Kowalski Bros.

This feature first appeared in Issue #1 of Flow. We still have a handful of copies left so head over to the shop to grab the very last of what will soon be a collectors item.

 

While you’re at it, why not become a Flow Royalty member and for the price of a few fancy burgers with-the-lot you’ll get 4 issues of Flow devlivered to your door.

With the Mont 24 hour just around the corner let’s hear from the people who have helped sculpt the forests of Kowen and Sparrow Hill.

The Kowalski Brothers, the keepers of Kowen, are trail builders of unrivalled productivity. and as anyone who’s sampled the fruits of their craft will tell you, the Kowalskis’ passion and dedication seeps up out of the hardened ACT soil and straight into the rider– Flow with a capital F.

Who are the Kowalski Bros?

Just who are the mysterious Kowalski Brothers?

‘Des,’ ‘Reg’ and ‘Steve’ are the names we go by on the trail… If we told you our real names, there’d be no bloody mystery.

Is there a motto that the Kowalski Brothers work by?

We’ve got a bunch of them:

In berms we trust. Go with the Flow. Thou shalt not cut corners. One good turn deserves another. No token shit bits. Surf every hillside. Hand-tooled rules. Every rock is a berm. There is no such thing as too much rock.

‘Go with the Flow’ made it onto our first run of Brother Hoodies, in 2011.

‘In Berms we Trust’ is going on the next one.

When did the Kowalski Brothers begin building trails?

We have been building track since 1990. Our first tracks were at Stromlo but our most memorable early work was in Greenhills (now part of the National Arboretum). There were some legendary trails in there, and being able to ride through there on your way to work or to a beer at the top of Stromlo was pretty close to perfect. But the fires in 2000 and 2003 buggered all that well and proper.

Is it just here in Kowen that the Brothers ply their craft, or do you build elsewhere? Greenhills is our ancestral home but over the years we’ve built trail right across the Canberra region — Stromlo, Majura, old Kowen, Sparrow and now East Kowen. We have been prolific in East Kowen over the past two years. But, you know, there’s a new place we’ve got in mind to work next, and it will blow people away.

Just some of the nameless Kowalski Bros.

I’m sure it pains you to tally it up, but how many hours of your lives have you poured into these trails?

Thousands of hours. Easily.

What is the biggest, hardest day of trail building you’ve ever put in?

That’s really hard to say. Most weekends we come home covered in scratches and feeling shredded. The work we did in Sideshow, Beer Garden and Big Wednesday has been some of the hardest, but lately it’s a blur of one massive day followed by another.

The sessions we’ve been putting in at East Kowen are pretty epic, and we’ve had some immense rock-hauling days recently. We might not get a lot of distance done on a day like that, but we do get a kickarse corner or two.

Do you have a favourite trail building tool and why?

Des has a few – he could never have just one favourite. There’s Thor’s Hammer – a big block- splitter with a fine hickory handle. Des can smash rock relentlessly with one side, then chip out roots like a surgeon with the other. Dirty Hoe – that’s an amazing tool for benching into hillsides and chipping through grass, a do- anything tool. Ace of Spades (see below) – Reg converted Des to this brilliantly simple trail tool. It is the best tool to carve berms with.

Reg loves the Spade – a post-hole shovel with an uber-long handle and the perfect head for carving trail. It’s the tool he starts with for cutting new lines and its one of the last ones he uses when smoothing out the lumps.

Steve’s favourite tool is Betty the Mattock. Betty makes Steve a better man.

We drool over new tools. Every time one of us gets a new tool we’ll take it out back and get familiar with it. We’ll pick it up, fondle it, swing it about to feel its balance, brag about its prowess for building track and then, if we really like it, we’ll give it a lick. Mmm, tools…

Tools of the trade.

Tell us about the history of the trails here in Kowen?

East Kowen is all new. There were no mountain bike trails before the Kowalski Brothers and Paul Cole started building trail here. What we’ve achieved in just a couple of years is pretty amazing, and there’s more where that came from, baby. Lots more.

What is your idea of trail perfection? Have you achieved it here?

Trail perfection for us is all about flow. It’s hard to describe, but good trails have a certain feel about them – the way you go into and out of a corner, how you transition into the next, how the jumps feel and how big your smile is. Have we achieved it here? Yes, but only in part – a series of corners, a little bit of magic here and there. We’ve come close a few times, but we’re always going to critique our work and go back in to rework those trails to get closer to perfection. Singletrack is a work in progress, and we’re always changing and refining.

What trail or section of trail is your favourite creation?

There are many we are pleased with, but Sideshow is a particular favourite. It was
an ambitious bit of track and shows what’s possible with hard work and monumental amounts of rock and soil. After Sideshow was completed, it inspired us to go back
and rebuild much of Beer Garden, and that transformed the Beer Garden into an awesome piece of track too. It’s got beer in the name, too, which makes it even better. We reckon Big Wednesday and Love You Long Time (yet to be opened) are right up there too.

What has trail building taught you?

Respect. Respect for the work people do, respect for what a small group of people can create. Trail builders are a tight-knit community, being part of something special. Trail building is a true creative outlet and quite a cathartic activity. It is honest toil and we never tire of it.

The creation, the environment, the friendships, the peace – trail building is many different things.

When is the best time to build trail?

Any time really, but we’ve been building right through this winter, which is a new one for us, and we’ve really liked it. The soil has good moisture, which is great for building berms, and there are fewer bears out. One thing is for sure – you do not get cold while building trail the Kowalski way.

What is that keeps you out here digging and moving rock?

We all like to ride nice trails, but riding something that you built is quite special. What keeps us out there? We love building trail.

How has trail building changed your life?

We never just look at hillsides anymore. We look for lines, turns and smiles. We don’t wonder what to do with our spare time, either. (Whatever that is.) We are known to get more than a little excited when we walk down the garden tools aisle at Bunnings, too, but we haven’t been asked to leave as a result.

 

 

Lefty Conversion – The Results

You may recall a little while ago that Flow posted a special “how-to” on converting your standard forks to Cannondale Lefty.  Some loved the idea and have been asking how it all went.

Did it make out bike handle better or worse?  Was it even noticeable?  Did it changed the geometry too much?  Was it worth it?

Now we bring you part two of that video – the results to answer all those questions. Check out this Flow video to see how we think the conversion changed our BMC test bike.

[SV_VIMEO id=”53913596″]

 

The Bucket List Part 3 – No More Excuses

An Ordinary Guy’s Journey Towards The 2013 BC Bike Race.

Mike Kennedy has been regularly documenting his journey towards the 2013 BC Bike Race in Canada (part 1 & part 2). Here, in the 3rd instalment, Mike struggles with motivation and getting over the easy excuses.

We bet some of this sounds very familiar to many of us.


Christmas is well over and I have run out of excuses.

Ok, so it has been raining pretty consistently for 24 hours and right now it’s horizontal, which is not really helping with my motivational crisis. Yet, in the back of my mind is an alarm going off, “18 weeks till BC Bike Race…Warning Warning!”

Training took a back seat over the Christmas break, although I did make sure I was well hydrated. I also convinced myself that a few extra km’s in the new year would more than make up for consuming my own body weight in pork.

Welcome to my Delusion.

And then came the heat. The energy sapping turn-on-the-airconditioner-and-pass-me-another-cold-beer type of heat.

A cunning plan hatched over Christmas to have a weekend of riding some of Canberra’s finest was quickly modified when I looked at the forecast for 40+ degree days.  That plan quickly changed and I ended up in Thredbo having a blast on the brand new Kosciusko Flow Trail.

A few days of awesome gravity fed fun was hard to resist but those alarm bells weren’t going away and ripping turns downhill is not the same as riding up up huge hills.

Time to earn my turns!

Thankfully my new ride turned up to snap me back to my non chairlift assisted reality. A brand spanking new 2013 Stumpjumper Evo…Oh Yeah! Lovingly assembled by the crew at Manly Cycles, you could say I was pumped to get out there, put the new beast through its paces, and get some much needed mileage into my post Christmas jelly legs.

Coming off my trusty old Enduro, I was a little tentative at first. It normally takes time to get used to the feel of a new bike but the new one was different. I was instantly aware of how far suspension and frame design have come in a few short years. It’s light and agile and makes me want to pop off every little thing.

Time to ride.

My master training plan for the BC Bike Race consisted of building a base of about 100km per week, which sounds brilliant if I stuck to that plan. Combine work and family commitments, add a liberal dose of my own lame-arse excuses and here I am 18 weeks out and I’m only averaging 30-50km a week!

I think in hindsight a more realistic goal would be to try to get out for a ride 3 times per week. Even if it’s just a lap of Manly Dam, that would add up to 60km. Tack onto that a couple of double laps and a few extended rides on the weekend and I’ll get to my 100km goal in no time. The key to the whole thing is consistency. Consistently getting up for that early ride as there will be plenty of time for sleep after the race.

Today I kicked off my training again in earnest with a big ride.  50km’s – rain, hail and sunshine – I had it all. Add to that mud, lots and lots of mud. It was brilliant and there’s a high chance of some rain and mud at the BC Bike Race so it was good training too. After getting hosed in the first 20km I stopped caring, so I just hammered out the next 30km and in the end I was completely smashed and feeling pretty happy about not using another lame excuse.

The countdown to the BC Bike Race may be ticking away but in my mind I’m already there!

It was fun and riding in the hectic mud was good training for the big race ahead.  I just have to stay in track now.

Canberra: The Biography

This feature appears in the current issue of Flow Mountain Bike magazine.  Pick up your copy to read the rest of the story and find out how mountain biking in Canberra has grown through both good and bad times.

 

Want more? Then for just 10 cents a day you can join Flow and you’ll get the next four print issues delivered right to your door – plus access to exclusive Flow online content. That’s froth worthy.


 

The early days

Mountain biking in Canberra was born in the mid-80s. Local rider Ian Downing, who has been a part of the fabric of mountain biking in Canberra since it began, has fond memories of the bikes of that era.

‘The very first time I saw a mountain bike was out the front of a local shop in 1983 or ’84,’ he said. ‘I rushed outside to see it properly. It was a Ritchey, a really fancy high-end bike, and I could see immediately that it was purpose- built for riding off-road.’

The bikes arriving in town was just one half of the equation, however, and Canberra, with its ‘Bush Capital’ tag, was the perfect environment for bikes and trails to mix. Mal Bennett, like Ian, has been part of mountain biking in Canberra from the beginning. Mal was one of the first to introduce the new bikes to Canberra’s local fire trails.

‘Back then, mountain biking in Canberra was very raw,’ says Mal. ‘There was a core group of us that rode off-road, mainly around Bruce Ridge and Black Mountain – and a little bit of Mt Majura. We started off using fire trails and walking tracks.

‘We started building some singletrack,’ Mal continues, ‘But generally it was where the rain or kangaroos had made them. It was whatever we could get our hands on.’

But the fire trails and roo paths soon wore thin. Mal and his crew wanted more, something to push their skills.

‘Mt Majura was where mountain biking really took off,’ Mal says. ‘People started to get into track building. The trail-building work was pretty ragged back then. It was at different stages of growth, depending on who was doing what. People experimented.

‘That was the beauty of it really. It was home- grown, it was a bit rough – the tracks were
all over the place. But that was what we liked about them. They were technical, tight, bumpy, loose and a bit eclectic,’ laughs Mal.

Mountain biking had taken a hold of Canberra riders and the sport was growing very quickly. It was not long before Canberra was hosting national-level racing. People travelled to Canberra for the racing, and from there Canberra quickly became a very large dot on the Australian mountain biking map. Graeme Allbon has been part of mountain biking in Canberra since year dot. He picks up the story:

‘Canberra had its first nationals in 1988. It hosted the nationals for three years: 1988 and 1989 was Pierce’s Creek, and 1990 was Stromlo, where Stromlo Forest Park is now. The racing at Stromlo started and finished at Blue Gums, which is still used on the trails today.’

The rebellious teen and the ‘illegal’ singletrack

The famous Canberra singletrack is everywhere. These days you don’t have to look too hard to find a patch of flowing trail that is nicely groomed, well maintained and, most importantly, supported by the landowners.

But most of the trails in Canberra didn’t start off as legal entities. Soon after Canberra’s riders got their first taste of the thrills of riding tree- lined goat tracks, people started building their own trails. Disparate groups banded together to build the singletrack network around Canberra, and tracks started popping up in places like Mt Majura, Stromlo, Mt Ainslie.

This sudden growth spurt gave local riders greater freedom to forge their own way forward, thereby advancing the boundaries of the sport as a whole. Canberra started producing worldclass athletes.

continues………

 

 

Jared Rando: If Chuck Norris Rode A Bike, He’d Change His Name To Jared Graves

Sometimes you just have to put everything aside and give credit where it’s due. Jared Graves is the man.

Jared Graves is a better bike rider then me, and he’s a better bike rider than you. Even when you beat him, he’s still a better bike rider than you. Why? He’s undoubtedly one of the best all round bike riders there has ever been, and he’s beaten a lot of different people, at a lot of different forms of cycling.

A couple of years ago, I thought it would be cool to do XC, DH and 4X at National Champs on the same bike. It was fun, and I had a good time doing it- but my results were hopeless. Jared Grave’s just made me look ridiculous by doing it all, and actually kicking ass whilst in the process. Granted, he did use different bikes, but I reckon if he used the same bike, he would have done a hell of a lot better than I did (I got last in Elite Mens XC for the record) or ever could do.

Jared hasn’t raced XC in many years but in an effort to lean down and get ready for the Enduro World Series he’s been riding and racing XC. 7th at the Nationals shows just how talented Jared is.

Here’s a guy who has podium World Cup DH finishes, US National Dual Slalom wins, BMX World Cup wins, won at least a thousand 4X World Cups and World Championships, represented Australia at the Olympics (as a favourite to win) and this year he’s decided to race the Enduro World Series for something different. And I’m sure he won’t suck at that either.

For training, he’s racing both DH and XC and killing it. He finished 7th at the Australian Titles in XC and was 2nd in DH. No one’s done anything like that for a long, long time, and to see someone do so well at both, in this day and age, is absolutely insane.

Jared Graves racing downhill at the 2013 Nationals in Canberra. Not long after finishing 7th in the XC Jared qualified 1st in DH. Amazing.

It’s all too easy to get caught up with the superstars of our sport- the flavour of the month who is having his or her time at the top. But, sometimes, when you sit back and look at the bigger picture, you notice some pretty incredible things going on that you might not have noticed before.

Mr. Graves, you have my respect (well, more of it anyway) and hats off to you. I don’t think we will see someone with such rounded talent on a bike for a long, long time.

Even Chuck Norris would have a hard time keeping up.

The Soapbox: Strava’s Pleasant Surprises

We at Flow always welcome diverse opinions.  Flow regular, Kath Bicknell, took the time to shine light on a different view from Jared Rando on the subject of Strava.
It’s a fair bet that if the road goes upward you’ll learn about a leaderboard when you get home.

Strava brings out the worst in some people. The online documentation of times over terrain it collects has people quite animated about the negative impacts of turning every ride into a race (link to Rando’s).

And fair enough. As virtual sprint points are layered over favourite trails this can certainly disrupt the social character a lot of us seek on the rides we enjoy.

But don’t blame a computer program for your own behaviour, or that of those around you. The actions and attitudes Strava exaggerates start with the riders who use it.

Many users who are unfashionably competitive about segment performance are well aware of their behaviour. Some don’t care, some choose to self-police; they only take the Garmin out sometimes, wait months between uploading rides, or save segment chasing antics for solo sessions (on a time trail bike when the wind is right). Some just keep those competitive thoughts quietly to themselves.

As pro-Strava behaviour becomes normalised on the trails I see it becoming another way individuals filter the people they enjoy riding with. In this respect, it’s not much different to groups of riding mates evolving over a shared sensibility on other topics. These include the length, duration and skill level of the ride, flow and interest factor of conversation, punctuality at pre-ride meeting places and the frequency of things like bike maintenance (or lack of) disrupting the ride for everyone else.

Still, the vocal nature of anti-Strava arguments makes sticking up for the phenomenon a difficult position to take. But I feel compelled to write about some of Strava’s pleasant surprises – useful additions to my riding experiences that I might not have discovered had I only listened to the hype.

Firstly, I like that Strava only points out nice things about the rides you log: personal achievements, top three performances, and cumulative distances and times for the week.

If Strava has nothing good to say, it says nothing at all. Negative interpretations are up to you.

I also like the fact that the program keeps a log of your performance on regular rides. Seeing if you’re improving on a favourite hill climb, commute to work, or a fun, skilful singletrack loop is undeniably motivating. Meanwhile, looking back at the type of riding you were doing last time you were ‘feeling fit’ is helpful too.

Meanwhile, the program also tracks the kilometres ridden on different bikes, which takes the questioning out of debates on usage vs wear and tear. (My local bike shop are well sick of me saying I’ve hardly ridden when it’s time for a new chain.)

Thanks to Strava I learned how much quicker I would have been had I ridden a road bike to the top of the Col du Galibier in France. It’s nice to fantasise sometimes.

The social aspect is interesting too. If you ‘follow’ a few people, you get a different sense of the places and distances your friends are exploring. It’s not always as much, as hard or as varied as you think.

My Garmin and I went on a popular Sydney road ride recently. It’s called the ‘Three Gorges’ as the highlights are three stunning climbs that follow three exciting descents. One of them involves a ferry.

On both rides, a month apart, I struggled until I couldn’t see straight, wished I could ride as fast as the people in front of me, felt like lying on the grass after climb number one, and ate a double egg roll before climb number three.

Strava told me later that despite having a nearly identical ‘I think I’m about to die’ heart rate average on both attempts, I reached the top of each climb about a minute faster than a month before.

I could have checked my watch at the top and bottom of the road the way people have for years to learn this. But I didn’t. I plugged in. And I was really glad I did.

I also enjoy what Strava has highlighted to me as a female in this sport.

Having collected an embarrassing number of ‘QOMs’ simply because no one else of my gender has uploaded a ride from a particular section of trail, I find topping a ‘leaderboard’ somewhat overrated. Not to mention the number of riders I know who could blitz the same sections with their eyes closed and their pedals missing.

One unexpected pick-me-up from sandbagging segments is the number of notifications I get when someone’s smashed my time. I find I get really excited knowing how many chicks are riding bikes and riding them well. The female riding community, while small, is growing a much faster rate than most people think.

When I scroll through pages to see how many women are using a particular trail network I get more excited still. It’s much more heartening than looking at the number of women lining up at the start line for a race. Also, as a female, this gives you perspective on your own abilities that you rarely get on the trails or at an event.

When we head out on a ride, we’re after certain types of experiences. And there are many factors that go into making that experience what it is. I find the mass of information that Strava neatly catalogues helps me to reflect on these things in some pleasantly surprising ways.

As far as all the negatives it brings out in people, maybe it’s our own behaviour we should look at. In instances like these, Strava’s just acting as a scapegoat. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise of all.

Standing still doesn’t win you segments. But sometimes it’s important to slow down and appreciate the moment.

 

 

The Soapbox: Strava's Pleasant Surprises

We at Flow always welcome diverse opinions.  Flow regular, Kath Bicknell, took the time to shine light on a different view from Jared Rando on the subject of Strava.
It’s a fair bet that if the road goes upward you’ll learn about a leaderboard when you get home.

Strava brings out the worst in some people. The online documentation of times over terrain it collects has people quite animated about the negative impacts of turning every ride into a race (link to Rando’s).

And fair enough. As virtual sprint points are layered over favourite trails this can certainly disrupt the social character a lot of us seek on the rides we enjoy.

But don’t blame a computer program for your own behaviour, or that of those around you. The actions and attitudes Strava exaggerates start with the riders who use it.

Many users who are unfashionably competitive about segment performance are well aware of their behaviour. Some don’t care, some choose to self-police; they only take the Garmin out sometimes, wait months between uploading rides, or save segment chasing antics for solo sessions (on a time trail bike when the wind is right). Some just keep those competitive thoughts quietly to themselves.

As pro-Strava behaviour becomes normalised on the trails I see it becoming another way individuals filter the people they enjoy riding with. In this respect, it’s not much different to groups of riding mates evolving over a shared sensibility on other topics. These include the length, duration and skill level of the ride, flow and interest factor of conversation, punctuality at pre-ride meeting places and the frequency of things like bike maintenance (or lack of) disrupting the ride for everyone else.

Still, the vocal nature of anti-Strava arguments makes sticking up for the phenomenon a difficult position to take. But I feel compelled to write about some of Strava’s pleasant surprises – useful additions to my riding experiences that I might not have discovered had I only listened to the hype.

Firstly, I like that Strava only points out nice things about the rides you log: personal achievements, top three performances, and cumulative distances and times for the week.

If Strava has nothing good to say, it says nothing at all. Negative interpretations are up to you.

I also like the fact that the program keeps a log of your performance on regular rides. Seeing if you’re improving on a favourite hill climb, commute to work, or a fun, skilful singletrack loop is undeniably motivating. Meanwhile, looking back at the type of riding you were doing last time you were ‘feeling fit’ is helpful too.

Meanwhile, the program also tracks the kilometres ridden on different bikes, which takes the questioning out of debates on usage vs wear and tear. (My local bike shop are well sick of me saying I’ve hardly ridden when it’s time for a new chain.)

Thanks to Strava I learned how much quicker I would have been had I ridden a road bike to the top of the Col du Galibier in France. It’s nice to fantasise sometimes.

The social aspect is interesting too. If you ‘follow’ a few people, you get a different sense of the places and distances your friends are exploring. It’s not always as much, as hard or as varied as you think.

My Garmin and I went on a popular Sydney road ride recently. It’s called the ‘Three Gorges’ as the highlights are three stunning climbs that follow three exciting descents. One of them involves a ferry.

On both rides, a month apart, I struggled until I couldn’t see straight, wished I could ride as fast as the people in front of me, felt like lying on the grass after climb number one, and ate a double egg roll before climb number three.

Strava told me later that despite having a nearly identical ‘I think I’m about to die’ heart rate average on both attempts, I reached the top of each climb about a minute faster than a month before.

I could have checked my watch at the top and bottom of the road the way people have for years to learn this. But I didn’t. I plugged in. And I was really glad I did.

I also enjoy what Strava has highlighted to me as a female in this sport.

Having collected an embarrassing number of ‘QOMs’ simply because no one else of my gender has uploaded a ride from a particular section of trail, I find topping a ‘leaderboard’ somewhat overrated. Not to mention the number of riders I know who could blitz the same sections with their eyes closed and their pedals missing.

One unexpected pick-me-up from sandbagging segments is the number of notifications I get when someone’s smashed my time. I find I get really excited knowing how many chicks are riding bikes and riding them well. The female riding community, while small, is growing a much faster rate than most people think.

When I scroll through pages to see how many women are using a particular trail network I get more excited still. It’s much more heartening than looking at the number of women lining up at the start line for a race. Also, as a female, this gives you perspective on your own abilities that you rarely get on the trails or at an event.

When we head out on a ride, we’re after certain types of experiences. And there are many factors that go into making that experience what it is. I find the mass of information that Strava neatly catalogues helps me to reflect on these things in some pleasantly surprising ways.

As far as all the negatives it brings out in people, maybe it’s our own behaviour we should look at. In instances like these, Strava’s just acting as a scapegoat. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise of all.

Standing still doesn’t win you segments. But sometimes it’s important to slow down and appreciate the moment.

 

 

Fat Bikes: The New Ships Of The Simpson Desert

There’s been a fair bit of chat about fat bikes since Flow ran stories on their first appearance in the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge last year. (See ‘No Way in Hell’ in Flow #2 and our online feature ‘Five Days in Hell’.)

Lynton Stretton (#9), Murray Rook (#17) and Alan Keenleside (#2) lead the charge at the beginning of a stage of the 2012 Simpson Desert Bike Challenge, with Graham Hancox (#6) not far behind.

Designed for snow, and made and sold in places like Alaska, fat bikes are establishing strong migrant communities in Australia and New Zealand. With names like Fatback, Salsa Mukluk, 9:ZERO:7 and Surley Pugsley, these bikes sound like a pack of rappers – tough, kinda wide-looking, and ready for anything.

In the Antipodes, however, the rude four-letter s-word that strikes fear into mountain bikers is not ‘snow,’ it’s ‘sand’. So how do the fatties compare to their skinny cuzzies in Australia’s s***y test piece, the Simpson Desert? [private]

No snow here..

We can rattle on about tyre sizes and contact patches all we like, but none of the crew at Flow HQ has actually ridden any kind of bike through the Simpson. Better to get the word from the camel’s mouth, we thought, so we tracked down a couple of the riders from last year’s race through the Simpson to get the low-down.

Ten of the 16 riders in the 2012 Simpson Desert Bike Challenge were on fat bikes. Perhaps more telling, five of the seven riders who managed to ride the entire course were full-fledged members of Team Fat Bike.

Murray Rook won last year’s race, coming first equal with his good mate and loyal training buddy Alan Kleeneside. This was Murray’s second Simpson race, and he and Al were on fat bikes. (With Scott Spark rider Lynton Stretton hot on their tails.)

‘I feel so lucky to have Al as a friend,’ says Murray of his training buddy and co-winner Alan Keenleside (left).

New-comer Ronn Slusser rode his Trek Rumblefish. Despite being on a skinny-wheeled steed and being a first-timer, Ronn completed every stage of the notoriously difficult 10-stage race and clocked in at a tidy sixth place.

Murray Rook

Salsa Mukluk ‘Heavy Judy’

Even on a fat bike, Murray had to work hard to stay ahead of the opposition.

The bike was imported by Wayne Chapman at Dirtworks. It’s called Heavy Judy because that was what those wide-eyed recreational riders on the Sydney bike paths said when they saw me out on training rides: ‘Jeez, mate, those tyres are Heavy Judy!’

Heavy Judy weighs 18kg in race format.

Winning last year’s Simpson Desert Bike Challenge was a real bonus. We didn’t set out to do that. Al and I planned to ride separately for the first two stages and reunite in the third stage to see how we were going, but things worked out differently. Al’s a strong rider and I’ve been lucky to be there at his side.

I think fat bikes are a lot of fun, and they’re very under-rated. Fat bikes are so much more versatile than people think – they’re good for all kinds of terrain, not just sand. I’d much rather ride up and down on the firetrails in the Blue Mountains on a fat bike.

Wheels

Uma IIs

It came with the 80ml Graceful Fat Sheba wheels, which Al and I converted to tubeless. But I wanted to be able to drop the tyre pressures, to widen the footprint as much as possible. So I got some Uma IIs from Speedway Cycles in Alaska. The Uma II has a locking bead, which stops burping, so it is perfect for tubeless conversion.

(Check out Murray and Al’s ‘Fatbike Tubeless’ how-to on Youtube.)

Hadley Fatback hubs.

That’s a US-made hub specially for Fatback bikes. I had to change the front disc alignment and mill off 2mm from the inside of the adapter to allow the disc brake callipers to line up with disc. I did that myself, by hand.

Tyres

Surly Larry 3.7″ on the front.

Surly Endomorph 3.7″ reverse-mounted on the back.

I did a lot of testing – Al reckons I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder – and the reverse Endo gave the best grip on loose sand

We run tubeless to allow really low pressure, which gives better flotation over softer sand. I accidentally lowered to 3psi one training session, and I walked all over Alan on the soft sand at the beach.

Drivetrain

Middleburn chainring

Sram X7 derailleur with a Sram cassette (reduced to an 8-speed for clearance with the chain and tyres).

Pedals

Shimano XT SPDs

Cockpit

Argon handlebar grips. They give more support.

The bike comes with Sram twist gearshifts – I quite like those, actually.

Thudbuster seatpost with a Crudbuster cover.

A big super-soft gel seat

Carrying water and fuel

I had four hydration backpacks filled with water and muesli bars and sugar –snakes and jubes – so when I got to the water stops I just had to pull off the old backpack and grab the new one, and I was ready to go.

And I had one 750ml bidon with Staminade electrolyte half-strength solution, with an extra ¼ teaspoon of salt, to make it easier to swallow in the heat. (Electrolyte solutions can go off in the heat of the desert and riders will throw up if they try to drink them.)

And next time?

I plan to revise my seat choice if I ride that bike in the Simpson again.

Ronn Slusser

Trek Rumblefish ‘the Ronnblefish’

Ronn Slusser out training on his Trek Rumblefish in the Todd River riverbed in Alice Springs.

I’m pretty hard on bikes because of my size. I’m a big boy – 6’4″ – so I snap a lot of chains and break a lot of spokes. I wanted a Rumblefish because I thought it would handle my size better. It wasn’t easy, finding one that would fit me – I needed an XXL frame. I finally tracked down the Ronnblefish through My Mountain in Melbourne.

Pretty much everything on the Ronnblefish was stock when I did the Simpson.

Wheels

Bontrager Rhythm Pros (29-inch)

Tyres

Maxxis Ardent 2.4″ tyres, UST

Tyre pressure is the key to everything. I ran 6psi in the front, 8psi in the rear in the sand.

Gruppo

Shimano XT everything.

Pedals

Shimano XT SPDs

Cockpit

Ergon handlebar grips. They’re more comfortable, stop my hands going numb.

Selle SMP Extra seat

Carrying water and fuel

I had two bidons, one with Berocca, one with Staminade, and a two-litre Camelbak with a bit of glucodin that I filled up at the water stations. And I had a snack box on my top bar with honey and Twisties for out on the bike.

What about next time?

The Rumblefish is awesome. But when I ride the Simpson this year, I’m doing it on a fat bike. I’m in the middle of building 9:ZERO:7.

I’ll probably put Surly Black Floyd 3.8″ tyres on it. There’s no grip on them – they’re a road sort of tyre. But in the sand you don’t really need traction, you just need roll-over-ability.

And seat-wise, I’ll use the same one as I had on my Rumblefish.

Terry Flaskos (aka Terry the Greek) flew the flag for Greeks everywhere and pushed it to the limit on his Merida Big Nine.

 

[/private]

Josh’s Jabber: Winter Wonderland

In Australia, we mountain bikers are lucky enough to be able to ride and race our bikes year round. Sure, the high country of Victoria and the likes of Thredbo are covered in snow and out-of-bounds for some of the year, but for the remainder of Australia temperatures and conditions allow us to enjoy our sport with joy and relative warmth 365 days a year.

So didn’t I get the shock of my life when I relocated to Canada to permanently focus on Enduro racing and build my mountain bike racing career!

As much as North America is known for its epic mountain biking, trails, races and summer awesomeness, it is equally, if not outweighed by, snow covered days and freezing cold rain. Up here in Vancouver, British Columbia, the latter has been part of my life for the past 3 months. You see, it rains A LOT!  It would be far easier to count the few days of sunshine we’ve had, as opposed to the daily grey drizzle that consumes our winter months from November to April.

Just part of life. Cleaning the bike and trying to get the shoes dry for the next ride.

I have been lucky enough that the last winter I trained through was back home in Australia in 2009. I was in my 3rd year of my landscaping apprenticeship and I was getting up and training at 4am so I could start work at 6am – enabling me to get two sessions a day (in around work). Temps at 4am in the middle of winter in Wollongong would usually be around the 7-10°C mark, with the odd super cold morning of 5°C to really send some bone chilling wind through the wind vest and long sleeve jersey I would wear. In 2010 I travelled to Europe to race a few cross country World Cups, and missed the winter. Then in April 2011 I moved to Colorado, for their summer, and in April 2012 I relocated to Vancouver and spent the summer racing through the US in the hot, sunny North American trails.

I have missed this stuff for years by avoiding winter.

So you see, I hadn’t actually had a winter since 2009.  Until now.  While others headed south to warmer climates to train and prepare for the next season, I stayed north, in the cold and wet.

The winter of Vancouver was definitely something I was worried about and I really didn’t know what to expect. The common and frequent questions I asked were, ‘So how cold do the winters really get here?’, ‘Are they as wet as they say?’ And the answers would vary, depending if you asked a British Columbia pure breed or Vancouver newbie!

Me, I was the Vancouver newbie and now well into February of 2013, I can say it was a long adjustment period with plenty of ridiculously cold days and clothing fails.  In hindsight, it didn’t matter how many questions I asked, some of this could only be learned from experience.

Riding with mates and shredding on the wicked trails of the north shore in the pissing rain and freezing snow is kind of cool and fun when you’re amongst a rad crew and everyone is freezing together. However, this only happens once, maybe twice a week.  These days, being a professional mountain biker, my job is to train and ride my bike every day of the week so when the race season rolls around I am fit and ready to race.  So while the motivation is high when I’m with a rad crew, the solo days in the 0°C pissing rain/snow/sleet for the other 6 days of the week require extreme portions of motivation and determination to get the job done.

For the past two months this has been my daily dress routine (in order) for riding outside in the wet and cold:

  • 1 pair of thermal wool socks
  • 1 set of plastic bags
  • 1 set of merino wool knee high socks
  • 1 set of fleeced leg warmers
  • Knicks
  • FOX MTB shorts (even on the really cold wet days on the roadie i would still wear my baggies to stay warm)
  • Heart rate strap
  • Long sleeve undershirt
  • Short sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve thermal jersey
  • Long sleeve rain jacket (on a clear sunny day I can get away with only a vest over my jacket)
  • GIRO road/MTB shoes
  • 1 set of plastic bags over my shoes
  • Thermal socks (on clear days)/bootie covers over my shoes
  • 1 pair of full fingered gloves
  • 1 pair of waterproof full fingered gloves
  • Cycling hat/beanie/thermal cycling hat
  • Helmet
  • SPY glasses/Goggles
  • READY!

