By Karen Brooks
Once again, I raced the Trans-Sylvania Epic seven-day mountain bike stage race in central Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. This “summer camp for mountain bikers” is one of the only races I put on my calendar in (digital) ink. It’s a ton of fun. It’s also a great opportunity to put a bike through its paces in rather extreme conditions— tons of rocks, distances of 25-45 miles a day, and a seriously fast pace (if one is trying to be serious, that is).
This year my test sled arrived just two days before we were to leave. I had time for one shakedown cruise on the rockiest trails I could conveniently get to, at Roaring Run in Apollo, Pa. Then it was off to the races.
Fortunately I happened to have chosen a good bike for the job, and one that proved to be popular among my fellow racers as well. Its XC-ish 100mm of travel front and rear is made more playful by a 70-degree head tube angle and a long top tube/short stem combo, and total weight for this carbon-framed beauty is well under 24lbs. BMC was also a sponsor of the TSE this year, and thus would be on hand to offer help, or even a replacement bike if things went totally sideways.
BMC’s APS virtual pivot point system delivered an excellent ride. I felt that it offered a distinct, and much appreciated, difference between the Fox CTD BV Factory shock’s three settings: Climb was fast and responsive for climbing, Descend was plush and controlled for the crazy, radical descents, and Trail was trail-gripping for the many rocky sections. Perfect. The bike even has a handy graphic on the top pivot for setting suspension sag.
The Fox 32 Float CTD FIT Performance fork, on the other hand, gave me some trouble. I aimed for about 20% sag initially, but at the low pressure necessary to get there, the fork was sluggish to rebound, even with rebound damping set full open. After a couple evenings of tinkering I remembered Fox’s handy smartphone app and gave that a shot. The result—more air and more rebound—did feel better, but I still didn’t get the butter-smooth plushness over the rocks that I got last year with the Lefty on the Cannondale Scalpel I tested then. I ended up leaving the CTD knob in Descend most of the time. Maybe I’m missing the Kashima coating that the shock has? More research and tinkering are needed.
As far as other parts go, the SRAM X0 drivetrain performed solidly. I can’t imagine dealing with a triple crankset in a race situation anymore. I swapped the stock Fizik Tundra saddle for my preferred Fizik Vesta, and installed Ergon grips, both choices to minimize pain over a week of jarring.
So how did the race go? Amazingly, for the second year in a row, I had no mechanicals and only a couple small crashes, nothing major. I’m still pissed at myself for missing the starting card-swipe for the enduro section on the Tussey Mountain trail on Stage 6, as that was probably my one and only shot at standing on the podium. An uphill enduro! With rocks! That’s my jam! AAARGH! But that’s racing. All in all, though, this year was extra fun and exciting since the Women’s Open field grew by leaps and bounds, and I had to keep my racing wits, and legs, about me through the final day. I earned my now-traditional 8th place, but it felt like a real victory. Shout-outs to my fellow female competitors for keeping the pressure on day after day.
Watch for my long-term review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.