, but we love him.
Sam Hill, hub deep in Cairns.
Sam Hill, hub deep in Cairns.
Fairclough. This isn't his kind of track, or is it? Too much pedalling, or will the mud suit him?
Fairclough. This isn’t his kind of track, or is it? Too much pedalling, or will the mud suit him?

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Bruni. It's hard to keep it low when you're going a billion.
Bruni. It’s hard to keep it low when you’re going a billion.

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Remi Thirion, out of the whoops.
Remi Thirion, out of the whoops.
DUST! Five seasons in one day.
DUST! Five seasons in one day.

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The man, the legend, the Gwin. He just looks completely at ease.
The man, the legend, the Gwin. He just looks completely at ease.

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Atherton. The defending Cairns champ. Can he do it again? Yes. But Gwin, Loic, Brosnan and Co will make it very hard.
Atherton. The defending Cairns champ. Can he do it again? Yes. But Gwin, Loic, Brosnan and Co will make it very hard.
Luca Shaw
Luca Shaw
Brook Macdonald. Attack!
Brook Macdonald. Attack!
Mick Hannah. This is where he crashed in 2014. Keep the rubber down, Micko!
Mick Hannah. This is where he crashed in 2014. Keep the rubber down, Micko!
Neethling. That didn't work!
Neethling. That didn’t work!
Nickolas Nestoroff.
Nickolas Nestoroff.
Blenkinsop. Ten dabs and laughing his way past Alien Tree.
Blenkinsop. Ten dabs and laughing his way past Alien Tree.
Gwin, uncharacteristically squirmy.
Gwin, uncharacteristically squirmy.
Troy, composed.
Troy, composed.
Sam Hill was moving well from run one.
Sam Hill was moving well from run one.
Bruni.
Bruni.
Devinci's Mark Wallace. Splat.
Devinci’s Mark Wallace. Splat.
Stevie Smith. We're itching to see him on the podium.
Stevie Smith. We’re itching to see him on the podium.

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I see red, lots of red. Hopefully everyone's nerves are settled tomorrow and we see less of this.
I see red, lots of red. Hopefully everyone’s nerves are settled tomorrow and we see less of this.

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Shark Attack Jack (Moir).
Shark Attack Jack (Moir).

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Greasy!
Greasy!
Spiky!
Spiky!
Frondy!
Frondy!

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MC! Sean McCarroll, the fastest qualifier at the 1996 Worlds here in Cairns. Can he do it again? No. He can't, but how cool is it that he's here and shredding!
MC! Sean McCarroll, the fastest qualifier at the 1996 Worlds here in Cairns. Can he do it again? No. He can’t, but how cool is it that he’s here and shredding!
Aiden Varley was second here in juniors in 2014.
Joel Willis grinding some carbon.

Joel Willis grinding some carbon.

GO TRACEY!
GO TRACEY!

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Manon Carpenter. Tough and committed, like a female Chunk Norris, but on a bike. And English.
Manon Carpenter. Tough and committed, like a female Chunk Norris, but on a bike. And English.
Jack Moir, back from yet another collarbone surgery. Good luck, mate!
Jack Moir, back from yet another collarbone surgery. Good luck, mate! 

 

Riding Volcanos, with the Polygon Bikes Crew

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The mountains around Surabaya rise from sea level, so they really tower over the landscape.

I’d come to Indonesia to spend some time with the team behind Polygon Bikes, and today we were going to ride a volcano. First, we had to survive the journey out of town to the mountains beyond, a gauntlet of oncoming buses, bikes and family-laden scooters that I think you have to grow up with to even dream of navigating. In the distance, the silhouette of Mt Bromo, our destination, was like a comic book shark fin, jutting out of the plains and paddies.

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Notice how the front wheels have been removed from the bikes on the outside of the truck? Passing moves are tight on Indo roads!

When people think of mountain biking in Indonesia, it’s Bali that is front of mind. But volcanos pepper the east of Java too like barnacles, and Mt Bromo is one of the grandest, notable not just for its size but for the fact it’s still very, very active. So active in fact that approaching the crater was banned as recently as November, just two months prior. But despite the occasional tectonic ejections, the slopes of Bromo are clustered with villages and farms. And amongst them run hundreds of walking trails and access tracks that are the economic capillaries of these rural communities. Today these walking tracks would be our trails, on our epic 36km journey from the peak of Bromo, a ride as unique as any we’ve ever attempted.


 

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While the morning shift arrives, the product team get set for another hard day in their Mt Bromo office.

The Polygon lads know these trails well now, but working out a continuous, rideable route from top to bottom of Bromo was like escaping the Labyrinth, a labour of love that took many months; dozens of weekends of wrong turns, dead ends, back-tracking up goat paths that had fruitlessly ended in a cabbage patch. The volcano now plays a big role in the local riding scene, as the site of club races and group rides, and it’s also become the default testing ground for new Polygon products too. Like mountain bike product designers the world over, the team behind Polygon bikes are in their jobs because they’re riders. On just about any weekend, they’ll be out there, either descending from the crater’s edge, or shuttling the lower slopes.

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Storm clouds build over a beautiful part of the world.

Polygon Mt Bromo 2-5 The morning shift at the Polygon factory was just arriving as we strapped the last of the bikes into the tray of our truck, casting us somewhat jealous looks as they head in for eight hours on the assembly line. Even at 7:30am the humidity is cloying, banks of clouds building in the distance, already fattening up and promising a downpour. The wet season isn’t the ideal time to ride, “Man, we are going to be so muddy,” laughs Zende. His Colossus N9 is still caked in red chunks of mud from his last Bromo descent and he straps it in tight to the back of the truck for the windy, bumpy shuttle ahead. Zende is Polygon’s product development manager, the man who has driven the huge change in the brand since 2012. Three others from his team are with us today too. Dwi, or Tommy as he’s known (frame engineering), Ridwan (spec manager) and Syamsu, (graphics). Their bikes are like a timeline of product development, a mix of production bikes and test mules, frames that will never make production and others modified with tweaks that might be incorporated in seasons to come.

Polygon Mt Bromo 2-9
Part way up the hour-long drive up the mountain.

Escaping Surabaya doesn’t happen suddenly. You must claw your way out of the city, scrapping through roadworks and clogged intersections. Occasionally you’ll crest a bridge and you’ve got a view beyond the immediate chaos, to the green, inviting slopes of the volcanos in the distance. Almost imperceptibly at first, the density of traffic, people and commerce starts to dwindle, and after about an hour and a half of driving we hit the first rolling foothills of Bromo. The pace of life around us has changed; there are still motor bikes to dodge, but they come in two and threes, not swarms. And the markets by the road are stocked with produce, rather than mobile phones.

Polygon Mt Bromo-29
Durian. Tastes like heaven, smells like hell.

On the drive out, I’d asked if the crew had ever pedalled up Bromo, and I just got a bit of a laugh in response. I know found out why, as the road headed skyward, one and a half lanes wide, snaking up the gullies and ridge lines. We’ve done some epic shuttle drives in our time, but this takes the cake! For over an hour we climbed unceasingly, through villages and farms, the road occasionally buried under a few inches of rich top soil that has slipped from the hill in the rains. On all sides the landscape is terraced and tilled, often on terrain so steep it looks impossible to walk let alone farm.

Polygon Mt Bromo-1
It’s alive.
Polygon Mt Bromo-2
The area surrounding the central crater is called the Sea of Sand, and it was off limits during our visit due to volcanic activity.

Finally we pull up, all slightly car sick and stiff legged. It’s not until we clamber up a bank on the roadside that I get some perspective, and I’m blown away. We’re standing right on the edge of a huge crater, a mammoth scoop out of the mountain top, in the centre of which lies another separate peak – the mouth of Bromo. It’s alive, spitting out periodic roils of ash, the mountain smoking furiously, like just about every man over the age of 12 in Indonesia. I’ve never seen anything that made me feel so terrifyingly temporary. Polygon Mt Bromo-4 Amazingly, right at the foot of the inner caldera, there’s a temple. While it’s only used once a year or so, for rituals that involve throwing offerings into the mouth of the volcano, it’s right in the firing line, and if Bromo were to blow, it’s game over for the worshippers. The temples occupants have nothing but their faith to protect them, and it’s time for me to do the same, as I put my trust in the line choices of Syamsu and try to follow his wheel as we begin our descent.

Polygon Mt Bromo-10
Tommy, Ridwan, Syamsu, some bule and Zende.
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Pinning it past the potatoes.

We’re flying along the ridge lines, picking up crazy speed with that kind of tremendous inertia you only get on really long descents, when you’re out of gears and off the brakes. Up ahead, I’m trying to read Syamsu’s body language as he skips over ruts that have been gouged by the spinning wheels of motorbikes hauling cabbage and broccoli from the farms lining the trail. The further we descend, the more the trail surface changes; at first sandy and full of grippy volcanic pumice, it gradually turns to red clay. The ruts begin to develop a wheel sucking magnetism that you’ve got to fight – so much as glance at a rut then that’s where you’re heading!

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Life is different up here.

Polygon Mt Bromo-17 We peel off the double track and into a village, where the obstacles are no longer ruts but free ranging children and chickens, waving and squawking at us. I want to point my camera at everything, but the Polygon guys know rain is on the way, so we don’t stop for too long. The trail gets narrower again, traversing across fields on singletrack that we occasionally share with an overloaded motorbike. Up until now, the riding has been fast and fun, though nothing too tricky, but that changes in a big way. Almost simultaneously the trail points down into a long section of steep chutes and switchbacks and the rain crashes in like a shore break. It’s an immersion, not a shower, of the kind you only get in a swimming pool or the tropics. The rain comes down so hard it gets in your lungs, it pools your ears.

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Here comes the rain.
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Right before the rain arrived, and turned this corner into a water slide!

We’re in hysterics as we become complete passengers. Stopping is out of the question, so there’s nothing for it but to let it all slide! Over my shoulder I catch a glimpse of Tommy in the air, sailing into the bushes after either not seeing or not making a corner. Syamsu doesn’t seem to slow down though, and through sun glasses that are running like a waterfall I watch him duck into trail that runs down the narrow row of an apple orchard.  The fruit laden boughs are bent low, and I wallop into fat apples which sail off down the trail ahead of me. It’s a ridiculous, fantastic scene; flying apples, head to toe mud, scrapping blindly down trails on the slopes of a volcano. I lock it away in the mental vault as one of the most surreal riding experiences I’ve ever had.

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Seeking traction amongst the rubber trees.

The rain stops as abruptly as it began, leaving nothing but swirling ghosts of steam, twisting over the warm trail surface. After passing through another village market, carts hanging with durian, we reach the lower slopes of Bromo and head into the towering rows of a rubber plantation. These trails are the most popular in the district, easily shuttled, with a number of different routes to the bottom, but right now they’re deadly slippery. Braking would only lead to less traction, so it’s five fingers on the bar! Polygon Mt Bromo-41 Unlike the farming trails up top, these singletracks have been built by mountain bikers, and there are berms and jumps everywhere as they slither through the rubber trees. We’re reaching the foothills now, where Bromo starts to peter out into the plains, and the gradient is ideal. A constant 5% descent that absorbs you totally, no pedalling, no braking, which is a blessing because 30kms of descending has left my hands and legs wrecked.

I feel like I’ve done a full day of downhill runs, and my poor bike – a Polygon Collosus N9 which had been brand new at the start of the day – has been given the ultimate baptism of fire, it’s original colour barely distinguishable. I’m sure I look equally haggard too. Bromo has taught me a lesson or two (as has Syamsu, who always seemed to be pulling away from me, no matter how hard I went) about descending Indo style, and given me one of the most memorable days on the bike I’ve ever experienced. It’s a ride I’ll always talk about, but for the Polygon crew, it’s just another Bromo session, another day at the office, riding volcanos.

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For sale: One Polygon Collosus N9, lightly soiled.

Port to Port MTB 2016 Course Preview

For full event details, head to porttoportmtb.com



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Perfect Port Stephens, stage 1.

It all gets underway a couple of hours north of Sydney in beautiful Port Stephens, where riders take on the shortest stage of the event. It’s a 35km loop out of Nelson Bay, through the loose sandy trails of the National Park, with plenty of coastal views along the way. It’s not a long stage, but the sand and some tough, short climbs make it a real heart starter for the event, especially at the front end with riders looking to open up an early lead. For the full course map, head here.

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With the race not starting until midday, you’d be wise to come up the day before and make the most of your time in Port Stephens as it’s one of the prettiest places you’ll find on the NSW coast with dozens of idyllic beaches and plenty to do off the bike for the whole crew, like dolphin watching, camel rides, tobogganing and eating a mountain of fish and chips before lying in the sun.

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For the second stage of Port to Port MTB, you now head inland to the heart of the famed wine-growing Hunter Valley region. It’s a real contrast to the previous day, swapping sand dunes and beaches for vineyards and huge escarpments. As is fitting for the region, the race starts and finishes at wineries – Lindemans for the start, Briar Ridge for tired legs at the end. And the legs will be tired, as it’s a long stage with a hefty climb, rewarded by a pretty wild descent and, of course, a vino at the finish. You can view the whole course map here.

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Day three of Port to Port MTB is a favourite; heavy on the singletrack, with plenty of new trails for this year too. Leaving the Hunter, the third stage heads south-east towards Lake Macquarie and the Awaba Mountain Bike Park. Awaba is known for having some of the best flowing trails in NSW, and stage 3 takes in just about all of them. There’s another solid climb to contend with, up high in the Watagan Ranges, but a whole swathe of new descending singletrack has been included in the course for the first time for 2016, and the locals tell us it’s awesome, so the pay-off is there for your climbing efforts. Being so close to Lake Macquarie, it only makes sense to cool of with some time on the water, a bit of R&R ahead of the final blast into Newcastle the next day. For the full course map of stage 3, head here.

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The fourth and final leg of Port to Port 2016 runs back up the coastline, from the shores of Lake Macquarie, to the superb singletrack of Glenrock, before finishing right by the beach in Newcastle. This is another very popular stage, with a mix of fast bunch-riding and incredible singletrack, it’s an awesome way to cap off the event. There’s not a lot of climbing to worry about, so leave nothing in the tank and enjoy that beer by the ocean in Newy on the finish line! Take a look at the full stage 4 course here.

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Talking Geometry and Wheel Sizes with Owen Pemberton from Norco

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The decision to offer the Optic in two wheel sizes gives riders choice, but damn it sure made for an involved development process!

The decision to offer two wheel sizes is interesting, can you tell us a bit more about it?

What you’ll find with the Optic is that both wheel sizes have very similar ride characteristics, and so it’s quite a subtle difference between them. It’s not like some other brands were their 29er and 650b versions of the same bike are very different. Choosing between them will really come down to your own personal preference. What you’ll find is that the 29″ Optic just doesn’t have the downsides that 29ers traditionally had, because we’ve been able to get the geometry so close to the 650b, to the point that it’s basically identical between the two wheel sizes.

650b was an instant home run, anyone who tried it after riding a 26″ bike for years, it just felt like riding a bike, but it rolled over things a little better and had a few other advantages. That was the beauty of 650b.

Why did you decide to go for two wheel sizes then?

Honestly, I think if we were making that decision now, we might not have gone for two different sizes. But you need to remember we were making that call like two years ago. And at the time, there was very little appetite amongst consumers for 29ers outside of hardtails and pure XC bikes. I mean, there were some aggressive style 29ers, like the Specialized Enduro 29 and BMC had a couple of all-mountain style 29ers, but it was really only ‘in the know’ kind of riders who were picking up on them. There was definitely not the same appetite for 29er then as there was for 650b. 650b was an instant home run, anyone who tried it after riding a 26″ bike for years, it just felt like riding a bike, but it rolled over things a little better and had a few other advantages. That was the beauty of 650b.

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Whereas, the older version of 29ers didn’t feel familiar – they felt like a very different kind of bike. They go fast, they’d plough over things, but they felt different, and while in some situations they cornered better than a 26″, in others they didn’t. For bigger riders, and with a select few bikes, they were a viable option, but for most people they still weren’t.

But as I said, there were a few 29ers that were pushing things, like the Specialized Enduro. And when I looked at the rear-centre length of that bike, it was the same as what we had on our large 650b bikes, so it made sense to me that anyone who rode a large Norco 650b would probably get along well with a 29er that had that same rear-centre length.

 I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?

At the same time I was having conversations with a number of people about 29ers and I was consistently hearing feedback that people would ride up one size on their 29ers and slap a shorter stem on there, and that helped with the handling, overcoming the weight of the bigger wheel and tyre.

So that thinking gave us some starting points about how we could create a 29er that handled as well as our 650b bikes, because people were loving the way they rode.

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The wheelbase on both bikes is within a millimetre.

So circling back round to your question about why we did two wheel sizes, I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes? And we figured we could, but the question was whether consumers would accept it, so we decided to do both. And now, in the last six months, we’ve seen a flood of aggressive 29er bikes. It seems like quite a few manufacturers were on the same page as us, but we didn’t know that two years ago!

I think what we’re doing with this bike is a little different to what some of our competitors are doing though. Some of our competitors are looking at a shorter travel 29er as a really aggressive bike – kind of like a short-travel Enduro bike, like the big wheels are a substitute for travel. But we’re saying it’s not, this a trail bike; yes, it will go a little faster and carry more speed with the bigger wheels, but if you land a decent sized drop, your ankles are going to tell you that you definitely don’t have 160mm of travel there.

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The Optic is not a short-travel Enduro bike – it’s a trail bike, through and through.

Tell us a bit about the prototyping process for the Optic?

We spent a lot of time and money developing a full suite of test bikes in all sizes and both wheel sizes for the Optic. Basically, everyone at Norco who rides mountain bikes as well as a lot of local riders who we use, were brought in on the process. We stipulated that riders should ride both sizes back to back, and it was interesting to see how people’s views changed. What it really showed is that there is room for both wheel sizes, especially on the smaller size bikes – I mean, I ride a small, and it was the first time I’ve been able to really ride a 29er how I like to ride, thanks to having a 425mm rear centre.

One thing I think a lot of consumers don’t understand, is that the whole tyre/chain-ring/chain-stay envelope is the most frustrating area of bike design. Everything is so tight in there.

425mm?! That must be the shortest out there!

I think there are a couple of manufacturers in that ballpark, but we’ve been able to get that length and also be front derailleur compatible, which we’re very proud of. Whether or not you feel that front derailleurs are still relevant, there are plenty of places in the world that still want them, so it’s good to be able to offer that option. In every size were we offer both a 29er and 650b, the rear centre length is exactly the same on both wheel sizes.

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You’ll find short stays on both wheel sizes – 425mm on the size small. Like other Norco bikes, they employ Gravity Tune, so the rear-centre is longer on the larger frames.

Is that something that was made possible by Boost rear ends?

Boost was definitely a huge part of that. One thing I think a lot of consumers don’t understand, is that the whole tyre/chain-ring/chain-stay envelope is the most frustrating area of bike design. Everything is so tight in there. When there were first rumblings about Boost a few years ago, it was like ‘really, is this necessary?’ Because a lot of the talk then was about wheel strength and stiffness, and we just didn’t see people pushing the wheels so hard that they needed an extra few percent stiffness. But the real benefit of Boost was that it got an extra 3mm of chain line in that area, and 3mm to us was like “done! Sold!” It just allows us to get better geometry. And for us as a company, geometry is what drive our designs – we’re always looking to get the optimal geometry for any bike, and Boost has a allowed us to do that on all sizes.

Steepening the head angle may have given you a similar steering feel, but the handling is very different, you’re not going to ride the bike the same.

One of the interesting things with the Optic is the use of a consistent stem length across all sizes. Can you elaborate on why?

One of the things I was hearing from people who were quite heavily invested in 29ers three or four years ago, was that running a shorter stem means the handling matches more closely to what you’re used to with a smaller wheel. So we did some research to see exactly how this worked in the real world. And what we found was that in the past quite a lot of 29ers had dramatically steeper head angles, and this was in order to reduce the trail (ed. Now were moving into territory that might not be familiar for many people – for a good explanation on what trail is, have a look here) and give it a quicker handling feel in spite of the bigger, heavier wheel. The only problem with changing the head angle like that is, well, you’ve got a dramatically different head angle! And that has an impact on how the fork is pointing at objects when you’re descending down steep stuff and so that really changes how you will ride the bike. So steepening the head angle may have given you a similar steering feel, but the handling is very different, you’re not going to ride the bike the same.

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A tiny 50mm stem on the 29er, whereas the 27.5 has a 60mm, across all sizes. Finding the right balance between stem length, head angle and fork offset was a real challenge to keep the steering feel consistent between both bikes.

But what we discovered, is that the sweet spot in terms of delivering the same handling across 650 and 29er, is that the 29er can be half a degree steeper and with a 10mm shorter stem. The steeper head angle reduces the trail slightly, and the shorter stem gives you more leverage over that wheel, so you can get the same steering feel without having to dramatically steepen the head angle.

Of course, there are some slight differences due to tyre contact patch and the like, but the end result is that when you start to get playful on the bike and really engage with the terrain, the Opitc 29 doesn’t feel like your old 29er, it feels like one of our 650b bikes.

Another element that has a big impact on handling is wheelbase, and what we’ve been able to do with the bikes is not only get the exact same rear-centre measurements across both wheel sizes in any given frame size, but we’ve been able to get the front-centre within a millimetre or two as well. And that means your weight balance between the two contact patches of the tyres is the same too.

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Now bringing it back to the stem lengths, which was your original question, it’s the final piece of the sizing puzzle. When you look at the bikes on paper, the reach measurement (ed. horizontal distance from bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 650 and 29er is slightly different, but when you incorporate the stem length we’ve proscribed into the equation (60mm on the 650b bike, 50mm on the 29er) then the reach between the two wheel sizes is identical. From your feet to your bars, and your saddle to your bars is the same.

When I first came to this job, one of the conversations I had was that I felt that in any given model, every frame size should have the same stem length and that should be whatever handled best.

So essentially, the 650b and a 29er fit exactly the same, and they handle as damn near as we feel is possible the same too.

A little while ago I read an interview with you where you talked about the idea of 120mm-travel trail bike with a 65-degree head angle, and I must admit I thought that’s what the Optic might have ended up being. 

Well it is an interesting concept, and I do think that’s a viable geometry. But we also still need to sell bikes, and what I’ve learned is that the mountain bike consumer is generally a pretty conservative kind of buyer.

When I first came to this job, one of the conversations I had was that I felt that in any given model, every frame size should have the same stem length and that should be whatever handled best. I come from a downhill background, and I’ve always put whatever stem length on my bike gave the best handling. Whereas it seems that there’s a very pervasive road bike style of thought around this issue in much of the industry, where it’s all about using the stem length as an instrument of fit, as opposed to handling.

But that just doesn’t make sense – you don’t steer a road bike, you lean it, whereas a mountain bike involves a lot more input at the bars. They’re a completely different bike, and so you need to have a completely different understanding of how the stem length is looked at. And it’s crazy to think that mountain bikes are still evolving away from this!

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A road bike and a mountain bike sure aren’t turned the same way, so why should we have the same approach to stem length, reasons Owen Pemberton.

I mean, a lot of mountain bikers still look at top tube lengths, not reach, which is really only relevant to when you’re sitting down as opposed to standing up, which is where most of your riding is done on a mountain bike. What I’m trying to work towards is a completely different understanding of bike design than that you’d find on the road.

You don’t steer a road bike, you lean it, whereas a mountain bike involves a lot more input at the bars. They’re a completely different bike, and so you need to have a completely different understanding of how the stem length is looked at. And it’s crazy to think that mountain bikes are still evolving away from this!

Anyhow, we are moving away from that traditional approach. And what I was getting at in that interview, is the notion that perhaps one day we could end up with, say, an Optic and Sight and a Range, all of which have the same geometry and fit exactly the same, but with different amounts of travel. For a rider like me, that be perfect, I like to ride down the steep stuff and go fast, but I don’t need all the travel as I don’t hit the big drops or big jumps.

Now that is a really interesting concept! The same geometry, the same fit, different travel. Tell us about the suspension on the Optic. We notice both bikes have slightly more travel up front.

Yes, that really comes from looking at what we do – if we’re building up a bike, we tend to go slightly more travel up front. On trail, it just feels better, it balances out when you’ve got a lot of weight on the front wheel.

We did some cool custom work with FOX on the 29er fork too. Normally FOX would spec a 120mm 29er fork with a firmer, cross-country tune, but we’ve had our forks on the Optic 29er given more of a Trail tune, so a softer compression tune, which helps ensure that both the 29er and 650b bike have very similar suspension feels too.

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The 29er and 27.5″ both have the same fork tune, which was a custom request – normally the 120mm fork would have a firmer XC tune.

What about the rear suspension rate?

In terms of the rear end, it’s designed to be very progressive. We’ve equipped it with a smaller volume air can, and that’s to ensure it’s nice and progressive – it’s only quite short travel, but it’s capable of being ridden very hard, so we wanted to ensure the rear end wasn’t going to be bottoming out constantly. Trust me, if you ride it like it can be ridden, you’ll get full travel. Probably one of the most consistent comments I hear is “it feels like it has more travel than it actually does, but I’m still not bottoming it out”, which is exactly what we wanted.

On the shorter travel bikes, they’re already less inclined to have suspension bob, but you’re also pedalling a lot of the time, and over all kinds of surfaces, so having less anti-squat allows the suspension to work its best with minimal impact of chain tension on the suspension.

Compared to a Sight for instance, the suspension is more progressive, and it also has less anti-squat. That’s something that some people haven’t quite understood our thinking around, why we have less anti-squat. But let’s look at the extremes, for example the 160mm-travel Range and a 100mm-travel Revolver.

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The rear end is super progressive, so even though travel is limited you don’t blow through and bottom out with hard riding.

With the Range, we have a lot of anti-squat built into the suspension, and that’s because that bike is primarily climbed up fireroads, then rallied down really rough, steeper descents where you’re not pedalling much. So you can have a lot of anti-squat to keep that large amount of travel stable, while you pedal on a smooth surface where there’s not so much pedal kick back.

Whereas on the shorter travel bikes, they’re already less inclined to have suspension bob, but you’re also pedalling a lot of the time, and over all kinds of surfaces, so having less anti-squat allows the suspension to work its best with minimal impact of chain tension on the suspension.

What we found works better, is actually the opposite of what most people think – most people assume a cross-country bike should have more anti-squat than an Enduro bike, but in practice it works better the other way around.


 

For more on the Optic, take a look at our news piece, and hold tight for a full review soon!

 

Checking in with Brian Lopes and his Intense Spider 275c

What keeps you busy these days, what mountain biking are you enjoying the most.

Cycling & family, having a 3 year old is a lot of fun, but it is also challenging to get certain things done as quickly as i’d like. I’m also training Cole Seely, a pro motocross racer for Honda. So between juggling about 15 personal sponsors, working with Cole, and spending time with my wife and kid, it’s tough to find free time.

How’s the riding scene at home, good crew of riders? 

Yes, there’s some fast local riders around here that i ride with socially and I also spend some time training on the road where there are a ton of fast guys. But as far as names people may know I sometimes ride with Hans Rey, Richie Schley a bit, Joe Lawwill from time to time and of course Cole Seely probably the most.

