Interview: MTBA gains Australian Sports Commission Recognition

Around a week ago, a rather innocuous looking email arrived in the Flow inbox, letting us know that Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA), the peak Australian MTB body, had gained official National Sporting Organisation status.


“So what?” you might ask. Well, there’s quite back story here! For a long time now, MTBA has operated in the shadow of Cycling Australia (CA) – all funding came via CA, and in a nutshell the situation has been rather complicated.

To shed a little more light on what gaining NSO status might mean for MTBA and Australian mountain bikers, we chatted with CEO of MTBA, Shane Coppin.


So Shane, for all of us out there who aren’t familiar with NSOs, the Australian Sports Commission or Cycling Australia, what does this all mean? 

Shane Coppin (SC): MTBA will now be able to officially promote the status that; “The Australian Government through the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) recognises Mountain Bike Australia to develop mountain biking in Australia”.

MTBA will now be able to deal directly with the ASC across all programs and initiatives conducted by the ASC, including being invited to attend applicable NSO forums, communications, workshops, initiatives and programs as offered by the ASC / AIS from time to time (this wasn’t offered to MTBA previously);

MTBA may be directly funded and supported by the ASC under investment plans or individual grant opportunities (previously any financial support had to be provided via CA);

MTBA can directly assist (sign-off) and support applications from our riders / members / clubs for any applicable ASC programs and grants (previously required lodgement / sign-off via CA);

MTBA can directly engage with the ASC for support/assistance with initiatives and/or innovation projects

The ASC may choose to work directly with MTBA for specific projects and offers the ASC a purely Unitarian National Sports model to work with in MTBA;

MTBA can directly coordinate coaching and officiating programs for MTB with the ASC (whilst, we currently were doing some of this, the process is now formalised)

MTBA will be recognised by State Governments, Agencies and other Forums as the recognised NSO for MTB, giving our organisation a new standing in these forums that may encompass funding, advocacy and program opportunities;

MTBA will be included in the “tent” with all other recognised NSO’s by the ASC

The ASC will undertake Annual Sport Performance reviews of MTBA focused on governance and organisation performance in relation to the ASC’s Mandatory Sports Governance Principles with feedback being provided. The first is being conducted in December 2017.

Will this change the way the way that MTBA is funded? Can you tell us how? 

SC: Initially no, MTBA has been recognised as a unfunded NSO. CA and BMXA are currently funded NSO’s. However, there are opportunities for improved funding for MTBA into the future.

MTBA is hopeful that in the future ASC participation funding across all sports and lifestyle/participation activities/sports may alter/increase and that MTBA may be receive some direct funding benefit. However, funding and grant opportunities for MTBA, MTBA Affiliated Clubs and individual members may improve now with MTBA recognised as an NSO. This has recently been highlighted with opportunities for riders between 12-18 years now able to apply for ASC Local Sporting Champion grants to help attend MTBA National Championships.


Road, track and BMX have been recognised as NSOs for some time – given that mountain biking has been an Olympic sport for 20 years, why it taken so long for mountain biking to gain that same recognition?

SC: There is a long history here and one that goes beyond my time. MTBA is quite unique as we operate under a unitarian governance structure rather than a federated model, that provided a new element for the ASC to consider.

The situation has involved unfortunately many challenges impacted through the politics of cycling governance in Australia and a desire at various times to have all cycling administered under one body for all disciplines.

Some sports are very clean in their nature; one sport (discipline) means they are the only form of the sport in the Country and easily recognised international. Whereas water sports, shooting and cycling face challenges in so far as; multiple and very different activities or disciplines operating under one international body, yet operating as individual sports and entities in their respective marketplaces. For example; in cycling BMX, MTB, Road & Track all operate under the UCI, the UCI recognises one National Federation per Country, in Australia that is Cycling Australia; yet BMX and Road & Track were recognised independently as NSO’s by the ASC. MTB has now be recognised equally by the ASC, placing us at parity with the other cycling disciplines in Australia.

What are your hopes that gaining NSO status all mean for Aussie mountain biking?

SC: Through this opportunity, numerous support from funding and resources will be available to MTBA and MTB groups to further develop opportunities for this great sport and lifestyle activity. In the past, MTBA was unable to be directly funded by pretty much most government groups or agencies. Historically, the few support grants the ASC provided in the past needed to be distributed to MTBA via CA. That has all now changed and MTBA can be funded directly. The new recognition will provide validity to our sport in future negotiations and elevates MTBA’s role as the recognised National Sporting Organisation for MTB in Australia.

Will recognition as an NSO give MTBA more leverage lobbying for trail access, and funding to our racers? 

SC: Recognition will provide numerous opportunities for MTBA across multiple areas of the organisation; including sport development, lobbying for funding, advocacy, coaching and officiating development, digital development, participation and innovation opportunities as well as access to a significant network of data (including AusPlay) and information workshops, forums and industry networking. There is assistance with sports governance and specific MTB projects. Hopefully, in time, funding opportunities for the sports development, pathways and riders will improve.

Under the current Australia’s Winning Edge (AWE) model only XCO is recognised and funding is provided against a relentless performance criteria aimed at podium achievements. This provides a very real challenge for MTB, given there are numerous disciplines some of which Australian’s perform exceptionally well at the highest level, yet under AWE they remain unrecognised and subsequently unlikely to receive funding under the current AIS model. NSO recognition will provide MTBA with improved recognition at State levels as the Nationally recognised sporting organisation.

Fast Heads: Mick and Tracey Hannah

Tracey Hannah’s career has seen some huge setbacks through injury, but she’s risen back to the top of the game every time.

In this interview, I talked with Mick and Tracey Hannah, two of Australia’s top downhill riders. At the time, both riders were fresh off their successes at the 2017 World Championships in Cairns, their home track.

From your perspective, is riding about legs and body, or is it your head? Which is more important?

Mick Hannah (MH):

I was having this conversation with someone this morning: one of the aspects I love so much about downhill is that it takes a complete athlete in all of those aspects. The mental side is important, but the physical and technological sides are also hugely important. At different times, different parts of those things are the focus, but I don’t think that one’s more important than the other.

When you’re at the top of the start hill with a four-minute race ahead of you, you can’t get anything wrong.

Tracey Hannah (TH):

If you don’t have the physical fitness, you’ll lack confidence. If you lack confidence, your skills are going to be down. If your skills are down, if you’re not ticking every box, something’s going to go amiss. When you’re at the top of the start hill with a four-minute race ahead of you, you can’t get anything wrong.

On a high, Mick Hannah moments after laying down an incredible run and moving into the hot seat at the Cairns World Champs.

So is confidence more important than form?

TH: I think you can see the difference between the confident and the hesitant rider. A confident rider will get away with a lot more than a skilful rider that’s hesitating. I think you can get away with a lot (once you get to a certain skill level). At World Cup level, everyone’s a good rider, but the difference between confident and hesitant is huge. You can have the best form in the world but be hesitating, so the confident rider with less form is still going to be better. But really, confidence still comes from preparation!

You can fool others but not yourself. You can’t fool trees or rocks or the stop watch.

MH: Yeah, they say the harder you work the luckier you get. There are two different types of confidence. One isn’t earned or deserved, that kind of confidence (or arrogance) is a dangerous place to be. You think you can get away with it but you haven’t put the work in. I’ve seen some guys get away with it, but mostly if it’s false confidence (and they don’t put the preparation in) it’s going to blow up, it’s fickle and really easily shaken. The other type of confidence (real confidence) is fact, and it’s based on repetition. It’s about proving to yourself that you can actually do it over and over again.

Tracey Hannah on the gas into the finish at Cairns. Even with a huge crash she was just a few seconds away from the win.

TH: I think that the more preparation you do, the more concrete evidence you get that you can achieve. Confidence from nothing (without the preparation) is bluff. You can fool others but not yourself. You can’t fool trees or rocks or the stop watch. 

Is mental training a part of your preparation regime?

TH: It’s not necessarily a part of my training, but my coach focuses on helping me push when I’m most mentally down – which is usually in the gym or out on the road bike. In a way, technically, you are mentally training if you’re working hard when you’re having a hard day or a down week, and it really helps if your coach can notice when you’re down so they can help you to get through the hard times.

It’s definitely about being in the moment – how you feel in the moment can affect you, and it’s how you can get back quickly that makes the difference. Especially when you don’t know when you’re going to be down mentally. So, the better prepared you are and the more practice you get, the easier it is to bring yourself back when it matters.

A total champion. Tracey Hannah signs autographs through the disappointment of coming so close to a dream win in front of a home crowd.

MH: Mental training’s a funny thing: it’s not like you can just go and lift weights like you can for physical training. You never know, figuratively speaking, when something mentally heavy is going to be there when you have to lift. That’s when it’s important to go back to the people that we have around us, like our trainers and team, and for me and Tracey, our Dad. Having the right people around you at the right time is important.

It’s also important to use the chances you have to get better: the other day I was in the gym and doing these intervals, and I looked up at my trainer and my mind was dead, it was so hard to keep pushing, and those are the times you need to realise that this is a chance to train my mind. You never know when a challenge will come up in World Cup, so when those opportunities occur in day-to-day training or even life in general, it’s really important to take those opportunities to strengthen your mind and develop the routines to get you back quickly when things go wrong. 

So, when things go wrong, how do you handle it?

TH: I like it when the shit hits the fan! When I think back to the last season, I don’t think I had a race when something catastrophic didn’t happen… I remember, after I’d had a bad practice session, my team manager told me that he likes it when difficult things happen to me because it’s when I perform my best. If you take challenge the right way, it gives you a lot more energy, which is a big advantage. Some pressure and stress is a plus, it takes your mind off racing and puts your mind on “let’s get the job done and fight for this”. Some athletes handle it and some don’t, but I get fuel for my fire when shit hits the fan.

Some athletes handle it and some don’t, but I get fuel for my fire when shit hits the fan.

MH: It’s similar for me – when something goes wrong it takes the pressure off and gives me a problem to solve. Sort of the underdog feeling: I tell myself “if I’m able to perform in this situation I’ve really achieved something”. When everything’s going perfectly I’m more nervous, because my mind’s not as occupied which can let it get out of control. For me, when I’m sick, or there are mechanicals or crashes or weather, it gives me a problem to solve and a challenge to rise up to.

What could have been. The expressions says it all.

Do either of you have a routine pre-race to get you into a prepared headspace?

MH: I try to not make my race days much different from a regular training day. There’s obviously some routines we need to go through but I just get up and have my breakfast and get stuck into the routine of the race day and repeat things that work well in my training. Doing things repetitively helps when you’re under stress or when things go wrong – the things that you’ll do automatically when things are challenging are the things that you’ve done repetitively in training. To try and do something new on a race-day is a problem – because you haven’t practised it and your body won’t know what to do.

TH: It’s about keeping your race-day routine as normal as you can. Practise, practise, practise. No matter what comes your way – I try to keep exactly the same routine. That helps make you feel as prepared as possible; it’s routine that helps you feel most calm before a race.

 I don’t think it matters if you’re racing, or starting a business, or working, or interacting socially, it’s the same for everybody. It’s learning how to work with the fear that’s important.

Mick Hannah has long ago come to grips with his fears.

What’s the toughest mental challenge you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

TH: Injury has been the toughest for me – going through injury is hard. When you try to come back riding you have so much fear and anxiety. I think my toughest was coming back after breaking my leg. I guess, physically it didn’t take long, but mentally it took years. Each year would pass and I’d realise that I’d made progress until finally I got to the point where I stopped thinking about being injured and the fear went away.

After you’ve had your first big injury you go from Superman to fragile, injury reminds you that you’re fragile and getting over that is really important.

Looking at the young, fast riders, they’re so good, but they’ve got to get through their first big crash and then we’ll see how fast they are.

MH: Injuries are the obvious one – looking at the young, fast riders, they’re so good, but they’ve got to get through their first big crash and then we’ll see how fast they are. Confidence is built on consistency, and consistency is achieving things and riding well. But when you have a big injury or a string of small injuries, you think “what am I doing wrong?” so you start trying to be careful and you still get hurt no matter what you do. Then you start thinking “am I any good at this, should I be doing this?”.

Leaving nothing in the tank.

A different part of challenge for me, is that I’ve got two boys and another on the way, and I’ve wrestled with myself about “should I be growing up and getting a real job and staying at home with the kids more?”. I’ve had to figure out what I want to teach the kids and to get to a place of realising that riding bikes is who I am. I’ve realised that quitting my dream won’t teach the kids to stick with theirs – that was tough to come to terms with. People say “oh, you’re still playing with your bikes”, but playing with my bikes is my profession – I have to get past the stereotype of a traditional job. I’ve done plenty of manual labour and regular jobs, but racing is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve realised that quitting my dream won’t teach the kids to stick with theirs – that was tough to come to terms with.

How do you deal with fear?

TH: I think fear is the biggest thing that stops a lot of riders (especially my female riding friends) from progressing. But you can’t really get past fear until you accept that mountain biking is a sport where you’re probably going to hurt yourself. Mountain biking is risky, and you have to be OK with taking on that risk. Crashing is part of my riding and until I accepted that pushing my limits was how I was going to get better, I wasn’t progressing. You have to teach yourself to overcome fear otherwise it’s a major limitation. It’s about accepting that this is what riding is about.

I think Jorge Lorenzo said, “if you can’t get over the fear, then you need to stop”, because that’s the most dangerous thing you can carry when you’re riding: fear is the biggest thing that’s going to stop you from riding and riding well.

MH: It’s basic psychology and physiology. It’s interesting to see that if you’re afraid of bad things happening, the biggest cause of those things happening is the fear! I don’t think it matters if you’re racing, or starting a business, or working, or interacting socially, it’s the same for everybody. It’s learning how to work with the fear that’s important.


Jeremy’s observations:

Like Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell (http://flowmountainbike.com/features/fast-heads-bec-henderson-and-dan-mcconnell/), Tracey and Mick haven’t worked formally with a sport psychologist. Nevertheless, like Bec and Dan, they’ve both developed some powerful ways of staying focused under pressure, and coming back quickly when things go wrong. Again, because they’ve had to figure this out for themselves, these methods have been advanced over time through a process of observation and practise.

From my perspective, there are five ways in which Tracey and Mick have learnt to excel from a sport-psychology outlook:

Preparation, practise, and repetition are the keys to consistent performance:When we’re under pressure we revert to our defaults. Because this is especially true on the mountain bike, it’s really important to train our defaults through consistent practice and repetition, so that we can trust that our bodies will do the right thing automatically when we’re stressed, distracted, or frightened. Both Tracey and Mick make daily, consistent practice the centre of their training, so that they can easily repeat those embedded skills when competing. They’ve also learnt that confidence is really about competence – the more you can trust in your ability (through repeated practise and hard work), the more confident you will be.

Read about the importance of graded exposure and repetition for effective skills acquisition here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/training-your-brain-part-2-skills-acquisition/


Take every opportunity to train your focus, especially when things are difficult:You can’t prepare for things to go wrong by waiting for things to go wrong. Mick and Tracey both use opportunities in their regular training to practise regaining their focus, and dealing with the difficulty in front of them. This skill is much more useful than distracting yourself when you’re not really there. Rather than letting your mind wander as a way of escaping discomfort, learn to pay attention when things are difficult, painful, or upsetting; by making room for the discomfort, you are training your ability to be present and focused no matter what the challenge.Read about riding in the here and now here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-riding-in-the-here-and-now/


Reframe difficulty as challenge:Tracey and Mick have both dealt with some pretty big challenges, but both of them actually enjoy it when things go wrong. Being able to reframe an annoyance, difficulty, or disaster as a challenge that you can step up to, is a huge advantage. Instead of focusing on the things that go wrong, both Mick and Tracey have learnt to enjoy these opportunities to excel.

It’s important to remember that without the hard work to develop a strong skills base, it’s difficult to see difficulty as challenge. In psychology, we talk about the perception of control. When a person perceives that she is in control of a situation, stress is interpreted as challenge (we call this eustress), but when we don’t feel in control we feel helpless, and experience distress. We can increase our perception of control by practising consistently in increasingly difficult situations, and by expecting that things will go wrong. Read about how to do that here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/how-expecting-to-fail-can-improve-your-performance/


Don’t get too hung up on what’s happened, and work with yourself to move forward:Both Mick and Tracey have had major challenges (including injuries) throughout their careers. A big plus for both of them, is focusing on improving and moving forward as riders, rather than getting hung up on what’s happened in the past. To do this, they’ve both accepted that risk is a part of riding and competition, and are better able to deal with the consequences of those risks when they occur.Read about getting your mojo back here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-getting-your-mojo-back/


Accepting fear and pain is integral to being an effective rider:Tracey and Mick both acknowledge that one of the biggest dangers in mountain biking is fear: it’s usually the fear of something going wrong that leads to that very thing happening. Accepting fear as a normal part of riding, and committing to effective action in its presence is a key to improvement. Nevertheless, they also understand that fear is reasonable up to a point. Without the skills to back you up, confidence (or arrogance in this instance) will get you in trouble. Learning to know the difference is paramount.

Read about working with fear here: http://flowmountainbike.com/features/dealing-with-real-fear/


About the author:

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

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

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

Interview: Max Commencal – Keep on Surprising.

In the coming weeks, Commencal will be making a return to Australia, with local support and sales via Pushys, so we took the opportunity to chat with Max about his experiences and (strong) opinions of where mountain biking is headed.


Who is Max Commencal and where is he happiest?

I am French but I have lived in Andorra for almost 20 years. One can say that I had two lives, one in France with SUNN and a second in Andorra with COMMENCAL.

I love sports, travelling, accompanying riders through their careers, releasing new products and shaking up the rules a bit… I love photography, film, music, competition, creation and commerce. I love working with and building my team! I also love to be at home in Andorra very much.

Supporting some of the world’s best racers has always been part of Max’s mission. When we asked him why, his response was that the “just loves racing” – this is a man driven by passion, not strategy!

What was the most important moment in Commencal’s history?

It was when I started COMMENCAL. The brand was born at the end of 1998. When I was sacked by SUNN, I decided to start from scratch at 43 years old.

When I started SUNN, all alone in 1982, it was the beginning of MTB and everything had to be built up from nothing. It was almost easy. For COMMENCAL, 16 years later, we had solid competition and I admit to having had difficult times. For sure, no one would have put money on me to succeed.

Today is pretty good and I have one of the best staff teams in my business history. The average age is about 30 years old and therefore there is both maturity and experience.

 

Concentrating on the past is useless. We must always explore new avenues, take risks and if possible, keep on surprising.

 

You have had the opportunity to work with some amazing racers. Who impressed you most and why?

It has always been Anne Caroline Chausson. Her opinions are incredible, she has little or no prejudice and her insight is reliable.

For the other riders, let’s just say that winners have strong characters. That’s why they’re different and they win! They have the fire in them, the selfishness and an above all the will and motivation that sets them apart. They have confidence in themselves but that doesn’t stop them from needing attention and support.

To help them along is a privilege and I have always drawn from them the extra energy that made me push my own goals. These people are my role models!

I am also particularly fond of Remi Thirion, he deserves to be World Champion and he will be!

Thinking about this, I want to talk about all of them because I love them all!

There’s a lot of Max in Commencal. He’s a firm believer that suffering on the bike should not be a part of mountain biking – that’s for the road.

When you started, what was your vision for the brand?

I’ve never had a long-term vision. Every season, every year must challenge us completely, whether from a commercial, product or marketing point of view.

But in general, my course of action is to be a very qualitative, innovative brand and to have a presence worldwide, not just to be a generic brand.

 

 The majority of these stores are born through the road bike industry and therefore with limited MTB-specific industry knowledge, in particular with DH and enduro, our core disciplines within our range

 

What did you learn from your years at Sunn? Where do you want to go?

What I know is that you should never lose the majority share hold in your own company. Besides that, COMMENCAL is the continuity of what SUNN was. The state of mind is the same but without nostalgia and regrets! Concentrating on the past is useless. We must always explore new avenues, take risks and if possible, keep on surprising.

 

Tell me more about your choice to change your business from a traditional dealer model to a consumer direct model? 

Contrary to popular belief, there are few small bike shops. They are often grouped under an umbrella company or a larger corporation and working with these middle-men is hell. At the end of the day, I couldn’t stand them any longer. They always shoot you down, always ask you for more, always trying to extend the terms of payment and/or want to explain your trade. All that to be branded N° 3 or 4, to fill in the gaps of their more popular, generic brands. Another trigger, the majority of these stores are born through the road bike industry and therefore with limited MTB-specific industry knowledge, in particular with DH and enduro, our core disciplines within our range. So I decided four years ago to stop working with them and to get on ourselves by selling directly to the consumer. Well, we took it because the public immediately reacted very favourably!

It was possible to drop prices significantly and customers were happy to contact us directly, talk to our engineers, our salespeople and generally be in direct contact with after-sales service and know our stock levels because they are displayed on the site.

In a nutshell, the filters were broken down between the brand, our customers and everyone else involved in the business.

 

What are some of the challenges of being direct consumers?

There are not really any additional challenges compared to all the other means of distribution. You have to be serious, helpful and have the products to back it up which are top quality, reliable. It made us up our game because you have to be faultless. So listen, if you don’t do quality, don’t go direct.

