Dirt Rag Magazine

Feature: No Rest for the Weary


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Words and photos: Brice Shirbach
Originally published in Issue #191

For most of us, the UCI World Cup downhill series is a somewhat nebulous arrangement, largely unfolding by means of online media, live video streams and an assortment of social-media posts from the athletes themselves. While fans of the sport are well aware of what happens against the clock and between the tape, there’s much more to the process than what is conveyed through the various multimedia morsels we’re fed throughout race week.

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From the start of the season, fans are glued to computer screens and phones, desperately seeking out anything they can find that will quench a thirst for knowledge of course conditions, suspension setups, injury updates and which riders are in top form on any given weekend. While all that information makes for compelling narrative, there’s a nuance to race week that goes unnoticed in the quest for big-ticket storylines.

For professional downhillers, there’s much more to their existence than just seven World Cup Sunday races. Strict training regimens, suspension and bike testing, contract negotiations and constant self-promotion are required in order to have a job, and that’s before the first race of the year.

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Dirt Rag was granted the opportunity to spend crunch time with the Pivot Factory Racing team last August while they prepared for the lone American stop on the World Cup circuit. Made up of team manager and lead rider Bernard Kerr, as well as former motocross racer Eliot Jackson, Swiss national champion Emilie Siegenthaler and team mechanic Jack Noy, this squad of twenty-somethings is loaded with world-class talent. Here is a firsthand account.


Day 1: Track Walk

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The team arrived in the town of Windham, New York, late on Tuesday evening, having spent the week prior in eastern Quebec, Canada, for the 25th annual Mont-Sainte-Anne leg of the season. Wednesdays are typically the first day of the World Cup week when it’s cross-country and downhill combined. Teams are permitted to walk the course as often as they want within a strictly defined time period. Practice runs on the bike won’t come until the following day, making initial track walk critical in shaping each rider’s approach to the rest of the week.

Emilie

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Dislocated shoulder the week prior at Mont-Sainte-Anne

I’ve been doing physiotherapy in the mornings and [racing this weekend] is on me. I need to see how I feel. It’s all about tomorrow’s practice. The guys rode at Bromont, Canada, after the race and I didn’t. If it’s just a pulled muscle, I can rest and it’ll get better. But I think it might be more than that. I had a collarbone break before, but this is more of a ligament issue. There are still more races to come after this, plus world championships. How many risks are you willing to take? I need to consider the team and the overall. It’s a lot to think about, so I just have to wait and see.

Bernard

 

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Coming off a disappointing result of 38th at Mont-Sainte-Anne

It’s hard to stay pumped sometimes. When you’re doing well, it’s easier to ride the wave. When you do badly, it’s hard to bounce back. But this place [Windham] is super fun. You can just get so many rides in. There are some places that are so big, you get tired and you’re not able to get as many runs in. Here you can play on the track all day. When I have fun, I do well, and this place is fun. I have my own riding style and strengths like any rider, so different races bring about different expectations. If I win timed practice, I want to win the qualifiers. That’s a good way to build your confidence. I think it’s good to change up your expectations depending on the track, so you’re not just going out and getting disappointed if the results aren’t always top. I’m ranked 17th currently, so I can go out and put something fast down in qualifying and not have to play it safe.

Eliot

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Two separated shoulders forced him to miss much of the season

I’ve been spending a lot of my time trying to get healthy again. I have to try and get back to where I was, which is obviously a different mindset than trying to go out and be competitive at each event. I have a little head cold, but am mostly concerned with trying to get over my injuries from earlier in the season. I separated my shoulder after the first World Cup, and once it healed I went up to Whistler for a few days to get some riding in and I separated the same shoulder again. I was out for over a month. At this point, I’ve only been back on the bike for about four weeks now, and it’s been only racing.

Jack

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I’ve known Bernard for a while. We used to race against each other at the British Downhill Series and he was always way faster than me. I tried that for a few years and eventually decided to pack it in, as it’s a ton of money to spend a season chasing points. He asked me to wrench for this team when he first got on board. I had a lot going on at the time, so I passed on it at that point. But he asked me again last season, and I jumped at the opportunity.