Has your focus shifted over the last few years?  

Absolutely, I use to care mainly about racing and being as prepared as I could be for every race now i’m not really training for racing.  I still ride a lot, but I ride for fun, for bike and product testing, for photo and video shoots. The only training schedule i kind of follow really is the one i make for Cole. I try to do most of the gym workouts and pedalling workouts with him.

Where will we see you travelling or racing to this year?  

I’ll do a few enduro races in the us, plus I’ll be at Crankworks and probably do a few different disciplines there. I’ll be going where my sponsors want me to be, at dealer presentations, media launches, shooting for whatever projects they need me for, basically being a content provider which could have me going anywhere.  

I’m looking forward to going to Australia this year for a GoPro camp, not bike related, but it’s possible I’ll go over a bit early and try to incorporate some sort of bike production there.

What’s your role in the mentoring of motocross athletes, how is that going?  

It’s really rewarding and exciting to see them improve and become stronger, fitter, and successful. I’m busy training Cole Seely right now and also a 15 year old amateur who rides for Suzuki on the east coast. I did train guys like Jessy Nelson, Christian Craig, and Shane Mcelrath in the past, but wasn’t able to commit to doing this full time for them. I really enjoy helping these younger guys achieve their goals. 

What mountain bike racing do you enjoy following the most?  

I follow it all a bit, but i enjoy the DH and XC the most I’d say.


Brian’s custom Intense Spider 275c

Intense have recently unveiled their latest trail bike, it’s a super-progressive trail bike with 130mm travel, slack angles and a short rear centre.

Read our full review of the Factory Spec model here: Tested – Intense Spider 275c.

Watch the video of Brian shredding the Spider here:

You’ve got yourself the new Spider, how are you finding it? 

This is my new Intense Spider 275 Carbon, the latest bike out of Intense and recently the bike I spend the most time out on the trails riding. I found this to be a great all around bike with angles, pedalling characteristics, and a weight that allows me to ride everything at a fun pace. Sure I could pedal my full xc bike up the hill faster, but going down the trails I enjoy wouldn’t be fun at all. And my Tracer 275 would potentially go faster down super rough trails, but the climbs require way more effort. This is where this new Spider 275 Carbon fits nicely, a happy medium giving me an all around more enjoyable ride.

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Intense’s new carbon trail bike, the Spider 275c.

Set up with 130mm in the rear and 140mm travel up front, I’ve found that depending on how you set this bike up, it can be more capable than you may think.

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Lightweight build: On this build I tried to keep the weight off where I thought I could save a few grams, so going with parts like Magura MT8 single piston brakes and the X-fusion inline O2 shock were really the areas.

Normally I run Magura MT5 four piston brakes with 180mm rotors F&R and either a X-fusion Vector Air or Vector Coil shock for more tune ability and performance, but the inline shock was a little lighter and also allows me to get a bottle in the cage easier.

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The super light Magura MT8 brakes, with tiny reservoir and carbon lever blade.
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Single piston Magura brakes.

Cockpit: I use Renthal Carbon Lite bars at 740mm wide with 20mm of rise, prototype compound ODI Elite Motion lock-on grips and the stem is a Renthal at 50mm length.

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740mm bars and 50mm stem.

Seatpost: I use a KS LEV dropper post, 150mm travel with the southpaw lever and a WTB carbon rail Silverado saddle make up my cockpit.  

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Carbon rails on the WTB Silverado saddle.
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KS LEV dropper post.

Suspension: For the suspension I’m running the X-fusion Sweep fork with 75psi, it uses the HLR damper system which has independent high & low compression and rebound control.  In the rear X-fusion O2 inline shock I’m running between 110-140 psi depending on terrain.

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75 psi in the X-Fusion Sweep fork.

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Wheels: Factor Carbon wheels with a High Roller 2 EXO/TR/3c at 25psi up front and usually I’m running a Maxxis Ardent 2.25 EXO/TR at 28psi in the rear, although at this time I was testing the Maxxis Minion SS.

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Maxxis High Roller up front.

Drivetrain: I’m using Shimano XTR 175mm cranks with a Wolftooth 34t chain ring, Shimano XTR RD, Shimano XTR rear 11-40 cassette, Shimano XTR shifter, a KMC DLC 11sp red chain.

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XTR 11-speed drivetrain with a Wolftooth 34T chainring and MRP guide.
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Shimano XTR with 11-40T cassette.

Pedals and headset: HT clipless pedals, and a Chris King BB & headset.  

A Pro Mount Billet stem cap to mount my computer to, an  MRP upper chainguide and King Cage Ti water bottle cage round out my build.

Australian brand - Pro Mount Billet provide a top-cap mount for the Garmin.
Australian brand – Pro Mount Billet provide a top-cap mount for the computer.

Polygon: Factory Tour

If you’ve spent the past 15 years buying into the glitz, technology and hype of the mountain bike industry, what’s it like to go behind the curtain and see the process before the marketing team get their hands on the story? Polygon Bikes recently gave us the chance to find out, with a visit to their factory and assembly facilities in Surabaya, Indonesia.


Polygon Factory Tour-41 With a local market in Indonesia of 250 million people, Polygon Bikes could happily exist solely in the domestic realm – there’s plenty of bikes to be sold in a country that lives on two wheels. But in the past five or so years the team at Polygon Bikes have been looking outwards, undertaking a global expansion in the high-end market that’s underscored by their sponsorship of some of the world’s most high-profile riders. Here in Australia, we’re really the first port of call in this worldwide conquest, and already Australia is Polygon’s largest market outside Indonesia.

Polygon are one of just a small number of brands that actually possess their own factory and assembly facilities, and they’re amongst the largest manufacturers in the world, producing almost half a million bikes a year

While the brand’s profile around the world has grown considerably off the back of the UR Team’s successes and the Red Bull Rampage winning riding of Kurt Sorge, until recently I doubt many people outside of Indonesia could’ve told you much more about Polygon than name a handful of their sponsored riders. What few people know is that Polygon are one of just a small number of brands that actually possess their own factory and assembly facilities, and they’re amongst the largest manufacturers in the world, producing almost half a million bikes a year. This includes building bikes for some other well-known brands too, the marketing departments of which would love to convince you wasn’t the case. (Sorry, no names here!)

Getting behind the scenes of global bike brand is rare, so when we were offered unrestricted access to Polygon’s factory and assembly facilities, we were on the next plane to Surabaya faster than you can say ayam goreng.


Surabaya is ‘proper’ Indonesia, and while it may only a short jump across the Java Sea from the tourists and touts of Bali, the contrast is sharp. Stuff gets made here – the Indonesian domestic market is a growing, increasingly wealthy beast, and Surabaya is one of main cities servicing this demand. In the middle of the wet season, it’s an exciting place to be; humid, surging, spicy.

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Braving the downpour.

The Polygon factory, like many in the municipality of Sidoarjo, is blended in with the surrounding neighbourhood. There are no big smoke stacks or huge concrete carparks, instead kids with school backpacks on skip past the gates, a warung opposite sells drinks and noodles. The factory has been there for over 20 years, and the neighbourhood has evolved around it. In as much as a factory ever can, it feels welcoming. With the opening of a gigantic sliding door, I step inside into a world that underpins the entire cycling industry, but which I’ve never experienced before.

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Almost 800 staff work in the welding, painting and assembly areas of the business.

I didn’t know what I was expecting, but not this scale, that’s for sure. The huge space stretches away from me, dominated at the far end by tremendous dual, two-storey ovens that heat treat the frames. The smell of solder and metal being cut takes me back instantly to my high school metalwork classes! It’s warm, but not stifling, and surprisingly a lot quieter than I’d expected, the noise all kind of disappearing into the massive roof space.

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Ronny Yuhono, the head of welding, runs a tight ship.

At any given moment, there are a couple of hundred employees in the welding factory (three shifts keep it running 24 hours a day), and overseeing them all is Ronny, a man who joined Polygon on the factory floor 15 years ago and whose pride in the space is clear. He insists that it’s kept spotless, the floor is a clean as a car showroom, and he walks me through the whole process.

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This is what your bike once looked like! Raw fun.

Either side the entrance are towers of the raw materials which will one day be rolling down singletrack or bitumen, maybe in some part of the world far from here. But long before that happens, the huge lengths of tubing must be lopped into sizes that are suitable for whatever frames are being produced at that moment. There’s never just one model of bike on the go in the factory at any given moment either – the days of long production runs are gone, and the way business is done in the bike industry has changed. It’s all about shorter runs, more diverse models, all with staggered delivery times, which makes managing the logistics of a production schedule much tougher. Somehow Ronny doesn’t have a grey hair on his head.

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All tubes are mechanically shaped on site, using dies and moulds produced in the same factory.

Polygon Factory Tour-42 Once the tubes are cut, they must be shaped, and at Polygon all the tube forming is done in-house. A separate workshop is dedicated to designing and machining up the various dies and moulds that are then inserted into the huge hydraulic presses which shape the tubes, or put the correct bend in the stays. The same workshop oversees the two CNC machines too, which produce the head tubes, linkage plates, shock mounts all the other frame elements that require the intricacy of machine work. The shaped tubes are then mitered by terrifying looking machines that slice through the alloy like butter, before being moved onto the brazing area to have cable guides or other frame fixtures added. Polygon Factory Tour-24

Polygon Factory Tour-47
The various tubes for each frame all come together from different areas of the factory at the welding area.

Once the tubesets are all cut, shaped, mitered and have had any fixtures fitted, it’s off to the welding bays, along with any CNC machined frame parts. Front triangles and the rear ends are initially tack-welded, before being placed into a jig and having the final welding completed. Prior to heat treating, the frames must pass a quality control inspection, before heading into the massive ovens to be hardened. Post heat treatment, the frames are again checked for alignment and a second quality control assessment then moved off for finer finishing work, such threading of bottle mount nuts and reaming of seat tubes.

Polygon Factory Tour-12
Cable guides are brazed in place.
Polygon Factory Tour-52
A Siskiu frame in the jig and ready for welding.

Polygon Factory Tour-51

Polygon Factory Tour-57
Looking out over the welding bays. While there’s a lot going on, there’s nothing chaotic about it – I’ve got no idea how it all comes together so smoothly.
Polygon Factory Tour-53
The towering heat treatment ovens are never shut down – warming them back up would take too long!

The final process involves cleaning and prepping the frames ahead of painting. Any surface abnormalities are hand sanded and threads are double checked. Frames are then moved through a sequence of baths of various solvents and solutions to first clean and then apply a zinc phosphate coating that inhibits corrosion, before a final session in an oven to dry them out. Polygon Factory Tour-15

Polygon Factory Tour-19
Quality control is hugely important, and frames undergo a raft of checks at different stages of production.

 

Polygon Factory Tour-25
Frames are passed through a sequence of baths to clean and coat them.
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Ready for painting.

Polygon Factory Tour-54 Painting and assembly takes place in a different building (for now, Polygon are building a new welding factory this year on the same site as their assembly facility). Before entering the painting and decal areas, our shoes are covered with protective plastic to prevent us tracking in any dirt or dust. The entire space is sealed off from the outside world, and the air pressure is raised, so that air (and dust) is only ever pushed out of the facility and never sucked in. It’s completely spotless.

Polygon Factory Tour-31
The electrostatic spray painting system can be programmed to deliver more paint to the areas of the frame that need it, and less elsewhere, saving on paint wastage.

Throughout the entire painting and decal process, the frames are constantly moving along a long suspended conveyor. First up, they receive and undercoat from an automated sprayer that uses first gives the frames electrostactic charge to ensure the paint is drawn to the metal for minimal over-spray. A final undercoat is delivered by hand to those areas which require extra coverage, or which are hard for the automated sprayer to reach.

Polygon Factory Tour-32
After undercoating, frames are detailed by hand to remove any errant paint from threads or other areas it shouldn’t be.

After moving through a drying oven, the frames are given a final once over to remove any imperfections ahead of the receiving their outer paint job, which is done by hand in painting bays which have a constant flow of recycled water running down the wall behind the frame being sprayed to capture any over-sprayed paint.

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Carbon frames are all hand sprayed from start to finish. Recycled water catches the over-spray.
Polygon Factory Tour-30
In the decaling area, the frames continue on moving constantly, with not an air bubble to be seen.

Decaling is the final step of the process before the frames head upstairs for the assembly line. It takes place in a wet room, with a team of workers each responsible for the application of just one or two decals as the frames progress along the conveyor. If you’ve ever tried to apply a decal without trapping an air bubble, you’ll know it’s not an easy task! Now imagine doing that while the frame is moving…

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Polygon’s huge component warehousing area has a fully automated picking system.
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Recently arrived inventory. The scale of it all is mind bending.

The final stage in the entire process is the assembly line, where it all comes together. The logistics are pretty mind boggling, with all the elements of construction, painting, and component warehousing having to come together at the same time to ensure there are no bottlenecks when it comes to the assembly process. Polygon warehouses all their components on site, with all the larger items stored in a huge racking system with automated picking.

Polygon Factory Tour-40
The assembly area has dual production lines. The fastest bike builds can sometimes require as little as 80 seconds ‘hands on’ time apparently!

Like the painting process, the assembly line does not stop moving, every aspect having to be completed precisely and in a very short window before the frame moves on down the line into the hands of the next worker. On the main assembly line, the task of building a bike is broken down into small individual tasks. Take the assembly of a wheel for instance: one worker places the spokes into a hub, another laces the wheel, a third checks its true and tension, before a fourth fits the tube and tyre. The efficiencies this brings are pretty staggering and a bike can go from a bare frame to being boxed and ready for shipping in just a few minutes.

Polygon Factory Tour-39
From hub, spokes and rim, to a perfectly built wheel in just a minute or two.

The exception to this are the bikes which receive what Polygon calls its Royal build. Reserved for higher-end bikes (and all bikes destined for Australia, regardless of price point), the Royal build means that a single worker handles the entire build process from start to finish. It’s a job that’s normally reserved for workers who are passionate riders themselves, and while it mightn’t have them same stresses as the production line, the mechanics are super efficient, building a bare frame into a complete bike in under an hour, including pressing in suspension pivot bearings.

Polygon Factory Tour-36
A new Collosus DH9 gets the Royal build treatment.

On the day of our factory tour, the assembly team were getting ready to run an extra shift, which wouldn’t finish up until around 11pm in the evening. It’s a busy time for Polygon, and outside in the loading area a string of semi-trailers waited for their freight of bikes; there was 14 of them scheduled for that day alone, each with a 40-foot shipping container on its bed. Things are busy at Polygon, and with their operations throughout Europe just beginning to hit their stride, who knows what things will look like for Polygon in a few years time. Before arriving in Surabaya, I’ll admit to feeling a little apprehensive – did I want to see what the inside of the sausage factory looked like? Would going behind the marketing curtain make me feel a bit jaded about the whole industry, or would I leave in a positive frame of mind? Thankfully, I finished the day feeling not only happy about the standards and conditions that Polygon has in place, but completely blown away too. When you’re out there on the trail, feeling pleasantly isolated, the origins of your bike are probably the last thing on your mind, and rightfully so. But I know now, that I’ll remember to occasionally say a silent ‘thank you’ to the people whose labour made each ride possible.

Photo Feature: 20 Years Ago, Shaun Palmers 1996 Intense M1

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Oh look, there’s Palmers 1996 M1 over there…

The story has been told, after narrowly missing out on the gold in Cairns at the World Champs by the narrowest of margins – 0.15 seconds to Nico Vouilloz he got angry and hungry, it was only going to be first place for Palmer.

What followed that big event in the Northern QLD were a few short and intense (scuse the pun) years that the sport took a turn of change, with such influence and popularity Palmer brought a new style into the mainstream. Inspired by motocross and snowboard fashion and armed with his trademark brash attitude, mountain biking got a whole lot cooler.

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These two, Palmer and the M1. Which had greater impact?

But out of the bike and the person, what had a bigger impact on the sport today? What is so special about this bike is that when it was built most of Palmer’s competitors were racing downhill on modified cross country bikes. Whilst this bike was a dedicated downhill race bike through and through.

Handmade in California by Intense founder Jeff Steber, the monocoque aluminium frame was one of the first M1 prototypes, formed in two halves over a timber die and welded down the centre. Hand painted by Troy Lee himself with a spectacular three dimensional image of an American flag in the wind.

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20 year on and the colours are still vibrant and strong.
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20 years of age has taken its toll on the paintwork, cracking in places showing the raw aluminium underneath.
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Hand painted details.

The weren’t many downhill specific components around back in the mid-nineties, let alone anything that was particularly effective or strong. But there were some brands seen on this bike that were moving fast enough to keep up; Ringle, RockShox, MRP, FOX, Azonic, IRC.

Palmer’s M1 was one of the lucky few to have a RockShox BoXXer fork, with a massive six inches of coil travel and a bolt-up axle they were a prize piece. Check out the wear on the stanchions.

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The original BoXXer.

Brakes came from Germany, the Magura Raceline D. Their distinct flouro yellow colour were a message to others that you were serious about braking, hydraulic rim brakes never really took off, with disc brakes coming online in popularity in the late nineties.

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The Magura Race-Line D, the big red adjuster and super-long levers. The Azonic GoFast bars and Shorty stem we so much stiffer and stronger than cross country parts.
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A custom-made Intense brake booster added power to the hydraulic brakes.

A custom-made Intense brake booster bridged the two brake mounts adding stiffness to the seat stays when the powerful brakes were applied. Another product that has been lost in time, bikes of today don’t have such a challenge.

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The FOX Vanilla Coil Over rear shock, hydrogen charged and seriously cool.

Ringlé hubs were a pretty trick piece of kit back in the day, and one of few brands to accept the 20mm fork axle of the RockShox BoXXer. The Super Duper Eight rear hub was touted as one of the fastest engaging and most user-serviceable freehubs in its day.

The Super Duper Bubba front hub would be released one year later in 1997 as the Ringlé BoXXer hub, aimed to be stiff enough to help both fork legs track evenly, how about that eh.

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Ringlé Super Duper Eight hub.

Chainguides were in their infancy, MRP from Grand Junction Colorado were some of the most reliable but incredibly expensive and heavy options out there. Their guides would sandwich the chain with two thick aluminium plates and two rollers would leave nowhere for the chain to go, so unless you did serious damage to one of these things your chain was secure.

Dropped chains were a race-ending reality, MRP also made security quiet, in comparison to many other brands these ran silently.

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MRP chainguide, heavy but tough.
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Shimano 8-spd XTR. How many are we up to now?
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Could have been made for each other. The SDG Ventura saddle, perfectly matched.
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One of the first downhill tyres ever, the IRC Missile. Not exactly tacky, but the Japanese brand at least had thick sidewalls for flat resistance.

Take a trip down memory lane all the way back to Cairns in 1996, thanks to the internet

And what’s Palmer up to now? Back on board with Intense, with the launch of The Palmer Project junior development downhill team.


Palmer went on to ride for Specialized, and was rumoured to be the highest paid mountain biker for years. We checked out his original Specialized bikes in an older feature here, there’s so many great quotes from Kirt Voreis and the original crew.

Interview: Shaun Palmer and the Specialized FSR DH.


20 years later

Fast forward to today, and Intense have gone all-out with a limited release of their latest downhill bike with a custom hand painted M16 with parts chosen by the man himself, the M16 Palmer. With only 200 made, one made it to Australia but we’ve been told there is still a handful of bikes available from Intense, all yours for a cool $16499.

IN6MA7PLMUSAThen there’s the regular Intense M16A in the Pro Spec for $11999. Check out all the details on these made rigs here: Intense M16A.

Then the number one, the latest from the brand, the M16C made from the magic stuff, carbon. The frame that the Palmer Project and Intense Factory Racing teams will be riding is a real stunner. Lighter, stiffer and more lively to ride than the aluminium version, but you’ll need around $12999 for the base model and $15999 for the Factory Spec.IN6MC7FTYREDThe new Intense Factory Racing Team which includes young Aussie riders Dean Lucas and Jack Moir will be riding the one pictured below.

Copyright 2016 Carmen Herrero
Jack Moir doing his thing in Cali.
Copyright 2016 Carmen Herrero
Dean Lucas, all eyes on this kid for the 2016 World Cup.

Cheers!

Must Ride: Adelaide, Belair and Sturt Gorge


One of the key reasons Adelaide has so much potential as an international mountain bike destination, is that it offers such a huge amount of trail, so close to the middle of town. And even better, you can access the trails by rail, so you don’t need to have a car or pedal yourself up into the hills.

During our time in Adelaide we parked up right in the centre of town, just one block from the famous Central Market and only a couple of minutes’ ride from Adelaide Station, but within half an hour’s train ride we could be way up in the hills with literally hundreds of kays of trails to choose from.

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The Central Market is a must-visit while you’re in town. Epic breakfast and cheap, fresh food.

Belair is the last stop on the line, and after half an hour of winding its way up the hills and past some glorious views out to the beaches, the train drops you literally on the doorstep of Belair National Park, the second oldest national park in Australia. The trails in Belair were a bit of a game changer really, the formalisation of trails there was the first time that a South Australian national park officially welcomed mountain bikers onto singletrack, setting a precedent that has allowed mountain biking to flourish around the state.

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With dedicated spaces for bikes on the trains, you can forget about hiring a car to get to the trails.

As the highest point on the train line, Belair is the natural point to start an exploration of the Mount Lofty Ranges. There’s a huge loop of formalised trail in Belair, mixing fireroad and singletrack through deep the gullies, which in itself serves up more than 20km of trails. On our ride, we split from Belair and after mandatory pasties at Blackwood, we cut through Craigburn Farm (which we’d revisit properly later) and into Sturt Gorge.

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Welcome, to the oldest national park in South Australia.
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Ian Fehler on some slippery Belair National Park trails.

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Even in deep summer, the gullies of Belair stay green, while much of Adelaide browns off.
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Adelaide mountain bike club icon, Matt Ackland, not letting rigid forks and one gear slow him down.


 


Sturt Gorge

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Take a look at the trail map, it’s easy to see how close the Sturt Gorge trails are to the suburbs. That’s Adelaide mountain biking summed up – it’s all so accessible.
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The early stretches of our Sturt Gorge ride follow the creek, with plenty of technical, rocky pinches like this.

The entire Sturt Gorge Recreation Area is pretty phenomenal, the trails ranging from hand built, technical creekside singletrack, to brand new flow trail descents, all woven through residential neighbourhoods. An ‘urban epic’ is a pretty good way to describe it all – you feel like you’ve been on a real adventure and ridden so many different styles of trail over 40km, all within cooee of backyard pools.

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The real gem in the Sturt Gorge network is the De Rose descent, a fast, rhythm-filled run that traverses the scrubby hillsides above the western end of the gorge, with views to the coast and the city. It’s only a few minutes on the bike path from the end of the trail to the beach, too. Our 40km urban epic ride left loads of trail on the table for later too, some of which we’d come back to enjoy later in the week, but with plenty more for our next trip back as well.


Next up, Craigburn Farm and Shepherd’s Hill, but why not check our time at Eagle Mountain Bike Park too while you’re here. 

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Jackson Davis floating into the upper section of the De Rose descent with the city centre in the distance.
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The final leg of our urban epic loop, above De Rose.
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Flat out, hooking into a Sturt Gorge corner.
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Take us back!

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Dealing with ‘Real’ Fear

Although many of us get better at dealing with our fear as we become more skilled, it often stops us from riding well (or at all), especially after an accident or injury (see http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-getting-your-mojo-back).


 

Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.
Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.

Even though we get better at dealing with it, sometimes the fear we experience on a ride is more than just ‘self-doubt’ when checking out a feature. Sometimes it’s genuine “shitting bricks” fear that paralyses us completely and shuts down our ability to ride. So today I’m going to talk about how you can learn to deal with those sorts of overwhelming feelings.

 Genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning.

If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know that genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning. For a while (as little as a few seconds or as long as a few hours) you lose control of your ability to make reasonable decisions, take effective action, or even to communicate what’s going on. Often, this paralysis can be accompanied by intense physical and psychological discomfort: your heart beats rapidly, you hyperventilate, your guts churn, your throat and chest get tight, and your vision narrows. Sometimes, you’ll feel dizzy, experience an overwhelming feeling of dread, and find it virtually impossible to speak. Outside of mountain biking, most people would describe this sort of experience as a panic attack – when you’re riding, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s going to stop you in your tracks and make it pretty hard to keep going.

Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.
Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.

It’s not that hard to understand why this happens to us. Our brains evolved over a long time period and, at their core, are primarily systems for helping us survive in dangerous (or potentially dangerous) situations. When our brains perceive danger, the automatic response is to act in a way that will increase the chance of survival. Because, for most of our evolution, survival meant not being eaten, the default response is “fight, flight, or freeze”. In other words, the system reacts to potential danger by doing what works best against predators: fight back, run away, or stay really still and hope they don’t see us.

As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival.

Of course, in the modern world, this reaction is pretty much useless, especially when it comes to activities like mountain biking. Evolution takes a while to catch up, and it’s a lot slower than mountain bike development. As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that involves exposure, steepness, drops, air or anything else that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival. So its job is to stop you from putting yourself in harm’s way (and here’s the frustrating bit) even if you want to. When you experience fear that stops you, you’re experiencing your survival brain taking over – you’re no longer in control. As you’ve probably experienced, this is not only unpleasant, but potentially dangerous – as those of you who’ve grabbed a handful of brake before going over a jump will attest to.

F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R.

There is some good news though. Despite their weird tendency to screw things up for us, the coolest thing about human brains is their ability to override core programming. This means that we can override the fear (to a certain degree) by training ourselves to get used to it (strategy 1 below), by recognising it when it happens and learning to function alongside it (strategy 2 below), or by bringing ourselves back when we’re in the grip of full-on, pant-wetting panic (strategy 3 below).

The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to.

I’m going to stop for a minute here and point out the blindingly obvious: sometimes fear is a really good thing. Sure, it can get in the way, but chances are it’s got a point (in that there probably is a genuine risk of harm). The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to. Getting over fear is great, but not if the cost involves an extended hospital trip. What I’m really saying here is: keep pushing yourself but know your limits.

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“Getting over fear is great, but not if it involves a hospital trip.”

So, when it comes to fear when we’re riding there are three main strategies we want to take. The first one is mitigation: desensitising yourself to a fear response through careful ramping-up of stimuli. The idea here is to get your brain used to something that it finds dangerous by increasingly exposing it to things that activate a fear response. The trick is to never go big enough to activate the freeze factor, whilst staying fully conscious of the experience.

i)              Find somewhere to practise (a skills park or a section of your local trail is ideal), and start well below your threshold (i.e., something you find a little bit challenging but not too scary).

ii)             Deliberately relax (breathe, focus), and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions (e.g., make a conscious decision to not touch the brakes). If you do freak out, take it back several notches.

iii)           Ride it over and over again until it’s easy, then ramp it up to the next level.

iv)           Keep doing this over time (you won’t train yourself in one or two sessions) keeping in mind that you need regular consistency both to train and maintain the effect (because it’s unlikely to last beyond a few weeks without ongoing practice).

v)             Over time, start taking these skills out onto the trail and applying them to features that have stopped you before (always ramping up carefully). Make sure that you never scare yourself to the point where you freeze (this will often take you back to square one).