Four years ago, Commencal stepped out of the traditional dealer network model and moved to direct sales. They haven’t looked back.

Explain how things will work here in Australia? Will bikes be warehoused here, and what about aftersales service / warranty support?

Australia is far away, particularly far from Andorra so we had to find a partner organisation on site that could accommodate stock, ship quickly and have a team of specialists. We chose to work with Pushys who are particularly well established and organised in this country. Together we chose an Australian brand manager who’s passionate about the brand and our bikes.

Although we are far away, the discussions with the Andorran office will be daily. The guys from Pushys will come to Andorra as much as possible and vice-versa. The Pushys team will participate in the R&D and it’s possible that we will make a limited series exclusive for Australia.

What makes the difference with the traditional distribution of other brands is that it will be our stock, it will be our website and we will apply the same rates as in Europe, Canada and the US. The customer price point advantage will be the same as elsewhere.

Since the bikes are produced in Taiwan, it is also likely that Australia will have the new products before Europe and the US!

As for the after-sales logistics, stock will be on site at Pushys in Brisbane and if necessary, we will also be able to ship parts from our other stocks. We will also stock parts for older models, which refer back to when we were working with distributors.

Customer satisfaction is our top priority.

 

Mountain biking should not be about suffering on the bike, there’s the road for that.

 

Which people or brands, either inside or outside the bike industry, are you most inspired by?

Very good question. Honestly, I liked the competition with other brands of bikes when they still belonged to their founders, when they still had their originality. There was inspiration and challenge when we met at races. I think for example at Cannondale, GT (during the BMX boom) or Santa Cruz. Today, big corporations own them and we feel that the soul of the adventurer who created them has disappeared.

Fortunately for us, component manufacturers have brilliant engineers and they are real creators and true enthusiasts. It is always a pleasure to meet them, to rub shoulders with them. At SRAM, RockShox, FOX, Shimano, Spank, E-thirteen and more, I forget… there are plenty of exciting and inspiring people.

Max Commencal believes carbon to be a poor choice of materials for building bikes – he feels it imposes too many costs which inhibits adaptability and responsiveness, and that it’s an unpleasant material to work with generally.

Do you think mountain biking has reached maturity yet?

No, not yet and far from it. Mountain biking should not be about suffering on the bike, there’s the road for that. Riding should be fun, being in the great outdoors, exploring, travelling, playing sports, riding with friends, family, kids… There is also the arrival of electric assistance which will make climbing less extreme and just more desirable.

On today’s bikes, it’s still too rough and bumpy and although we have made great progress so far, there is still a long way to go.

 

Carbon is disgusting and dangerous for the workers who produce it, it is not recyclable, it prevents acceptation of the new standards without reinvesting in all the moulds… in short, it’s just bad

 

What is the best thing you’ve ever created, and why?

Created, I do not know but I don’t regret the decision not to make carbon frames. Carbon is disgusting and dangerous for the workers who produce it, it is not recyclable, it prevents acceptation of the new standards without reinvesting in all the moulds… in short, it’s just bad. Not to mention that many riders who rode the two will tell you that if they have the choice between a very good aluminium frame and a top carbon frame, they will choose aluminium. It’s more comfortable, livelier and generally more pleasant to ride. The delusion is that often, one assimilates carbon as high-end and alu, low-end. This is stupid.

Anyway, I’m happy with my decision.

 

If you could go back to the very start of mountain biking and change one thing, what would it be?

I would not change anything. The path was magnificent and the evolution went in the right direction. It’s just a shame that MTB is too tied up in the world of cycling. This genre of environment is very conservative and has often slowed down developments.

City bikes and MTB do not have the same DNA.

 

Where will your next ride be?

In Andorra, very fast! With PEF (our rider of the Red Bull Rampage), we build trails and I push to make it also easy. I do not want it to be an extreme sport. I want to see lots of new faces, lots of kids, girls and beginners. All skiers are potential riders and the day we have as many riders in the mountains in summer as we do skiers in the winter, we will have won our challenge. Not before.

Since there are many more mountains and “rideable” countryside than “skiable”, we have not finished enjoying!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a good field tester?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other racing have you done since?

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

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

Bike packing field testing.
Bike packing field testing.

What is a fat bike race?

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

Where’s heart of the fat bike racing scene?

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

And this all gave Trek the Farley?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Stache?

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

Roo spotting Down Under.
Roo spotting Down Under.

Where should it be ridden?

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

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

_LOW7380

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a good field tester?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other racing have you done since?

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

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

Bike packing field testing.
Bike packing field testing.

What is a fat bike race?

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

Where’s heart of the fat bike racing scene?

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

And this all gave Trek the Farley?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Stache?

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

Roo spotting Down Under.
Roo spotting Down Under.

Where should it be ridden?

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

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

_LOW7380

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

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

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


What is the difference between innovation and marketing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your most profound mountain biking moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Turning Bumps into Heat, with Jeremiah Boobar

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Mr Boobar.

Hello, I am?

Hi, I’m Jeremiah Boobar, I’m Cannondale’s director of suspension technology.

So what do you do all day?

Basically, I work with a bunch of talented people trying to turn bumps into heat for Cannondale.

Cannondale have been very innovative and pushed the boundaries in suspension and engineering. How will you enrich that tradition or change that tradition?

Cannondale have a really long history in innovative suspension, with Headshock, Lefty, the DYAD shock on Jekyll and Trigger, even the old Fulcrum downhill bikes. One of the reasons I’m on board is to continue that innovation, but not with features for feature’s sake, with real improvements.

_LOW0065
No, Chris, I will not give you my number.

If you had to choose between reinvention and refinment, what would you choose?

I’m more of a refinement guy. I believe there’s a lot of great stuff out there which can be improved. But a lot of invention comes through refinement.

We were talking earlier about the new Cannondale Habit as being a great example of refinement, rather than reinvention. Would comment more on that?

First of all, the Habit was done before I showed up, there was a talented team behind it and I can’t claim any credit for it. But what I think it is representative of, is Cannondale’s product development going forward. It’s a very simple looking, clean bike but it still leverages Cannondale’s Si technology. Having the flex stay arrangement as opposed to a pivot allows that frame to be incredibly light and stiff, it’s about the same weight as our Scalpel but you’re getting a ripper of a 27.5″ 120mm bike. It’s definitely refinement, not reinvention.

Cannondale-Habit-SE-29
Will the fantastically fun Habit set the tone for Cannondale with Boobar’s involvement? We hope so, as it is the best bike we’ve ridden from Cannondale in years.

You can’t talk about Cannondale with talking about the Lefty. Now, the Lefty is 15 years old next year. Some people love it, others definitely do not. How do you get the haters across the line?

There’s a certain point at which haters are just going to be haters, but for others I think it’s just very foreign. It’s hard to understand for them – I mean, it’s got one leg, how does it even work? People aren’t aware of the roller bearing technology inside, and how it performs under the kinds of loads which would cause friction and binding in a bushing system. Where a bushing suffers from friction under load, the roller bearings do not. It’s the equivalent of you and I trying to drag this rock over here across the dirt, or if we put a whole bunch of logs underneath to allow us to roll it along.

Are there any particular challenges with working within the Lefty chassis that mean it’s more suited to one particular style of riding? Or can it be applied to all areas of mountain biking?

There will be challenges with any chassis package. Obviously with the Lefty, you need to fit spring and damper in one leg, so you need to be more creative. But I don’t feel like it has any particular constraints.

_LOW0072
Boobar was the driving force behind the fork on the front of that bike, the unstoppable Pike.

You said before that prior to coming and working with Cannondale, you’d never actually ridden a Lefty. 

That’s right. And I think it’s incredibly important to know where you fit in the lay of the land – it’s one thing to know your own product, but you need to understand your competitors’ too, because the customer is exposed to them all.

So knowing that I lacked that information,  when I started I took everyone involved in the suspension side of things and we went out to Boulder City outside Vegas for a week of of back to back comparative testing. Everyone had a standardised setup – same frame, same tyres, same tyre pressures. We did a day of runs to get familiar with the track, so we were really in tune with the terrain, and then we began testing – we’d do a run on a Lefty, then immediately swap out the fork for a competitors equivalent, say Lefty Supermax and Pike and FOX 36, and note the performance differences.

It was really eye-opening, particularly in terms of the fork stiffness and seeing how that would benefit you in choosing a line and then having the ability to stay on it. Whereas on some of the other products, you’d find yourself getting sucked off line. Flat corners too, the way the Lefty would left you take a tighter line was really noticeable.

23-590x590
The Pike arrived right on time to satisfy the blossoming Enduro market’s craving for a high-performance fork that everyone could understand.

Looking at where you’ve come from, you were with RockShox for 16 years full-time. Over those years, what are the projects you’re most proud of? 

It’s hard to say that I’m not proud to have been part of the Pike project. That was big project and a huge success. But other highlights I’m proud of are the creation of a standard for direct-mount downhill stems. And funnily enough, the Bottomless Token system in Pikes too. Those tokens were originally developed as a way of us testing the spring volume in the Pike – we were trying to determine the best air volume for the spring, and using these spacers to tune it. Some of test riders were more aggressive and bigger, faster riders and were bottoming out the fork, others like me ride off the back a bit more and don’t need such a progressive spring curve. Eventually we realised, ‘hey, why don’t we just put these spacers into production and let people tune their fork for their style?”

 

Electronics. Cannondale were one of the first companies to use electronics in suspension, with the ELO, Electronic Lock Out, and fu#k me if it wasn’t a nightmare soldering those connections back together… Where do you see electronics going? 

Electronics allow you to add features that are literally impossible to do otherwise – things that people just can’t act fast enough to do.

Tested-Lapierre-Zesty-Trail-829-35
The E:i system is far, far better than its small market penetration would suggest. We hope that people awaken to just how good it really is.

So you’re talking about instant about damping adjustments?

It won’t stop there, no way. That’s just the start of it. Personally, the idea of having to charge my mountain bike is a bit uncomfortable. But having been part of the E:i project (read more about the E:i system in our reviews of E:i equipped Lapierre bikes here and here) I know what is possible and what the ride benefits can be, so I’m willing to live with a charger.

I was reading an old interview in Dirt magazine where you said mountain biking needed to be more comfortable in its own skin. Do you feel we’ve got there yet? 

I feel like we’ve gotten better. At that time, there was this real divide and confusion in the sport between freeride and downhill. People where adopting styles from everywhere – do I wear a t-shirt when I go ride, or should I be wearing baggy jeans, or maybe tight jeans…? But mountain biking is starting to mature and get it’s own look. We’re getting out of our teenage years, where we’re wearing baggy jeans one day, tight jeans the next, putting on goth makeup for a day or two.

Do you feel that the rise of Enduro has been a big part of that, in establishing an identity? 

No, I don’t think that’s necessarily linked. There’s just been a change, a shift towards more professionalism in the sport that’s permeated through, in downhill, freeride, even cross country has more of its own identity away from road now.

On the subject of cross country, as someone who was a big part of developing the RockShox Reverb dropper post, are surprised we haven’t seen more dropper posts in cross country racing? 

I am, yes. I mean, those bikes are so stinking light that I thought more guys would have taken that risk and added a few grams. Especially as we’re seeing much more challenging course design, it’s pretty exciting. But on the other hand, those guys starve themselves, they weigh every part on their bike, so maybe the thought of adding weight is too much. I mean, it’ll come, there just needs to be a little more development done to get the weight down a bit more.

Cairns2014-XC-Finals-51
Fontana is one of the most progressive riders in cross country, and even he still shuns a dropper post.

Do you think there’s any element of bravado in not running one? 

No, I don’t think so. Not from the riders I’ve spoken to anyhow. I mean Marco and Mani (Cannondale team riders Marco Fontana and Manuel Fumic) are really progressive, and I know if the weight were down they’d run one in a second. Those guys are entirely focussed on the advantage – will it help me win a World Cup?

You’ve ridden the world over, do you have a favourite, for riding and testing? 

Whistler? Did I say that too fast? Hahah! That whole area has a really special place in my heart. It’s also a really great place for product testing too, there’s so much variety. Moab too, that’s another amazing place for product testing, it’s just so rough. I mean, if you stop and take a look around when you’re riding Porcupine Rim in Moab, you’re surrounded by broken bike parts!

Cannondale-Habit-SE-22
The Lefty tends to divide riders, rightly or wrongly. Boobar thinks a better job can be done of communicating what the Lefty actually means for a rider’s experience on the trail.

How should an average rider be going about working out the right suspension setting for them? I feel like that education is something the industry has not done particularly well with. 

Firstly, people need to be realistic about what they’re doing on the bike. I mean, the pros are the fastest people on the planet, so why wouldn’t I use their setup? Thing is, those people have that setup because they are the fastest, not the other way around.

So for the average rider, what’s really important is to repeat the exact same run and don’t make it long – 30 seconds is plenty. So repeat that run, and make one adjustment each time. Do some bracketing – do the run with your rebound all the way open and see what happens, then with it all the way closed. And slowly you’ll narrow it down, making one adjustment each time, and then suddenly it’ll start to click. You’ll be able to interpret what your feeling and what adjustments will impact that. But it takes some discipline and some time, and lots of people just want to ride, which is why we’re producing more suspension setup charts, guides, videos and the like to help people short cut that process.

Cannondale-Trigger-27.5-18
With complicated suspension designs, like the DYAD shock, rider education is even more important. Is the complexity warranted?

Do you want to enlighten us about putting together a pressure guide chart for a fork?

According to the internet, the guide is just a wild guess you pull out of thin air! But honestly, committing to a pressure guide is one of the most stressful things I’ve had to do as you know many people will just follow it and never make an adjustment after that. We get a range of riders, of all weights, heights, men and women of all abilities, we have them ride the fork a number of times, we work with them on tuning the pressure till they feel it’s ideal for them. Then we plot the results, run it through the computer to deal with anomalies and then eventually commit to a guide. But whatever you do, there’ll always be someone on the ‘net screaming at you that you’re an idiot.

Working with pro teams has been a huge part of your career. Are their any riders who stand out as terrific or terrible at giving feedback?

Eric Carter, to his own detriment, is one of the more sensitive riders to setup that I’ve ever worked with. He would be constantly testing, and he would develop stuff that we’d eventually transfer over to Peaty. Peaty was interesting in that he loved to test in the preseason, but once the racing started he’d stop the testing entirely and focus just on the racing. Carter would keep testing throughout the season, so Peaty was reaping all the benefits without having to do any test riding! It was a successful combination.

Crankworx-Day-4-EWS-29
Nico Voullioz, who Boobar rates as the best rider on the planet for delivering product feedback.

John Kirkaldie also sticks out, but for another reason… I’ve never told him this. Telluride World Cup, there was a big piece of debris that broke loose in his fork and it completely clogged the compression circuit to the point it was non-functioning. Kirkcaldie comes down after his final practice run and is all like, “This fork feels fantastic, can you just do the usual buff up for the race run?” So then we pull it apart and holy smokes it’s a mess in there! So we completely redo the fork, new cartridge and all get it back to him. And he’s all like, “This is great, it’s just like before, just a little bit smoother, perfect!” And I’m like, “Oh no, John, I think you may have just dropped off the test list..!” I never told him that one.

That said, riders have on days and off days – they may have a lot on their mind or be struggling with conditions and give you bad feedback one day, but give you great feedback the next. So yes, some riders are better than others, but most riders can be developed. It just takes effort to develop the feel.

The one total standout who never has a bad day is Nico Voullioz. Unbelievable. His feel for the bike is the best. And his feedback is extraordinary; in English it’s at a high level, but in French it’s another level again, so if you can get a strong translator you will get the absolute best feedback in the business. And he’s still my favourite rider to watch.

Cheers Jeremiah, we look forward to riding more of your work soon! 

_LOW0062

Recovery: How to Recharge During a Stage Race

We caught up with Dean after Stage 1 of this year’s Port to Port MTB and asked him all about the best strategies for recovery, so you can back up to race day after day.


You’ve just done your first stage, you’ve come out of the gates super hard, and now you’ve got another three days to go – what should you be doing to recover properly?

The thing is with stage racing, it ‘s not like one day race – the key to backing up each day is ensuring you get those carbohydrate stores built back up. Now there’s an optimal window of about 15 minutes to half an hour after you finish racing, before your body starts to go into what I call scavenger mode. That’s the time in which you need to be looking to get your carbohydrate stores topped up, so your body doesn’t go into scavenger mode. Because it’s not a huge time window, you should aim to have your food pre-made, ready to go as soon as you get back.

It’s an all-day thing, if you think ‘I won’t each too much so I feel lighter for the racing tomorrow’, you’re fooling yourself. The more you eat, the more carbs you’ll have for later in the race. If you starve yourself during the race, you need to get it back in. Don’t fool yourself – getting plenty of carbs in right after the stage is the key.

Dean Clark TORQ 3

And what kind of things people be eating, and how should they take it on? 

You’ve got two main options, either a specifically made recovery product or ‘regular’ food. Proper recovery products which are mixed with water, in a shake form, in which the serving size is based on your weight, are going to allow you to digest and absorb the carbs quicker. With regular food, it is harder to make sure you’re getting enough carbs and protein, which is were a formulated recovery drink helps.

If for instance, you don’t have the opportunity to eat straight away, what should you do?

Oh look, of course getting the carbs on board later is still much better than not eating at all. But really, you need to build these habits in training. It’s like drinking on the bike – if you’re not doing it in training or in your regular riding, you just forget about it. It has to become part of your routine. In some ways, making sure you eat for recovery is like preventative medicine – if you put in all that hard work and you don’t get recovery food on board, your body starts to strip from itself, your immune system suffers and you get sick.

What you need to stay away from is anything that has a high fat content – cheesey pizza, battered foods… it blocks your system.

What about the physical side? A lot of people talk about a cool down – is that important? 

Yes, absolutely. Once you’ve got your food in, you should try to have a roll around, let your heart rate come down, and get that lactic out of your legs. Don’t just have a sit on the floor and think ‘ I’ll feel better later’, because you won’t!

Dean Clark TORQ 4
“Love lifts us up where we belong…” Come on, Dean, join me for the chorus.

Obviously a lot of people will head to the pub for dinner, have a big meal and a beer or two. Is that ok? Should you be having a big meal?

Look, it is ok, it’s beneficial to have a big meal. But what you need to stay away from is anything that has a high fat content – cheesey pizza, battered foods – because what that fat does is actually slow down the carb delivery. So if you go out after a stage and have a massive pasta but drown it in cheese, then it doesn’t really matter what you eat tomorrow, because all that fat from the cheese has actually blocked your system, because your body is trying to process the fat. So the less fatty stuff you have, the quicker the carbs will be delivered to your working muscle. That’s the key with your evening meals.

Beer is ok, but it has quite a high fat content – you’re probably better off with wine actually.

Tasmin TORQ

So what will your team be eating tonight? 

A pasta dish, or some kind of stirf ry with rice and veggies. And then try and get the head down early.

How important is sleep? 

A lot of us like to think we’re invincible and we don’t need much sleep, but unfortunately we’re not. The more sleep you can get, the better, particularly in stage racing. Maybe not on the second day, but by the fourth day it’ll really take a toll.

And finally, is beer an effective way to take on carbs?

Ha, for me or you, yes! Beer is ok, but it has quite a high fat content – you’re probably better off with wine actually, it has hardly any fat and it has a lot of anti-oxidants that are good for you. Still, one or two is fine, we’re all here for fun at the end of the day.

 

 

Danny Hart chats 2015

Danny-Hart-interview-dirt-2014-35

After speculation both online and in the uplift queue it was confirmed last week that Danny Hart would be riding for MS Mondraker in 2015. Danny is part of the World Champions club and he took the stripes back to Redcar at 19 years old, the same age Nico Vouilloz took his first Elite Worlds title in 1995. Everyone remembers his 2011 win, I do, I was there. In the pissing rain, neck straining up at that hillside in Champéry. Spagnolo thought he had it in the bag but a cracked whip at the end of that now infamous run sank his hopes, Hart had done it but there is more to Danny than 11.699 seconds.

Since 2011 he’s come very close, 2.076 seconds to be precise, to winning a World Cup and we headed north to find out if his new team for 2015 could be the missing ingredient needed to bring that elusive result.

Danny-Hart-interview-dirt-2014-17

Cedric Gracia: The Funniest Bugger in Mountain Biking

Still racing, 19 years after winning his Junior World Championship, Cedric Gracia continues to be one the most distinctive, hilarious and talented riders on the planet. Flow caught up with Cedric at a critical point in his career – as he prepares to come back from an injury that almost killed him – to talk about the past, the future and why he continues to race.


This interview originally appeared in Flow Mountain Bike magazine (remember that thing?) in 2013.


 

 So Cedric, where are you now?

Ah, man, I’m here in Andorra (in the eastern Pyrenees, between Spain and France), and it’s snowing again. I want it to stop! I want to ride so bad it’s ridiculous. And it’s too dangerous for avalanches to ski right now, too many of my friends have died in avalanches, so I’m inside.

I’m getting older, I’m 35 now. In the past I wouldn’t have cared, I’d just ski all day, but now I try to give myself a bit more structure and I have more respect for the mountain. I do my fitness in the morning, then my emails, my Facebook stuff. Then in the afternoon, when the weather’s good, I like to do ski-touring stuff – you know, pick a mountain top and climb up with the dog, ski back down. I always go with the dog. He’s my training partner.