And 15 minutes later I’m dressed and ready to head out the door.  The local lads totally give me, and other foreigners, shit about being so cold but they are wearing the same amount of clothes as well so I can’t be that crazy.

Just part of the daily routine. Clothes and layers.

Getting used to hours and hours in the rain and cold on the roadie never gets easier, or enjoyable, which is why I spent alot of my winter on my mountain bike. Heading out on the road gets you absolutely filthy dirty and it is pretty dangerous with the traffic and the wet roads. ‘Why waste getting dirty on the road when I could get just as dirty and have way more fun on the wild trails of the shore?’, was my reasoning for more time on the trails.

This is what I have to do to my road bike. Cover it with custom extended ugly mud guards.

This was my plan, and was working out sweet, but then came the snow.  That’s yet a whole different ball game.  Each morning I’d see how much snow fell on the mountain and how much black ice was on the roads before I rolled out the door for training.  Add to this, the days were getting really short and it would be dark by 3.30pm.

Now, I had to deal with wet, cold, snow and very short days.  Good choice I made to stay north!

I do love it though. Something different that’s for sure.

Out of the 3 local mountains I frequent on my GIANT Reign shred wagon, generally only one isn’t totally frozen over and covered in snow. And, most of the trails that are still open, are either covered in a couple of inches of snow, or the water on the trails has frozen over, which turns them into an ice rink littered with rocks, ramps, bridges and gnar.  Fun hey.

So sometimes it’s indoors I have to go.  The indoor trainer and I have had our issues in the past and more often than not, we have not been on speaking terms.  However, I have no choice but to reconcile and make friends with the unassuming man crusher! It is a vital piece of my routine, as well as the gym, to try and get some structured training in when more often than not it is pissing rain and/or snowing outside.

We still don’t communicate too well.

I must say though it has actually been better than I was expecting for training and all the bad things have been equalled by good. I have settled in with a rad bunch of lads that ride year round, I have a close knit bunch of blokes that get out for a solid few hours in a road bunch on a weekend, and I ride with some mad frothers on the DH rigs for shuttles on the lower mountains that aren’t snowed in. Plus, all this riding on the wet slippery terrain has been mad for my skills.

Only time will tell, come Bike Buller in March and the Round 1 of the Enduro World Series in Italy in May, as to whether the hard yards and hardening the f#[email protected] up through my debut north American winter has been enough to bring on some good form!

I think it has.  See you in Ausland frothers.

Josh's Jabber: Winter Wonderland

In Australia, we mountain bikers are lucky enough to be able to ride and race our bikes year round. Sure, the high country of Victoria and the likes of Thredbo are covered in snow and out-of-bounds for some of the year, but for the remainder of Australia temperatures and conditions allow us to enjoy our sport with joy and relative warmth 365 days a year.

So didn’t I get the shock of my life when I relocated to Canada to permanently focus on Enduro racing and build my mountain bike racing career!

As much as North America is known for its epic mountain biking, trails, races and summer awesomeness, it is equally, if not outweighed by, snow covered days and freezing cold rain. Up here in Vancouver, British Columbia, the latter has been part of my life for the past 3 months. You see, it rains A LOT!  It would be far easier to count the few days of sunshine we’ve had, as opposed to the daily grey drizzle that consumes our winter months from November to April.

Just part of life. Cleaning the bike and trying to get the shoes dry for the next ride.

I have been lucky enough that the last winter I trained through was back home in Australia in 2009. I was in my 3rd year of my landscaping apprenticeship and I was getting up and training at 4am so I could start work at 6am – enabling me to get two sessions a day (in around work). Temps at 4am in the middle of winter in Wollongong would usually be around the 7-10°C mark, with the odd super cold morning of 5°C to really send some bone chilling wind through the wind vest and long sleeve jersey I would wear. In 2010 I travelled to Europe to race a few cross country World Cups, and missed the winter. Then in April 2011 I moved to Colorado, for their summer, and in April 2012 I relocated to Vancouver and spent the summer racing through the US in the hot, sunny North American trails.

I have missed this stuff for years by avoiding winter.

So you see, I hadn’t actually had a winter since 2009.  Until now.  While others headed south to warmer climates to train and prepare for the next season, I stayed north, in the cold and wet.

The winter of Vancouver was definitely something I was worried about and I really didn’t know what to expect. The common and frequent questions I asked were, ‘So how cold do the winters really get here?’, ‘Are they as wet as they say?’ And the answers would vary, depending if you asked a British Columbia pure breed or Vancouver newbie!

Me, I was the Vancouver newbie and now well into February of 2013, I can say it was a long adjustment period with plenty of ridiculously cold days and clothing fails.  In hindsight, it didn’t matter how many questions I asked, some of this could only be learned from experience.

Riding with mates and shredding on the wicked trails of the north shore in the pissing rain and freezing snow is kind of cool and fun when you’re amongst a rad crew and everyone is freezing together. However, this only happens once, maybe twice a week.  These days, being a professional mountain biker, my job is to train and ride my bike every day of the week so when the race season rolls around I am fit and ready to race.  So while the motivation is high when I’m with a rad crew, the solo days in the 0°C pissing rain/snow/sleet for the other 6 days of the week require extreme portions of motivation and determination to get the job done.

For the past two months this has been my daily dress routine (in order) for riding outside in the wet and cold:

  • 1 pair of thermal wool socks
  • 1 set of plastic bags
  • 1 set of merino wool knee high socks
  • 1 set of fleeced leg warmers
  • Knicks
  • FOX MTB shorts (even on the really cold wet days on the roadie i would still wear my baggies to stay warm)
  • Heart rate strap
  • Long sleeve undershirt
  • Short sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve jersey
  • Long sleeve thermal jersey
  • Long sleeve rain jacket (on a clear sunny day I can get away with only a vest over my jacket)
  • GIRO road/MTB shoes
  • 1 set of plastic bags over my shoes
  • Thermal socks (on clear days)/bootie covers over my shoes
  • 1 pair of full fingered gloves
  • 1 pair of waterproof full fingered gloves
  • Cycling hat/beanie/thermal cycling hat
  • Helmet
  • SPY glasses/Goggles
  • READY!

And 15 minutes later I’m dressed and ready to head out the door.  The local lads totally give me, and other foreigners, shit about being so cold but they are wearing the same amount of clothes as well so I can’t be that crazy.

Just part of the daily routine. Clothes and layers.

Getting used to hours and hours in the rain and cold on the roadie never gets easier, or enjoyable, which is why I spent alot of my winter on my mountain bike. Heading out on the road gets you absolutely filthy dirty and it is pretty dangerous with the traffic and the wet roads. ‘Why waste getting dirty on the road when I could get just as dirty and have way more fun on the wild trails of the shore?’, was my reasoning for more time on the trails.

This is what I have to do to my road bike. Cover it with custom extended ugly mud guards.

This was my plan, and was working out sweet, but then came the snow.  That’s yet a whole different ball game.  Each morning I’d see how much snow fell on the mountain and how much black ice was on the roads before I rolled out the door for training.  Add to this, the days were getting really short and it would be dark by 3.30pm.

Now, I had to deal with wet, cold, snow and very short days.  Good choice I made to stay north!

I do love it though. Something different that’s for sure.

Out of the 3 local mountains I frequent on my GIANT Reign shred wagon, generally only one isn’t totally frozen over and covered in snow. And, most of the trails that are still open, are either covered in a couple of inches of snow, or the water on the trails has frozen over, which turns them into an ice rink littered with rocks, ramps, bridges and gnar.  Fun hey.

So sometimes it’s indoors I have to go.  The indoor trainer and I have had our issues in the past and more often than not, we have not been on speaking terms.  However, I have no choice but to reconcile and make friends with the unassuming man crusher! It is a vital piece of my routine, as well as the gym, to try and get some structured training in when more often than not it is pissing rain and/or snowing outside.

We still don’t communicate too well.

I must say though it has actually been better than I was expecting for training and all the bad things have been equalled by good. I have settled in with a rad bunch of lads that ride year round, I have a close knit bunch of blokes that get out for a solid few hours in a road bunch on a weekend, and I ride with some mad frothers on the DH rigs for shuttles on the lower mountains that aren’t snowed in. Plus, all this riding on the wet slippery terrain has been mad for my skills.

Only time will tell, come Bike Buller in March and the Round 1 of the Enduro World Series in Italy in May, as to whether the hard yards and hardening the f#[email protected] up through my debut north American winter has been enough to bring on some good form!

I think it has.  See you in Ausland frothers.

Neko Mulally – The Interview, Part II

Part two of our interview with Neko Mulally, the young American downhill racer. If you missed it, part One of the interview with Neko is here.

Favourite World Cup track?

I think Mont Sainte Anne, I am familiar with the east coast soil type, and I feel like that although riding in the wet isn’t necessarily that nice, I seem to do well in races when it rains. The track is longer than most too, too many tracks have become so tame and really short which makes it so hard to separate yourself from the other riders, times become so tight and the fitness aspect of the racing doesn’t really apply. So Mont Sainte Anne gives the opportunity to set you apart from others.

Neko racing on his favourite World Cup Track, Mont Sainte Anne. Photo by Gary Perkin

You had a pretty wild crash there last year, are you not afraid of that track now?

Yea, that was a bad crash, it happened so fast! That was the worst concussion I’ve ever had, I only remember being up the top and warming up before the start and my brother was there, in the start gate he gave me a pat on my back before I left and that is the last thing I remember. I recall laying on the backboard of the ambulance four wheeler asking where I was knowing that I had already asked but not remembering the answer to the question, haha. Sure, a gnarly crash but still it is one of my favourite tracks and I’m not scared to go back there this year.

What excites you the most for your 2013 season?

The schedule excites me, the opportunity to return home during the season is always so refreshing and the season layout allows that. The World Champs in South Africa is something I’m really looking forward to also, I have done well there and the place is so enjoyable to visit. If you take out the flat middle section, it is the best track! The top section is wide-open, high speed, big jumps and the lower section is so fast. Practice runs are so much fun there I love it, and on race day the fitness aspect of it makes it for a well-rounded track. It’s worth noting though that the same guys you see on the podium at that track you see all year round proving that its not just a track for the fit riders.

Smiles and relaxed, that was Neko.

We hear about riders using pre-season races to get themselves ‘up to speed’ before it really counts at the World Cup, what is that all about?

I find that so much of going fast in in your mind and I think that being able to go to pre-season races and practicing on a race track is far better than just a regular downhill track. That mindset and that focus you maintain at a race can be practiced before hand if you prepare with a lead up event, and helps you feel comfortable when it’s time to race. Simply put, the best way to bring you up to speed is to start racing.

Do you think the southern hemisphere riders have an advantage of a never-ending summer and continual race season?

Always racing and riding the race equipment has an advantage for sure, and the weather helps for all year around training, but there is a disadvantage that I see. Coming from the southern hemisphere means that you have to travel for so long, six months away from home is hard. By the end of the season where the most important races are, it’s hard to keep yourself in that mindset of racing fast after such a long time on the road. You don’t want to be thinking at the World Champs or World Cup finals “one more run and I get to go home”. I like the ability to decompress after the season and get back into a building mode to prepare for the next.

Neko during the fourth round of the UCI MTB World Cup. Photo by Gary Perkin

Why do you think there are generations of countries enjoying success in numbers in the World Cup? It feels like it was French, Aussies, British and now Kiwis are up the top a lot?

I wouldn’t put it down to their geographic location, rather the fact that when you see someone close to you, someone you know doing well it helps you rise up also. As you can clearly see that you can do it too. Since Aaron Gwin has been at the top we’ve seen it with the US riders.

Who should we be keeping an eye out for from The States?

Mitch Ropelato, he has so much talent and speed, and when he begins to find consistency he will be doing very well. I just see so much natural talent, you see it when he rides the pump track and slalom races, it seems like he does not even have to think about what he is doing, it’s all just action, reaction and instinct. All it will take for him will be time, experience and for him to transfer those skills from the small bikes to a downhill bike, and we will see great things.

Would you say you have much in common with Troy Brosnan?

Our same age has brought us to be in many common situations, and we both used Crankworx to come from nowhere and break onto the international scene. There were no juniors on big teams at that stage, and now there is. Otherwise, we differ a lot in riding style, Troy comes from a drier climate but I’ve grown up on wet trails. He’s a lot smaller and lighter than I am, and hence more agile and nimble on the bike. You can definitely tell that his great natural talent carries him a long way too. With my size I probably find it easier to carry speed and be more powerful. I like that there is great contest there, and we are opposite in many ways. We have both had the same goals at the same time, and he’s the guy that I wanted to beat each weekend!

Tourist in a gloomy Manly.

How has the way you set up your bike changed over the years?

I’d have to say that since I’ve been on the team with Aaron, I have been running my suspension a lot more aggressive and stiffer. Even though he is lighter than I am, his suspension settings are just as stiff, so I thought if he is getting away with it then I could too. I’ve been pushing the limit of how stiff I can make my bike; as it is going to go faster and carry more speed and go through holes in the track quicker but can you still hold on to it? It’s a fine line and most definitely not the stiffer the better.

When you say stiffer, is that in relation to spring rates or compression damping?

I’ve been keeping my settings pretty much the same and simply upping the spring rates.

How does a stiffer setting help you carry speed?

When you are racing, you don’t want the bike to conform to the terrain, as you would in general trail riding, you want to bounce over it. If you watch James Stewart through a whoop section on a motocross track, he’s not conforming to the terrain; he’s going straight over the top. In cornering though if your settings are too stiff your bike is going to want to push and lose traction, it’s a fine line. We do so much pre-season testing with Fox, and even at the races we are experimenting little bits here and there to help match the track.

How did you feel when you heard the news of your teammate Aaron Gwin leaving for Specialized?

I can understand from his point why he wanted to do this, where he lives is quite close to Specialized, and the SoCal scene revolves around the people he’d be working with now. To have the opportunity to call your own shots and run your own program is clear, but I was a bit disappointed. To be honest, I signed up to a team to be the second rider to Aaron, not that it’s a deal breaker but being able to gain the experience from Aaron through practicing, living and travelling with him is very valuable. But it won’t change my plans or goals, and I know I will learn a lot from Brook Macdonald who is joining the team. The team will be so young this year, all three of us under the age of 23.

Neko racing in South Africa.

Who should we be watching this coming season?

Me, first of all, ha. But I think Brook is in for a great season, with the best support available and when he gets on the bike with the great suspension and goes as fast as he does, he’ll be able to hold it together so much more. I’d also keep an eye out for Mick Hannah, with the season the way it is, the tracks are in his favour.

What junior impresses you the most?

I’ve been racing Richie Rude for a while now; he’s very fast and consistent. He was racing against junior world champion Loic Bruni last year, but he’s moved up into seniors now, I think we will see Richie rise to his full capabilities this year.

What is your favourite way to celebrate with your team after a good race?

After Anton Cooper won the junior worlds for cross country, we all just sat back in the pits with his family and the team, mechanics, pizza and some beers and had such a great time. Beautiful day, and a beautiful moment, it feels so good after the race when the pressure is off and you’ve accomplished your goals.

All Neko wanted was a surf.

Thanks Neko, for your time, and an excellent interview.

Richard Peil Interview: ‘We don’t have the talent to compete internationally? That’s bull crap’

‘My absolute mandate is that I want the three or four top male and female riders to be getting paid thirty to forty grand a year, plus all their travel and expenses, to race overseas.’

 

‘Not many people know this, but I personally, from my own pocket, contributed over $60,000 to Dan and Bec’s Olympic campaign.’ No wonder Richard Peil has some strong opinions on the state of MTBA, the organisation with the mandate to support our elite riders. This is the man behind the champions. Richard Peil has poured his life and funds into supporting our top athletes. His opinions are strong, but this is a man worth listening to.

Richard Peil has dedicated the last few years of his life and hundreds of thousands of dollars to supporting our country’s best cross country racers. A successful businessman, Richard Peil came to mountain biking late in life, racing in four and six-man teams at 24hr races. It didn’t take him long to realise two things: that he liked mountain bikers – “they’re good people” – and that mountain biking lacked a business base to grow the sport, in particular elite level racing. ‘There was hardly any support in place for these elite riders, apart from some dedicated individuals like Dean (Clarke) from Torq,’ says Richard, and so he took the matter into his own hands.

Richard Peil is the man behind the former Anytime Fitness / Trek Team, now the Target Trek Mountain Bike Team. He formed the team, funding it himself, with the aim of giving our elite riders the backing they need to compete around the country and internationally, and to offer a genuine pathway for promising juniors to develop into successful professional riders.

It’s a team that is simply bursting with talent; five National Cross Country Champions, Marathon Champions and Olympians. Yet, says Richard, there is virtually no recognition given to these athletes. ‘Two-time Olympian Dan McConnell can walk through the pits at the Scott 24hr and maybe one in every two or three people will know who he is – tell me any other sport where that happens.’ The mountain bike media is partly to blame, he says, not placing enough emphasis on covering the achievements of those at the top of the sport. ‘This makes it hard to secure sponsorship, not being able to take that coverage to a brand and say ‘look, here’s 10 photos of such and such from the last three issues’’

He may be be a familiar face but Dan McConnell is a two-time Olympiad and a king of cross country racing for Australia.

But that’s only part of the story, Peil feels; more fundamentally, our elite riders are not getting the support they need from MTBA, and this is why Richard has stepped in, providing riders with financial, logistical and equipment support. The partnership with Target will allow him to continue to expand this support. ‘Running the team costs in excess of $250,000 annually with a low “tangible” commercial return for my particular business,’ says Richard. Without external financial support it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. Alongside Target, Trek are a key part of this relationship too, providing not only excellent equipment, but access to the Trek Factory Teams for riders who step up and show they have what it takes to challenge for podiums internationally.

‘…our riders don’t get the support they need from MTBA…’

 

So, why do Australians find it so hard to break into the top ranks of international cross-country racing? ‘People say we don’t have the talent to compete internationally, that’s bull crap,’ says Richard. ‘We’ve got the talent, but in my opinion our riders don’t get the support they need from MTBA and so they end up on the road instead.’ He reels off a list of former mountain bikers now performing to great acclaim on the road – Lachlan Norris and Steele van Hoff amongst them. ‘Australia has always produced great athletes, and it’s no different in cycling, just look at the road or track. We have exceptional mountain bike talent but we don’t have the structure in place for these riders to progress and become pro riders,’ says Peil.

We can be the top of the world at XC, we are at other forms of cycling.

He elaborates: ‘I am sure MTBA members out there believe the organisation is doing the right thing and supporting our best riders financially at World Cups, but the opposite is actually the case. Our best riders don’t get any financial support. Furthermore, they pay to represent their sport and their country at the World Championships. It’s unbelievable – McConnell, Bec Henderson, Taberlay – none of these guys get any of the near $2,000,000 MTBA budget to help them in their quest to perform on the World stage. And trust me, they work hard to raise the funds, and live sparingly, to stay on the World Cup circuit.’

‘Surely out of an annual budget of nearly $2,000,000, funded predominantly from membership fees, we should be able to find just $5,000 to $10,000 each for our best male and female…riders…’

 

‘The irony is the MTBA Head Coach recently told me one of the key performance indicators for his role is to get three males and two females to the Rio Olympics. The only way that can happen is to get our male world ranking into the top eight nations and our female rankings into the top 12. It’s not rocket science – we need our best riders racing consistently at international races that offer the most UCI points right now, for two reasons. Firstly, this will give them the international experience and competition they need and get their personal international rankings up. Secondly, it ensures that when the qualification period starts to determine how many Olympic spots we will get, our best riders will have the experience and momentum to compete at their best. Even more important, this will allow them to be well positioned on the starting grids – it’s hard to get good results starting at 150 on the grid.’ Peil goes on, ‘Surely out of an annual budget of nearly $2,000,000, funded predominantly from membership fees, we should be able to find just $5,000 to $10,000 each for our best male and female cross country riders, downhillers and the same for our best male and female marathon riders?’

‘When I spoke to the MTBA Head Coach, he told me that he simply had no money left in his budget to help our best riders! Then I find out through MTBA Chief Executive Officer Tony Scott that in 2012 he (the Head Coach) spent over $45,000 on staff at the World Championships, and $60,000 on three U23 riders throughout the year, who failed to crack a top 50 finish in any U23 World Cup and were outside the top 70 at the U23 2012 World Championships. I am not saying take all that money away from those riders, but surely a proportion of that $105,000 would have served Australian mountain biking better by helping out the riders who have proven they can race at the pointy end of international competition.’

‘I am committed to the team (Target Trek) and to trying to force change, for the next two years, leading to the Commonwealth Games.’

 

‘The thing is, I won’t keep putting money in forever unless there is change. I am committed to the team (Target Trek) and to trying to force change, for the next two years, leading to the Commonwealth Games. If there is no change at MTBA, I will simply pull most of my funding out and just privately sponsor a few riders who I have friendships with because in my view, unless MTBA makes some changes in the way it uses its funds, we’ll continue to perform well below our capacity on the world stage.’

The National Series is another area where Richard is outspoken – he sees the series’ failure to attract large number of both racers and crowds as a huge barrier to riders gaining support from potential sponsors. ‘You’re never going to get big numbers to National Series races because the perception is that it is for elite riders only. Yet if you look around, nearly every weekend there’s a race attracting 500-800 riders on somewhere.’ What MTBA needs to try, says Richard, is combining the two. ‘Imagine an XC Eliminator under lights on the rego night before a big marathon race. You can’t tell me Paul Van Der Ploeg and Chris Jongewaard wouldn’t get a kick out of racing in front of 500 screaming spectators, something in line with the famous Bundanoon Dash held at the Highland Fling.’ What is certain is that without large crowds and without all the best riders in attendance to ensure the best possible competition, then coverage and therefore sponsor support isn’t likely to be forthcoming.

‘Imagine an XC Eliminator under lights on the rego night before a big marathon race.’

So then, the real question underpinning it all is, why are we in a situation where private individuals like Richard Peil (and Dean Clarke from Torq) are supporting our elite riders? This is clearly not a sustainable state of affairs. ‘My absolute mandate is that I want the three or four top male and female riders to be getting paid thirty to forty grand a year, plus all their travel and expenses, to race overseas. With the right people in place, in a few years’ time, other countries could be referring to our mountain bike program as they refer to Switzerland’s now, because I believe we do have the raw talent.’

It can happen, but will it be up to the likes of Richard Peil to ensure that it does?

The Target Trek team has big goals, and it’s not just about winning races.  With the assistance of Richard Peil, they may just change the spotlight of the sport and the support the athletes get.

 

Response from Tony Scott, Executive Officer, MTBA.

 

‘We believe that the EDP is the best process available to us within the limited funding we have to deliver very significant outcomes.’

 

‘MTBA welcomes the faith that commercial interests – both within and outside the bicycling industry – have in the future of MTB in Australia. Never before can I recall so many commercial entities being prepared to support Australia’s emerging MTB athletes to the extent that is evident now.

We certainly welcome that support – MTBA can’t do it alone.

Personally I think that we all need to be working in unison to develop MTB athletes for the future not only as good citizens in society but also people who can excel in their chosen sporting endeavour.

In regard to Richard Peil’s statements on the way MTBA is attempting to achieve this aim it is – as is the case most of the time – more complex than he has possibly contemplated. One example of this is the thought that we could spend less on World Championships and apply those funds elsewhere.

Richard Peil has stated that we spent $45,000 of member’s funds on the 2012 World Championships. In actual fact we spent closer to about $55,000 of Elite Development Program (EDP) funds on the 2012 World Championship Team support. The Worlds are the pinnacle of the MTB calendar and as such we treat them very seriously, not only from ensuring that our best athletes attend to represent Australia but also in the depth to which we provide support to our representative athletes. And we do that by ensuring that we commit staffing appropriate to the size of the athlete team attending – for 2012 about 30 athletes. The staff involved are a combination of European based staff and Australians who take on roles as diverse as massage specialists, bike mechanics, team managers, coaches and assistant coaches.  For the 2012 Worlds there were 9 team Staff members in all, split between responsibility in DH, 4X, XCO and OT. Of course the split Gravity/Endurance weekends in Austria in 2012 contributed somewhat to a less than beneficial economy of scale for staffing.

MTBA pays for the Team’s staff totally. We did this so that the athletes that represent Australia don’t have to pay any more than their travel and their share of accommodation and ancillary support. To not do so would add – on a simple average (based on 30 athletes) – about an additional $1800 to the athlete’s expenses for the privilege of representing Australia. Of course that is worse case extrapolation but the main message remains. MTBA supports the notion of athletes representing Australia to pay the least amount possible.

We believe that the EDP is the best process available to us within the limited funding we have to deliver very significant outcomes. Of course others may not agree with that statement – that is fine by me – there are many ways a small pie can be divided. But in the end we are all looking for the same thing. And the best way to achieve that is for all interested parties to work together. What is most important in the final analysis is what is best for the athlete. We are certainly focused on that now and into the future.’

Share The Passion

Bring together your two greatest loves: riding and spending time with your partner. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it. But combining the two ain’t always easy.

When I first started mountain biking, my partner Chris did most of his riding on the way to work. He’d earnt his stripes on the streets, or wings, or whatever it is your local city council owes urban riders who brave rush-hour traffic. But riding singletrack, that was my domain.

For four glorious months, I was the fitter, stronger and more skilled rider at our house. But I was determined to inflic- oops, I mean share my new-found passion with Chris.

My lad’s integration to mountain biking was a work in progress. We had some hurdles – our first race together almost didn’t happen because he wanted to go car camping. (Some speculative tales about growing spider and snake populations at the campsite got him to review that decision.)

Even now, Chris politely rejects my every suggestion about bikes and kit – from dual suspension to lycra knicks – only to ‘come up with the idea’ himself some time later. And then spend months telling me how great idea they are.

But, hey, it’s a system, and it works. And the bottom line is we get to head out and have fun on the bikes.

If your partner (boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, lover, soon-to-be-lover, etc) is still warming to riding singletrack, there are some things you can do to help make your partner’s introduction fun and give him or her more confidence on the bike, so you both have a blast from the get-go.

1. Know your goals

Think about what you really want to achieve.

If you want to ride with your partner, choose tracks and trails with the kind of obstacles your partner will find challenging but possible. If you want to go hard and push some boundaries, like you do when you hit the trails with your friends, go ride with your friends.

Sure, hitting up Hammerhead on the World Champsionship XC track at Stromlo may sound like fun to you, but it it would be hell for a beginner.

2. Get your partner a bike

You know your old hardtail? You know the bike I’m talking about – the one at the back of the shed. Yep, that cruddy old grinder you used to ride. Do not try giving that old clanger to your partner – unless you want your ride to end in disaster. There’s a reason you stopped riding that old bike. And those reasons stand.

Get your partner on a good bike; one that fits them properly and is made for the kind of riding they are trying. Actually, get your partner on the best bike you can find.

Beg, borrow or hire – or put it on Visa.

All those arguments you use to justify buying newer, lighter bikes for yourself should come into play here. But this time, they are not going to add up to a new bike for you. If your partner is to have any hope of keeping up with a hill-climbing mountain goat like you, they will need every technological advantage the bike industry can offer.

If it’s not good enough for you, it’s not good enough for them. Do your new riding partner a favour and go to the local bike shop and get a nice new (and good) steed.

3. Wear yourself out

I know it’s counter-intuitive, but if your partner is new to riding, he or she will struggle to keep up with you, even if you go as slow as you can manage. So do everyone a favour and go for a nice long pedal before you head out with your other half. Getting rid of some beans will calm you down a bit and it will reduce the disparity in energy levels between you and your love.

If a 50-kay pre-ride ride doesn’t do the job, try some self-sabotage.

Choose harder gears, try some impromptu single-speed riding or do dreadful things to your tyre pressure. Do whatever it takes to make it harder for you to gap your partner.

Oh yeah, and don’t tell your significant other about these self-imposed handicaps. So no gloating in the post-ride debrief, and definitely no bragging to your friends later. Very uncool.

If you must, go out for a very long ride prior to your other ride.  Better yet, just take it easy when you’re riding with your new riding partner – you have nothing to prove.

4. Look the part

Getting your partner in riding gear that feels comfortable is crucial. But before you go dragging your new riding partner through the lycra section of your local bike shop or buying all things pink or black on eBay, give your partner a chance to make some decisions.

There’s feeling comfortable, and then there’s being at ease. Some might not be ready to be seen in public in the latest lycra cling-wrap cycling jersey splashed with logos from your favourite bike brands.

She might want to wear her favourite yoga top or she might want to wear baggies over those expensive knicks you bought her. He may not like those bright colours you found that perfectly match his bike.  They might not be your idea of ‘proper cycling kit,’ but does that really matter? If they feel comfortable enough to leave the house, it’s all good, I say.

There is a very small percentage of the population who are comfortable riding in anything (or nothing). However, it’s important that you let your partner find what’s comfortable for them.

5 Keep it fun

I know – what could be more fun than screeching down dirt tracks?

But trust me, learning to mountain bike is about giving those personal limits a nudge, and that can be exhausting. So you need to make sure your partner gets some positive reinforcement to complement the countless charges of adrenalin and ‘oh-shit-I’m-gonna-fall/die/look-silly moments they will get.

So try this three-pronged approach.

Make it easy to succeed. Do not fall into that trap of pushing your partner to try something beyond what he or she feels confident trying. Choose the easiest rides you can find and work your way up. Head out on a super-easy loop for your warm-up lap, and slowly increase the challenges in terrain and duration, so your partner has a chance to build their skills and confidence. That way, they will feel like they’re achieving right from the start.

Don’t drag it out. Your partner is new to mountain biking. This is not the time to head out on that 60-kay loop everyone says is easy. Give your partner lots of options. A concentrated network of trails is best, because you can do lots of short loops, meaning you and your partner can adapt your plans to suit how your partner is riding on the day. Trailheads with cafes are even better. (It’s an established fact that, taken at regular intervals, coffee and cake can have a significant positive effect on riding performance.) And call it a day as soon as you notice your partner is getting tired.

Finish with a treat. As well as spoiling your partner with regular stops for coffee and snack, schedule in an established treat for your partner after the ride. This is really important. Your partner just tried something new  – because you asked them to. So now you need to give back. Take your partner to their favourite sushi or beer garden or vegan lentil bar or whatever, and kick back and have a laugh. If your partner wants to talk about the ride, keep the conversation on your partner’s riding; talk up their achievements. Make sure they know how proud you are and how much you liked sharing that ride, and with a spot of luck they will be keen to go out riding with you again.

Keep it fun. It is not a race and behaviour like this will probably mean you will never ride with them again. It will probably mean you will be in the dog-house for a while too.

Disclaimer

Flow Mountain Bike assumes no responsibility for injuries sustained during or in the aftermath of a ride undertaken by couples on Valentines Day. Disputes, separations, divorces, geographic embarrassment, children and impulsive bike and gear purchases may occur as a result of taking your partner riding, and the reader must accept sole responsibility for any such eventuality. Flow accepts no liability for such outcomes or for the possibility that readers may experience a dramatic cut in bike spending and domestic bike parking space as the result of taking their partner out for a ride.

The Soapbox: Loving The Fitness You Have

‘Want to go trail riding on Saturday?’ – ‘Yeh! For sure!’

‘Want to hit up some beach hills on Tuesday?’ – ‘Count me in!’

‘Race you to the pie shop?’ – ‘You’re on!’

‘Sleep in tomorrow?’ – ‘Sounds like a plan.’

While shabby days on the bike happen to all of us, it bums me out how frequently some riders are down on their fitness instead of glowing about it. These riders are so focussed on the merits of being fitter, they don’t reflect on their current form.

Personally I’m stoked when the level of fitness I have is enough to say yes to almost anything my riding mates throw at me.

What I love most about ‘yes to anything’ fitness is it doesn’t matter if you’re tired, flogged, fresh or even particularly fast. It’s about enjoying every ride, for what it is, hopefully with an infectious giggle at the end of a particularly excellent trail. If you choose your rides well, this will be most of them.

Of course, key to being able to say yes to anything is having mates who ask the right questions. An assemblage of fellow trail buddies whose rides make you glow with enthusiasm rather than look anxiously toward the horizon, or wear your brakes out as you fight to reduce the waiting time at the bottom of each descent.

Friends who push you just outside your comfort zone in the effort stakes make you accidentally fit. Meanwhile, those who challenge you to practice your skills in the singletrack give your legs and heart some time to rest.

The right rides offer the recovery and interval benefits of a basic training program (if you’re that way minded), but can make you laugh out loud and get you reasonably quick on the bike as a by-product of hanging out.

In the spirit of good health, a few yeses to fine dining, early nights and enjoying other off-bike fun will also keep your riding highs on track.

Why so many cyclists spend precious riding time complaining about form is beyond me. By waiting for the day where you ride out of your skin, you run the risk of missing all the good days that lead up to it. Not just good days on the bike, but good days on the bike with friends.

Ride days that consist of more yeses than nos and enough stamina to mostly keep up? Sounds like awesome fun to me!