It’s important to note that, as mountain bikers, we’re often really poor at this training process. Rather than working on our weaknesses by developing our skills or getting actual lessons, we teach ourselves bad habits by just riding. If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it. No matter how good a rider you are, some skills training with someone who knows what he or she is doing will make a big difference.

Cairns2014-XC-Finals-91
“If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it.”

The second strategy is knowing what to do when fear starts to ramp up. Most of us aren’t really monitoring our physical and psychological arousal levels when we ride, so we usually go from “good” to “oh crap” without any intermediate steps. Imagine an internal, personal arousal gauge, ranging from blue (low arousal), to green (ideal arousal), to orange (on the edge), to red (pant-wetting time). The trick here is to train yourself to observe your arousal levels while you’re riding, and to keep yourself out of the red zone (the point where you freeze up and shut down).

i)              When riding, keep a little mental process going that checks your arousal levels. I usually edit it down to a single word like “blue”, “green”, or “orange”. This shouldn’t take much mental effort and certainly shouldn’t be distracting. Over time, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your usual arousal levels on different types of trails and features, the effects of these levels on your performance, and your optimal ‘zone’: the point at which you’re operating at your best.

ii)             Once you’ve got a handle on your arousal levels, start intervening when you notice yourself creeping into the orange zone. Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone. If you’re too tense, loosen up, breathe and refocus. This is a great time to stop and practise riding ‘that feature’ a few times (especially one that corresponds to something you’ve been practicing in the skills park) rather than just going around it.

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“Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone.”

When the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

The final strategy is learning how to come back when you’re freaking out (when you’re well and truly in the “red zone”). This is both the hardest to learn and the most difficult to address in real-time, mostly because we don’t often get much of a chance to practise – after all, who wants to expose themselves to jock-soiling fear on a regular basis? The trick here is learning how to pull yourself back from the panic (red) zone and into a realm of at least some rational thought. It’s particularly hard because, when the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

i)              If (or when) you find yourself in a state of overwhelming fear or panic, the simple realisation that you’re panicking is extremely helpful, because it lets you access some higher-brain functions (that is, at least a bit of you is capable of observing what’s going on and intervening). If you’ve been practicing the two strategies above, this will be a bit easier.

ii)             Rather than trying to ‘push through’, stop for a minute and try to focus on something (anything) that you can control. A great tip is to squeeze your grips really tightly for a few moments and to focus really hard on that sensation (as opposed to the big sensation of fear or panic). Take a deep breath, loosen your shoulders, and assess your arousal level until it’s back in the orange or green zone. If the fear returns, stop again and repeat as often as required.

iii)           Once you can, get moving and past the thing that freaked you out. Don’t try and talk yourself into riding it – now isn’t the time. Instead, flag it for the future, go back to strategy one (above), and practise some skills progression as soon as possible.

iv)           Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t control when your survival brain kicks in, you can only reduce the likelihood of it happening, and improving your response when it does. Instead of getting shitty with yourself, help yourself by getting more practice.

Port-to-Port-MTB-Day-4-92
“Deliberately relax, and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions.”

Regarding that last point, here’s an important extra tip: most of us can be pretty hard on ourselves after a fear experience. This usually comes out as angry self-talk, alongside frustration with ourselves, and anger at the people around us. This is pretty normal, but it makes things a lot worse, especially around the macho, BS attitude that some riders (especially male) feel they need to take. Keep in mind that the survival brain doesn’t do well with being forced to do something it really doesn’t want to – in fact, that’s a really good way to traumatise yourself and put a much bigger roadblock in the way of future progress. Instead, try being a little bit more compassionate with yourself and others when it activates. After all, it’s only trying to keep you safe when you do something that it thinks is going to kill it!


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams has a PhD in sport psychology, is a registered psychologist, and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about the joys and perils of being human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy lives and works in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

Dealing with 'Real' Fear

As mountain bikers, we spend a fair bit of time dealing with fear. Let’s face it, what we do is risky, and the fear we experience as beginners never really goes away (it just tends to get focused on specific things like drops or gaps).

Although many of us get better at dealing with our fear as we become more skilled, it often stops us from riding well (or at all), especially after an accident or injury (see http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-getting-your-mojo-back).


 

Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.
Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.

Even though we get better at dealing with it, sometimes the fear we experience on a ride is more than just ‘self-doubt’ when checking out a feature. Sometimes it’s genuine “shitting bricks” fear that paralyses us completely and shuts down our ability to ride. So today I’m going to talk about how you can learn to deal with those sorts of overwhelming feelings.

 Genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning.

If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know that genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning. For a while (as little as a few seconds or as long as a few hours) you lose control of your ability to make reasonable decisions, take effective action, or even to communicate what’s going on. Often, this paralysis can be accompanied by intense physical and psychological discomfort: your heart beats rapidly, you hyperventilate, your guts churn, your throat and chest get tight, and your vision narrows. Sometimes, you’ll feel dizzy, experience an overwhelming feeling of dread, and find it virtually impossible to speak. Outside of mountain biking, most people would describe this sort of experience as a panic attack – when you’re riding, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s going to stop you in your tracks and make it pretty hard to keep going.

Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.
Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.

It’s not that hard to understand why this happens to us. Our brains evolved over a long time period and, at their core, are primarily systems for helping us survive in dangerous (or potentially dangerous) situations. When our brains perceive danger, the automatic response is to act in a way that will increase the chance of survival. Because, for most of our evolution, survival meant not being eaten, the default response is “fight, flight, or freeze”. In other words, the system reacts to potential danger by doing what works best against predators: fight back, run away, or stay really still and hope they don’t see us.

As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival.

Of course, in the modern world, this reaction is pretty much useless, especially when it comes to activities like mountain biking. Evolution takes a while to catch up, and it’s a lot slower than mountain bike development. As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that involves exposure, steepness, drops, air or anything else that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival. So its job is to stop you from putting yourself in harm’s way (and here’s the frustrating bit) even if you want to. When you experience fear that stops you, you’re experiencing your survival brain taking over – you’re no longer in control. As you’ve probably experienced, this is not only unpleasant, but potentially dangerous – as those of you who’ve grabbed a handful of brake before going over a jump will attest to.

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F.E.A.R.

There is some good news though. Despite their weird tendency to screw things up for us, the coolest thing about human brains is their ability to override core programming. This means that we can override the fear (to a certain degree) by training ourselves to get used to it (strategy 1 below), by recognising it when it happens and learning to function alongside it (strategy 2 below), or by bringing ourselves back when we’re in the grip of full-on, pant-wetting panic (strategy 3 below).

The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to.

I’m going to stop for a minute here and point out the blindingly obvious: sometimes fear is a really good thing. Sure, it can get in the way, but chances are it’s got a point (in that there probably is a genuine risk of harm). The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to. Getting over fear is great, but not if the cost involves an extended hospital trip. What I’m really saying here is: keep pushing yourself but know your limits.

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“Getting over fear is great, but not if it involves a hospital trip.”

So, when it comes to fear when we’re riding there are three main strategies we want to take. The first one is mitigation: desensitising yourself to a fear response through careful ramping-up of stimuli. The idea here is to get your brain used to something that it finds dangerous by increasingly exposing it to things that activate a fear response. The trick is to never go big enough to activate the freeze factor, whilst staying fully conscious of the experience.

i)              Find somewhere to practise (a skills park or a section of your local trail is ideal), and start well below your threshold (i.e., something you find a little bit challenging but not too scary).

ii)             Deliberately relax (breathe, focus), and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions (e.g., make a conscious decision to not touch the brakes). If you do freak out, take it back several notches.

iii)           Ride it over and over again until it’s easy, then ramp it up to the next level.

iv)           Keep doing this over time (you won’t train yourself in one or two sessions) keeping in mind that you need regular consistency both to train and maintain the effect (because it’s unlikely to last beyond a few weeks without ongoing practice).

v)             Over time, start taking these skills out onto the trail and applying them to features that have stopped you before (always ramping up carefully). Make sure that you never scare yourself to the point where you freeze (this will often take you back to square one).

It’s important to note that, as mountain bikers, we’re often really poor at this training process. Rather than working on our weaknesses by developing our skills or getting actual lessons, we teach ourselves bad habits by just riding. If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it. No matter how good a rider you are, some skills training with someone who knows what he or she is doing will make a big difference.

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“If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it.”

The second strategy is knowing what to do when fear starts to ramp up. Most of us aren’t really monitoring our physical and psychological arousal levels when we ride, so we usually go from “good” to “oh crap” without any intermediate steps. Imagine an internal, personal arousal gauge, ranging from blue (low arousal), to green (ideal arousal), to orange (on the edge), to red (pant-wetting time). The trick here is to train yourself to observe your arousal levels while you’re riding, and to keep yourself out of the red zone (the point where you freeze up and shut down).

i)              When riding, keep a little mental process going that checks your arousal levels. I usually edit it down to a single word like “blue”, “green”, or “orange”. This shouldn’t take much mental effort and certainly shouldn’t be distracting. Over time, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your usual arousal levels on different types of trails and features, the effects of these levels on your performance, and your optimal ‘zone’: the point at which you’re operating at your best.

ii)             Once you’ve got a handle on your arousal levels, start intervening when you notice yourself creeping into the orange zone. Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone. If you’re too tense, loosen up, breathe and refocus. This is a great time to stop and practise riding ‘that feature’ a few times (especially one that corresponds to something you’ve been practicing in the skills park) rather than just going around it.

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“Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone.”

When the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

The final strategy is learning how to come back when you’re freaking out (when you’re well and truly in the “red zone”). This is both the hardest to learn and the most difficult to address in real-time, mostly because we don’t often get much of a chance to practise – after all, who wants to expose themselves to jock-soiling fear on a regular basis? The trick here is learning how to pull yourself back from the panic (red) zone and into a realm of at least some rational thought. It’s particularly hard because, when the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

i)              If (or when) you find yourself in a state of overwhelming fear or panic, the simple realisation that you’re panicking is extremely helpful, because it lets you access some higher-brain functions (that is, at least a bit of you is capable of observing what’s going on and intervening). If you’ve been practicing the two strategies above, this will be a bit easier.

ii)             Rather than trying to ‘push through’, stop for a minute and try to focus on something (anything) that you can control. A great tip is to squeeze your grips really tightly for a few moments and to focus really hard on that sensation (as opposed to the big sensation of fear or panic). Take a deep breath, loosen your shoulders, and assess your arousal level until it’s back in the orange or green zone. If the fear returns, stop again and repeat as often as required.

iii)           Once you can, get moving and past the thing that freaked you out. Don’t try and talk yourself into riding it – now isn’t the time. Instead, flag it for the future, go back to strategy one (above), and practise some skills progression as soon as possible.

iv)           Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t control when your survival brain kicks in, you can only reduce the likelihood of it happening, and improving your response when it does. Instead of getting shitty with yourself, help yourself by getting more practice.

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“Deliberately relax, and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions.”

Regarding that last point, here’s an important extra tip: most of us can be pretty hard on ourselves after a fear experience. This usually comes out as angry self-talk, alongside frustration with ourselves, and anger at the people around us. This is pretty normal, but it makes things a lot worse, especially around the macho, BS attitude that some riders (especially male) feel they need to take. Keep in mind that the survival brain doesn’t do well with being forced to do something it really doesn’t want to – in fact, that’s a really good way to traumatise yourself and put a much bigger roadblock in the way of future progress. Instead, try being a little bit more compassionate with yourself and others when it activates. After all, it’s only trying to keep you safe when you do something that it thinks is going to kill it!


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams has a PhD in sport psychology, is a registered psychologist, and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about the joys and perils of being human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy lives and works in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

Fabien Barel: Been There. Won That. Designed It. Raced It.

Through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, Fabien has been there and done it all. From winning multiple Downhill World Championships to dealing with horrific injuries, to transitioning from downhill across to enduro and winning the first ever Enduro World Series round.

So what’s he up to? What’s he think of the state of enduro? Where will bike geometry be heading?


F – Hello Fabien, so you’re retired!

FB – Haha, yes I’m a retired man! But only from racing, I think people forget that I’m only retiring from racing. It’s a big thing for me but not necessarily new, I retired before from downhill racing in 2011, and had 2012 completely just for fun.

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F – So why did you retire from downhill and come back to professional sport for a spot of enduro?

I committed to Enduro for three years with Canyon not for a new career, but because we were developing the Strive.

I believe that racing is the best way to test and develop new technology on a bike, so that is why I came back to Enduro, the plan from the beginning.

F – If there was no bike development on the cards, would you have still returned to racing?

FB – No, I don’t think I would have committed to Enduro. I was so glad to see the EWS take off, and was happy to help and be an ambassador coming from other sports of mountain biking. It’s a great new discipline that’s being developed, great for the industry and anyone who doesn’t want to commit to full on downhill or race cross country. It’s really proper mountain biking racing.

Downhill is my passion and I still really, really love it, so to re-learn my bike setup and physical preparation for enduro was a challenge that really excited me.

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F – How was the transition from downhill to Enduro for you?

FB – It’s a completely different approach, to be honest after three years now of enduro I am only now understanding it completely. The physical side is so different, instead of preparing for short and powerful for a matter of seconds in downhill, you need to go up to three minutes of that same intensity. I’ve still not been able to transform my body, after 17 years of DH. I wasn never great at long pedalling stuff, and even though I tried at 35 years old, my body found it tough to re-shape in that capacity.

At the start I thought I’d just need to commit like downhill racer, but pedal like a short track racer.

It was so much more than that, the tactic, energy management even the way that you hit the lines on the track is different, and you need to bring all this together staying focussed.

If you lose control of your vision, it’s no good and there’s a lot of risk, as much a downhill, the speeds are just as high while the bikes are smaller.

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F- In France the sport of enduro is not new, what was it like before the EWS brought it to the international mainstream?

FB – EWS brought worldwide visibility and professionalism and along with that came the industry support, rivalry between riders, a bit of animosity too. You don’t have pro racing without this. We had this crazy meeting between riders with a remark that we should all have the same salary, so there is no more competition, but then there is no more competition on the race track, who is going to be first and who is going to be second? That’s racing!

We are here to be elbow and elbow fighting against the clock, but not fight against the others. For me enduro is as downhill was, fighting against the clock. I would always find it hard to race four cross, or even the mass-start races, there is so many more parameters and the luck element that comes through.

F – From your point of view, what’s the key ingredients for the best enduro race course?

FB – As a new sport the ‘vision’ from one person to another is radically different. I still believe that the base of enduro has grown in France and in Italy through the fact that people are not particularly trained physically, they want to ride their own pace to the top of the mountain and once they reach the top they want to enjoy their ride down all the way to the bottom. Enduro is still a mass sport, not like you have in downhill or cross country it has the ability to bring in all people together from the beginners up to the elites. That’s the root of the sport for me is the key to keep it.

Making times too short to reach the top of the mountain and penalising those who take too long is wrong, and making stages that are too physical to the point that people don’t enjoy there way down is also wrong. There’s a thin compromise, time should be spent 80% descending, 20% pedalling up. That average makes sense to me, but unfortunately we can still be far from it sometimes.

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Enduro is about enjoying the way down. And the best events are festive, there’s a good atmosphere and parties around the event. For me it’s more than just the track, it’s the whole event.

We’ve seen organisers put in so much effort to make it work, they are learning as much as we are.

There needs to be a tight relationship and communication between riders – elite and amateurs – and organisers. That’s how it’s going to work.

The EWS is still new, and there may only be a few people making the decisions. It’s hard to find the perfect balance of rules that will produce a culture that’s a product of a fair amount of training, local trail knowledge etc. It’s a complicated sport, much more than downhill or cross country that’s for sure.

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F – Ok, here’s a curly question for you. Who would do better in a season of enduro out of these two riders. A super fit downhill racer, or a technically skilled cross country racer?

FB – Tough question! Generally good technical skills is needed to get anywhere, you are riding in anticipation where you don’t know the tracks perfectly. On the other hand you need you need to manage a whole weekend of racing.

For example you could take Sam Blenkinsop, he’s an amazing technical rider that is so fit, he’d kill it in enduro, same for a rider like Greg Minnaar. Then you could look at Nino Schurter, who’s also so good technically and obviously of high fitness performance, he’d be in the top five no problem.

F – Who were the enduro riders that you looked up to in the early days?

FB – Jerome Clementz, he was on the top of the game on the first year and so was Nico Vouilloz was, they were a step ahead on year one as they had much more experience on the discipline even before the EWS.

F – Let’s look at your bike setup, why the asymmetrical cockpit and brake lever heights?

FB – I broke my shoulders in the past and my shoulder level are not the same anymore naturally. The different brake lever heights forces my hand position to be different and that modifies my shoulder height. It gives me a possibility to have a good handling position of the bike’s mass.

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F – Working with Canyon, what is your role with bike development?

FB: I work tightly with the engineers to bring ideas at first to design the bike, and then work on all testing to finalise kinematic, and geometry. I like the fact that I am involved at all levels and that there is a mutual confidence on our collaboration. Canyon is a big company but is managed and owned by one person, Roman Arnold. Our relationship is a real synergy where we bring all of our capacities and experience together.

F – What does it take to be useful to Canyon at assisting in product development?

FB: It obviously takes commitment to the brand, to give and invest yourself at all level. I could simply take myself as a rider and do a simple Job. But I am passionned by mountain biking, from racing, to all aspects of the industry. The process is fantastic when you imagine that I could work from first drawing of the bike to bring it all the way to the top of a race podium. There is no better satisfaction for me. You can’t find your “work” (if you can call that work) more valuable.

F – What was the hardest aspect of the Shapeshifter design to get right?

FB: The hardest point was to find a system that could work with the shapeshifter concept and still provide a good kinematic. We have internally a fantastic engineer – Vincenz Thoma – who managed to develop a process optimising all of our research. Everything became suddenly very simple and evident.

It was a thin compromise to find between length and head angle. I do believe that we have room for another size up but it would only be for very very tall people. But I do not think that going slacker or longer would have been an option for the average rider.

F – Do you think the super long Race Geometry is ahead of the times?

FB : I think it has been. I do believe in long bike as long as the front part of the bike is stable and that the rider moves weight over the front.

Habits are changing as forks are working better with a more progressive spring force, so front triangles are getting longer. The understanding of reach and stack are bringing people in more understanding of where they should stand on the bike. All this radically change the riding styles and expectation in terms of geometry.

Look now, everyone has been following.

F – Cheers!


More on Canyon Bikes here:

Canyon Strive review.

Canyon 2016 range highlights.

Canyon to sell Down Under, how it’s going to work.

Must Ride: Adelaide, Eagle MTB Park


In late 2015, we made the short trip to the City of Churches that we should have taken years ago, and we left convinced that the Adelaidian sense of hometown pride isn’t misplaced; Adelaide is undeniably Australia’s most mountain-bike friendly metropolis, and it’s well on the way to cementing itself as a destination of international repute.

Over the course of four days, Adelaide locals Garry Patterson (Trailscapes) and Ian Fehler (Escapegoat Adventures) took us just a smattering of Adelaide’s amazing spots, all right on the edge of the city and all accessible by public transport. In between trails, they explained to us the grand vision for mountain biking in Adelaide, the Mount Lofty Ranges Mountain Bike Masterplan, which will see new linkages and fresh trails added to the network. By 2020, the hope is to have over 200km of mountain bike trails, right on Adelaide’s doorstep.

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Eagle MTB Park

Eagle is the iconic Adelaide trail centre that most of the Australian mountain bike tribe seems to know about. It can lay claim to being Australia’s first official mountain bike park, and as home to the National Champs for a number of years, the name Eagle is synonymous with racing too.
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Eagle’s reputation is for tough, rocky riding. Its challenging nature is what makes it such a proving ground for racers, and there’s still plenty of hard, technical riding to be found in the former quarry site. But recently, some of the trails have been getting a fresh lick of flow, giving them more rhythm and fun. Two of the most recent updates have been the realignment of Hills Hoist, and the reworking of On the Verge into a huge 800m jump trail, so that’s where we headed.

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MTBA Coaching and Skills Instructor, Evan James, against a typical Adelaide endless blue summer sky.

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Dropping into the steepest sections of the recently reworked Hills Hoist.
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Trailscapes’ Garry Patterson grinning as he gets to sample of bit of his team’s handiwork on Hills Hoist.
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Getting all twisted up with the old Scando flick on Hills Hoist’s new lower berms.

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Warm Adelaide summer sunsets.


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On the Verge is 800m of massive jumps and rhythm. Elliot Smith from Trailscapes sends it much bigger than most!
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US downhill pro, Luca Shaw, happened to be in town for a bit of off-season training with his mate Connor Fearon. Style for days. Adelaide does seem to breed some incredibly high-quality riders.


Instrumental to the Mountain Lofty Ranges Mountain Bike Masterplan is the inclusion of two new iconic descending trails, which will take riders from up in the hills into the city below. The alignments for these trails is yet to be set in stone, but each trail should be at least six or seven kilometres of flowing descent.

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With the city centre only a few kilometres from the base of the ranges, Adelaide ticks a very important box for success as a mountain bike destination – proximity. Having a train line from the middle of town high into the hills is just the icing on the cake.

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Riding With a Legend – Ned Overend

Manly Dam and the surrounding National Park trails in Sydney’s Northern Beaches was the place for an exciting opportunity for Specialized dealers and staff to meet and shred with Ned, and believe us we took him on the rockiest trails around and he absolutely killed it.

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Welcome to Sydney, Ned, how is your whirlwind tour of the Southern Hemisphere going?

It’s great to be here! I don’t think I took the best route to get here though, I flew from Durango to Phoenix, to LA then to Sydney, then to Auckland and finally to Queenstown. But since I got to Queenstown it’s been great riding everyday.

What brought you down this way? 

I’ve just come out to see the trails here and to meet, and ride with some dealers and reps. I’m visiting some stores to talk about their individual markets and the Specialized product in the area.

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What are you up to with Specialized these days?

I do all the major product meetings at Specialized, so it’s important to see the trends are in different countries and how the brand is going in the different places.

Every three months we have a week-long product meeting with distributors from all around the world and the product managers walk the new lines and depending what time of year it is we might be talking about 2018 product and what areas need testing and development. Or we might be fine-tuning a product that is coming out soon.

Because I travel a lot and attend many events I’m able to deliver a unique feedback from my experiences.

Also being involved in the sports marketing we work on making the most out of the cross country race teams.

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What bikes are you involved in?

The high performance mountain biking segment, like the Epic and Stumpjumper hardtail. Also more recently the Camber and Stumpjumper.

I’m across the cyclocross range, especially with the tyre development. I work with the fat bike crew too.

I’ve enjoyed seeing trail bikes and types of trails developing together. For example the trails we rode today, if you were on a classic 26” hardtail it’d be tough to do ride the way we just did, but these new bikes with bigger wheels, relaxed angles and dropper posts are making it possible. People are building more technical trails as people are more capable with their bikes allowing them to so more.

And you’re obviously still racing?

Sure, I’ll do a variety or road races, mountain bike races, cyclocross and fat bike races as well. But what’s really growing fast is the gravel racing, like a 100km race on a cross bike, I love those.

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Yeah, what’s with all this gravel racing up there? 

I think people are sick of cars, so they are exploring a lot of roads without cars!

The races are more are like a grand fondo event; people are going in these events just to complete the ride and check out the dirt roads in the area rather than racing.

We’d love to see the gravel bike segment grow here!

For sure, you guys have some pretty challenging road conditions to ride in here! It’ll happen.

So you’ve gone from Queenstown to Rotorua, Brisbane, Canberra and now you’re in Sydney with Melbourne up next. That’s a variety right there!

Oh yeah, a huge variety. Queenstown was so different to Rotorua, and then riding Underwood in Brisbane felt like a giant BMX track, tight and twisty and super hot!

Nerang trails were hard! Such natural trails and the rocky sections and tight trees were cool, I did had a couple altercations with some of those tight trees though and came a little bit too close to them… Riding in 34 degrees temperature was a shock.

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And now you’ve just ridden Manly Dam, the most ridden trail in the country, did you dig it?

This place is pretty cool; I love this kind of rock. There’s nothing like this where I’ve been so far.

I like the challenging rocky step-ups and rock drops, all designed and constructed to be safe to ride. If you rode a trail like this in Moab you might get a surprise and come across a sheer drop, dangerous stuff. But you can ride these trails first time and trust that if you’re going too slowly to drop off it, you’ll be able to roll down safely.

You’re on a 150mm travel 650b Stumpjumper today, but you rode a Stumpjumper 6Fattie in Rotorua, what do you make of these new Plus Bikes?

Plus bikes are super interesting, I got involved in the fat bike development really early on, and from those bikes the plus bikes evolved. I think people saw the stability in the big 4” tyres, in the snow it makes a lot of sense, but on the trails it’s a little too much, too slow and bouncy. So from learning about what a massive tyre volume can do and how much fun they are to ride, we arrived at 650b diameter wheels with 3” tyres.

They are super forgiving, but I don’t think they should be pigeon holed as a bike for beginners. If a beginner can benefit, so can an expert.

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Specialized has signed Jared Graves, that’s pretty cool!

The company is seriously so excited to have Jared riding for them now, not only for his skills but the whole attitude and passion for riding is making the entire group of product managers pumped. He’s incredible.

Where are you off to next?

I’m only home for a week and I’m off to Brazil! There’s a trail festival on and we’re launching our new Specialized Levo, the electric bike. But that’s a whole different conversation!

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I’m all over the world this year!

Well cheers for coming all the way down here.

Thank you, it’s been amazing; the level of riders in all your different cities is super high!

Mt Buller: One Mountain, Many Ways to Ride it

With trails to suit just about every style of rider and bike, Buller’s the kind of place that can tempt you into to all kinds of quasi-justifiable, but potentially financially/familially destructive bike purchasing rampages.

You see, you’ve gotta bring a road bike, so you can enjoy the proximity to some of the country’s best roads and climbs, including the famed 16km ascent to the village.

And then you’ll definitely want a cross-country bike too, for ripping around the endless amount of flowy singletrack, on trails like Gang Gangs, Misty Twist and Medusa.

But then something with a bit more travel wouldn’t go astray as well, maybe an all-mountain bike, so you can really hammer it on the epic descents like Copperhead, Stonefly, the Australian Alpine Epic or the Delatite River Trail.

Of course you’ll also to bring your downhill bike, for cutting laps on the chair-lifted trails of International and ABOM too, so make sure you leave space in the car for that one as well….

Join us, as National Enduro Champ Chris Panozzo shows you how to make the most of Mt Buller!

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Climbing on perfect roads in the late arvo light.
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Picture perfect alpine singletrack on Misty Twist.
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Heading up Medusa, with Mt Stirling in the distance.

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Sunset at the Buller summit is to die for. It’s always worth the climb.
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Clancy’s Run, off the peak of Corn Hill.
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Jamming it into another granite berm on Clancy’s Run.
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And don’t forget your downhill bike. The descents of ABOM and International have been part of the Australian downhill circuit for years, for good reason.

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Interview: Turning Bumps into Heat, with Jeremiah Boobar

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Mr Boobar.

Hello, I am?

Hi, I’m Jeremiah Boobar, I’m Cannondale’s director of suspension technology.