I’ve been living here since I moved out from the US eleven years ago. I loved the US but it was always kind of difficult for papers and shit. And I didn’t want to move to France. France is good if you’re a foreigner; you can do what you want. But if you’re French living in France, you can’t do shit.

But Andorra, it’s good living here: cheap alcohol, cheap food, lots of girls, good party nightlife, close to Barcelona. It’s a tax haven too, which a plus.

But Andorra, it’s good living here: cheap alcohol, cheap food, lots of girls, good party nightlife, close to Barcelona. It’s a tax haven too, which a plus. I’ve got a good life here. I can ski or ride everyday, and I’ve been really involved in the bike park here. It took me four years to get those guys trusting mountain biking but now, from my house I can see the lift, which will take me to the top of the bike park.

 

You were a skier early in your career, too, right?

Yes, but before that it was BMX. When I was young, I was BMX World Champ, but I was getting tired. It was just always about racing and shit. So one day I just told my dad, ‘Fuck, I’m done with BMX.’ And he was like, ‘What do you mean? You’re World Champion.’ But I was just tired. I wanted to quit. I was 11-years-old. Every weekend I was skiing too, and it was getting hard to make the choice between skiing or racing BMX. But in BMX I was winning everything, and so my dad said he would support me with skiing if I wanted to go down that path.

I was14-years-old when I moved to a special ski school, about nine hours from home. So I gave it a go and started winning lots of races. I entered the French ski team. But it’s so hard and so expensive, and one day I asked my coach, ‘Is there any way I can make it to the World Cup?’ He said, ‘Yeah, if you work harder you probably could.’ But I was a teenager and all I wanted to do was party and smoke cigarettes with my friends. I felt like I was missing out.

So I took one year off and started to skateboard, you know, underground, in the garage, smoking with my friends. Then I started to realise perhaps this was the wrong trail too, so I went back to skiing.

Still, I thought ‘Ok, I’ll give it a go, I’ll go look stupid with my friend in spandex and stuff.’

 

How did mountain biking come into the picture?

One day some friends of mine asked me to try mountain biking, but back then all I said to them was, ‘This mountain biking is gay.’ I was coming from BMX, so I saw these bikes with front brakes and gears, and I thought it was for people who didn’t know how to ride. Still, I thought ‘Ok, I’ll give it a go, I’ll go look stupid with my friend in spandex and stuff.’

So I went to one race and won it. And my friend asked me, ‘Did you have fun?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I had fun… but does that make me gay?’

But I didn’t want to really race then, I just wanted to hang out with my friends, sleep in the tent, drink some beers and make some trouble. But I did a few races, I got sponsored by Sunn Bicycles and they started paying me some money, so then I could start paying for my friends to come along too. I’d bring along six of my friends, and I wouldn’t sleep in the hotel because I wanted to use the money to be able to have my friends with me.

 

You’ve been on a long path of recovery since you crashed at Val di Sol in Italy last year and had to have a complete hip reconstruction. Can you tell us a bit more about it all?

Ah man! That hip has cost me so much money! I already had to buy two Louis Vuitton handbags because of it! And now my wife wants a new car too! But I’ve got to keep her happy – she had to look after me for a month when I was in the bed, shitting on a plate, not able to clean myself. It was the worst thing ever. That’s why we went to Monaco and I gave her the credit card.

But really, I am very lucky. We had a party recently with the doctors and all the people who helped me. And the doctor was like, ‘Dude, I can’t believe you’re walking and drinking like totally normal, when seven months ago you almost died.’ Actually, I almost died twice. But I didn’t want people to know. Nobody knew how bad it was. Some of my friends on the World Cup were already worried, so I told my wife and the people who came to see me in Italy not to tell anyone. But it was bad. I was bleeding on the inside, from a big artery; I had only three litres of blood left in me. I was unconscious.

I was bleeding on the inside, from a big artery; I had only three litres of blood left in me. I was unconscious.

My wife was the one who saved me. She came from Andorra and she told the doctors, ‘It’s easy – either you save him or I fucking sue your arses.’ They lost a kid a couple of months before with a similar problem and my wife knew that, and so even though there was a language problem between my wife and the doctor, she could say enough to get the word ‘suing’ across. And get across the idea that if they didn’t fix me, their life would be shit.

So I went back to the block, and they finally found where the blood was leaking. I was so low on blood by then I was unconscious. And after that first operation, I woke up and saw my wife and my dad and asked them what happened. And they were like ‘Well, you died for a couple of minutes – we had to jumpstart you again with electricity.’ Man, I was fucking lucky.

But they still had to do the surgery to actually fix my hip and they weren’t going to do that in Italy. I couldn’t fly anywhere because I was still too unstable and my blood was still too low. So they injected me with EPO and iron to get my haemoglobin back up and then I in a couple of days flew me home. I was still very low though and nobody had the blood I needed – I’m an AB positive, and that’s quite rare. Eventually they got the blood and they could begin to do the surgery to reconstruct my hip.

‘Well, you died for a couple of minutes – we had to jumpstart you again with electricity.’ Man, I was fucking lucky.

It was pretty intense, there were six or seven people involved in the surgery. When you’re bleeding inside, it’s always very risky – because when you get opened up, you can very quickly lose whatever blood is left. With me, they only had the two litres spare, so they were scared that if they opened me I would die in two minutes. In the end it was a nine-hour surgery. It was rough.

My pelvis broke in 40 pieces. It was shattered. When they told me that, I didn’t believe them. I thought it was bullshit that a bone could do that. The doctors told me there’s only one guy in the world who can fix that – a French surgeon. And they told me I was only going to be the second person to have that surgery, but they didn’t want to tell me what happened to the first guy. Turns out he died because he didn’t have enough blood.

I have two huge scars – one on the front, one on the back – because they put me sideways into this special seat, with two teams of six people, one team on each side of my leg. They took only the bigger piece because the little parts will reform with time, and basically they have two plates, front and back, and they screwed all the parts back in between the plates.

I lost 17 kilos while I was in the bed. Man, when you’re that long in the bed, you don’t even know if you’re going to make it. Your doctors tell you that you might not even be able to walk. It’s rough. But now, I feel like nothing happened to me. I’m skiing, I can do squats, I’m riding. I’m fucking lucky.

 

The Sunn team you raced with early in your career was possibly the best mountain bike race team then or since. The talent was amazing. What was it like?

When I started with Sunn, I was thinking that other teams operated like that. But when I moved to other teams later on, I realised, ‘Wow, now I know why we blew all the company’s money!’ We were flying everywhere in the world. Sure, my salary was shit, but I was a junior. I wasn’t deserving to make much money. I was having a good time; I was with my mates, and we were travelling everywhere in the world first-class, and I had a bike that was probably ten times better than any other bike out there.

I was the worst guy ever to have on a team – I didn’t even train! But our bikes were so good I felt like I didn’t even need to train! Everybody thought we training so hard, but all I was doing was playing PlayStation and waiting for the weekend to get knackered with my friends. I had this idea that this was the life of an athlete, and I kept going like that until I realised I couldn’t keep it up forever.

 

You feel like the equipment made the difference?

Yeah, man. The bikes were built right there in the office; we could make as many changes as we wanted. My mechanic was also the welder, so we could make new frames without it costing more than the tubing and a little bit of time. I was trying different linkages, different geometry all the time. But the suspension, man, we were using telemetry back then. We were so advanced – we could tell everything about how the suspension was performing when the other teams had nothing. They were just bolting suspension onto downhill bikes.

We had all the best riders in the world. We were flying all over the world. We were winning everything, but more was coming out from the company than going back in. We were too ambitious.

We had computers, we had Olivier Bossard, the man behind BOS suspension. Looking back now, I was stupid. Because if I had taken it seriously, with the bikes we had, man, I could have smoked it. But I wasn’t ready; I was just ready to hang out with my friends and party.

Everything we had was so much better than everybody else. It blew the company. We had all the best riders in the world. We were flying all over the world. We were winning everything, but more was coming out from the company than going back in. We were too ambitious. We wanted more and more, it was everyone’s dream to be part of that team.

 

Do you have your old Sunn bikes?

I’ve still got all my old bikes, except one. It was the one I won my first World Cup on. Bossard didn’t want to give it to me because it was a prototype. And you know what they did? They fucking cut it in half and threw it in the garbage! I was so sad!

 

You went from one incredible team to another, the Volvo-Cannondale team. It’s amazing to think that Volvo was so invested in mountain biking.

It was good on Volvo. It was the second team that was looking really decent after Sunn. But we knew the bike wasn’t so good. I mean they always had these kind of freaky designs. But the riders they had – like Missy Giove and Myles Rockwell –they were cool. And I thought if there was another team I’d ever like to be on, it was Cannondale. They had this cool American pride kind of thing going on.

Then at the World Championships Cannondale came to me before the race, when I’d qualified I think fifth or seventh. They knew I could win, but again I wasn’t ready – for me the World Championships were another opportunity to get wasted on Saturday night in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Obviously I didn’t go too good.

Anyhow, they were scared that if I won they’d have to pay me a lot of money to join the team, so they came to me before the race to make me an offer. We’d been talking before, too. About two years earlier Cannondale had offered me triple the money I was getting on Sunn, but I’d wanted to stay with my friends so I declined the money.

After Mont-Sainte-Anne Cannondale really wanted me on board. They had just signed Anne-Caroline Chausson, but Anne-Caroline had said she’d only come on board if I came too. So they made me an offer I couldn’t decline. They were going to pay me in American dollars, and at that stage I was still on francs. So before the race I was making the calculation and I couldn’t believe what I was going to be getting paid. I told my mum and she said ‘This is bullshit. There’s no way they’ll pay you that much money – do you even know how much this is? Your dad and me never made that money.’ That was of course in the time when mountain biking was at its peak in terms of sponsorship. It was great.

Why make things so complicated when we can make it as beautiful and as fast with just a single-pivot bike? The suspension technology was getting better, so the bike could work as well with just a single pivot

 

The complexity of the Cannondale bikes then was pretty out there.

In terms of engineering they were making some pretty cool stuff, but I definitely had a hard time going fast on their bikes. They always had these crazy designs, like the Gemini with two shocks, and the Fulcrum with the extra chain drives, but in the end they realised it wasn’t needed. Why make things so complicated when we can make it as beautiful and as fast with just a single-pivot bike? The suspension technology was getting better, so the bike could work as well with just a single pivot, and that is what the Gemini ended up being. At the same time, it’s easier to sell a single-pivot bike too, because it can be made less expensive and people will have fewer problems with it.

In the beginning I think it was very hard for the Americans at Cannondale to listen to me; I was a little Frenchy, with red hair and piercings in my face, who loved to get smashed at the bar. But after a few good results they started to consider my opinion.

In the end we made the bike very simple – on my bike I even got rid of the floating brake arm. I was riding with Steve Peat a lot, and his Orange had the same single pivot but without a floating brake mount, and I asked him if he thought it made a difference. Peaty said he thought it was bullshit, so I got my mechanic to take the floating brake arm off.

But it was a good life with Cannondale. I was young, and you love to go to America when you’re young – the girls are hot, they have fake boobs. I was going to the beach lots, I was going to Sheep Hills in California and jumping around with my 4X bike. My life was good!

 

Your career took a pretty different turn after that, when you moved back a much smaller setup with Commencal.

It was cool to go back and ride with Commencal. After Max Commencal basically burned up Sunn, I always said to him if you build a new brand, I will come and help. And when I moved back to Andorra, it was time to do it now. He was like ‘Fuck, you’re going to cost me a lot of money!’ He matched my Cannondale team offer and helped out with some cars and stuff like that. The other part of the deal was that we were going to do it my way; I didn’t want any pressure on the result, I just wanted to ride my bike flat out and have fun. And that’s what I did.

But it started to get a little difficult. I was getting injured quite a lot, and my relationship with Max got a little bit harder, too. He had always been a little bit like my dad, and we had a few conflicts. Max didn’t want to always listen to my opinions. I knew, too, that Commencal had a view to taking on the Athertons, so I could see the time was coming to do something else. I mean, the Athertons were good for Commencal because Gee and Rachel could deliver the top results, but at the same time the image was very different to what we’d been building with Commencal for the last few years. But I think the break hurt Max, especially when I signed with Santa Cruz.

And now I have the CG Racing Brigade. There was no scope for me to join the Santa Cruz Syndicate, but Santa Cruz wanted to have someone who could make more of an image. So we started the Brigade, with a less serious image, more European.

I also saw the Brigade as a chance to put something back into the sport by supporting more juniors, riders who don’t have the support they might deserve. People supported and invested in me when I was young and it’s only really in the last few years I’ve really understood how much that support meant. So I thought maybe I should give back a little of what I got. It is hard though when you’re a private team! When it’s your own money you’re putting in, and sometimes perhaps people aren’t appreciating it.

 

Looking through photos for this feature, in just about every shot you’re whipping out or your hands are off the bars, or you’re throwing a big table-top. Is that just about fun or is it part of building that image?

Ha-ha! When I jump, it’s really hard for me to jump straight. But secondly, I’ve never been driven purely by winning. I love winning, sure. It’s a good feeling, but it only makes you happy for a second when you beat everyone else. It’s a funny thing. People think it’s a very hard thing to win a World Cup. But when it happens, you haven’t done anything different to the other days, it’s just all worked out this time. It’s funny how people put you to the top, they look at you different, like you’re so strong or some shit, but for you it doesn’t change anything!

It’s a funny thing. People think it’s a very hard thing to win a World Cup. But when it happens, you haven’t done anything different to the other days, it’s just all worked out this time.

For me the kids coming up and saying things like ‘Man, your suicide at the arch at Fort William was the best thing I’ve ever seen,’ I consider that much more important than winning. I love it when kids come to me and ask for an autograph, and it makes them and me happy. It’s my job to never say no to them. I hate to see people ignoring those kids because they’re thinking only about the race. I know the race is important, but it’s those kids who let us eat, who are buying the bikes and the gear. You need to be appreciative of that.

Sometimes I think about why I’m not more like someone like Gwin, someone who feels winning is everything. I think perhaps that’s how I was when I was young in BMX. Back then I wanted to win everything. But I think that’s why I left BMX after a few years, because I was winning everything and I got fed up. I’ve won some things in mountain biking, but never enough to make me think ‘That’s enough. I’ve got nothing more to prove. Fuck it, I’m going skateboarding now!’ I think I approached mountain biking more like a normal person. I wanted to mountain bike to be with my mates, to ride the bike parks with my friends. I like to go to the bar and talk about what we did that day on the trails.

A result might make you happy when you get it, but if I don’t get it, that’s ok. I’ll try again next week. At the end of the day, I’m happy about the weekend, because I ride my bike, I have fun, I see my mates. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I should be more focused on results, but this is how how I stay happy.

 

The whole nature of downhill racing has shifted over the past six years – we don’t see too many people partying like you’ve always had the reputation for doing.

For sure, mountain biking has got a lot more serious. People now realise you can’t get drunk every weekend and expect to win races. This used to happen before when the level was ok. But now it’s so tight, with everyone on the same second, everything counts.

It’s a new generation of kids who want to make a living out of biking. For them it’s their job. For me it was never a job, it was a lifestyle.

But I kind of miss those days. Those days for me were mountain biking! Now it’s too much like Formula One. It’s a new generation of kids who want to make a living out of biking. For them it’s their job. For me it was never a job, it was a lifestyle. I’m not judging the kids at the top now – it is the way it is. But only a few guys are at the bar now: Steve Peat, me, sometimes Minnaar… just the old dogs. There are a few kids still today – kids like Brook MacDonald or Josh Bryceland – when I look at their eyes I see the devil! I love those kids because they remind me of me. They want to do good, but they want to have fun. There are only a few, but in the past everyone was like that – there’d be 30 of us at the bar, the race was done and everyone was crazy. I remember winning Fort William with Kovarik; we took our prize money, five thousand pounds each, and put it on the table. We drank it all. I went home with ten pounds in my pocket. It wasn’t an issue, we were having fun, we didn’t care.

 

That image seems the complete opposite of so many of your fellow French riders. What was your relationship like with people like Nico Vouilloz and Fabien Barel?

Nico was jealous because I wasn’t training and I was starting to kick his arse. He had everything – everyone was basically sucking his cock. I had respect for him, but I didn’t want to be him at all. He always had his dad with him – I couldn’t deal with that. But we got drunk together a couple of times now he’s done racing, and I told him, ‘Man you know you were a dick – I loved to kick your arse because you were so proper with your mum and dad.’ And Nico said ‘Cedric you’re a dick,’ and he told me that being like that was the only way for him to win. It was funny we talked about it. He just needed everything to be totally perfect so he felt he could win. Now I’m older I understand, but back then when I was young and arrogant with piercings in my face, I thought he was a dick.

You don’t want to know what I did to Barel… When he came to the Sunn team me and my mates gave him an initiation. I would shit in plastic bags and chase after him with it, throwing it at him, I was pissing in buckets and tipping it on his head from above the doors. I did the worst things to him! I think I made him a little bit stronger to be a World Champ, I made him tougher. I definitely abused him.

 

As one of the riders who always rode 4X and downhill, how do you feel about the demise of 4X?

I always told them that if they don’t make bigger jumps, bigger rockgardens, this is going to die, because it’s getting closer and closer to BMX. Why would you race 4X when you can race BMX? I was still racing it though because it was a good chance to hang out with the boys and to relax and not always focus on downhill. Plus it meant I could ride my bike more, and on Cannondale, I could help Brian Lopes win races too.

I think it’s too bad that they never introduced an Omnium Championship, like at Sea Otter, with a winner across both downhill and 4X. It could have been better for everyone. Sure it’s hard to do both, but we’re professionals!

But they went the other way and made it more and more BMX, and it’s hard to compete with BMX guys who practice 30 gate starts a day when you don’t even have a gate!

 

You were the first of the serious downhill racers to get involved in the Red Bull Rampage – you even won it in 2003. Was that part of the plan?

Not at all! I was in Vegas and I heard they had a freeride event. I didn’t even know what freeride was about! I went along, I didn’t want to dig or anything like that, so I just started to shred all the way down without looking where I was going. Somehow I made it and got third or second. After that I started to build some big jumps and drops, and the bigger they got, the more fun I had. It was a good side job from the life of downhill, hanging out in the desert, drinking some beers, and afterwards we could go to Vegas!

Perhaps me getting involved in Rampage started to change the way downhillers felt about freeride. Downhillers have a lot more respect for freeriders now too. To jump some of those things takes serious balls!

I never, ever expected to win it. I was just going there to have fun, take some photos. I just wanted to shred down and be stupid. On downhill you can have fun, but you still have to go down the hill as fast as possible, but not here. It suits me really well!

Perhaps me getting involved in Rampage started to change the way downhillers felt about freeride. Downhillers have a lot more respect for freeriders now too. To jump some of those things takes serious balls! I think it was good for the freeriders to see other high-level racers like Gee Atherton, too.

But now I look at Rampage and I don’t want to go back. All these wooden ramps and shit! That’s not what Rampage is, that’s shit. Now it’s just turning into another slopestyle. It was big mountain riding – just a shovel and a pick to make your line then go. I don’t want to see wood in the fucking desert. And at the same time, I don’t want to deal with judges who give out points according to which drink sponsor you have on your helmet. This year it was lame; the judging was biased. Too much money involved now. When things get too serious, it kills it. More roots shows the brilliance.

 

Enduro racing seems to be gaining huge amounts of momentum, and I know you’re a believer in it too. Why?

For sure. Right now we’ve got the Enduro World Series, and it’s going to be huge all over the whole world. My sponsors don’t even want to hear about downhill anymore. It’s just such a small market for them. Enduro is a market that can actually support the industry.

Things are coming back now in terms of sponsorship because of enduro. Mountain biking is changing. Downhilling is great – you know, for the young kids it’s got a cool image – but you don’t sell many of those bikes at all. Enduro is all about guys my age, from 25 to 45. People who have jobs and a family, they make money and they just want a fucking cool bike to go hang out with their friends on the weekend. And you don’t need a lift. You don’t need anything. I understand that. That’s where mountain biking is going. And the sponsors understand that too.

The full Santa Cruz Syndicate and the Brigade are going to race enduro this year. And for guys like me, slightly older, we have a bit of an advantage too, because you need the endurance. It’s just a good kind of second career for guys like me.

 Sam Hill… he loved to win, but not just win, to completely smoke everyone. He doesn’t want to win by one second, he wants to win by ten.

 

You’ve raced against some of the greats of the sport. Who do you think is the best racer you’ve competed against?

Sam Hill was amazing. I mean, Gwin is good, but he never won like Sam Hill. Hill was just smashing people. Everyone was always saying that Sam is cocky or he’s arrogant, but I think he is just shy and he loved to win, but not just win, to completely smoke everyone. He doesn’t want to win by one second, he wants to win by ten. Obviously, having a family now, things are not the same, but I think he’ll be back on top next year. He wants prove that he’s still the fastest.

 

You’re 35 this year. You’ve achieved more in your racing career than most riders could ever dream of, and you’ve just suffered an injury that would kill many people. So why are you still racing?