‘Up that climb again so we can ride the sweetest descent in the world one more time?’ – ‘Let’s go!’ Come to think of it, I think saying yes to moments like this is why I feel fitter than I’ve ever been.

Enjoy the ride.

Interview: Neko Mulally, Part I

Hailing from Reading, Pennsylvania USA, Neko is almost 20 years old but already he has accomplished so much as a professional downhill racer.

Neko was in Australia for a very, very brief stop-over on his way home from riding in New Zealand. Flow caught up with him for quick pint to talk everything from his impending marriage to Taylor Swift, to his thoughts on Aaron Gwin leaving the team.

Neko Mulally.

Have you ever had a pretzel with Taylor Swift?

No, but Taylor Swift and I are getting married some day so I’ll find that out later.

What’s the culture of mountain biking like over your way?

It’s growing so much, a new mountain bike club has formed and more trails are now legal to ride and clearly marked. Everything is getting bigger and it’s really taking off.  Downhill racing isn’t that well known, many of my friends would not know what downhill racing is, in America the sport is not mainstream. But I feel like since Aaron Gwin has been doing well downhill has received more publicity in the States.

What was it that introduced you to the sport?

My dad, he raced downhill and owned a bike shop. He thought the best way to get my brother and I into it was to start us racing BMX on the tracks we had nearby. We raced BMX for six or seven years, the skills transferred over to mountain biking so easily. When I turned 13 my dad introduced my brother and I into downhill racing. Cycling is definitely in the family!

What do you like about where you live?

I like that it is my home, I guess everybody loves where they are from but for me it’s more about the people than the place. If I could take all my friends and family and put them anywhere else I’m sure it’d be just as good, there isn’t really a lot going on where I live but the trails and friends are what I like. I don’t like the winters too much, it makes for hard training in such harsh weather forcing my training indoors for a while. Then there is a solid month of summer that makes for hard training too, but the dirt is always good! I really like the fact you get all four seasons.

Matured way beyond his years, Neko reflects deeply on his life and those who have been a positive influence on him.

When did you first catch wind that you’d be riding for Trek World Racing?

In 2009 I was racing for a national team; Specialized Team America. I was trying to get to as many races as I could, as it is tricky to get noticed so I focused on events where I could be seen and had a better chance of making an impression, to hopefully be seen by potential sponsors. I went to Whistler and the Canada cups on the World Cup circuit and I finished right behind the Monster Energy guys in Bromont and that really inspired me, it lifted my confidence so much. I then went to Whistler really focused, when everyone else seemed to be going for the good times, I wanted good results. That was an opportunity for me to have a bit of an edge over those guys not taking it too seriously; I finished fifth in the Canadian Open and fourth in the slalom. That is when I met Martin Whitely for the first time, and shortly after Crankworx he contacted me, and it all began from there.

How was being a teammate with Justin Leov?

Justin has been the best influence on me my whole life, by spending the most time with him and him being such a great guy. I learnt from him a lot about how to carry myself and relate to people, also the best way to deal with the industry and be a better person in general. He really is the best person to learn from. I don’t really know why he’s that way, maybe because he has had to work so hard to make a career out of his racing, and coming from New Zealand so far away makes it especially tough to earn a place in the World Cup. He has always passed on his experiences to others and I was lucky to have this priceless opportunity to be on his team. We would have such deep conversation about everything, and get so much out of it, if I ever questioned something I could bounce it off him and his responses were always so honest and reasonable.

Having just spent some time with Justin Leov in NZ, Neko sure knows this end of the world pretty well.

And Mr Aaron Gwin?

I have had a really great relationship with Aaron over the last few years, although I didn’t know him too well before he joined Trek. But as soon as he joined us he took me under his wing and I was his junior, and passed down everything he could. Whenever you needed to know something, I could simply ask the guy that everyone knew was the fastest and get an answer, whether it is about line choice, the track conditions, racing preparation, training, he knew that what he was doing worked. It’s crazy; he never seems to get stressed about anything, always keeping his cool. He would always help me realise that what I was stressing about wasn’t ever that bad. The want to win so bad would make me stressed, and that affects your riding too much, Aaron helped me keep it cool.

On that topic of Aaron Gwin, what do you see as his key to success?

A lot of Aaron’s strength is in his mind. I’ve trained with him a lot, he trains hard and he is so strong. I feel at times I can keep up with him during these times but when it comes down the mental toughness he keeps his cool and believes that he can do it, that’s what it comes down to. For him, it’s his faith that carries him through that, I think you can find that same comfort and same way to chill yourself out with whatever way works for you.

If you were to take a property that you admire from each Aaron and Justin, what would it be?

From Justin I’d take the way he treats people and his ability to show such respect to others. He is the best friend anyone could have. Staying at my house anytime, my family and friends all love the guy. That’s the quality I admire.

From Aaron, it’d be that mental state of being able to stay calm at the races and believe in your stuff, knowing that you have what it takes to win.

Did having two Americans on the team bring out any patriotic emotions?

You know, I have never really thought that too much. Trek World Racing is such an international team and it certainly feels that way. You are all travelling together with a job to do and what country you come from just doesn’t seem to matter, and not much was made of it. It was exciting being on the team with Aaron, the up and coming rider, the one that would bring it back to the States and end the drought of talent.

Neko Mulally of Trek World Racing during the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Champery Switzerland. Photo Gary Perkin.

Where are some of your favourite places to ride and train?

Well after the past month, I’d have to say New Zealand! I’ve had the most amazing time there recently. There are so many good people, fast riders and amazing tracks in such a small space. Plus the weather is so nice, and the racing scene is unreal. In the past I have been travelling to the west coast for a block of winter training, but the tracks are just not proper downhill tracks. But in New Zealand all the tracks are so awesome, I was able to get so much time on the bike! I have also had great times in Spain, staying with Martin Whitely at his place, the riding area behind his house has some of the best trail riding I’ve ever done and the weather is amazing. Bromont is also another great place to ride; it’s close to where I live and an easy drive to great terrain and hard racetracks. It reflects the green and European terrain that is conducive to the type of training I need to do for the European races. But, New Zealand is just amazing!

What was your favourite track over there?

I loved Mount Hutt, and the trails for the Dodzy Memorial Enduro. Most epic trails!

How about cross training, what do you enjoy that is also of benefit for you?

Moto is definitely my favourite that is because it is a lot of fun, I’m a pretty big goon on the things, not that stylish at all but I enjoy every minute of it. Plus of course it is a great workout. Heading out to a moto track and doing sprint laps really uses all your functional muscles and gets your heart rate up, whether you could ride well or not. In high school I was a swimmer, but that was not fun at all! Water polo was a little more engaging, but it’s so hard. Other than that, cross country riding is something I’ve always done, hardly cross training but I find a lot of pleasure and spend more time on the cross country bike more than the downhill bike. It’s both a fitness exercise but you are still on the dirt negotiating technical terrain.

Have you experimented with wheel sizes?

I’ve ridden the Trek Rumblefish (29er trail bike) a lot this off season and going back and forth with my 26” bike, there are certainly places where the 29er is an advantage but at this point, I’m still more of a 26” fan, probably because I’ve always ridden them. I don’t make too much of a big deal about the wheel size thing.

We will see some companies trying bigger wheel sizes on the World Cup circuit this season though; but it sure is a big task to be testing wheel sizes on downhill bikes as all the components and well-tuned suspension parts have been developed so far with the 26” wheel bikes, not every brand will be able to try it at this early stage. All it will take though is for one rider to win a World Cup on a big wheel size like Nino Shurter, and it will take off.

Neko wanted to surf and enjoy the warm Australian weather but the surf was way too big and the weather was terrible (due to some big funny named storm).  He’ll just have to come back again.

Look out for part 2 of the interview where Neko talks about World Cup racing, big crashes, bike set-up, and who he thinks we should be watching this season.

The Soapbox: My Past Life

I’ve just turned 30 and I’m selling my downhill bike. Now, those two things aren’t necessarily connected. It’s not like I made a new year’s resolution or anything. But it’s happening, and I think my position is exactly like hundreds, if not thousands, of others.

For the last two years, my downhill bike has sat largely neglected. It still has tyres that I got in 2009, and if you know how fast downhill rubber wears out, that’s saying something. I’ve spent more time bleeding the brakes than riding it, getting it perfect for the next outing that never came. In the meantime, my trail bikes (there have been a few in that period) have been copping a flogging. They get ridden everywhere.

And as much as I like to believe one day the urge will grab me and I’ll want to race a club downhill, I’ve finally accepted that it’s just not going to happen and the old Morewood will make its way to eBay. But that doesn’t make me sad, and I’m not ditching the DH bike because I feel like I’m getting too old or slow for it. I’m giving up on pure gravity simply because I have way more fun on my trail bike now than I’ve ever had on my downhill bike. And I know I’m not alone.

Everywhere I look, blokes (and it mainly is) my age are hanging up their body armour (kids, if you don’t know what that is, pick up a mag from before 2005), putting rapidly depreciating downhill bikes up for sale and buying a 140-160mm travel bike. And it’s always for the same reason; you can have as much, or more, fun on the new generation of all-mountain bikes than a downhill bike can ever give you.

It’s easy to take it for granted, but the versatility and capabilities of the bikes on the market in this category nowadays is completely ridiculous. 12 kilo, 160mm-travel, carbon bikes that will happily ride down any downhill in Australia at 90% of full-speed and then let you pedal back up, all day long.  No need to organise a shuttle driver, ride them anywhere, free from the expectation you’re likely to destroy a rear wheel or wear out an $80 tyre, all while providing you with exactly the same capacity to get a rush but with generally less dire consequences.

Even better yet, there are now races made specifically for retired downhillers like me riding bikes like this.  Enduro events are springing up like mushrooms in a disused Dainese Race Jacket. And the crew out there making the most of them are the same faces that once populated the shuttle lines at downhill races, just more weathered. They’ve all got jobs, families, responsibilities and one incredible bike that delivers more great experiences than should be possible.

Mountain biking is about to witness an explosion of this kind of racing and this kind of rider. It’s going to eclipse downhill racing, it’s going to eclipse Olympic cross country racing, and it’s going to reinvigorate the industry. I can’t wait to see it happen.

Now, who wants to buy a bike?

Is it an old age thing, or are bikes and riding changing so much that I don’t need my downhill bike anymore?

Photo Feature: Oregon

As a photographer I take a hell of a lot of photos and most of them don’t see the light of day. I send vast selections of photos off to editors and months later they choose just a small amount – and even then, most end up as tiny little photos on a lonely piece of paper that people breeze by.

So rather than the photos dying a digital death I am going to regularly put a few together for the Flow readers.  Maybe it will inspire you to take more photos, or maybe it will inspire you to ride and travel more.  Either way, I hope it inspires you in some way.

As the resident photo geek at Flow, if at anytime you have questions about mountain bike photography feel free to hit me up at [email protected]

These are a few leftovers from a trip to Oregon, Washington (USA).  It was an amazing place and the few days I had was never going to be enough.  This trip was rushed and the hardest thing with most road trips is finding the balance between riding, driving and shooting.  With so many places to ride and see I did end up wasting too much time on the road.  Still, I loved it.

I drove a very long way to get to Oregon but lucky the highways of the USA make life so much easier.
That’s no to say my journey wasn’t interrupted though. I was sure she was going to let me off with a warning as I broke out the heavy Aussie accent. Didn’t work.
The mountains were spectacular, but don’t ask me to name all of them as I was constantly confused as to which was which.
This was in Hood River.  Not being a local is great as every trail is new and exciting.  This trail in particular grabbed my attention for a photo as it draws a perfect line between the chaos and peace.
Still in Hood River I was setting up a shot that I spotted the day before.  Yep, I was shooting selfies however I wasn’t alone, I had beers and friends with me.
Being so dry where I live any chance I get to shoot water I grab.  I had a big fall down a cliff here trying to find a spot to also get a rider in the shot.  Sometimes things just don’t work out and I was more than happy I walked away with some scratches.
There was just so much to see and ride and the balance riding and shooting is always hard.
If you look closely by back/shoulder are covered in dust.  That’s not from crashing, it’s from trying to set-up the camera on the ground.
The colour green is also something rare from where I’m from, but in Oregon it’s everywhere.
This is near Bend, Oregon.  A legendary place to ride however I was just breezing through and didn’t get the bike out.  Sometimes you have to leave things for the future.
Long rides and long days deserve rewards.  When I am shooting on these adventures I carry a heavy pack when shooting and ofter 6 hours of riding I was very stuffed… and thirsty.


Going Wild

My partner Chris Turnbull and I had been living in Australia for four years. The singletrack scene in Australia is plenty varied, with something to please every palate, but during our visit to Dunedin, NZ, I wanted to take my bike backcountry Kiwi-style.

After a week of scooting out for quick rides on the local trails between rainy spells (very Dunedin), Chris and I were ready for something a bit different.

We got up early, our sights set on the Otago high country, about an hour and a half out of town. With the tank of the Toyota Hilux full of fuel, and our tummies full of coffee and servo pies, we headed inland. The roads got quieter and narrower. The Old Dunstan Road, where our bike ride was to start, was a winding shingle road at the base of the Rock and Pillar Range. [private]

On route to the trail head.

Chris and I chatted about the tussock-land we were driving through. The tumbling slopes and gently curving ridgelines of the range shone like beaten gold under the wide, pearly sky. From the road, the range looked like a Graham Sydney painting, all smooth, soaring planes and flawless skylines. Nothing like the kinds of environments we usually rode through in Central Australia.

We pulled up at our trailhead – a narrow four-wheel drive track up to the skyline. Chris looked about. ‘No cafes, no hordes of people: it’s not a bad spot,’ he said.

‘Yeah, but will the riding be any good?’

‘Only one way to find out.’

We grabbed the bikes off the back of the track and loaded our packs on our backs. I paused by the truck for a moment to watch Chris begin his ride up the hill.

The track, really no more than twin muddy scratches in the hillside, twisted and buckled up the tussock slope. As we slowly ground our way up the hill we discovered the damn thing got stealthily steeper. We dropped through the gears, heads down, lungs screaming. Chris slowly pulled ahead. Mercifully, he paused on a flatter section to take in the views and catch his breath. I slowly huffed my way up to him.

The wind in the tussock as the trail winds up the hill.

‘You alright?’ he asked.

‘Yeah.’

We were aiming for a ski hut called Big Hut. We planned to have lunch there before retracing our steps to the truck.

‘Might. Be a. Slow. Trip,’ I added.

Chris nodded. The track might have been made by four-wheel drives, but it was no highway for mountain bikes, and the riding was proving more challenging than either of us had expected. Keeping the wheels turning on these rutted tyre tracks, over gravel, tussock clumps and gnarled roots, was way harder than cruising along on groomed trails.

Riding through a Graham Sydney landscape.

Chris looked up the hill at the climb ahead. It was hard to tell where the true top was, but the climb would definitely steepen before we reached the tops.

‘We’ll see how we go.’

We got back on the bikes and resumed our slow plod upwards. We stopped often to catch our breath and check out the views.

Up close, Sydney’s idealised rolling hills were packed with texture and movement. The tussock-lined hillsides are punctuated with species of native hebe and lichen, and piles of sharp grey schist. When we got to the tops, the wind was brutal, tearing at us and buffeting the tussock so it ruffled up like choppy water.

It was mid-summer, but we were riding through mud, water, and even divots of snow in shady spots on the track. Chris had perfected sand-riding when he rode through the Simpson Desert a few months ago, so the white fluffy stuff barely registered as an obstacle to him. Not to be beaten, I screeched along, hoping my momentum would get me through the snow too. But when I tried to follow Chris’s tracks through a longer patch, I lost traction in the slush. I dabbed a foot and stepped straight into a puddle of icy water.

Determined to share the fun, I baited my dares with care: ‘Hey, Chris,’ I called back after trying to ride through a treacherously deep snow slough. ‘Ride through this section without putting a foot down and I’ll buy you two Kiwi beers and a whole bottle of Central Otago pinot. You won’t even have to share.’

Nic gets her feet wet in the summer snow (melt).

Chris pulled up at the beginning of the snow-melt and slush. Clouds reflected off the still water, making it hard to gauge the depth of the puddle. Chris eyed it thoughtfully – not a good sign. Then he wheeled his bike up off the track and rode through the knotted clumps of vegetation and rock on the side of the track.

‘You don’t get any pinot for that,’ I said.

‘I know, but I don’t get my feet wet, either,’ he grinned.

Time was getting on. Aware we were due back in town for dinner, we slogged up the climbs and ripped down the descents, expecting to see Big Hut at any moment. But the tops just seemed to roll on and on.

Eventually, Big Hut came sight, just across a shallow valley. We could get there by following the track, which continued on and then arched back around, or we could try going cross-country. I knew Chris had been itching to try riding through the hebes and tussock. With the clock ticking, I voted for the most direct route too. We lifted our bikes over a barbed wire fence and set off at a renewed pace.

The hut book: ‘The biking is tricky.’

Turns out, riding off-road – proper off-road – is hard. We had to dodge prickly Spaniards while trying to hold a line through lumps of tussock and rock and over knotted ground. About 60 metres from Big Hut, the ground got soggy – a marsh. No wait, a creek. Full of snow-melt. We were walking our bikes by now. Chris turned to me, one foot in the water, the other still raised, to ask if I had found a drier way through. No such luck.

At Big Hut we wandered around the building, eating at full speed, trying to refuel for the return trip.

When we finally grabbed our bikes and started to reverse our steps across the marsh to the four-wheel drive track, things were not looking good. We seemed to be going slower than before. For all its gentle-looking rolling tops, the Rock and Pillar Range is still an alpine environment, and the weather can clag in at any time. This was no place to get caught after dark in just cycling gear.

Chris stylin’ it through some of the last remaining snow patches. Lucky it was mid-summer as it would have been far worse earlier.

When we got back to the four-wheel drive track, the wind was battering at us and I was so cold and tired I was moving in slow-mo. Chris handed me some beef jerky. I chewed on it methodically and then fished a gu from my bag. I was so stuffed I swear I could feel these new sugars and grease hitting my blood stream.

Then we got back on our bikes.

Lucky for me, despite the undulating ground, the track did have a governing gradient. We fairly flew across the tops. When we paused for one final fuel stop before starting our descent proper, Chris pointed to the truck, parked far below.

I tried to follow his gaze: ‘Where?’

‘Over there, look. That white dot.’

It was miles away. Then Chris looked at me, and I nodded. We pointed our bikes down the hill and started the final descent.

Going downhill, those same steep, loose-shingle scars demanded even more attention. It would be so easy to lose concentration and choose a line that disappeared into one of those deep water ruts, sending me flying. Mud flicked up, the flecks splattering my bike, my arms, even my face. I rode on.

Chris arrived at the truck just before me. We dropped our bikes on the ground, pulled off our backpacks and collapsed on the ground, panting and laughing.

It might not be what we’re used to, but backcountry riding is berloody fun.

NOTE: The Rock and Pillar range bike trip is described in Mountain Biking South: 41 Great Rides in New Zealand’s South Island, by Dave Mitchell (Bird’s Eye Guides, Craig Potton Publishing, 2010), available through Ground Effect www.groundeffect.co.nz 

Chris outside the ‘Big Hut’. A great little lunch spot and well out of the wind.

[/private]

10 Stupid Trends In Mountain Biking- Past, Present And Future

There’s no doubt that the mountain bike world loves a good trend. Mountain biking is such a tech driven industry and trends come and go as we move from the greatest thing to the next greatest thing to the next greatest thing.

As mountain bikers, we love it. Anything that makes us go faster and our riding easier is pushed to the limit and then quickly dumped when the next bit of technology comes around.

More often than not, it starts with the racers and then progresses from there. You see, racers are odd creatures who think that if something works, then more is better. If more is better, then even more is better again and if you do more than all your competitors, then you will definitely beat them.

This brings us to the first stupid trend which didn’t help anyone beat anyone if you ask me-

1. Super low bars (past).

This first started with the DH crowd and came in at the same time as super wide bars. It got to the point where people thought that flat bars were a good idea for DH bikes. Flat bars have no place on a DH bike and if you tell me that your flat bars are better on your DH bike, then good for you.

But it’s not limited to DH racers anymore. 29ers have brought with them a whole new realm of bar set up ridiculousness, and I’m seeing it more and more, and to me it’s definitely not cool-

2. Negative 25 degree rise stems (present).

This one really makes me mad. If you really feel the need to have your bars 10cm lower than your top tube, then I’d suggest you are on the wrong bike. This is by far the dumbest looking bike setup trend I’ve ever seen and yes, it’s a trend because in 3 years, everyone who is doing this is going to realize they look like idiots, their bikes handle like crap and it will come to an end. I hope.

Fortunately though, some of these extreme trends have already come to an end and here’s a list of some of my favourite, stupid trends of mountain biking’s history books, some of which (unfortunately) are still with us-

3. 24” wheels (past).

That’s right, before everyone convinced that 26” wheels were too small, people were convinced that they were too LARGE. Give me a break.

4. Biopace Chainrings (past, present, future?)

Yep, round chainrings are a dumb idea. Let’s make them oval and wobbly. Shimano figured out it was a bad idea two decades ago but some still persist and chances are someone ten years from now will tell me that their oval shapes chainrings are the best thing since 29” wheels.

5. Narrow Bars (past).

Like 24” wheels, before our bars were too narrow, they were too wide. This stuck more with the early Dirt Jump / Skate Park crowd of mountain biking and was a carry-over from BMX. Just think about all that wasted aluminium from cut down bars.

It could have gone into something cool like…….

6. Remote Shock Lockouts (Past, Present).

Do you really need that much shit on your handlebars? Thankfully this one is on the way out. After all, it’s really not that far to reach the top of your forks or your rear shock. I saw a guy the other day with a front and rear shock lockout and a remote dropper lever all on his bars, and about 3kg of cables connecting it all.

7. Bar Ends (Past).

Bar ends were kind of cool. Only mountain bikers would think of attaching more handlebars to their handlebars.

8. 3” Tyres (Past).

Remember the Nokian Gazzaloddi? That was ridiculous. Still not as ridiculous as those stupid Pugsley bikes though.

I’ll save the last two to try and pick some future trends. Things that don’t seem out of place now, but will in the future. I know I’m going to cop some flak for this but I’m just calling it as I see it-

9. 29” Wheels.

Yes, I said it. I like 29ers, I own and regularly ride them and I like them. But, I think that 5 years from now, we will be riding a different size wheel. That’s all I have to say about that.

And finally, the last spot on the list goes to, the one and only…….

10. Strava.

Gotta love Strava, but I have covered that before.

The Soapbox: Please Take The Time to Learn

This photo has been doing the rounds on Facebook today and I thought it was perfect timing to add my bit.

As an ambassador and frequent user of Stromlo Forest Park I see this time and time again.  Corners being cut, straight lines appearing everywhere, obstacles being avoided, and trails being altered.  Normally I just report it to the park managers to fix but today I thought I would weigh in on the debate.

To me this is wrong. Wrong for two main reasons: the environmental impact and the impact it has on the trails for other users.

Let’s have a look at the environmental impact side first.  Mountain biking does cause an impact to the environment.  However, over the past 10 or so years trail builders and land owners have learnt and developed techniques to help minimise that impact and make our riding more sustainable.  Good trail design takes into account water flow, erosion control, and species and habitat protection – amongst others.  Yes, you can argue that some of the trails you have seen don’t adhere to these standards but over time we will find more and more sustainable trail building occurring.  It’s a win-win for the sport.

However, when someone goes and alters the trail to suit their own needs all this is thrown out the window.  Lets just look at the example picture.  First off a tree has been trimmed substantially.  That tree could have been a protected species and could have been a home for local fauna. Secondly, the new track has opened up a literal flood gate for water to flow less-obstructed down the hill.  The previous unaltered scene would have acted as a natural diversion for water and thus helping to reduce erosion on the trail.

Now to the effect it has on the trail experience for others.  Good mountain bike trails and locations have riding to suit all manner of skill types. Stromlo Forest Park is a good example of where you can progress your skills through riding the many varied trails and obstacles.  It’s this progression of skills that is a key element of the sport and has always been part of the roots and soul of mountain biking.

Put simply, changing the trail to suit your skills is selfish. I understand that hitting the deck isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, so if a part of trail is beyond your ability, walk it. Or even better, take the time out of your ride to learn the skills to ride it.  I feel no happier and more at peace with life than when I have overcome that fear and hit that jump, trail, line, obstacle for the first time.  That is what progressing your skills will do. You may crash, you may get hurt, but your riding and your experience will ultimately be better for it.

If you come up to an obstacle and mess it up, go back and try it again. If it’s beyond you, there are plenty of people out there to teach you the skills to ride it, or stick the trails more suited to your skill level until you’ve progressed. Changing the trails to suit you is not the answer, and taking the time to learn to ride an obstacle will ultimately benefit you and the rest of the riding community.

 

Standards Ain’t So: Steering In A New Direction

The stem and handlebar is one of those parts that no one wants to see fail, the general result being significant injury.  And with this, it seems that the industry is forever pushing new concepts that claim the usual benefits; stiffer, stronger, increased durability and lighter. Stems are confusing enough with various rises and lengths without all the additional clamp standards.

Let’s take a look at the multiple stem dimensions to see where we have come from and where we’re going.

First we’ll look to the front of the stem, where the handlebar is held. A few years ago the industry decided on the “Oversized” standard of 31.8mm, replacing the now near defunct 25.4mm size of mountain bikes and 26mm of Italian drop bars (Road). 31.8mm promised to offer a stronger, more dependable and stiffer handlebar; although 25.4mm still remains the ultimate weight weenies choice. In addition to these claimed benefits, 31.8mm created a standard size between road and mountain bikes; allowing smaller product ranges and reducing the chance of miss-matching stem/handlebar combinations. [private]

25.4mm v’s 31.8mm

Just as everything was settling in and the industry was sitting on a common standard; enter 35mm. As handlebar widths have stretched out over recent years, the limitations of 31.8mm is being questioned and brands such as Easton and Kore are touting that the 35mm diameter leads to a yet again stronger and lighter setup. Currently these brands are pushing the benefits of 35mm for freeride and downhill where wide bars and large impacts are the norm, however with bar widths extending for all disciplines, it’s likely that 35mm will become a real alternative in future.

35mm.  Of course when there’s a new standard stem you have to have the bar to match.

Now to the back of the stem where it is a whole different matter.

The standard stem today clamps to a 1 1/8” diameter threadless steerer tube (the fork piece that extends through the frame head tube). It wasn’t always a threadless steerer that uses pinch bolts to hold the stem in place; well over a decade ago the quill stem was the standard. Using a threaded 1” steerer tube, the quill stem had a single top mounted bolt that when tightened, caused two internal wedges to slide diagonally against each other to clamp the inside wall of the steerer, headset bearings were then tightened using external locknuts that were threaded onto the steerer. What led to the demise of the quill system were such factors as decreased manufacturing costs, easier consumer servicing, increased stiffness and greater clamping pressure.

A few years ago, an oversized steerer size of 1 ½”” was looking to become the next big thing, claiming to offer the stiffness and strength benefits of a dual or triple clamp fork without the steering restriction or additional weight. 1 ½” never took off due to the emergence of the now industry standard tapered steerer tube; offering a solid 1 ½” for the lower bearing and the common 1 1/8” for the top bearing and stem clamp region.

And much like any other standard in the bike industry there is always room for change; enter 1 ¼” – 1 ½”, Aka ‘OD2’. This is yet another diameter that is being pushed by Giant (And in the road by German brand Canyon). The idea here is that it creates a less severe taper on the steerer tube and provides additional stiffness and strength. Giant claim that it improves front-end stiffness by as much as 30% – certainly a big claim. It’s the second season of OD2 now and numerous brands are offering compatible stems, however no other large bike manufacturer has started to spec this new concept on their bikes; it’s yet to be seen if this will become the new standard or remain a “Giant thing”.

Giant OD2 (left) and standard 1 1/8th (right).

The downhill world see’s all different stems and recent trends do away with clamping to the steerer and rather make use of the forks top crown that sits above the head tube. Here the Rockshox ‘Boxxer’ direct mount standard, using 4 bolts that connects the stem to the fork crown has become the norm. Direct mounts offer many benefits; offering increased strength, superior steering stiffness, far lower weight and the ability for a lower bar height. An even newer take on the direct mount is wide handlebar clamp placement, brought about by motocross width handlebars; this allows for even load distribution and greater stiffness. With the likes of 35mm handlebars, the direct mount stem is offering a setup with impeccable stiffness and unbeatable strength.

Direct mount stem.

If you’re buying a bike soon, it’ll likely feature 31.8mm handlebars and a 1 1/8” steerer clamp, and don’t expect this to change soon. Certainly as the use of carbon fibre and other advanced materials become more prominent, and the push to have the highest stiffness to weight product to market, there is no question we will see new concepts and following standards appear in near time. [/private]

Standards Ain't So: Steering In A New Direction

The stem and handlebar is one of those parts that no one wants to see fail, the general result being significant injury.  And with this, it seems that the industry is forever pushing new concepts that claim the usual benefits; stiffer, stronger, increased durability and lighter. Stems are confusing enough with various rises and lengths without all the additional clamp standards.

Let’s take a look at the multiple stem dimensions to see where we have come from and where we’re going.

First we’ll look to the front of the stem, where the handlebar is held. A few years ago the industry decided on the “Oversized” standard of 31.8mm, replacing the now near defunct 25.4mm size of mountain bikes and 26mm of Italian drop bars (Road). 31.8mm promised to offer a stronger, more dependable and stiffer handlebar; although 25.4mm still remains the ultimate weight weenies choice. In addition to these claimed benefits, 31.8mm created a standard size between road and mountain bikes; allowing smaller product ranges and reducing the chance of miss-matching stem/handlebar combinations. [private]

25.4mm v’s 31.8mm

Just as everything was settling in and the industry was sitting on a common standard; enter 35mm. As handlebar widths have stretched out over recent years, the limitations of 31.8mm is being questioned and brands such as Easton and Kore are touting that the 35mm diameter leads to a yet again stronger and lighter setup. Currently these brands are pushing the benefits of 35mm for freeride and downhill where wide bars and large impacts are the norm, however with bar widths extending for all disciplines, it’s likely that 35mm will become a real alternative in future.

35mm.  Of course when there’s a new standard stem you have to have the bar to match.

Now to the back of the stem where it is a whole different matter.

The standard stem today clamps to a 1 1/8” diameter threadless steerer tube (the fork piece that extends through the frame head tube). It wasn’t always a threadless steerer that uses pinch bolts to hold the stem in place; well over a decade ago the quill stem was the standard. Using a threaded 1” steerer tube, the quill stem had a single top mounted bolt that when tightened, caused two internal wedges to slide diagonally against each other to clamp the inside wall of the steerer, headset bearings were then tightened using external locknuts that were threaded onto the steerer. What led to the demise of the quill system were such factors as decreased manufacturing costs, easier consumer servicing, increased stiffness and greater clamping pressure.

A few years ago, an oversized steerer size of 1 ½”” was looking to become the next big thing, claiming to offer the stiffness and strength benefits of a dual or triple clamp fork without the steering restriction or additional weight. 1 ½” never took off due to the emergence of the now industry standard tapered steerer tube; offering a solid 1 ½” for the lower bearing and the common 1 1/8” for the top bearing and stem clamp region.

And much like any other standard in the bike industry there is always room for change; enter 1 ¼” – 1 ½”, Aka ‘OD2’. This is yet another diameter that is being pushed by Giant (And in the road by German brand Canyon). The idea here is that it creates a less severe taper on the steerer tube and provides additional stiffness and strength. Giant claim that it improves front-end stiffness by as much as 30% – certainly a big claim. It’s the second season of OD2 now and numerous brands are offering compatible stems, however no other large bike manufacturer has started to spec this new concept on their bikes; it’s yet to be seen if this will become the new standard or remain a “Giant thing”.

Giant OD2 (left) and standard 1 1/8th (right).

The downhill world see’s all different stems and recent trends do away with clamping to the steerer and rather make use of the forks top crown that sits above the head tube. Here the Rockshox ‘Boxxer’ direct mount standard, using 4 bolts that connects the stem to the fork crown has become the norm. Direct mounts offer many benefits; offering increased strength, superior steering stiffness, far lower weight and the ability for a lower bar height. An even newer take on the direct mount is wide handlebar clamp placement, brought about by motocross width handlebars; this allows for even load distribution and greater stiffness. With the likes of 35mm handlebars, the direct mount stem is offering a setup with impeccable stiffness and unbeatable strength.

Direct mount stem.

If you’re buying a bike soon, it’ll likely feature 31.8mm handlebars and a 1 1/8” steerer clamp, and don’t expect this to change soon. Certainly as the use of carbon fibre and other advanced materials become more prominent, and the push to have the highest stiffness to weight product to market, there is no question we will see new concepts and following standards appear in near time. [/private]

Interview: D-Mac and Bec Henderson on Trek Factory Racing

Australian Olympians Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson have landed a spot on the Trek Factory Racing team; it’s massive news for Australian mountain biking. To have our two top cross country racers finally competing with the backing of a fully-fledged top tier team opens up all kinds of opportunities.

Bec Henderson racing at the 2012 London Olympics.

