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.

Stevie Smith Takes Back His Race, The Fox Air DH

Three times appeared to be the charm for triple Fox Air DH winner Stevie Smith, though the trio of ankle injuries which brought him to Wednesday evening’s win left him more rattled than he could have imagined.

Over the course of the last year, the man who stood on the sidelines in 2014 and watched Mick HANNAH (AUS) crush the event he previously owned has been through more ups and downs than he experienced shuttling logging roads in Lady Smith, B.C. He and his mom have famously tackled the rugged terrain daily for years to bring him to the pinnacle of the downhill mountain biking scene, but 2015 put serious strain on the dream.

Steve Smith1

“I’ve gone through three injuries on one ankle, so each one of those I was trying to get back to where I needed to be—and then another setback, and then another setback. It’s been hard on the brain,” said Smith as he gave his interviews in the finish corral after besting Sam Blenkinsop for the win.

20344427008_07b46ed525_z 20532465745_b12334e2ae_z

Smith spent the year cultivating that vision of being on top, but quickly discovered the comeback climb would not mean jumping back in for first place finishes in the World Cup circuit. Finally rounding the curve on normal, he glowed under the blistering afternoon sun as he took in the victory.

19909798704_a2d0ea7d71_z

“I’m 25 years old, and really healthy, and I even got shingles last year due to stress. So it proves how hard (injury) is on the brain. A broken ankle is no big deal. You can deal with that, but one after another after another. To be out here racing and just riding my bike is a dream come true,” he said.

Known as the heart of Crankworx Whistler, the Fox Air DH rolls down the Whistler Mountain Bike Park’s most iconic trails. Every turn is a berm. Every jump is a tabletop and every moment is a battle of mind over matter.

Some 375 racers dropped the 1200 vertical feet of non-stop bank and boost Wednesday before a live webcast and hundreds of mountain biking fans. With more than one racer in little more than their pads and shoes, it also kicked of the raucous revelry so iconic to the Whistler leg of the Crankworx World Tour.

Winning it for the women, American racer Jill KINTNER said it is this course, and knowing every bump and turn, that really launches her week.

Jill Kintner

“I was just kind of in a happy place and I had a good run,” said the Seattle resident. “I know this course really well, every little cranny—what to jump, what not to jump. It helps being fairly local.”

Riding dry trails in the heat, Kintner said she tried one practice run on a light ride and quickly bailed out.

20506209946_35835539e0_z“I did one run on my trail bike and felt sketchy as hell, so I was like I’m not riding this thing. Had I put time into changing my tires and getting the right disc-rotors on there, it could have been good, but it’s kind of a fine line between how far you want to push it versus rolling speed. So I went with my downhill bike,” said Kintner.

With the Fox Air DH done, there is just one race left in the Crankworx DH Championships—the Canadian Open DH. It will be the final event of Crankworx Whistler, scheduled for the day after Red Bull Joyride.

FOX Air DH

Women’s Results:

1. Jill Kintner (USA)

2.  Anneke Beerten (NED)

3. Casey Brown (CAN)

Men’s Results:

1. Stevie Smith (CAN)

2. Sam Blenkinsop (GBR)

3. Harry Heath (GBR)


Tomorrow.. We have a day packed with Crankworx favorites as we take to Crabapple Hits for The Official Whip-Off World Championships along with the Ultimate Pump Track Challenge presented by RockShox in Whistler Olympic Plaza. Check out the LIVE webcast for the Ultimate Pump Track Challenge presented by RockShox Thursday, August 13  7 – 9 p.m. Canada, 4 – 6 a.m. Europe (August 14), 2 – 4 p.m. New Zealand (August 14).

Crankworx LIVE webcast schedule:

Ultimate Pump Track Challenge presented by RockShox Thursday, August 13  7 – 9 p.m. Canada, 4 – 6 a.m. Europe (August 14), 2 – 4 p.m. New Zealand (August 14)

 

Giant Dual Slalom Friday, August 14  5-7 p.m. Canada, 2 – 4 a.m. Europe (August 15), noon – 2 p.m. New Zealand (August 15)

 

Red Bull Joyride Saturday, August 15  4:30 – 8 p.m. Canada, 1:30 a.m. – 5 a.m. Europe (August 16), 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. New Zealand (August 16)

 

Canadian Open DH presented by iXS  Sunday, August 16 3 – 5 p.m. Canada, midnight – 2 a.m. Europe (August 17), 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. New Zealand (August 17)

Mick Hannah to mentor future MTB stars at AIS Development Camp

Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA) is excited to announce that downhill superstar Mick Hannah will be attending the 2014 Australian AIS Development Camp from 10-13 October, to act as a mentor and assistant coach.