That’s something I asked myself when I was lying in the hospital, for sure. But I think bikes are why I’m alive. It’s not about competing; it’s about riding my bike. My life is riding bikes. When I can’t do that, maybe I’ll leave the bike industry entirely. But it’s also for those 160,000 people who follow me on Facebook and the other fans all over the world – I feel like I’m an example for them. I want to keep riding to thank them. When you’re lying down in hospital for so long, reading the messages that people send, the goodwill, man it’s a big help. Maybe that’s why I still do it.

 

Interview: Intense Cycle’s Andrew Herrick

You’ve been in Intense for almost two years now, what is your background?

I’ve come from Selle Royal, previously being one of the partners in Crank Brothers with the original to designers and founders Carl and Frank. I was the commercial partner in Crank Bros while the others designed cool stuff. That business merged with the Selle Royal Group in Italy (Selle Royal, Brooks, Fizik etc) and when I finished there, I was looking at how I wanted to spend the next ten years of my life, after spending the last 25 in the bike industry.

I like challenges, and when the outcomes of these challenges we face are in doubt.  There has been a lot of really cool boutique bike brands that have gone on to be great commercial enterprises, employing lots of people and sponsoring riders. So I looked for one of those companies that can make a difference and fulfil a promise, and in that process I was talking to a lot of people, including Jeff Steber from Intense. Here I am now.

ANDREW, PALMER

Joining me was a chief financial officer and a chief operating officer/product director – Chad Peterson who came from Crank Brothers too, and before that he spent eight years at Cannondale, so he knows how to make mountain bikes.

So you saw that Intense needed some love, and the outcome was in doubt?

I wouldn’t say that the outcome was ever in doubt, more so that we had challenges ahead of us that the whole team needed to overcome. It’s not an easy slam-dunk for any of us, but we’re certainly confident in the direction we are going. We should have that attitude when we wake up in the morning, right?

When you came to Intense, what elements did you see that needed help? 

It’s the same as with all small companies that need help, and that number one area is planning. So it’s planning on cash, inventory, marketing calendars, It is in every way, and a long term view that is needed where your actions can be predicted.

Intense have long been a ‘frame only’ option for consumers. This changed recently with the offering of complete bikes for sale. What changed there?

With the ‘bike and kit’ needing up to 180 day lead times, it’s a brutally difficult task. The Tracer was the first complete and also a test for 2014 bikes, we offered it as a whole bike, and not just a bare frame. Now all the bikes we see in our catalogue are offered with very specific spec in multiple levels, with the spec being carefully designed to go with each frame. It’s all been well thought out what parts we choose, some parts don’t go well with other parts, and we’ve done our testing to find what works best. Our riders like Chris Kovarik and Brian Lopes have told us what works, and we’ve been listening to those guys.

Intense frames 1
The Tracer. 

We’re seeing more carbon frames from Intense. Coming from a brand with such a long reputation for welded aluminium frames, was the move to carbon a reluctant decision that has now picked up pace? 

No, I know that for sure it was not reluctantly it was simply due to the finally having the capability to do so. There are barriers to entry into the world of carbon bikes, you need technical know how, and you need cash. To over simplify thing, when you make an aluminium bike you order aluminium tubes then you weld them together. When it comes to carbon you need to plan 18 months ahead of time, and once the mould you make is open, that’s it. You can’t make small changes to the frame’s geometry or anything, you’re fully committed. And by the time the first carbon bikes arrive, you’re well into six figures of investment. So unless you have critical mass, you can’t be in the carbon game. So I don’t believe Intense went into the carbon business reluctantly it was just as soon as they were able to. And thankfully we did.

What was the first carbon frame from Intense?

The Carbine, a 26” 150mm travel frame. Now we go up to the Tracer with 160mm of travel in carbon. We don’t have a ‘super enduro’ bike as yet; you may see one of those from us in the near future, in aluminium and carbon.

The new Tracer was actually an aluminium bike before we made it in carbon. In fact if you take a carbon and the new aluminium Tracer, put them side-by-side they will cast the same shadow. They both share the same shapes, geometry and look. The aluminium frame mimics the carbon one because we hydroformed the aluminium frame tubing and then constructed it in our Temecula, California factory.

We usually make aluminium frames before carbon, because we can make them in our own factory, just right. You’ll actually see two new aluminium frames come out before our next carbon bike.

We currently have six bike frames in development; previously we’ve never had more than one frame in development at one time. All thanks to planning, resources, new engineers etc.

Shaun Palmer, he’s back! And Brian Lopes too. Why? 

We don’t look at them as retired World Cup riders, they are rock stars. Including Chris Kovarik and Claire Buchar, we have true rock stars amongst us.

Intense portraits / Mammoth /  (c) Rob Trnka 2014
Shaun Palmer.
Intense portraits / Mammoth /  (c) Rob Trnka 2014
Brian Lopes.

I hold them in the same reverence now as I did when they were in their prime. Brian Lopes is even still so competitive, with just having recently won the Kamikaze downhill and the enduro the following day!

Everyone wants to party with a rock star, so we want to make sure that Shaun, Brian, Chris and Claire get out there as much as possible. Now with the freedom of a growing company, they will be out and about a lot more. In fact Brian and Shaun are now in Roc d;Azur in France. Chris will be spending a lot of his summer in Australia visiting Intense dealers and riding with consumers, it’s really great.

Intense portraits / Mammoth /  (c) Rob Trnka 2014
Chris Kovarik, Claire Buchar.

What’s next from Intense? 

We’ll be developing a bigger global presence, for example we don’t sell into the second largest mountain bike market in the world, Germany. The reason for that is that we are growing so fast everywhere else that if we added Germany into the mix we would probably do a terrible job and we don’t want to do a terrible job anywhere, but if you do a terrible in Germany you are out, for at least a decade, haha.

There are many markets that needed work, we have a lot of blue sky above our heads right now and Australia is right up there on our list of partners that are with us as we push towards this new horizon for Intense Cycles. We are still so tiny for a company that is building two-wheeled Ferraris. That is why we are launching a new downhill World Cup team for next year; Ferrari always participates in Formula 1. A World Cup season without Intense is like a Formula 1 without Ferrari, we’ve been out for too many years so we are coming back.

Keep an eye out for the announcement of a new team soon. Bernard Guardia, Brian Lopes, Chris Kovarik and Shaun Palmer have been discussing the best strategy for the new team, and there is not going to be just a one-year view, it’ll be a long-term program built with real integrity.  We won’t be going in a buying a rider, the big companies can do that, we just don’t have that luxury.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve been watching the fast junior riders, for ones that we can help develop. They will be riding our new yet to be released downhill bike, they will have day to day coaching with World Cup legend Bernard Guardia, and guest coaching with Shaun, Brian or Chris.

So we have signed three young riders, one Spaniard, American and an Aussie.

They’ll be on our new downhill bike that will be an aluminium frame first, testing that will enable us to get it right just in time to open the mould for a carbon one. There is no secret that we’ll have a carbon downhill bike soon. By January/February we’ll know from testing the aluminium downhill bike how to make it perfect, then three to four months from there we’ll have carbon.

Which one do you ride? 

I’m on a Spider 29, I’m 6’2” and I like the feel of a 29er coming from a cross country background. I do a few marathon events, and I’ll do the Garda Marathon in Italy again this year. I’m 47 years old, and my bones don’t bounce anymore, I don’t need the big bikes.

Cheers!

 

Interview: Stan ‘No Tubes’ Koziatek

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that only a decade or so ago, most mountain bikers assumed that a flat tyre or two each ride was just part of the sport! But then along came Stan Koziatek, with an idea that would revolutionise mountain biking: ditch the tubes.

His ‘No Tubes’ system took off and inspired countless other brands to offer their own tubeless solutions and now just about every bike out there now is either tubeless ready or can be converted to tubeless without much fuss. Thanks to Stan, our bikes are now smoother, faster, have more traction, weigh less and are far more reliable than ever before. We caught up with this quirky inventor to learn a bit more about the development of tubeless technology.

[divider]Stan the Man[/divider]

Given that thousands of riders already refer to you on a first name basis, it’d be good to learn a little bit more about you; can you describe yourself in one sentence? What are your top three passions?

Sure, I seem to see things differently to other people. And passions? I love designing new products, golfing and bow hunting (Flow: he’s serious about the hunting – punch Stan Koziatek in Google Image Search and you’ll see).

 

Are you glad you called the product Stan’s or do you sometimes wish you were anonymous?

I never actually planed on using my name for the product. But after a few months of sales, customers are the ones that started calling my products Stan’s, so we had to stick with it.

 

Where did your inspiration for No Tubes come from?

It’s a long story over many years. It all started with me finding a way to convert my standard rims to tubeless. Once I found a way to convert the rim I then needed a tire. At that time their were only two tubeless tires and the tread patterns were not good for my area, so I then started working on a sealant that would seal a non-tubeless tire.

Once I had a sealant started I started thinking: ‘If I can seal hundreds of holes within minutes, we can most likely seal punctures as they are made’. Then the rim companies started sending me their rims asking if I could make their rims tubeless. After working with many different shaped rims, I realised some rims would inflate tyres easier than others etc.

I then contacted two of the largest rim companies in the US and offered to design a rim for them, at no charge. They basically told me they have the best rim designers and did not need my help. After a few months I could no longer wait. I found extrusion companies in the US and a small rim roller and welder in California. I then designed my first rim and was not happy with that crappy design. I never sold one and started designing another rim.

My second rim was very good and won a bronze medal at the Olympics, but I still was not completely happy with this design. It still needed a rubber rim strip to make it tubeless. My third design was much better and worked great. Then with each rim design I improved the air taping, tire inflation and most importantly tire performance. I try to make all of my designs user friendly – I want my rims to mount tires with your hands and inflate either with a floor pump or with a small air compressor.

 

Tell us about developing the sealant – where did you look to as a starting point? Were there other industries/applications that you could draw from?

I designed my sealant from scratch, trying thousands of additives and related products until I found something that worked. I still test different products trying to make my sealant better and last longer.

 

We spend so much time looking at suspension technologies but comparatively little focusing on tyres, when arguably the tyre as the point of contact is where we stand to make the most improvements.

Definitely. Now that we can run tire pressures so low, and with my rim designs making the tire stable under high speed corning, we can change the tire designs and get more traction with much smaller knobs. Large knobs create lots of wind resistance and drag, and we can gain a few miles per hour with the same physical effort by smaller tyre knobs and dual rubber compound construction.

Stan Koziatek 2

 

You had a foray into tyre development with the Raven. Will we ever see more tyres from Stan’s? Is it correct to say that the Raven a bit of a showcase of what’s possible when combining tubeless tyres at low pressure with gummy compounds?

The only reason I designed my Crow and Raven tyres was because none of the tyre companies were willing to make a sealant-ready, lightweight tyre. I told them all years ago we were running sealant in their tubeless tires and soon most tires would require sealant to make them tubeless. As you see they are all making sealant ready tires. Tires that require sealant to run tubeless.

 

We saw some pretty interesting drawings of a rim you’d designed on Pinkbike a while back – http://www.pinkbike.com/news/stans-notubes-re-invents-the-clincher-mountain-bike-rim.html –  can you tell me more? 

The 52mm Hugo is designed so you can mount a fat 4.7″ tire with your hands and inflate it with a floor pump. I also extended the tire side of the rim upwards to help customers still running tubes have less pinch flats.

 

What ARE those little coral shaped clumps that sometimes develop inside a tubeless tyre?

We call them buggers. They form like a pearl, when a small part of dirt or dried sealant starts rolling around in your tyre, these clumps develop. They will get larger and larger and should be removed. Part of this is caused by the additives in my sealant. My sealant is force-activated and will harden underwater if enough force is applied! I must keep the percentage of this additive really precise, or my sealant would not work as well. If I add too much to a mix it will all harden in the drum!

 

Traditional tubeless systems haven’t been so successful in downhill. What are challenges here?

Rim designs are to blame for tyres burping when used for DH. Most rims are not designed well enough to trap air under the forces of DH, but my rims have no problem running DH tubeless. My Flow and Flow EX rims have won many World Cups on the pro circuit – in fact, the Flow EX just won the World Championships a few weeks ago in the men’s division and got second in the woman’s.

 

What are your thoughts on the Schwalbe Procore system?

For top riders I feel it will be too heavy. Most DH races are won or lost by thousandths of a second. You need the tyre and wheel to be as light as possible to win on the pro circuit.

 

Will road tubeless ever be widely adopted?

No question, it will take over for racing and for riders who ride several times a week. All the riders in my area have been running road tubeless for years and they would not go back. We sponsor two road teams: my racers tell me they have always raced on deep dish carbon tubulars. Now they are racing on my aluminum rims with tubeless tires and they are winning many races. They tell me they would never go back to tubulars.

 

What is it about Stan’s sealant that you feel makes it still an industry leader?

The additives that prevent it from freezing, even at -28 C, and which allow it to last longer that 24 hours in an open air test are expensive. There are companies out there making a lot of money with these sealants that freeze and don’t last a long time. I could make a less expensive sealant, but it would not be as good.

 

Interview: MTBA’s new CEO, Shane Coppin

From our perspective here at Flow, we’ve struggled to understand what it is that MTBA actually does and how it serves the mountain biking public. But with a new CEO at the helm we thought it was time to get a better understanding of the direction MTBA is heading, as well as giving MTBA a chance to answer some of the questions and criticisms that we so often hear about the organisation.

We asked you, our audience, to submit your questions and we put them to Shane Coppin recently over a couple of hours at Flow HQ. What are our overall thoughts? Shane Coppin is a realist; he knows that MTBA has lost its relevance for many riders, and he’s thinking about long-term solutions. Read on to learn more about how MTBA plans of righting its course.


So Shane, how did you come to be the new Chief Executive Officer of MTBA? What’s your background?

 

I studied sports science many years ago, worked in basketball, volleyball and commercial gym environments, before I moved into family businesses, construction mainly. I spent 15 plus years in the commercial sector, which teaches you a lot.

Shane Coppin 2

 

You’re pretty upfront about the fact you’re not from a cycling background. Why do you think this will be of benefit in this role?

 

Well sport is business, let’s be honest about it. It’s a service business, mountain biking is the vehicle we use for delivering the service. Times change and I think you need to have a much more commercial approach to running the sport. A lot of the partners you deal with in this role are running commercial businesses too, so it helps to have that understanding, that likeminded attitude. I think it gives you that external perspective.

Also, I don’t bring any baggage into this role. I don’t have a past, or any preconceptions or predefined ambition except to make the organisation as a whole function better.

 

So if MTBA provides a service, what is it?

 

The value of a national sporting body is that they should be a facilitator for the sport, the whole sport. They shouldn’t be consumed with just the high-end, the athletes going to the Olympics; the eight year old, the sixteen year old, the sixty year old – they’re as much a part of the sport as any athlete at the elite level. Our job is to ascertain what they want, so we can deliver the services important to them – this could be education, coaching, pathways for development, commissaires, opportunities to participate at a national and international level, insurance, providing a safe environment for racing. Our job is to centralise the sport around one point, so we can speak with one voice.

We’re going through the process of establishing loyalty programs, member discounts and the like. And those are things that we can leverage with volume. But they’re not what membership is all about; membership is about trying to create a national voice for mountain biking. Because without a national body, no one else will take those responsibilities for rider development or developing the sport. All the big promoters run great events, but they don’t have that responsibility of developing the sport, and that’s the ‘hidden’ side of membership that people don’t sometimes really see.

 

Late last year it was indicated to us the MTBA was on the way out, and CA was taking over. But then suddenly there was an about-face and MTBA was back running the national series. What happened?

 

Well I think it’s been on the agenda for many years to form one single cycling body for all the disciplines – similar to what all the other overseas nations have done. I think there was just a belief that this would just happen. But you’re dealing with three individual boards, with different corporate structures. MTBA doesn’t have state bodies, it’s a national membership body, whereas for the other disciplines they have state intermediary bodies which make decisions. With us, it’s the membership direct. So the theory of having one body is good, but how you go about it isn’t simple.

Last year there was no intention that Cycling Australia was going to consume mountain bike, I’m sure there weren’t some people in CA who thought this was the case.

MTBA had been struggling with the National Series so they had given the running of the National Series back to CA because it was losing money. Then of course CA also did a poor job of it and had lost money too, and financially they weren’t in a position to run the National Series again, so it was passed back to MTBA. It was obvious that it was happening – red flags should have been seen far earlier. Anyhow, CA terminated the agreement to deliver the events and the series was handed back to MTBA.

 

If CA and MTBA have both been losing money running the National Series, is it really viable to continue to do so?

 

It’s true that at the moment we don’t make money on National Series events. But it’s one of those hidden investments that mountain biking needs to make for its membership, so its members can attain UCI points to compete at international events. We’d love to get these events profitable, but we have a commitment to allow our riders opportunities to attain UCI points, and I think this needs to be recognised a little more.

We’ve gone for a very different model now which we think will reduce the costs. We’re working with suppliers now across the series, rather than ad hoc. Last year was terrible because we had no time. We’re trying to identify venues that can cope with the needs better, and we’re trying to make sure the financial risk is entirely with our organisation and not with the clubs at all. In fact, we’re making sure the clubs will walk away with something in their pocket at the end of the day. We want them to run these events and finish up with a few thousand dollars which they can then reinvest back into the sport. I can tell you, the National Champs at Bright, that club walked away with a lot of money. We’re not into trying to financially cripple clubs.

 

You did mention venues then. We hear a lot about the south-east centric nature of the series.

 It’s not currently a National Series – two states do not make a National Series

Oh yeah, it’s terrible. It’s not currently a National Series – two states do not make a National Series. Moving forward, we want to have every state and territory involved between the National Series and National Marathon Series. The thing is getting from where we are, with two or three states, to making it truly national. The next thing is trying to lock actual weekends away, so people and promoters will 100% know that there will be a national event on that weekend and can plan as such.

 

When we started out racing, the Nationsl Sereies was huge, but now it is much, much smaller, particularly amongst the non-elite riders. Why?

 

It’s lost its appeal. These events will only be a success if they’re supported by the general rider base – the juniors, masters, the general public. Why they lost their appeal, I don’t know. How do we regain that appeal?

As a first step, it has to be about running a cost-effective, more-affordable event for the masses. We have already lowered entry costs, and we’re offering discounts for people who enter all events. We’re taking the approach of making the events more family-friendly too. We want stuff for the kids to do, jumping castles, entertainment – I want to see clubs get inventive to see what they can bring to the table to make the events more appealing for families too.

Notice periods around the race calendar have been terrible too. We want to improve this, so people can actually plan their lives. As part of this we’re overhauling the calendar aspect of our website too. I mean this year has been hard, I spent almost three weeks purely negotiating with other events around the dates for our national rounds. In the past I think we had a very arrogant approach: ‘we’re the national body, you fit in with us’. That doesn’t work, we need to be far more coordinated with other events.

 

On the events side of things, there is now quite notably two competing marathon series in Australia – the National Marathon series and the Maverick Marathon Series. What are your views on that, and is this a realistic state of affairs?

 

It’s a bit of a shame. I think I can understand why it’s happened. I think it’s a bit of national level arrogance, and I think there are some personality clashes too. I don’t know all the players; I do know one event promoter well, Alan Vogt, and he has now re-affiliated his events with MTBA. And I put out an offer through Alan to the other event promoters to see if they wished to talk about aligning. Unfortunately nothing has come back at this stage.

Ideally of course I’d prefer to see one series. We want to deliver a great National Marathon Series, these people run extremely good events; it makes sense to be aligned, we just need to find away we can work together. We need to sit together at the table, and I’m open to it. Marathon fell apart, it needs to be rebuilt.

On the subject of series, I see someone asked about Gravity Enduro. We’re not interested in running a National Gravity Enduro series – we may look at a National Gravity Enduro Championship, but not a series, we just don’t have the manpower to do it.

 

Now, trails, a matter close to every mountain biker’s heart. What happened to IMBA Australia, and what’s happening in this area going forward?

 

Along the way I think IMBA Australia lost its core focus of what it was about, and we ended up in trail development, it became commercial. And no disrespect to Nick Bowman, I think he did a fantastic job, but I don’t think IMBA Australia becoming commercial was necessarily the right fit. It was all a bit disjointed, and with the commercial aspect it was perhaps a bit murky how it all fitted with MTBA.

In the past, IMBA was competing commercially with the same trail builders they were meant to police, and it wasn’t working. To me, that’s why IMBA lost a bit of respect. We’re the national body – what are we doing trying to build trails?

When I first came to this job, I realised the commercial trail building space wasn’t the area that IMBA should necessarily be in. In the end, Nick moved on, but the whole experience allowed us to ask if the program was really doing what it’s supposed to do, is there a need for IMBA Aus to be out there on its own?

In the past, IMBA was competing commercially with the same trail builders they were meant to police, and it wasn’t working. To me, that’s why IMBA lost a bit of respect. We’re the national body – what are we doing trying to build trails? There are dozens of companies that can do that, we don’t need to be there. I think as a national body, we’re far better off helping clubs understand the process of, say, leasing land, or promoting the great trail building work that has already been done in so many destination across Australia. We need to sit above the commercial aspect and make things better for everybody.