Dan and Bec are no strangers to World Cup competition. Dan has done the hard yards, with 12 seasons in Europe under his belt, and Bec has been knocking down doors on her way to the top echelon of the under 23 World Cup rankings.

In the past this pair have largely been self-supported, hardly the ideal racing environment, so we caught up with them to ask just how different things might be racing on a factory team.

Flow: Congratulations guys! It’s great to hear you’ll be joining the Trek Factory Racing team.

Bec: Thanks! We’ve known for quite a long time, but Trek have been sitting on the news for a while (to let the Gwin furore die down), so it has been really hard to keep it quiet.

Bec Henderson at the 2012 London Olympics

Flow: It must be a great feeling to be on board with a team like Trek.

Bec: Yeah, I’ve never raced overseas with the support of a full team, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. In the past it’s been pretty stressful sometimes, especially at the races where we’re doing all our own mechanics, along with feeding each other during the races. It can be hard to fit in your training too, when you’re worrying about booking travel, accommodation, equipment and the like. It’s going to be amazing to be able to concentrate on riding and racing.

Dan: I’ve done 12 years in Europe racing now, so it does feel good to have that support and backing.

Dan McConnell in South Africa.

Flow: So where will you be based?

Bec: We’ll be living in Switzerland, probably with Annie Last (fellow TFR teammate), quite near where we’ve based ourselves in the past. We’ve got a friend there, Kathrin Stirnemann, who’s father has been the Swiss national coach. Anyhow, we’ve always done technical training with her, so we’ll be able to continue that too. That technical training is so important when racing against the Euros.

Bec Henderson racing at the 2012 World Cup at Val D’lsere

Flow: They do have the mountains and the roots and rocks!

Bec: And the rain too! When it gets wet on the roots I suck, so it’s good to be able to train in the mud.

Flow: So what about equipment?

Bec: We’ll be on both the Superfly SL hardtail and the Superfly 100 SL. It’s going to be great; I’ve never raced a dually, let alone a 29er dually.

Dan: Yeah, the new Superfly 100 is just about as light as my Superfly hardtail this year, so I think I’ll be on the dually quite a lot.

Dan McConnell.

Flow: So what’s on the cards next?

Dan: We’ll be racing the Thredbo National round, well as long as my hand is right by then (Dan recently underwent surgery for a broken bone in his hand). Then in late February after National Champs we head over to Texas and California for a team training camp to meet the rest of the team. Then we’re back for Oceanias before heading to Europe.

Flow: Will you be focussing on the National Champs then?

Dan: Yep, definitely, especially with the home track advantage, though with my hand I haven’t exactly been able to get out there! Still, I’d like to head overseas with the green and gold on my back, so the Nationals will be very important.

Flow: And what about through the year, what are the goals?

Bec: Results wise I am super keen to win a World Cup (U23) and hopefully get a medal at World Champs – but we’ll see how the season pans out.  Definitely excited and keen to get the best out of myself this year and take full advantage of the team support.

Dan: Last year I wanted to get a top 20 and I did that. This year I want to cement that placement – if you can get consistently into the top 20, then you have a good day and anything can happen.

Flow: Well done, guys. Well deserved!

Dan McConnell at Mt Stromlo in Canberra.

 

Interview: Kelly McGarry Drops By

[SV_VIMEO id=”58000288″]

Kelly McGarry would be terrible at hide and seek. He’s six foot four and with a mane of red hair that would put your average viking to shame – there’s not much chance of missing him.

‘Hey, has anyone seen Kelly?’

McGarry is also NZ’s finest freeride export, and for the past seven years he’s been travelling the world, completing in slopestyle and freeride contests, making a name for himself a rider fond of big lines. He divides his time between two of the best riding destinations on the planet – Whistler and Queenstown – meaning he doesn’t have to worry about winter ruining the fun.

While in town for the X-Up Freeride Festival (sadly cancelled due to Mother Nature’s tantrums), he dropped by the local jump spot to have a chat.

These are decent old jumps – the bigger kickers are a good eight foot tall, with gaps that most would think twice about. Only, when Kelly rode them, they looked small. His bike looks small too, almost like it has 20″ wheels, and he chucks it about; it didn’t take too many runs through the big set till he was 360ing and flipping.

360 table over the big one.

In between runs through the jumps and sips of Coopers Pale, we asked Kelly about how the freeride scene is changing, where it’s going next, which riders inspire him (Darren Berrecloth) and why we should all make the pilgrimage to Queenstown NZ.

One-foot table over the hip, looking far too relaxed.

Bike Check: Adam Craig’s Giant Trance X29

We caught up with the insanely fast American, Adam Craig last year at the launch of Giant’s Trance X29. The 120mm 29er arrived down under after a long prototype period that Adam was heavily involved in.  Since then he has taken this particular bike all over the world, including the Mega Avalanche in France.

Adam has been on the scene long enough to be quite particular about his bike setup and part choices, so we quizzed him on a few interesting aspects of his setup and his thoughts on the new Enduro race scene.

What have we here, Adam?

This is my prototype Giant Trance X29. This is number five out of a long prototype phase; it’s a good bike it turns out! [private]

Adam just chilling by Lake Tyax in the Chilcotan Mountains, a short float plane ride from Whistler. Not a bad place to ride.

It’s a bigger fork than what comes standard on the Trance, why the 34mm legs?

I had a 120mm FOX 32 fork to begin with and for the Mega Avalanche I fitted this fatter 34mm 140mm fork to enhance my ability to smash through braking bumps and over other riders, haha. It rides well with both forks though; I like the way the 120mm fork keeps the whole front end down for climbing, but when I run more sag on the 140 it’s pretty close to how the 120 feels when I’m on the bike and riding.

Favouring the burly 34mm FOX Float fork with 140mm travel in favour of the original 120mm travel 32mm diameter ones, Adam can push the front end pretty hard into the braking ruts and bumps – and the larger amount of travel slackens the bikes geometry a little too. But on the flipside, he prefers to use the lower 120mm fork for the steeper climbing days.

Quite a nice set of wheels you have there too.

They are super pimp, from ENVE. At this time, Shimano (Adam’s wheel sponsor) are still working on their 29er all mountain wheels, so I was lucky enough to run the ENVE all mountain rims laced to Shimano XTR hubs. And they are righteous! The generous 24mm internal width gives the tyre some serious air volume.

I wouldn’t call it vertical compliance as such, but the magical feeling of composite wheels is amazing. It silences the ride somewhat too and just having a lighter rim bed with such a good tyre volume, it’s almost like you can run two more clicks on your compression settings and achieve similar ride compliance. I am very impressed, but yes the price is high. These are my original set, and I’d imagine this set will last me a couple seasons.

A testament to the quality of Enve wheels, Adam purchased them set himself and feels they will outlast most other components on his bike. Or at least until Shimano release an XTR level Trail wheel in 29″ size.

You’re not running the finned Ice Tech brake pads?

It’s actually all we had available at the time of the Mega. At the bottom of the 45 minute run the rear brake with the 160mm rotor would begin to fade just slightly due to heat. However, the way the track works, there is the ability to let them cool down, and fast. There is so much braking in the race, it’s crazy, but the Ice-Tech system is amazing. The finned pads definitely help, but the rotor does most of the cooling in comparison to regular rotors.

With no finned Ice Tech brake pads on hand, the brakes still worked fine. On long descents Adam focussed on allowing the brakes to cool down where the track allowed. He believes the Shimano Ice Tech rotor with its aluminium core does the lions share of keeping the system cool and fade at bay.

Talk us through your shoe and pedal combo?

I’ve been running the Shimano SH162 shoe, which is basically their recreational mountain bike shoe with a buckle. You can get them super tight, and they fit great. It’s usually a foregone conclusion that I ask for the stiffest and most expensive shoe Shimano makes, but it turns out that having a little bit of give in the shoe, and paired with these wider Shimano XTR Trail pedals, it lets you feel the pedal a little more with your feet. I can choose whether to put pressure on the inside or the outside of the pedal and you can envelope the pedal a little more with a sole that is not so stiff, like most carbon soled shoes. This bike prompts hooligan riding you see, so I am clipping in and out around switchback turns a lot so planting my foot down with a wider rubber sole shoe is much more stable, plus standing on the pedal unclipped is easier.

These [SH162] are still a little stiffer than the Shimano DX shoe though, as ultimately I need to be able to pedal hard whenever I can. That’s what makes this shoe a great middle ground between a DX and the SH315 carbon race shoe. I guess I like expensive wheels and cheap shoes!

The wider and supportive Shimano XTR Trail pedals used in conjunction with a mid-range stiffness shoe, gives Adam the ability to feel the bike more with his feet.

How did the 29” bike go in the Mega Avalanche? Where there many up there?

No, there weren’t any, haha. I was the only guy on a 29er for sure and I copped a little flack from others, but hey, it worked well. I could have done with a 150mm fork though at times and my hands really copped it. Nico Voullioz was only on a 150mm bike; he doesn’t ride very long travel bikes in these races. There were some guys on those weird sand/snow bikes and fat bikes though; I had to pass a fatbike hardtail coming off the glacier, which was pretty scary. I was actually really happy with how the 29” wheels rode through the snow and it was a touch smoother through the braking holes and ruts than my usual 26” bike.

What did you say to those questioning your motive to ride a 29er?

I say that I’m used to it, and it rides so well. I think you can ride well on whatever you are used to, plus when I race so much cross country in the summer on 29ers the transition is smoother.

Adam says this bike promotes ‘hooligan riding’ and we agree, with a playful and agile character, the Trance X29 is one of those bikes that let you hang it all out on the trail and have a lot of fun.

What tyres were your choice for the Mega?

The Schwalbe Hans Dampf with the Trail Star compound in 2.35” size. I got lucky, with a small puncture that sealed itself and I made it down just in time.

A faster rolling Schwalbe Nobby Nic replaces the mighty Hans Dampf Adam used in the Mega Avalanche.

We hear you are planning your 2013 season around enduro racing?

Yeah, I’ll give the World Cup cross country racing a break for a bit. Enduro is just so much fun and it will be interesting to see what happens with the development of events and who ends up being competitive. It’s exciting to have a new challenge and seeing the pace of riders at Whistler like Jerome Clementz definitely showed I have a lot of work to do!

Do you see the industry being able to support a professional scene and riders?

I’m curious because we all want to see it happen so bad. But the reality is, that for example, Rockshox and Fox Racing Shox still sell a vast majority of short suspension items so throwing their support behind Enduro may not be the most benefit for them. However this new part of the sport is growing, it is colourful and it comes across so well in the media. Right now everyone is excited about it, but when the actual budgets are put forward for this growth area it’ll be interesting. It’s right on the cusp of working and not right now. If I’m not employed this year, you’ll know why.

Good luck this season, Adam!

A light and simple MRP 1x chain device was actually developed for MRP by Adam Craig himself, specifically for cross country racing. And now with the Shimano Shadow + rear derailleur being able to keep the lower part of the chain stable, there is less of a need for a lower guide. 55g of simple security.
Adam prefers non-lock on grips. Rather, he wires on the old school dual density grips to his bars. Extra hassle when changing the cockpit around, but as he hangs his hands off the end of the grip, this is a more comfortable solution.
The best invention since sliced bread, a Shimano XTR Shadow + derailleur keeps the chain stable and quite when the speed gets a little hectic.
Shimano’s component line – PRO make some very fine all mountain carbon components, the Tharsis stem is about as light and stiff as it gets.
A FOX D.O.S.S. (drop on steep stuff) post is the suspension giants take on adjustable seatposts. Adam raves about it, and considering this was his original one, it was in great condition. By ridding the bike less the front derailleur Adam is able to fit the remote lever where the left hand gear shifter would be, under the left side of the bar – out of harms way and perfectly ergonomic.
It must be a prototype if it is painted plain black.
A Shimano XTR 34t cassette is mounted to an XTR hub.
A Contour camera mount ready to capture footage of Adam shredding glaciers and floundering media attempting to follow his wheel.

 

[/private]

Bike Check: Adam Craig's Giant Trance X29

We caught up with the insanely fast American, Adam Craig last year at the launch of Giant’s Trance X29. The 120mm 29er arrived down under after a long prototype period that Adam was heavily involved in.  Since then he has taken this particular bike all over the world, including the Mega Avalanche in France.

Adam has been on the scene long enough to be quite particular about his bike setup and part choices, so we quizzed him on a few interesting aspects of his setup and his thoughts on the new Enduro race scene.

What have we here, Adam?

This is my prototype Giant Trance X29. This is number five out of a long prototype phase; it’s a good bike it turns out! [private]

Adam just chilling by Lake Tyax in the Chilcotan Mountains, a short float plane ride from Whistler. Not a bad place to ride.

It’s a bigger fork than what comes standard on the Trance, why the 34mm legs?

I had a 120mm FOX 32 fork to begin with and for the Mega Avalanche I fitted this fatter 34mm 140mm fork to enhance my ability to smash through braking bumps and over other riders, haha. It rides well with both forks though; I like the way the 120mm fork keeps the whole front end down for climbing, but when I run more sag on the 140 it’s pretty close to how the 120 feels when I’m on the bike and riding.

Favouring the burly 34mm FOX Float fork with 140mm travel in favour of the original 120mm travel 32mm diameter ones, Adam can push the front end pretty hard into the braking ruts and bumps – and the larger amount of travel slackens the bikes geometry a little too. But on the flipside, he prefers to use the lower 120mm fork for the steeper climbing days.

Quite a nice set of wheels you have there too.

They are super pimp, from ENVE. At this time, Shimano (Adam’s wheel sponsor) are still working on their 29er all mountain wheels, so I was lucky enough to run the ENVE all mountain rims laced to Shimano XTR hubs. And they are righteous! The generous 24mm internal width gives the tyre some serious air volume.

I wouldn’t call it vertical compliance as such, but the magical feeling of composite wheels is amazing. It silences the ride somewhat too and just having a lighter rim bed with such a good tyre volume, it’s almost like you can run two more clicks on your compression settings and achieve similar ride compliance. I am very impressed, but yes the price is high. These are my original set, and I’d imagine this set will last me a couple seasons.

A testament to the quality of Enve wheels, Adam purchased them set himself and feels they will outlast most other components on his bike. Or at least until Shimano release an XTR level Trail wheel in 29″ size.

You’re not running the finned Ice Tech brake pads?

It’s actually all we had available at the time of the Mega. At the bottom of the 45 minute run the rear brake with the 160mm rotor would begin to fade just slightly due to heat. However, the way the track works, there is the ability to let them cool down, and fast. There is so much braking in the race, it’s crazy, but the Ice-Tech system is amazing. The finned pads definitely help, but the rotor does most of the cooling in comparison to regular rotors.

With no finned Ice Tech brake pads on hand, the brakes still worked fine. On long descents Adam focussed on allowing the brakes to cool down where the track allowed. He believes the Shimano Ice Tech rotor with its aluminium core does the lions share of keeping the system cool and fade at bay.

Talk us through your shoe and pedal combo?

I’ve been running the Shimano SH162 shoe, which is basically their recreational mountain bike shoe with a buckle. You can get them super tight, and they fit great. It’s usually a foregone conclusion that I ask for the stiffest and most expensive shoe Shimano makes, but it turns out that having a little bit of give in the shoe, and paired with these wider Shimano XTR Trail pedals, it lets you feel the pedal a little more with your feet. I can choose whether to put pressure on the inside or the outside of the pedal and you can envelope the pedal a little more with a sole that is not so stiff, like most carbon soled shoes. This bike prompts hooligan riding you see, so I am clipping in and out around switchback turns a lot so planting my foot down with a wider rubber sole shoe is much more stable, plus standing on the pedal unclipped is easier.

These [SH162] are still a little stiffer than the Shimano DX shoe though, as ultimately I need to be able to pedal hard whenever I can. That’s what makes this shoe a great middle ground between a DX and the SH315 carbon race shoe. I guess I like expensive wheels and cheap shoes!

The wider and supportive Shimano XTR Trail pedals used in conjunction with a mid-range stiffness shoe, gives Adam the ability to feel the bike more with his feet.

How did the 29” bike go in the Mega Avalanche? Where there many up there?

No, there weren’t any, haha. I was the only guy on a 29er for sure and I copped a little flack from others, but hey, it worked well. I could have done with a 150mm fork though at times and my hands really copped it. Nico Voullioz was only on a 150mm bike; he doesn’t ride very long travel bikes in these races. There were some guys on those weird sand/snow bikes and fat bikes though; I had to pass a fatbike hardtail coming off the glacier, which was pretty scary. I was actually really happy with how the 29” wheels rode through the snow and it was a touch smoother through the braking holes and ruts than my usual 26” bike.

What did you say to those questioning your motive to ride a 29er?

I say that I’m used to it, and it rides so well. I think you can ride well on whatever you are used to, plus when I race so much cross country in the summer on 29ers the transition is smoother.

Adam says this bike promotes ‘hooligan riding’ and we agree, with a playful and agile character, the Trance X29 is one of those bikes that let you hang it all out on the trail and have a lot of fun.

What tyres were your choice for the Mega?

The Schwalbe Hans Dampf with the Trail Star compound in 2.35” size. I got lucky, with a small puncture that sealed itself and I made it down just in time.

A faster rolling Schwalbe Nobby Nic replaces the mighty Hans Dampf Adam used in the Mega Avalanche.

We hear you are planning your 2013 season around enduro racing?

Yeah, I’ll give the World Cup cross country racing a break for a bit. Enduro is just so much fun and it will be interesting to see what happens with the development of events and who ends up being competitive. It’s exciting to have a new challenge and seeing the pace of riders at Whistler like Jerome Clementz definitely showed I have a lot of work to do!

Do you see the industry being able to support a professional scene and riders?

I’m curious because we all want to see it happen so bad. But the reality is, that for example, Rockshox and Fox Racing Shox still sell a vast majority of short suspension items so throwing their support behind Enduro may not be the most benefit for them. However this new part of the sport is growing, it is colourful and it comes across so well in the media. Right now everyone is excited about it, but when the actual budgets are put forward for this growth area it’ll be interesting. It’s right on the cusp of working and not right now. If I’m not employed this year, you’ll know why.

Good luck this season, Adam!

A light and simple MRP 1x chain device was actually developed for MRP by Adam Craig himself, specifically for cross country racing. And now with the Shimano Shadow + rear derailleur being able to keep the lower part of the chain stable, there is less of a need for a lower guide. 55g of simple security.
Adam prefers non-lock on grips. Rather, he wires on the old school dual density grips to his bars. Extra hassle when changing the cockpit around, but as he hangs his hands off the end of the grip, this is a more comfortable solution.
The best invention since sliced bread, a Shimano XTR Shadow + derailleur keeps the chain stable and quite when the speed gets a little hectic.
Shimano’s component line – PRO make some very fine all mountain carbon components, the Tharsis stem is about as light and stiff as it gets.
A FOX D.O.S.S. (drop on steep stuff) post is the suspension giants take on adjustable seatposts. Adam raves about it, and considering this was his original one, it was in great condition. By ridding the bike less the front derailleur Adam is able to fit the remote lever where the left hand gear shifter would be, under the left side of the bar – out of harms way and perfectly ergonomic.
It must be a prototype if it is painted plain black.
A Shimano XTR 34t cassette is mounted to an XTR hub.
A Contour camera mount ready to capture footage of Adam shredding glaciers and floundering media attempting to follow his wheel.

 

[/private]

Must-Ride: Bikes and Brews Tour Part 3

[SV_VIMEO id=”57418888″]

 

It’s Thirsty Work, but someone’s got to do it!

 

For issue #2 of Flow Mountain Bike, the Flow team of Mick, Chris, Kath, Greg, Damian and Reiner got on the road once again, heading to the Victorian high country. On the program was a three bonanza of bikes and brews, taking in Beechworth, Mt Beauty and Bright.

Our host, Shannon Rademaker of All Terrain Cycles, looked after us in royal style and you can read all about it in issue #2 of Flow Mountain Bike, on sale now.

Part 3 takes the Flow crew through the sweet trails of Bright, Victoria.  A fitting end to what was one of the best road trips we’ve had.

Filmed and edited by Rainman Productions.

The Soapbox: The First Things I Do To All My New Bikes

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!  You just got a new bike! Sweet, I just got a new bike too!  (It’s true; I just got a 29er Trance).

Chances are you are stoked and ready to hit the trail… but… just how ready is that bike when you wheel it out of the shop? The truth is, not all that ready if you ask me.

I’ve been pretty lucky to get fresh bikes on a fairly consistent basis over the last decade, but before I hit the trail, I generally spend a minimum of three hours working on it before I deem it ready to go.

The modern mountain bike is an insanely adjustable, technical piece of equipment and any suspension bike you buy has the ability to adapt to riders of vastly different sizes, weights and riding styles. Chances are that if you get the set up wrong, that fresh new whip you’ve been drooling over for the last 6 months is going to feel like the proverbial bucket of shit- despite what all the glowing reviews say.

There’s also the personal aspect of setting up a bike to suit your riding style and preferences. So, with my background as a pro DH racer, here’s the minimum of what I do to all my bikes before they even leave the workshop on that maiden voyage-

1-     Grease the BB threads, headset and hubs.

Most pre built bikes come with minimal grease in these areas. Add some grease and you won’t have to do it later. With Shimano BB’s I generally space the drive side cup in closer to give a better chain-line if it’s possible. I also cut down the steerer tube to get rid of any excess spacers.

Lube it up as they may not have in the factory.

2-     Shorter stem, wider (riser) bars and grips of choice.

This is a personal choice but you won’t find me running a stem any longer than 80mm or bars narrower than 740mm on any of my bikes. For me, carbon bars are out- too much flex and I’m happy to carry the extra weight.

Riding position is key, so work out what you like and make those changes to all our bikes.

3-     Tubeless tyres.

With the exception of my downhill and jump bikes, if it isn’t tubeless, I make it tubeless.  I’m a huge fan of the “ghetto” tubeless setup which involves a 20” tube, some electrical tape and sealant. I have a bit of a history with this, and I’ve tried other options but I keep going back to this if I don’t have tubeless wheels.

You would have to be insane to still be using tubes.

4-     Suspension setup.

I always set up my suspension before I set my saddle position. I could write a book (or at least a really thick pamphlet) about suspension setup so all I’m going to say here is that if you know nothing about suspension, find someone who does. If the shop you are buying your bike from can’t help you, find another shop!

It’s complicated but important and worth getting right.

5-     Saddle position, lever position, bar height, bar roll, tyre pressure.

I spend a good amount of time making these final touches and I’m probably overly pedantic about it. That said, fit is everything and a professional bike fit is the best option for rookies at this stage. I also check my tyre pressures every time before I ride.

A few more minor adjustments and I’m ready for the trail.

Now, I’m sure that for most people reading this, all these steps might seem pretty logical but all it takes is a quick look around the local trail head and it amazes me just how many riders don’t take the time to set up their bikes properly or to suit their riding styles.

In an ideal world, any bike shop you drop a few grand at should do all this, and more, without kicking up too much of a fuss. I think it’s crazy that people would rather save $100 and overlook these crucial aspects of bike setup and with this in mind, sometimes the best deal isn’t the cheapest.

As human beings we are all unique and individual and I believe our bikes should reflect this. After all, chances are you’d hate how my bike is set up!

Any other tips or ideas? Post below!

Breakfast of Champions: Justin Leov

[SV_VIMEO id=”57495344″]

Justin Leov, of Trek World Racing, has just hung up his boots as a professional downhill racer to leap into the world of professional Enduro racing. If anything, his nutrition is going to be even more important now than ever, so it’s lucky this affable NZ South Islander fuels himself properly.

 

Solid breakfast = solid racing. Justin packs in porridge, three or four eggs on toast and ALWAYS a coffee.

Flow caught up with Justin Leov while he was in Christchurch recently to ask him what he eats and why, both when he’s racing and in the off season. We really like the sound of his Saturday morning off season brekky.

Must-Ride: The Bike and Brews Tour Part 2

[SV_VIMEO id=”55996637″]

 

It’s Thirsty Work, but someone’s got to do it!

 

For issue #2 of Flow Mountain Bike, the Flow team of Mick, Chris, Kath, Greg, Damian and Reiner got on the road once again, heading to the Victorian high country. On the program was a three bonanza of bikes and brews, taking in Beechworth, Mt Beauty and Bright.

Our host, Shannon Rademaker of All Terrain Cycles, looked after us in royal style and you can read all about it in issue #2 of Flow Mountain Bike, on sale now.

Filmed and edited by Rainman Productions.

 

 

 

Josh’s Jabber: First Impressions Last, Right?

Josh Carlson should need little introduction.  Since moving to Canada from Wollongong Josh has hit the Northern American race scene like the fire colour of his hair.  Josh is teaming up with Flow for a regular piece on his adventures and travels and we’re happy to have him on board.

Read on as Josh explains how he made a huge first impression on his new bosses.

There is a reason we have used this photo.  We remember this absolute cracker of a shot GIANT used as a poster and introduction to the media last year, however we didn’t know the story behind the photoshoot.

“In 2012 I debuted with the GIANT Factory Off-road team to focus on racing enduro and cross country events. I was brought onto the team as a ‘see how he goes over the year’ type of rider and I was in a tough position where every race counted and first impressions lasted.

Well, didn’t I make an impression to remember!

My first introduction to the global team and GIANT family was in Los Angeles at our team camp. All our team riders and staff gathered for a week of riding, photo shoots, media appointments and bike fittings in preparation for the year of racing and riding ahead. I was one of the first riders to land in LA and got to meet most of the team staff before I met the rest of my new team during the photo shoots and other activities.

The second day was a big day of photo shoots with my cross country/enduro team mates Carl Decker and Kelli Emmett, two legends of the sport and long time GIANT riders. We headed out into the moonscape hills of LA and embarked of a very LONG hot day of corners, jumps, rock gardens and blue steels – repeated 50 times!  7.30am we were piled into the team truck, loaded up with our freshly built 2012 bikes dripping with bling and shinier than diamonds. For me, I was WELL excited about shredding on my new rig and riding with my new teammates.

After a long day with plenty of laughs and some great shots, we pilled back into the truck and headed back to our hotels for some grub and well earned rest before heading over to GIANT HQ to meet our bosses and the office crew of worker bees that make GIANT Bicycles what it is.

It was about 8.15pm by this stage and just on dusk as we drove back along the 101 hwy in LA. We were all chatting away about this and that and Kelli was telling us a story of how she was driving along a freeway and a table she had in the back of her pickup truck had somehow removed itself and exploded into a million pieces on the freeway behind her. Another story of an unfortunate highway trip followed from me about the time I lost my Honda 125 off the back of my dad’s work ute back when I was a junior, as we headed to a local motocross race at Oran Park.

Then our driver keeps looking in the rear view mirror and says, “well speaking of losing stuff out of the back of trucks, I think we have lost a blanket!”

Carl and I were in the back seat, and we turn around and check out the bikes and the missing blanket in the back of the tray. We then turn back around and stare at each other for a second.

‘That’s funny,’ Carl says. We both turn around again and counted the bikes in the back of the truck. We then looked back at each other with the same bewildered look on our faces.

‘Didn’t we have four bikes hanging over the tailgate?!’ Carl questioned.

We turn and look for a third time, this time painstakingly counting and taking notice of what bikes were there.

‘AHH SHIT!! WE’VE LOST A BIKE IN THAT BLANKET!,’ were the next words and thoughts in EVERYONE’S minds and out of EVERYONE’S mouths.

We came to a screeching halt on the side of the four-lane crazy US freeway and pulled into the emergency lane. By this stage it was pretty much dark and well and truly into peak traffic on one of the busiest freeways in LA.

Carl and I jump out of the truck and proceed to sprint back toward the oncoming traffic in the emergency lane, hugging the huge concrete barriers at the same time. All we could see were headlights screaming at us at literally 100mph as we ran back up the freeway like crazy frogs from an 80’s arcade game!

As I dodged life and death mixed thoughts of disbelief and anxiety ran through my head.

‘It couldn’t have been my bike’, were the self doubting words that circled my head.  ‘Mine was in the middle?!’

My bike had two bikes on one side of it, and another on the other side. We had wrapped a blanket around my bike and all four bikes were jammed up against one another so they wouldn’t fly out of the back. The blanket was to protect it! When we left, there was 100% no doubt in our minds that they were secure and safe.

They obviously weren’t LA freeway safe!

Carl and I continued our gauntlet of death sprinting it up the emergency lane for what felt like hours. All of a sudden we noticed the cars were starting to chicane across the freeway and headlights are swinging all over the road. We start to hear horrible sounds, like shrapnel and a glass jar half full of ball bearings.

‘Oh shit!’, I said to myself.

Then as we get closer the we start to see shards of carbon fibre getting sprayed all over the freeway and spokes being flung up into car headlights!

By this stage we were pressed firmly up against the wall, about 20 metres from what appears to be my formerly pimped-out-brand-spanking-new-only-ridden-once Trance.

In between herds of cars, we take turns at chicken, running out into the traffic to pull in handfuls of carbon fibre and bike parts. First was the wheels, tyres, crank arms and fork legs. Next was the down tube, seat, brake line and front rotor (which was now embedded into my rear tyre). It was absolutely terrifying standing that close to the crazy LA traffic, let alone with 7 million pieces of GIANT Trance being thrown around like a ball in a pinball machine!

We had collected four solid handfuls of bike pieces and were still firmly pressed against the wall as we both stared at my white RockShox Monarch shock staring at us, right in the path of the oncoming traffic. We had to move quickly and get the shock out of the way.  We again played chicken with the LA traffic and somehow kicked it off the road.

‘Pheww!’ we expressed, as we saved a car, and maybe ourselves from harm.

By this stage its pitch black and we can barely see anything. Carl and I picked up as many bits of the bike as we could and we made our way back to the truck. Along the way we start to see other pieces of pedal, crank, brake cables and wheels spokes littered along the emergency lane all the way back to the truck. However, we notice one solid looking bit only a few metres from the truck. It was the seat post clamp part of the frame, which had a GIANT team sticker with my name on it. We grabed it as a ‘memento’ and piled into the truck in disbelief.

As we get back to the hotel, I hand our team manager the piece of frame with my name on it.

‘I think I might have cracked my frame,’ I said with a face painted with a look of horror.

We checked out the piles of bike in the back of the pickup with my bike looking like it had been put in a huge industrial blender and then spat out. It is unrecognisable and turned out to not have one single, bolt or piece on it salvageable for a new one.

The next day I walked into GIANT HQ and met a whole bunch of awesome people.

“Hi I’m Josh…,’ I sheepishly said as I began to introduce myself.

However, before I could get any further into my introduction I was cut off mid sentence.

‘Oh, you’re the new guy whose bike was destroyed. HOLY CRAP!’

At least they knew my name and I had made a lasting first impression.”

It may not be the best image but here’s the most useful part of the bike that remained.

 

Josh's Jabber: First Impressions Last, Right?

Josh Carlson should need little introduction.  Since moving to Canada from Wollongong Josh has hit the Northern American race scene like the fire colour of his hair.  Josh is teaming up with Flow for a regular piece on his adventures and travels and we’re happy to have him on board.

Read on as Josh explains how he made a huge first impression on his new bosses.

There is a reason we have used this photo.  We remember this absolute cracker of a shot GIANT used as a poster and introduction to the media last year, however we didn’t know the story behind the photoshoot.

“In 2012 I debuted with the GIANT Factory Off-road team to focus on racing enduro and cross country events. I was brought onto the team as a ‘see how he goes over the year’ type of rider and I was in a tough position where every race counted and first impressions lasted.

Well, didn’t I make an impression to remember!

My first introduction to the global team and GIANT family was in Los Angeles at our team camp. All our team riders and staff gathered for a week of riding, photo shoots, media appointments and bike fittings in preparation for the year of racing and riding ahead. I was one of the first riders to land in LA and got to meet most of the team staff before I met the rest of my new team during the photo shoots and other activities.

The second day was a big day of photo shoots with my cross country/enduro team mates Carl Decker and Kelli Emmett, two legends of the sport and long time GIANT riders. We headed out into the moonscape hills of LA and embarked of a very LONG hot day of corners, jumps, rock gardens and blue steels – repeated 50 times!  7.30am we were piled into the team truck, loaded up with our freshly built 2012 bikes dripping with bling and shinier than diamonds. For me, I was WELL excited about shredding on my new rig and riding with my new teammates.

After a long day with plenty of laughs and some great shots, we pilled back into the truck and headed back to our hotels for some grub and well earned rest before heading over to GIANT HQ to meet our bosses and the office crew of worker bees that make GIANT Bicycles what it is.

It was about 8.15pm by this stage and just on dusk as we drove back along the 101 hwy in LA. We were all chatting away about this and that and Kelli was telling us a story of how she was driving along a freeway and a table she had in the back of her pickup truck had somehow removed itself and exploded into a million pieces on the freeway behind her. Another story of an unfortunate highway trip followed from me about the time I lost my Honda 125 off the back of my dad’s work ute back when I was a junior, as we headed to a local motocross race at Oran Park.

Then our driver keeps looking in the rear view mirror and says, “well speaking of losing stuff out of the back of trucks, I think we have lost a blanket!”

Carl and I were in the back seat, and we turn around and check out the bikes and the missing blanket in the back of the tray. We then turn back around and stare at each other for a second.

‘That’s funny,’ Carl says. We both turn around again and counted the bikes in the back of the truck. We then looked back at each other with the same bewildered look on our faces.