So what do you do all day?

Basically, I work with a bunch of talented people trying to turn bumps into heat for Cannondale.

Cannondale have been very innovative and pushed the boundaries in suspension and engineering. How will you enrich that tradition or change that tradition?

Cannondale have a really long history in innovative suspension, with Headshock, Lefty, the DYAD shock on Jekyll and Trigger, even the old Fulcrum downhill bikes. One of the reasons I’m on board is to continue that innovation, but not with features for feature’s sake, with real improvements.

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No, Chris, I will not give you my number.

If you had to choose between reinvention and refinment, what would you choose?

I’m more of a refinement guy. I believe there’s a lot of great stuff out there which can be improved. But a lot of invention comes through refinement.

We were talking earlier about the new Cannondale Habit as being a great example of refinement, rather than reinvention. Would comment more on that?

First of all, the Habit was done before I showed up, there was a talented team behind it and I can’t claim any credit for it. But what I think it is representative of, is Cannondale’s product development going forward. It’s a very simple looking, clean bike but it still leverages Cannondale’s Si technology. Having the flex stay arrangement as opposed to a pivot allows that frame to be incredibly light and stiff, it’s about the same weight as our Scalpel but you’re getting a ripper of a 27.5″ 120mm bike. It’s definitely refinement, not reinvention.

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Will the fantastically fun Habit set the tone for Cannondale with Boobar’s involvement? We hope so, as it is the best bike we’ve ridden from Cannondale in years.

You can’t talk about Cannondale with talking about the Lefty. Now, the Lefty is 15 years old next year. Some people love it, others definitely do not. How do you get the haters across the line?

There’s a certain point at which haters are just going to be haters, but for others I think it’s just very foreign. It’s hard to understand for them – I mean, it’s got one leg, how does it even work? People aren’t aware of the roller bearing technology inside, and how it performs under the kinds of loads which would cause friction and binding in a bushing system. Where a bushing suffers from friction under load, the roller bearings do not. It’s the equivalent of you and I trying to drag this rock over here across the dirt, or if we put a whole bunch of logs underneath to allow us to roll it along.

Are there any particular challenges with working within the Lefty chassis that mean it’s more suited to one particular style of riding? Or can it be applied to all areas of mountain biking?

There will be challenges with any chassis package. Obviously with the Lefty, you need to fit spring and damper in one leg, so you need to be more creative. But I don’t feel like it has any particular constraints.

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Boobar was the driving force behind the fork on the front of that bike, the unstoppable Pike.

You said before that prior to coming and working with Cannondale, you’d never actually ridden a Lefty. 

That’s right. And I think it’s incredibly important to know where you fit in the lay of the land – it’s one thing to know your own product, but you need to understand your competitors’ too, because the customer is exposed to them all.

So knowing that I lacked that information,  when I started I took everyone involved in the suspension side of things and we went out to Boulder City outside Vegas for a week of of back to back comparative testing. Everyone had a standardised setup – same frame, same tyres, same tyre pressures. We did a day of runs to get familiar with the track, so we were really in tune with the terrain, and then we began testing – we’d do a run on a Lefty, then immediately swap out the fork for a competitors equivalent, say Lefty Supermax and Pike and FOX 36, and note the performance differences.

It was really eye-opening, particularly in terms of the fork stiffness and seeing how that would benefit you in choosing a line and then having the ability to stay on it. Whereas on some of the other products, you’d find yourself getting sucked off line. Flat corners too, the way the Lefty would left you take a tighter line was really noticeable.

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The Pike arrived right on time to satisfy the blossoming Enduro market’s craving for a high-performance fork that everyone could understand.

Looking at where you’ve come from, you were with RockShox for 16 years full-time. Over those years, what are the projects you’re most proud of? 

It’s hard to say that I’m not proud to have been part of the Pike project. That was big project and a huge success. But other highlights I’m proud of are the creation of a standard for direct-mount downhill stems. And funnily enough, the Bottomless Token system in Pikes too. Those tokens were originally developed as a way of us testing the spring volume in the Pike – we were trying to determine the best air volume for the spring, and using these spacers to tune it. Some of test riders were more aggressive and bigger, faster riders and were bottoming out the fork, others like me ride off the back a bit more and don’t need such a progressive spring curve. Eventually we realised, ‘hey, why don’t we just put these spacers into production and let people tune their fork for their style?”

 

Electronics. Cannondale were one of the first companies to use electronics in suspension, with the ELO, Electronic Lock Out, and fu#k me if it wasn’t a nightmare soldering those connections back together… Where do you see electronics going? 

Electronics allow you to add features that are literally impossible to do otherwise – things that people just can’t act fast enough to do.

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The E:i system is far, far better than its small market penetration would suggest. We hope that people awaken to just how good it really is.

So you’re talking about instant about damping adjustments?

It won’t stop there, no way. That’s just the start of it. Personally, the idea of having to charge my mountain bike is a bit uncomfortable. But having been part of the E:i project (read more about the E:i system in our reviews of E:i equipped Lapierre bikes here and here) I know what is possible and what the ride benefits can be, so I’m willing to live with a charger.

I was reading an old interview in Dirt magazine where you said mountain biking needed to be more comfortable in its own skin. Do you feel we’ve got there yet? 

I feel like we’ve gotten better. At that time, there was this real divide and confusion in the sport between freeride and downhill. People where adopting styles from everywhere – do I wear a t-shirt when I go ride, or should I be wearing baggy jeans, or maybe tight jeans…? But mountain biking is starting to mature and get it’s own look. We’re getting out of our teenage years, where we’re wearing baggy jeans one day, tight jeans the next, putting on goth makeup for a day or two.

Do you feel that the rise of Enduro has been a big part of that, in establishing an identity? 

No, I don’t think that’s necessarily linked. There’s just been a change, a shift towards more professionalism in the sport that’s permeated through, in downhill, freeride, even cross country has more of its own identity away from road now.

On the subject of cross country, as someone who was a big part of developing the RockShox Reverb dropper post, are surprised we haven’t seen more dropper posts in cross country racing? 

I am, yes. I mean, those bikes are so stinking light that I thought more guys would have taken that risk and added a few grams. Especially as we’re seeing much more challenging course design, it’s pretty exciting. But on the other hand, those guys starve themselves, they weigh every part on their bike, so maybe the thought of adding weight is too much. I mean, it’ll come, there just needs to be a little more development done to get the weight down a bit more.

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Fontana is one of the most progressive riders in cross country, and even he still shuns a dropper post.

Do you think there’s any element of bravado in not running one? 

No, I don’t think so. Not from the riders I’ve spoken to anyhow. I mean Marco and Mani (Cannondale team riders Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic) are really progressive, and I know if the weight were down they’d run one in a second. Those guys are entirely focussed on the advantage – will it help me win a World Cup?

You’ve ridden the world over, do you have a favourite, for riding and testing? 

Whistler? Did I say that too fast? Hahah! That whole area has a really special place in my heart. It’s also a really great place for product testing too, there’s so much variety. Moab too, that’s another amazing place for product testing, it’s just so rough. I mean, if you stop and take a look around when you’re riding Porcupine Rim in Moab, you’re surrounded by broken bike parts!

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The Lefty tends to divide riders, rightly or wrongly. Boobar thinks a better job can be done of communicating what the Lefty actually means for a rider’s experience on the trail.

How should an average rider be going about working out the right suspension setting for them? I feel like that education is something the industry has not done particularly well with. 

Firstly, people need to be realistic about what they’re doing on the bike. I mean, the pros are the fastest people on the planet, so why wouldn’t I use their setup? Thing is, those people have that setup because they are the fastest, not the other way around.

So for the average rider, what’s really important is to repeat the exact same run and don’t make it long – 30 seconds is plenty. So repeat that run, and make one adjustment each time. Do some bracketing – do the run with your rebound all the way open and see what happens, then with it all the way closed. And slowly you’ll narrow it down, making one adjustment each time, and then suddenly it’ll start to click. You’ll be able to interpret what your feeling and what adjustments will impact that. But it takes some discipline and some time, and lots of people just want to ride, which is why we’re producing more suspension setup charts, guides, videos and the like to help people short cut that process.

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With complicated suspension designs, like the DYAD shock, rider education is even more important. Is the complexity warranted?

Do you want to enlighten us about putting together a pressure guide chart for a fork?

According to the internet, the guide is just a wild guess you pull out of thin air! But honestly, committing to a pressure guide is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to do as you know many people will just follow it and never make an adjustment after that. We get a range of riders, of all weights, heights, men and women of all abilities, we have them ride the fork a number of times, we work with them on tuning the pressure till they feel it’s ideal for them. Then we plot the results, run it through the computer to deal with anomalies and then eventually commit to a guide. But whatever you do, there’ll always be someone on the ‘net screaming at you that you’re an idiot.

Working with pro teams has been a huge part of your career. Are their any riders who stand out as terrific or terrible at giving feedback?

Eric Carter, to his own detriment, is one of the more sensitive riders to setup that I’ve ever worked with. He would be constantly testing, and he would develop stuff that we’d eventually transfer over to Peaty. Peaty was interesting in that he loved to test in the preseason, but once the racing started he’d stop the testing entirely and focus just on the racing. Carter would keep testing throughout the season, so Peaty was reaping all the benefits without having to do any test riding! It was a successful combination.

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Nico Voullioz, who Boobar rates as the best rider on the planet for delivering product feedback.

John Kirkaldie also sticks out, but for another reason… I’ve never told him this. Telluride World Cup, there was a big piece of debris that broke loose in his fork and it completely clogged the compression circuit to the point it was non-functioning. Kirkcaldie comes down after his final practice run and is all like, “This fork feels fantastic, can you just do the usual buff up for the race run?” So then we pull it apart and holy smokes it’s a mess in there! So we completely redo the fork, new cartridge and all get it back to him. And he’s all like, “This is great, it’s just like before, just a little bit smoother, perfect!” And I’m like, “Oh no, John, I think you may have just dropped off the test list..!” I never told him that one.

That said, riders have on days and off days – they may have a lot on their mind or be struggling with conditions and give you bad feedback one day, but give you great feedback the next. So yes, some riders are better than others, but most riders can be developed. It just takes effort to develop the feel.

The one total standout who never has a bad day is Nico Voullioz. Unbelievable. His feel for the bike is the best. And his feedback is extraordinary; in English it’s at a high level, but in French it’s another level again, so if you can get a strong translator you will get the absolute best feedback in the business. And he’s still my favourite rider to watch.

Cheers Jeremiah, we look forward to riding more of your work soon! 

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Must Ride: The Dirty Dozen – Falls Creek


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Get high. Many of the trails around Falls Creek are up above the tree line, spectacular stuff.

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Feeling small?

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With the Bogong High Plains sprawling at its doorstep, Falls Creek really is at the gateway to some incredibly spectacular country, and with so much of the riding here above the tree line, the views are breathtaking.

Falls Creek has been investing heavily in a world-class trail network of late, folds of the terrain above the village are now riven with loads of machine-built trail, crafted by World Trail. We were lucky enough to spend a few days at Falls Creek in early 2015, and recently we had the opportunity to ride the last addition to the network, High Voltage, too.

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Don’t miss out on the new trail construction – High Voltage.

But the two trails which Falls Creek contributes to the Dirty Dozen lie beyond the bounds of the bike park, further out into the mammoth landscape that surrounds the village – and what these two trails lack in terms of technical challenge or features, they make up for with their views and uniqueness. Mountain biking isn’t always about ripping turns and singletrack, and these two trails are a good reminder that just being on your bike in beautiful surrounds can be pretty incredible too.

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Mammoth landscapes of the High Plains from the highest public road in the Australia.
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The Ruined Castle, a stunning rock formation overlooking the lake.
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Not too bad!

The Mt Mackay Loop takes you up Australia’s highest public roadway, to the peak of Mt Mackay. From the top, you’re presented with a view right down the Kiewa Valley and over the plains. If you’ve got the opportunity to get up there for a sunrise or sunset, you will not regret it. Bank on about an hour to make it to the peak, as the climb is pretty solid! Mt Mackay is also a good starting point for exploring the epic Fainter’s Track, which descends all the way back to Mt Beauty, something we highly recommend you check out!

Falls Creek’s second Dirty Dozen trail, the Historic Huts loop, takes advantage of the network of aqueducts with criss-cross the landscape, feeding the hydropower station at Bogong below. Following the flattest contours, the aqueducts and the trails that run beside them seem purpose built to let you explore the plains and the hundred year-old huts that are dotted about the place. Riding from the village across the dam wall and into the plains is beautiful, and you can easily spend an entire day feeling dwarfed by the views.

Pack lunch, park up at a hut, and remember why this kind of mountain biking will never get old.

Following the aqueducts that flow around the hillsides.
Following the flat contours of aqueducts that flow around the hillsides.
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The Historic Hut Loop takes in iconic alpine scenery, like this postcard picture.
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Ride past Wallace’s Hut, built way before mountain bikes were, in 1889.
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A feast of absolutely enormous views.
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Across the dam wall.
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The raw beauty of the alpine terrain.

Of course, we do think you’d be mad to visit Falls Creek and not ride all the other trails too!

The network is growing all the time, and with the final stage of trail development scheduled for completion in the next year, Falls Creek is going to be vying with likes of Mt Buller and Thredbo for the title of Australia’s best alpine trail centre.

For more information on the trails of Falls Creek head to http://www.fallscreek.com.au/mtb or to learn more about the Dirty Dozen drop by http://thedirtydozen.com.au/

Expect to Fail and Improve Your Performance

Now, I’m obviously biased here, but there’s a reason I recommend seeing a registered sport psychologist over someone without the qualification and registration: a registered psychologist is more likely to have a proper understanding of what’s actually going on. To register as a psychologist takes at least six years of university training, and more than 2000 hours of hands-on experience, meaning that there’s a decent chance that your psychologist actually knows what he or she is talking about. You probably wouldn’t go to someone claiming to be a dentist, lawyer, or GP if they weren’t actually qualified and registered, no matter how many weekend or alternative courses they’d completed, or how much personal experience they’ve had. So, if proper training matters to you – my recommendation is to go with the person with the real qualification, no matter how convincing they sound.

Given all of that, what would I recommend for anyone looking to improve his or her performance under pressure on or off the bike? Four things:

Preparing for problems: Let’s face it – stuff goes wrong, and if you’re not pre-prepared, mentally or physically, your chances of “toughing it out” or “dealing with it on the fly” are going to be pretty slim. We all have an annoying ability to underestimate the likelihood of problems, and to overestimate our ability to deal with them, so we tend to underprepare.

Rather than trusting in your ability to deal with things if and when they happen, work out in advance what you plan to do when things go wrong

Instead, expect that things will go wrong. Crashes will happen, your mojo just won’t be there, the weather will be crap, or you’ll feel tired or demotivated. Rather than trusting in your ability to deal with things if and when they happen, work out in advance what you plan to do when things go wrong, and be as realistic and honest as possible about it. If anything, exaggerate the likelihood and intensity of problems so that you’ll be better prepared when it happens. If things go better than expected, that’s great – you get to appreciate it all the more. If not, you’ll have a plan ready to go, especially in situations where you need to respond quickly to an issue (like in a race), and won’t have time to come up with something on the fly.

Expect things to go wrong. Aaron Gwin has had a horror run at Leogang, so when shit hit the fan last year and he lost his chain out of the gate, he didn’t let it faze him and he went on to win. 

Expecting discomfort: Similar to the above, if you expect that you’re going to be uncomfortable when riding, it won’t come as a surprise. Mountain biking discomfort comes in many forms, from physical (e.g., physical pain, cramps, and exhaustion), to mental (e.g., fear, panic, disillusionment, disappointment, frustration, etc.), and is pretty much a given. Once we can accept that we’re going to be uncomfortable, it tends to have less of an impact on us when it happens. Alternatively, expecting everything to be great is pretty much a recipe for disappointment and ongoing motivation problems.

Expecting everything to be great is pretty much a recipe for disappointment and ongoing motivation problems.

Getting used to being uncomfortable sounds a bit pessimistic, but it actually frees us up to enjoy ourselves doing what we enjoy even though things might be uncomfortable or unpleasant at the time. Removing unrealistic expectations (especially around ‘flow’ and ‘being in the zone’ – see above) lets us take an experience at face value without a whole raft of preconceived ideas getting in the way.

Talk about expecting discomfort. Nairo Quintana knew that if he was to stay with Froome on Ventoux in 2013, things were going to be horrible beyond words, but he didn’t lose motivation. #brutal

Increasing emotional tolerance: Getting used to discomfort also involves increasing your ability to tolerate uncomfortable, upsetting, or distracting emotions. For most of us, the biggest source of distraction isn’t external events, but, instead, our emotional reactions to them. Because we label uncomfortable emotions (like fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness) as “bad”, “awful”, or “terrible”, we usually spend a lot of time and energy trying to control or get rid of these feelings.

It turns out that we don’t have nearly as much control over our emotions as we’d like to think.

It turns out that we don’t have nearly as much control over our emotions as we’d like to think. Usually, the best we can do when they come up is to accept that they’re there, and attend to what actually matters (like riding); but there’s no way this will happen until you get better at (i) noticing the emotion when it happens and, (ii) treating it like any other sensation (i.e., “it’s there, I can’t really do anything about it, but I can learn something from it, and then return my attention to what matters, even if I don’t feel like it”). Do this right and you can get to a point where you get to choose your actions, even in the presence of unpleasant emotions, rather than the other way around.

This skill is quite hard to learn by yourself and isn’t particularly intuitive. After all, we’re programmed to pay attention to our primary emotions (they evolved as part of our warning and survival system). My advice: if your performance is degraded because of your responses to and around your emotions, do some pre-emptive work with a good psychologist.

Learning attentional focus: Probably the most important skill any athlete can learn is to be able to pay attention to what matters, especially when presented with a whole load of distractions. On the bike, being able to attend to what’s important, especially when you’re distracted by emotions, discomfort, worries, or competition pressure, is essential for high performance. You’ve probably read a bit about mindfulness in recent times. Mindfulness is simply another term for voluntary, focused attention. That is, being able to choose what and how you attend to the things that actually require your attention (rather than the distractions that demand it). Again, attentional focus training is unintuitive (because it feels normal to direct your attention to the things that are distracting) so, if you want to increase your performance under pressure, I’d advise working with a good psychologist who does sport-based mindfulness work.

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Attentional focus in action?

To summarise everything we’ve talked about – as humans, we’re full of errors, and those errors will make us think that certain things are more important, or more worthy of attention, than other things. Chances are, if we feel that something is right, it’s probably wrong, and the only way to know the difference is to spend some serious time training to recognise it! Unfortunately, many people claiming to know about sport psychology don’t really, because either they haven’t actually studied it, or they’ve fallen victim to the same errors as the rest of us (but think they haven’t).

You want to learn to be a better rider, and a big part of that improvement comes from learning how to recognise the right choices when they come up.

Put it this way: you spend a lot of time training on the bike to be good at riding. You want to learn to be a better rider, and a big part of that improvement comes from learning how to recognise the right choices when they come up. It makes sense then (at least to me) that we’d also invest at least as much time in learning how to recognise the right choices in other parts of our lives – learning how to recognise our cognitive errors and defaults, and how to focus our attention on the right stuff when it matters. This is where sport psychology actually helps: learning how to be our best under pressure, rather than simply learning to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com)

Must Ride: The Dirty Dozen – Mt Beauty

Mt Beauty was the fourth stop on our Dirty Dozen road trip, an exploration of twelve iconic trails across Victoria’s north-east.  And while Mt Beauty officially only has one trail in the dozen, don’t think for a moment that it’s a light on singletrack – there is a huge amount of riding here, though it does help if you’re with a local to unearth all the real gems.

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What a place!

The You Beauty loop has been assembled to really give you an overview of what Mt Beauty is all about, provide you with the lay of the land so you can continue your exploration of the endless spiderweb of trails. All you’ve got to do is follow the blue arrows.

Like all the destinations in the Dirty Dozen, the trails are right on the edge of town – it’s only a two-minute pedal from the cafe to the trail head of the Big Hill Mountain Bike park. The riding is true old-school singletrack, all hand built, with a lot of character. Don’t expect the groomed flow of Buller or Falls Creek here at Beauty – these trails have more in common with Bright, with a raw, challenging edge that won’t forgive riding on autopilot.

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Classic hand built singletrack.

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Because Mt Beauty’s trail network has evolved over such a long period of time, with volunteers and club members each adding their own touches, the trails all have their own personality and the network has a more random, organic layout to it. As such, if you can nab a local to play guide for a morning or afternoon it’s a great help.

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A day in Mt Beauty will give you a good feel for the trails, but allow for two to really get into the vibe of the town – head to the rock pools for a dip, visit the Sweet Water Brewery. If you’ve got time, we highly recommend taking in a particularly epic run from Falls Creek back to Mt Beauty down the legendary Fainter’s Track too, for an amazing back country experience.

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Dropping into a high-speed gully on the Shoot and Boot.

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The main descent back to the Big Hill car park is riddled with great berms like this.

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Must Ride: The Dirty Dozen – Beechworth

Beechworth was stop number two for us on our week long Dirty Dozen road trip, exploring the 12 handpicked trails across the north-east of Victoria. This town might lack the towering hills of some of the other Dirty Dozen destinations, but it proves emphatically that it’s what you do with the terrain you’ve got which really counts. You’ll find two of the Dirty Dozen trails in Beechworth, but don’t surprised if you find yourself staying for a while – there’s so much to love about this place.

 


Flame Trees

Flame Trees is a cool, mellow cross-country loop which is accessible by a short pedal down the Murray to Mountains rail trail straight from town. The trail never deviates far from the rail trail, but snakes alongside it, ducking into cuttings and gullies and milking the rolling terrain to keep a good flow.

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Australiana.

The trail is surrounded by some really iconic, Aussie-as farmland and it’s a particularly stunning ride in the afternoon when the setting sun bathes the whole scene in golden country light.

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Flame Trees follows the rail trail, weaving about alongside it. You can pedal back to town in just a few minutes along the tarmac too.

Flame Trees is a pretty quick loop, about an hour at most, so it’s a good way to start things off in Beechworth before heading off to the more technical Beechworth Mountain Bike Park.

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Beechworth is a really cool town, with beautifully preserved buildings.

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Beechworth MTB Park

Occupying a compact area just on the edge of town, this mountain bike crams an amazing amount of fun, challenging trail into a small space. We really love this mountain bike park, it’s incredibly unique, and there are stacks of different loops available.

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It’s only a couple of minutes pedal from the main street to the mountain bike park.

The trail builders have embraced the rocky, granite strewn terrain, incorporating all kinds of rock outcrops into the trail, rather than scooting around them as we see too often. There are trails for just about any level of rider in the park and they’re all mapped and signposted as well, so you can plan out your loop according to the challenge you’re looking for.

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Ned Kelly was tried and held here once upon a time.

It’s not all rock gardens though, and the singletrack has a really fun, fast surface, which gives you some of the most satisfyingly controlled drifts that you’ll find anywhere. You could very easily spend a couple of days here, sessioning different sections, working out new loops and discovering new ways to ride the rocks, or you could head to Bridge Rd Brewers or the amazing bakery for a refuel. Either way, we’re sure you’ll love this town as much as we do.

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For more information on the riding in Beechworth and the Dirty Dozen trails, head to http://thedirtydozen.com.au

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Plenty rocky!
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These trails are full of cool, unexpected line options.

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Don’t leave town without visiting the Bridge Road Brewers! They’re mountain bike nuts too.

Utter BS: Sports Psychology Myths in Popular Use

Let’s look at some of these myths…

It's hard to "just not think about it" when you're on the start line.
It’s hard to “just not think about it” when you’re on the start line.

Thought stopping: This is the “just don’t think about it” advice that’s pretty common. The idea is that we can stop a distressing or intrusive thought just by telling ourselves not to think about it, or trying hard to think about something else. Turns out that, as great as it would be to be able to do this, when we try to stop or control our thoughts, they invariably come back, louder, stronger, and more distressing than before. Not only is this process very distracting, it encourages us to treat our thoughts as the enemy, and to spend a lot of time and effort trying to make them go away even though this is pretty much impossible. In a nutshell, it’s tiring, distracting, and just doesn’t work.

When we try to stop or control our thoughts, they invariably come back, louder, stronger and more distressing.

A better option is to acknowledge that we have annoying, intrusive, or upsetting thoughts. Once we can accept that they’re not going anywhere, we can practice directing our attention to the present moment and the task at hand, even though the thoughts might still be there. This way, we can get used to functioning in the presence of intrusive thoughts, and learn to focus our attention when we’re distracted. Note that the most important part of this process is not to try and distract yourself from your thoughts but, instead, to focus on what matters even though the thoughts are still there.

To summarise: whenever you find yourself getting distracted by your thoughts, thank your mind, and redirect your attention to the present moment.

Pre-race or pre-ride rituals. For instance, this captioner won't hop on bike unless he's had two coffees!
Pre-race or pre-ride rituals. For instance, this captioner won’t hop on bike unless he’s had two coffees!

Pre-race rituals: Many athletes have pre-race or pre-game rituals that they feel they need to perform before any event. This is often encouraged by coaches and represents a big sport-psych myth. Scarily, these rituals can often turn into full-blown superstitions that border on obsessive-compulsive behaviour (like being convinced that you can’t win an event without your special socks, or insisting on walking around your car three times before you can start your ride).

The danger of rituals is that athletes can become psychologically dependent on them

This myth grew out of the idea of performing a particular routine before an event or sub-event (like a golf shot) to “get into the zone”. Unfortunately, it just encourages a person to be dependent on something that has very little effect on performance, unless it’s not there. The danger of rituals is that athletes can become psychologically dependent on them, making them into self-fulfilling prophecies (i.e., performance drops without the ritual, not because the ritual increases performance, but because the athlete believes that it does and gets distressed in its absence).

A better option is to learn to focus your attention prior to an event or difficult action (like a drop or gap), even (especially) when things aren’t going well. A major part of being a good mountain biker (especially in competition) is the ability to retain or regain focus when things are going or have gone wrong. Have a read of this article (http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-riding-in-the-here-and-now/) to get an idea of how.


Other articles by Dr Jeremy Adams

Why You Don’t Really Need to Upgrade

It’s OK to Take the Winter Off

Using Pain to Become a Better Mountain Biker

The Strava Conundrum

Are You Addicted to Buying MTB Gear? 


Positive thinking and self-talk: This one’s a biggy, and keeps doing the rounds in self-help books, ‘motivation seminars’, and social media. The idea is that, thinking ‘positive thoughts’ will override any ‘negative thinking’ and that, somehow, this magical thinking will transform you into an amazing athlete, worker, lover, etc. Of course, it’s utter BS.

The thoughts don’t actually matter, it’s your actions that count,

Turns out that ‘positive thinking’ and self-talk are just as big a distraction as so-called ‘negative thinking’. It takes a lot of effort to try and override one set of thoughts with another, and the end-product is just noisy (imagine a radio playing “station negative” and then trying to override it by turning the volume up on another radio: “station positive”. The end result is just a lot of confusing noise). Even more important is the fact that simply thinking a thought doesn’t mean that things will change. Without a useful follow-up action, thoughts are just thoughts.