Ultimately we’ve decided that we’re not going to go with the IMBA name – Australia has progressed to a point that it’s entitled to have its own representative trails and advocacy body. So we’re bringing things right back under MTBA’s umbrella. Every member of MTBA will be a member of our trails and advocacy body. But our core focus now is to try and legitimise the governance of the trail building industry. We want to establish guidelines and standards around trail development and sustainability and the like. And that way, the curriculums of any trail building courses can be related back to that, and certifications can be related back to that.

From there, we want to recognise all those who work in the trail building industry, create a service directory or trail builders that will be provided to clubs. We’re less interested in master-plans and trail concept plans, and more focused on building a consensus around trail building standards.

 

For many riders, their only interaction with MTBA is as a provider of insurance so they can race. But what is the situation with MTBA’s insurance? What does it cover?

 

We have a combined policy with Cycling Australia, which means we can leverage pretty good premiums and cover. If you’re a member, you are covered for $5000 personal accident insurance, and that is a 24/7 policy. If you fall off riding to work you will be covered for that up to $5000. There’s a public liability aspect, so if you run into someone’s car or a pedestrian, you will be covered. There’s an element of income protection too. From November, we’ll be giving people the option of boosting up their own levels of cover too, if they want more than the standard $5000 cover.

Where you aren’t covered as an MTBA member, is if you’re racing at a non-MTBA sanctioned event. You’re covered to and from the event, but not when you’re racing.

In terms of day licenses, they also cover personal accident and public liability. The model of day licenses is changing though, so the pricing will increase. The idea is to recognise and reward our members more, so the day licence price will probably be doubling. At the moment, you can ride five or six events a year and it may still be cheaper to use day licenses, but that is changing and if you ride two or three events a year, a full membership will be the cheaper option.

We want people to feel and understand that by being a member, they’re helping facilitate the development of the sport, in racing, in trails, in every area.

We felt the model was wrong – it should be more valuable to become a member than use day license – so we’re trying to make membership more valuable. For instance, members now get other benefits, like clothing vouchers from Scody and discounted movie tickets. The aim is to encourage people to become MTBA members, not just buy day licenses.

A few people on your Facebook asked about dual licenses for mountain bike and road. We’d love to offer that, and we’re trying to work towards that. There are lots of things in play, and one of the difficulties is that CA has state bodies and we don’t; we’re trying to work out a way that doesn’t increase the costs for either party too much.

 

A more basic question; how is MTBA funded?

 

MTBA is funded 100% from members. There’s no government money directly. We don’t receive any funding from the sports commission. We receive a very minor amount via Cycling Australia, but it’s miniscule. MTBA is really quite unique – most national sporting bodies would receive 60%+ of their funding from the government.

 

We hear often that enough money isn’t spent by MTBA on supporting high-performance riders. Where does this funding come from, and how is it allocated?

 

Under the government’s Winning Edge concept, it’s all about results. Mountain bike is unique as the government only really recognises the cross-country discipline as it’s the only one you can win Olympic or Commonwealth Games medals in. Australia does extremely well in downhill, but we don’t receive any high performance funding, as it’s not an Olympic Sport. Even in Olympic XCO we didn’t receive any funding as the powers-that-be deemed that we didn’t have a strong enough chance at a medal.

I liken mountain biking a lot to surfing or snow boarding. Surfing does get funding, even though it’s not an Olympic sport, so we continue to lobby for that same kind of recognition.

So in theory, we don’t have a funding pool to contribute to all these developing athletes, which is why we lose so many to road teams. There aren’t so many big mountain bike teams that can afford to support developing Australian athletes as there are on the road either, so the lure of the road is strong. I don’t blame the riders for going.

But basically, your day license fees, your membership fees, they’re what gets used to support these elite riders. There is no separate source of funding for the elite program, so we’re trying to create a balance between supporting these people, creating a pathway underneath for development, at the same time as delivering everything else. You have to have a balanced approach to high performance. In the past, I feel there wasn’t enough money being put into development, I couldn’t even guess where the money was spent.

What we want to do is run upwards of 10 state-based junior development camps, from there we run an Australian camp, from there we run a National junior development camp

Our approach now is to invest significant funds back towards the grass roots level, so this year we’ll be employing one or maybe two development coaches. The role of these coaches will be to work with kids in this country and not spend all their time overseas travelling with one or two particular athletes.

These development coaches will work with riders all across the country, particularly juniors who may not have their own coaches, and they’ll be MTBA funded, not user paid. Through these coaches we can establish a database of promising junior riders all across the country; rather than just seeing these promising juniors once a year at the National Champs, we can go out to them, and have more regular contact

What we want to do is run upwards of 10 state-based junior development camps, from there we run an Australian camp, from there we run a National junior development camp. Now a lot of these camps will still be user-pays, but hopefully these camps will allow us to bring all our talented juniors together and will give us a groundswell pushing up, and that will give us more ammunition when it comes to lobbying government for funding, we can say ‘look at this, look at what’s coming, look at the swell of junior talent – we need you to step in with some high-performance funding’.

 

So there is no high-performance coach as such any more?

 

Yes and no. We did have Donna Dall and Jared Rando on contract, not full-time like Chris Clarke was, but on a more casual contracted basis. In truth, we don’t coach a lot of elite athletes – most of the riders we’re working with have their own coaches and we don’t want to force them to work with anyone.

So our coaching focus will be on the development coaching I mentioned before, and having a head coach at events like the World Championships.

 

One of our questions from our audience was about the split of how member funds are used. Can you provide some detail?

 

MTBA would spend, on insurance, staffing, organisation structure/operations, about 35% of its funds. 65% is then spent on camps, programs, events, payment for commissaires, trail development, everything else. So it’s a normal sort of business split. We have a small reserve, just like every business, to ensure longevity.

 

A lot of our audience commented on MTBA’s poor communication.

 

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that MTBA has been very bad at communicating. In fairness, before my time, MTBA was really Tony Scott, Una Mackay and Nick Bowman. So things were stretched very thin, trying to service a wide range of activities. So I’ve made a conscious effort to expand our staff base. And communication is one of the first things we’re working on; I’ve engaged Stu Plant, and we’ve bought one of the CA communications staff across, so we now have a full time communications department. We now issue a fortnightly newsletter, our social media is now properly utilised. We’re making some big steps forward here; in everything we do, communication is key.

But I also want to stress, MTBA doesn’t have secrets, we’re a transparent organisation – if you want to know something, just ask – we work for members, and that’s who we answer to.

 

Finally, why should someone who is not a member become a member?

 

I believe in a wider community – I don’t like to get lost in the discipline splits of cross country, downhill, trials etc – the value of membership is creating an atmosphere that every member is part of something.

We want to create value for our members, by helping them know what’s happening in the sport, but keeping them informed about events, by making them feel part of the achievements of our elite athletes. Yes, there are insurance benefits and loyalty benefits of being a member, but it’s much bigger than that. We want people to feel and understand that by being a member, they’re helping facilitate the development of the sport, in racing, in trails, in every area.

Interview: PJ Hunton – Norco’s Head Engineer

It’s no fluke that the sudden acceleration in Norco’s development coincided with the arrival of this man, PJ Hunton, Norco’s engineering manager. Having just taken delivery of the new Range Carbon 7.2 (read our first impressions here) we thought we’d catch up with man who’s largely responsible for that bike’s existence and ask him a few questions. [divider]Introducing: PJ Hunton[/divider] WEB_Feature_PJ_Norco-4-710x473 Norco has undergone a real transformation over the past half dozen years, both in terms of performance and brand appeal (at least in my opinion!). Can you tell us what was the catalyst for this rapid development, and what have been the key objectives?

The catalyst was an increase in our engineering horsepower. The objective was simple: to build better bikes that we want to ride. Whether this was the need for a faster, stiffer, yet more compliant road bike and the inception of technologies like Power Chassis and ARC or the need for a more efficient suspension system for mountain bikes, hence the creation of ART suspension, it was all based around improving the ride. What moment, or bike, do you feel has been the most important in Norco’s history (either long-term history, or recent)? Having only been here for six years, I am biased towards the recent history so I would have to say the development of the original Range, which was the first bike with ART suspension. This spawned into a full line of new full suspension bikes which made a lot of people take a second look at our brand. Looking at our 50 year history of designing bikes, however, there are several iconic Norco bikes that should be mentioned. The Rampage – the first bike with front suspension corrected geometry – and the VPS series of freeride bikes are both a huge part of Norco’s history.

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Then: the 1999 VPS1 was one of the most desirable bikes out there. The VPS (Variable Point Suspension) design and massive monocoque aluminium front ends became a hallmark of Norco’s VPS range for a number of years.

 

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NOW: Our new long-term test bike, the Range Carbon 7.2. Pretty amazing how far things have come in 15 years!

Norco’s carbon bikes are just awesome (we love the Sight and Range), and the brand’s development in carbon bikes seems to have been in fast-forward. Can you tell us a bit about the learning curve here? Norco has been designing and producing carbon road and hardtail frames for many years now, so carbon frame design is certainly not new. Carbon full suspension bikes are new to us, and from the design & engineering perspective, using carbon as the frame material presents incredible opportunities. Most visibly is the aesthetics of a carbon frame. There were some great advancements and creativity made in the industrial design of these frames and the resulting 3D CAD modeling strategies which were required to achieve these designs. Engineering the shape to accommodate pivots points and component contact points was also a learning process but a great one due to the potential for optimization of the frame structure. Combining the ID and engineering requirements into the final frame design takes a lot of iterations and even more machine testing before the true testing on the trail can begin.

Are we going to see one wheel size only? Absolutely not. Both wheel sizes will always have a place in mountain biking.

Speaking of carbon, the demand for carbon by the cycling industry is huge now, so much so that we’re already hearing about production delays because of supply issues. Can you envisage another material that we will see emerge in bike construction in the near future? In the near future, carbon is the material. Manufacturing processes will improve which will result in slightly lighter & stronger frames, but not significantly. I can envision composites and plastic material development to continue to the point where we could eventually mold a plastic bike with a strong tough skin and a light, structural honeycomb foam inside.   In your opinion, are we going to see mountain biking return to one wheel size? Absolutely not. Both wheel sizes will always have a place in mountain biking. It will be up to the rider to choose which size works best for them based on their riding style and objectives. There are obviously some frame and component engineering challenges associated with making 29” wheels work properly in longer travel applications but those are being solved as I type.   We’re seeing all-mountain bikes now with some very slack geometry up front, not far off downhill bikes from a few years ago – what do you think is the limit in terms of how far head angles can be pushed? Norco’s vision of an all-mountain bike is exactly that, one which can be ridden all over the mountain, both up and down so making the head angle slacker doesn’t make the bike better overall, just on the downhills. If you are talking Enduro bikes however, then the head angles could certainly approach DH angles because those bikes are very focussed on going downhill and it almost doesn’t matter if the bike is a real handful to pedal up hills.   Electronics: do you want them? Why / why not? In regards to electronic components such as shifting sytems, suspension control, seatposts, brakes, etc… if they can improve the ride experience and still be reliable, why not make them available for those willing to pay.   We’ve just taken delivery of the Range Carbon 7.2 as a long term test bike. What is your favourite thing about this bike and why? My favorite thing about the Range Carbon is how fun it is to shred down aggressive singletrack. The way it gobbles up bumps and is perfectly balanced to two wheel drift ‘round corners just makes me smile all the way down the trail. Not to mention the fact that with the push of a couple of buttons, I can comfortably and efficiently climb back up for more. Huge stoke for my Range Carbon right now!

Interview: Jared Graves, Part 2: Training, Diet, Tech, And Your Questions

Welcome to part 2 of our interview with Jared Graves. In part 1 we discussed his thoughts on the Enduro World Series, the merits of the various Enduro formats, and his performance at the downhill World Champs. In part 2, Jared talks about training and racing across so many disciplines, and answers the questions you submitted through Facebook.

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In part 1 of out interview, you talked about your decision to race your SB66 at the World Champs a being based on the fact you where most comfortable on that bike. On that matter of getting comfortable on a bike, you’ve obviously jumped between a lot more bikes than most people, including a cross country bike. Where did your decision to race XCO at the National Champs come from?

I got a road bike again after not having been on a roadie for about 10 years. With the EWS coming up I knew I had the skills and the power, but I had to get as fit as I possibly could. So I started road riding in October, but by the time I got to the new year I was feeling strong on the road bike, and I got a cross country bike too. I did a few of the local races, just having fun and I won some of them quite comfortably ahead of guys who’d done quite well at Nationals previously. At that point I decided I’d give Nationals a go.

I managed about six weeks of specific training for it ahead of the event. Again, the only way I can really stay motivated to train 100% is if I have lots of mini goals along the way. And it was just another bit of motivation to keep the training up for the Enduro season.

I’m looking forward to doing it all again. I’ve spent the last three weeks on the road bike and I’m hoping to take things a step further in XCO this year. It’s hard with cross-country training – I don’t want to lose my top end power and become just a climbing machine. It’s always going to be hard when I’m carrying 10 or so kilos more than most of the other top cross-country guys. But it’s good fun and I’m looking forward to giving it a good nudge.

 

Just on that, tell us about the process of shedding weight to race XCO.

Yeah, it was hard. In BMX and 4X there’s a lot of emphasis on maintaining your maximum strength, and most of the guys are carrying a bit of excess body fat. There are very riders out there who can be at their maximum strength and stay super lean. The first bit of weight came off pretty easy, but the rest was hard, 200g per week or so. I pretty much spent six months of the year feeling a little bit hungry the whole time.

 

How many calories a day were you limiting yourself to?

I don’t know, to me calorie counting and that kind of stuff just does my head in. If you’re watching that kind of stuff every day it just wears you down – you’ll end up in an asylum if you monitor that stuff too closely. I would just eat when I was really hungry, and only eat to the point I was satisfied.

Straight after the Australian National XCO Champs race I went back up three kilos, I started eating properly again because the focus changed to getting that top-end power back for good solid five minute efforts. When you’re primarily going downhill in enduro, weight’s your friend to a degree, helping you keep momentum.

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You could’ve smoked lots of cigarettes to supress your appetite.

Yeah, and that’ll shrink your lungs too, so that’d help save weight too!

 

Do you have general level of baseline training that you do regardless of what discipline you’re focused on at the time?

Yeah, definitely. I’m not the kind of person who can sit around. I had about five days completely off the bike when I got home from the World Champs and after the EWS too. And that’s about my limit – after five days without riding I feel like I’m a fat, lazy bum, and I need to get back onto the bike. It’s like a bipolar mood swing I have if I don’t get to ride!

As long as I can get in 8-10 hours on the bike a week, you know you’re keeping a decent level of fitness and it’d not too hard to get back up to a peak again from that level. That’s the minimum for to do to not feel like a sack of turd.

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Do you do a lot of cross training?

Nah, I mean I do exercises in the gym, but nothing else really. In the gym it’s not really about upper body stuff, just some core stuff and working on some muscle imbalances. You know, when you’re always riding one foot forward, then one leg will have different strength. I always have trouble with my right leg being stiff from having one foot forward, and this causes muscle imbalances in my hips and back.

All my training has some good wiggle room in there for my sanity; if I don’t feel like doing one thing one day, I can mix it up. But when you’re doing road, gym stuff, cross country, downhill runs there’s always something you want to do, which is nice.

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Do you have a coach?

No, it’s always something that I’ve had an interest in, and I’ve learnt a lot from sports scientists that we had access to over the years through the BMX program. Obviously there are some areas of specific knowledge when it comes to certain aspects of training, but for a lot of it it’s not really rocket science to work out what you need to do.

I’ve always on the computer looking for articles by different coaches, anything I can get my hands on. Now’s the time of year when I can experiment a bit more, a bit of trial and error to see what works for me. You get good at fishing out the stuff that sounds like absolute rubbish and the stuff that you feel will work for you.

 

We wanted to ask you about using power meters in your training. Is power training important to you?

Yeah, I can take my files from a racing and then apply that to training. But also I use it racing too, particularly in races where there are timed liaison stages. I could take my knowledge from using the power meter on the road bike and know what power output to sit on where I was able to recover but still maintain a decent speed. Whereas a lot of guys would ride flat-out to get to the top of the next stage so they could rest up when they got there, I was able to use the climb to the top of the next stage as an active recovery.

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Now, the Cycling Australia awards have just happened a couple of weeks ago. Despite coming second in the EWS and third at the World Champs in downhill, you didn’t even get a nomination – what’s the story?

Yeah, I figure they didn’t include the Enduro stuff because it’s not a UCI series… I don’t know, I’ve won that award a couple of times before, and the last time I won it I totally didn’t expect to even be nominated. So when I did win it I was overseas training already. This year, I thought I was a shoe-in for a nomination, maybe even with a chance at winning it. And to not get a nomination was hard to understand. It’s just one of those things.

I just get the feeling there may be some people there making the decisions who aren’t really that into the sport. I mean, I’ve always been a really big mountain bike fan, I can list off the names of the top riders from all the different disciplines, I follow it all because I just love cycling. But I think there are some people behind those awards who couldn’t name five of the top Enduro riders or five of the top downhillers. That’s what frustrates me, they’re meant to be in charge of our sport in this country.

 

How old are you now?

I am thirty.

 

And where do you see yourself in ten years time?

Ha, who knows? Running around with the kiddies somewhere, just cruising. I don’t know – one thing I’ve learnt is that life has its own plans. You can map things out but you never really know; I’m lucky that things have always kind of fallen into place for me to some extent. Opportunities come up, and if they interest me I’ll take them as far as I can.

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You’ve won titles in most disciplines. What do you rate as your greatest cycling achievement to date?

Jeez, there’s probably not one. I put a few of them on pretty level par. I think the things where I’ve really gone after it are what make me proudest. The Olympics is one of those things – I’d only been racing BMX for a couple of years, so to get to that level in a relatively short time made me pretty happy. And this year again, getting to the level I’ve got with Enduro makes me proud. I guess anything where I’ve really worked my butt of to get to a goal and then achieved it I rate equally, it’s about as satisfying as it gets.

 

Is there any goal you must tick off before you’ll be completely happy?

Ah, I don’t know about a ‘must’. I’m too competitive to not win races, so what’s most important for me is to keep progressing. If there’s ever a time that I feel I’m not going forward then that’s when I’ll be done with racing.

 

We’ve got a few questions that have come to us via Facebook, including someone asking if they can see you in the nude. Ok, number one: If you to pick one, which discipline would you race for the rest of your life?

Oh, it’s got to be Enduro. It’s the one I would’ve picked from the very start had it been an option all those years ago.

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What’s one cycling item you couldn’t live without?

I’m pretty partial to a good set of riding duds. Whether it be lycra on the road bike, or some good baggies on the mountain bike – any really nicely made shorts. You know it when you’re wearing crap shorts.

 

What is your diet like – are you picky?

I’m not the perfect eater, but I am conscious of what I eat. You definitely won’t see me lining up at the Macca’s drive-through. We try to eat good veggies, fruit and meat, stay away from the crap. There’s always a few little things in the house, biscuits and things like that. My wife Jess is actually probably more of an influence on my diet than any constraints I’ve put on myself. That said, if you put a block of chocolate in front of me I can’t keep my hands off it.

 

A tech question from Facebook: I notice you run Saint calipers with XTR levers for Enduro, but at the downhill World Champs you had normal Saint brakes. Why?

Ha, that’s someone who has spent too much time looking at photos! Nah, I just prefer the feel of the XTR Race brakes – I use the Race levers, without the Servo Wave just because I prefer the smooth feel of the levers. At the Worlds, the only brakes I had in the team stock were Saint, so we just threw them on there. It wasn’t a performance thing.

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Have you experimented with different wheel sizes much?

You know, it’s so funny reading all the comments online about this stuff. It seems there’s two different types of internet warriors: there’s the ‘wheel size is everything’ guys, then the ‘rider is everything’ side. It’s obviously the rider, but the wheel size is a factor. 27.5” works, and it’s obviously the future. I think Jerome Clementz said it well in an interview I read, when he pointed out that the big reason to still be on 26” still is that tyre manufacturers haven’t quite caught up yet and there’s not the same range of tyres out there yet in 27.5”.

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Do you run tubeless on your enduro bike?

Oh, yeah, there’s no way you could run tubes. I run ghetto tubeless, using a 24” tube. With the ghetto tubeless setup, there’s pretty much no way you can burp your tyre, unless you hit something really, really hard. I run EXO sidewall tyres from Maxxis, and I didn’t have many flats all year, and none in my race runs.

Here’s something that speaks volumes about the ghetto tubeless setup; I had a pretty beat up wheel that I’d installed in practice for Whistler. We put a brand new tyre on with a 24” tube ghetto tubeless setup. When we pulled the tyre off a couple of days later after it was pretty beat up, I found ten pinches in the tube where the tube overlapped the rim bead. That would have been ten pinches in the actual tyre had I been using a standard tubeless setup. And dead set, the rim looked like a stop sign it was so beat up, but it was still sealed up fine and holding air.

 

Final question, what would you like to be remembered for: versatility, competitiveness or raw talent?

I guess the only way to answer that would be as a combination of all three really. They’re all really important to me, so that’s what I’ll go for.

Jared Graves Interview, Part 1: Enduro World Series and the DH World Champs

Jared Graves has had an incredible year. Perhaps the most versatile and dedicated mountain biker of our time, in 2013 he claimed second overall in the inaugural Enduro World Series, bagged a spectacular third place at the World Champs in downhill and raced at the sharp end of XCO at the National Champs.