‘Didn’t we have four bikes hanging over the tailgate?!’ Carl questioned.

We turn and look for a third time, this time painstakingly counting and taking notice of what bikes were there.

‘AHH SHIT!! WE’VE LOST A BIKE IN THAT BLANKET!,’ were the next words and thoughts in EVERYONE’S minds and out of EVERYONE’S mouths.

We came to a screeching halt on the side of the four-lane crazy US freeway and pulled into the emergency lane. By this stage it was pretty much dark and well and truly into peak traffic on one of the busiest freeways in LA.

Carl and I jump out of the truck and proceed to sprint back toward the oncoming traffic in the emergency lane, hugging the huge concrete barriers at the same time. All we could see were headlights screaming at us at literally 100mph as we ran back up the freeway like crazy frogs from an 80’s arcade game!

As I dodged life and death mixed thoughts of disbelief and anxiety ran through my head.

‘It couldn’t have been my bike’, were the self doubting words that circled my head.  ‘Mine was in the middle?!’

My bike had two bikes on one side of it, and another on the other side. We had wrapped a blanket around my bike and all four bikes were jammed up against one another so they wouldn’t fly out of the back. The blanket was to protect it! When we left, there was 100% no doubt in our minds that they were secure and safe.

They obviously weren’t LA freeway safe!

Carl and I continued our gauntlet of death sprinting it up the emergency lane for what felt like hours. All of a sudden we noticed the cars were starting to chicane across the freeway and headlights are swinging all over the road. We start to hear horrible sounds, like shrapnel and a glass jar half full of ball bearings.

‘Oh shit!’, I said to myself.

Then as we get closer the we start to see shards of carbon fibre getting sprayed all over the freeway and spokes being flung up into car headlights!

By this stage we were pressed firmly up against the wall, about 20 metres from what appears to be my formerly pimped-out-brand-spanking-new-only-ridden-once Trance.

In between herds of cars, we take turns at chicken, running out into the traffic to pull in handfuls of carbon fibre and bike parts. First was the wheels, tyres, crank arms and fork legs. Next was the down tube, seat, brake line and front rotor (which was now embedded into my rear tyre). It was absolutely terrifying standing that close to the crazy LA traffic, let alone with 7 million pieces of GIANT Trance being thrown around like a ball in a pinball machine!

We had collected four solid handfuls of bike pieces and were still firmly pressed against the wall as we both stared at my white RockShox Monarch shock staring at us, right in the path of the oncoming traffic. We had to move quickly and get the shock out of the way.  We again played chicken with the LA traffic and somehow kicked it off the road.

‘Pheww!’ we expressed, as we saved a car, and maybe ourselves from harm.

By this stage its pitch black and we can barely see anything. Carl and I picked up as many bits of the bike as we could and we made our way back to the truck. Along the way we start to see other pieces of pedal, crank, brake cables and wheels spokes littered along the emergency lane all the way back to the truck. However, we notice one solid looking bit only a few metres from the truck. It was the seat post clamp part of the frame, which had a GIANT team sticker with my name on it. We grabed it as a ‘memento’ and piled into the truck in disbelief.

As we get back to the hotel, I hand our team manager the piece of frame with my name on it.

‘I think I might have cracked my frame,’ I said with a face painted with a look of horror.

We checked out the piles of bike in the back of the pickup with my bike looking like it had been put in a huge industrial blender and then spat out. It is unrecognisable and turned out to not have one single, bolt or piece on it salvageable for a new one.

The next day I walked into GIANT HQ and met a whole bunch of awesome people.

“Hi I’m Josh…,’ I sheepishly said as I began to introduce myself.

However, before I could get any further into my introduction I was cut off mid sentence.

‘Oh, you’re the new guy whose bike was destroyed. HOLY CRAP!’

At least they knew my name and I had made a lasting first impression.”

It may not be the best image but here’s the most useful part of the bike that remained.

 

The Soapbox: The Magic of Flat Pedals

Flatties…

I still remember my first ‘good’ flat pedals; a set of blue DMR V8s that I moved from bike to bike, not caring that the axles were bent. I’d pull them open and squirt fresh grease into them all the time, I bought longer pins to give me more grip (and to take off more skin from my shins), I was stoked how they matched the frame colour of my hardtail. I wonder where they went…?

I learnt an awful lot on those pedals too. They supported my feet as I built my skills over a good few years, before I ultimately began running clipless pedals. I still ride flatties occasionally – not on trail rides, but sometimes on the downhill bike, and my dirt jump bike of course runs flats too.

Looking back, I’m exceptionally glad I spent all those years on flat pedals.

Flat pedals teach you a lot of things that many people miss out in in their headlong rush to be a ‘proper’ mountain biker and clip in.

  1. Confidence; this is probably the biggest one in my mind. When you know you can eject from the bike completely at your whim, without the risk of your feet staying locked into the pedals, your confidence is much higher. You’re willing to try lines, corner harder, tackle tricky climbs, or do jumps, because you know you can bail out if it starts to head south. Consequently, your horizons are broader and you start to learn how far you can push it, and just what you and your bike are capable of. You realise the boundaries aren’t as tight as you might have thought.
  2. Smoothness; flat pedals make you smoother. If you’re not smooth on flat pedals, your feet aren’t going to stay put. I don’t care how grippy your shoes are, if you plough through a rock garden without learning how to use your body and legs to soak up the bike bucking underneath you, your feet are going to get bounced off.
  3. Lifting the bike; rather than simply hoiking the bike up with your feet clipped in, flat pedals teach you how to use your whole body properly to get the bike into the air. You learn to hop higher, further and more safely (with less chance of accidentally yanking a foot out of your pedal) if you’re riding flat pedals.
  4. Scars; flat pedals leave good scars all up and down your shin. As I look down at the craters the pins left in my skin, each little divot is a reminder not just of a mistake I’ve made, but a ride I’ve been on. And even if it hurt at the time, it’s a good memory now.

Recently, a few of my riding mates have returned to flat pedals for trail riding. And as I watch them rail a corner with their foot out, or clown around doing some trials moves on the rocks without fear of toppling over in a slow motion crash, I start to wonder if I can find those old blue DMRs somewhere…

Chris Kovarik has spent his entire career racing on flat pedals.

 

Must-Ride: The Bikes and Brews Tour, Part 1

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It’s Thirsty Work, but someone’s got to do it!

 

Mick rides the rocks of Beechworth Mountain Bike Park, located just a short pedal from the centre of town and it’s delicious lamingtons.

For issue #2 of Flow Mountain Bike, the Flow team of Mick, Chris, Kath, Greg, Damian and Reiner got on the road once again, heading to the Victorian high country. On the program was a three bonanza of bikes and brews, taking in Beechworth, Mt Beauty and Bright.

Thirsty? We were after a hot day on the Beechworth Trails. Tanswells Hotel sorted that right out.

Our host was Shannon Rademaker, of All Terrain Cycles, who looked after us in royal style. Here’s part one of the journey, of our three part series, Sydney and Beechworth. You can read all about it in issue #2 of Flow Mountain Bike, on sale now.

Filmed and edited by Rainman Productions.

 

 

The Soapbox: This Is Why I Hate Strava

When Strava first came out, I thought it was the most incredible thing ever. It just seemed absolutely incredible what it could do and how it worked.  Now, I’m not so sure about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Strava, so let me try to explain.

It’s not all hate but there is a time and a place for Strava.

As a training and statistical tool, Strava is absolutely fantastic and yes, I have a Strava account and do use it occasionally. For gauging improvements in your riding, there is no better tool- but here’s my problem with it; every time I go riding, I want to escape. I want to get in that zone where nothing else matters and my brain switches off. That right there is the best part of riding.

Competition changes that. The last thing I want in the back of my mind when I’m riding is where I’m going to rank on the next trail I hit, or how fast I can do a climb. And yet, I see it more and more; riders going out with the sole purpose of getting that KOM, or adding more metres climbed to their yearly total, or impressing their friends by being the #6 ranked rider in the 45 – 46 year old, 78kg – 81kg recumbent class…….

Whatever happened to riding for fun? If you’re going for a group ride with a bunch of friends to have a good time, does it really matter how far you rode, or where you ranked? Give me a break.

Don’t tell me how many metres you’ve climbed this year, or how far you’ve ridden. I absolutely don’t give a shit. If you want to race someone, go to a race and line up against everyone else. Don’t go out for a “ride” and hit the same trail three times because you’re trying to get a KOM. That’s not riding. And it’s also not racing. It’s just dumb.

Technology is changing our lives more and more every day, but I don’t want it to change how much I enjoy riding my bike. If you really do enjoy turning every ride into a race, then good for you. You’re probably the same guy who understands merging in traffic as a no holds barred race to the death.

I say, lets save racing for the races and enjoy riding our bikes. Please use Strava in moderation and don’t get too carried away. Let’s enjoy riding for what it’s supposed to be.

Get stoked (or upset) at the trails – not the small screen of your phone.

Dunedin’s Three Peaks Prime For Enduro

Enduro racing made its debut in Dunedin, New Zealand, in December when a field of almost 100 riders raced the inaugural Urge 3 Peaks Enduro.

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The event, organised by former XC professional and Olympian Kashi Leuchs and Mountain Biking Otago attracted a field that included competitors from Chile, UK, Germany and the North Island. The race took full advantage of the unique mountain terrain around Dunedin and linked in the three trail networks closest to the CBD.

Anja McDonald
Anja McDonald descends a staircase on Mt Cargill during the inaugural Urge Three Peaks Enduro.
Startline
Competitors gather at the summit of Flagstaff for the inaugural Urge Three Peaks Enduro held in terrain above Dunedin, New Zealand on December 15, 2012.

The event started at the Bull Pen on Three Mile Hill with a short liaison to the summit of Flagstaff 668m. The first timed leg was on the Pineapple Track – an unforgiving, steep, bony descent that chews brake pads like biscuits. Yeti DH pro rider Cam Cole claimed the fastest time with his 11:00.81 ride.

Riders then climbed Mt Cargill 676m and rode down into Bethunes Gully. This time it was local DH rider Tom Lamb who chalked up the fastest time with his 10:31.98 descent – all that night riding had obviously paid off.

Phil Oliver
Phil Oliver, of Alexandra, descends Signal Hill MTB trails during the inaugural Urge Three Peaks Enduro

The final liaison took the field to the top of Signal Hill 320m before connecting up to the infamous Signal Hill singletrack network for the last timed section. Organisers made sure the final run was spectator friendly as the trail became increasingly more difficult toward the end where it connected to the Student Track and then spilled into a network of stairs and pathways directly through Logan Park High School to the finish area. Fastest on this final run was Tom again – the only rider to chalk up a sub-seven-minute descent. Despite colliding with a sweep rider and taking a massive over the bars as a result, Cam still won the DH class by more than two minutes.

“The trails were really varied – some tight technical bits and some fast flowing sections as well,” offered Cam.

“It’s a good test of an all-round mountain biker and a lot of fun.”

Olympian Rosara Joseph
Olympian Rosara Joseph shares a laugh after winning the inaugural Urge Three Peaks Enduro held in terrain above Dunedin, New Zealand on December 15, 2012.

Olympian Rosara Joseph won the women’s open section from local riders Anja McDonald and Erin Greene. In the open men’s category, Tom Lamb, of Dunedin, held off the challenge of Rotorua’s Samuel Shaw, and Queenstown’s Jarrah Healy was third.

“It’s such a fun race,” Rosara said afterward.

“I had a great day and the tracks are really impressive with lots of variety. I enjoyed the transition stages as well and the people have been great ­– everyone is really happy.”

It was a privilege for riders to be able to cycle on the Pineapple Track and down Mt Cargill as the tracks are usually reserved for hikers not bikers, but the city opens them up for events like this.

Leuchs predicts New Zealand will follow the international lead on enduro.

“Enduro is going to be bigger than anything we have seen – it’s the type of riding that everyone likes to do and on bikes that everyone can ride. This is just the beginning really,” he said.

If the 2012 Urge 3 Peaks Enduro is anything to go by, then the sport is set to flourish in Australasia and the overwhelmingly positive feedback should secure this event at least on the enduro calendar for years to come.

Visit www.urge3peaks.co.nz for full results and race info

Staircase
A competitor rides the staircase at the top of Mt Cargill during the Urge Three Peaks Enduro.
Foggy mountain
Fog shrouds the antenna atop Mt Cargill during the inaugural Urge Three Peaks Enduro.

Anton Cooper and Cam Cole tackle Mt Fyffe

What happens when you take one professional XC rider and one professional downhill rider and send them up a mountain above Kaikoura, New Zealand?

We weren’t sure either, but that is exactly what we did in December with current Junior World XC Champion Anton Cooper and 2006 Junior World Downhill Champion Cam Cole.

Descent
Anton Cooper, Martin Frey, Darryn Henderson and Cam Cole race down from the summit of Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, New Zealand.

To make conditions even more volatile we threw in five-time New Zealand downhill champion – turned business professional – Darryn Henderson. He is 47 these days, but still has the mental aptitude of a teenager the instant he touches a mountain bike.

Martin Frey joins the, aghhh, this is awkward … fray. He’s a German XC racer visiting New Zealand to learn some tricks off Anton or at least devise some ways to poison him.

Mt Fyffe is 1600m tall and rises straight above the Kaikoura coast. It’s a hell of a climb, but the descent is oh so creamy.

If you think there will be blood then you’re right. There is blood and lots of it.

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Cooper
Anton Cooper (just days before his Cannondale Factory Racing announcement) near the summit of Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, New Zealand.
Mt Fyffe
Anton Cooper, Martin Frey, Darryn Henderson and Cam Cole on the summit of Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, New Zealand.
The summit
The summit of Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, New Zealand.
Darryn Henderson
Darryn Henderson climbs a technical section on Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, New Zealand.
Summit
Anton Cooper, Martin Frey, Darryn Henderson and Cam Cole on the summit of Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, New Zealand.

12 Days of BoXXer!

Flow has 12 Rockshox BoXXer World Cup forks to give away! Merry Christmas!

To go into the draw to win, all you need to do is answer a little bit of Rockshox trivia. Post your answer to our Facebook page and we’ll randomly select a winner from the correct responses.

TODAY’S QUESTION IS:

 

Question #12 – Who has won the BoXXer World Championships since they began in 2001. (Hint, there has been 7 different winners.)

 

Now, go post your answer to our Facebook page to go into the draw.

We’ll be giving away one fork every weekday from Thursday 6 December, right up until Christmas.

The small print:

This giveaway is open to residents of Australia only (sorry!).
Answers must be posted to www.facebook.com/flowmountainbike on the same day as the question is posted on www.flowmountainbike.com
Winners will be picked at random from the correct responses posted to www.facebook.com/flowmountainbike
These are not current model BoXXers, but are BRAND NEW, totally awesome 2010 model BoXXer World Cup forks.
Forks are red or white – should you win, you will not be given an option to choose the colour.
Winner’s forks will be shipped to them directly from SRAM in Victoria, Australia. Forks will be shipped in early 2013 once everyone’s back from Christmas break.
Prize is not redeemable for cash, fool!

 

 

The Bucket List: Enduro Racing and Getting the Bug

Follow Mike Kennedy on his journey to tick the BC Bike race off his bucket list. Part one here.

 

The BC Bike Race is just that, it’s a race.

You sit astride your bike at the starting line. All the noise, the friendly banter from competitors, and your own mental chatter fades away.  All that is left is the sound of your own breathing and a myopic view of that ribbon of dirt in front of you.

Welcome to mountain bike racing, the art of beating your mates!

‘It’s about beating the clock’, I hear you say. Bollocks! That fastest time at the last ride (race) was probably set by one of your mates and you’ll be damned if he or she is going to beat you again.

Ever since the first group of maniacs came screaming and whooping down Mount Tam on their klunkers in the mid seventies, mountain biking has been about racing. An upgrade here, a sneaky training ride there, even a little extra TLC for your 2 wheeled friend is all about one thing – going faster.

Why? You know why. [private]

We all have it in us. That instinct, that genetically predetermined “thing” where if we can beat someone else, even by a split second, we will give it a go.

There’s no use denying it. Even the mellow soul rider on a social ride will race you to the next corner if it gives them the perfect line into the next section.  Hell, my daughter would race you to the corner shop for the last banana paddlepop!

It’s just the natural order of things, and I have a big, very big race to get ready for and you can bet I too want to beat my mates.

Enduro racing. The skills and the fun is helping me prepare for the BC Bike Race.

In preparation for the BC bike race I have been doing a few different things. As an example, over the last few months I have been going to a few Enduro style races and having an absolute blast. The basic premise of Enduro racing is doing timed runs on a gravity fed all-mountain/cross country track.  A rocky roller coaster where you spend more time fanging down the hill than you do pedalling up…and we all like that!

Racing at these events normally means spending the morning riding and shuttling to the top of the course for as many practice runs as I can do. A quick lunch break to tinker with the bikes and catch up with old friends and have a laugh. Then its time to load up and head back to the top for showtime and 2 hot laps.

This style of racing has helped my training and preparation for the BC Bike Race so much.  I’ve spent countless hours riding the local trails, nailing every line. Learning when to lift, when to pop, when to brake and when to let it roll. I’ve crashed, trashed and bled and loved every minute (except when I broke my toe – that just hurt). Even in distance riding, the skills I have gained from this type of racing will help.

Getting back into racing has been awesome fun, not only for the racing, but also because it gets me more pumped to spend more time on the bike. Yes, it may be for the training but it sure doesn’t feel like it and I’m feeling fitter and stronger than I have in ages.  And best of all, I am enjoying the ride more.

As I sit here typing, patiently waiting for my new bike to arrive (not really patiently) I’m wondering if I can frankenstein my old bike into some sort of rideable condition for this afternoons informal local race. The forks are on the fritz, the rear wheel needs rebuilding and I really should replace those bearings instead of going for a ride.

But I really want to go, it’s a race.

No large cheques will be handed out, no conspicuous product placement or legions of adoring fans looking for autographs and schwag. Just a bunch of sweaty, dusty humans happy to throw themselves down the side of a hill as fast as they possibly can in a race where the only prize is a handshake from your mates, a cold beer and a warm glow.

I have the bug, and it’s working.  I can feel myself getting ready to race the the BC Bike Race. And of course, I am not racing against the clock, it’s about going as fast as I can on a bike and racing my mates.

It’s not about the clock, it’s about racing your mates.

 

[/private]

Photo Feature: Giant Training Camp at Thredbo

Flow was recently invited to the Giant Australia DH team pre-season camp at Thredbo.  How could we say no?  Lift access, good food, excellent beer, and a fun crew of riders meant that it would be a great weekend.

And it was.

Three days of spending time with the 2013 team showed just why each have their place. From the Giant-for-life, Jared Rando to the newest and youngest, the Crimmins boys, everyone was pumped to get together to bond and train for the season ahead.  Sessioning the trails and having fun was what it was all about and everyone seemed to grow and learn from each other over the weekend.

Flow learnt a few things too:

  • Jared Rando showed that he can jump big gaps from the shortest take-offs.
  • Will Rischbieth can corner on his rear wheel.
  • Ben Cory is still very tall and very, very fast.  He also likes beer.
  • Andrew Crimmins cannot play chess.
  • Timmy Eaton is a good test dummy and horrible at teaching chess.
  • Thomas Crimmins, well, he’s just a nice guy who happens to ride a bike very fast.

Come on a photo journey with us as we document the weekend…

Thredbo is a unique part of Australia. Not only for the flora and fauna, but it’s one of only a few lift accessed places to ride.
Canberran Jared Rando has been with Giant for 10 years now. ‘I have always been riding Giants and I always will,’ said Jared. ‘It’s awesome to be part of the team again and be with the new young guys coming through.’ ‘I am keen to get back into a bit of downhill racing again and really looking forward to the season. After 2010 I was probably a little burnt out on downhill racing but being back on my bike this weekend I have started really enjoyed it again.’
The conditions were perfect and the team got to get in some sneaky practice for the upcoming national at Thredbo. Thredbo has a proud history with racing and it’s great to see it back on the schedule.
Pushing each other and having fun were the mainstays for the weekend. If you call it, you have to do it……..all with a smile of course.
Ben Cory, also from Canberra, is continuing his relationship with Giant in 2013 and is most recent form is a good guide to what may be a successful year.  ‘I am very stoked to be back with Giant and I have no plans of leaving any time soon,’ said Ben. ‘It’s really great to see Giant have a big, proper downhill team again. and it’s really, really great to see Will back on the team. This weekend was a hell of a lot of fun and getting to ride with everyone, hangout and have a few laughs was good – they’re all good guys.’
Studio time and time to get cleaned up.  From L-R: Ben Cory, Thomas Crimmins, Jared Rando.
It wasn’t all riding. Time to relax and hit the town. Thredbo is a little quieter in summer but that’s better because you never have to line up or wait for anything. Having a strong bond in a team is an important dynamic and the weekend at Thredbo enabled to team to develop those bonds further. What happens on camp stays on camp.
Tim Eaton tried to teach Andrew Crimmins how to play chess. It didn’t work. We blamed Tim.
15 year old Andrew Crimmins from Bredbo, NSW is new to the Giant team and for such a young rider he has a s$%t-load of skill (pardon the french). ‘I was really happy when I got on the team and riding with everyone else on the team is only going to make me faster,’ said Andrew. ‘I was really happy with the camp and I learnt a few things for sure and this season I hope to get a few podiums and get around to do all the state and national rounds.’
Each person on the team has their own strengths and weaknesses and spending the weekend on the trails together enabled them to work with each other. It’s interesting sitting on the sidelines watching, even after only a short weekend we definitely saw the speeds increasing. Downhill racing is very much a head game and having a relaxed atmosphere surely helps the mind too.
Do you remember the TV show, ‘Eight is Enough’? Well just add some parents into this picture and you will have pretty much the same thing.  We are not going to get into who’s who though 🙂
Hailing from Radelaide (Adelaide) Will Rischbieth has had a tough time over the past few years. Will has been battling a chronic back injury and after a season racing World Cups he took a break for a while to recover and organise his non-bike life. Back in 2013 and riding for Giant again Will has some realistic goals of how he will represent the brand. ‘Right now I am just easing back into it. It’s going to be a long process and I am going to just have fun with it in the meantime,’ said Will. ‘I am so lucky to have the people at Giant still want to support me and give me this opportunity again.’
As a team they work well together and Will Rischbieth summed it up so well: ‘Especially to ride with all these guys. No egos, just getting out on the bikes and having fun.’
Flow loves Thredbo and it’s not an industry suck-up type thing. We have been racing there for years and the mountain is just so good for riding.  We have always wished for more and make sure you check out issue #2 of Flow to find out about some new and exciting plans for mountain biking at Thredbo.
Tim ‘Timmy’ Eaton is recently internet famous for a huge crash at a recent Victorian State Series downhill race. He’s one very tough cookie and that stuff just doesn’t faze him at all. Smashing it all weekend, and staying on the bike, Timmy looks to be someone to watch out for in 2013. ‘I am stoked to be on Giant this year and it’s great to be getting support from them,’ said Tim. ‘The bike is awesome with a good head angle and components make it really light.’ ‘This weekend was been good, and the Crimmins boys are so fast – they keep me on my toes.’
‘The new Glory is great. They’ve made a few tweaks to the geometry and it’s all really positive improvement,’ said Ben Cory. Just like most in Australia you have to be your own wrench and away from the race scene you definitely have to be able to live without team support. Most of the team were on the new bikes for the first time and the camp enabled them to dial their bikes and make those little adjustments.
17 year old Thomas Crimmins is the older brother of Andrew, and whilst growing up and riding together they both have developed such individual styles. Also new on Giant, Tom is definitely looking forward to the season. ‘It’s definitely really exciting to be on Giant and it will be a good season with a really good bunch of guys,’ said Tom. ‘I probably learnt the most from Rando this weekend, he’s very tuck-and-straight.’ ‘I hope to get selected for the Junior Worlds team again in 2013 and try and get overseas and do as much racing as possible,’ Tom said when asked about his goals.
Studio time again.  L-to-R: Andrew Crimmins, Tim Eaton, Will Rischbieth.
Will and Ben finish up our photo feature. It was a fun weekend, and that was what stood out the most. Thanks Giant, thanks Thredbo Resort and a special thanks to Thredbo Alpine Hotel – you looked after us like a dream.

 

Never Ride Without it – Robbie Morris

A self-described 24 hour solo rider on sabbatical, Robbie ‘Gibbon’ Morris, calls Canberra home. He has four bikes, two of them without gears. A tried and true Mongoose Canaan is his preference for long rides.

Robbie ‘Gibbon’ Morris has that special one thing he never rides without.

After 11 years of enjoying the trails, the Gibbon is more into the ride than owning the sweetest parts. This is a rider who finds satisfaction in performing thrifty repairs on a trusted fave. [private]

Repairs don’t always work out though. During his first 24 solo, Gib destroyed the bolt that held his seatpost clamp together. It was 3am, part way up a climb at a time in the race when even the strongest riders struggle to stay positive.

He fully expected himself to sit on the side of the track and cry. After a 100m push, he put the saddle in his jersey pocket, got back on the bike, reached the crest and thoroughly enjoyed the descent instead.

The product the Gibbon takes with him on every ride offered no assistance at all on this occasion. But it would have if he was stung by a bee?

What is the product or thing that you always take with you on the mountain bike?

An old school antihistamine. Old school meaning the type that makes you drowsy.

Showing the wear from many a ride Gibbon is probably more than happy they look old rather then new.

What elevates this thing to ‘never ride without it’ status?

My intolerance to bee stings. As a child I learnt that out of any group of kids, the one allergic to bee stings is the one that’ll get stung.  Lucky for me I don’t get an anaphylactic reaction, but I can get a strong reaction.

What led you to discovering this product in the first place?

On a training ride I rode out to Stromlo, did a few laps, then rode to work. I was just leaving the bike cage at work when a bee managed to get under my jersey and sting my shoulder. I hadn’t been stung for a long time and thought I’d be fine. But it didn’t take too long before I had to find an antihistamine and get a lift home with the bike. Then I fell asleep on the couch.

Has an antihistamine ever saved a great ride from turning into a less-great one?

I was out on a road loop with a friend once when we had the pleasant surprise to share the road with members of the Australian road team – just before the Geelong World Champs. After that excitement had faded, the ride wore on and I noticed a bee land on my thigh. As I thought about how not to aggravate the bee, the bugger stung me. I had 20km to get home, but luckily I had an antihistamine with me so I took it and was able to get back by myself.

If you could tweak this product, is there anything you would change?

It would be great if the non-drowsy ones worked! Then I might be able to finish my ride with bit more enjoyment!

A pre-work group ride on the local trails is the Gibbon’s current favourite hit out, especially if it goes for a few hours and finishes at the café. We hope he doesn’t need the antihistamine ever again. Falling asleep at work is not good for the CV. [/private]

The Soapbox: The 5 Best Things That Happened To My Mountain Bike

I’ve been riding mountain bikes for 20 years now and during that time, the bikes have changed immensely. These days, when I hit the trail, I tend to take a lot of things for granted, but looking back, there’s been some things along the way that have changed not just how I ride, but my whole experience on the bike.

Most of these things have made my bike faster, and some have made it more reliable, but all of them have had such a hugely positively effect, I couldn’t imagine riding without them.

So, next time you go for a ride, take a look down and be thankful that there’s a whole bunch of guys out there, who are smarter and have better foresight than us, and have made our riding life that much more enjoyable.

Here’s my list:

1-     Rear Suspension

Seems pretty obvious really, but there was a time when the majority of the riding community thought rear suspension was “just a fad”. Thanks to the downhill racers seeing the benefits early on, and some incredible refinements along the way, full suspension bikes are now the norm for the average trail rider out there. Thank God for that.

2-     Lock On Grips

As a DH guy, these were life changing. No more wires or glue and changing handlebars became as easy as changing a tube. They seemed a little odd at first but installing and riding on the first pair was all it took to be converted.

3-     Disc brakes

You could probably put disc brakes in the same category as full suspension. Some thought it was just a fad and others thought they would be too complicated to ever catch on. Well, the downhill guys were the first to see the light and the rest followed. If it weren’t for disc brakes, I’m sure that after 10 years of pro downhill racing, I’d be lying in a ditch somewhere, wishing I could have slowed down just that little bit quicker.

4-     Tubeless Tyres

I really thought this was a ridiculous idea at first. And then I tried them on my trail bike and have never looked back. For my DH, 4X, Slalom race bikes and my jump bike though, they never really worked as it was just too easy to roll off a tyre at speed. But, for my trail bike it was awesome. Faster and less flats. These days, the thought of going out for a trail ride with tubes in my tyres makes me shudder.

5-     2 Piece Cranks

Seems odd to make the list really, but 10 years ago, it was cranks and bottom brackets that always seemed like the achilles heel of my bikes. Anyone who’s ever set up a chain guide with the old style square taper BBs and then snapped their cranks or bottom bracket not long after will know where I’m coming from. Fortunately, oversized axles, bigger bearings and strong crank arms have made my riding life a hell of a lot easier (and safer). In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I snapped a crank or BB.

Now, I’m off to touch some wood, go for a ride and really appreciate what I’m riding.

 

Must-Ride: Bikes and Brews Tour, Part 1

You know those perfect moments on the trail, when the light is amazing, the riding is mellow and you’re just in 100% cruise mode?

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Just a few weeks ago, Flow headed to Beechworth, Mt Beauty and Bright in north-east Victoria. We were there for the Bikes and Brews tour; three days of amazing riding, delicious breweries and good times.

Along the way, we shot some video to capture what the region is all about. Here’s a little taster from a particularly golden afternoon in Beechworth.

We’ll have the full video up soon and you can read all about the Bikes and Brews tour in issue #2 of Flow, out 9 January 2013.

Farewell, Paddy Avery

Patrick Avery was a young man with a huge future. He tragically passed away in early December after suffering a heart failure while racing near his hometown of Rotorua.

Paddy, as everybody called him, was a keen mountain biker, and represented New Zealand at the Worlds in Canberra, but he was far too much of a renaissance man to devote himself entirely to one thing.

Fishing with rod or spear, hunting with bow or gun, riding moto, building trails, learning to surf, playing the guitar or hitting jumps on his mountain bike were all things he attacked with passion and flair.

Everything he turned his hand to was done with fun and enjoyment front and centre – that probably explains why he was so good at so many things.

Paddy’s belief was if something is not fun it is not worth doing. And by extension, if something is fun, do it as well as possible for maximum enjoyment.

Paddy was a well-loved member of an outstanding sporting family. His father Murray represented New Zealand and Australia in wrestling, his mother Maryann is a very successful mountain biker, brother Clinton races as a pro on the roads of Europe and sister Monique has been the world XTerra champion in her age group.

Patrick shared a lot of interests with James ‘Dodzy’ Dodds, so it is no surprise that they were good friends. Paddy really admired the way Dodzy approached life and the things he wanted to do. Paddy had worked with Dodzy in his trail building enterprise and had travelled on that project to South America.

It is doubly tragic for the mountain biking world that two such prodigious talents had to leave us behind so soon, but you have got to figure that wherever they’ve gone will have buffed trails by the time we get there.

The Forrest Festival

With an event t-shirt that has a tricycle on it, the Forrest Festival was always going to be about more than just racing flat-tack to a finish line.

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We’d heard the rumours: Forrest, a tiny town in the Otway Ranges, 160 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, was reportedly the mountain biker version of heaven. With 60 kilometres of singletrack, its own boutique brewery and the newly-opened bike shop café, Forrest certainly seemed to have everything a singletrack fanatic could want. Nevertheless, we felt it was necessary to dip our toes in the waters, so we packed ourselves off to this year’s Festival Forrest.

With a race format that sees competitors spending as much time at the café as on the bike, the two-day, five-stage Forrest Festival seems handcrafted to send competitors back to that first-bike frame of mind.

At Forrest, innovation is the word: from viking ship-inspired fences to the Forrest Brewery’s Otway Ale, this place is just spilling over with good ideas. Cue the Forrest Festival, now in its second year, which has a race format with a distinctive Forrest edge.

The festival’s stages are shorter and quite varied – there’s a 15km ‘So Fo Sprint,’ a 5km hill climb up Balidjaru Hill, a 5km Super-D down the rightly famous Red Carpet track, and a 5km time trial (raced in pairs, on twisting trails through dense native rainforest), called Caspers Revenge, on the first day, and the Forrest Fiddy, which covers a more conventional race distance (50km), on the second day. The downtime between stages gives riders stacks of time to recover, chill out and, well, to lounge about at coffee shops like a pack of roadies at St Kilda.

Jess Douglas in one of her many multi-tasking activities of the weekend.

‘We want people to feel like rock stars,’ said race director and Forrest local Norm Douglas.

Norm and Jess and the other riders in Forrest put together the cunningly scheduled event line-up, even creating a computer program with a special algorithm to ensure that riders had enough space between their arrival at the top of the Balidjaru Hill climb and their start time for the Red Carpet descent. With the stages being short as well as quite varied, and the breaks between stages being long enough to allow plenty of recovery, every stage felt like a fresh opportunity.

‘It was all part of the plan,’ said Norm. ‘I wanted to make it so everyone would feel like they could go quite hard, knowing they didn’t have a six-hour day ahead of them.’