A better option is to learn to notice when you’re being distracted by your thoughts (whether they’re “positive” or “negative”) and, rather than attempting to distract yourself, returning your attention to what matters right now. The thoughts don’t actually matter, it’s your actions that count, and these actions should be based on what you believe is important. That means balancing desire against risk, and developing an appropriate skill base that allows you to do what you want, even in the presence of upsetting, “negative”, or distracting thinking.

Getting into the “zone”: The “zone”, “flow”, “the bubble”, etc. All names for a mental state in which we tend to perform well and feel amazing. It’s that mental situation that we get very rarely when everything feels perfect, you do everything right, and there’s no distraction or self-doubt. It feels amazing. So we should try and get into that state as often as possible, right?

It's a rarity to 'be in the zone' so stop worrying about it - let a ride be a ride, not a perfect experience.
It’s a rarity to ‘be in the zone’ so stop worrying about it – let a ride be a ride, not a perfect experience.

Wrong. Sadly, as amazing as the flow state is, it’s pretty mysterious. After 40 years of study, psychologists haven’t been able to figure out how to create flow on demand – it remains elusive. Sure, there are some factors that increase the chance of flow, so the myth has developed that this is what you should be aiming for every ride.

Expect that things will be difficult and painful, and accept that this is what riding is

Here are the problems with aiming for flow on every ride: (1) flow is abstract and rare; (2) most rides are hard and painful; (3) when you’re mountain biking things go wrong a lot; and (4) riding is about what you do, not what you feel. If you expect to achieve a flow state every ride, you’re guaranteed to be disappointed. Worse, if you feel that you’ve failed to achieve flow, it can make a good ride less meaningful because you didn’t get the buzz you expected.

A better option is to expect things to go wrong. If you find that it’s too hot, or cold, or you’re not feeling it, or you get a puncture, or snap your chain, or crash out on an easy section of trail, or feel like crap, that’s OK. That’s what mountain biking is. Sure, occasionally you’ll get the magic buzz, but most rides will be just rides. Learn to focus on the riding in its entirety, not just the supposed “good stuff”. Instead of expecting that everything will be great, expect that things will be difficult and painful, and accept that this is what riding is. When things go better than you expected, you’ll be much better able to appreciate them!

Flooding: We’ve all heard the timeless advice “go big or go home” (and its variants). This suggestion is usually based on a badly outmoded psych practice called flooding, in which it’s assumed that massive exposure to something that we’re frightened of will get us past our fears. The usual implementation of flooding in mountain biking is to attempt to push through fear by trying things that are outside our competence level – like trying to tackle a big gap without putting in the groundwork on smaller gaps first.

 We run the risk of cementing a small fear in place and making it a lot bigger.

There are two major problems with flooding. First, in mountain biking, it often results in physical injury, because we take on high levels of risk before we have the skills to mediate that risk. Secondly, because we have a high chance of failure (and because failure often means injury and pain), we run the risk of cementing a small fear in place and making it a lot bigger.

Go big or go home? How about some intermediary steps instead.
Go big or go home? How about some intermediary steps instead. Photo: Sean Lee.

A better option is to work with fear more gently. Rather than forcing yourself to do things that you’re really not up to, be a bit more patient, and work up to it over time. If drops are your nemeses, find a skills park and practice on small drops until you feel confident, then try slightly bigger ones, and so on. We all want to be able to ride the big stuff, but mountain biking isn’t about ball size, it’s actually about skill – and skill comes from consistent practice. Have a read here for more info (http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-getting-your-mojo-back).

Willpower: Speaking of patience and practice, the willpower myth is a big downfall for most of us. Willpower is the idea that, with enough effort, we can make ourselves do something that we don’t want to. For the most part, willpower has a very limited shelf life. You’ve probably experienced this for yourself: you fully intend to go for a training ride on a cold, winter’s day, but you never seem to make it out the door; or you’re absolutely sure you won’t have that extra piece of cake, and you manage to resist it for about 10 minutes, right up until you give in; or you fully intend to keep going hard to the top of the hill, but give up after 200 metres when it really starts to hurt. The problem is that we actually believe that willpower works, so we tend to place a lot of emphasis on it in our decision-making. So willpower, or its lack, tends to be a big factor when it comes to things like training or eating well.

Willpower, or its lack, tends to be a big factor when it comes to things like training or eating well.

Because we expect to be able to make ourselves do stuff, we’re often surprised when we can’t, or don’t want to follow through. And we tend to repeat this error over and over again: we assume that each time our willpower failed us that it was an aberration, and that next time will be better. This means that, instead of learning from our experiences, and making sure we’re better prepared next time, we just go with the “I’ll be able to use my willpower” fallacy.

A better option is to expect that your willpower won’t actually work. Instead of relying on something that’s unreliable, a better solution is to own up to the choices you’re making. Most of us pretend we’re not making a choice when we don’t train, eat poorly, or give up early. But, in reality, of course we are, we’re just not owning up to that choice and, instead, convincing ourselves that our feelings are a better source of information than our values. So be honest with yourself and remind yourself about what really matters: “my choice is to go for a training ride, or sit on the couch – I feel like sitting on the couch, but my training is important to me. My choice, therefore, is to train, fully recognising that I don’t feel like it and that I will probably be uncomfortable during it”.

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com)

 

Must Ride: The Dirty Dozen – Bright

Bright was stop number three on our Dirty Dozen road trip, an exploration of 12 trails handpicked by local riders in the Victorian High Country, and it’s home to three great loops that form part of the ‘Dozen.  We could have spent a week here, exploring all the trails, but if you don’t have quite that much time, following the three carefully selected loops is a great way to unearth most of the gems.


 

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Bright is surrounded by peaks, covered in pines.

The Morses Creek Loop

Following the rolling banks of Morses Creek and the Ovens River, this loop is the ideal way to get into the swing of Bright’s hand built singletrack without having to bite off any real climbing. The scars left by decades of gold mining have healed into great contours and the way this loop has a tight, rollercoaster feel to it. Bank on about an hour or so to knock this trail over.

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Classic, sometimes tricky, pine forest trails. This is high up on the 24 Carat Loop.
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The Eiger, on the 24 Carat Loop.

The Mystic Baker

This loop is the longest of Bright’s three Dirty Dozen trails at 15km and takes in a really good variety of terrain. From rolling riverside trails, to flowing pine forest singletrack, some machine built trail and a good chunk of trail in native forest too, it has an excellent mix.

A couple of hours is enough to explore the Mystic Baker. Because of the large, roaming loop this ride takes in, it’s a good one for getting a feel for the layout of the Bright trail network should you wish to head off the marked loops and explore the trails.

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24 Carat Loop

The most challenging of Bright’s three Dirty Dozen loops is 24 Carat. This loop really showcases the technical, hand built pine forest singletrack which Bright is famous for. You’ll want to bring your climbing legs as the loop takes you right up high on Mt Mystic, before bombing down some tight, off-camber and super engaging singletrack.

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Getting into the rhythm of the narrow pine forest singletrack benched into the steeper slopes is an awesome feeling – you’re right on the edge a lot of the time, with little room for error. This is what it’s all about!

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Following the river early in the Mystic Baker loop.

Bright really is a sensational place to spend some time. Beyond the three Dirty Dozen trails, there is an absolute tonne of riding to be done, and if you’re a road rider too you’ll be in seventh heaven. For more information about the trails of Bright and the Dirty Dozen overall, make sure you head to http://thedirtydozen.com.au

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The Mystic Baker loop takes on a bit of a journey past the reservoir into some cool native gullies.
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Slider is the only machine built trail in Bright, but could be a taste of what’s to come.

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For more info, trail maps and more – click here.

Must Ride: The Dirty Dozen – Mt Buller

This time around we’re here to ride the Dirty Dozen – a collection of 12 trails in north-east Victoria, hand picked by local riders. Buller’s the first of five stops, and it’s home to four trails of the dozen, more than any other location, including some trails which we’d rate as amongst the very best in Australia.

If you make the trip to Buller, don’t leave without seeing a sunset from the summit. It’s truly spectacular up there.
Copperhead has had a few touch-ups for the summer and is riding better than ever.

Copperhead

Named after the placid little snakes that call Buller home, Copperhead is a serpentine flow-down trail, which careens down the ski runs and gullies close to the Buller village. While most of Buller’s trails take you way out into the hills, Copperhead is right on the village doorstep, so you don’t need to commit to a big ride to enjoy it.

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Copperhead isn’t a flatout downhill track, though it is entirely descending, and can be ridden on any bike. Like most of Buller’s trails, the faster you hit it, the more features start to emerge, gaps, hip jumps and rollers that can be doubled up. This trails is all about getting in your rhythm and pumping your way down the hill – there are no white knuckle moments and the width and vision you’ve got down the trail makes it easy to relax and get into a groove. Fast riders can smash out the Copperhead descent in under three or four minutes, or it’ll take up to ten if you’re cruising.

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If the chairlift isn’t running, it’s an easy pedal back out to the road and back into the main trail network – head up Corn Hill if you’re keen to keep riding, or up the new Split Rock climb and back into the village.


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Why we ride.

Stonefly

When it was opened a few years ago, Stonefly represented a new standard in professional trail building. We remember being completely blown away the first time we rode this trail, awed by the terrain and the incredible four-kilometre descent too. To this day this wilderness ride continues to many people’s favourite Buller trail – it’s a really special part of the world and the ride is sensational.

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Stonefly is a 10km loop that lies across the saddle from Mt Buller, on the eastern slopes of Mt Stirling. The loop will take most people an hour or more, plus it’s a bit of a pedal out to the trail head, so make sure you’ve got a sambo or a pocket full of gels on board so you can really enjoy the whole experience.

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The Stonefly climb is broken up with all kinds of cool features, like this waterfall crossing.

Stonefly is 90% purpose built singletrack, and thanks to creative, inspired trail building even the six-kilometre climb is a joy. On the way up, you pass through some amazing stands of gums, across waterfalls, and the epic view of Willo’s Breeze – don’t chew your stem, sit up and enjoy it all.

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Willo’s Breeze.

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The descent is pure magic, traversing quickly through the open forests of snow gums and picking up pace before smacking you into an incredible roller coaster of berms and corners. You’ll be wetting yourself with laughter by the end, we promise.

From the finish of Stonefly you’ve got the option to climb back over Corn Hill to the village, or press on with even more descending, heading down the Circuit Rd to the River Spur Trail and Delatite River trail to Mirimbah where you can catch the shuttle back up!

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Alpine huts are found all through this region, opening up the possibility for overnight rides.
Amongst the ghosts of snow gums on Stonefly.

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Delatite River Trail

Delatite is a hard trail to put into words. Fast, is definitely one of the words you could use, but it’s grossly inadequate to convey the eye-blurring, face-whipping speeds you can hit on this trail. Scenic is another, but again, it doesn’t get across just how beautiful this trail is as it follows and crosses the tumbling Delatite River either.

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Big trees, big speeds on Delatite.

Because words are useless to get across how much we love this trail, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. And experience is the right word, because it’s a ride that will stay with you a long time.

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Why we ride.

Descents of this speed and length are so rare in Australia, that Delatite is a real standout. But it’s not just the vertical drop and pace that make it so amazing, it’s the way the trail crosses the river on huge log bridges, the way it finishes in a beautiful park on the river’s edge, the fact you can so easily catch the shuttle back up… it’s just incredible.

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The Australian Alpine Epic

Buller’s latest mammoth addition to their network is the Epic, as it’s simply known. As the first trail in Australia to be granted IMBA Epic status, it’s a huge 40km point to point ride, an all-day affair for even fit, capable riders. It’s a big day, but it’s worth the burn.

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About to drop into a descent that never ends.

The Epic kicks off on familiar territory, using all the old favourite trails, including the ascent of Stonefly, to take you out to Mt Stirling before heading off into wilder country. Pack some food and be prepared for all kinds of weather – this is the alps, and you’re not likely to have phone reception on parts of the Epic either.

After some grunty climbs and singletrack intermissions you find yourself at the top of the pay-off, in the form of a nine-kilometer, life-changing descent. The sheer amount of work that has gone into this trail is mind-blowing, a never-ending ribbon of perfect trail that just keeps on giving. Every time you get the sense you’ve reached the bottom, the trail pitches down and you’re flying into another bit of trail that in any other context would have you stopping to ride again and again.

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Eventually it does end, back on the banks of the Delatite River once again, for a final mellow cruise back to Mirimbah where you can relax in shellshocked awe of what you’ve just ridden.

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The Epic takes you way, way off the beaten track.
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The final couple of kays rolling along the river’s edge are really pretty special.

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For more information on the trails of the Dirty Dozen, head to: http://www.thedirtydozen.com.au or for information on Buller, http://bike.mtbuller.com.au/index.php

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The Myths (and Facts) of Sports Psychology

Other articles by Dr Jeremy Adams

Why You Don’t Really Need to Upgrade

It’s OK to Take the Winter Off

Using Pain to Become a Better Mountain Biker

The Strava Conundrum

Are You Addicted to Buying MTB Gear? 


 

Part 1: Science versus anecdote

It seems that everyone and his (or her) dog has an opinion about sport psychology and its use to increase performance. Sadly, it’s also an area that has evoked large amounts of pseudoscience, scam, misinformation, and (sometimes well-meaning) commentary, which have muddied the public understanding of the mental aspects of sporting (and other types of) performance.

So I thought I’d spend a bit of time trying to sort out the facts from the myths, as well as explaining how you can hone your own bullshit detector for the future.

Flow Mountain Bike - Falls Creek 2015-42

In fact, in most cases, ‘self-help’ and ‘obvious solution’ makes us victim to the traps of trusting anecdotes, single-case observations, or personal experience, over methodological processes.

For most people, their ideas about what works and what doesn’t are based on their own observations. To most of us, this makes complete sense. After all, we learn from our own life-experiences, and that makes us, in turn, more likely to listen to other people when they draw on their own experiences and observations. We also like a good story, and are much more likely to listen to someone who we feel can communicate with us, than we are to read a dry, academic article.

Unfortunately, this bias toward self-observation, and the stories of those we trust or find interesting, often gets in the way of the facts. In fact, in most cases, ‘self-help’ and ‘obvious solution’ makes us victim to the traps of trusting anecdotes, single-case observations, or personal experience, over methodological processes.

So what’s wrong with trusting your gut feeling, or relying on anecdotes and personal experience? Well, first off, we’re pretty unreliable observers; just because you think things are a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the way they actually are! Second, other people are equally poor at observing correctly, and we have a nasty tendency (whether we know it or not) to make things up to fit our expectation of the way they should be. This means that, no matter how much you might like or trust another person (or yourself), his or her (or your) observations are also likely to be suspect. Last, humans have a habit of taking small numbers of observations and stringing them together into non-existent patterns. We’re excellent pattern matchers, but we’re also good at seeing things that just don’t exist (there are good evolutionary reasons for this talent – for example, being able to recognise danger – but we’re also prone to making a lot of mistakes).

Flow Nation Derby 2015-156

Once we were able to recognise that our inherent observational abilities were both flawed and subjective, humans were able to develop methods to compensate by developing scientific methodologies. Science is, most simply, a technique for observing facts as neutrally as possible, positing potential explanations (based on those observations), and then testing those possibilities through a process of elimination (this is called falsification), refinement, and retesting (called replication). This empirical process is how we’ve been able develop technology, and your mountain bike is a perfect example of the scientific process: from the materials, to the geometry, to the mechanical action of the suspension, a mountain bike is the current end-point of an empirically tested process. And because science is iterative, as scientists and engineers find flaws in earlier processes, they abandon outmoded models, and integrate newer processes. As such, mountain bikes continue to improve.

Because it’s so intuitive (not to mention tempting) to make assumptions about the why and how of human performance, it’s not surprising that many of us do it.

The idea of empirical testing, refinement, and the expulsion of earlier, less effective models in preference to new methods, underpins all science. It also underpins sport psychology. As such, as boring and non-intuitive as it might sound, effective sport-psychology practice comes from well-designed research, not from personal experience or anecdotes.

Because it’s so intuitive (not to mention tempting) to make assumptions about the why and how of human performance, it’s not surprising that many of us do it. And because very few of us actually learn about the scientific process, or cognitive biases (these are the automatic, inbuilt errors that all humans make in certain situations, like assuming that the risk of a particular action is higher because someone we know had an accident doing that thing), it makes intuitive sense for us to listen to people who are obviously experienced in our sport (or simply entertaining), without ever questioning whether or not they might be correct. This tendency also explains the large number of self-help books, and people who (honestly) believe that they have the magic solution. The problem is that the ‘magic solution’ isn’t anything of the sort, but many people will devote a large amount of time and effort following the ‘magic’ advice. And sadly, although (in most cases) this information is well intentioned, it frequently falls under the category of ‘well-meaning harm’.

Now at this point, you’re potentially (i) bored, and (ii) thinking “this guy is just trying to make himself sound good because he has a PhD”. In fact, I’m trying to do the opposite by encouraging doubt and suspicion. Rather than just believing what you read or hear, it’s worth going to original sources, educating yourself on how to evaluate that source, and making your mind up based on evidence rather than opinion. If you’re interested in some information on how to think more empirically, have a read of this: http://www.eclectic-consult.com/mooseblog/2013/05/20/evidence-versus-hearsay-learning-to-think-like-a-scientist/

In part 2, we’ll look at the myths of sport psychology, and what you should remain sceptical about. In part 3, we’ll look at what actually works, and how to evaluate for yourself whether a technique or idea is worthwhile.


 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

 

 

Australian Mountain Bike Summit Presenter Profiles

The second annual Australian Mountain Bike Summit will take place at Mount Buller on 7-8 December 2015, and some of the Australian cycling industry’s key figures will be there for two days of presentations, workshops, discussion and a little bit of riding too. It’s all about pooling knowledge and experience to get a clear idea of how mountain biking looks now, and will look in the future, from various perspectives: trail access, retailing, technology, women in mountain biking, racing, media and more.

Ahead of the Summit, we grabbed four of the key presenters to ask them a few questions about their personal experiences, opportunities and challenges. For more information about the Australian Mountain Bike Summit, or to register, head to http://bike.mtbuller.com.au/summit.php

[divider]Dave Donaldson[/divider]

Buller Summit Profiles-5

All visitors who respect the environment are warmly welcomed.

Dave Donaldson is the Deputy Mayor of Rotorua, New Zealand and has been one of the driving forces behind the rise of Rotorua to international mountain bike prominence. When it comes to developing and promoting a world class mountain bike destination, he knows it all. 

With so many riders from around the globe flocking to Rotorua, has ‘localism’ ever been an issue with the trails, and if so, how is it handled?

The only issue of ‘possessiveness’ with the trails has been the occasional flare up on social media between user groups – MTB’ers, joggers, and equestrian. There is low tolerance for hoof marks on MTB trails, but this is well managed by the cool heads on committees of the various user groups and event organisers. I have never heard of ‘localism’ being an issue in fact I’d suggest quite the reverse applies. Manaakitanga [hospitality] is a powerful concept in Rotorua and in the forest community in particular. All visitors who respect the environment are warmly welcomed.

Buller Summit Profiles-1

What do you see as Rotorua’s biggest opportunities for future growth as a mountain bike destination?

Two things. A scenic ride that would rival the Heaphy which is ‘on the radar’ of the Trails Trust. The other is a chairlift to facilitate rapid access to gravity and enduro trails in Whakarewarewa Forest.

Is it true that there’s a taniwha in the forest that eats lost Australians?

If you go by the trail names it’s a very spiritual place. The ghosts of a Taniwha [Lizard Monster]- Kataore , a Tohunga [Medicine Man] – Tuhoto Ariki, Kurungaituku [a legendary bird woman whocaptured the warrior Hatupatu] are all in there, but I’ve never heard of any lost Aussie falling prey. Quite honestly, at some times of the day and in the right weather conditions, it can be a spooky place if you’re alone. Also there can be some savage magpies in there this time of year [nesting] but Australians probably have an acquired immunity?

If you could pick one trail in Rotorua to ride before putting away the bike for good, which one would it be?

I will turn 65 two weeks before arriving in Mt Buller so I’ll officially be a Superannuitant and Gold Card holder. Right now that trail would be Tihi o Tawa. If, God willing, I’m still spinning the cranks in another decade, it would likely be Eagle vs Shark.

[divider]Scot Nicol[/divider]

Buller Summit Profiles-4

Incremental change rather than monumental change is how innovation happens in our industry.

Scot Nicol founded iconic brand Ibis Cycles way back in 1981 and since then he has steered the brand to global prominence. He’s seen it all – the trends, the technology changes, the shifts in the market, the rise of Asian manufacturing, the opportunities of global internet based retailing and much more. 

Who has been the bike industry’s great innovator of all time?

The answer is no one and everyone. Incremental change rather than monumental change is how innovation happens in our industry. Charles Goodyear invented vulcanization, which gave us pneumatic tires. Ignatz Schwinn gave us fat tires. Kestrel made some of the frames out of carbon. Paul Turner put front suspension on the bikes. Dave Weagle is on a lifetime pursuit to perfect rear suspension. Stan Koziatek pioneered tubeless on our mountain bikes. Ibis made them wide and in carbon.

What is the greatest area of opportunity for the mountain bike industry today?

Advocacy and trail building.

Has the evolution of wheels sizes been a push, or a pull development?

Both 29 and then 27.5 started with a tiny bit of push from small industry people. The insufferable 29er evangelicals tried to get the industry to take notice for many years. The pan simmered on a low boil for a number of years and then critical mass hit and 26″ died. In the rush to jump on the 29er bandwagon, a lot of manufacturers made really crappy 29ers. Although 650b had been around for decades, the 27.5″ movement started with some tires by Kirk Pacenti. All of a sudden the switch flipped, 29er sales plummeted and you couldn’t keep 27.5″ bikes in stock. Fortunately, 29ers are way better now, the zombie like attraction to 27.5″ has waned, and we’re going to see both 27.5 and 29″ peacefully coexist, as they should.

[divider]Kate Leeming[/divider]

AUSSIE ADVENTURERS

Travelling by bike gives a great sense of place – a unique perspective of how the world fits together.

Kate Leeming is one of the those people we all wish we’d become. A person who has been brave enough to make her life an adventure on two wheels, she has ridden across Africa, Russia, Australia and countless other expeditions raising awareness for a variety of issues. She’s currently training to ride across Antartica. Yes. Antarctica.  

You’ve ridden around the world twice, literally, what is it that motivates you to keep pedalling?

My intrinsic love of travelling by bike was developed when I first cycled through Europe (15,000km in total). I found that I made a very close connection with the people and the land, I loved bringing a line on a map to life, and travelling by bike gives a great sense of place – a unique perspective of how the world fits together. Each major expedition (13,400km across Russia, 25,000km through Australia and 22,000km west to east across Africa and next November, across the Antarctic continent) has a clear mission; I always define my physical objectives, I believe in the causes I am supporting and the story I aim to create. These motivations keep me going through the difficult times and on to the finish, and are the reason why I plan to do more.

What is it about a bike that makes it the right vehicle to raise awareness of the causes you champion?

Virtually everyone can relate to riding a bike at some level, so when people follow my journeys and read stories of my adventures, I am inviting them to ‘come along for the ride’ with me. My expeditions have subsequently become a platform to inspire, motivate and create understanding about cultures, geographies, environmental sustainability and in the case of the Breaking the Cycle in Africa Expedition, the causes and effects of extreme poverty. They are opportunities to develop deeper understanding for all involved. I am able to tell it how it really is. And now that I have established a track record with several successful expeditions under my belt, as well as writing, speaking and filmmaking, I am able to garner support because my expeditions are about far more than just a bike ride, a simple adventure or a world first.

How does one train to ride across the Antarctic?

I first tested myself and the Christini all-wheel drive fat-bike in Spitsbergen, Norway. Here the team was able to determine that my plan to cycle across the Antarctic continent was realistic. Experiencing cycling in true polar conditions I devised a program to prepare for Antarctica which involves a series of shorter expeditions training in Greenland and Iceland, at altitude in the Indian Himalaya and in sand (for strength) in the Simpson Desert. Until I can find the funding to do these trips, I keep the pedals turning on the hills and trails around Melbourne and put some intensive hours in the gym doing interval training and core strength so that I am in good condition to launch my specific plan.

[divider]Simon French[/divider]

Hollybank-MTB-Park-Opening-7

 I think sometimes we need to just relax and be thankful that we’re on a trail enjoying the outdoors.

As the founder of Dirt Art, one of Australia’s most-progressive and prolific professional trail building companies, Simon French has literally shaped the way we ride in Australia. His understanding of mountain bike tourism, trail building and the industry’s direction as a whole is a deep as the berms he creates. 

What is the next frontier for mountain bike trail building?

I think the next big thing for mountain bike trail building in Australia will be the rise of the commercial bike park and an increasing interest in private/public development partnerships. Developers and investors are beginning to see the potential for mountain bike tourism but they don’t always have the land required, whereas governments have the land but do not often have the funding and/or expertise to develop a successful facility. Our company are breaking new ground in this area with our Maydena project in Tasmania, but we are also working with a number of other commercial clients in Australia as they move through the early stages of their developments.

You can’t make a trail that will suit every rider. Discuss.

While as trail designers and builders we acknowledge that we will never please everyone, I think there is lots that we can do to make trails appeal to a broader range of riders. Building in optional technical sections, and creating a diverse experience in each trail definitely goes a long way to making trails more broadly appealing. At the end of the day though, a good rider can have fun riding pretty much anything, so I think sometimes we need to just relax and be thankful that we’re on a trail enjoying the outdoors.

Which trail/location are you most proud of and why?

We will always be proud of our project at Hollybank in Tasmania. We had an incredibly challenging site and only a relatively small volume of trail budgeted for, yet we were charged with developing something that would attract the visiting rider. The Juggernaut Trail at Hollybank embraced the shuttle-accessed gravity cross country concept and continues to attract massive attention from visiting riders. The trail is often referred to as Australia’s best mountain bike trail, which is something that we are really proud of.

Must-Ride: High Voltage, Falls Creek, Victoria.


 

Falls Creek is one of the Australian alpine resorts currently accepting that 97% of scientists are right and that our winters aren’t likely to ever again be as cold or long as they once were. Less of the white stuff and more of the green means that mountain biking is a big winner, and at Falls that’s especially true. This stunning resort, high above Mt Beauty on the Bogong Plains, is in the midst of a massive program of trail building.

Flow Mountain Bike - Falls Creek 2015-35
Accessing High Voltage means a short cruise out along the picturesque Frying Pan Spur.

In late 2014, we paid a visit to Falls Creek to see how their mountain bike park was developing, and we left in complete awe of not only the new trails, but the landscape and the amazing back country riding on offer. From shuttled runs of the village trails, to ranging explorations of the region’s historic huts, and huge all-day rides into the Keiwa Valley below, Falls has great diversity.

This season, Falls Creek has added another key trail into their network, with the opening of High Voltage on 21 November, 2015. Trail building gurus World Trail have worked their magic again, this time applying the love to Frying Pan Spur, which lies to the north of the existing mountain bike park.