Practice, qualifying and race days are pretty full on. After finals, you kind of polish up the bikes and take a breath. There’s definitely some pressure, though. I don’t want to get anything wrong. If something is running a bit nicer and that helps them get a half second faster, why not just do it? If it means I need to stay up late at night to get it done, so be it.

Day 2: Practice Round

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For an hour and a half, riders have the opportunity to take as many timed practice runs as they want. For many, this is an opportunity to experiment with line choices and utilize the clock to measure the effectiveness of their decisions. For some, timed practice is as much a mind game as it is a training tool. Bernard and Emilie were both well inside of the eligible standings to participate, with Eliot having to sit out due to his ranking and having missed most of the season up until recent weeks.

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After timed practice, most athletes will once again walk the track to examine problem areas they may have experienced on the bike, and to take stock of course conditions and changes after thousands of runs by the world’s best riders.

Eliot

I usually try to just learn the track during practice. I take it slow and make sure I know where I’m going. That way when I add speed, I can add speed to the right lines. It’s good to ride with Bernard as well, so we can bounce ideas off of each other. Some stuff is obvious, while others need more attention.

Bernard

I felt really good today. It’s still mostly a one-line course, and it’s hard because it’s so dusty. The track is going to get worse as it gets ridden more. The holes and ruts are just going to continue to get bigger. But generally it’s OK, just blown out, so you need to really focus on carrying speed out of turns. There will end up being so many guys on the same second here. My fastest practice run came in at 27th today, which is terrible. Times are just so tight. There are a few bits I know I will go faster on, so we’ll see what that does for me.

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Emilie

Today things went quite well, considering. I didn’t push it too hard, and that was my goal for the day. I wanted to see if I could get a good run in while cruising down. I wanted to hit all of the jumps, but not take any big risks. That’s what makes the difference here between a fast run and an average run: willing to brake less going into certain sections to carry speed. Today was all about seeing how my body felt.

Day 3: Qualifying Round

Qualifiers hold a great deal of importance for riders, as not only does the run determine your place in the starting order for finals, but points are available for riders looking to move up or maintain their current place in the overall season rankings by qualifying inside of the top 20 for the men and the top 10 for the women. Riders inside of those respective rankings are always granted a finals run regardless of their qualifying time.

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Once the dust settled that afternoon, Emilie, ranked eighth for the season, would end up having qualified in 10th place for the elite women. Bernard would notch in at 37th in qualifiers, nearly 12 seconds off of the leading pace set by top-ranked Aaron Gwin. Prior to Windham, Eliot was ranked 89th, having missed most of the season due to injury. A massive crash early in his qualifying run cost Eliot more time than he could make up on the season’s shortest and fastest track, forcing him to miss the finals in consecutive weekends with only the top 80 men making the cut.

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Jack

I’m gutted for Eliot. I’d like to see him do well. Otherwise, we’ve done pretty well this week. Everything has been pretty straightforward. Bernard’s snapping his handlebars during practice was pretty crazy. Not sure how that even happened. He’s doing some big lines, but the bike shouldn’t have a problem holding up to it. But he’s pretty good at seeing things for what they are. The broken handlebar sucks, but it doesn’t mean that he needs to slow it down tomorrow.

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Eliot

I felt good today going into qualifiers. There’s a drop in the woods at the top of the track, and I hit my chain guide on it and went over the bars. I’m not hurt or anything, but I tried to get up and get going in a hurry but just didn’t quite make it in time. It’s too short a track to overcome something like that.

Emilie

My whole day went pretty well. I started to get a bit looser and push the limits a bit more, which means I have more confidence in my body. I had a crash, but I’m OK and still did pretty well. I think that some of my lines were a bit too safe and not very fast. I think my shoulder is strong enough to push it a bit more during finals.

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Bernard

The track is just blown out right now—deep ruts and dust. I cruised down during my first [practice] run and had a huge crash during my second, so I ended up only getting one quality practice run in. It was hard to push it during qualifiers. You have to go all out everywhere and not make any mistakes. I ended up a mere three seconds off of 10th place, which put me in 37th overall. It’s so tight. In no other race can you be three seconds off of 10th and end up in 37th.

I walked the track again and want to go crazy tomorrow during finals. I have some big lines, and I’m going to keep them for finals. There are some little bits at the top and at the bottom that I need to clean up. I’m pretty sore right now, so I’m just going to relax and chill tonight. I’ll take a few practice runs tomorrow and hopefully go crazy in the race.