We caught up with Jared Graves, calling in from his hometown of Toowoomba. Incidentally our chat came just a couple of days before his local club played host to the Queensland State Enduro Championships (on the same day as his first wedding anniversary!). In part one of our interview, we chat with Jared about his successes in both the Enduro World Series and the World Champs, but we begin by asking him about the scene right there in Toowoomba.

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How’s it all looking for the race this weekend?

Yeah, it should be good. We’ve got great trails for Enduro racing. There’s about 300 metres vertical to play with here, so for Australia that’s pretty solid. One stage is about six minutes if I have a good run, so that’s pretty decent.

 

Things really seem like they’re going very well for Enduro in Queensland.

Yep, we’ve got some good guys here, people like Ian Hardwood really pushing it. That’s what you really need, some people who just push it. It’s been really successful; I’ve got a few downhill bikes in the garage I’m trying to sell, but no one wants to buy them! Everyone just wants the enduro bike, something they can do anything on.

 

You’ve probably had a bit of an impact on that.

I don’t know, I feel like that’s the way the club has been going for a few years now. There used to be talk about getting another downhill track, but more and more trails general have been going in. We’ve got a really solid network now – it’s probably a good three-hour ride to take in everything we’ve got. There’s new stuff going in all the time. You’ll go out and suddenly see a new section of singletrack with a couple of diggers parked in the middle of it. It’s cool. We’ve got a good group of maybe 20 guys who love getting in there with a shovel.

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Let’s have a chat about the Enduro World Series (EWS). What are your thoughts about the series in its inaugural year?

Going into it I had no idea what it’d be like. I had the idea that if you were a well-rounded rider, you’d go ok. I mean I’ve got a downhill background, and a cross-country background from when I was a young fella. And so I sort of trained with that in mind; I really just worked on everything to be as fit and strong as possible.

One thing I knew would work in my favour is that I’ve always ridden the smaller bikes better than the downhill bike. It’s almost like that as downhill bikes got better, as suspension technology improved, my results went down. I mean my focus changed too, but the smaller bikes suits my style a bit more, I tend to go faster on the small bikes. I think it’s just my technique – I’ve got a good position on the bike, using my body more than just the suspension. You see so many young guys now on World Cups who you can just tell have never had to ride the fully rigid cromo bikes with cantilever brakes. I started pre v-brakes.

You see these young guys now who absolutely rely on the bike, they just plough through a section. If you put them on hardtail they’d have no idea at all. The really good kids would be fine, because they ride all kinds of different bikes. But there are so many kids who just say ‘I want to be a downhiller’ and all they ride is their downhill bike.

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When did you make the decision to make the EWS your focus?

Well, the start of 2012 I trained hard for downhill, but as soon as we got underway with the World Cups, I realised that deep down it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing.

It was kind of a bit of a weird time. We did this one enduro in Spain, we thought we’d do it for a bit of fun, for a bit of variety in the training. It wasn’t the most competitive field, but I won it and I really enjoyed it. After that I thought I’d do Crankworx, because I was going to Whistler anyhow to train. So I did the Enduro there and won a stage, and I thought I had just been stuffing around, I only got there the day before and did a tiny bit of practice. So I thought, ‘shit, I could probably go pretty good at this’. And I just love the style of riding too, you get more time on your bike, it’s just how I wanted to ride.

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So how did the actual series go from your perspective? Was it a good cohesive kind of series even with the variety of different formats?

Yeah, I think everyone really liked the varying formats! Some people got confused with it, but you really only needed to spend half an hour on the internet to work out exactly what was going on – there are a few different formats, the Italian format, the French format etc. But once you read about them, you knew what you were in for. Some riders did better at a certain format where you might get more practice, while other riders did better at the French format where you only get one practice run then have to go flat out into it. And again I think it showed the more rounded rider as you needed to be good regardless of the format. I hope they continue doing it like that.

 

Do you think we’ll see more specialist Enduro riders in 2014?

I think that’s how it’s going already. For the downhill guys though, enduro is really the perfect way to train. You get a lot of time on your bike, it’s physically hard, and you’re in that race frame of mind.

Still, it doesn’t necessarily translate; there are some guys who are fast on downhill bikes who aren’t nearly so quick in Enduro, and vice versa. I mean, there are a lot of downhill guys who were scratching their heads wondering why they weren’t going faster or placing higher in the Enduros.

I was thinking about it the other day; I don’t think you’ll ever be at your full potential in downhill without motocross, I don’t think you’ll ever be at the top of 4X without BMX and I don’t think you’ll ever be at the top of Enduro unless you race a bit of downhill. The cross-training goes hand in hand.

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What makes a good Enduro rider fast?

When you look at downill and Enduro, the mentality is the same. But the trails and style are different. Enduro trails tend to be more raw, more natural. But downhill I feel is getting more like motocross. The tracks are very man made; the trails start off quite man made and groomed and then get more and more rutted out. To me it’s not really a pure form of mountain biking anymore.

Perhaps that’s why the speed doesn’t always translate. Minnaar for example, at the first round in Italy, he didn’t do that well. And everyone on the forums was saying, ‘oh he was just there having fun,’ but he was deadset scratching his head wondering why he was so far off the pace, losing 30 seconds in a five-minute stage. I can’t put a finger on what it is, but I had expected Minnaar to be up there too.

Then at the second round, Greg turned it around and got third overall, he got a stage win. It’s just a different form of racing and something doesn’t always click.

 

From a rider’s point of view, do you feel like the coverage missed anything?

Oh yeah, sometimes, for instance there might only be time for media to film the pedally bit at the bottom because there hasn’t been enough time for them to get tot the gnarly bit up the top. A bit like the World’s course in South Africa – on TV you’d think it was all just pedalling and the groomed jumps at the bottom, when there was actually some proper full-on downhill up the top. But then you’d rather have that coverage then no coverage at all.

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Spectating must be hard.

Yeah sure, but at some races the spectators were wild. Like in Whistler or in Italy – in Italy there were masses of people out on course.

 

Can you quickly explain the different formats?

The Italian format generally sees you climbing to the top yourself. The stages are generally shorter because you can’t obviously have five stages in a day where you need to climb a thousand vertical metres each stage. You tended to have two days of practice before the race, which was normally enough to have a couple of runs down each of the stages.

The French format, because they have such big mountains, it’s good to take advantage of that vertical and have some really long stages, so they tended to have uplifts. Some of the races had a minimum of 800 metres vertical descent each stage, with up to 1500m – 15 minutes of pure downhill, very physical, high speed. Some people say ‘that’s not enduro’, but the enduro aspect comes from having very long, very physical descents. Some of the French races had two hours of racing per race.

In the French format you have one practice run per stage, right before the race. So you do a practice of stage 1, then your race run of stage 1, then a practice of stage 2, then your race of stage 2.

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That sounds so awesome.

Yeah, I loved them. The courses flow really well and you can see far enough ahead that you can hit them very fast even on the first run. They’re careful to not put things in that will completely catch you off guard. I like to go pretty much flat out on my sighting run, so I can see how it all feels at speed and see what might catch you out. And that’s kind of a skill in itself, knowing how to make the most out of a practice run. You don’t have time to stress about it.

The two in America, at Crankworx and at the Winter Park race, they had a combination of formats. Actually at Winter Park we mainly used the chairlift because of the altitude. They actually ended up shortening some of the stages because people were passing out in their race runs; a lot of the stages started at over 11,000ft, the base of the mountain was even over 9,000ft. At that altitude you can go into oxygen debt in like 30 seconds. A well-paced race run at altitude should feel very slow at first. If you’re breathing hard in the first few minutes, you’ve blown it pretty much!

 

In Australia, there’s definitely a lot of discussion of what the most appropriate format is. 

I think the Italian format is definitely the best in most instances in Australia. But still, that can be hard too because that’s a lot of pedalling for the some riders you’re trying to encourage into the sport. But overall I think riding to the top is the best option. Shuttles can be a pain in the butt to organise, they can add to the expense and things go wrong. I mean, some places like Thredbo or Buller obviously use the chairlift, but somewhere like Stromlo you should definitely be pedalling back up.

One thing I have seen from race reports in Australia is that some Enduros just become mini downhills on trail bikes. To me, that’s not what Enduro is, that’s just multiple stage downhill racing. Even here in Toowoomba, when I was riding with some of the guys and looking at trails to include in the Enduro State Champs, I pointed out one trail and said it’d be good, but they said ‘oh, but it’s got a little climb in it.’ But that’s just meant to be part of it – it brings the fitness side into it. I mean, the good thing is that Enduro can be whatever the race organiser wants it to be. The only thing I don’t like is when there’s just a one-minute downhill – that seems pointless to me.

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Did you change your bike setup much during the season with the massive variety in formats?

I tried to keep it the same mostly. I guess the thing is, when you practice the track you get an idea of what the terrain is like you might make a few tiny changes – chain ring size, brake rotors perhaps. But the pressure in my fork and shock didn’t change one bit all year. You just don’t have time to change your setup to suit different stages, and every time you change your setup it takes a run or two to adapt and get comfortable.

I think that’s good too, especially for people getting into the sport, that you don’t need to make that many changes. At World Cup level in downhill, suspension can make such a huge difference, but in Enduro you can kind if take that aspect out of it and just go ride.

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What’s your relationship with Jerome Clementz like?

He’s a really good guy! I mean, the Frenchies can have a reputation for being a bit happy to get into the grey areas when it comes to shortcuts on the course. But Jerome isn’t like that; he’s the perfect guy to have as the face of Enduro, he’s a nice guy who loves riding his bike. He’s everything that Enduro is all about in my mind.

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Moving on to downhill. What was more important to you; getting third in downhill at the Worlds or second overall in Enduro?

Well in terms of my year goals, I was more focused on Enduro results for sure. But at Worlds I knew it was a track I could do well at and a medal was always my goal. And I didn’t realise until after the result what an effect my result would have; so many people just blew up about it, it got so much attention, it’s been really cool and a nice bonus at the end of the year.

I knew it’d take a really good run, and that’s what I got. I had to take it a bit steady up top on the little bike, but on the bottom half of the track the bike paid dividends. As far as a single result of the year goes, it’s the best.

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Was there a point that you regretted riding the SB66?

Well, my downhill bike was there. But it came down to what I was comfortable on. At the Fort William World Cup at the start of the year I was just there having fun, but even still I didn’t really ever feel comfortable on the downhill bike, even after three days straight on it. For me it takes a couple of weeks on a bike before I feel like I know exactly what it’s doing, like it has become an extension of my body. And at Fort William I was coming into rough sections and not knowing fully how the bike was going to react. And that’s always going to slow you down.

I knew I’d need to be fully comfortable on the bike to get the result I wanted at World Champs. And when we walked the track after the juniors had been on it for two days, I was a bit unsure – you sort of forget how rough bits get after they get chopped up during practice. It felt a bit sketchy at the start of practice on the SB66, but then everyone was saying they couldn’t find grip out there, so I wasn’t the only one. But then by the day before race day I knew I’d made the right choice.

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Come back soon for part two of our chat with Jared Graves where we talk about training, racing across multiple disciplines and Jared answers your questions.

 

Interview: Bec And Dan Answer Your Questions

Here is your interview with Australia’s Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell of the Trek Factory Racing team.

We asked you to submit your questions and here are their answers. Some were light hearted and some more serious and in 10 minutes to you get to learn a little more about both Bec and Dan following their amazing 2013 World Cup season.

From super children, to race tactics, to domestic bliss – it’s all in here.

Interview: Paul Rowney

Paul Rowney has some stories to tell, all delivered with a bit of mischief and down-the-line-honesty. His past holds a massive list of mountain biking accolades, including representing his country at the World Champs and Olympics multiple times.

But it’s his role as Mr Yeti that has kept him busy for most of the past decade, and now he’s adding a couple of new brands to the mix at Rowney Sports with Niner and Devinci too.

A regular drop-in at Flow HQ, this time we sat PR down in the Flow Lounge, offered him an ice-cream and a soapbox to chat about everything from the new 2014 bikes, to World Champs racing and learning Mandarin. Makes for an entertaining few minutes of vid, we think!

Interview: MASSIVELY CHAMPTASTIC – Paul Van Der Ploeg

Paul Van Der Ploeg 9

Flow caught up with newly crowned XCE World Champion Paul Van Der Ploeg at Durban airport as he prepared to fly home to Victoria via god-knows-where – “I’ve got like a 27 hour flight home. I was a bit of a tight arse because Worlds was costing me so much that I just booked the cheapest flight I could.”

Anyone who has ever crossed paths with this amicable giant of a man will know that he’s one of the true characters of Australian mountain biking – a smiling, hilarious, unassuming fella. For us here at Flow, seeing Paul don the World Championship stripes was a golden moment. Congratulations, you mad big unit!

What a moment! The jersey suits you, Paul! The beard, not so much.
What a moment! The jersey suits you, Paul! The beard, not so much.

Continue reading “Interview: MASSIVELY CHAMPTASTIC – Paul Van Der Ploeg”

Interview: Chris Cocalis of Pivot Cycles, Part 2

Chris Cocalis is the brains behind one of the most successful young brands in mountain biking, Pivot Cycles. But successful bike companies don’t sprung up like mushrooms in your fridge veggie cooler – to ride the road to the top takes decades of dedication and experience.

In our two-part interview, we chat with Chris Cocalis about his history, the birth of Pivot, mistakes, patents, the future of bikes and what he hates and loves about the industry. Read on for part 2, and for a refresher, part 1 is here.


cocalis masthead

Was it a big call to release a carbon bike?

Yes and no. When we launched, Ibis already had a carbon trail bike. It was reaching a point where you almost needed a carbon bike to be cool. But at that time, I still knew you could build a better, lighter aluminium bike than you could a carbon. At that time, we did a lot of benchmarking – back in 2007, everybody’s claims about their carbon bikes being lighter and stiffer were complete bullshit. There just wasn’t a good carbon bike at the time – they were all heavier, flexier and less durable than a comparable aluminium bike. The bike companies would just spec them up with nicer components and lighter wheels to prop up the performance. It’s not really a secret now, but back at the time, Giant had their Anthem in carbon and aluminium – none of the World Cup guys wanted to race the carbon bike, it was too flexy, it was heavy, it was considerably worse than the aluminium version. Even those original Ibis bikes, you kind of flexed them around the corner. It reminded me of early titanium bikes – yes you can build a bike out of it, but it sucked. And carbon back then was at that level. With all our benchmarking, I could see that the aluminium bikes were better, and I was going to continue with aluminium until I knew we could actually make a product that was better in carbon.

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So what changed?

There were some technologies that were beginning to take things in the right direction; Easton were using it in their bars and some components, but it was a big stretch to take it to bike frames. One of the partners I’d been working with back at Titus, who had been in Taiwan for 16 years, set up a composites factory. He had just a few customers; there was Zipp, Enve (or Edge Composites as it was called back then) and Syntace. If you look at those brands, those are names that are known for immense quality and amazing testing. And so he began working on ways of taking those technologies that these brands implemented across to a bicycle frame.

But even with those technologies now available, it still took two years, not just of design, but of actual carbon development, to get to that level were we hit all three of those targets – lighter, stiffer more durable. And if you look at the 5.7 Carbon, the benefits are there, but even still they’re not massive. It’s 0.3 of a pound lighter, 5-7% stiffer, but when you look at the durability, that’s the big difference. I mean, we don’t have warranty problems with our aluminium bikes, but the tests we put the carbon bikes through, there’s no way an aluminium bike would survive them! When it comes to fatigue life and impact, carbon is a different league.

You’ve just unveiled the Mach 6 and Firebird 27.5″ – do you regard the wheelsize debate as fundamental, or not, to the development of mountain bikes?

I wouldn’t say it’s fundamental. I’m actually pretty bummed that almost overnight, people regard the 26” wheel as being somehow dead – like you can’t effectively mountain bike on a 26” wheel or something. The opposite is true. The 26” wheel is at the pinnacle of its evolution. I mean, 29ers still aren’t as good as they could be or will be some day, and 650B is still very much at its beginnings. But then you’ve got 26” trail bikes, like the 5.7 Carbon, that are just frickin magic! And not just ours, there are other people’s bikes that are fantastic, but suddenly they’re yesterday’s news.

We can fit 650B wheels into a 5.7, and it’s a little faster, but it also loses something. A little liveliness and its fun factor. But the Firebird, when you but 27.5″ wheels into it, man it just gets so good – I’d say easily 20% better. It is so kick-ass as a 27.5″ it’s kind of mind bending. One of our enduro pros rode his local loop on the 27.5″ Firebird – my personal bike, with my setup – and he knocked nine minutes off his best time round an hour and a half loop! The only difference was the wheel size, and the bike wasn’t even properly set up for him. Somehow the bike just got that much better with a 27.5″.

But still, I feel that once we all go away from 26-inch wheels, we’ll have given something up that we can never quite get back. But sometimes that happens.

Pivot Mach 6 studio-2

Getting back to Dave Weagle’s ‘I can’t fit the front derailleur’ problem – how do you feel about single-ring drivetrains and the possibilities and challenges it opens up to you as a frame designer?

I don’t think it’s likely or possible in the near future that we should be going to a one-by drivetrain on every bike. For a certain segment of riders or for certain type of trail, XX1 or XO1 are super kick ass. But I won’t go to Colorado with my XX1 bike. I did an endurance race up in Flagstaff that had a tonne of climbing on it, so I took my 429 Carbon XX1 bike with a 28 tooth up front. And man, I paid the price on every climb – I needed two gears lower – and then I’d spin it out on every descent. I spent the whole race wishing I had a double chain ring up it, like a 22/36.

So that’s where I’m at on that issue. And I joke with Shimano, let’s just go to a 14-speed and you can give me a 9-56 tooth cassette out back… and then I’ll go to a one-by drivetrain.

So, is there a component that you feel is holding back bike design fundamentally?

Yes. We’ve been talking to manufacturers about front derailleurs for a long time. They’re one of the most restrictive things in terms of suspension design, clearance and weight. There’s always a compromise for the front derailleur. So I don’t see the front derailleur going away soon, but I do see it evolving into something that doesn’t take up so much room or function in the same way as it does today.

And what form do you think that could be?

Ha, I will not comment on that at this point in time!

On a similar note, what then do you think will be the next frontier of mountain bike design and engineering?

I kind of feel like we’re one of the people leading the charge when it comes to a bike that can do it all, or least do a lot more. This balance of a bike that can do so much, that’s where the industry focus is going to continue to go. Of course there’ll still be development for the pointy end of World Cup racing, but hell we’ve got people out there cross country racing on Mach 5.7s and they’re competitive.

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Finally, just two more questions; first, what is one thing you’d change about the bike industry, and second, what’s one thing you’d never change?

If there was one thing I’d change, it would be the whole ‘year model’ cycle of the industry. The bigger companies just constantly trying to trump each other, it’s horrible for everybody, right down to the rider. Companies like FOX and SRAM are showing things at Sea Otter in April for the next year! I mean, it’s just the start of the new season, it’s not even summer yet for most of the country – the cold parts are getting battered by their biggest snow storms. The cycling business isn’t even cranking for the year yet, but the brands are already showing off new product that’s ‘vapourware’, it doesn’t even exist yet. Customers are going into the shop to look at 2013 bikes and already they’ve seen all the details about the 2014 stuff. Sure it doesn’t even exist yet, they can’t get it, but all the cool stuff they’re looking at is suddenly somehow old. And it devalues everything. And for the consumer it sucks too, because all this stuff that should be so new and cool is somehow not anymore – their excitement gets taken down a notch.

And sometimes stuff gets shown and it never even comes out! Look at the Fox Float fork with the titanium crown/steerer from a few years ago; it never made it into production, but their were ad campaigns and marketing dollars spent everywhere.

It’s getting a lot worse right now. Everyone is pulling in development and lead times so much. When I go to Taiwan now, Mavic and DT Swiss won’t just be showing me things that they’re thinking about, or stuff that’s on the drawing board. They present me with finished product. It’s almost like we’ve just missed a year! We’re in 2013, why is all this stuff called 2014? It’s not fair on the bike shops either – they need to have time to sell through their stock, without people already demanding the next year’s ‘new’ gear.

We’re shooting ourselves in the foot as an industry, and it’s doing a lot of damage. So for us, something like the Mach 5.7 doesn’t have model years. It’s not going to get three new colours because it’s a new year. It sees a natural life cycle – and I think our customers and dealers appreciate it.

And on the flipside, what’s something you’d never want to see changed?

The family nature. It’s small but it’s big. It is big business, billions of dollars, but I can sit down with the president of Shimano, I can go on a four hour bike ride with Mike Sinyard. And that’s cool, and maybe a customer could be on that same ride too. Or a customer can call up and I can speak to them directly if they’ve got questions about their bike. And I enjoy that part of it; we’re a business, and we feed a lot of mouths, but we sell happiness and we love what we do. And that’s what I love about this business and that’s what I wouldn’t want to change.

 

 

 

Interview: Josh Carlson, Chief Frother at Giant – Part One

Flow caught up with a busted Josh Carlson at the Giant 27.5″ media event in Utah a while back. Josh had only just recovered enough from his injuries to attend the event and even getting back on a stationary road bike for a photo shoot was hard work. Josh, being Josh, is a trooper though and no matter what you ask, he’ll do it with a smile.