‘The Elite riders ended up doing less than four hours of actual racing for the whole weekend. So the average rider would do five to six hours of actual riding, and they had those gaps in between, so they could go pretty hard in each effort.’

Those breaks, together with the time-trial format for stages two, three and four, meant there was plenty of jockeying for position during stages as riders at every level rode to their limit, giving us all something to yarn about over those essential recovery coffees.

At the sharp end of the field, this resulted in very close competition, though in the end, the Petas dominated, with Peta Mullens and Peter Kutschera claiming hard-earned top spots on the podium at the end of the weekend. The turn-out for the women’s Elite field was particularly strong: Peta Mullens rode every stage like it was her first, with Jenni King hot on her tail and Jess Douglas, Jaclyn Schapel and Katherine O’Shea close behind.

Norm Douglas interviews Peta Mullens after her win.

In the Elite men, Scott Chancellor and Ben Mather kept the pressure on last year’s Forrest Festival winner Peter Kutschera as the three of them traded places from one stage to another. By the end of the weekend less than a minute separated third-place-getter Ben’s final riding time from Peter’s tally.

The competition between these riders would have been inspiring to watch, but just about everyone else in Forrest was out on the trails and involved in close racing of their own.

Scott Chancellor on his way to 2nd overall with 1st place Peter Kutschera right on his tail.

Going for gold

Most tellingly, Caspers Revenge (the stage four five-kay sprint) was a favourite with the crowds, despite it being the last stage of the first day, when we were all feeling the exertion we’d put into the first three stages of the day.

‘For that one stage, regardless of where they were in the field or in their class, everyone had a shot at winning,’ said Norm.

‘They were lined up against someone with a similar overall race time. For that point in time, on that track, on their bike, they were the winner.

‘I think that was why people loved stage four so much.’

Norm credits Jess with the idea for this recent addition to the festival line-up, and for setting the course that made it such a success – ‘It was gold. I’m rapt with it,’ he said.

At least one member of the Flow team had trouble wiping the grin off her face during that stage, despite the pain of the lactic build-up in her quads. But this was not unique to stage four – thanks to the well-set courses, the superb singletrack and the joyous atmosphere in town and out on the trails throughout the Forrest Festival, we all found ourselves in full beam far too often as the weekend unfolded.

Stewart Wood, in the woods.

How did we get so lucky?

The Forrest Festival is just one more gift from the riders at Forrest to the wider mountain biking community.

This ten-street town started out as a logging town. Relics from that time are now part of the décor in the Forrest Brewing Company and the Forrest Country Guesthouse (which even has a sawmilling-themed bedroom). When the logging came to an end, in the 90s, the residents discovered a new gold in Forrest’s tree-dense slopes: mountain biking.

Today, Forrest just less than 200 inhabitants. But since the development of singletrack in the area, Forrest has attracted a steadily growing stream of mountain biking visitors, and a few of them – including Norm and Jess Douglas – now call Forrest home. During this year’s festival weekend, Forrest accommodated over 500 people, including 280-odd riders.

Some of the local delights. Beer, bikes and coffee. The perfect recipe.

The Forrest Mountain Bike and Cycling Club’s membership list includes ‘Forresters’ and out-of-towners from as far as Geelong and Melbourne. The 16 volunteers who helped run the festival hailed from the club (they deserve a huge thumbs-up for choosing to leave their bikes in the shed so everyone else could ride that weekend).

Forrest has a thriving event calendar – standout events include the Forrest Six-Hour, the ‘world famous’ New Year’s Day Red Carpet Repeats and the weekly social ride. Having fun is a serious business here, and the ‘Brew Crew’ social ride (the brainchild of local rider Sandy Maxwell) usually involves singletrack and a catch-up at the Forrest Brewery.

Nick Morgan flows on one of the many, many sweet trails at Forrest.

As the festival-goers discovered, Forrest has three cafes – one is also the local boutique brewery, the second is also a quirky guest house and the third is Norm and Jess’s recently-opened café and bike shop, the Corner Shop.

Before this little gem of a local hangout opened, any visiting rider with a mechanical faced a long drive to the nearest bike workshop. Now, riders can chat over a coffee under the verandah or perch on the sofa in the store and watch the Corner Store crew lavish TLC on their two-wheeled steed.

But bike bling and top-notch riding fuel were not the only things we found at the Corner Store. It is rapidly becoming the hub for the local riding scene, and it is the place to get the low-down on trail conditions and find yourself a riding buddy.

‘Friends have said the Corner Store is like an extension of our kitchen,’ laughs Jess.

‘So in that sense, opening up this particular store is like opening up our hearts to the world and saying “Here we are.”’

Judging by the numbers of riders in the store and chilling out under the verandah during the Forrest Festival weekend, Forrest and its local riding scene – and the Corner Store – have hit the radar. You want to cut it up in a mountain biker heaven? Visit Forrest.

The Forrest Festival is what you make of it. Smash at the start if a stage or chill at the end of the weekend.

An Interview With Norco’s Engineering Manager, P.J. Hunton.

Flow was lucky enough to spend some time recently with P.J. Hunton, Norco’s engineering manager, while he was in Australia running dealers through the brand’s 2013 lineup. If you’ve followed Norco’s development over the last four years, you undoubtedly would’ve seen some massive improvements in their bikes, especially their dual suspension models. P.J. is man who’s largely responsible, and he’s also one of the key instigators of Norco’s early adaption of the 650B wheel size. He’s an interesting bloke and his thoughts on where frame design and wheel sizes are heading are intriguing to say the least.

Who is P.J. Hunton?

I’m the engineering manager at Norco Bicycles; I am responsible for overseeing the design and development of all of our frame platforms and overseeing our research and development program. That’s me in a nutshell.

P.J. Hunton – Engineering Manager at Norco Bikes.

Does P.J. stand for?

P.J. stands for Peter Jon; only my grandmother called me that, or my mum when she was mad at me.

How old are you?

37.

What are your indulgences?

Gravity fed fun, on my bike, snowmobile, snowboard or noboard. Just shredding downhill is what I indulge in.

Worst job you’ve ever had?

I once worked in a grocery store as a checkout clerk. I got fired. I made a sarcastic comment to a consumer, non-sarcastically, and they complained, I was terminated. It was for the good though, and simply one of the many forks in the trail network that took me to where I am now.

What bike do you spend most time on?

My Range Killer B 650B for sure, it makes the most sense for the trails that I ride around my house. No question about it.

What’s the difference between aluminum and aluminium?

Aluminum is stronger, aluminium is just more difficult to say!

We hear you worked on a suspension design thesis when you were younger?

Ha, yea. It was an automatic suspension lockout system that was based on chain tension. The bottom bracket was mounted in an eccentric shell that was spring loaded so when you pedalled above a certain tension threshold, the chain tension overcame the spring, rotating the bottom bracket – kinda like an old GT i-Drive –that rotational movement activated a remote controlled car motor rod, to flip the lever on the shock. Then when you backed off the pedalling the bottom bracket would rotate back and the lever would flip back also.

It was tuned to work in the middle chain ring. In the granny chainring due to the tension it would be locked out, and the big ring it wouldn’t lock out with the lower chain tension.

It worked really well, from a functional perspective of somebody who was just recreational riding, there were very few instances where the bike did the wrong thing. We just couldn’t sell it! It never had a good home, just not good enough bang-for-the-buck for recreational riders. It was a great idea, and it really taught me about bikes, engineering and design. Making me realise that not all great ideas have a business case. We sort of invented something that wasn’t really necessary. And looking back, knowing what I know now, we can achieve all that with suspension kinematics. Much less complicated! Hey, I was only in my early 20s.

Off the back of this thesis though, a phenomenal Canadian engineering company called Multimatic picked me up and I worked for them.

They run an advanced engineering component company, suspension is one of their specialities and bicycle suspension was of interest to them at the time. And just through some contacts through university, they wanted to get involved. It was a pretty wild time, and again another critical part of the trail that got me where I am today.

I was very fortunate, and worked on so many super cool race cars, and to actually see the whole process from concept on paper napkins that then moved into the computers and then, boom, off the prototype shop in the same building. It was very rewarding and educational work.

From thesis to Norco and every stop in between. P.J. has a fresh outlook on his journey and how everything is part of a trail that leads him to where is is today.

What makes Norco, Norco?

Ah, tough one. Solid, reliable, good value bikes. Over the last couple of years we’ve stepped that up quite a bit, and we know have a lot of really great technical stories that are associated with our bikes. We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go, and it’s going to be a great ride.

Being Canadian and building solid bikes for the people is who Norco really is. ‘Listen, innovate, ride’ may be our brand promise but we are all riders; we want to make bikes better for everybody. We all ride bikes.

Tell us a bit about the difference between the FSR suspension system and Norco’s A.R.T. system?

It’s all about the rearward axle path, where a Specialized is less-rearward than a Norco with A.R.T. We feel it gives you better bump compliance because it allows the rear wheel to move back to help maintain the bike’s momentum, instead of the wheel moving just straight up.

You have more chain growth with A.R.T., and thus more anti squat forces generated. It all helps the bike stay firmer under hard pedalling actions; even under braking it is more active than a typical FSR design. Bicycle suspension is pretty much all about the axle path, that is the key. We feel very strongly that what we have done with A.R.T. suspension really does work, and gives you an advantage on the trail.

How long will Specialized own the FSR patent?

It is expiring very soon, it’s a little bit grey to when exactly, but I’m pretty sure it is March next year. From then I think we will see a lot of our international competitors (who use the FSR system too) selling into the United States. That is where the patent is; internationally it will remain the same. I don’t really see it having a huge impact on what manufacturers are doing with their frames. Those brands that sell a lot of bikes into the States have their own suspension designs, and for a long time now their designs are ingrained in their marketing and development to switch suspension systems is a big deal.

Norco has just started an enduro team. Where does Norco see the future of that genre?

We think enduro racing is going to take off. It’s by far the most popular event at Crankworx; it sells out so fast and has huge participation. It’s growing like gangbusters, with series’ popping up all over the place, it’s so more user friendly than downhill racing! Everyone can do it, where downhill tracks can be super gnarly and intimidating, you can have a beginner class at enduro races, any one can show up and have fun, casually. Plus you don’t have to be crazy fit to do well.

Our enduro pro riders are going to help us design our bikes which is exciting.

The frame colours have been looking pretty wild in the last couple years!

I’m so glad that colours are not my job! It’s so subjective, trends change so quickly and it’s all based on opinions. We want to offer bikes that make everybody happy; you need to mix it up. You’ll never please everyone, just please as much as you can.

We’ve put a lot of effort into graphic design, Jeff Boyes works exclusively on design, and he’s done a phenomenal job, and realistically he has the toughest job in the whole company!

Why did Norco decide to become an early adopter of 650B?

Ha, never heard of it! Haha. It is because you can make better bikes, that’s the quick and real answer to that. We thought, and now we know, that when you design a bicycle specifically for that wheel size, the performance level jumps.

When I ride my old 26” Norco Range and my new 650B Range back to back, it’s quite staggering how much performance I can get out of my new one. It’s not as if the old one was a bad bike either, it has just come a long way.

Was there a lot of internal debate about embracing 650B?

Years ago when the 650B topic came up around the office I just shook my head and said “no”. No we don’t need another wheel size, it’s just going to complicate everything.

But when it really started to happen, and we began to look into it, and what we were going to achieve with that specific wheel size in a full suspension frame, it all of a sudden became very very desirable. We were all over it.

In the product development meetings we have, with a bunch of different people with very different opinions, usually we have a very tough time coming to a consensus on product development decisions. There are often heated debates; often it takes a couple meetings to arrive at a point where everyone is happy. But in this particular meeting, when we knew that the 650B forks were coming, it was a unanimous decision to take a 90 degree turn on product development, and put the brakes on a bunch of projects that we were working on and divert all of our engineering and product development energy into these 650B bikes.

It’s proving to be a great decision, showing we are an early adopter, and making better bikes. People say to us all the time “you just wanna sell more bikes” of course we do! We want to make them better; we know that it makes for a better bike.

What are the challenges of designing 650B bike versus a 29er?

There are more challenges designing a 29er just because of the clearances involved with a bigger wheel when trying to fit it in the same package of a 26” bike. The big wheel starts to get in the way of a lot of things. It starts to hit the seat tube, front derailleur clearance is challenging, the suspension kinematics are more difficult to get right with 29ers because the bottom bracket becomes quite a lot lower than the rear axle. To achieve that rearward axle path we aim for, we need to really exaggerate where the pivots are to get the right path, a big challenge. 29ers are definitely the most challenging wheels to work with.

26” and 650B are probably pretty close to tied; there is not a lot you have to work around with 650B. Clearances are a little tighter but very manageable. You are able to achieve a better rolling bike, with no geometry compromises; it truly is the best of both worlds.

I always try to correct people when they say 650B is just a compromise. That word means there are negative connotations, I say, “ride the bike, and then tell me if there is a compromise”.

P.J. doing what he does best – explain his engineering principles and why and why not something does/doesn’t have an advantage.

When are we going to see 650B in downhill racing?

It depends how much you’ll believe the rumours! We’ll see it next year in the 2013 World Cup and I will not be surprised to see some of the bigger teams on 650B wheels.

From speaking to the suspension people, it sounds like there are more companies working on 650B downhill bikes than we originally thought. If the suspension companies are working on 650B parts, it is not because we phoned up and asked them, that’s for sure.

Bryn Atkinson and Jill Kinter (Norco International team) did a couple test sessions with some 650B prototype downhill frames recently, back-to-back with their 26” bikes. The results were not conclusive at that stage; there was not too much time to extract the true performance out of the bikes.

The general feeling was that with a little refinement and more time on the bikes that it would be faster. Bryn was more adamant about it than Jill was, as she rides a small size, and felt challenged getting used to it. There is no hard evidence that it is faster, but there are very strong hints that it will be. So we can expect the pace at World Cup level will get even faster, crazy!

Talk to us about the process of determining a bike’s geometry. How do you balance feedback from the team versus the needs of the general public?

It’s a combination of listening to everybody, and blending it all together. We try to listen to as many people as we can. We build as many bikes in as many variations as possible. The use of anglesets (head angle adjustable headsets) help, offset bushings do also. There is a lot of ways to test geometry on bikes, and a pretty fun process finding the bike that works best.

Norco’s Gravity Tune is a very interesting concept, adjusting a bike’s chain stay length to suit riders of varying heights. Please tell us a little more about the rationale behind this concept?

It’s so obvious; we don’t know why we are the first ones to be doing it. The beauty of the Gravity Tune system is that the adjustments made to the front and rear end of the bike are all made in the front triangle. Moving the bottom bracket forwards to make the chainstay longer, and then rearward to make it shorter.

Because the bottom bracket is housed in the front triangle, that is where all the adjustments are made. And it only has the slightest impact on the suspension kinematics and rear axle paths.

Why go for composite frames? What are your favourite properties of the wonder material in a mountain bike?

The freedom of design and the efficiency of the structure that you can achieve. You have so much more choice in design, and end up with a better performing bike. And when you ride them, the spring and liveliness is great.

We’ve heard you talk a bit about Norglide composite bearings recently. Will we see more of these unique bearings in suspension frame pivots in the future?

Yes. It really is a better way to design a pivot. A suspension pivot oscillates back and forth; sometimes the range of movement is very small depending on which one, where the cartridge bearings are designed to spin continuously. We’ll see a lot more composite bearings in the future.

The technology has come a long way, you couldn’t design a tight fit with the old plastic bushings so there was always a little bit of slop to start with that got worse at they wore. With these new style composite bearings, the structure is aluminium and then it’s overlayed with a bronze mesh and into that mesh and over it is a high tech Teflon liner. That is what provides that frictionless surface that you can tighten onto each other, no slop.

In terms of frame construction, you have a lot of freedom designing the frame with Norglide bearings over one with cartridge bearings. Hopefully the consumers are ready for this. It’s not a backwards step back to the old style bushes at all, and frames will be significantly lighter because of them. They weigh so little. Moving forward with some of the cross country platforms we are working on, we will be bringing them back for sure to make the frames as light as possible.

(for information on Norglide composite bearings – http://www.bearings.saint-gobain.com/bicycle-market.aspx)

“What the heck is this?” It’s a Mango, P.J. You are in Australia, remember? We introduced P.J. to the cuddly cane toad, and convinced him that the bush fires in the distance were smouldering volcanoes, so keep an eye out for falling lava. Crazy Canadians.

Will mountain bikes be rid of the front derailleur?

Some mountain bikes in the higher performance category, maybe not all levels yet.

How would it impact the engineering of a suspension frame if so?

It will make life a lot easier for us to design the area in front of the rear tyre. There would be no more need to drop the drive side chainstay, the main pivot could be a lot wider to name a few.

And one more question, what do you like about Australia?

Haha, I like Australians! You guys are a lively, spirited bunch. And I can’t wait to try my hand at surfing.

P.J. enjoys what is arguably one of the finest Australia and New Zealand attractions – Flow of course.

Thank you very much!

Cheers.

An Interview With Norco's Engineering Manager, P.J. Hunton.

Flow was lucky enough to spend some time recently with P.J. Hunton, Norco’s engineering manager, while he was in Australia running dealers through the brand’s 2013 lineup. If you’ve followed Norco’s development over the last four years, you undoubtedly would’ve seen some massive improvements in their bikes, especially their dual suspension models. P.J. is man who’s largely responsible, and he’s also one of the key instigators of Norco’s early adaption of the 650B wheel size. He’s an interesting bloke and his thoughts on where frame design and wheel sizes are heading are intriguing to say the least.

Who is P.J. Hunton?

I’m the engineering manager at Norco Bicycles; I am responsible for overseeing the design and development of all of our frame platforms and overseeing our research and development program. That’s me in a nutshell.

P.J. Hunton – Engineering Manager at Norco Bikes.

Does P.J. stand for?

P.J. stands for Peter Jon; only my grandmother called me that, or my mum when she was mad at me.

How old are you?

37.

What are your indulgences?

Gravity fed fun, on my bike, snowmobile, snowboard or noboard. Just shredding downhill is what I indulge in.

Worst job you’ve ever had?

I once worked in a grocery store as a checkout clerk. I got fired. I made a sarcastic comment to a consumer, non-sarcastically, and they complained, I was terminated. It was for the good though, and simply one of the many forks in the trail network that took me to where I am now.

What bike do you spend most time on?

My Range Killer B 650B for sure, it makes the most sense for the trails that I ride around my house. No question about it.

What’s the difference between aluminum and aluminium?

Aluminum is stronger, aluminium is just more difficult to say!

We hear you worked on a suspension design thesis when you were younger?

Ha, yea. It was an automatic suspension lockout system that was based on chain tension. The bottom bracket was mounted in an eccentric shell that was spring loaded so when you pedalled above a certain tension threshold, the chain tension overcame the spring, rotating the bottom bracket – kinda like an old GT i-Drive –that rotational movement activated a remote controlled car motor rod, to flip the lever on the shock. Then when you backed off the pedalling the bottom bracket would rotate back and the lever would flip back also.

It was tuned to work in the middle chain ring. In the granny chainring due to the tension it would be locked out, and the big ring it wouldn’t lock out with the lower chain tension.

It worked really well, from a functional perspective of somebody who was just recreational riding, there were very few instances where the bike did the wrong thing. We just couldn’t sell it! It never had a good home, just not good enough bang-for-the-buck for recreational riders. It was a great idea, and it really taught me about bikes, engineering and design. Making me realise that not all great ideas have a business case. We sort of invented something that wasn’t really necessary. And looking back, knowing what I know now, we can achieve all that with suspension kinematics. Much less complicated! Hey, I was only in my early 20s.

Off the back of this thesis though, a phenomenal Canadian engineering company called Multimatic picked me up and I worked for them.

They run an advanced engineering component company, suspension is one of their specialities and bicycle suspension was of interest to them at the time. And just through some contacts through university, they wanted to get involved. It was a pretty wild time, and again another critical part of the trail that got me where I am today.

I was very fortunate, and worked on so many super cool race cars, and to actually see the whole process from concept on paper napkins that then moved into the computers and then, boom, off the prototype shop in the same building. It was very rewarding and educational work.

From thesis to Norco and every stop in between. P.J. has a fresh outlook on his journey and how everything is part of a trail that leads him to where is is today.

What makes Norco, Norco?

Ah, tough one. Solid, reliable, good value bikes. Over the last couple of years we’ve stepped that up quite a bit, and we know have a lot of really great technical stories that are associated with our bikes. We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go, and it’s going to be a great ride.

Being Canadian and building solid bikes for the people is who Norco really is. ‘Listen, innovate, ride’ may be our brand promise but we are all riders; we want to make bikes better for everybody. We all ride bikes.

Tell us a bit about the difference between the FSR suspension system and Norco’s A.R.T. system?

It’s all about the rearward axle path, where a Specialized is less-rearward than a Norco with A.R.T. We feel it gives you better bump compliance because it allows the rear wheel to move back to help maintain the bike’s momentum, instead of the wheel moving just straight up.

You have more chain growth with A.R.T., and thus more anti squat forces generated. It all helps the bike stay firmer under hard pedalling actions; even under braking it is more active than a typical FSR design. Bicycle suspension is pretty much all about the axle path, that is the key. We feel very strongly that what we have done with A.R.T. suspension really does work, and gives you an advantage on the trail.

How long will Specialized own the FSR patent?

It is expiring very soon, it’s a little bit grey to when exactly, but I’m pretty sure it is March next year. From then I think we will see a lot of our international competitors (who use the FSR system too) selling into the United States. That is where the patent is; internationally it will remain the same. I don’t really see it having a huge impact on what manufacturers are doing with their frames. Those brands that sell a lot of bikes into the States have their own suspension designs, and for a long time now their designs are ingrained in their marketing and development to switch suspension systems is a big deal.

Norco has just started an enduro team. Where does Norco see the future of that genre?

We think enduro racing is going to take off. It’s by far the most popular event at Crankworx; it sells out so fast and has huge participation. It’s growing like gangbusters, with series’ popping up all over the place, it’s so more user friendly than downhill racing! Everyone can do it, where downhill tracks can be super gnarly and intimidating, you can have a beginner class at enduro races, any one can show up and have fun, casually. Plus you don’t have to be crazy fit to do well.

Our enduro pro riders are going to help us design our bikes which is exciting.

The frame colours have been looking pretty wild in the last couple years!

I’m so glad that colours are not my job! It’s so subjective, trends change so quickly and it’s all based on opinions. We want to offer bikes that make everybody happy; you need to mix it up. You’ll never please everyone, just please as much as you can.

We’ve put a lot of effort into graphic design, Jeff Boyes works exclusively on design, and he’s done a phenomenal job, and realistically he has the toughest job in the whole company!

Why did Norco decide to become an early adopter of 650B?

Ha, never heard of it! Haha. It is because you can make better bikes, that’s the quick and real answer to that. We thought, and now we know, that when you design a bicycle specifically for that wheel size, the performance level jumps.

When I ride my old 26” Norco Range and my new 650B Range back to back, it’s quite staggering how much performance I can get out of my new one. It’s not as if the old one was a bad bike either, it has just come a long way.

Was there a lot of internal debate about embracing 650B?

Years ago when the 650B topic came up around the office I just shook my head and said “no”. No we don’t need another wheel size, it’s just going to complicate everything.

But when it really started to happen, and we began to look into it, and what we were going to achieve with that specific wheel size in a full suspension frame, it all of a sudden became very very desirable. We were all over it.

In the product development meetings we have, with a bunch of different people with very different opinions, usually we have a very tough time coming to a consensus on product development decisions. There are often heated debates; often it takes a couple meetings to arrive at a point where everyone is happy. But in this particular meeting, when we knew that the 650B forks were coming, it was a unanimous decision to take a 90 degree turn on product development, and put the brakes on a bunch of projects that we were working on and divert all of our engineering and product development energy into these 650B bikes.

It’s proving to be a great decision, showing we are an early adopter, and making better bikes. People say to us all the time “you just wanna sell more bikes” of course we do! We want to make them better; we know that it makes for a better bike.

What are the challenges of designing 650B bike versus a 29er?

There are more challenges designing a 29er just because of the clearances involved with a bigger wheel when trying to fit it in the same package of a 26” bike. The big wheel starts to get in the way of a lot of things. It starts to hit the seat tube, front derailleur clearance is challenging, the suspension kinematics are more difficult to get right with 29ers because the bottom bracket becomes quite a lot lower than the rear axle. To achieve that rearward axle path we aim for, we need to really exaggerate where the pivots are to get the right path, a big challenge. 29ers are definitely the most challenging wheels to work with.

26” and 650B are probably pretty close to tied; there is not a lot you have to work around with 650B. Clearances are a little tighter but very manageable. You are able to achieve a better rolling bike, with no geometry compromises; it truly is the best of both worlds.

I always try to correct people when they say 650B is just a compromise. That word means there are negative connotations, I say, “ride the bike, and then tell me if there is a compromise”.

P.J. doing what he does best – explain his engineering principles and why and why not something does/doesn’t have an advantage.

When are we going to see 650B in downhill racing?

It depends how much you’ll believe the rumours! We’ll see it next year in the 2013 World Cup and I will not be surprised to see some of the bigger teams on 650B wheels.

From speaking to the suspension people, it sounds like there are more companies working on 650B downhill bikes than we originally thought. If the suspension companies are working on 650B parts, it is not because we phoned up and asked them, that’s for sure.

Bryn Atkinson and Jill Kinter (Norco International team) did a couple test sessions with some 650B prototype downhill frames recently, back-to-back with their 26” bikes. The results were not conclusive at that stage; there was not too much time to extract the true performance out of the bikes.

The general feeling was that with a little refinement and more time on the bikes that it would be faster. Bryn was more adamant about it than Jill was, as she rides a small size, and felt challenged getting used to it. There is no hard evidence that it is faster, but there are very strong hints that it will be. So we can expect the pace at World Cup level will get even faster, crazy!

Talk to us about the process of determining a bike’s geometry. How do you balance feedback from the team versus the needs of the general public?

It’s a combination of listening to everybody, and blending it all together. We try to listen to as many people as we can. We build as many bikes in as many variations as possible. The use of anglesets (head angle adjustable headsets) help, offset bushings do also. There is a lot of ways to test geometry on bikes, and a pretty fun process finding the bike that works best.

Norco’s Gravity Tune is a very interesting concept, adjusting a bike’s chain stay length to suit riders of varying heights. Please tell us a little more about the rationale behind this concept?

It’s so obvious; we don’t know why we are the first ones to be doing it. The beauty of the Gravity Tune system is that the adjustments made to the front and rear end of the bike are all made in the front triangle. Moving the bottom bracket forwards to make the chainstay longer, and then rearward to make it shorter.

Because the bottom bracket is housed in the front triangle, that is where all the adjustments are made. And it only has the slightest impact on the suspension kinematics and rear axle paths.

Why go for composite frames? What are your favourite properties of the wonder material in a mountain bike?

The freedom of design and the efficiency of the structure that you can achieve. You have so much more choice in design, and end up with a better performing bike. And when you ride them, the spring and liveliness is great.

We’ve heard you talk a bit about Norglide composite bearings recently. Will we see more of these unique bearings in suspension frame pivots in the future?

Yes. It really is a better way to design a pivot. A suspension pivot oscillates back and forth; sometimes the range of movement is very small depending on which one, where the cartridge bearings are designed to spin continuously. We’ll see a lot more composite bearings in the future.

The technology has come a long way, you couldn’t design a tight fit with the old plastic bushings so there was always a little bit of slop to start with that got worse at they wore. With these new style composite bearings, the structure is aluminium and then it’s overlayed with a bronze mesh and into that mesh and over it is a high tech Teflon liner. That is what provides that frictionless surface that you can tighten onto each other, no slop.

In terms of frame construction, you have a lot of freedom designing the frame with Norglide bearings over one with cartridge bearings. Hopefully the consumers are ready for this. It’s not a backwards step back to the old style bushes at all, and frames will be significantly lighter because of them. They weigh so little. Moving forward with some of the cross country platforms we are working on, we will be bringing them back for sure to make the frames as light as possible.

(for information on Norglide composite bearings – http://www.bearings.saint-gobain.com/bicycle-market.aspx)

“What the heck is this?” It’s a Mango, P.J. You are in Australia, remember? We introduced P.J. to the cuddly cane toad, and convinced him that the bush fires in the distance were smouldering volcanoes, so keep an eye out for falling lava. Crazy Canadians.

Will mountain bikes be rid of the front derailleur?

Some mountain bikes in the higher performance category, maybe not all levels yet.

How would it impact the engineering of a suspension frame if so?

It will make life a lot easier for us to design the area in front of the rear tyre. There would be no more need to drop the drive side chainstay, the main pivot could be a lot wider to name a few.

And one more question, what do you like about Australia?

Haha, I like Australians! You guys are a lively, spirited bunch. And I can’t wait to try my hand at surfing.

P.J. enjoys what is arguably one of the finest Australia and New Zealand attractions – Flow of course.

Thank you very much!

Cheers.

Chasing the Butterflies

When Jessica Douglas decided to emerge from retirement just 12 weeks out from the WEMBO World 24-Hour Solo Championships in Italy last May, she didn’t leave herself much time to pack her bags, much less start the usual preparations for the physical and mental ordeal of 24hr racing.

Some say a comeback is harder than doing something for the first time.  Jessica Douglas proved it can be done.

Nevertheless, Jess felt confident in her decision to defend her 2010 title. [private]

‘It just felt so right,’ she said later.

But Jess’s support crew husband Norm had some reservations: ‘When she started talking about coming back, I was dubious. I wanted her to convince me. I wanted to make sure she was doing it for the right reasons.’

That might seem unjustly harsh – especially in the light of Jess’s performance when she got to Finale Ligure – but Norm had seen better than anyone the toll this form of racing had had on Jess.

Burning out

In 2010, Jess was on fire. In her capacity to push herself for the duration of each race, particularly in the small hours, and from one event to the next, she was relentless. Always ready to accept challenges head-on, Jess calls the small hours of a 24hr, that dark, cold time just before dawn, ‘my time’.

‘I can use my strengths then,’ she grins. ‘It’s like a nine-hour mediation.’

She won the 2010 National Solo 24-Hour in April, and the 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Solo Championships at Mt Stromlo, Canberra in October.

The emotions and toll of winning the World Solo 24 Hour Championships went far deeper than the media saw.

With a track record like that, Jess’s decision to retire from 24hr racing part-way through the 2011 National Solo 24-Hour in Stromlo was a surprise to many, though not to Norm.

‘I was disappointed,’ he said, ‘But I could see it coming.

‘In one 12-month period, Jess did five 24hr solo races, which was nuts. That’s why she burnt out.’

After winning the 2010 Worlds, Jess felt ‘depressed’ and ‘emotionally exhausted’.

‘When I raced at the Aussie Champs, I had no background motivation. I was going through the motions but I wasn’t engaged.

‘I had crashes, I was falling asleep on the bike.’

Just over halfway through, and knowing this decision would hurt, Jess pulled out of the race and retired from 24hr racing. For good.

‘I wasn’t inspired,’ Jess reflects. ‘When you feel that way and you come under pressure, what are you going to do?’

Retirement (from 24hr racing, at least)

In the year that followed, Jess rode in ‘anything and everything’.

‘I wasn’t sure what I would enjoy,’ said Jess. ‘I looked for events that were about a place and the people, that offered an experience as well as a race.’

They included some of Australia’s most iconic destination events: the Croc Trophy (from Cairns to Cooktown), the Bike Buller Festival, the Ingkerreke Commercial Mountainbike Enduro in Alice Springs and Tasmania’s Wildside.

The face says it all.  It’s a tough sport and only the (mentally) strongest survive.

‘I went to some awesome races,’ she grins.

‘But they never gave me the butterflies that I got in 24hr racing. It’s a process – it’s like a mini-holiday. You don’t get that so much in these other races.’

The decision

The hunger to race 24hr solo was back.

Jess was hesitant, but with an invitation to attend the newly formed WEMBO’s 24-Hour Solo World Championships in Italy, as part of her 2010 World Champ prize-winnings, she had to make a decision.

CORC and WEMBO spokesperson Russ Baker, a good mate of Jess’s, observed from the sidelines.

‘She had the bug again,’ Russ said. ‘And there was unfinished business.’

Jess sat down with Norm to thrash the matter out.

‘Her reasons for returning were very different,’ recalls Norm. ‘And once she made the full commitment, I was psyched. I love this sport.’

‘I think Jess came to the realisation that what she is good at is hurting, so she is really good at that form of mountain biking. (Though she realises now that if she tries to train the house down, she’ll get disgruntled and burn out.)

‘But it’s not just about winning – she wants to give back to the sport,’ said Norm.

‘She has a different racing mindset. It was “I must win”; now it’s “I’ll do all these things and hopefully get a good result.”’

Jess agrees: ‘I made a deal with myself to relax and enjoy the process.’

‘When I finally made the decision, I had butterflies in my stomach.

‘I felt quite excited – it turned out I did want to go through all that pain, all that adversity of doing the race. I have that ability, and I realised I don’t have to be afraid of it. It’s part of me.’

Racing solo for 24 hours takes a very special kind of person.

The 2012 WEMBO World 24-Hour Solo Championships in Finale Ligure, Italy

 

‘The World Champs in Italy felt like a second child,’ says Jess. ‘I knew what to do. I felt incredibly calm.’