Day 4: Finals

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With Eliot missing out on a finals appearance, the pressures of the day were left to Emilie and Bernard. Out of 20 riders in the elite women’s field, Emilie would end up in seventh place, less than two seconds off of the podium. Bernard, who qualified 37th the previous day, would fare much better during Saturday’s final, finishing in 24th. Bernard would actually share the same second, 2:46, with eight additional riders and was less than four seconds off of the podium despite finishing 19 spots down.

After the race, the team would engage in customary celebrations with the rest of the World Cup circuit before a pre-dawn departure the next day to Crankworx in Whistler.

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Bernard

I thought my time was pretty good. There were, like, eight or nine of us on the first half of a second. I lost maybe a second and a half in one part of the track, and there goes the top 10. Generally I’m just stoked that I’m alive. The bike feels so good right now, so I can’t complain about anything. It’s just tight racing here. I have to move on. Gwin made everyone look stupid, so what can you do? I was just a couple of seconds off the podium, and I’m in 24th.

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Emilie

My race run went pretty well. My last practice run in the morning wasn’t very good; I messed up in a couple of spots, one of them more than the other. If someone told me at Mont-Sainte-Anne that I’d be getting seventh-place points, I’d would have been happy to hear that. However, as you begin to feel better, you want to do even more, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.

I’m happy to still be in the top 10 overall. It’s good to know that I can crash and still be OK. I’ve been taking painkillers, so I can’t really enjoy a beer tonight. I’m excited to head to Whistler and to get next week started. It might be tough on my shoulder, but I think it’s going to be good preparation for Worlds. Once the Garbanzo race is over [at Crankworx], I will be able to relax a little bit.

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Jack

Tonight we’ll have a couple of beers and a good time. You definitely begin to form a bond with these guys. This is Emilie’s first season with us, but she’s getting along really well already. Bernard and I go a ways back; Eliot’s a real cool guy too. We went and stayed with him last year before the season started. Perfect team. We’re all pretty excited about Whistler. I’ll actually get to ride my bike a bit, so I’ve already got my lift pass ready. All of that has to wait for a bit, though; I’ve got some bikes to clean.

 

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Beyond the Bike Park: Whistler, Canada


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Words: Hailey Elise
Photos: Mark Mackay
Originally featured in Issue #190

She’s elusive. Cheeky, only showing glimpses of her true nature the farther in you find yourself. And by farther in think of an hour climb. Whistler’s trail systems are easily accessed by those who are looking for them, but outside of the bike park they require a mindset of going on an adventure. Beautiful, extreme and a few pedal strokes away, the established network can provide a great ride while allowing for exploration of Whistler’s wilderness.

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With a history extending almost 30 years in the making, the trails spanning the Whistler Valley have evolved alongside the modern-day mountain bike. As technology advanced, so did the trail building, leading to new-school trails that are feeding the current trend among gravity riders of earning your turns.

History

With mountains set before them, rogue builders went in search of downhill descents in Whistler as early as the 1980s to escape the boredom of the offseason from skiing. The first trails can be traced back to decommissioned logging roads that provided access to the hills surrounding the valley. Trails such as the challenging Binty’s were carved into the mountainside using dirt bikes and chain saws. Many of the skeletons of trails created by these first builders laid the foundation for the trails we know today.

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While mountain bike technology improved and the sport grew, trail building increased throughout the Resort Municipality of Whistler. With that came conflict and the need for maintenance, regulation and supported growth. The trails were soon faced with potential closure, and The Whistler Off Road Cycling Association, or WORCA, came to be in 1989 to lobby against the bike trails being shut down.

River Runs Through It, Cut Yer Bars and other infamous trails became established shortly after the founding of WORCA. The acknowledgment of biking as a recreational resource for the area translated into increased building, participation and trail traffic, in turn laying the building blocks for Whistler’s extensive world-class riding.

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New Directions

Driven by the progression of the sport and technological advances in mountain bikes, modern-day trail builders in Whistler have been creating descents that have been putting Whistler on the map for riding well outside the bike park. One such trail builder is Paul Stevens, co-builder of Blackcomb’s Micro Climate, a trail containing a little bit of everything from steep to flow and every bit worth the climb. His initial inspiration came from Dave Anderson, fellow rider and co-builder of the trail, who skied the zone in the winter and felt the terrain would be perfect for riding a bike down.