High Voltage fires off from the end of the spur, offering an alternative intermediate descent to the black diamond Thunderbolt. Descending for nearly its entire length, before plugging back into the final portion of Wishing Well, it’s got all the flow you’d expect, plus some of the most inviting, loamy berms going.

We were lucky enough to get a cheeky preview of High Voltage with National Enduro Champ Chris Panozzo, a couple of weeks prior to its official opening date. It’s fair to say we now know how this trail can be ridden, and we doubt it’ll see a set of wheels this quick again for some time.

Flow Mountain Bike - Falls Creek 2015-4

The trail building at Falls is far from complete too. There’s yet another stage of development slated for 2016, with a swathe of new climbing tracks and a huge blue-graded flowtrail descent ‘Flowtown’ (we approve of the name). There’s already more than enough trail on offer at Falls to keep you and a crew occupied for a couple of days, so lock a road trip in for summer now, before the snow ruins the fun for a few months again.

For more info on riding in Falls Creek, check out their super comprehensive website here: TAKE ME TO FALLS! 

Falls Creek Map

Flow Mountain Bike - Falls Creek 2015-13
The gnarled snow gums are such a cool feature of riding in the alps.

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Big granite features are part of all the trails at Falls Creek.
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The lower part of High Voltage is a great run of step downs, transfers and doubles.

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Photo Epic: Asia Pacific Downhill Challenge

The Asia Pacific Downhill Challenge is growing year after year, and the 2015 edition saw riders such as Remi Thirion, Brook Macdonald, Thibaut Ruffin, and Wyn Masters travel to tropical Bali to compete. This was the first year that the race is a UCI-sanctioned event, which means that racers are not only competing for positions, but also valuable UCI points.

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Our driver appeared through the wall of taxi drivers as we walked out of the airport, and as he cut across four lanes of a busy roundabout without even hesitating, we realised that things are a little different in Bali. The best way to describe it is controlled chaos, hundreds of thousands of cars and mopeds driving on whatever side of the road, in whatever direction they want, but still flowing with speed and courtesy.

Remi Thirion. This was one of the many sketchy corners full of tennis-ball sized rocks over hardpack.
Remi Thirion. This was one of the many sketchy corners full of tennis ball sized rocks over hardpack.

Located between Klungkung and Padung Bai, about an hour from Denpesar airport, the APDHC track is a wild creation dreamt up by the boys at Trailscapes, an Australian company. Starting overlooking the endless beach and palm forests, the track winds past local houses and curious local children, linking together corner after off-camber corner. The final chute caught out many riders over the weekend, an almost vertical rocky slope with a narrow rut carved into the soft, knee-deep dust. The track wasn’t the only brutal thing at the race; the heat and humidity was almost unbearable and the sun was fierce on the bare skin.

Remi Thirion.
Remi Thirion.
Winner.
Winner.

Remi Thirion was the rider to beat, and the defending champion. He looked smooth and calm all week, in stark comparison to the other hot favourite, Brook Macdonald. Bulldog’s loose and incredibly aggressive style was a thing of beauty down this track, blowing up corners and hucking off every ledge in sight.

Wyn Masters is almost a local here, and everybody was cheering for him.
Wyn Masters is almost a local here, and everybody was cheering for him.
The deep and loose dust caught out most riders at some point. This poor guy's bike ended up bouncing about 50 metres down the hill.
The deep and loose dust caught out most riders at some point. This poor guy’s bike ended up bouncing about 50 metres down the hill.

In the end, Jackson Davis and Hajime Imoto both held the hot seat for a few runs, and rounded off the podium after the fastest few riders came down. The crowd went wild for the local hotshot Popo Ario, with the thousands of spectators putting out an impressive amount of decibels, but unfortunately he fell just short of a podium position. With the fastest time of the day so far, Remi Thirion came down with a fast and smooth run and only the fastest qualifier, Brook Macdonald could stop him from the repeat win.

Jackson Davis pulled it together for his race run and came in 5th.
Jackson Davis pulled it together for his race run and came in 5th.
Remi Thirion drops in to one of the many loose, off-camber chutes.
Remi Thirion drops in to one of the many loose, off-camber chutes.
Expert winner and Trailscapes digger Elliot Smith sends it into the final chute
Expert winner and Trailscapes digger Elliot Smith sends it into the final chute.

Unfortunately Bulldog caught a pedal on a fast straight, and was thrown over the bars. He hucked the last jump in frustration, almost clipping his head on the finish banner and rolling his bars on landing. An impressive repeat win for Remi Thirion considering that there was little time to be made up on the relatively one-line track.

There were a few tight, loose inside lines... if you dared.
There were a few tight, loose inside lines… if you dared.
Bulldog focused and looking for the win
Bulldog focused and looking for the win.

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The race is set to return to Bali again next year, with talk of a longer new track on a different part of the island. It’s going to be a wild one, see you next year!

Bike Check: Chris Panozzo’s Trek Remedy 9.8 Enduro Beast

Panozzo on Mt McKay-1 We’ve spent the last few days riding and filming with Chris at Falls Creek and Mt Beauty, and grabbed a closer look at his Trek Remedy 9.8. He’s got it completely dialled, and has some cool ideas on bike setup. “I don’t normally get super excited any more about setting up my bikes, but when I was building this one I was really happy,” says Panozzo. It’s a pretty tricked out piece of kit.

panozzo -1

[divider]Frame [/divider]

Chris rides a stock frame in the largest size that Trek make, an XL, or 21.5”. He pairs the roomy top tube with a 50mm stem to get the reach how he likes it. He’ll lower or raise the stem height with spacers to suit the tracks he’s racing.

Panozzo Bike Check-4
50mm stem on an XL frame.
Panozzo Bike Check-11
A crafty mod allows Chris’s rear brake to exit where the dropper post would normally enter.

He mas made a neat little mod to the cable ports that allow him to run his rear brake line, his dropper post and his Di2 wiring internally. The rear brake and dropper post line are heat-shrink wrapped together too, so they don’t rattle.

Panozzo Bike Check-7
Cable port plugs from a Trek Domané road bike keep the Di2 wires neat.
Panozzo Bike Check-5
Blue grips, to match blue graphics and blue pedals.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

Chris runs a FOX 36 with 160mm travel, whereas the Remedy comes stock with a 140mm fork. “I’ve tried 170mm up front, and it works pretty well, but the 36 in 160mm is fantastic. The Remedy has a slightly steeper head angle than some bikes in this category, so running the 160mm fork slackens it out a little. I’ve never found it unbalanced with the rear end, even though it has 140mm out back.”

Panozzo Bike Check-2
A FOX 36 at 160mm keeps the front end ‘pointy’.

Out back, Chris is running a FOX Float X rear shock. “Everyone raves about this shock, and it’s for good reason. It’s super stable, especially under braking, the rear end just tracks so well.

His suspenion front and rear felt super firm to us, so we got him to explain his setup ideas. “I normally run everything really stiff, coming from a downhill background. And then learning how to adapt that to enduro has been difficult, because it’s definitely not the same setup as downhill.”

Panozzo Bike Check-10
A FOX Float X offers more damping control and more consistency on long descents.

Explain please: “You’re hitting stuff so hard in downhill, you don’t want to be compressing into every bump you hit. But that setup takes a lot of energy, it’s very hard on your body, so you can’t keep that up the entire time in Enduro. You’re on the bike for hours, not just three minutes, so you need a setup that’s a bit more forgiving too. I’m still working on it.”

Chris's workmates engaged his shock bolt, just for him.
Chris’s workmates engraved his shock/cock bolt, just for him.

[divider]Tyres[/divider]

Chris runs Bontrager tyres, and in its current setup his bike is equipped with a G5 downhill tyre in a 2.35” size up front, which is a proper downhill tyre. Out back, he’s using a lighter and faster SE3 in a 2.35”. Both are setup tubeless. They’re mounted to carbon Bontrager Rhythm Pro wheels, which are a pretty light set of hoops. “I’m hard on wheels, so when I’m training I’ll usually run alloy rims, so that if I dent them, I can bend them back.”

Panozzo Bike Check-12

“I don’t always run a downhill tyre up front, but I do like to have a really pointy front end.” Pointy? “Yeah, really grippy, stiff. Because even though you steer the bike half the time by hanging off the back, you want to have confidence that the front end isn’t going to dip. It all ties into having the right bar height, the right suspension setup and the right tyre pressures.”

Panozzo Bike Check-13

Chris likes pairing a grippy tyre up front with something faster out back. “I can deal with the bike sliding around out back a bit, because for me it creates a balance that works. When you run a really grippy tyre out back, I find you can lose confidence to really throw it into a turn, because you want the rear end to break loose before the front. If I have a really grippy tyre out back, I find the bike can tend to understeer.”

Panozzo Bike Check-9
A 36 tooth chain ring is a bigger gear than we’d opt to push around!

[divider]Drivetrain[/divider]

Chris runs a full XTR Di2 drivetrain. “The Di2 is the business. It’s so discreet the way it all integrates neatly.” Chris’s setup sees the battery housed in the down tube, and he’s used the cable port plugs out of Trek Domané road bike for the wiring. “The shifting is amazing, you really don’t need to back off when you’re shifting, you can just flat shift it. You can set it up so it doesn’t shift until you pedal too, whereas if you did that with a cable, you’d just be loading up the cable and derailleur. That means you can be on the brakes, flick it down a few gears, and then it’ll shift as soon as you get back on the pedals.”

Panozzo Bike Check-8
Neat!
Panozzo Bike Check-15
XTR levers with Saint calipers.

 

Bike Check: Chris Panozzo's Trek Remedy 9.8 Enduro Beast

National Enduro Champion Chris Panozzo is one of the most terrifyingly committed riders we’ve witnessed. Anyone who has seen his recent video from the trails of Mt Beauty will know what we mean –he hits the dustiest, loosest corners feet up, flat out, and comes out faster than he went in.

Panozzo on Mt McKay-1 We’ve spent the last few days riding and filming with Chris at Falls Creek and Mt Beauty, and grabbed a closer look at his Trek Remedy 9.8. He’s got it completely dialled, and has some cool ideas on bike setup. “I don’t normally get super excited any more about setting up my bikes, but when I was building this one I was really happy,” says Panozzo. It’s a pretty tricked out piece of kit.

panozzo -1

[divider]Frame [/divider]

Chris rides a stock frame in the largest size that Trek make, an XL, or 21.5”. He pairs the roomy top tube with a 50mm stem to get the reach how he likes it. He’ll lower or raise the stem height with spacers to suit the tracks he’s racing.

Panozzo Bike Check-4
50mm stem on an XL frame.
Panozzo Bike Check-11
A crafty mod allows Chris’s rear brake to exit where the dropper post would normally enter.

He mas made a neat little mod to the cable ports that allow him to run his rear brake line, his dropper post and his Di2 wiring internally. The rear brake and dropper post line are heat-shrink wrapped together too, so they don’t rattle.

Panozzo Bike Check-7
Cable port plugs from a Trek Domané road bike keep the Di2 wires neat.
Panozzo Bike Check-5
Blue grips, to match blue graphics and blue pedals.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

Chris runs a FOX 36 with 160mm travel, whereas the Remedy comes stock with a 140mm fork. “I’ve tried 170mm up front, and it works pretty well, but the 36 in 160mm is fantastic. The Remedy has a slightly steeper head angle than some bikes in this category, so running the 160mm fork slackens it out a little. I’ve never found it unbalanced with the rear end, even though it has 140mm out back.”

Panozzo Bike Check-2
A FOX 36 at 160mm keeps the front end ‘pointy’.

Out back, Chris is running a FOX Float X rear shock. “Everyone raves about this shock, and it’s for good reason. It’s super stable, especially under braking, the rear end just tracks so well.

His suspenion front and rear felt super firm to us, so we got him to explain his setup ideas. “I normally run everything really stiff, coming from a downhill background. And then learning how to adapt that to enduro has been difficult, because it’s definitely not the same setup as downhill.”

Panozzo Bike Check-10
A FOX Float X offers more damping control and more consistency on long descents.

Explain please: “You’re hitting stuff so hard in downhill, you don’t want to be compressing into every bump you hit. But that setup takes a lot of energy, it’s very hard on your body, so you can’t keep that up the entire time in Enduro. You’re on the bike for hours, not just three minutes, so you need a setup that’s a bit more forgiving too. I’m still working on it.”

Chris's workmates engaged his shock bolt, just for him.
Chris’s workmates engraved his shock/cock bolt, just for him.

[divider]Tyres[/divider]

Chris runs Bontrager tyres, and in its current setup his bike is equipped with a G5 downhill tyre in a 2.35” size up front, which is a proper downhill tyre. Out back, he’s using a lighter and faster SE3 in a 2.35”. Both are setup tubeless. They’re mounted to carbon Bontrager Rhythm Pro wheels, which are a pretty light set of hoops. “I’m hard on wheels, so when I’m training I’ll usually run alloy rims, so that if I dent them, I can bend them back.”

Panozzo Bike Check-12

“I don’t always run a downhill tyre up front, but I do like to have a really pointy front end.” Pointy? “Yeah, really grippy, stiff. Because even though you steer the bike half the time by hanging off the back, you want to have confidence that the front end isn’t going to dip. It all ties into having the right bar height, the right suspension setup and the right tyre pressures.”

Panozzo Bike Check-13

Chris likes pairing a grippy tyre up front with something faster out back. “I can deal with the bike sliding around out back a bit, because for me it creates a balance that works. When you run a really grippy tyre out back, I find you can lose confidence to really throw it into a turn, because you want the rear end to break loose before the front. If I have a really grippy tyre out back, I find the bike can tend to understeer.”

Panozzo Bike Check-9
A 36 tooth chain ring is a bigger gear than we’d opt to push around!

[divider]Drivetrain[/divider]

Chris runs a full XTR Di2 drivetrain. “The Di2 is the business. It’s so discreet the way it all integrates neatly.” Chris’s setup sees the battery housed in the down tube, and he’s used the cable port plugs out of Trek Domané road bike for the wiring. “The shifting is amazing, you really don’t need to back off when you’re shifting, you can just flat shift it. You can set it up so it doesn’t shift until you pedal too, whereas if you did that with a cable, you’d just be loading up the cable and derailleur. That means you can be on the brakes, flick it down a few gears, and then it’ll shift as soon as you get back on the pedals.”

Panozzo Bike Check-8
Neat!
Panozzo Bike Check-15
XTR levers with Saint calipers.

 

Photo Feature: The Best of Thredbo Cannonball MTB Festival

Thredbo will be going off December 4-6, three days of racing, live music and DJs.

The line-up of events includes the side by side SRAM Dual Compressor, RockShox Pump Track Challenge on Thredbo’s new look pump track, the ODI Whip Wars Big Air, Maxxis Flow Motion Cup and the jewel in the crown, the Toyota Australian Open Downhill.

Event website.

Click here for online entries.


Coming into its third year, we reflect on some of the great images from up on the distinctive Thredbo mountain.

NEWS_THREDBO_CANNONBALL_DH-1-710x472

Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-9 Thredbo_Cannonballl_Day2-6-710x472 Thredbo_Cannonballl_Day2-23-710x472 D33_7970-710x472 NEWS_THREDBO_CANNONBALL_DH-4-710x472 (c) Tim Bardsley-Smith Cannonball-Fest-2014-41 Cannonball-Fest-2014-5 Bruce Moir sneeks in a run of the downhill track as the bad weather got closer. Cannonball-Fest-2014-6 Cannonball-Fest-2014-71NEWS_THREDBO_CANNONBALL_DH-14-710x471NEWS_THREDBO_CANNONBALL_DH-16-710x472D77_1570-710x471D77_1303-710x472Thredbo_Cannonballl_Day2-20-710x472Thredbo_Cannonballl_Day2-14-710x472D77_1872-710x472D77_1679-710x472D77_2658-710x471D77_2599-710x471(c) Tim Bardsley-SmithAngus Maddern looking stylish in his race run.Cannonball-MTB-Fest-2-2(c) Tim Bardsley-SmithCannonball-MTB-Fest-2-3Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-7Cannonball-MTB-Fest-2-1Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-1D77_2280-710x471Bruce Moir sneeks in a run of the downhill track as the bad weather got closer.Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-18Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-5Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-6(c) Tim Bardsley-SmithCannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-17Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-13Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-10Sam Hill leaves a less than perminant mark on a very happy fan.Cannonball-MTB-Fest-2-14Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-19Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-11Cannonball-MTB-Fest-Day-3-8

Must-Ride: Blue Derby, Stage 3 – World Class Tassie Trails


It’s been a little over 12 months since Derby announced it was open for business as a mountain bike destination, and we came for a visit. Back then, the name Derby meant nothing to us – a bit of Googling revealed it to be a sleepy, some would say depressed, town of just a couple hundred folk. Halfway between Launceston and St Helens in Tassie’s north east, it’s a stunning piece of the world, and until you look really deeply you’d never guess that the whole region was ripped apart, and sustained, by tin mining until the mid-20th century. But those industrious days had faded, and Derby was at risk of rusting away, like a forgotten old piece of mining hardware abandoned in the forest.

What we found and rode on our first trip was the highlight of the year for us and we’ve been itching to come back to see how the scene and trails had developed. Finally we made it to Derby again, and things have definitely changed, in a big way.

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Derby is the most successful experiment in mountain bike-driven social recovery that we’ve ever seen in Australia. A bold investment in the belief that if you fill the hills with amazing trails, mountain bikers will flock to them like gulls to a picnic. While we’re sure that most of the townsfolk hadn’t had much lycra in their lives previously, they’ve embraced the new legions of visitors too – bike paraphernalia is everywhere, and new bike-friendly accommodation and cafes are emerging too. Why has Derby’s transformation been such a success? It has the winning formula: amazing trails, incredible scenery, just the right amount of remoteness, all backed up with the facilities you need to feed, water and maintain riders and their bikes.

But of those four elements, it’s the trails that matter the most, and the way this network has grown since our first visit here is pretty extraordinary. And it’s not complete yet, not by a long shot. The final piece in the puzzle currently under construction is a mammoth trail from the Blue Tier, which will be almost 25km long, and overwhelmingly descending. When it’s opened in June 2016, there’ll be over 80km of truly world class trail in this most unlikely of locations.

This time around, we were treated to a tonne of fresh riding, including the brand new trails of Atlas and Black Dragon, which open on 30 October 2015. Browse on, and make sure you head to ridebluederby.com.au for all the information on trail conditions, maps, accommodation and more.


Flickity Sticks

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This blue level trail is a fresh addition since our last trip to Derby. You can ride it as a loop, with an insane bobsledding descent back to the huge chasm of Devil Wolf, or peel off from the climb to continue on to Dambusters.

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Atlas

Representing a huge leap in the development of the Blue Derby network, Atlas is a brand new trail and it’s absolutely epic. About 10km long, it actually begins high up in the hills outside of Weldborough, about 20 minutes drive from Derby. Vertigo MTB are running a shuttle service to the trailhead, or the masochists out there can pedal up from town, but we’d recommend saving your legs for the descent that’s coming.

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This trail is a real contrast to those in the drier terrain closer to Derby – it charges through incredible rainforest, under huge ferns. It all feels a lot like New Zealand, all dark dirt, mosses and filtered green light.

Atlas is a complete overload of amazing sights. Everywhere you look there’s another massive, ancient tree, or ginormous rock outcrop, and that’s not to mention the creative and flowing trail features either. World Trail have taken it up a notch with Atlas, offering more A/B lines, some seriously decent jumps, berms that you stick to and insane feelings of surfing through the forest.

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Eventually, Atlas emerges from the green and merges with the descent of Dambusters, which is itself is already a standout. A top to bottom run of Atlas is a life changer, no doubt.

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Dambusters

Pack a sandwich and your camera – Dambusters is a great adventure trail. Dambusters has been open for a while (it was completed just in time for the Marathon National Champs here in March 2015) and its reputation is already well known, for good reason.

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A complete loop of Dambusters is a solid ride. After climbing out of the valley, you scoot along the side of the water, ducking in and out of singletrack and across the river that feeds Cascade Dam. A look at the elevation profile of this trail shows it ends with a avalanche of a descent, but first you’ve got to climb. As is customary with World Trails work, it’s not a grunt, and the trail takes nibbles at the elevation, until you’re suddenly at Lakeview Drop with nothing but flat-out descending ahead of you.

The run back down is as insanely fast as you’d ever want to go. Huge berms catch your traverses and spit you back across the hill, with poppy rollers and sly doubles keeping you in the air half the time too. It goes on, and on, and on… If your eyeballs are watering too much, you’ve also got the option of splitting off onto another new trail, Black Dragon for a steeper, more technical descent.

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Black Dragon

Handbuilt trails are a rarity in the modern mountain bike park, especially ones like this. Black Dragon is a properly challenging, technical trail, climbing and descending the ridgeline steeply. You can ride it as a loop from Devil Wolf (fair play to you if you clear the whole climb!) or ride it as an alternative descent on Dambusters.

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There’s plenty to think about on this trail, with steep rollers, off camber lines, some tricky rock sections and steep chutes that require a bit of thinking ahead! We love it, and think it’s an awesome bit of spice.

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The $350 bike in a box and what it means for mountain biking

Updated – read our quick ride review of the Performance 29er bike here.


This unbranded, no-frills, 27.5”-wheeled mountain bike costs around $350 and it comes in a box. From ALDI.

Aldi Mountain Bike 4

Yes, we said ALDI, that eclectic marketplace where you find drop saws and vacuum cleaners alongside chickpeas and gingerbread. They could hardly begrudge us for saying they’re not renowned as a proprietor of fine cycles. Yet, in the last paragraph I deliberately used the phrase mountain bike, not just ‘bike’. Because this hardtail, unlike the buttery soft boat anchors with fold-o-matic wheels that are usually sold at department stores, is a true entry-level mountain bike.

In terms of build quality, value and attention to detail, this bike is well ahead of most others we’ve ever seen at this price. It’s constructed and assembled by the same manufacturer of Polygon Bikes, so it does have a quality manufacturer behind it, and they’re coming at this project with genuine mountain bike knowledge, which is reflected in the spec, construction and geometry.

It has a hydroformed alloy frame with sensible geometry that a beginner will appreciate, a 9-speed Shimano drivetrain with a direct-mount rear derailleur, full-length cable housings to keep the crud at bay, a wide handlebar, decent 2.25” tyres, a fork with hydraulic lock out for the tarmac…  In short, it looks and rides like much more than $350 worth of bike.  It is only available in two frame sizes, (restrictive, as they’re both on the big side) but if it fits you, then it’s a much better bike than those that got us started on the path of mountain biking all those years ago.

Now, if this bike had a familiar brand name on it and came from a bike shop, we’d all be cheering. But it does come in a box, and not from a bike retailer and that means it attracts a debate that we’re happy to thrash out here.

So what are the pros and cons of  bikes in boxes, particularly at this end of the market? We’ll aim to present both sides of the debate here and let you make up your own mind.

 FOR: Affordability and accessibility

Mountain biking, while not motor racing, is a relatively expensive sport to get into – conventional wisdom says you’ll need to spend the better part of $1000 on a bike and clothing to get yourself geared up with equipment that will be reliable and comfortable enough allow you to actually experience what mountain biking is about.

When mountain bikes are what you live and breath, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that $1000 for a bike and gear is an awful lot of cash for most people, especially if you’re a parent or partner forking out for a new rider who might well decide it’s not their kettle of fish at all.

A decent $350 bike certainly lowers the financial barriers to entry. The logical upshot of lowering the costs of getting riders onto a mountain bike is that more people, from more diverse walks of life, will get into the sport. More riders on bikes means more awareness of mountain biking across more sectors of our society. That’s a plus.

Workshop
The expert advice and support of a bike shop can be invaluable for new riders.

AGAINST: No expert knowledge

When you buy a bike from a retailer that doesn’t specialise in bikes, it’s pretty hard to expect a whole lot of expert advice. I mean, if they’re making you pack your own cans of tomatoes into a green bag, they’re not likely to be able to offer much advice about sizing, or show you how to change a tube, tell you what tyre pressure to run, or teach you how to lube your chain.

Conversely, when you buy a bike from a bike shop, you’re more likely to get a few of these gems of wisdom thrown in with the sale and down the line, not to mention establish a relationship that will hopefully continue as you progress in the sport.

FOR: It’s a steppingstone

Assuming that someone who buys a $350 mountain bike enjoys their experience, there’s a good chance that before too long they’ll want to upgrade their bike. This is where traditional bike shops can benefit, servicing the needs of riders who are looking for the next step up.

All bikes need servicing too, even cheapies, and this is another area where bike shops can stand to really benefit. Aldi’s never going to replace your gear cable! So even though bike shops didn’t make the original bike sale, they now have the opportunity to make some money through service, as well as foster a relationship with a new rider.

 

AGAINST: Taking sales from traditional bike shop retailers:

Buying bikes from a shop like Aldi, at least theoretically, takes sales from a bike shop. (We say theoretically, because you can make the case that someone looking for a $350 mountain bike isn’t going to go to ‘proper’ bike shop anyhow – they’d normally go to a department store.)

And while tradtional retail might be less relevant in some industries, bike shops are still the hub of our sport.  They foster the sense of community that makes mountain biking great.  They sponsor events, organise group rides, replace your hub bearings the night before a race and campaign against trail closures. And they need your support to keep doing so.

FOR: This is the new reality of retailing, economy-wide: 

Bikes, like the televisions we now buy online or the desks we’re assembling ourselves with little Swedish screwdrivers, are subject to the same changing retail realities as everything else.

Part of this trend is that bikes, increasingly, are being sold in boxes. It’s not just at this bottom end of the market either – Bicycles Online, Cell Bikes, and now YT-Industries and Canyon all currently sell (or are about to sell) proper, high-end mountain and road bikes in a box, direct to the consumer. It’s all about shortening supply chains and lowering margins.

It’s something we accept (and benefit from) without a murmur in other industries, so why does it upset us so much when it happens in the bike industry?

IMG_0251
Could this be how your next bike arrives?

AGAINST: It comes in a box

Buying a bike in a box means there’ll be an element of assembly required. And given how many people we see riding around with their helmets on backwards (or worse, their forks), we shudder at the idea of some punters wielding an Allen key. Admittedly, there’s bugger all needed to get this bike rolling –installing the pedals, bar and front wheel is it, and the instructions are clear and easy to follow – but before you go launching off water bars, you want to make sure everything is assembled as it should be.

This issue can get pretty heated: while we don’t necessarily agree, there are plenty of people out there who feel strongly that bikes just should not be sold in boxes, ever. Some even call for laws specifically to prevent bikes being sold in a box, citing the safety concerns of having improperly assembled bikes on the trails (or more worryingly, the roads).


So that’s that. Can of worms, opened! What are your thoughts? 

Happy New (Bike) Year: Here’s Our 2015 Top Five

With Eurobike done and dusted, just about every bike brand has now shown us their wares for the new season. But before we begin afresh, riding whatever wheel size it is this year, we thought we’d take a look at our personal five top mountain bike ‘things’ of the past 12 months. These are just our personal picks – what would you put on your list?


Shimano XT 11-speed:

XT-11-speed-6

It took a long time for Shimano to come up with an 11-speed mountain bike grouppo that was a viable contender for SRAM’s plethora of 1×11 drivetrains; SRAM had already released XX1, X01 and X1 before Shimano showed us their XTR 11-speed groupset. But not only was XTR mega bucks, it also topped out at with a 40-tooth cassette, which wasn’t low enough for many people to consider going 1×11.