‘The technical course suited her,’ said Norm. ‘All the climbs were short and punchy and technical. When we saw that we knew there was a good chance of her winning.’

That’s not to say the race was a cake walk. The course was physically demanding, as Norm was quick to point out, and Jess met her match in Brit rider Rickie Cotter.

The win, and very proud Aussie.  Jessica has always flown the flag with pride and as always it sits on her shoulder as she crosses the line.

Jess and Norm are both full of praise for Rickie, who kept the pressure on as she and Jess broke away from the rest of the field.

‘Rickie put in a great performance,’ said Norm. ‘We could never quite break her.’

Their close racing kept everyone on their toes and inspired some jokey comaradrie between the support crews.

‘It was pouring with rain and Jess had the lead,’ laughs Norm, ‘I went over to them and said “When’s that bloody Rickie Cotter gonna give up?” And they said “Never!” and I said “Well let’s get going then!”’

Sometime around the ninth hour, Jess finally got a lead on Rickie, though not enough to relax.

But she focused on small goals and congratulated herself constantly for achieving them. This new mantra worked well.

‘The hours went so quick. I only thought about winning right near the end.’

Even after the long tussle with Rickie, through rain and an increasingly sloppy track, Jess had the foresight to stop at the pits to get Norm to drap her Australian flag over her shoulders before riding across the finishline.

In the footage of the end of the race Jess looks cold and tired – and content.

‘I felt like I was coming home,’ she says.

So will she be returning to her old 24hr circuit?

‘The plan is not to. Twenty-four-hour racing puts such a strain on your life, your relationships. It needs to be special; one special event that you’re willing to put all your energy into.’

Closer to home

Some six months later, Jess’s commitment to giving back to the sport took a new turn when she and Norm opened a bike shop café in their hometown, the Victorian mountain bike paradise Forrest, some 160 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. Called the Corner Store, this new project is a real gift to visiting mountain bikers, who until then faced a long haul to get spare parts if Forrest got the better of their steed.

Always ready to take on a new challenge, Jess upped the ante at this year’s Forrest Festival when she dived back behind the counter in the Corner Store between race stages to help out in the smoothies-coffee-and-yum-yums production line.

New life, new challenges and yes, still racing.

When we caught up with Jess, on the Sunday evening of the festival, she was still at the Corner Store, still in her riding gear.

‘I like to see if the impossible can be achieved,’ she laughs.

‘Opening up the Corner Store is a totally new challenge.

‘I could say it’s been like a 24-hour race, but I have to wake up to it every day – it’s not over and done with in a day, it’s a lot of hard work.

‘But the rewards are incredible. It’s not just about earning money, it’s about the people I meet, the commitments I’ve made and the things I can do for other people. We want people to come to the Corner Store and really enjoy the experience.

‘So in that sense, opening up the Corner Store and extending our kitchen in to a business is an extension of the racing and our MTBSkills.com, it’s just another part of who I am.’ [/private]

Some Like It Hot: The JetBlack 24

There’s just something about the Jet Black Sydney 24 Hour that brings out the extreme riding weather. For the last few years (in a different venue) the Jet Black Sydney 24 Hour has had it’s share of torrential rain and scorching heat. Come last weekend, and with over 500 riders ready for anything, it was again heat that would keep everyone honest.

The start of the JetBlack 24 Hour in Sydney. A hot day for some hot (and delirious) racing.

Set in the Botanic Gardens of Mt Annan in Sydney’s South West the riding setup was perfect with a hard packed surface coated in fine dust for a slide, and a drift. Having now been around for a few years the Mt Annan trails have been naturally corrected by racing lines and with pace the little berms and pops reward creative riding.

There’s nothing like 24 long hours to fine tune your skills and groups of stoked riders were spotted beer in hand at one rocky gully roll down to check the fast lines and cheer on their mates.

Lewy Cressy enjoys the sweet trails of Mt Annan.

In true Sydney 24 Hour style as the sun set the beats went up. DJ Nigel Jeffries from Pedal 4 Pierce took time out from racing 24 Hour Pairs with Flow’s Craig Baylis to hit the DJ decks. Heads nodded throughout scattered tents and riders were sent away on laps with banging beats resonating in their heads. Sure beats packing an iPod!

With a crowd this big of course the DJ was going to get the tunes out.

At 24 Hour races day break often heralds more than just a magical sunrise.  With 18 hours of tough riding in the bag you often come across many strange events. Strange enough that’s it’s almost worth the entry fee alone!

One merry solo rider was heard to be loudly debating with himself about the merits of Wallace and Grommit. Another disheveled chap was seen to be dragging his protesting bike over a grassy knoll asking “Is this the quickest way back”. Seeming that he was heading in the complete opposite direction I’d say it was lucky a ranger sorted that one out.

A focused Andrew Hall probably wasn’t as delirious as some poor folk. But with a smile like that maybe he was?

Many riders treat the Sydney 24 Hour as their end of year party. With the jolly season oh ho so close it’s the perfect way to round out a racing year.

For full race results, visit www.rockytrailentertainment.com

The Soapbox: Imagine If Everything Stayed The Same

Remember the Walkman? We all thought it was pretty fine too…

We now have three wheel sizes for mountain bikes; 650B, 29ers and (for the time being) 26” too. When 650B first appeared, predictably, there was a wave of outcry: ‘Why do we need another wheel size?’. ‘We don’t want another standard.’ ‘It’s marketing driven hype.’ ‘They are just looking for ways to make us buy new bikes.’

The time has come to cut the hysteria. 650B is here and it’s a good thing. It’s evolution and it’s improvement. Let’s look at a few basic truths.

 

We don’t always know what’s best for us.

We like what we’re accustomed to, but that does not necessarily mean it’s the best solution. For years we’ve adored the 26” wheel, even for cross country racing. We swore by its handling, its acceleration, its strength. Take a look around now at any World Cup cross country race, do you see many 26” wheels?

I can point you to countless reviews and opinion pieces that dismissed suspension, disc brakes, 9-speed, and 10-speed as unnecessary. Sure, our bikes ‘work’, but so did the horse and cart.

Innovation, by necessity, often needs to be industry driven.

The criticism that 650B is industry-driven rings hollow too. For one, people have been running 650B bikes for a long, long time – it’s not a new wheel size.

More importantly, most of these big developments NEED to be industry driven. Yes, there are some innovations and developments that can be driven by consumers, namely the small modifications we make to our bikes that eventually become mainstream (for instance, running single chain ring drivetrains or wider bars).

But when it comes to the bigger developments, the legions of engineers, designers and product managers out there are in a far better, and more informed position than Joe Punter on the trail, to put positive innovations into place.

Take, for example, the 142x12mm rear axle, an innovation that has greatly improved frame design. How the hell was that meant to be consumer driven? Did you hear many folk standing about on the trail demanding a bolt through axle arrangement for their rear axle? No – we were happy pissing about with flexy quick release skewers. But when the clever engineers at Syntace came up with a better option, we adopted it wholeheartedly and our bikes are better as a result.

We could point to countless other examples, but you get the idea; we consumers simply can’t drive innovation in general, as we lack the skills, vision or manufacturing capacity to implement it.

Bullshit does not sell.

Finally, and this is where consumers play a big role, bullshit does not sell. Bike companies and component manufactures do not produce crap any more – the era of flip-flop Shimano shifters or plastic SRAM derailleurs is gone.

As consumers, we can communicate with each other in ways never possible before. If something sucks, your mates, their mates, and everybody in your social network will know about it no time.

Products very, very rarely make it to market without a serious amount of research to back up the benefits they offer. 650B is the same; frame designers and engineers with brains that dwarf our own know that they can create bikes that we will benefit from with the utilisation of this new wheel size.

 

So there you have it. And remember – no one is going to force you onto this wheel size. In this age of infinite choice and online retail you can bet your bottom dollar there will continue to be a supply of 26” bikes and parts ’till long after your old frame has bitten the dust.

Just imagine if we were stuck with these. Innovation has moved mountain biking forward, and will continue to do so. Some things will suck, some won’t, and at the end of the day we’re all better off.

Norco 2013, First Impressions

Flow escaped a grey and wet Sydney to attend the Norco 2013 Dealer Launch in ridiculously sunny QLD and on hand were many new models of the bigger wheeled variety. But what made this trip most exciting was the attendance of PJ Hunton, Norco’s Engineering Manager. Plus, we were treated to an opportunity to ride Norco’s brand new 650B trail bike, the Sight Killer B.

This was going to be a very interesting trip, combining our very first ride on a 2013 650B suspension bike and the chance to pick the brains of one of the brightest engineering minds of the mountain bike world.

We were able to test all the bikes on offer around the varied and fun trails of Old Hidden Vale. These are our first impressions on the selected range and Flow plan to test the Revolver and Sight Killer B some time soon.

Spicers at Old Hidden Vale hosted the Norco 2013 Dealer Launch. This is the type of place that makes you want to come back with a friend, more time and a sweet bike. This place is also the location for the Flight Centre Epic, and many other marathon events. The trails are mint!
Good crew, valuable information, fine food and sweet bikes….and an infinity pool.

The first thing that stood out was the glaring absence of a 26” wheel in the testing fleet. Norco seems to be throwing their weight behind the big wheels, and with good reason, as we were to find out soon.

Norco is adding a few new models to their catalogue for next season and has updated some old favourites:

  • Team. A new carbon 29er hardtail.
  • Fluid. An entry level 29er dual suspension bike.
  • Revolver. Their new flagship aluminium 100mm 29er.
  • Sight. The 140mm Sight undergoes a complete makeover turning it into a 650B trail shredder.
  • Shinobi. The all-mountain 29er Shinobi undergoes a few geometry tweaks, but remains primarily the same.

All the dual suspension bikes from Norco use their A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) design. This is Norco’s own interpretation of the Specialized patented FSR design and was first designed by Horst Leitner, a motorcycle engineer, in 1992.  Norco are firm believers in the FSR design for stiffness, suspension activity and efficiency. A major difference between a Specialized FSR and a Norco A.R.T. frame is the rear axle path. Norco have opted for a more rearward axle path (where the rear wheel travels away from the centre of the bike) to benefit from the braking and pedalling efficiency it offers. Chain tension (pedal power) helps to combat the suspension from squatting under pedalling action and allows the rear wheel to move rearwards slighty so the bike can maintain as much forward momentum as possible.

Revolver

The Revolver is a whole new platform for 2013. 100mm travel, 29″ wheels and a thumbs up component spec.

There is no doubt the all-new Revolver is going to be a sure bet for the speed hungry marathon riders. The completely new platform uses 100mm travel front and back, stylishly hydroformed tubing, fast handling geometry and a particularly sorted component spec. We predict seeing many of these lairy numbers on the trails soon, especially when you take into account the pricing at $3999.

Hydroformed tubing, Syntace 12x142mm dropouts, post mount brake mounts and Ergon grips. This ticks many boxes.

We didn’t get much chance to ride the Revolver this time around, but throwing a leg over this bright orange 29er showed us that its supple and balanced suspension will be a winner. And for the price, it’s definitely worth a look in.

 Fluid

A 29er dual suspension bike built to a price point. It became very easy to forget the highly attractive $2599 price tag when punching through the trails so fast.

Aiming to bring 29er dual suspension performance at a lower price point, the Fluid uses the same suspension design of the Revolver, executed in a more economic package.

Trickle down technology at its best. A non-tapered head tube, and a standard quick release rear hub set it apart from its premium brother the Revolver. But on the trail, the suspension is dialled and balanced.

Riding the Fluid made it obvious that with the right suspension and geometry, a bike of lower value and spec can often just feel a little heavier than its higher priced brothers. In terms of braking, shifting and ergonomics the Fluid has it dialed for the dough. It was a load of fun to ride

 Team

Race it, or just ride it seriously fast. This zippy carbon hardtail had us sprinting out of turns like it was race day.

A new offering from Norco is a premium carbon hardtail simply named ‘Team’. Utilising many of the slick and modern features that we expect from this style of bike. Neat is the word, and wherever you look it’s smooth refined. Check out the internal gear cables, press fit bottom bracket bearings, and the use of decals in place of paint to save even more weight.

Norco 2013 Team details
Smooth curves and a naked paint job make this bike look like a stealth cross country bandit. The compliance and acceleration made us think that the Team could do a great job on and off the race track. 29er hardtail lovers apply here.

On the trail the Team was a pleasant surprise to ride. We were expecting to be beaten around like riding a typical hardtail, but the compliance from the carbon frame was just right and the ride wasn’t as expected. Although the decision to run a standard seat post (rather than a narrow diameter 27.2mm for a little give when seated) to allow for an adjustable post was a trade off of seated comfort. Generous width handlebars set quite low allowed us to really shred the single track and we think this bike could happily blur the lines of racing and trail riding.

 Shinobi

The definition of 29er all-mountain. The Shinobi is burly, long legged and hungry for rough trails. Let it roll, lay off the brakes and hold on tight! So much fun.

Now this is a true all-mountain bike. Revised for 2013, with a shorter front end and slightly higher bottom bracket, the Shinobi will roll over anything, literally. If there is one bike that we have ridden in the last couple years that beholds that ‘plough through’ attitude, it is one. It’s not light, and needs to be taken to high speeds to make use of it’s confidence and momentum, but gee whiz it isn’t afraid of much.

Big is the word – in the parts and the frame construction. The lower level Shinobi 3 uses X-Fusion suspension and is priced at a very reasonable $2799.

Sight Killer B

And here it is. Our pick of the bunch, the 650B wheeled Norco Sight Killer B. Woo hoo! Norco Australia plan to bring in the Sight Killer B 2 ($3799) and 3 ($2799), unfortunately the Killer B 1 pictured here won’t make it here just yet.

This was our highlight of the bikes on display. Not just because it uses the new ‘in between wheel size’ but we had recently tested and fallen in love with the 26” wheeled Norco Sight earlier this year. Its supple and balanced suspension, ripping agility and tidy frame construction impressed us greatly.

When we heard that Norco had set its sights on re-vamping the frame to accommodate the larger diameter 650B wheel we naturally felt quite excited to ride one. It simply made a lot of sense to us. 140mm travel is that sweet spot for a 650B wheel. Not too much travel to make it feel cumbersome, and enough travel to make it less suited to a 29er. Chain stay length of a 29er is a big challenge for frame designers. It becomes tricky to keep the rear end of the bike from becoming too long, having adverse effects on handling, weight, lateral rigidity and tyre clearance. PJ from Norco put it out there and claimed that you really don’t have those challenges with combining a 650B with the desired geometry.

The Sight also scores Norco’s Gravity Tune system, found also on the Aurum downhill bike, where the rear end changes in length as well as the front end as the size changes. So, a larger size has a longer rear end for a better fit. This is achieved not by different length chain stays, but the bottom bracket moves around the main pivot creating a longer rear centre.

Norco 2013 Sight Killer B
The Sight Killer B. 650B wheels, and a very fine suspension design makes this a seriously capable trail bike for those riders who like to go anywhere on their bikes. Riding a 650B dual suspension bike for the first time is a cool experience, standing up to the hype, the ‘in the middle’ wheel size is simply the best of both worlds. The benefits of a big wheel, without the negatives of compromised frame geometry and suspension kinematics.

So, how did it feel? Well, the first few pedal strokes and turns out of the gate felt very normal, with no major glaring traits jumping out at us. It was when the trails turned fast and rough that we got the feeling that this new breed of trail bike is going to change a lot of people’s perspectives. We tipped and leant into tight turns with rapid pace, straight-lined with speed through embedded rocks easily and controlled, and the tyres simply never seemed to be close to letting go. We began to feel that the tyres felt low on pressure, and the shock felt really soft, but the bike had been set up carefully and we surmised it was the performance of the bike which was making everything smoother? What we were experiencing was just the slightly bigger wheel doing what it is meant to do; roll better that a 26” wheel, but fit in a frame without making too many compensations in the geometry. We were sold.

The Sight Killer B is a fine looking steed. With fine attention to detail and a sharp finish, Norco have nailed it. The Sight uses a Syntace 12×142 rear axle for a neat and sturdy rear end, post mount brake mounts, clean double pass welds and even a neat little seatpost cable guide integrated into the seat collar. Oh, ISCG mounts will accept a chain guide, this one was fitted with a double ring with a bash guard and bottom roller.

 

Lizards, camels, sunshine and a 650B. Only in QLD.
The Sight shows off many of Norco’s fine manufacturing methods, like the 360 Lock pivot system. Check out the website for more info, but this technique aims to prolong the life of the main pivot bearing by distributing the load across a greater surface. Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres are a Flow favourite, and at times they just cannot do any wrong, sticking like glue to such a wide variety of surfaces. The dropouts are quite pretty, yes? If this was ours, it would be converted to 1×10 in no time.

Jump onto www.norco.com for all the retail pricing and more information.

Cheers!

The Soapbox: Why Dopers Suck

Jared Rando racing back in ’04. The end of the MTB heyday?
You think the whole Lance doping saga is just about Lance and road cycling? Think again. The domino effect has far reaching implications than that and there are many. many other reasons why dopers suck.

Dopers suck. Everyone agrees with that. But as a pro athlete, dopers suck even more. In fact, in the wise words of Beavis and Butthead, I’d go so far as to say; “dopers suck more than anything that has ever sucked before”.

I was once told that you need to ask “why” five times before you get to the root of any problem. With the whole Lance Armstrong affair coming out recently (and everything else that goes with it), I was recently reminded of a time by another ex-pro athlete of why dopers suck once again.

He reminded me to look back in time to the 2004 / 2005 pro MTB scene. For the previous five years it had been our lives as pro racers- and all of a sudden, it started to die…

Why? Because a whole bunch of sponsors of the series and teams were pulling their money from MTB to road.

Why? Because road racing had all of a sudden become really popular in the US and everyone was going out and buying road bikes.

Why? Because some guy named Lance Armstrong was winning everything and had an incredible story to go with it.

Why? Because he was a cheat and a dirty cheat at that.

Why? I don’t know why. That’s what pisses me off.

I will never understand why someone could cheat and feel that they deserve the rewards that come with it. Every time someone who cheats beats anyone else in the field, that person is denying the rightful winner or those who finish behind them that ever so slightly better result- and everything that goes with it.

And it’s not just about winning and glory. When you are racing for a living it is costing people money. In my mind you might as well be stealing from your fellow competitor’s wallet.

What’s the difference between first place and second place prize money? What’s the difference between 5th and 6th place incentives from your team? What’s the long term financial difference of not having a huge title attached to your name for the rest of your career? Add that up over 7 years. It could be, and was, a lot.

Imagine looking back on your career and realizing that your best ever finish, a 4th place should have been a podium finish or your second place finish should have been a win. Imagine being denied the once in a lifetime opportunity of standing at the top of a podium – or on a podium.

The truth is that the effects of cheating go well beyond what most of us could imagine and for everyone who gets caught, I’m sure there are three other guys who get away with it too.

Hopefully, the future of cycling is cleaner and brighter. Given what’s gone down over the past six months, I can only hope that something good comes out of all this. However, given the widespread and long reaching effects of doping, don’t expect me, or any other current or ex pro athlete to show too much sympathy for these guys. Dopers suck.

 

After retiring from a 10 year long professional downhill racing career in 2010 , Jared now splits his time between helping progress Stromlo Foerst Park, coaching the Australian Downhill Team and representing Giant Bicycles as a brand ambassador. Based in Canberra, you’re just as likely to find him holding a fishing rod and a beer as you would complaining that Strava is ruining the heart and soul of riding.

Interview: What Can We Learn from Adventure Racers?

French nationals, Mimi Guillot and Jacky Boisset raced for the 2011 Adventure Racing World Championship winning Thule Adventure Team. They came to Australia to train last summer and enjoyed it so much they have recently returned for round two.

It takes the best adventure race teams around five days to complete gruelling courses, in stunning parts of the world, in mixed teams of four. These guys don’t just ride bikes; they paddle, trek through ice, scale rocky walls, raft down unknown frothy rivers, kayak smoother water and run distances that make marathons seem like mere warm-ups. All-day mountain bike races look like a morning commute by comparison.

Long days smashing your body is what Adventure racing is all about. There are a few things we mountain bikers can learn from their pain and suffering.

Given the high training loads and complex logistical preparation adventure racing at this level demands, we caught up with Mimi and Jacky to see what insights they could offer the regular mountain biker. Once we finally managed to stop them raving about how good the singletracks are on our sunny shores, their responses showed how focussed and methodical they are despite their constant laughter and carefree demeanours.

Read on for some tips, tricks and insights that might give your riding fresh sense of perspective, or a timely summer boost. [private]

[And yes, Mimi and Jacky are French nationals so you have to read this with a broken-English French accent]

How can cross-training make for better strength on the bike?

Jacky: When you are just mountain biker and you always ride, you get a very big difference between different muscle groups which can often give people problems with their backs. It can be good to paddle or swim because you develop better strength in the upper part of the body.

Mimi: And running too. If all your muscles are used to being prepared and doing some exercise, it can help because some muscles then compliment the others better during mountain biking – so you can have less injuries.

Cross training really can help your mountain biking.

Does the fitness and strength you have from training in different sports help with managing injuries in other ways?

Mimi: When we have an injury, we try to find another solution so we can keep training. We are lucky that we practice many sports.

I twisted my ankle two weeks ago and haven’t been able to run but if we have our boat we paddle every day. If I do better training in the paddling and the riding, at the end I don’t lose too much time.

Jacky: Also, I think the best thing you can do is look more at what you eat to have better recovery.

Maybe not getting out to paddle in this, but there are advantages to being injured when you have so many sports to choose from.

How do your singletrack skills compare to the average Aussie mountain biker?

Mimi: Oh! This we need to improve!

Jacky: In fact there are more mountain bike parks here and people are used to this. Everybody is more used to knowing the track, and because they know the trails they can go faster. In adventure races we never know the track and we need to be very reactive.

And what about fitness?

Jacky: I think with fitness it’s the opposite. We have heard many times that people prefer to play in the bike park and when there is big climb they don’t really like it. They really prefer to play and enjoy the singletrack!

But at the same time, everybody rides even if they are tall or a bit big – not just the small, sporty people like in France. It’s everybody… that’s cool.

Racing in remote locations means you have to be quite flexible about what you eat and drink. Is there anything you have learned from this that other riders could benefit from?

Mimi: People are very used to having power drink, power bar, power gel, power power, power for everything! For some races I think you don’t need to have as much of this.

Jacky: For some people it’s good help if you just race sometimes, but if you race all the time and you eat too much [gels and bars] you can have trouble. We used to have a lot of gels and power drink, but then we got a lot of stomach troubles. Now we try to eat something more natural.

[Mimi and Jacky are known to race on drink bottles filled with honey, salt, lemon and ginger and completed the Australian Solo 24 Hour Champs last Easter on a selection of gourmet homemade cookies.]

That’s a lot of gear to carry but if you are remote and without help it is sometimes better to have too much gear and not have to deal with the consequences of the opposite.

If something breaks during an adventure race, you’re a long way from help. How does that impact the equipment you choose to ride with compared to some of the riders you have met here?

Mimi: I am very surprised because many mountain bikers don’t have a lot of repair kit. Us, I am quite sure we have everything. Perhaps it’s a bad choice because we carry more weight. But we can always finish a race.

Jacky: Also I think our equipment is less light than the top mountain bikers. It’s still not very heavy, just maybe 200gm more here and there, but it’s more durable. This is safer for a long race, which is a big difference for us.

Thank you! Do you have one final piece of advice about how mountain bikers can have an even better experience on the trails?

Mimi: Take the start and enjoy! And enjoy where you are. And smell! Because in Australia it smells so good in the forest. This is a huge difference for us!  (Turns to Jacky: Did you smell the forest today? It’s so crazy!)

Jacky: I think maybe the other advice is a lot of people are going too fast at the start. Maybe in a 30km race it’s not a problem, but in a marathon or 24 hours it’s very huge mistake. I think when you are more experienced, you are not afraid when you see people who start very fast and you know your pace. If you just keep your pace, people who are going too fast blow up, and you catch them.

I think this advice is not for the elite pro riders or people who fight for the first place, it’s just for the others. Then they can have the very, very best position at the end.

Running repairs aren’t only on the bikes.

 

[/private]

An Epic Mountain Bike Tour de France

Telling riding mates you’re spending July in France is a sure-fire way to induce envy, hate mail and, eventually, excited chatter about what you’ll do when you get there.

‘Are you going to watch the Tour?’

‘Yeah, a mountain stage or two, for sure. And maybe a few more at the pub with locals after riding all day.’

‘Are you taking your own bike?’

‘Yep.’

‘A road bike?’

‘Hey, what do you think I am?’

This part of the conversation always surprises me. Why is it that when we’re talking about French tourism, mountain biking seems like the poor cousin to road riding?

French nationals Julien Absalon and Julie Bresset are two of the best riders on the international cross-country circuit. The Alpes and Pyrenees boast huge climbs, jaw-dropping, brake-burning descents and well signed trails heading in almost every direction. [private]

Huge, huge mountains that aren’t just for the roadies to climb. They’re for mountain bikers to bomb down.

Even so, after jumping on my bike and heading out on a series of rides that had gold-star recommendations, I was surprised to discover that the land of wine, cheese, and the most watched road cycling event in the world offers mountain bikers an array of off-road adventures that are very different to how we understand the sport ‘back home’.

Differences in what mountain biking ‘is’ reveal as much about French culture as they do about our own.

The trails seem to have grown organically out of walking tracks, and are tied to the mentality that a ‘good ride’ is not roosting through a network of trails spiralling around a carpark.

Here, a good ride is ‘a good tour’. It will take in vast landscapes and big hills. It will take you places.

It’s not atypical to start a ride with a two-hour fire road pedal up a comfortable gradient and to end it with a thrillingly steep singletrack descent back to where you came from. On these trails it is disc brakes, rather than a lightweight frame and fancy suspension system, that signify a good off-road steed.

Singletrack is everywhere.

Trail maps can be found at most tourist offices in mountain areas and will usually indicate the distance, time and vertical gain of a number of well-signed loops.

If it’s singletrack you want, ask about this specifically because on some maps a ‘hard’ difficulty level can refer more to the gradient of the journey rather than the trail type.

Bike shop staff are invaluable, as always, in helping you sniff out the ride experience you’re after. Local shops are well worth a visit even if it’s just to ogle at some of the different product lines on offer.

A riding holiday in France thus begins to unfold a bit like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure novels that many of us enjoyed as kids:

Do you want to watch a decisive hill stage of Le Tour while you’re road tripping around?

  • Yes – Choose a town nearby to base yourself for a couple of days.
  • No – Head to a well-known ski resort that offers lifted runs in summer.

Are your legs still blown from the last town you visited?

  • Yes – Book your accommodation for long enough that you can still get out on the epic that speaks to you most in the trail guide.
  • No – Stock up on riding food and get ready for an early morning.

With plenty of long hard tours, shorter explorations and lifted-run goodness to choose from how you want to put the pieces together is entirely up to you. What follows are a few do’s and a don’t that might help you choose the best adventure.

Do:

  • Pack your climbing legs. It’s not unusual to ascend 1000 vertical metres on ‘an easy ride’.
  • Check out some of the iconic Tour hill climbs if they’re on your route. Local riders will let you know if there are some fun dirt descents from the top, and it’s exciting riding over the names painted on the tarmac on the way up.
  • Pack spare brake pads. Long descents (with blind corners and shared traffic) can burn through resin faster than an Aussie race in the mud. Well, almost.
  • Plan long rides around food stops at Refugios and small towns that you’ll pass by along the way.
  • Always take a windproof/water-resistant jacket for long, fast descents and changes in weather up high.
  • Be aware of the impacts of driving on the right side of the road for walking, riding and car travel.
  • Be courteous to and aware of walkers (randonneurs) as you fly through shared and unfamiliar trails. Many French folk flock to the mountains in summer like many Aussies flock to the beach.

Don’t:

  • Fall into the trap of thinking you can counter excess pastry-consumption by riding more and eating smaller mains. Blown legs make it harder to get to the next patisserie.

Ah, French food. All that cheese is the perfect fuel to get you to the top of the mountain.

 

Language barriers:

We are lucky that people in so many countries learn English as a second language, but this can make us quite lazy as tourists. If you have time to brush up on some French vocab, you’ll be better placed to learn from and understand the kindness of others, and to ask questions and express thanks.

Get some audio lessons and listen to them on training rides or on the plane. Most guidebooks have a selection of phonetically spelled words and phrases as well.

Here are a few trip-specific words that may come in handy:

  • bon courage – ‘Good luck/courage.’ Something people say to you out the car window when you’re riding your bike up a mountain.
  • carte – map
  • chapeau – ‘I take my hat off to you.’ Something people say to you when you’re doing a champion effort (like riding a mountain bike up the Col de Galibier wearing a hydration pack).
  • la descente – the descent
  • difficile – difficult
  • la durée – duration
  • facile – easy
  • kilometres – kilometres
  • la montée– the climb
  • moyenne – average
  • la piste – track/trail
  • plan – map
  • le single – singletrack
  • technique – technical or technicality
  • la télécabine – gondola
  • le télésiège – chairlift
  • vélo tout terrain (VTT) – mountain bike (MTB) [/private]

First Time Racer: The Before, During and After

Do you still remember the first time you raced? The nerves, the excitement, the anticipation – and even, the fear.

Have you yet to make the leap into the world of mountain bike racing?  Do you think it will be too hard?  Do you worry that you won’t be able to make the distance?

Flow takes you on a journey with first time racer Cassandra Du Boulay, as she takes on racing for the first time in the recent For the Birds women’s only event in Canberra.

 

A Month Before The Big Day

A month before the race we caught up with Cassandra to see what she was doing and how she was preparing for the big day.

First time racer and new MTB rider Cassandra De Boulay
We are a month out from your first ever race, how are you feeling?

I’m actually quite excited.  I think that it may be a little too soon to enter a race especially since I have only been to Sparrow Hill once. I’m also not at my fittest but I’m busting to give it a go.

How long have you been mountain biking?

My first time was in May this year (2012).  I had done an introductory women’s course followed by an intermediate course.  As of today I’ve been on the MTB tracks a total of 11 times

Who or what got you into it?

My husband’s friend Adam has all the credit for introducing me to mountain biking.  He was visiting from Perth and asked us if we knew of any places in Canberra to ride.  We only knew of one; Mt Stromlo.  The boys had planned to go out and convinced me at the last minute to borrow my mother-in-law’s bike (which had no suspension whatsoever) and head out.

They thought the beginner loop would be too short and easy so we went straight for the intermediate loop. After a mix of horror and exhilaration, not to mention a couple of spectacular crashes, I was busting to get a proper bike and learn.  Given that I felt like I’d been hit by a bus after my locked-arm-death-grip adventure I knew I had a lot to learn.

So you got the MTB bug.  Did you get any coaching or go straight into it?

Yeah, not long after (that first ride) I saw an email on a social mailing list about women’s MTB courses run by Cycle Education and I enrolled.

And you mentioned you wanted to get a new bike, did that happen?

I recently bought a second hand Giant Anthem and have found that having a good bike makes all the difference.

How much riding are you going to be able to do in the lead up to the For the Birds race?

I am planning to ride at the race location twice a week and in addition to that I will do some spin classes at the gym for fitness.

 

Race Day

The big day of the race for any first timer is always full of nervous energy and a mix of emotions.  Sometimes it has been a big planned lead up with a goal and other times it is a last minute decision to throw yourself into the under-prepared deep end.  No matter where you fall in those extremes it’s always an exciting day and experience.

We caught up with Cassandra again just before she was about to start her first race.

Cassandra out warning up for the race.
What is your goal for this race?

I’d really like to finish the race without hurting myself or my bike.  I am realistic enough to know that I can’t expect to place but I think it will give me really good race experience to take forward.  My inner competitive streak would like me to finish in the top half of the field!

What made you pick the 20km distance?

I chose the 20km on advice from the people that ran the intermediate course I did.  They thought that based on my riding I would get to the end of the 10 km and would be left wanting more.  Also, I have never been good at sprinting (on foot or on a bike) and I think the longer distances would be too much given my fitness!

Are you competitive by nature?

If you ask anyone I have ever known I think you would get a resounding, YES! I was quite competitive when I was younger but as I am getting older I am starting to enjoy things for the fun of it, but I think I’ll always have a little voice in the back of my mind that wants to win.

 

We wished Cassandra a huge, ‘good luck’ and waited impatiently for her to finish the race.  When you’ve been part of mountain biking as long as Flow has it’s always an exciting time to see people frothing on mountain bikes. We were just hoping that she would finish the race with a huge smile and love mountain biking as much as we do.

 

Post Race Analysis

It doesn’t matter how much you are “doing it for the fun”, it’s still good to see how you went against others.
How were you feeling during the race?

I was full of adrenalin and I think that helped me up the initial fire trail climb. Once I got on the single track I settled down a bit and focussed on keeping in touch with the girl in front and away from anyone that might be catching me. I knew I was stronger on the uphill and I felt I needed to push myself on the downhill.

Did the nerves settle down?

I think I was just really happy to get going, standing at the start made me nervous. I wasn’t sure if I should have gone out so hard so early but I turned the nerves into adrenaline and was pretty pumped for the whole time.