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The following summer, the two flagged the line and Micro Climate began. Upon completion, the trail gained a lot of traffic. What’s more, the Enduro World Series was making its debut at the 2013 Crankworx. Developers wanted to showcase the best riding Whistler had to offer as well as release a course that would surprise even the locals. The inclusion of Micro Climate helped set the stage for the Whistler round of the EWS to be known for challenging and exciting riding.

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Expanding Zones

WORCA, along with new builders, is expanding the horizons of Whistler’s biking scene to the surrounding mountainous zones, such as Wedge, Sproatt and Whistler. In addition to an extra-long descent, the creation of trails that connect subalpine regions to well-known recreational areas allows for an adventurous ride down through the stunning forest zones of British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. A bike rider now has the option of taking a full-day excursion or a leisurely few-hour jaunt.

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When asked about the future of building and riding in Whistler, Stevens says that he thinks it is following the new-school style, which focuses on using the terrain more efficiently and emphasizes sustainability. Whistler is notorious for its rugged, technical and rocky landscape, but as building advances, more fl ow and jump trails have been popping up along the outskirts of the valley.

Stevens is also quick to note that with the transient population that goes along with being a resort town, involvement from people looking to build for their preferred style of riding could lead to some interesting trail innovations.

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Culture

Together with progression and growth in trail building, the biking culture in Whistler has grown immensely. From WORCA-sponsored weekly rides to larger-scale events, mountain biking has become a recreational and social foundation for the Whistler area. Far more people, locals and tourists alike, are riding outside of the resort.

Climbing has become as sought-after as the world-renowned downhill singletrack, whether it’s for the fitness or the thrill. Social gatherings now take on forms ranging from epic day rides to after-work climbs. And one cannot forget the traditional post-ride visit to one of the many lakes.

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The past, the present and the growing mountain biking culture have made Whistler a destination for all disciplines of riding. Although Whistler is most known for its incredible bike park, there is a whole other dimension that incorporates adventure, beauty and equally exciting trails. The mountains that line the village already harbor trails that will leave you wanting more, and the future looks bright for the surrounding regions.

“Intriguing, gorgeous and challenging” sounds just like the perfect soul mate, but in fact it’s Whistler’s trail systems. The only way to find out is to book a plane ticket and to experience for yourself, exploring the real Whistler.

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The One-Bike Challenge


Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition

How far can a short-travel trail bike take you? From Issue #187

We are at an interesting point in the technological advances in mountain bikes. For years the idea was always more. More travel, more gears, more bigger wheels. But now we’ve started to dial things back: Single ring drivetrains, 27.5 wheels, shorter travel trail bikes, gravity riders dumping full blown downhill racers for 160 mm trail bikes that can climb.

With scenes of “Top Gear”, “Road Kill” and “Junkyard Wars” challenges floating in my head, the One Bike Challenge was conceived. Could a spoiled bike media guy be happy on one bike for three very different big events? Would I have fun? Would I spend the whole time thinking about bikes I’d rather be riding? Would I decide to give up riding for water polo? Let’s see what happens.

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Tester: Eric McKeegan, age: 41, height: 5’11,” weight: 160 lbs, inseam: 32″

The Events

Bikepacking: A self-contained bikepacking trip in Pennsylvania on a mix of pavement, dirt roads and technical singletrack

Endurance: The Wilderness 101, a brutal 100-mile race with 10,000 feet of climbing and rocks everywhere in central Pennsylvania

Gravity: Chomolungma Challenge, a 20-lap downhill race at Snowshoe bike park in West Virginia, totaling 30,000 feet of descending

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 The Bike: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition

Almost all the bikes on the shortlist were in the 120 to 130 mm travel range, and all were 29ers. My logic? Since the bikepacking and endurance segments of this challenge would be where the majority of my saddle time would take place, the larger wheels have been my go to for that type of stuff for over a decade now.  Also, bigger wheels can help make up for shorter travel when things get fast and chunky.