“Sik Mik” Hannah is one of Australia’s leading downhill riders with countless wins at both national and world cup level.

Mick will be providing expert advice and experience surrounding skill development, training, and competition and said he is excited about the chance to work with the next round of Aussie Mountain Bike stars.

Mick Hannah 2

“I love our sport and it’s growing a lot at the moment.”

“The level here in Australia is getting better and better and I’m excited to have the chance to lend my experience towards that development.”

The Camp will be utilising a combined downhill & cross country format, targeting the development of U17 & U19 riders who have State, National or International racing aspirations for 2015.

For all of the details, or to register for the opportunity to learn from Australia’s leading MTB Coaches, please click here.

Please note, registrations are limited and will close on 30 September unless sold out prior.

 

Downhill Works: A lighthearted look at the season

Welcome to our all-new UCI MTB World Cup preview with a difference.

We’ve collaborated with Italian filmmakers Dude for a special sketch show recap of the Downhill World Cup season so far, as we look ahead to the racing at Fort William this weekend.

Dude.It

Catch live coverage of the women’s and men’s races from Fort William at these times:

Sunday 8 June – DH World Cup

Australia: 23:15 (Sydney)
New Zealand: 01:15 (Auckland) on June 9

Cairns 2014: Tropic Thunder

“It’s just a passing tropical shower.” Yep, right. Mother Nature reared her ugly Queenslander mug today and gave Smithfield a true soaking, right on cue for the start of group A downhill practice.

The results were in equal parts horrendous, exciting, frustrating and awesome. With any line choices from yesterday’s track walk going right out the window, riders were faced with a track that changed from run to run. Vision was next to nil by the time riders reached the lower portions of the track, while the off-camber red clay of the Alien Tree was causing havoc up top.

At the end of the day, timed practice showed that Gee Atherton had made it down the hill fastest, with Ragot on top in the women’s. But when the course is more a matter of survival than skill, timed practice results mean nothing at all. Bring on qualifying tomorrow!

Yep it was wet, there's no hiding it. It was brutal for everyone on the mountain, riders, spectators, and media and as we type this caption it's still raining. Lets pray for a dry race as it's undoubtedly better for the riders, spectators and the media.
Yep it was wet, there’s no hiding it. It was brutal for everyone on the mountain – riders, spectators, and media – and as we type this caption it’s still raining. Let’s pray for a dry race as it’s undoubtedly better for the riders, spectators and the media.
Marc Beaumont clears one of the big triples on his second attempt. "You've just got to pull up". Right.
Marc Beaumont clears one of the big triples on his second attempt. “You’ve just got to pull up”. Right.
Cairns2014 ThursdayDHpractice 20
Visibility, traction, and a clean line could all go out the window in a flash.
This guy, Mick Hannah looks so insanely fast. Carrying incredible pace into the whoops like they were nothing at all. No wonder why he's a serious contender for the win.
This guy. Mick Hannah looks so insanely fast, carrying incredible pace into the whoops like they were nothing at all.
Sick Mick Hannah has the weight of Australia on his shoulders this weekend. Everyone wants him to win but we're sure he wants to win even more.
Sick Mick Hannah has the weight of Australia on his shoulders this weekend. Everyone wants him to win but we’re sure he wants to win even more.

 

[embedvideo id=”fGpqZSmpqDA” website=”youtube”]

Tested: Polygon Collosus DHX

If you haven’t heard of Polygon before, we wouldn’t be surprised. When it comes to most things from Indonesia, Australia is generally pretty disengaged (aside from our favourite political football, asylum seeker boat arrivals). But this is a brand worth paying attention to – they’re actually one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, producing bikes for a number of other brands- and this bike in particular warrants extra attention.

Polygon DHX Full bike 3

Why? Well not just because it is simply absurd value for money, but also because this is the very same bike that Mick Hannah won the National Champs on this year.