And then, finally, came the XT version. Not only was it a shitload more affordable, but it also comes with a 11-42 cassette, which is a nice low granny gear. The use of a standard freehub body means it’s an easier upgrade to 11-speed too. Plus it works flawlessly too.

Read our full XT review here. 


 

Tasmania:

Ok, so Tassie has been around a lot longer than the last 12 months. But it’s only in recent times, thanks to the development of new trail centres, that we’ve been happy to call it Australia’s leading mountain bike state.

Tasmania-Flow-Nation-68
Riding the Juggernaut at Hollybank.

In particular, the amazing Blue Derby and Hollybank MTB parks, both not far from Launceston, really put Tassie at the forefront of Australian mountain biking. We were lucky enough to spend some time at both of these trail centres last year, and they blew us away. Since our visit, Blue Derby has undergone a whole stack of new trail building too, and we’re itching to get back.

Flow-Nation-Blue-Derby-19
The Blue Derby trails are stunning.

But there’s far more to Tassie’s mountain bike scene than just these centres – Hobart has killer riding too, the west coast has some of the best adventure/back country trails going, and there’s a healthy race scene too (take the Hellfire Cup or Wildside for example).

It’s a little nugget of mountain bike awesomeness. Read more about Hollybank, Blue Derby and Hobart.


 

Crankworx Rotorua:

Crankworx’s first foray to the southern hemisphere was a huge success, in every regard, and Rotorua further cemented its status as one of the coolest mountain bike towns on the planet.

Crankworx-Slopestyle-52
Slopestyle at Crankworx Rotorua.

The courses were great, the town was totally buzzing, the locals got right behind it all and it all went smoothly! It was great to see how many Aussies made the trip over too, filling the forest trails in between the events and getting into it.

We’re bummed to hear that the Enduro World Series won’t be combined with Crankworx Rotorua next year, but apparently there will still be an enduro, just not an official part of the EWS. Given how much the riders seemed to froth on Rotorua, we’d imagine a healthy contingent of the world’d best riders will still be on hand.

The Enduro World Series down under.
The Enduro World Series down under.
Crankworx-Day-1.1-17
The local crowds came out in force for Crankworx Rotorua.

Regardless, we’ll be back next year, and if you’ve been thinking about a riding holiday to Rotorua, we think it’s the perfect time to do it.


 

FOX 34 and 36 forks and DPS EVOL shock:

FOX got their arses handed to them when RockShox released the Pike, but they’ve responded with a furious bout of development and the new 36 and 34 forks are the result. Put simply, the Factory versions of these two forks are mind-blowingly good.

Fox-36-First-Bite-8

The 36 is lighter than many of the old 32 forks we used to ride, but has proper downhill race-worthy performance, and the 34 is so sublimely smooth it seems to be predicting the terrain.

FOX-2016-14

While FOX have traditionally had the edge when it comes to rear shocks, they’ve been losing ground to RockShox in this arena, but the DPS EVOL shock should stem the bleeding. The new air can shape seems like such a simple change, but the improvement in small bump response in particular is so dramatic it’ll make your old shock feel like it’s filled with Selleys Space Invader.

Read our full review of the FOX 36 here, and our review of the 34 and DPS shock here.


 

Yeti SB5c:

For us, this was the standout bike of 2015 in a field of incredible contenders. We admit to having a soft spot for Yetis, but when you look raw performance alone (and ignore the stunning looks and fantastic heritage) this bike is a winner.

Yeti-SB5-C-16

Yes, it costs a million bucks and can’t fit a water bottle, but as a tool for slicing and dicing the trail, they don’t get any better. Just enough travel, delivered via a suspension system that is both efficient and plush, perfectly poised geometry, low weight, great versatility – this is a bike you can race at an EWS round one day then cross country on the next. In short, it embodies the kind of do-it-all performance that the best trail bikes shoot for.

Read our full Yeti SB5c review here. 


Also on the shortlist:

RedBull’s race coverage: It just keeps getting better and better. We’ve been glued to the computer too many Saturday and Sunday evenings to count this year!

Aussie young gun downhillers kicking arse: We get the feeling we’re about to see a return to that age of Aussie domination in downhill, with Andrew Crimmins, Connor Fearon and Dean Lucas all set to follow in the footsteps of Brosnan and Hill.

Cairns: Rad trails, crazy jungles and even crazier locals. The scene in Cairns just keeps on growing as it undergoes a huge revival. Bring on the 2016 World Cup!

Ibis 741 rims: These 35mm wide rims have been a revelation, transforming out trail bikes into grip seeking missiles!

 

 

Happy New (Bike) Year: Here's Our 2015 Top Five

Happy New Year! The bike industry has done the countdown, popped the cork and, with Rod Stewart’s rendition of Auld Lang Syne on the hi-fi, said goodbye to 2015.

With Eurobike done and dusted, just about every bike brand has now shown us their wares for the new season. But before we begin afresh, riding whatever wheel size it is this year, we thought we’d take a look at our personal five top mountain bike ‘things’ of the past 12 months. These are just our personal picks – what would you put on your list?


Shimano XT 11-speed:

XT-11-speed-6

It took a long time for Shimano to come up with an 11-speed mountain bike grouppo that was a viable contender for SRAM’s plethora of 1×11 drivetrains; SRAM had already released XX1, X01 and X1 before Shimano showed us their XTR 11-speed groupset. But not only was XTR mega bucks, it also topped out at with a 40-tooth cassette, which wasn’t low enough for many people to consider going 1×11.

And then, finally, came the XT version. Not only was it a shitload more affordable, but it also comes with a 11-42 cassette, which is a nice low granny gear. The use of a standard freehub body means it’s an easier upgrade to 11-speed too. Plus it works flawlessly too.

Read our full XT review here. 


 

Tasmania:

Ok, so Tassie has been around a lot longer than the last 12 months. But it’s only in recent times, thanks to the development of new trail centres, that we’ve been happy to call it Australia’s leading mountain bike state.

Tasmania-Flow-Nation-68
Riding the Juggernaut at Hollybank.

In particular, the amazing Blue Derby and Hollybank MTB parks, both not far from Launceston, really put Tassie at the forefront of Australian mountain biking. We were lucky enough to spend some time at both of these trail centres last year, and they blew us away. Since our visit, Blue Derby has undergone a whole stack of new trail building too, and we’re itching to get back.

Flow-Nation-Blue-Derby-19
The Blue Derby trails are stunning.

But there’s far more to Tassie’s mountain bike scene than just these centres – Hobart has killer riding too, the west coast has some of the best adventure/back country trails going, and there’s a healthy race scene too (take the Hellfire Cup or Wildside for example).

It’s a little nugget of mountain bike awesomeness. Read more about Hollybank, Blue Derby and Hobart.


 

Crankworx Rotorua:

Crankworx’s first foray to the southern hemisphere was a huge success, in every regard, and Rotorua further cemented its status as one of the coolest mountain bike towns on the planet.

Crankworx-Slopestyle-52
Slopestyle at Crankworx Rotorua.

The courses were great, the town was totally buzzing, the locals got right behind it all and it all went smoothly! It was great to see how many Aussies made the trip over too, filling the forest trails in between the events and getting into it.

We’re bummed to hear that the Enduro World Series won’t be combined with Crankworx Rotorua next year, but apparently there will still be an enduro, just not an official part of the EWS. Given how much the riders seemed to froth on Rotorua, we’d imagine a healthy contingent of the world’d best riders will still be on hand.

The Enduro World Series down under.
The Enduro World Series down under.
Crankworx-Day-1.1-17
The local crowds came out in force for Crankworx Rotorua.

Regardless, we’ll be back next year, and if you’ve been thinking about a riding holiday to Rotorua, we think it’s the perfect time to do it.


 

FOX 34 and 36 forks and DPS EVOL shock:

FOX got their arses handed to them when RockShox released the Pike, but they’ve responded with a furious bout of development and the new 36 and 34 forks are the result. Put simply, the Factory versions of these two forks are mind-blowingly good.

Fox-36-First-Bite-8

The 36 is lighter than many of the old 32 forks we used to ride, but has proper downhill race-worthy performance, and the 34 is so sublimely smooth it seems to be predicting the terrain.

FOX-2016-14

While FOX have traditionally had the edge when it comes to rear shocks, they’ve been losing ground to RockShox in this arena, but the DPS EVOL shock should stem the bleeding. The new air can shape seems like such a simple change, but the improvement in small bump response in particular is so dramatic it’ll make your old shock feel like it’s filled with Selleys Space Invader.

Read our full review of the FOX 36 here, and our review of the 34 and DPS shock here.


 

Yeti SB5c:

For us, this was the standout bike of 2015 in a field of incredible contenders. We admit to having a soft spot for Yetis, but when you look raw performance alone (and ignore the stunning looks and fantastic heritage) this bike is a winner.

Yeti-SB5-C-16

Yes, it costs a million bucks and can’t fit a water bottle, but as a tool for slicing and dicing the trail, they don’t get any better. Just enough travel, delivered via a suspension system that is both efficient and plush, perfectly poised geometry, low weight, great versatility – this is a bike you can race at an EWS round one day then cross country on the next. In short, it embodies the kind of do-it-all performance that the best trail bikes shoot for.

Read our full Yeti SB5c review here. 


Also on the shortlist:

RedBull’s race coverage: It just keeps getting better and better. We’ve been glued to the computer too many Saturday and Sunday evenings to count this year!

Aussie young gun downhillers kicking arse: We get the feeling we’re about to see a return to that age of Aussie domination in downhill, with Andrew Crimmins, Connor Fearon and Dean Lucas all set to follow in the footsteps of Brosnan and Hill.

Cairns: Rad trails, crazy jungles and even crazier locals. The scene in Cairns just keeps on growing as it undergoes a huge revival. Bring on the 2016 World Cup!

Ibis 741 rims: These 35mm wide rims have been a revelation, transforming out trail bikes into grip seeking missiles!

 

 

The Josh Carlson Experience: EWS Crankworx

We caught up with Josh in his adopted hometown of Vancouver, where he’d just come back in from a training ride on his cyclocross bike, after an enforced week off the bike thanks to some dodgy jambalaya!


Good ride, Josh?

Yep, nice to be feeling better! It’s not a bad thing having a week off, though it’s not ideal to be turning yourself inside out every two minutes! I do feel super skinny and lean though – all my clothes fit real well!

 

Last time we chatted was before you went to France. Fill us in! 

It’s been a pretty wild month and a half actually, lots of up and downs. And man, racing in France and Colorado was pretty tough actually.

Just the steepness of the French tracks – it’s just a skill that I haven’t really developed. Since I got hurt in 2013, I didn’t get to race again in France until 2014, and that year I got really sick during the race, so I’ve never got into it. Plus the format, where you get one practice run then you race it, it’s a weakness of mine, because it’s so foreign.

This year I got caught out by the rain and had a crash in the first stage and hurt my hip. In my first run, in practice, it was dry. So I came down the hill changed a few things because it was quite pedally – put a Rock Razor on the rear and changed to cross country shoes. But in between a huge thunder storm rolled in and just turned the track to ice. So it was a mad rush to change things back to the original settings.

Then I rode really hesitant and had a crash, on a bridge that had been covered in plywood. But the time I saw the plywood, I was doing 1000 down this fireroad, and when I hit the wood I was just like an elephant on ice and tomahawked into the ground.

The second day was pretty sick, but I had a mental lockup. I don’t know why, just freaking out, grabbing the bars too tight and getting heaps of arm pump. And then the guy 30 seconds behind caught me and I was just going backwards. It was a pretty disappointing round all up.

Samoans, France. Round 4 of the EWS Series.
Samoans, France. Round 4 of the EWS Series.

 

What do you do when you start getting in a negative space like that?

I’m still trying to figure that out! You’ve got to relax and just go with it, but man I just got overwhelmed with memories of past experiences… It was bizarre just how much the feeling on the bike was the same as in 2013.

I took off feeling good, then I made a couple of mistakes and just panicked. It’s the power of the mind I guess.

I just tried to put that result out of my mind immediately. But regardless, it’s something I’m going to have to work on – that style of racing will always be part of the EWS, so if I’m ever going to be World Champion, I’ll need to learn how to ride it.

Samoans, France. Round 4 of the EWS Series.

And then it was onto Colorado?

Yep, I opted to go straight to Colorado to try and adjust to the altitude a little bit. Crested Butte is at 95000 feet, and a lot of the riding is so physical too – every liason stage is like an hour or a two hour ride, pedaling and pushing your bike. And then each stage is really physical too.

Unfortunately there were a few issues there with people pre-riding at lot of the stages… Unfortunately people found out what the race stages would be way ahead of time. So I kind of made a point of avoiding where I thought the tracks would be ahead of official practice and just rode the bike park, did all my training there. One of the trails in the bike park did end up being one of the stages in the race, but I just had to cop that on the chin. Just about everyone had ridden the bike park stage, so it was more of a level playing field. But the other stages, out in the back country, most of us were racing it blind, but then some people had already pre-ridden it five or six times and that’s a huge advantage.

Maybe I hurt my chances but not riding in the backcountry of Crested Butte, but I don’t want to get involved with that stuff.

 

Not asking you to name names, but what kind of riders do pre-ride stages? Are they further down the ranks?

Nah, it’s across the board unfortunately. Technically, they’re not doing anything wrong. I mean, before the tracks are officially announced, they can definitely make the case that they’re just riding, not breaking any rules. There’s no rule that says you can’t ride all the trails in the area, and there are some trails that I’d ridden in years past too, which ended up being in the race, but that was just by chance, not because we sought them out.

But it’s just an ethical thing in my mind. I mean, we heard, like most people, what trails were likely going to be raced, so we made a point of staying away. And it is racing, I guess. People will do what they can to win.

 

And in the end, the weekend turned out in the most disastrous way possible, with the death of a racer.

Yes, it was a tragedy. Everybody was shocked. In mountain biking it’s pretty rare to have a death. In motocross it used to happen a bit more regularly – everyone was aware of it. Whereas in mountain biking no one really contemplates it. But when shit hits the fan, it can really hit the fan, especially when you’re racing at EWS pace.

In other enduro events, backcountry things like the Trans Provence, you go there with a different attitude. You don’t go there at 100% race pace – you have to ride within your limits because you don’t get to see the track until you’re racing.

But at the EWS, you’re paid to be the fastest rider in the world. You line up on the start line, 100% prepared to go as fast as you possibly can.

Having said that, what happened to Will (Olsen, the deceased rider) has happened to everybody. Something as simple as clipping a pedal at speed. He wasn’t taking crazy risks, it was just one of those things. Everyone was pretty shaken up by it.

 

And then back to your hometown and on to Crankworx. It must have been nice to get back home after all of that.

It was amazing. Like a breath of fresh air, like I hit the reset button – seeing the missus, sleeping in my own bed. It just felt so good.

I mean Whistler isn’t my home, but it’s close enough, I spend a lot of time up there training and the trails are relatively similar. And then the tracks they announced for the racing were awesome too, with five fifteen-ish minute stages. It was sweet.

And then it when it rained for the couple of days prior to the race, everything just clicked, I was really enjoying riding. I was relaxed, happy, in the right frame of mind to race my bike. It sounds totally cliché, but having fun was all I was focused on, and it worked.

Everything clicked. Even the climbs! The first liaison is a forty minute climb, and normally you’d get off and have to push bits because it’s pretty steep. But I pedaled up the whole way up, barely even breaking a sweat – and I was like, ‘hmm, this could be a good day!’

Crankworx 2015
Crankworx.

 

And it was a good day!

Yeah, the first stage, I had some lines I’d been riding when it was dry that were pretty adventurous, and I figured now it was wet I’d ride a bit more conservatively. But I just dropped in and rode it like it was dry and it worked! I came away with the win in stage 1, but I didn’t find that out till later. I didn’t actually stop to check my times at the end of each stage – there was a live timing board so you could check your times straight away, but I didn’t do that. I kept riding, ticking boxes, stage one done, onto stage two.

People kept coming up, frothing, telling me how good I’d done, but I certainly didn’t know I was winning until Barelli pulled me aside after the second stage and said, “Josh. You are winning.” And I was like, ‘Great, but I don’t care.’ And he just said, “Good, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

I was just having loads of fun. It was just so enjoyable to be attacking the track, my bike setup was great. After Barelli told me I was winning I didn’t really talk to anyone. A couple of people came up asking if they could interview me about how the day was going and was like, “You know, I’d rather not.” I just didn’t want to think about the results. I just wanted to stay happy.

 

Sounds like it’s the key for you! Some people need to get angry or fired up before they race, or go through their rituals, but for you it’s being happy.

For sure! It sounds totally clichéd but that’s it. I mean on stage 4, I was just yipping and yahooing the whole way down. I didn’t even know how I rode, but I knew I felt good, and I was just stoked!

After stage four, I still didn’t know any results, I knew I’d been leading after stage two, but that was it. Then in gondola on the way up to stage 5, I was with Jared Graves and Richie Rude. Jared asked me, “do you want to know the results?” And I told him, no, that I didn’t really care.

It was perfect, the whole way up in the gondola we didn’t even talk about results, just a whole lot of other shit. After the fact I found out that at that stage the battle for the win was between me and Richie!

Unfortunately in stage five, well it all came crumbling down.

 

What happened?

A piece of shale, or something, cut my tyre in this really raw line. And it didn’t go down straight away – I heard the pss, pss, pss of the tyre. I couldn’t believe it. You can hear me in my helmet cam, going “no way, no way.” I didn’t want to believe it. I was hoping it was just a caught stick, or a rock, or that it would seal, but then I hit the woods and it went dead flat.

 

What did you do?

Ran it. Just pedaled my arse off. It was a pretty wild ride. I didn’t slow down that much, if the trail was pointing down I pinned it as fast as a I possibly could. I definitely got pretty wild! It was only the pedaling that really hurt me, but I lost three and a half minutes overall. I couldn’t believe it.

Crankworx 2015
Crankworx.

 

In spite of that, were you able to walk away from the race feeling positive? Knowing that for 80% of that race, you were winning maybe the biggest EWS round of the season?

Racing the Garbonzo DH the next day and having to focus on that, it helped me get over it. But for a couple of days, it definitely hurt. It took a while before I was able to look at the internet again! I mean, it was an eye opener too, to find out how many people had been watching and rooting for me. Walking around Whistler people would keep coming up, congratulating me, or telling me how gutted they were for me.

And it’s a cool feeling to know now that I am capable of winning, too. I mean, my goal this year was to consistently get top 15, maybe to win a stage, so come so close to winning a round was incredible.

Crankworx 2015
Racing the Crankworx dual slalom with team mate Marcelo Gutierrez.

 

And you got on the DH bike and raced the Canadian Open too?

Yeah, I felt like an absolute fish out of water! I was running around asking all the lads, Fearon and Bernard Kerr and stuff, things like “what pressure are you running? How do you do this?” I was an absolute squid, so far out of my comfort zone!

 

Haha! See that’s a surprise, I thought that a lot of that experience would translate from Enduro.

Nah, it’s so different. You’ve got three minutes, and there are no mistakes allowed. You need to push to the limit and keep it perfect. In Enduro, you’ve got five or so stages, you can regain time. In downhill you have to know the track, perfectly.

In practice it was wet and I cased one of the big step downs and just blew apart my drivetrain! Bent my cranks, my chain ring, destroyed the chain guide! There were all these jumps and I hadn’t even jumped them yet, and I was meant to do my qualifying run in an hour! So I rushed back up the hill after the guys rebuilt my bike, and just hucked into all these jumps! Somehow made it through it all, hammered it to get back up the hill, got up the top at 10:15 and my qualifying run was at 10:18… It was chaos!

Come race day I felt a lot better. The lines you take on a trail bike and a downhill bike are so different, you carry speed so differently. On a trail bike, you can take a tighter line into a corner and pedal out to get up to speed, but on a downhill bike you’re thinking about the next two corners, you need to be thinking further ahead.

 

Do you get to spend much time on the downhill bike?

I do, maybe once a week, but for me it’s all about finding the longest run possible and hammering it. I don’t work on the finesse and the speed you need for racing downhill. I use my downhill bike for Enduro training.

It’s funny though, I had like five practice runs on the course and for me that is heaps coming from Enduro, but for the downhill boys that’s nothing. So maybe it worked in my favour, because I did pretty well. For ages I was sitting in third, and I ended up with 18th overall against a pretty stacked field! I was super stoked. It made the whole week feel a lot better.

 

Most riders go from downhill to Enduro, you might find yourself going the other way!

For sure, it definitely sparks an interest! I was pretty shocked to be honest.

 

So you ride the downhill bike once a week, but what else do you do for skills training?

I’ll set aside certain days of the week where I have one area I focus on. I might go down the park and set out a course, just a figure of eight and practice cornering for hours. Or doing endos, or wheelies, skids – the raw, raw skills, the absolute basics.

Or I’ll do certain set things on the trail bike, that are fitness based as well as skills based. I mean, my skills base is definitely undeveloped compared to a lot of the other racers, just because I haven’t been doing it as long.

 

You’ve said before the guys who do well at these races are the ones with the full toolkit of basic skills.

Absolutely – you don’t know the tracks, so all you’ve got is your skills, your strength and your fitness.

 

And fitness wise, what do you do?

I ride the cross bike, and the road bike. But I spend 80% of the time on my Enduro bike, as much time as I can. But I’m lucky, I have the Mecca of the mountain bike world on my doorstep, and that’s why Lisa and I packed up our lives and moved here. You’ll never get bored, and you can work on every type of skill; there are basic trails, super steep trails, the gnarliest stuff, long trails, bike park trails… it’s endless really.

 

Will you go out and focus on a particular style of trail on a given training day?

For sure. I might go and ride one trail, eight times, with a different focus each time. I might ride it chainless, then only with my front brake, then only with the back brake, or concentrating on switching my feet in the corners. Or I might time myself over eight runs, and go faster each run, so my final run has to be my quickest.

Other days I’ll go and find steep trails or new trails and ride them blind, as fast as I can. So you definitely mix it up, but with plenty of focus too. That’s the advantage of living here I guess, I can pick a different zone or a different skill easily.

It also gives me lots of chances to test stuff out. Speaking of which, I’ve been trying out a bigger frame size, I’m now riding on an XL frame.

 

That’s a big bike!

Yeah it is a big, big bike. But I have an off-the-back riding style, and we’re hoping that it’ll spread my body weight around more evenly, give a bit better suspension performance, more grip on the front wheel, and take some pressure off the rear wheel. It definitely feels like I’ve got the capability of going faster, I felt that straight away. It’s kind of scary really!

Crankworx 2015

It definitely seems like Enduro bike setup overall is going a little more downhill. More coil shocks, bigger forks. Do you think that’s the case?

Yeah, the coil shock thing in particular. Last year I was one of the only riders using a coil, but now I’d say the majority of the field is on a coil at some events. The biggest thing about a coil shock is the predictability over a very long run, and there’s so much stability and traction, it’s an easy trade off even if you lose a tiny bit of pedaling performance.

 

Well, we’ll let you go mate! Your baby could be here any minute!

Hahaha, yeah that’s right. I’m not going anywhere now till the baby is here – the next four weeks of training will all be within an hour of home and my phone’s staying in the pocket on maximum volume!

Nerd Alert: Wheel Size by the Numbers

As circumstance would have it, this morning at Flow HQ we happened to have a wide spectrum of wheel configurations in the office, all equipped with similar(ish) tyres. So, armed with a pair vernier callipers, a tape measure and a camera, we sat down to have a real look at what the physical, measured differences are between the variety of wheel sizes on offer now. Turns out, for all the discussion, there’s not as much in it as you might expect!

Please note, we don’t pretend for a second this is a perfect comparison – these just happened to be what we had on hand and/or have been riding lately. 

Read more of our reviews here: Ibis 741 Wheels, Specialized Fuse 6FAttie (27.5+ hard tail), Scott Genius Plus and Scale Plus reviewed.

Wheel Sizes 20


In this wrap up we’ve got:

1) A standard 27.5 tyre mounted to a regular width rimBontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on a DT E1900 rim  (internal rim width of 25mm).

2) A standard 27.5 tyre mounted to a super wide rimBontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on an Ibis 741 rim (internal rim width of 35mm).

3) A 27.5+ (or 6Fattie) tyre mounted to a mid-width rim – Specialized Ground Control 650b x 3.00 on a Specialized Traverse rim (internal rim width of 29mm).

4) A standard 29er tyre mounted to a regular width rim – Bontrager XR3 29 x 2.35 on a Bontrager Rhythm Elite rim (internal rim width of 21mm).


Wheel Sizes 18

1) Standard 27.5 tyre / regular width rim – Bontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on a DT E1900 rim  (internal rim width of 25mm).

Tyre diameter: 705mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 57.5mm

This set up is what we’d call a conventional 27.5″ wheel/tyre combo. Bontrager’s XR4 2.35″ tyre has a fairly aggressive tread pattern, with big side knobs and a relatively square profile, but it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a trail / all-mountain tyre.

The DT rim it’s mounted to has an internal width of 25mm, which again is in line with what you’d expect on a 140-160mm travel all-mountain bike. In this case, the wheel is off a Trek Remedy 9.8 2016 model.

This combo produces a tyre with a nicely rounded tread profile. The rim-to-tyre width relationship looks pretty conventional.

Wheel Sizes 19

2)  Standard 27.5 tyre / super wide rim – Bontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on an Ibis 741 rim (internal rim width of 35mm).

Tyre diameter: 705mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 60mm

This tyre/rim combo is what we’ve been running on one of our long-term test bikes for the past few months and absolutely loving it. Compared to conventional set up (as described above) we’ve been able to run much lower pressures and enjoy a lot more traction as a result.

We’ve included this set up here because we wanted to see how closely it approximates the measurements of a 27.5+ rim/tyre.

While the tyre is a standard width (2.35″), the rim is super wide – it has a 41mm external / 35mm internal width. Basically, it’s as wide a rim as you’re likely to see before you venture into realms of ‘plus-sized’ tyres or Fat Bikes.

In our minds, the performance of this combo has been superb. We’ve actually been running tyre pressures quite similar to that we’d use with a 27.5+ setup (approx 15psi), though obviously the width and overall volume of the tyre is a lot less so the ride feel is different. For many riders who aren’t interested in the plus-sized format, we think this set up is a very good compromise.

What is also notable about this combo is just how stout and square the tyre shape is, the wide rim giving a lot of support to the tyre. Of course the square shape won’t work well with every tyre.

Wheel Sizes 16

3) 27.5+ (or 6Fattie) tyre / mid-width rim – Specialized Ground Control 650b x 3.00 on a Specialized Traverse SL rim (internal rim width of 29mm).

Tyre diameter: 730mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 74.5mm

This tyre and rim combo is off a Specialized Stumpjumer 6Fattie that we’ve been testing lately. It uses Specialized’s 3.0″-wide Ground Control tyre mounted to a Roval Traverse rim with a 29mm internal width.