Slowly, each of my initial selections were crossed of the list for various reasons. Some brands were about  introduce an improved model that wouldn’t be ready in time. Some were so popular companies prioritized dealers and consumers over media when bikes were scarce. Some never bothered to return my calls or emails.

So I cast a wider net and started to consider the wide range of 27.5 wheeled bikes. It didn’t take long to hone in on the Thunderbolt in B.C. Edition trim. Strong wheels, Pike fork, adjustable geometry. Rocky Mountian was agreeable to the challenge, and I was in business.

Rocky’s BC Edition moniker refers to hot-rodded versions of existing bikes based on employees’ customization of stock bikes to make them more capable on the famous trails in British Columbia.  The stock Thunderbolt is a capable 120 mm trail bike, and the BC Edition drops in a 130 mm RockShox Pike fork, NoTubes Flow wheelset, 2.4-inch Maxxis Ardent EXO-casing tires, a wider bar/shorter stem and single-ring drivetrain.

Full disclosure: I did swap the wheels out for a set of the new Easton Heist 27.5 wheels, and the RockShox Reverb dropper post for a 9Point8 Fall Line dropper. Since both the stock wheelset and dropper are so well proven, I took the opportunity to test some new products.

Rocky utilizes its Smoothlink suspension design for the Thunderbolt (and all other full-suspension bikes in its lineup). Smoothlink is a four-bar system with the pivot above the rear axle, rather than below in Horst-link style. The Thunderbolt uses a full complement of bushings (not ball-bearings) at all pivots. A new collet system keeps the main pivot tight, and grease ports all-around keep maintenance time at a minimum.

Its Ride-9 System adjusts both geometry and suspension progression. With nine different settings, this is a tinker’s dream or a Luddite’s nightmare. I think most riders will either leave it where the shop sets it or experiment until a favorite setting is found and not touch it again.

The frame is fully carbon, with internal routing for the dropper and derailleur cables, and the rear brake hose is external.

Bikepacking

Since I have hand-pain issues on long days, I swapped out the stock 760 mm bars for some 28-degree Fouriers Trailhead alt-bars and a longer stem. I installed lighter tires and a thicker WTB Vigo saddle, along with bags from Carousel Design Works, Blackburn and Porcelain Rocket to carry my gear. I really wanted to retain the use of my dropper post, so I strapped a Thule Pack ’n Pedal rack to the seatstays, leaving plenty of room for the seat to drop. I set the suspension in the middle setting, figuring the most neutral handling would be the best for bikepacking.

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My trip was a loosely planned route that covered a lot of rarely used logging/fracking roads, rocky hiking trails and plenty of paved back roads. The trip started with a steady four-mile paved climb where I appreciated the firmest Lock setting on the RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock.

The voyage was surprisingly without much fanfare, and this trail bike handled it all with surprising grace. Pedal mode on both the shock and fork helped to control the additional sprung weight added by the camping gear.

I really wasn’t expecting the ride-all-day comfort provided by the Thunderbolt, but it delivered with a combination of efficient pedaling, comfortable geometry and a playful attitude. The ride ended with a descent down that same four-mile climb, and even with bags I was able to relax on the bike; there was no weird shimmy, headshake or wobble from the front end. In fact, I was able to ride no-handed at speeds well over 20 mph, something rare even on dedicated touring rigs.

Endurance

The Wilderness 101 is a very hard race. And I didn’t find the time to do much training. By the time I hit mile 40, I was spent. But even after I was offered a friendly ride back to camp from aid station 3, I decided to continue. I had an article to write, and dropping out was less interesting that sticking to it. I downed handfuls of whatever looked tasty at the aid station and walked up the next hill (and many more after that), but I finished.

I lowered the stem by 10 mm and swapped to a WTB Volt saddle, other than that, my endurance setup was the same as bikepacking, minus the bags. I had cross-country tires to install, but after much frustration, I realized they weren’t tubeless and gave up and reinstalled the sturdy, but slow-rolling combo I used for bikepacking.

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On the many miles of dirt roads, the Thunderbolt was very efficient, although I missed the way 29er wheels roll on the road, particularly when trying to hang on to the back of a paceline. In the rocks the nimble geometry was a blast; the steeper the decent, the happier I was.

This event was where the Thunderbolt felt most at home to me, which isn’t surprising, as the 101 is very much like a typical mountain-bike ride, just longer.