It’s a long way from the glory of the World Champs to the downhill tracks of Sydney, but they’ll have to do! We dusted off the full face, strapped some knee pads onto ageing legs and took this silver beast into the bush.

Design:

Holy Toledo, what a beast! In glistening silver and white, with CNC machined alloy aplenty, the Collosus DHX is an impressive looking bike. Your eye is naturally drawn to the web of alloy and pivots, housing the FOX RC4 shock, nestled around the bottom bracket. It’s a complex looking arrangement, but in reality there are no more pivots than any other twin-link rear suspension design.

WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0100
The heart of the FS2 suspension system.

The lower pivot incorporates the bottom bracket shell, which is encircled by two massive bearings. This link pivots directly around the bottom bracket axle and also drives the rear shock. This main pivot uses pinch bolts, with threaded inserts so you can’t stuff the frame – this is a blessing as disassembling this linkage would require some serious spanner time and pinch bolts mean less stuffing about.

Pinch bolts secure the massive bearings of the lower pivot/bottom-bracket assembly.
Pinch bolts secure the massive bearings of the lower pivot/bottom-bracket assembly.

All the weight is down low and very central, great for stability. The shock is surprisingly easy to adjust despite its location and it’s well protected from debris flung off the rear wheel by a neat carbon shield.

A carbon shield keeps the FOX DHX RC4 protected, but it's still easy to access the rebound adjuster.
A carbon shield keeps the FOX DHX RC4 protected, but it’s still easy to access the rebound adjuster.

If we look at the suspension behaviour, the linkage gives a wheel path that’s just like a high-pivot design. The rear wheel moves backwards quite markedly at the start of the travel, before tending more vertical in the deeper parts of the travel. It’s an incredibly supple design too, and the three-inch stroke FOX DHX RC4 moves at the slightest touch.

Geometry wise, the DHX isn’t as raked out as some, with a 64-degree head angle, but you can fit an AngleSet if you’re inclined to slacker it further. For our local downhill tracks, anything slacker is overkill, and we’re inclined to say that’s the case for most Australian terrain.

The wheel base is adjustable. The chain stay can be set at 434, 440 or 445mm.
The wheel base is adjustable. The chain stay can be set at 434, 440 or 445mm. We’re not sold on the use of a Maxle style rear axle.

We never changed the wheelbase, leaving the chain stays at 440mm, but you can move alter the length by 5mm in either direction. This simply involves fitting different dropout and rear brake mount inserts, but we were happy with the geometry anyhow so we didn’t mess about.

In this setting, the wheelbase was 1173mm, which is a tad shorter than some of the competition in an equivalent size (we were on a medium). For example, a Giant Glory has a wheelbase of 1211mm, a Norco Aurum 1192mm. Going up a size to a large adds another 50mm to the wheelbase. As we said above, for most Australian riding, we feel that the shorter wheelbase is pretty appropriate, but going to a size large frame may still be the preference for riders out there seeking maximum stability.

We’re not sold on the Marzocchi-made Maxle style rear axle. We’d prefer a standard bolt up arrangement which would provide more clearance and is also more reliable.

The low hanging cables attracted debris.
The low hanging cables attracted debris.

The cable routing, underneath the down tube, is clean but not hassle free. Because of the way the suspension moves, it’s necessary to have a fair bit of cable hanging below the bottom bracket. With such a low bottom bracket height, we did occasionally end up with some sticks hitching a ride, caught up in the gear and rear brake lines.

The Build:

We’re not aware of another downhill bike available in Australia that can come close in this area; the component spec found on the DHX doesn’t make financial sense. The very best from FOX, Shimano, Mavic and Schwalbe adorn the Collosus, for a price that’s around $700 less than the other king of value, Giant’s Glory 0.

When it comes to out-of-the-box reliability, you can't top Shimano Saint.
When it comes to out-of-the-box reliability, you can’t top Shimano Saint.

Saint brakes, shifting and cranks need no introduction. The 36-tooth chain ring is encased in an MRP Mini G2 chain guide with bash guard (well needed, given the low bottom bracket height) also a quality item. The suspension is from the top shelf too, with a Kashima-coated FOX 40RC2 fork and DHX RC4 rear shock, both delivering eight inches of travel.

Polygon DHX 42
Mavic Dee-Max wheels are not your usual downhill hoops! They’re the best gravity tubeless wheelset on the market.