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Josh is a super positive person, an absolute pinner on a bike, and his story is most definitely not one of an overnight success. Dreams of being a motocross star filled his youth and his love and passion for mountain bikes came a while after the tough choice to give up those dreams.

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Years later, through hard work, sacrifice, determination and the support from those close to him, Josh is now living his dreams again.

Check out this first part of our interview with Josh as he tells his story and what lead him to move overseas and have a crack at the Enduro World Series. We also get to learn about his crash and injuries sustained at the Enduro event in France.

Interview: Frank Stacy, Bontrager’s Rubber Wizard

Frank Stacy’s life is an exercise in traction. A tyre engineer and designer, Frank has spent years defining that perfect balance we take for granted when we roll our treads out onto the dirt. During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Frank took some time out from field-testing to explain to us the challenges, processes and black arts of tyre design and construction. Here’s what he had to say.

 

The evolution of a tyre designer

I grew up in the motorcycle industry. My family owned a motorcycle dealership near Buffalo, New York and we all practised and raced together. Dad had an amazing work ethic and he was a top local racer. He taught me so much about the business, about motorcycle mechanics and how the smallest of changes to the bike, such as tyre pressure, tread pattern or suspension can add up to big gains on the race track. I’ve never forgotten this and I continue to emphasise this to the young riders I work with today: Pay attention to the little things. Small differences, they add up in the end.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview2
Frank Stacy and Emily Batty. Beauty and the Rubber Beast. No second guesses who’s who…

I raced motorcycles as a professional from age 18 to 28 when, in 1981, Dunlop Tire Corp hired me as their lead test rider. They sent me around the world to work with incredible groups of tyre engineers and test riders to learn the art of tread design, casing structure, rubber compounding, tyre manufacturing and tyre testing.

In early 1995 my wife Carol and I started our own company, Stacy Testing and Tire Specialist Inc. Later that year Specialized Bicycle Components approached me about designing and developing its complete tyre line for the US and the world. I worked with Specialized until June 2010 – after 15 years, I was eager to grow and focus on the latest technology and innovation in the bicycle tyre industry. I received a call from the tyre management team at Trek Bontrager. I met with them and after one meeting they had convinced me they were eager to improve, and that they would provide the backing needed to build the Bontrager tyre line to be a leading brand. So in July 2010 I signed on to be Bontrager’s director of Tire and Rubber Technology.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview3
Seeing Aaron Gwin on top of the downhill world riding Bontrager rubber must’ve been one hell of a feeling for Frank and Carol Stacy.

My hands-on experience in motorcycles has given me an advantage in what I bring to the bicycle tyre industry. I’ve always felt that off-road motorcycle tyres have a lot of cross-over to mountain bike tyres. For example, the tread pattern ‘land-to-sea’ ratio, the casing structure and the rubber compound are all key points. Where there is a big difference is weight and rolling resistance. These two areas are low priority on a motorcycle tyre because a motorbike has power to spare, but with bicycles it’s very different. Also, pinch flats on motorcycle tyres are almost non-existent, but they’re a huge factor for mountain bike tyres.

On working with Bontrager

Working with Bontrager now on its tyre program has been a very positive experience and I feel like we’ve made some great changes. The thing that surprised me the most when I came to Bontrager was that some of its factory mountain bike race teams were racing on other brands of tyres. This blew me away. First on my list was to prove to those teams that with their help and the right people behind the tyre program, we can make winning tyres. After one year of designing treads, casing structures and compounds, and tons of work, we now have all the factory mountain bike teams, and several support teams all using Bontrager tyres. We enjoyed huge success over the past two years in cross country, enduro and downhill. Seeing Aaron Gwin on the podium at the Downhill World Cups, arguably the best proving ground for mountain bike tyres, was definitely a good feeling.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview9

Proving the product at the highest levels is our top priority at Trek Bontrager. I’ve always been a believer in field-testing, and to me, results at the top tier of racing are a true indicator of tyre performance.

Having said that, there’s a huge development process that leads to a tyre being raced on that kind of stage, a mixture of both lab testing and rider feedback. I’ve always believed you have to understand the tyre’s intended application before you even begin. For example, for cross country, fast rolling and lightweight are a priority, traction a close second, with handling and wear in third. For downhill tyres, traction is way out front in priority, handling is second, weight is third and wear is a distant fourth. Once you have your priorities, you can begin to decide what the tread should look like and what materials are used for casing and compound spec.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview11

Designing rubber compounding is an art. There are four main properties in rubber compounds: polymer (rubber can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both), carbon black (which affects the tyre’s durability, hardness and traction level, and makes the rubber black), oils (which alters traction and hardness) and fillers (basically to protect against cracking, ozone and those types of things). I’m not a chemist but I have many years of designing the basic formula for rubber compounds to learn which part of the formula affects what. I determine the basic formula by analysing competitors’ compounds through field-testing and laboratory research. Across the Bontrager tyre range we use around eight different compounds, some of which are proprietary to Trek Bontrager.

The best proving grounds

In terms of the actual testing, we focus on four main elements in the lab: rolling resistance, puncture and cut resistance, compound analysis and wet/dry traction. For some of our lab testing we engage a third party, based in Finland, too. The testing in the field is where my passion lies – I’m very hands-on with my testing programs. I monitor everything from the fitting of the tyres to tyre pressures, and I watch the tyres with my own eyes, on various areas of the course, and I collect data from the riders firsthand.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview15

The first thing I tell the test riders is, go out and learn your lines and set the bike up how you want it. Once you’ve done this, the only change we’ll make is to the tyres under you. Be consistent with each set of tyres: hit the same lines and do your best to carry the same amount of speed everywhere. If you mess up, throw that lap away and start over. I don’t need lap records, it’s most important to be consistent and pay attention to the small differences.

I’ve worked with several of the best riders in the world, motorcycle and bicycle. I’ve learned that just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they will be a good test rider. It takes a certain feel to be a good test rider, and only a small percentage of racers have it. Over time it’s rewarding to see their education in tyre-testing develop and grow, and to ultimately choose the right tyre for the right conditions to race and win.

My wife Carol comes along to the tyre tests and takes photos. That gives us the ability to review the terrain and the surfaces after the test, and to compare with other tests we’ve completed. Additionally, Carol’s photos go with my test reports so the Trek staff can get a better visual of our test without being there.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview14

It’s undeniable that tyres have come a long way in the past 15 or so years. Just take a look at tubeless-ready technology for an example. Tubeless didn’t start out so good because too many companies rushed it to market before they understand the application. Now, however, even the weekend rider can set his or her tyres up tubeless and enjoy the benefits. Having said that, tubeless technology for downhill is one area where there’s room for considerable improvement. There are a few top brands testing downhill tubeless and this drives technology, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for cross country, trail or even road tubeless. Motocross tyres are still tube type – I worked on a motocross tubeless project for Dunlop Tires back in the mid 80s. Even though we won races with it, it had too many teething problems so it never went to production. But I’m pretty confident that, with Trek Bontrager design, technology and resources, we’re going to get it right, so stay tuned.

I’ve always said if you’re in it to be the best, you never down tools with design, development or testing – we’ve just scratched the surface of where tyres can go. I’m constantly searching for the next generation rubber compound, casing material and tread design… There’s always lots more to do!

 

Interview: Frank Stacy, Bontrager's Rubber Wizard

Frank Stacy’s life is an exercise in traction. A tyre engineer and designer, Frank has spent years defining that perfect balance we take for granted when we roll our treads out onto the dirt. During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Frank took some time out from field-testing to explain to us the challenges, processes and black arts of tyre design and construction. Here’s what he had to say.

 

The evolution of a tyre designer

I grew up in the motorcycle industry. My family owned a motorcycle dealership near Buffalo, New York and we all practised and raced together. Dad had an amazing work ethic and he was a top local racer. He taught me so much about the business, about motorcycle mechanics and how the smallest of changes to the bike, such as tyre pressure, tread pattern or suspension can add up to big gains on the race track. I’ve never forgotten this and I continue to emphasise this to the young riders I work with today: Pay attention to the little things. Small differences, they add up in the end.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview2
Frank Stacy and Emily Batty. Beauty and the Rubber Beast. No second guesses who’s who…

I raced motorcycles as a professional from age 18 to 28 when, in 1981, Dunlop Tire Corp hired me as their lead test rider. They sent me around the world to work with incredible groups of tyre engineers and test riders to learn the art of tread design, casing structure, rubber compounding, tyre manufacturing and tyre testing.

In early 1995 my wife Carol and I started our own company, Stacy Testing and Tire Specialist Inc. Later that year Specialized Bicycle Components approached me about designing and developing its complete tyre line for the US and the world. I worked with Specialized until June 2010 – after 15 years, I was eager to grow and focus on the latest technology and innovation in the bicycle tyre industry. I received a call from the tyre management team at Trek Bontrager. I met with them and after one meeting they had convinced me they were eager to improve, and that they would provide the backing needed to build the Bontrager tyre line to be a leading brand. So in July 2010 I signed on to be Bontrager’s director of Tire and Rubber Technology.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview3
Seeing Aaron Gwin on top of the downhill world riding Bontrager rubber must’ve been one hell of a feeling for Frank and Carol Stacy.

My hands-on experience in motorcycles has given me an advantage in what I bring to the bicycle tyre industry. I’ve always felt that off-road motorcycle tyres have a lot of cross-over to mountain bike tyres. For example, the tread pattern ‘land-to-sea’ ratio, the casing structure and the rubber compound are all key points. Where there is a big difference is weight and rolling resistance. These two areas are low priority on a motorcycle tyre because a motorbike has power to spare, but with bicycles it’s very different. Also, pinch flats on motorcycle tyres are almost non-existent, but they’re a huge factor for mountain bike tyres.

On working with Bontrager

Working with Bontrager now on its tyre program has been a very positive experience and I feel like we’ve made some great changes. The thing that surprised me the most when I came to Bontrager was that some of its factory mountain bike race teams were racing on other brands of tyres. This blew me away. First on my list was to prove to those teams that with their help and the right people behind the tyre program, we can make winning tyres. After one year of designing treads, casing structures and compounds, and tons of work, we now have all the factory mountain bike teams, and several support teams all using Bontrager tyres. We enjoyed huge success over the past two years in cross country, enduro and downhill. Seeing Aaron Gwin on the podium at the Downhill World Cups, arguably the best proving ground for mountain bike tyres, was definitely a good feeling.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview9

Proving the product at the highest levels is our top priority at Trek Bontrager. I’ve always been a believer in field-testing, and to me, results at the top tier of racing are a true indicator of tyre performance.

Having said that, there’s a huge development process that leads to a tyre being raced on that kind of stage, a mixture of both lab testing and rider feedback. I’ve always believed you have to understand the tyre’s intended application before you even begin. For example, for cross country, fast rolling and lightweight are a priority, traction a close second, with handling and wear in third. For downhill tyres, traction is way out front in priority, handling is second, weight is third and wear is a distant fourth. Once you have your priorities, you can begin to decide what the tread should look like and what materials are used for casing and compound spec.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview11

Designing rubber compounding is an art. There are four main properties in rubber compounds: polymer (rubber can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both), carbon black (which affects the tyre’s durability, hardness and traction level, and makes the rubber black), oils (which alters traction and hardness) and fillers (basically to protect against cracking, ozone and those types of things). I’m not a chemist but I have many years of designing the basic formula for rubber compounds to learn which part of the formula affects what. I determine the basic formula by analysing competitors’ compounds through field-testing and laboratory research. Across the Bontrager tyre range we use around eight different compounds, some of which are proprietary to Trek Bontrager.

The best proving grounds

In terms of the actual testing, we focus on four main elements in the lab: rolling resistance, puncture and cut resistance, compound analysis and wet/dry traction. For some of our lab testing we engage a third party, based in Finland, too. The testing in the field is where my passion lies – I’m very hands-on with my testing programs. I monitor everything from the fitting of the tyres to tyre pressures, and I watch the tyres with my own eyes, on various areas of the course, and I collect data from the riders firsthand.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview15

The first thing I tell the test riders is, go out and learn your lines and set the bike up how you want it. Once you’ve done this, the only change we’ll make is to the tyres under you. Be consistent with each set of tyres: hit the same lines and do your best to carry the same amount of speed everywhere. If you mess up, throw that lap away and start over. I don’t need lap records, it’s most important to be consistent and pay attention to the small differences.

I’ve worked with several of the best riders in the world, motorcycle and bicycle. I’ve learned that just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they will be a good test rider. It takes a certain feel to be a good test rider, and only a small percentage of racers have it. Over time it’s rewarding to see their education in tyre-testing develop and grow, and to ultimately choose the right tyre for the right conditions to race and win.

My wife Carol comes along to the tyre tests and takes photos. That gives us the ability to review the terrain and the surfaces after the test, and to compare with other tests we’ve completed. Additionally, Carol’s photos go with my test reports so the Trek staff can get a better visual of our test without being there.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview14

It’s undeniable that tyres have come a long way in the past 15 or so years. Just take a look at tubeless-ready technology for an example. Tubeless didn’t start out so good because too many companies rushed it to market before they understand the application. Now, however, even the weekend rider can set his or her tyres up tubeless and enjoy the benefits. Having said that, tubeless technology for downhill is one area where there’s room for considerable improvement. There are a few top brands testing downhill tubeless and this drives technology, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for cross country, trail or even road tubeless. Motocross tyres are still tube type – I worked on a motocross tubeless project for Dunlop Tires back in the mid 80s. Even though we won races with it, it had too many teething problems so it never went to production. But I’m pretty confident that, with Trek Bontrager design, technology and resources, we’re going to get it right, so stay tuned.

I’ve always said if you’re in it to be the best, you never down tools with design, development or testing – we’ve just scratched the surface of where tyres can go. I’m constantly searching for the next generation rubber compound, casing material and tread design… There’s always lots more to do!

 

Interview: Chris Cocalis of Pivot Cycles Part 1

Chris Cocalis is the brains behind one of the most successful young brands in mountain biking, Pivot Cycles. But successful bike companies don’t sprung up like mushrooms in your fridge veggie cooler – to ride the road to the top takes decades of dedication and experience.

In our two-part interview, we chat with Chris Cocalis about his history, the birth of Pivot, mistakes, patents, the future of bikes and what he hates and loves about the industry. Read on for part 1.


Hello Chris, I assume you’re chatting to us from Pivot HQ in Phoenix, Arizona. For those of us who’ve never been, what’s it like there?

It’s a desert, highly technical terrain, rocky. This time of year we’re in monsoon, so it’s not quite as hot, but by most people’s standards still melting. It can run to 45, 46 degrees.  We get three months of semi-miserable weather but we can still ride every day, and the rest of the year it’s paradise, the perfect place to put bikes to the test.

Pivot as a brand is comparatively young, but you’ve been in the industry for a very long time. Tell us about it.

I grew up in the Chicago area and I was a total bike kid from when I was about nine years old, just hanging out in the bike store. They couldn’t get rid of me until I turned 14 and was old enough to start getting a pay cheque there.

I started racing BMX when I was 12. I grew up in the Chicago area and left in 1987 to go to university here in Arizona. In the early days of BMX we were breaking everything and as I got bigger there weren’t any pro level, pro length BMX frames, so I designed one and had a company make it for me. I added like 50mm to the top tube length which is like three frame sizes! It was a horrendous mess; you couldn’t wheelie it out of the gate. There was one behemoth on the team who loved it! But that was my first introduction to how small changes can make big differences. That was when I was in high school – so that was kind of the start of bike design for me.

All the stuff happening in mountain bikes – cranks breaking, forks folding, axles snapping – it was like 1983 in BMX all over again!

I really was a hard core BMX guy, I didn’t know much about mountain bikes at all – I came out to Arizona, got my pro license and that was my whole impetus for moving here, there were enough race tracks that I could race seven nights a week if I wanted to.

When I started working in a bike store, everybody there was a mountain biker and I immediately got into mountain biking. It was interesting; all the stuff happening in mountain bikes – cranks breaking, forks folding, axles snapping – it was like 1983 in BMX all over again! So one of the first things I did was design a bottom bracket out of titanium; used double row bearings, and moved the cups outside so there was as little spindle sticking out as possible. Anything to get it stiffer and stronger. I was converting BMX hubs to make them mountain bike hubs, because the bearings were bigger and would hold up better.

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Finding some flow in the desert. Phoenix Arizona is home to classic western USA terrain – lots of red rock, technical ascents and descents that will punish a stray wheel. Perfect for testing out new bikes.

Then in 1988 a guy stopped into a bike shop I was managing with a frame he had brazed. It was a horrible excuse for a mountain bike frame. The angles were all bad. But he knew how to braze and I got pretty interested in that and I told him I would teach him about frame geometry if he taught me how to braze.

We formed a very informal partnership, which basically meant I’d go over to his house in the evening and build bikes with him. They were an elevated chain stay bike, called the Sun Eagle Bicycle Works Talon. I still have my original one, and Dirt Rag in the US did a piece recently and found one in some bicycle museum back east – we only built like 10 of these things. But one of the ones we built we took over to Mountain Bike Action in 1988 and it ended up in a piece called Bikes of the Future; I still have a copy of it at my house. It was pretty cool, because we were in some elite company. Mantis had a couple of bikes in there and the Nishiki Alien was launched at that time too. It was neat to be in college and have an article in Mountain Bike Action.

 But one of the ones we built we took over to Mountain Bike Action in 1988 and it ended up in a piece called Bikes of the Future; I still have a copy of it at my house.

But we couldn’t get the steel elevated chainstay bike stiff enough for my liking. I wanted to change things, my friend/partner didn’t want to, so I stopped going over to his house. That was the extent of that!

In 1989 I met a guy who was a titanium welder. His wife was shopping at the grocery store next door and he stopped into thee bike store. He knew nothing about bikes but said he could make anything our of titanium; I thought he was crazy. Merlin had just launched their first titanium bikes in 1987 and my friend had one. It was cool looking bike, but it was a horrible riding, super flexy and had alignment problems – his was like frame number 12. But the idea was cool and the bike was light. So I took this guy up on his claim and we started getting together and TIG welding some stuff; titanium bar ends and titanium bar/stem combos, and eventually a titanium frame. And that was how Titus was born.

Not long after I met a guy called John Raider at a bike race; he was the guy who invented the Aheadset. He was a big deal in the industry. He had some ideas for a suspension bike design and he asked if I’d be willing to help him. I was, and so we started building some prototypes and he showed them to Univega and GT. Univega ended up buying the design and they wanted this high-end bike. So they came to me with an order for 175 titanium shock blocks! At this time we were building bikes in a garage and I was in my senior year at school and interviewing with accounting firms.

So suddenly there’s a fork in the road!

Yes. But my thesis director at school, he was a cyclist and my thesis project was a business plan for a bike company. And he basically encouraged me to follow my dreams, and on top of that he wanted to invest too. So he gave me $30,000. My welder friend, Mark’s, boss invested $15,000 and we rented a building up the street and before I was even out of school we were building bikes.
I wanted to build a bike that rode as well as my Fat Chance Yo Eddy. I loved the way that bike rode. It was interesting; when I’d look at all the bikes of the time, whether it be a Ritchey or a Bontrager or a Yeti, they had radically different geometry. But when you looked at the wheelbases in a medium frame, they were all hovering around 41.5 inches. That seemed to be this magic number. Our first titanium bikes, I copied the exact geometry of my Yo Eddy, but shortened the chain stays by a quarter inch and lengthened the top tube by a quarter inch. And I think it really took that bike to the next level.

I wanted to build a bike that rode as well as my Fat Chance Yo Eddy. I loved the way that bike rode.

For the first five to seven years we did a lot of OEM work for other brands. I made the downhill team bikes for Diamond Back, we did Univega bikes, Slingshot… plus we did a lot of materials work and research for out of industry manufacturers. It took about five or seven years before we started to see Santa Cruz and Intense begin out-pacing our brand, because we really did no marketing for Titus itself. Eventually we got sick of doing things for other brands for half price and not getting paid on time, so we started to focus on Titus and things really took off.

I got involved, through my connections at Univega, in the development of four-bar and Horst Link full suspension designs which carried through all my years at Titus. I started discussing some things with Horst Leitner and we ended buying some rear ends from him and then licensing that design.

And how did it all end up with Titus?

Things were starting to really develop in terms of carbon fibre, we knew it wouldn’t be long till there were full carbon frames. So we merged Titus with Vio Tec, a composites company.… That partnership was interesting. I still say to this day that it was the most expensive composites education that anyone could get. It pretty much cost me my company. Things were not going well, but they didn’t want to be bought out, so they chose to buy me out. So I left the company and took a year off – that was in 2006 – and I immediately began working on the launch of Pivot, which I did in 2007. We launched the Mach 4 and the Mach 5 simultaneously in 2007.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without Richard Cunningham. Richard was the owner of Mantis Bikes – he invented the elevated chainstay, and the idea of bolting a chromoly rear end to an aluminium front end. He really set the path for dual suspension bike design.

Moving on from the history of the brand, in terms of designers – inside or out of the bike industry – who do you look up to?

That’s a good question. There are so many, I probably don’t know most of their names. There are some people in the bike industry who when they design something that think that everybody else’s stuff sucks – but I’m not that way, I’m a true bike geek. There’s a lot of great things going and I can appreciate them.