While the rim diameter is identical to a regular 27.5 wheel, the diameter of the tyre significantly more. In this instance, the diameter is 730mm – 25mm more than a regular 27.5″ tyre, and only 10mm less than a 29er with a 2.35″ tyre. So while a 27.5+ doesn’t quite match the diameter of a 29er, it’s far closer to a 29er than 27.5 in that regard.

The width of the tyre is the other big, big difference. At its widest point, the tyre is 74.5mm across. However, this measurement is a little deceptive, because with the relatively narrow rims (at least in comparison to the huge tyre) it’s almost impossible to use the full tread surface of the tyre. If you’re on the very side knobs, you’re crashing! Other 27.5+ bikes that’ve tested have used much wider rims (in most cases with a 40mm internal width) which seem much better suited to supporting the massive tyre.

Tyre volume is the real drawcard here. With such a large volume of air and such a tall tyre shape, you can run very low pressures, allowing the tyre to conform to the terrain exceptionally well and provide massive amounts of traction.

Just briefly touching back on the matter of rim vs tyre width, the combo found on Scott’s new plus-sized bikes gets a big tick of approval from us. The 2.8″ tyre on a 40mm rim seems spot on, offering more sidewall support than a 3.0″ on a narrower rim, but without losing too much volume overall.

Wheel Sizes 17

4) Standard 29er tyre / regular width rim – Bontrager XR3 29 x 2.3 on a Bontrager Rhythm Elite rim (internal rim width of 21mm).

Tyre diameter: 740mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 56.5mm

This is your regular kind of 29er trail bike combo, with a 2.3″ tyre on a fairly standard trail/XC rim. It comes off a Trek Fuel EX 29er which we’ve been riding for the past year.

What’s immediately apparent is just how skinny and slight the whole wheel looks in comparison to the others here – the ratio of tyre volume to wheel size just looks out of whack in this company! The tyre is just a millimetre narrower than the 27.5 tyres here, but the rim is only 21mm-wide internally, which reduces the ‘bag’ of the tyre and gives it a more slender appearance.

With the narrower rim and smaller volume to the tyre, it’s clear to see you need to adopt an entirely different approach to tyre pressure, grip and riding style with this wheel than with either the 27.5/35mm rim combo or on the 27.5+ wheel.

Compared to the 27.5+, the 29er wheel is just 10mm bigger in diameter, which really isn’t a lot!  For interest’s sake, we compared the weights of the 27.5+ and 29er wheels too. The 29er came in at about 200g lighter, but keep in mind it does come off a much more expensive bike than the 27.5+ wheel.


Wheel Sizes 12
27.5+ vs regular 27.5

Above you can see a direct comparison between a standard 27.5 wheel/tyre combo, and a 27.5+ (with a 3.0″ inch Specialized tyre). The plus-sized tyre gives the wheel an extra 25mm diameter, but it’s the sheer volume of the tyre which is the obvious difference.

Wheel Sizes 2
27.5+ v 27.5 ultra wide 40mm rim.

And here’s the same 27.5+ s wheel alongside a regular 27.5″ tyre mounted to a super wide rim. Still the same 25mm diameter difference of course, and the 3.0″ tyre still has a huge volume advantage. Where the configuration on the right has an obvious advantage though is in the stability of the tyre – the ratio of tyre/rim width gives the tyre a super stable sidewall profile.

27.5+ vs 29er
27.5+ vs 29er

Finally here’s the 27.5+ wheel versus a standard 29er setup. The 29er wheel is a slightly larger diameter overall, by just about 10mm, but the volume of the tyre is clearly hugely different. Horses for courses?


As we’ve said above, we don’t present this as a true comparison, and we’re definitely not trying to say that each of these setups doesn’t have a place in mountain biking. But we do think it’s interesting to take a look at what each of these configurations actually looks like head to head. We hope we haven’t overloaded you with geekery. Now quickly put all this out of your mind and go ride your bloody bike!

Faster, not Dumber

These are refrains we read often, usually in the shoot-from-the-hip forum of our Facebook page. In the past these comments generally accompanied discussion of 29ers (remember when those were contentious?), but now it’s something we’re more likely to read if we post a piece about the new generation of ‘semi-fat’ 27.5+ bikes.

Faster not Dumber 6

It seems, that in many people’s minds, fat rubber is cheating. Or if not outright cheating, not playing fair, as if ‘buying’ more grip is some loophole in mountain biking legislation.

We get it, we understand where this vibe comes from. There are lots of riders out there who learnt their craft on laughably bad equipment; grip-phobic tyres seemingly made from solid plastic, rims that bent like they were coat hanger wire, brakes that needed all four fingers. Advances in bikes have obviously made it much easier to ride many trail features that in the past would have caused all but the best riders to baulk. Riders who mightn’t have so much skill or ability can, to a degree, make up for it through more forgiving equipment.

And if you’re a salty old bastard, it’s tempting to be disparaging of riders who, often with confidence borne of excellent equipment, can ride the trails at the same speed as you, despite having waltzed into the sport only in the last few years.

Faster not Dumber 2

Having now spent a fair bit of time on 27.5+ bikes, with their massive tyres, we can promise you that in a lot of situations they are the ultimate ‘cheat’ bike. This much traction is a huge advantage in many of those areas that would have once sorted the men from the boys, so to speak. Loose climbs, rubble-filled corners, rough descents – they all become easier with grip. The transformation is instant, like jumping on the mushroom in Super Mario, things you couldn’t do before, you now can.

Of course, whether or not these bikes are faster overall is another matter entirely, as they are pretty ploddy on tame trails.

But when it comes to those features of your trails that would normally serve as a benchmark of skill – rolling that steep chute, getting up that scrappy climb – then plus-sized bikes do put you ahead of the curve.

Faster not Dumber 3

But here’s the crux of it all. If you’re a rider who has the full bag of tricks, rather than resenting the fact that plus-sized riders will likely close the gap on you, why not embrace the benefits yourself? If the advantages provided by plus-sized rubber can lift a mediocre rider’s abilities, imagine what they can do in the hands of someone who’s already pushing the limits of their equipment.

Suddenly those limits are set, like your tyres, much, much wider.

Faster not Dumber 4

What the implications will be for trail building, we’ll have to wait and see, because we can promise you that things that were borderline reckless or un-doable, can suddenly seem pretty sedate.

So perhaps, rather than dumbing down the sport, these bikes are actually opening up a whole new frontier of progression for trail riders, where suddenly we’re building and riding trails at a level that only the ultra-ninja mountain biker could have conceived in the past.

Maybe mountain biking isn’t going to get dumber, but faster, wilder and even more demanding.

We find ourselves saying all this with an element of genuine surprise. A few months ago, when we first learnt of the influx of 27.5+ bikes, we drafted an opinion piece that absolutely ripped the concept to shreds. We ranted against it as a sideways step, a distraction from real advancements, driven solely by companies not riders. In short, we had the exact same response as many people in our audience! But before we published that rant, we decided to wait a few weeks and actually give one a go.

Faster not Dumber 1

We’re glad we held off publishing, because having now ridden a good half dozen or so 27.5+ bikes we understand their potential. They’re not for every rider or trail, but for us they’ve got the ability to make riding faster, wilder and generally more of what we like – that is, faster not dumber.

Why you don’t really need to upgrade

Upgrade (4)

Does that anticipation you get waiting for the latest thing to arrive make you feel special? Do you rely on it to give you something to look forward to? Does the feeling disappear as soon as the ‘thing’ arrives, making you want to order something else to recapture that feeling? Of course, it doesn’t help that the marketing cycles for most bike and gear companies have accelerated. It seems like every month there’s a new wheel size, hub standard, line refresh, design change, or item ‘improvement’, all of which make it harder to be satisfied with the equipment you currently own – it’s now ‘out of date’!

Of course, it’s in the various bike companies’ interests to make you feel this way – after all, they want to sell more stuff. But is it in your interest? Does having the latest gear make you a better rider? More importantly, does buying new stuff give you more lasting satisfaction when you ride, or is it just a way of making you feel better in the short term?

Is it possible that spending time lusting after new stuff might actually degrade your riding experience?

Upgrade (1)

Let’s start with why you ride in the first place. I know I’ve touched on this a lot in the past, but it’s a big deal. When pressed, most mountain bikers will tell you that they ride for the freedom, the challenge, the social interaction, the physical activity, the access to the outdoors, and the feeling of deep connection that mountain biking can offer. Very few people will claim to mountain bike because they like looking good in their latest gear, or because it gives them the chance to show off their recent upgrade to their mates. In other words, for most people, mountain biking is about what you do, not what you have. It’s about the process and the experience, not the outcome.

It’s about the doing, not the talking.

Upgrade (8)

So, in theory, as long as your bike is actually capable of doing what you want to ride (and let’s face it, most of us ride bikes that are way more capable than we actually need), you can attain pretty much all of the things that mountain biking offers with what you already have. Or to put it another way, you get most of your psychological benefit from mountain biking by riding, not by thinking about or buying upgrades.

Upgrade (7)

So, if that’s that case, why do we get suckered into the need for new and ‘better’ stuff? Well, we can blame the same brain mechanism that gets us addicted to chemicals (like drugs) or behaviours (like gambling). The ‘mesolimbic dopamine system’ is a part of the midbrain that evolved to reward us for engaging in survival-based behaviours (like eating and sex). The reward comes in the form of increased levels of dopamine in this part of the brain, and dopamine feels really good. In fact, every time you feel good about pretty much anything, it’s because of dopamine. Annoyingly for us, the system hasn’t caught up with the modern world – which means it’s incredibly easy to hack. Hacking the pleasure centre is pretty much what marketing and advertising professionals do – they know that they can activate your pleasure centre by presenting you with something new. Once they’ve convinced you that a new thing is better than an older thing, not only will you get a (temporary) surge of pleasure by buying it, you’ll also no longer get activation of your pleasure centre from the old thing. They also know that this pleasant feeling is really short-lived, hence the need for rapid product cycling (so you’ll keep buying). In other words, if you rely on the ‘new purchase buzz’, no matter how recently you bought something, as soon as a ‘better’ version comes out, the thing you previously lusted after loses its sex appeal and the newer thing becomes sexy (and so on, and so on)…

Worse, if you’re convinced that the thing you own is no longer adequate, it can seriously degrade your riding experience. Instead of focusing on the great experiences of riding, our focus is now on noticing the newer bikes or gear that our friends have, and feeling envious about what they have that we don’t. Have you ever been perfectly happy with your bike, only to start noticing all the things your bike doesn’t do as well (or the scratches on the frame, etc.) as soon as a mate buys the latest upgrade? All of a sudden your beautiful bike isn’t quite as beautiful, and your ride loses its shine…

Upgrade (5)

If we’re not careful, once we’re convinced that our current bike is no longer adequate, we’ll start to rationalise the expense of an upgrade.

We’ll tell ourselves that we’ll be better riders if we buy those new brakes, or convert to the new wheel size. So, rather than practising being a better rider, or spending our money on a skills course, or maintaining our perfectly adequate equipment, we go for the upgrade. And guess what? The upgrade doesn’t really help, but we still tell ourselves that it might. We stop focusing on how to get more out of the riding we do, and the equipment that we have and, instead, shift our focus to the external (and entirely false) idea of “newer gear equals better rider”. In doing so we outsource our satisfaction to something external to us.

It turns out that lasting satisfaction (in pretty much everything, and certainly in mountain biking) comes from focusing on what’s meaningful. And what’s meaningful is the stuff we actually do – like riding regularly, improving our skills, enjoying time with friends, and appreciating nature.

Of course, there’s an argument for balancing good gear with good riding. It’s important to have gear that matches your abilities and the type of trail you want to ride. But, given that most modern bikes are capable of more than we can throw at them, chances are you’re already riding something that’s good enough.

Upgrade (6)

So, to summarise:

1)   Your bike and gear is probably already good enough;

2)   An external focus on what you don’t have tends to ruin your riding experience;

3)   Your brain will try and fool you into thinking that buying stuff is both important and meaningful. This is how advertising works. Don’t trust your brain on this – any ‘satisfaction’ will be short lasting;

4)   Long-lasting satisfaction comes from focusing on important stuff like learning to be a better rider, improving your skills, spending time with your friends, and enjoying the moment.

My advice: enjoy the ride. Sure, buy gear if and when needed, and enjoy that, but don’t make it your focus. Remember, while you need a bike, your bike is always secondary to the riding.


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

Cape To Cape MTB: Other Must-Ride WA Trails

1. Dunsborough and Margaret River Local Trails 

If you have time before the event, hitting the trails around the Dunsborough Country Club is great for getting a feel of just how slippery WA’s infamous pea-gravel trails can be. There is about 10km of trail, a lot of it you will ride at the end of day 4 of Cape to Cape MTB. The race organisers tend to wisely take out some of the rock rollover structures and A-lines so it’s a good place to come back and play and ride it like the locals do. Plus some of the best swimming beaches in the region are at the bottom of the hill so you can ride then soak faster than you can say ‘ice bath recovery’.

Rocky A-Lines at the Dunborough Country Club.
Rocky A-Lines at the Dunborough Country Club.

Visit the local bike shop www.bikesheddunsborough.com.au for some insider knowledge. It’s five bucks for a five day access to the trails and they even have a newly completed pump track (and some of the cheapest beers on the Cape at the Country Club).

More Dunsborough rock work.
More Dunsborough rock work.

Similarly if you’re based in Margaret River for the event, before packing you bike into the box for the long journey home maybe drop by the new trail hub at the bottom of the town called “The Hairy Marron” (69 Bussell Highway Margs 08 9757 2346). Grab a coffee or check their bikes out. The situation for trails is evolving rapidly and the boys will be able to give you a heads up on the best places to ride. Large networks of trails at Carters Road and Middle Earth have been only lightly used in the Cape to Cape for a raft of reasons but the great news is there are new top class trails for you to discover without having to travel far.

 2. Pemberton

There is a reason that Pemberton is always in the must visit section of all the guidebooks. Climbing up the 50m+ fire spotting tree is an experience no one ever forgets. Pemberton also has a multitude of aggressive tracks with steep ups and steep downs rather than meandering rolls through the bush. At the bottom of the hill is a large lake used for swimming and it is always ice cold in our experience, making it a great place to recover.

Relentless Blue, Pemberton.
Relentless Blue, Pemberton.

 

There is a jump track, pump track, skills section at the nearby camp and bikes for hire on the main street. If you have overseas visitors and are camping the next town over Northcliffe has Round Tu-It campground which has a cross country singletrack loop out the back of the property. It also has some of the tamest kangaroos you’ll ever come across. Yes, it’s a bit out of the way, yes it will take two hours to get there, but you can return to Perth a more direct way and you will not regret taking the time to ride Pemberton (just watch for roos at dusk).

Skills park at Pemberton.
Skills park at Pemberton.

3. Collie Region

If you’re not in a rush to get back to Perth and want to keep long stints in the car a minimum (ie bad back) a good option is to skip the rush of the highway and head inland through some lovely countryside. From Margaret River skip cross country on nice back roads toward Lowden where long time MTB local Barry has his own block complete with a 6km XC circuit, workshop, camping and accommodation. www.cycletrek.com.au.

Mt Lennard. Plenty of options inside the National Park.
Mt Lennard. Plenty of options inside the National Park.

After checking out Gnomesville (yes you will take photos) Pile Road trails (formally Mt Lennard) are just over the valley and are long sweet singletrack inside a national park. Our pick is parking at the bottom, then riding up Bolands out on Wals, back on Griz. Check here http://trailswa.com.au/trails/mt-lennard for a full trail map.

Just a bit further north is Collie. The bush that surrounds Collie is very pretty and the hills are much bigger than anything in the Cape to Cape. Our first port of call normally is the local bike shop, Crank’n’Cycles (crankncycles.com.au). We’ve learnt to keep a firm grip on the wallet, as this country town bicycle shop is chockas with exotic bicycle gear. The locals ride two trails, both pedalling distance from town, Dead Cat trail and then Rays Trail. Rays trail now has a carpark at its trail head and if you are driving it’s the easiest to navigate to out along Harris River Road. http://trailswa.com.au/trails/rays-trail

4. Jarrahdale

It seems Langford Park (Jarrahdale) isn’t as popular as it used to be. The extensive network of trails at Kalamunda east of Perth seems to have absorbed the majority of Perth riders, and now Jarrahdale – around an hour south of Perth – doesn’t get the traffic it once used to. That is good news if you are travelling to/from the Cape to Cape though, as you can stop in on the way back from Margaret River as you would have been driving for close to three hours at this point.

Jarrahdale has plenty of features utilising the massive old trees, like this.
Jarrahdale has plenty of features utilising the massive old trees, like this.

Take the South West Highway from Bunbury turn to Jarrahdale and then onto Nettleton Road. The carpark has been upgraded as has the signage and the trailhead maps. Thrashed out legs will appreciate the gentle gradient as you roll through some creative trails. The Yellowbrick Road is a bit of a regional classic but the The Fox is our favourite, with tight twisting fun keeping you at a good pace.

This place is always best after rain, as it can get a little slippery in the dry with the pea gravel… What are we talking about? You’ve survived the Cape to Cape, you’re a seasoned pro now at the two wheel drift!

The network can get a little confusing but keep hydrated and rolling through the network and you’ll be back at the car before you can say “But I thought the carpark was that way!” Check out the full trail map here http://trailswa.com.au/trails/langford-park-jarrahdale

 

The Soapbox: Is Australian Racing Dying – A Promoter’s Personal View

Earlier this week, Flow published a bloody excellent article by Rodney Farrell. For the last year or more I’ve been surprised the MTB media hadn’t picked up on this, so good on Flow and on Rodney for doing so. I returned home to Australia a couple of months ago from a long ‘road trip’ lasting more than a year and, whilst away, often pondered the question that Rodney has gone some way to answering (I certainly hadn’t considered the impact of Strava though – perhaps I’m too much of a Strava avoider to have been blind).

Is the clock ticking for some of Australia's longest running events?
Is the clock ticking for some of Australia’s longest running events?

I too, like Rodney am an event organiser and I think it’s fair to say Wild Horizons is amongst the longest established organisers of mass participation MTB events in Australia. Back in the mists of time, in 1997, we set off down a long trail of MTB events with our Polaris Challenge. Then – and some still now – the Urban Polaris, Highland Fling, Mountains To Beach, 3 Ring Circus, Rock&Road…..

Back in those early years we could pick any weekend we liked without having to even consider what else was going on. Now perhaps it has come full circle and you almost don’t need to consider other events as it’s almost a given there will be plenty to conflict with whatever you do.

The entertainment, the trepidation, the pain, the pleasure, the laughter, the tears, the food, the beer, the mateship, the prizes, the contribution to regional communities.

For 11 years with the Polaris Challenge we’d drag 600-700 people off to a new destination for 2 days. We didn’t even tell riders until 2 weeks beforehand where we were going! We’d take over a small village and a whole area of forest and farm, seeking out tracks and trails. We’d camp, dress up as cows or Dr Frankenfurter or worse. It opened up eyes as to places to ride; destinations.

IMG_0482
Are stage races the new growth area of Australian racing? Maybe, maybe not. If so, then it would buck the notion that cost is driving people away from racing, as stage races are generally not a cheap exercise.

I’ve loved witnessing the growth of the sport, the growth in events, the growth of trail networks and those MTB destinations. I’ve competed (and I use that term loosely) in hundreds here and overseas and still get a buzz from the whole event experience. As an organiser I get that same buzz from seeing riders and their families enjoying and enduring the event experience – the entertainment, the trepidation, the pain, the pleasure, the laughter, the tears, the food, the beer, the mateship, the prizes, the contribution to regional communities…….

Port-to-Port-MTB-34

The market, like all markets, has and should refresh its produce. 12+ years ago it was all about 12/24 Hour racing, then 6+ years ago came the turn of the Marathons, then a flourish of Stage Races (which many media pundits said was the next ‘big thing’ but in reality, given the commitments of time and money, could never really be so). Now I have come home to Gravity Enduro in the news. This is, I think, another result of now having excellent trail networks on which to entertain ourselves.

Event entries probably peaked in 2011-2012… Since that time entries have been on a steady decline.

Event entries probably peaked in 2011-2012. How good was it to sell out a marathon in a day, stick the money in the bank, do nothing for 4 months then bang in a few signs, grab a mic and warble for a day with a town full of people? Since that time entries have been on a steady decline. Hardly a major event has bucked the trend (with few notable exceptions like the Cape to Cape). Even some of those quoted in the comments to Rodney’s articles as ‘growing’ have actually fallen markedly. Our Highland Fling had over 2200 riders in 2011 and last year was down to about 1300. Our 3 Ring Circus had over 800 in 2011 and next week will be something like 350 when we run it for the 7th and final time. As much as I love the event, eventually it becomes more sane to spend the same money on a new bike and bugger off on a road trip…….

There's  little doubt there has been tremendous growth in the social side of mountain biking. Could that be a reason for declining race numbers?
Mates going for trail ride or a road trip. Bloody good fun. But could the increase in the informal mountain bike scene be a reason for declining race numbers?

Certainly, as Rodney alluded to, there are now a vast array of destinations for people to head to; to load up the car, ride great trails, drink local beers and wines and fuel up on excellent food. But it may be worth remembering that many of these destinations came about by event promoters and clubs developing trails with a primary function of putting on events; whether local club events or bigger ones. Purely as examples the Flow Trail at Thredbo was developed in part after we showed that it was possible to create an XC line down from the Top Station of the chairlift which we did each year for our Mountains To Beach stage race. Similarly the impetus for better trails at Lake Crackenback Resort was the same event. The great trails in Wingello Forest were originally developed with the impetus of events and are of course now there for all to enjoy. This is mirrored across the country.

Of course this, in itself, is no reason for sticking with the events.

Mont 24 2014
Yes, event promoters can make good money out of a well-run event. But there are also enormous expenses and risks. Last year’s last-minute washout of the Mont 24 should highlight this pretty clearly.

Cost is absolutely a consideration in everything we do to entertain ourselves and we, as race organisers, must understand that we compete against a thousand other demands for dollars not just against some dozens of other MTB events. No-one I know has made a fortune running MTB events and I am sometimes surprised at the occasional criticism made of so called private promoters as if it is OK for big brands, big (or small) shops to sell bikes/bike bling and make a living but not for someone to offer an entertainment product where you can use that bling. And of course the more the numbers fall the harder it is to maintain the entry price – things are much cheaper in bulk and sponsors understandably start to question their contributions if numbers are decreasing. So we have just put up the entry price for the 2015 Fling for the first time since 2011, a risky strategy perhaps, but I am not interested in putting on ‘cost and corner cutting’ events. But like all businesses if we don’t give the customer want then ultimately we close the doors (and bugger off on another road trip…..)

Are riders looking for new styles of events? Perhaps with less of a racing focus, like the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival.
Are riders looking for new styles of events? Perhaps with less of a racing focus, like the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival.

Like all entertainment, we have to keep it fresh; bring in new aspects and events. Sure the way we approach our events – themes, course modifications etc hopefully does this but it has not stopped the slide. This year at the Fling we are introducing the Some Fling, a shorter distance aimed primarily at junior (13-16) racers; a gap I’d happily to admit we’ve always had between our U-12 Kids Fling, non competitive Casual Fling and minimum 16 Half Fling. This year we are also introducing The Bundy Run, a Trail Running event on the Saturday. Whilst we’re not expecting many to run Saturday and ride Sunday we do recognise that MTB events are still an 80/20 M/F split. Trail running is something approaching 50/50. So The Bundy Run gives families a better chance of something for everyone. One parent does the Trail Run on Saturday; the other the Fling on Sunday and there’s always someone to look after the kids.

I had to chuckle recently when I received an email from the local council informing me that ‘A recent economic development summit has identified the Shire as having an opportunity market itself as a cycle tourism destination.’

Rodney is right about many local regions not quite ‘getting’ the impact of MTB tourism or events. Some absolutely do; increasingly so. As a case in point, in my home shire which is also home to the Fling, the 3 Ring Circus as well as the Willo and assorted other cycling events, we have had close to zero support from our local Council or Tourism over the past decade. This when, conservatively, the events have put some ten million dollars into the local area and up towards half a million dollars have been raised by local community groups and charities. And this does not include the flow on effect of people coming to ride/stay all year round. I had to chuckle recently when I received an email from the local council informing me that ‘A recent economic development summit has identified the Shire as having an opportunity market itself as a cycle tourism destination.’ I wonder what they think has been going on this past decade? And many of my grey hairs have come from hard won battles with bureaucracies where, particularly in NSW, it is easier to say ‘No, it’s too much work for me or might adversely affect my risks’ than to say ‘Yes, what a great idea for tourism and health. Now how do we make it happen within the bounds of public safety and risk management?

The Cannonball MTB Festival in Thredbo has adopted the same approach as the Bike Buller Festival, with multiple events over one weekend.
The Cannonball MTB Festival in Thredbo has adopted the same approach as the Bike Buller Festival, with multiple events over one weekend.

  What also seems apparent is that it is not just mountain bike events that are suffering but music festivals, village shows and other outdoor activities are too.

Since coming home I’ve been talking with other event organisers, bike industry figures, riders and others like food vendors. Absolutely without doubt per event numbers are falling (your evidence was certainly not anecdotal Rodney) but it is hard to know whether it is the same number of people spread across a larger number of events. Personally I think not. What also seems apparent is that it is not just mountain bike events that are suffering but music festivals, village shows and other outdoor activities are too. Again, so much choice, so much competition for the dollar, so few weekends. Perhaps we should all be campaigning for a shorter working week with a ‘short weekend’ every Wednesday? 104 weekends a year………

It has been very interesting to see the increasing crossover of road and MTB in the last 3-4 years. It is a key reason why we introduced our Rock&Road event this year. But what I have very much noticed since I’ve been back is the number of committed mountain bikers who used to ride occasionally on the road who are now committed roadies who ride occasionally on the dirt. Why is this? Is it the profile of road cycling? Is it the reduction in the amount of maintenance, cleaning, laundry? As someone who loves the sounds and smells of the bush, loves the relative safety of mountain biking and loves being dirty, I find this surprising. And yes I do ride a roadie too.

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Giveaways/Goodie Bags are an interesting area. We try (try being the operative word) to have a strong element of sustainability in what we do. So when it comes to giving away things we really do think about the usefulness and quality of the items and the need or otherwise for a bag to put them in. So, using the Fling as an example, we have given away $20 bottles of local wine, $15 CamelBak water bottles, hydration packs, bladders, firestarter flints (well it was the Flingstones theme….), bananas (when they were $18/kilo after Cyclone Larry).

 The number of committed mountain bikers who used to ride occasionally on the road who are now committed roadies who ride occasionally on the dirt.

We have never done cheap water bottles and in 20 years have never given away T-shirts. It is a difficult balancing act and I accept that this is potentially fraught as, whilst we might lay out our sustainability credentials not everyone will support that and may avoid the event in the belief we are cheapskates. None of these giveaways are free though. It is rare these days for a sponsor to say ‘here’s 1500 widgets’ particularly if you are chasing 1500 quality widgets.

So thanks again Rodney for writing on the topic and time will continue to tell what happens to the event scene. As mountain bikers we’re lucky to have an ever increasing canvas across Australia and NZ on which to entertain ourselves – destinations, events, tours – and the bike bling to decorate them. That’s healthy.