Do you remember what you thought as you were riding?

I was mostly trying to think positive and not slow down or slack off. I had practiced at Sparrow a few times in the weeks leading up to the race and so I tried to think about taking good lines, not over braking and all the tips I had learned at the courses I’d done.

How did you feel when you finished?

Other than exhausted I was really happy, I’d had a great time and couldn’t stop smiling.

When I saw that I had finished 4th I was shocked and ecstatic. Then to find out I was 2nd in my division was amazing. I had never hoped for such a good result. I knew that I had gone out hard up the fire trail and that no one had passed me but didn’t realise that I had taken 14 minutes of my best time for that track.

How did you find the distance?

It was a good distance for me; the 10km would have been over too soon. As for the 40km or 60km I don’t know how they do it. Maybe it is a good goal to work towards.

Did you enjoy the women only aspect to the race?

Since it was my first race I think it was a little less intimidating than if there were guys on the track too. It is not why I initially chose it for my first race but I’m glad it was.

Will you race again?

Absolutely! Now that my husband has a bike I’d love to race in a team with him.

Would you recommend it to other people thinking of giving it a go?

Definitely, I liked that it was a really supportive and friendly atmosphere. I chatted to other people that were new to MTB as well as seasoned pro’s that were really encouraging. The race was well run and was a really positive experience.

Cassandra has caught the MTB race bug and will be racing again. Flow froths on anyone who picks up a mountain bike, be it for race or ride.

 

Video: The Briars Highland Fling has been flung

[SV_VIMEO id=”53385849″]

The Briars Highland Fling, now in its eighth year, has a certain air of prestige about it. It attracts a massive field of over 2000 entrants, at 112km it’s longer than any other marathon in the calendar (there’s even a 100-mile option for those who require a bit more punishment) and the widely varied course is tough from start to finish. Needless to say, to win here is to notch up a truly notable victory. This year, the stage was set for a incredible battle. The Fling is the final round in the Real Insurance XCM series, and the big guns were all in attendance to sort out who was boss.

The Fling takes in all kinds of trails across its 112km – from open field, to pine forest, to the twisty singletrack of Wingello.

But before we get in the serious business of racing, it’s not-so-serious side of the Fling that also makes it such a great event. The vibe is fantastic, and the whole community of Bundanoon embraces the thousands of mountain bikers who descend on the normally sleepy township.  The town is decked out with silver painted bikes, local business owners don costumes for the Battle of the Businesses, and the main street is shut down, giving the whole town a festival feel.

The Battle of the Businesses is a hoot! It’s great to see how the community gets behind the Fling. You really get the feeling that mountain biking is doing great things for the town.

The inaugural Rolloff World Championships saw riders playing tactical warfare to extract the last microns of momentum on the tarmac outside town. Slick tyres, high pressures and aero helmets were all busted out, but in the end sheer mass proved the winner with Glen Leechburch taking the victory on board full knobby tyres at off road pressures.

Saturday’s Bundanoon Dash was a chance to stretch the legs pre-Fling. The short course looped out of town before finishing with a brutal smash up Constitution Hill.

Saturday afternoon also saw the traditionally frenetic Bundanoon Dash take place. This 10-minute blast around town finishes with a sprint up the cripplingly steep Constitution Hill. Andy Blair sent a message, stomping the climb to take the win. Once again, the vibe was unreal, with locals and visitors alike packing the side of the road and screaming like it was the upper slopes of Alp d’Huez at the Tour de France.

The sound of bagpipes divides opinion like religion at a dinner party. But love them or loathe them, the wail of pipes at a 5:30am leaves you in no doubt that you’re at the Fling!   Riders emerged from tents and campers to frosty air but blue skies – perfect racing conditions for the battle that was to play out.

All eyes were on the elites this year, and the depth of talent that had turned up to race was terrifying. In the men’s field there was Shaun Lewis, Dylan Cooper, Adrian Jackson, Andy Blair, Trenton Day and Matt Flemming, just to name a few. The women’s field was equally stacked; Jenny Fay, Rebecca Henderson, Peta Mullens, Jenni King, Jodie Willet… the front row of the start looked like a National Champs.

The 100 Miler category had some big names too, including none other than Jess Douglas, and alongside her, Naomi Hansen. The battle between these two would shape up to be one of the stories of the weekend.

Jenny Fay won every round of the XCM series this year. It has been a huge season for her and she’ll kick off the new year on a fresh team to be announced shortly. Her win in the Fling was gutsy.

Few people expected Jenny Fay to be seriously challenged in the women’s field. With five XCM wins this year already under her belt, the overall Real Insurance XCM series was as good as hers. Fay looked comfortable and confident the day before the race, saying “I know what I need to do. I don’t want to win by 10 seconds.”

The men’s overall series competition was a different kettle of fish. Shaun Lewis had a slight lead over Andy Blair, but with the Fling having more series points on offer than the other rounds, there was potential for Blair to snatch the series title if he could take the win. Lewis was keeping it cool, “Blairy’s definitely the guy I’ve got worry about,” he said, “I’ll be marking Blairy, and if it comes down to a sprint finish then that will suit me.”

Shaun Lewis (right), Real Insurance XCM series winner, picks it up, while big Troy Glennan charges on through. Glennan played a key role in the Fling, working for Lewis early on.

Ultimately, the race panned out a little differently. Jenny Fay did manage to hang on and take the win in the women’s but not in the comfortable manner to which she has become accustomed. Perhaps the toll of a big year of racing finally hit home? Fay was first across the line, but Peta Mullens was right on her heels. There were a few anxious and emotional moments for Fay while the un-timed transition sections were taken into account before she was finally announced as the deserved (and very relieved) winner. “I’m actually happy it ended like this,” said Fay, “it justifies that my win in the series wasn’t about a lack of depth in the field. I had nothing in the legs, so I just had to ride with my head, and I did that.”

The on-course confessional, where riders could confess their ‘doping sins’! Stuff like this makes the Fling a good laugh as well as a great race.

The men’s race was a tactical battle. Adrian Jackson, Mr Consistent, got away with the ever-aggressive Dylan Cooper and the on-form Brendan Johnston. Behind them, the battle between Blair and Lewis was playing out. Lewis: “A few things went my way tactically – the bunch split and it was Andy and I at the back, so he had to take the initiative.” Lewis, still on the mend from injury, admitted that Blair was “super strong” but soon after Blair was hit with the first of two flat tyres and his day was done. Despite sleeving his damaged tyre with gel wrappers and even a borrowed $10 note, Blair suffered a second flat and ultimately had to borrow a wheel. Lewis finished in fifth, with Blair in six with Jarrod Hughes bagging a commendable fourth, a huge result in such esteemed company. The mechanical dramas cost Blair in the series standings too, and he slipped from second to third overall.

Cooper, Jackson and Johnston grabbed the top three spots. Jackson gets the novelty cheque!

The top three spots of the Fling podium were occupied by Jackson, Cooper and Johnston. Jackson’s performance was no surprise to those who’ve seen his consistency all year. “I’ve been competing solidly all year and maintaining good fitness just through racing,” AJ said, “but today was hard – there are climbs the whole way, and no big descents you get a rest on.” Brendan Johnston was admittedly “wrecked” after grabbing third. “Dylan was just driving it in the singletrack, and that really hurt me,” he said. Dylan Cooper was also paying the price, cramping up hard as he crossed the line.

Ed McDonald, winner of the 100 Miler category, remarkably smiley for a bloke who has just ridden 165km!

In the 100 Miler category, Ed McDonald on his first race for Trek/Anytime Fitness, took the win. Naomi Hansen was able to hold off a rapidly closing Jess Douglas in the women’s, coming across the line just seconds ahead after 165km of racing. Douglas was eager to continue the battle, claiming “the motor was just getting warmed up!” but Hansen was, wisely, not having a bar of it.

And so it ended, the Fling was flung once again. A fantastic event in all respects, just remember to bring your ear plugs if you don’t like the sound of bag pipes at dawn.

The Bottom Bracket: A Standard It Ain’t

Standards, ain’t so. Welcome to the first in a regular series of stories on so called ‘component standards’ – where they came from, where they are going and why there are so damn many of them!

First up, the bottom bracket.

Bottom brackets (BB’s) are easily overlooked, yet are often to blame for that annoying creak and hard to find noises on your bike. BB’s have quickly gone from a simple concept and standard to one of the most confusing and least compatible bike parts on the modern market.

To set the record straight the BB has two simple jobs  – to provide a mechanism to fix the crank arms to the bike, and to provide a housing for bearings so the cranks can rotate.

Many of the new BB “innovations” have come across from the BMX and road cycling worlds. Originally these innovations were from the crank manufacturers moving on from the age old square taper configuration.  They were looking for stiffer, stronger and more durable methods of holding the cranks to the bike. Frame manufacturers are since to blame for the multiple offerings as they fight to maximise stiffness and minimise weight, whilst simplifying the manufacturing process. [private]

Square Taper

Still readily available and now common on cheaper bikes the square tapered bottom brackets offer great bearing durability.  However the thinly sized axle isn’t up to the rigors of increasingly demanding terrain and more aggressive mountain bike riding.

Square taper. Old school.

8 and 10 Splined

In 1996, Shimano released Octalink, a sturdier 8 splined interface addressing the strength and stiffness issues of the square taper. The likes of RaceFace, Chris King and Truvativ joined forces to create ISIS (International Splined Interface Standard), an open patent 10 splined interface that offered a competitor to Octalink. Bearing durability issues arose as bearing sizes reduced in order to accommodate the larger axle within the BB shell.

First it was the Octalink and then this, the ISIS came along.

External Bearings

Look back 5 years and it’s almost definite that your mountain bike would have featured an English threaded bottom bracket shell. This shell type is still considered the norm even though many high end bikes no longer use it. Threaded BB’s have gone through multiple incarnations of different axles and bearing placement, each with the promise to offer greater stiffness, durability and strength; but it wasn’t always the case.

Enter the outboard bearing bottom bracket. By placing the bearings outside the frame the bearing size vastly increased, offering improved durability.  It also enabled an increased axle diameter which improved crank strength and stiffness. Whereas previous systems required specific shell width and axle lengths, outboard bearings saw a far simplified market offering with most brands choosing a 24mm diameter axle and interchangeable BB.

Move the bearing outside the bottom bracket and you can get a larger and stronger axle. This english treaded bottom bracket it pretty much the standard. Except of course the other standards.

BB30 and Press Fit

Prior to the outboard system; Cannondale, a company known to do things differently, released the BB30. This system makes use of sealed bearings pressed into a larger non-threaded bottom bracket shell with circlips used to keep the bearings in place. This offered numerous benefits; the increased bottom bracket shell size creates increased surface area for adjoining tubes and so creates a stiffer and lighter frame. Other benefits included the ability to use an extremely oversized 30mm axle, creating a crank set with an amazing strength to weight ratio. Furthermore, the larger bearings offered the potential of greater durability.

The BB30. No more threads in the bottom bracket shell to mess up.

Outside of Cannondale, BB30 didn’t immediately take off though. However as frame manufacturers were pushing the boundaries of materials more than ever, the concept of pressed-in bearings was gaining in popularity. A newer take on the BB30 is the PF30 system, using the same 30mm axle as BB30.  The difference with PF30 is that it uses an even larger BB shell that holds an over sized pressed-in bottom bracket cup. This is easier to manufacture than the BB30 as the circlip slots are not needed.

PF30. A new take on BB30. Still the big 30mm axle but minus the circlip.

Furthering the theme of pressed-in style; the likes of Giant and Scott are sticking with a different standard; Shimano Press Fit. Here the bearing cups are pressed directly into a standard sized (un-threaded) bottom bracket shell.  It’s exactly the same concept as PF30 but instead it utilises a 24mm axle standard – exactly the same crank axle standard as that of the threaded outboard system. Additionally, Trek then have their own take on the 24mm axle system, using headset style bearings fit straight into the frame.

24mm on the left and 30mm on the right.

 

Shimano Press Fit. No more threads and still works with your old cranks.

Even More Standards and the Future

BB386 EVO, a very rare sight within the mountain bike world, is the newest idea being pushed by the likes of FSA. The concept is for more backwards compatibility between various bottom bracket offerings. It’s basically a wider version of PF30 and via the use of conversion cups just about any crank set can be used, with the exception of the narrower BB30.

With little differentiation and so many options, what does the future hold? It’s certain that press fit style bottom brackets will continue to gain momentum with undeniable benefits; lighter, stiffer and cheaper to produce. However, as long as the king pin Shimano lacks support for BB30, the bottom bracket world will remain in a stalemate without a clear standard. [/private]

 

The Bottom Bracket: A Standard It Ain't

Standards, ain’t so. Welcome to the first in a regular series of stories on so called ‘component standards’ – where they came from, where they are going and why there are so damn many of them!

First up, the bottom bracket.

Bottom brackets (BB’s) are easily overlooked, yet are often to blame for that annoying creak and hard to find noises on your bike. BB’s have quickly gone from a simple concept and standard to one of the most confusing and least compatible bike parts on the modern market.

To set the record straight the BB has two simple jobs  – to provide a mechanism to fix the crank arms to the bike, and to provide a housing for bearings so the cranks can rotate.

Many of the new BB “innovations” have come across from the BMX and road cycling worlds. Originally these innovations were from the crank manufacturers moving on from the age old square taper configuration.  They were looking for stiffer, stronger and more durable methods of holding the cranks to the bike. Frame manufacturers are since to blame for the multiple offerings as they fight to maximise stiffness and minimise weight, whilst simplifying the manufacturing process. [private]

Square Taper

Still readily available and now common on cheaper bikes the square tapered bottom brackets offer great bearing durability.  However the thinly sized axle isn’t up to the rigors of increasingly demanding terrain and more aggressive mountain bike riding.

Square taper. Old school.

8 and 10 Splined

In 1996, Shimano released Octalink, a sturdier 8 splined interface addressing the strength and stiffness issues of the square taper. The likes of RaceFace, Chris King and Truvativ joined forces to create ISIS (International Splined Interface Standard), an open patent 10 splined interface that offered a competitor to Octalink. Bearing durability issues arose as bearing sizes reduced in order to accommodate the larger axle within the BB shell.

First it was the Octalink and then this, the ISIS came along.

External Bearings

Look back 5 years and it’s almost definite that your mountain bike would have featured an English threaded bottom bracket shell. This shell type is still considered the norm even though many high end bikes no longer use it. Threaded BB’s have gone through multiple incarnations of different axles and bearing placement, each with the promise to offer greater stiffness, durability and strength; but it wasn’t always the case.

Enter the outboard bearing bottom bracket. By placing the bearings outside the frame the bearing size vastly increased, offering improved durability.  It also enabled an increased axle diameter which improved crank strength and stiffness. Whereas previous systems required specific shell width and axle lengths, outboard bearings saw a far simplified market offering with most brands choosing a 24mm diameter axle and interchangeable BB.

Move the bearing outside the bottom bracket and you can get a larger and stronger axle. This english treaded bottom bracket it pretty much the standard. Except of course the other standards.

BB30 and Press Fit

Prior to the outboard system; Cannondale, a company known to do things differently, released the BB30. This system makes use of sealed bearings pressed into a larger non-threaded bottom bracket shell with circlips used to keep the bearings in place. This offered numerous benefits; the increased bottom bracket shell size creates increased surface area for adjoining tubes and so creates a stiffer and lighter frame. Other benefits included the ability to use an extremely oversized 30mm axle, creating a crank set with an amazing strength to weight ratio. Furthermore, the larger bearings offered the potential of greater durability.

The BB30. No more threads in the bottom bracket shell to mess up.

Outside of Cannondale, BB30 didn’t immediately take off though. However as frame manufacturers were pushing the boundaries of materials more than ever, the concept of pressed-in bearings was gaining in popularity. A newer take on the BB30 is the PF30 system, using the same 30mm axle as BB30.  The difference with PF30 is that it uses an even larger BB shell that holds an over sized pressed-in bottom bracket cup. This is easier to manufacture than the BB30 as the circlip slots are not needed.

PF30. A new take on BB30. Still the big 30mm axle but minus the circlip.

Furthering the theme of pressed-in style; the likes of Giant and Scott are sticking with a different standard; Shimano Press Fit. Here the bearing cups are pressed directly into a standard sized (un-threaded) bottom bracket shell.  It’s exactly the same concept as PF30 but instead it utilises a 24mm axle standard – exactly the same crank axle standard as that of the threaded outboard system. Additionally, Trek then have their own take on the 24mm axle system, using headset style bearings fit straight into the frame.

24mm on the left and 30mm on the right.

 

Shimano Press Fit. No more threads and still works with your old cranks.

Even More Standards and the Future

BB386 EVO, a very rare sight within the mountain bike world, is the newest idea being pushed by the likes of FSA. The concept is for more backwards compatibility between various bottom bracket offerings. It’s basically a wider version of PF30 and via the use of conversion cups just about any crank set can be used, with the exception of the narrower BB30.

With little differentiation and so many options, what does the future hold? It’s certain that press fit style bottom brackets will continue to gain momentum with undeniable benefits; lighter, stiffer and cheaper to produce. However, as long as the king pin Shimano lacks support for BB30, the bottom bracket world will remain in a stalemate without a clear standard. [/private]

 

Mental Health Info for Flow-vember

Depression and anxiety are as real, scary and as potentially crippling to your life as any over-the-bars moment you’ll ever have. They’re also more common than tutus at a singlespeed race; in fact, approximately one out of five people will have to live with depression at some point in their lives and 14% of Australians are affected by anxiety each year.

Unlike wearing your knicks twice in a row, depression and anxiety are not something to feel ashamed or to feel guilty about. They’re not a sign of weakness, or a lack of personal strength, nor a ‘mood’ that someone can ‘snap out of’. These are serious conditions, and they need to be treated.

Perhaps the best news here is that mountain biking (well, any exercise really, but let’s not sweat the particulars) is good for you. In fact, recent research suggests that frequent, intense exercise can have the same short-term effect on the brain as some antidepressant medications. And it’s not just all those endorphins doing you good; that awesome sense of community found amongst mountain bikers and those rich interpersonal connections can genuinely support recovery from depression (in combination with treatment from a qualified mental health professional).

What can we all do then, to help prevent depression and anxiety? Firstly, look after yourself – there’s nothing brave about pretending you’re okay when you’re not, so if you notice a change in your thoughts of behaviour, act on it. All contact with mental health professionals is private and confidential, and if you let your family and your mates in on what’s going on for you, you might just find they can help you to get better.

Look after your mates and family – if you notice any changes such as mood fluctuations, withdrawal from usual activities (like your regular ride), excessive worry and negative thinking, changes in sleep, weight and appetite, poor concentration, fatigue, irritability or social isolation – make sure you tell your mate or family member that you’ve noticed something’s up, and that you’re there to help them in any way that you can.

Help break down the harmful prejudices around mental illness – for some bloody reason, we continue to hear false, outdated and harmful cultural messages about mental illnesses. Mental illness is not a myth, no more than a broken collar bone or scraped up chin – you wouldn’t leave your mate on the trailside busted and bleeding, and you’ve got just as much opportunity to help them in the case of mental illness.

Joining in on Movember as a Mo Bro or Mo Sista is a great way to show your support and help to breakdown stigmas about mental health problems.

Want to know more?

Accessing a psychologist in Australia:

The best place to start is to see a GP about a referral. GPs can offer medication advice if necessary, as well as refer you to either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. In Australia, Medicare will fund up to 10 sessions with a psychologist provided you have a GP referral, and many psychologists will bulk bill. If you are seeking a psychologist close to your home or workplace the following website might assist you: www.findapsychologist.org.au or call 1800 33 497.

Other Services:

The list below is just some of the people you can turn to for help and answers to your questions.  They are all just a web page or a phone call away.

 

beyondblue Australia
Phone: 1300 22 4636

Black Dog Institute
Phone: (02) 9382 4530

Lifeline (24 hours)
Phone: 13 11 14

Mensline (24 hours)
Phone: 1300 78 99 78

 

Australia

 

New Zealand 

Interview: Christoph Ritzler – Fox Racing Shox

Name: Christoph Ritzler.
Role: Managing Director for the European sales office for Fox.
Home: Bern, Switzerland.
Slices of lemon bun eaten during this interview: Just the one [good restraint].

 

Christoph, you’ve been with Fox for 11 years, roughly the same time Fox developed their first mountain bike forks.

Yes, one year after the first fork. But I was in the industry for long before that. I started racing mountain bikes, if you could call them races, back in 1984. I’ve worked with Tange, the tubing company who also made forks for a time, I was the first Specialized importer in Switzerland too, I also was in charge of Rockshox’s European business for eight years.

Tell us more about Fox’s move into making suspension forks in addition to shocks.

Bob Fox started Fox 38 years ago – he was a motocross racer, unhappy with the equipment, so he started making his own shocks and forks. Back then motocross forks had a stanchion tube diameter of maybe 36mm, but Bob Fox made this fork that had 44mm legs that was huge for the time. It really shook things up.

1989, he developed the first mountain bike rear shock for Cannondale, before their bikes even had front suspension. Then for many years Fox made only rear shocks. Interestingly the opportunity to make forks arose when Rockshox were moving away from San Jose in California. Some of the engineers didn’t want to move, so they contacted Bob Fox and began the mountain bike fork project. Some of those engineers are still there today!

The rear shocks were the driving force, but the forks were the start of something bigger, taking a $10-20 million company to a company that’s 10 times that size now. [private]

Is mountain biking the biggest side of the business?

It is, but the other sides are catching up. And interestingly, they’re catching up because we apply mountain bike technologies to the other areas – things like reducing weight with air springs, bottom-out control from our mountain bike shocks has moved into the motocross realm, and the linear air springs from our TALAS forks are now in snowmobiles and quads.

We’re also doing OEM supply for automotive businesses, like the new Ford Raptor which has suspension and off-road capabilities that you wouldn’t have been able to buy off the shelf before. There’s a general drive for lighter weight suspension overall, especially as we’re seeing more electric vehicles.

Can you give us an overview of how and where a fork or shock comes together?

Now we must define what we mean by ‘made’. There are certainly technologies that are simply not available in parts of the world any more, so different elements are completed or sourced in places all over the world.

For example, the tubing that we use, that used to be US made, that capability is gone in the US. Easton tubes are now made in Taiwan, so that’s were the tubes are made. Now if it’s a Kashima tube, it goes from Taiwan to Japan for coating, before coming to the US for assembly. You can see already why a lot of the costs are logistics costs. In some ways it’s crazy, but in other ways it allows us to focus in the US on the key processes that have the biggest bearing on the outcome of the product.

Foundries, castings, forgings – it makes no sense for us to do that in the US – obviously we need to have the right materials, but in the US we concentrate on the elements that are really tolerance critical.

I would say that the quality of suspension is the sum of its tolerances – we make relatively complex products that depend entirely upon how well all of the individual parts work together. It’s controlling those tolerances that dictates how sticky or not a fork is, the fluditity of the damping curve, how smoothly it transitions from compression to rebound. All of these details that dictate if a fork will feel good on the trail, that’s what we control in the US.

We have 45 CNC machines at Scotts Valley (California, USA) that operate 24hrs a day, six and a half days a week, and these machines do all the finishing of the incoming parts prior to the assembly. When you’ve got a fork bush that needs to fit perfectly to within 3/100ths of a millimetre, and that will make the difference between smooth and sticky performance, those are the processes we need to control ourselves.

Tell us a bit about the feedback process from consumers, distributors and racers.

Very little feedback comes directly from consumers, purely because their first point of call should be their distributors in their country. It’s very important what Greg Minnaar wants from his product, but his needs are very specific versus that of the products that we ship around the world.

So most of our feedback comes from distributors, through their service and warranty work. If there is an issue they haven’t seen before, we ask them to ship us the product and goes to the Quality Review Team and they define it is a manufacture issue, a design issue, materials, or is it connected to some environmental conditions.

Environment is important – sometimes you have a part or material that works everywhere, but then you go to Norway and the seal fails! It can be something in the soil, the particular conditions of the dirt, sand, even the humidity or temperature. For example, our automotive distributor here in Australia has a particular problem with quad bike shock seals, but only in Tasmania, so all the shocks in Tasmania get different seals that are little bit more sticky but which hold up to the soils there. Or in Holland, the people there tend to ride a lot of trails that are ancient dunes or beaches, and the conditions are so aggressive it can actually wear holes through the lowers, from the inside out. Sometimes, no matter how good your testing, the real world catches up in some places.

You can get situations where it comes back to a supplier too – like a few years ago we had problems with some air shocks getting ‘stuck down’. It turned out the supplier we had been using for years changed their own materials supplier, and when the temperature got below five degrees, the seal had problems.

Fox and Shimano have been working together for a few years now. How did that come about?

Yes, they have worked with us on 15QR axles, remote levers and more. The reality is that we are not a cockpit company, so even if we do a good job, we will not do it as well as a company that has expertise in that area. Plus, quality wise, Shimano is the best supplier you can have for the quality of the products, no doubt about that.

When it came to 15QR, it was a new standard, and the industry is not always happy about new standards. So partnering with Shimano, who could support the new standard with the necessary hubs and explain the new standard, it was important.

With Shimano too, the development is very thorough, step-by-step, so it made sense if were to bring in a new standard to do it with a partner like them. It takes more time, but it was worth it 100%.

A couple of years ago we saw Fox touting a fork with cast titanium uppers, but it never appeared. What happened?

That was very frustrating. Some background. Our forks have always been heavier than the other guys – with good reason, but still the lightweight has sex appeal. Also, we believe in metals and in that context, titanium is very sexy.

The prototyping was very interesting because of the technology that was involved. There was a casting process that was basically rotational, so it put all the materials on the outside to create a ‘skin’ – it was completely hollow. It was fantastic technology in principle, so advanced that there were only a few companies in the world that could consider it. But there were even less companies who could give us the quality and consistency we needed, so after a while we just had to say, ‘that’s it, enough’.

Still out of it we learnt a lot about maximising our abilities in lightweight design, so in fact our 2013 forks are lighter than the titanium fork was going to be anyhow. And affordable too! We never really talked about the price, but that fork would have been so expensive.

What about carbon?

We have definitely been looking at it. The weight savings really are minimal, but what is really interesting with carbon is rigidity, structural stiffness. But it’s not for all applications or all our needs. The things that are important, like parallelity, or where tubes must be round, not quite round, but perfectly round, this is where carbon is not necessarily the best fit for our needs.

Many things are possible – coatings on gliding surfaces theoretically. If you dream up the ultimate carbon fork it would definitely be a fantastic product, but it’s not producible in a steady, consistent form yet. We have also tested carbon in lowers already; they were stiffer than magnesium, but none was lighter.

I will not exclude composites from us in the future, but it’s not close.

Talk to us about electronics in suspension.

Well, I think it’s logic of any consumer good – it’s coming. The big questions will be, ‘What do you actually need? How much technology? How much money?’ Then this must be offset against whether or not it’s actually beneficial to your riding experience.

What we’re offering today with our iCD (Intelligent Ride Dynamics) electronic lockout is the equivalent of Shimano’s Di2 shifting. It does the same thing as what you would do mechanically, but it does it more quickly and more reliably, more intuitively. For whom is that important? For racers – the people who have the real need to be focused on everything but the lockout. For trail riders, it’s not so important.

It’s a convenience, a reliability enhancement. It can also bing some risks, for example weight and costs.

The next step is to add some intelligence to it, and this is what the Ei system of Lapierre has done. It’s a very nice system. It does with electronics what we have been developing with hydraulic damping over the years, i.e. making the suspension something you do not have to think about so much.

So to improve upon what we have achieved with damping, it becomes a question of how complex do you want the system to become. How many sensors do you want, how much weight do you want to add? Do you need heart rate? Global position system with the maps pre-programed? It’s all possible, but the question is the added cost against the added value to your ride.

I would say the Lapierre approach is impressive for a first approach. The average rider benefits from it without having to understand it. It’s like my iPhone – I just want it to work well, I don’t need to understand how it does it. And on the trail, I just want to have a good riding experience, I don’t need to know how it happens. That’s what most people want.

The other question is how to use electronics without taking away too much of the feedback that the rider uses, maybe unconsciously, to handle the bike.

Obviously electronics gives you 100 times more possibility to play with different things, but if people care or not, we don’t know yet. It’s a huge investment for everybody, no doubt, but at the same time if you don’t do it, you’ll be dead in a few years. It’s going to multiply the costs for the whole industry too, all the way down to the bike shops that will need to learn all about it and servicing it.

The other aspect too, is that no matter how good the electronics, the suspension that works the best is the one with the precise tolerances, with the nicely made valves, with the attention to detail.

This is the first year we’ve seen Fox enter the adjustable seatpost market. Can you tell us about the challenges there?

I think, like suspension, it’s one of those products that makes a huge difference to the riding experience. Especially on longer-travel bikes that have a higher bottom bracket. For me, personally, being a so so rider, an adjustable seatpost lets me lower my position on the bike in technical terrain but without having to have a low bottom bracket which would make it hard to pedal.

For us the decision to get into the seatpost market was because no one was making a post that was reliable enough – we were reading stories of people taking a second seatpost along with them on long rides in case their adjustable post failed. It wasn’t good enough. So our approach is take make something with Fox quality and Fox reliability.

When you look at a seatpost, it’s actually a very unusual design from a structural standpoint. It narrows as you get towards the point that must bear the load, there’s a lot to fit into a very narrow tube, and it’s hard to have bushings that glide nicely without any play too. When we embarked on the project, we were impressed by how complicated it proved to be.

It wasn’t long ago that we saw a Fox prototype inverted downhill fork pop up (on Aaron Gwin and Gee Atherton’s bikes). What happened to that project?

The upside down fork was aimed at a few things. First, it was about trying to make a lighter fork, and also a different feel in terms of the stiffness. It was fantastic through the rocks, but no good in a high traction corner, it was not stiff enough. The only way to get around it would have been a bigger axle, and then you would need to change hubs and all kinds of things. We even tried full steel chromoly axles, but it was not stiff enough.

We definitely gained in some regards, but in berms and under hard cornering loads, it was not precise enough. And it’s not like flex is always a bad thing, but this was to a level where it overrode the benefits. Still there were certain things we learnt that have made it into the new race fork.

Are there any particular athletes who have really added to the products through their feedback?

There are some racers you ask for feedback and they shrug their shoulders! There are others who are super analytical, who come back five or six times at every race until they feel they can master the track. Some guys can really formulate what they feel, and it’s not always the fastest racers who make the best testers. They might know what they need, but they cannot communicate it so well. So it’s our job to find the right language, to take that feeling from the rider’s hands to the engineers.

What a racer communicates may not be best for the public too. A few years ago when we released the Gee Atherton fork, which had Gee’s own damper settings, people were returning it, saying it was too harsh for them. They just weren’t fast enough to ride it.

It’s the same when you look at someone like Aaron Gwin. If you ride his bike, it is hard work. I could not ride his bike down a downhill track – I would be shaken! Where other guys are making their setups super plush, his bike is so hard. He could ride a fork with 120mm travel at some races, that’s all he uses sometimes. He needs suspension to save his arse when it really goes wrong. Everything else, he’s doing somehow. When I ride downhill, I need suspension so the tyres stay on the ground. He does it completely differently, he has his own physics.

Look at cross country racers too. When you see someone like Julien Absalon descending, he looks like he his rigid, but somehow he goes through rocks and he doesn’t bounce off anything! It’s like he dissipates energy somehow differently.

Finally, what is Fox’s finest achievement?

I think Fox’s finest contribution is that we’ve made suspension systems that are quite long-travel, efficient and lightweight. Honestly now, a six-inch bike weighs as much as my titanium race hardtail did in the 80s. And I think Fox has played a big role in that.

It’s funny how development happens incrementally. I remember back in 1988 I was in Moab and I was fit then. I was riding a bike with 2.2” tyres, huge for back then, but I could barely ride every day because I was so sore. Then I went back a few years ago, I rented a six-inch Turner bike, and everything felt too easy! I was not physically challenged. And I was looking at these trails I had to walk down back in 1988, and everybody, cyclists all abilities, were riding them. And I think Fox has been a real driving force in that.

 

A few questions from our Facebook page:

 

Will there be RC2 dampers on Fox 34 forks next year?

No – we see RC2 dampers as being better for gravity, for riders looking for the ultimate tune. more tuning is common. CTD is for all-round riding, which is where 34 forks will be used.

Will I get full travel from my Fox fork in the future?

For 2013 we’ve changed our air springs a lot. You will get full travel on all the new forks.

What are Fox doing to reduce their maintenance intervals? I just want to set and forget for 12 months.

How much do you ride, and where do you ride? There are certain bikes that are harder on the rear shock for instance too, where the rear shock is used as a structural element, or where it is more exposed to dirt and mud. For sure, on some bikes and some people, you can ride much longer than the recommended service intervals, but others not.

Mountain biking is a sport where you take some metal, some oils, some dirt and then you shake it. How long can you shake it before you need to service it? That’s the question.

On the newer forks, or forks with the new SKF seals, you can ride for longer and not have as much crap get in to your fork. In the little world of fork seals, it’s a real technology jump.

The new five-piece mounting hardware also reduces service time, it gives up to ten times the durability when compared to a DU bush arrangement. It also gives the same load reduction as Kashima coat. [/private]