The yellow hoops of Mavic’s Dee-Max wheelset have been always been at the top of wish list and it’s extremely rare to see them on an off-the-shelf bike. Ordinarily they’re an upgrade, but here they are, and shod in Schwalbe tubeless rubber too. The Muddy Mary tyres are awesome, and the Trail Star compound (rather than the gummier Vert Star) is a good choice from both durability and rolling speed perspectives. They’re set up without tubes too, so pinch flats are a thing of the past.

The spiky Schwalbe Muddy Mary tyres grip surprisingly well in all conditions, not just the softer soils the name implies.
The spiky Schwalbe Muddy Mary tyres grip surprisingly well in all conditions, not just the softer soils the name implies.

Kore provided the bar, stem and funky T-Rail saddle and post. Kore isn’t a name you see so often any more, but it looks great, with the white bars setting off the bike perfectly. The build kit really is perfect, are reasonably light too, keeping the whole bike to 17.26kg.

We rarely see Kore products, but the lightweight saddle and post are a nice touch.
We rarely see Kore products, but the lightweight saddle and post are a nice touch.

Ride:

It’d been a little while since we’d swung a leg over a downhill bike (too much time on the trail bike!) and it’s always a good feeling to get back into it. The Polygon made it easy for us, giving us no nasty surprises as we re-learnt the lines.

Suspension set up can take a while when you’ve got so much adjustability on hand. Fortunately we found the spring rates (medium in the fork, 350lbs for the rear shock) perfect. A few clicks of high-speed compression damping was all we needed to feel totally confident in the FOX 40’s performance.

We added just a little high-speed compression damping and were very happy with the Fox 40.
We added just a little high-speed compression damping and were very happy with the Fox 40.

The rear end is more complicated. Polygon’s FS2 linkage gives the DHX a very pronounced rearward axle path for the first half of the travel. This is great when it comes to compliance, but the associated chain growth can be clearly felt through your pedals. We wound on a few turns of low-speed compression to keep the rear end more stable under pedalling and minimise this feeling. This trait that really was only pronounced at slower speeds – once up to speed, pedalling over rough sections of track was less of a chore.

It's easy to get at the shock, in spite of its location deep in the frame.
It’s easy to get at the shock, in spite of its location deep in the frame.

Polygon importer, Bicycles Online, had informed us that some riders were opting to stiffen the rear shock by 50lbs, but we didn’t feel the need. While we did find the bottom of the travel on a few occasions, adding some high speed compression damping gave us the feeling of support we wanted.

The overall stiffness of the bike is praise worthy too, with the rear end matching the immense lateral stiffness of the FOX 40s. It’s a reassuring feeling, giving you the confidence to keep your feet up and slide the bike into corners or cut inside berms, or get you out of trouble if you come into land a bit crooked.

There's chain slap protection on chain stay, but not the seat stay.
There’s chain slap protection on chain stay, but not the seat stay.

Drivetrain noise wasn’t a problem we expected, but the Polygon makes a bit of a racket on the trail. There’s no chain slap protection on the seat stay (get some Frame Wrap on there), and the Saint derailleur sits super close to the chain stay when in the higher gears, leading it to knock against the frame loudly. It’s something we’ve encountered before on our Norco Aurum long term test bike, and it can be easily remedied by fitting a small adaptor that creates more clearance. (Watch this video for more info).

The 10-speed shifting provided by the Saint derailleur is snappy and precise, but in the higher gears the mech would knock on the chain stay. Fitting the wide ratio adaptor is the solution.
The 10-speed shifting provided by the Saint derailleur is snappy and precise, but in the higher gears the mech would knock on the chain stay. Fitting the wide ratio adaptor is the solution.

Going fast is where the Polygon is best; when you’re not pedalling, and it’s got a lot of rocks to run over. The super supple suspension and stout fork make light work of heavy terrain, and the FS2 suspension carries momentum exceptionally well.

Overall:

This isn’t just a great value bike that you’d buy for the build kit alone, oh no, this is a great bike full stop. We’re not saying that $5000 will buy you Mick Hannah’s skills and enormous calves, but it will get you a bike that has proven itself as the fastest in Oz. And it’s a bike that’s got us itching to ride more downhill too – we’re stoked.

Polygon DHX Full bike