But if we go back to the get-go, I can say we wouldn’t be where we are today without Richard Cunningham. Richard was the owner of Mantis Bikes – he invented the elevated chainstay, and the idea of bolting a chromoly rear end to an aluminium front end. He really set the path for dual suspension bike design. Obviously, Horst Leitner – his whole concept of eliminating braking forces on the suspension, it has affected the bike industry till today. And then obviously Dave Weagle too, he’s got a lot going on.

In terms of Dave Weagle, his DW Link has been part of every Pivot dual suspension bike. Did you begin working with Dave from the very outset?

No, I was working on several different suspensions designs. I love the feel of four-bar bikes, Horst Link bikes, but the stiffeness was always a problem. We’d try bigger and bigger swing arms and bearings, but it’s very hard to match the stiffness of a one-piece rear triangle. And that was one thing I was hell bent on – it had to have a stiffer back end.

And another thing with a Horst Link bike is the way it kind of rotates forward into its travel – it doesn’t have pedal kick back like a single pivot bike, but basically the suspension does rotate forward into the bump, so you can have a loss of forward momentum. One bike I’d ridden – even though I hated a lot of other things about the bike – was the Maverick. And one thing that stuck with me was the incredible square-edged bump performance. That was its shining attribute. I wanted to have that.

Of course everything in suspension is a patent minefield nowadays. So I had this design I’d settled in on that ticked all the boxes. But it looked like I could be walking through Dave Weagle’s patent backyard…

So I was working on designs that had fully active braking, gave the square-edged bump performance and stiffness that I wanted. The dual link design also had the advantage of allowing a variable wheel path. If you think of an old high pivot bike, like the old Foes Mono or an Orange – they had a great rearward wheel path, which was one of the things that made them such a great World Cup downhill bike. But you couldn’t pedal them through the bumps and if you pedalled them through a g-out you could rip the whole rear derailleur off them, just from the chain growth.

So if you could achieve that kind of wheel path, but not have it continue the whole way through the travel, then you’d be onto something. And with a dual link, you can do that.

Of course everything in suspension is a patent minefield nowadays. So I had this design I’d settled in on that ticked all the boxes. But it looked like I could be walking through Dave Weagle’s patent backyard… Dave has a couple of patents – one is an anti-squat patent, and the other is an instant centre patent. With the instant centre patent, if the instant centre of your suspension design falls within a certain box then you risk being in violation of Dave’s patent. And there are a few lawsuits going on about that at the moment. Dave’s argument would be ‘you touch my box, you violate my patent’.

I believe if someone comes up with a good idea, you don’t walk on them. So we worked together. Anyhow, Dave was adamant about anti-squat as being the most important element, and when you applied his anti-squat calculations to the pivot locations I had mapped out to achieve the suspension characteristics I wanted, they had to move quite a bit.

It was a real tug and pull – I had my heels firmly dug in one corner, he in the other – I was yelling ‘fully active braking’ and he was yelling ‘anti-squat’ and we couldn’t work out the solution. Anyhow, one day he calls me up and says, ‘I have it! But there’s one problem… there’s no place for a front derailleur’.

But I thought we could make it work. You see, I’d been involved in the development of the 2008 Shimano XTR groupset, including the press-fit 92 bottom bracket. Along with the e-type front derailleur, this gave us the ability to free up the front derailleur area; we mounted the derailleur directly to the frame and put the pivots inboard. Back in 2007, this technology, along with some of our forging techniques, this was stuff that hadn’t been done before. Combine that with the DW Link and you had a really nice product to launch with.

You’ve talked a lot about frame stiffness. Why is that so important to you?

You can take a really great design, but if things aren’t stiff enough, it’ll never succeed. Take the AMP Research – it was a phenomenal bike. But it was so flexy that it was horrible! And if companies like Titus and Intense hadn’t started making the Horst Link design stiff and burly, that great suspension concept would’ve died on the vine. If the AMP Research had been the only bike with that design, it would never have continued.

You can take a really great design, but if things aren’t stiff enough, it’ll never succeed. Take the AMP Research – it was a phenomenal bike. But it was so flexy that it was horrible!

It goes beyond just stiffness though, it becomes about ride tuning too. A bike needs to ride correctly, and not just be an ass pounder. It needs balance. A good example; There was a time back in the Titus days when all the high-end wheels were radially spoked on the non-drive side and then two-cross on the drive side. And on one of our Racer X frames I’d beefed up the linkage so much, that it was fine if you were on a right hand turn, but if you were on a left hand turn and leaning on those radial spokes, if you hit a rock it would just pick the whole bike up and wallop it! We ended up spending a lot of time tuning that link to get the right ride balance. There is definitely a point of too stiff, but there’s a balance to find.

Of all the bikes you’ve released so far, what do you think has been the most important for the development of the brand?

When we first launched, the bulk of my development time went into the Mach 4, because at Titus, the Racer X had out sold everything else three-to-one. But the world was changing, the trail bike was taking over, and so we’ve sold far more Mach 5s than Mach 4s.

Everything builds on everything, and there are a lot of elements of the Firebird that really marked it as being the start of a second generation of design for Pivot. From a commercial success standpoint, it’s those ideas and how they fed into the Mach 5.7 that really took us to the next level. With the 5.7 I think the brand became something special; it wasn’t just one bike in the line up that was unique, but the whole package.

 

Read part 2 of our interview with Chris Cocalis here.

Interview: Giant’s Kevin Dana – Wheel Wars and the 27.5″

At the global launch of the 2014 range of performance bikes by Giant, Flow had the opportunity for a brief chat with Giant’s Global Off-Road Category Manager, Kevin Dana.

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These media events are always guarded with marketing buzzwords and well-scripted and trained responses to media questions it’s sometimes hard to get through all that and down to the real meat. Even after many drinks at the bar it’s still hard to get through the defences (we tried pretty hard… there were many beers).

You will see in Kevin’s words that Giant essentially want to be a global leader hence why Giant have more than dipped their toes into the 27.5” waters. We also got the sense that the wheel wars of the past few years may have been a distraction, or diversion, from other developments (also true for other manufacturers) and if you read between the lines Giant is definitely looking forward to developing other great things.

The big question, why 27.5”?

Giant began extensive lab testing of 26”, 27.5” and 29” in early 2011.  We also began ride testing of prototypes at the same time and we determined that 27.5” delivered many of the benefits of both without a lot of drawbacks. The bikes (27.5”) were a lot of fun to ride, they performed at a really high level, and so we made a commitment to go in that direction.

That commitment, you’re going after 27.5” full steam ahead?

It’s a huge commitment. Giant made this decision after the extensive lab and field-testing and Giant couldn’t make an impact on the market with just one or two models of bikes. It’s quite easy to re-hash some tube shape or re-hash some geometry and make one or two bikes, however Giant committed to an entire range of products – from Sport, all the way up to Performance – in both aluminium and Advance composite.

We are completely committed to an all-or-nothing approach because we believe in 27.5” so much.

Is it a gamble?

We didn’t view it as a gamble at all, rather the next generation of off-road cycling and we at Giant are committed to leading the charge. As you are already seeing there is a lot of other brands entering the 27.5” market and we’re confident that consumers are going to see many more 27.5” bikes enter the market.

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Do you think this will end the wheel wars?

We believe this will end the wheel war for Giant.

So, if there are no more wheel sizes being developed, what’s next?

Giant is always working 2-3 years ahead at any given time. I think you will find Giant focusing a little more on improving performance. Innovation can be looked at in a number of different ways. It can be an entirely brand new product that changes the game or it can be an improvement to existing technologies and constantly making them better. We’re really looking at a little bit of both in the next 3 years – it’s definitely an exciting time to be a mountain biker.

Interview: Chris Pomering, Engineering Manager, Trek Bikes

Chris Pomering, Engineering Manager with Trek Bicycles chats candidly about the good, bad and ugly of mountain bike wheel size developments.

 

The arrival of 650B feels like a push from the industry, rather than a consumer demand driven change. Do you agree?

I agree. There’s a great visual that really illustrates this for me that talks about the Formula One evolution, and how the cars have changed from the 1950s to today. It shows how wheel size, and cockpit size and air-foil dimensions have all evolved and adapted, and bikes are the same. As technology evolves, things change. Wheel size is one of those things.

How do you feel about certain brands pushing 650B as the answer for cross country use when 29 has been promoted as the fastest, best size for this style of riding for the past few years and has become so established in this arena?

My feeling towards that? That’s a good question. All our research, all our pro riders, all our experience tells us that 29 is truly the right wheel size for that style of riding if you’re truly looking for the fastest wheel size. I don’t know, everybody has their own arguments, but everything we have seen points to 29 for that application.

And do you think that holds true for all rider sizes? In particular, really short riders.

I think in the extremes, you may have to consider smaller wheels for smaller riders, but that’s definitely the exception to the rule. I don’t generally think it’s a fit story, so much as a rider preference story – how do you want the bike to ride, to handle underneath you. Generally you can overcome all of those issues and get smaller people into the right position for their preferred riding style on a 29er.

When it comes to the difference between 26” and 650B, it is really hard to discern the difference on the trail. If you blindfolded me, I’d struggle to tell them apart. Would you say the differences are as much theoretical as anything else?

From the engineer in me, I’d agree. I mean, it is very close to a 26 in measurement terms. And for 95% of the people out there it is such a fine tuning change that they won’t pick it up.

I guess that then begs the question, is it necessary? The benefit of a slightly bigger wheel is there, but it’s such a small difference, is it worth the overhaul of so many parts of the industry? 

Personally, I think there are a lot of other technology advancements people could be working on instead of trying to run down this wheel size thing. I mean electronics, suspension technology… there are lots of areas in my mind that I think would better serve mountain biking than all the noise around wheel size.

Chris Pomering Trek World

Given that, if you had unlimited resources, what would you spend your time and money on developing?

I guess it depends on your philosophy on innovation. Are you taking a more incremental approach, or are you swinging for the fences, more of a blue ocean approach. For me, I’d look at everything; materials, electronics, new materials – I’d go in every direction if I could.

When you design a bike, what weight is durability given in the mix?

We’re in a really tough spot when it comes to developing new frames, because our durability requirements continue to grow. Compared to five years ago, we’re testing twice as many aspects and often for twice the duration than in the past. And at the same time, we’re of course making them lighter every year, so it’s not an easy job – but that’s why we don’t have monkeys doing it I guess. Durability is definitely a huge factor.

It’s an interesting move with the Remedy to have the same bike, with the same travel, available in two different wheel sizes. I understand the argument for rider preference, but for many consumers it could be be quite confusing. 

Yes, it could be. I mean there’s the engineering answer and there’s the reality. Everybody can research on the internet and find their own perception of what they think suits them, and there’s a lot to be said for giving people a chance to decide what they thinks suits them. Different people preference different things; take a look at the road world – some people think aero is most important, others weight, other stiffness. There’s a lot to be said for catering to the preferences of those riding the bikes.

We’re starting to finally see the arrival of bikes designed specifically around 1×11 drivetrains. Talk to us about 1×11 and the potential here to free up frame design.

There is a lot of potential here. That interaction between the front derailler, the tyre, the frame… there’s a lot going on there at the point and we constantly beat our head against a wall trying to get around that and optimise it, so there is room for huge improvements here. I just converted my kid’s bike to a 1x drivetrain, and I’m just waiting for the parts to do mine too.

Is there an aspect of Trek that you feel the company should be most proud of?

On some ways I love how diverse we are, and it’s often only when I come to events like this that even I can appreciate some of the cool stuff going on that I mightn’t get to deal with in my role. There are so many areas we cover as a brand, we can have the saddle engineer in a room with a wheel engineer, or a mountain bike engineer. So there’s a lot of opportunity for great collaboration – you can really pool expertise. On the mountain bike side of things, I’m really excited about the race shop products, things like the Ticket and Ticket S. I think they’ll be great for the brand, we’ve always had more of a conservative image as a brand and I think these will be bikes that people will really aspire to ride.

Tory Thomas Chats About Joining Target Trek

Tory Thomas is the latest signing to an incredibly impressive roster at the Target Trek MTB team. As one of the most experienced female elite racers in Australia, she’s possesses a wealth of knowledge to impart upon the young squadron. Flow quizzed Tory about her role in the new team and why she joined the Target Trek crew.

You’ve just signed up with the massive Target Trek powerhouse team – what are you looking forward to most about this setup?

There is a lot to look forward to! If I have to pick what I’m most looking forward to, then that’d be being part of an upbeat and motivated team that offers fantastic support to its riders.

Why did you choose to join the Target Trek team? What about it appealed to you? 

I like the people on the team, they are confident and motivated and love mountain bike racing. I respect how the team backs their riders to achieve great results domestically and overseas. Riders are given the support they need to improve and develop, with a big emphasis placed on enjoying the process of riding and racing.

What do you see your role as being in the team, beyond simply racing?

When I started racing there weren’t really any experienced riders available to me to be able to talk about training and racing. I’m keen to do my best to help the younger and less experienced riders on the team with their racing. I think that even simple things, like riding a practice lap of a course, or debriefing after a race, can be invaluable in terms of learning and helping to build confidence with racing.

I think too that there is a role to play within the team to support the other elite riders in achieving their goals, and just doing my bit to help to create a friendly and relaxed team atmosphere when we are together as a team.

You’ve been racing as a privateer lately (prior to joining Target Trek). Tell us about that.

Not surprisingly, things changed a lot when Tim and I became parents. I think I have struggled a lot during my cycling career to keep things in perspective, and travelling to all the races as a family has certainly given me perspective! The combination of racing and travel and sleep deprivation, breast feeding and all the other things that go along with parenting was at times really challenging and pretty comical. I think it was great to be able to treat the races as a good excuse for a family holiday, or when things got tricky as a bit of a travelling circus! I need to say, Tim has been an awesome support.

I think being independent and autonomous was important for me from a practical and a psychological point of view. It meant I could pick and choose to race in just a handful of events, when it suited us as a family. And there was no pressure or expectation from anyone to turn up to the race or to perform well.

I have been racing as a privateer with no official sponsors, but I did receive some support from a few people and places to put together my race bikes. It is really challenging trying to make things happen on your own, and Tim and I were really grateful for the support I did receive.

There’s a bit of talk about recently regarding the lack of fresh blood in XCO. Do you agree? What are your thoughts? 

There’s always talk about the lack of fresh blood in XCO! Since I began racing, I’ve been told many times that Australia lacks talent. From my perspective, it’s been a really frustrating and demoralising experience being told time and time again that we are doomed – especially when there’s been virtually no investment in the current athletes. I agree that Australian athletes are under-performing, but that doesn’t mean that we lack the talent.

I think that’s a big reason why Target Trek is so appealing – rather than being negative and discounting current athletes and pouring funding and resources in to searching for better athletes, Target Trek is backing the current crop of elite riders in Australia.

What is your racing schedule looking like? Where will you be focusing your efforts?

Bit of this, bit of that! My efforts are going in to trying to get better and faster on the bike. I really haven’t done much racing during the last few years so I’m just looking forward to getting along to some races! I feel very under-raced, which is a nice feeling! Over winter I hope to do a few endurance events, a few road races and hopefully from cyclocross! All pretty low key. And some skiing – it’s cold in mount beauty over winter!

Lastly, what are your goals and aspirations racing wise throughout 2013-2014?

I’d like to be fit in time for the National XCO Season, but my main focus is preparing for World Cups next year. I’d love to finally go to a World Championship, but along the way there are heaps of races to look forward to and lots of fun adventures ahead.

 

Making the Switch – Caroline Buchanan

Switching from one bike to another can definitely be a challenge. Even when it’s two similar bikes, there’s always that learning curve before you’re comfortable. Nothing’s ever just quite the same and the bigger the difference, the longer it takes to adapt.

Most of us can relate through swapping from 26” to 29” wheels, or from one bike in the shed to another. It’s generally not too big a deal, but when you go from the pointy end of one extreme to another, things can get a little tricky.

After a successful 4 year Olympic BMX campaign, former 4X World Champion and Stromlo Forest Park ambassador Caroline Buchanan is doing just that, making the switch from Olympic BMX racing to World Cup Downhill racing- two forms of cycling that are worlds apart.

After a 2nd place finish to Tracey Hannah at the Australian National Championships at Stromlo Forest Park, I thought I’d ask Caroline a few questions about the challenges of swapping between the two disciplines.

Caroline relaxing between downhill runs at Stromlo Forest Park.

Here’s what she had to say-

You’re going from a bike with no suspension and rock hard tyres on a perfectly groomed surface to a bike with 200mm of suspension, squishy tyres on the roughest terrain you can find- it’s a massive change. What’s the hardest thing to overcome?

I definitely love a challenge but I’ve found the hardest thing to overcome has been from competing at the top of my game in London, at the pinnacle of BMX racing- the Olympic Games. To find myself so far out of my comfort zone, aiming for World Championships and starting at the bottom with no ranking and feeling like a beginner again.

How long has it taken you to feel 100% comfortable on the downhill bike, and do you think it will be just as hard to make the switch back to BMX?

Prior to just recently getting back on the BMX, I found that I made a very quick transition to the top of the downhill podium in Australia. I hadn’t raced a downhill for 5 years, and I had expected that coming back to mountain biking- especially downhill, that I would have a lot of work to do.

The past three years of BMX training, strength and conditioning translated right across onto the downhill bike. It has always been harder to switch back onto the BMX. If you simplify it right down both sports are riding a bike, but to compete at the top international level every 1% counts. Switching back and forward so often affects my performances and this is the reason I have broken my 2013 calendar up into blocks, or chapters, of BMX and MTB.

Suspension setup and tyre choice in downhill is a huge part of racing. Has it been hard learning to tune your suspension and set up your bike, and are you doing anything in particular to suit your riding style?

Well I can say I will never complain about working on my BMX bike ever again! There’s definitely a lot of maintenance and knowledge that goes into setting up a downhill bike for a race. I remembered quite a lot from four cross three years ago, however downhill is another ball game all together. BMX involves being smooth, getting perfect backside and working the jumps for every inch of speed. My riding style and bike set up for downhill imitates this. I am working on trusting my suspension, getting loose and riding on the edge more.

What do all your BMX buddies think of your switch to mountain bikes?

To be honest I’m not sure- maybe crazy, happy, envious? Some people above in cycling are obviously not happy with my decision to have a bit of a gap year and mix things up on the mountain bike.

But at the end of the day I fell in love with mountain biking when I was fifteen, the people, the mountains, the lifestyle and the races. Living life to the fullest, challenges and being happy is what’s most important.

You’ve made the switch from 20” to 26”, how about 29” wheels?

29……. reminds me of cross country and uphill pain! Just like my post London Olympic goal to come back to mountain biking I have plenty of post Rio 2016 Olympic goals. My ultimate goal is to dominate the world in cycling, you name it! I have learnt to backflip into foam…Nitro Circus, velodrome?  We will see where the future takes me.

Well, it’s really great to see you riding a real bike again and I’m sure everyone out there in Flow MTB land is wishing you nothing but the best. You’re on a new team, surrounded by great people, aiming to continue your winning ways. It’s really great to see. Anyone you’d like to thank?

Thank you and especially a huge thank you to my team behind the dream, supporting the whole package and my long term goals. Family, friends, Julian Jones, Robert Joske, Tim Chadd and all my sponsors…

Make sure you keep your eye on Caroline to see how she does in her first year of World Cup downhill racing.

 

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.’

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.

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]

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]

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]

 

Blair's Marathon World Champs

[SV_VIMEO id=”51663139″]

Andy Blair, Australian Marathon National Champion, recently headed to France to contest the Marathon World Championships.

It’s fair to say that Andy didn’t have quite the race he was dreaming of; his Australian team mate, Jongewaard, was sidelined with broken ribs, the conditions were abysmal and  nothing really went to plan out on course. After rolling in 72nd place, Blairy will be more hungry than ever for next year. [private]

Andy’s form is unquestionably good – the Gu On The Go team (of which he is a member) just won the Scott 24hr overall, with Blair setting the fastest laps of the race. Andy is heading to WA shortly too, to defend his crown at the Cape to Cape, and soon after he’ll be looking to snatch the overall Real Insurance XCM victory from Shaun Lewis at the Highland Fling in NSW.

So grab a cuppa and biscuit and have a listen to how it all went down in the slop of Ornans, France. [/private]

Blair’s Marathon World Champs

[SV_VIMEO id=”51663139″]

Andy Blair, Australian Marathon National Champion, recently headed to France to contest the Marathon World Championships.

It’s fair to say that Andy didn’t have quite the race he was dreaming of; his Australian team mate, Jongewaard, was sidelined with broken ribs, the conditions were abysmal and  nothing really went to plan out on course. After rolling in 72nd place, Blairy will be more hungry than ever for next year. [private]

Andy’s form is unquestionably good – the Gu On The Go team (of which he is a member) just won the Scott 24hr overall, with Blair setting the fastest laps of the race. Andy is heading to WA shortly too, to defend his crown at the Cape to Cape, and soon after he’ll be looking to snatch the overall Real Insurance XCM victory from Shaun Lewis at the Highland Fling in NSW.

So grab a cuppa and biscuit and have a listen to how it all went down in the slop of Ornans, France. [/private]