Gravity

I took on the Chomolungma Challenge a few years ago, but that was on a real downhill bike. This was the event I was most worried about. A few bad choices here can mean a few months off the bike.

Due to deadline timing, I wasn’t able to take part in the actual race, but I did my best to reenact the conditions. After a warm up lap on each of the two tracks used for the event on a 160 mm bike, I then dropped in on the Thunderbolt. After a few laps of the Pro downhill track, I think I realized what makes the Thunderbolt such a great bike: It’s up for almost anything, including laps of a real downhill track. Good tires helped with this, and the Schwalbe Muddy Mary and Rock Razor with Super Gravity casings allowed me to attack the rocks with more confidence than I expected for a short travel bike.
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After a few laps of the pro downhill track, I realized what makes the Thunderbolt such a great bike: It’s up for almost anything, including laps of a real downhill track. Good tires helped with this, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary and Rock Razor with Super Gravity casings allowed me to attack the rocks with more confidence than I expected for a short-travel bike.

I ran the Ride-9 chip in the slackest setting, never futzed with the suspension setting all day, and was highly impressed with the bottom-out resistance of the rear suspension.

But, unlike riding a true downhill bike, instead of dialing in the lines as the day progressed on the Pro course, I started to get sloppier and sloppier, so I swapped to the other track, which was more jumpy, but still had plenty to keep me on my toes, including a long section of baby heads that I remember as torture by the end of the race. I felt much more in control here, but after stopping for lunch, I realized I wasn’t that interested in just banging out laps to just bang out laps. Instead I hit up some of the trails on the Basin side of the mountain, and finished the day with a handful of trips down the Skyline jump trail. I came up short of a full 20 laps by about five, but I’ll was still having fun when I quit for the day, so I put this down as a success.

Changes and Adjustments

Bikepacking: I’d get a custom frame pack to get some water weight off my back. Even with a good backpack, I was uncomfortable pretty quickly with most of my food and water on my back.

Endurance: I’d be sure I was prepared with better cross-country tires. Something that rolled more quickly would have been a huge boost, even if it was mostly just mental.

Downhill: I’d find more time beforehand to tune the suspension. The Pike, which felt great on the trail, bottomed out regularly in the bike park, which coud be remedied with another Bottomless Token in the air chamber.

One-Bike Challenge Conclusion

Was it a success? Absolutely. I had a lot of fun at these events, although my idea of fun might be on the masochistic side of things for some riders. But all that aside, I was highly impressed with what this bike could do, and expect with more time and more tuning it could be even better. While having a quiver of bikes is always going to be more fun for most people, a single mountain bike these days is a hell of a tool for a variety of riding.

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Thunderbolt Final Thoughts

At its core, this is a simple bike. Short travel, subdued graphics and a parts spec that is more about getting the job done than impressing your buddies at the trailhead. But dig deeper and this is one of the most versatile bikes on the market today. While setting up adjustable geometry and suspension settings can be tedious, a rider looking for specific handling characteristics, or one that falls outside the standard weight range can find a happy place here.

To me, this is almost perfect trail-bike geometry: A short rear end, longer front-center and a low-ish bottom bracket combined with a slack head angle are the key ingredients to a bike that can carve and pop and rumble. This is one of my favorite-handling bikes, ever. I love long rides on unfamiliar terrain, and that might be where this one is most at home: efficient enough to ride all day, but with enough handling in reserve to save a few bad line choices on some unexpected chutes.

What complaints I can muster are few. The rear suspension wasn’t the most plush on square-edged hits, but this is only a 120 mm rear end. The air valve is difficult reach with most shock pumps when in the slackest setting, making suspension tuning tedious. No ISCG tabs means no chainguide. On the positive front, this frame fully supports a front derailleur, the internal routing is dialed, and those grease ports on the pivots are awesome.

This review is the hardest test we’ve ever put a bike through, testing its abilities at the edges and even past its intended purposes. The Thunderbolt was part steady friend, part happy puppy and part secret lover. Whether you are after your own “one bike” or just one of the most fun and versatile trail bikes on the market, the Thunderbolt BC Edition is often just the right amount of bike for the job.

  • Price: $6,400
  • Sizes: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL
  • More info: bikes.com
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Atherton family joins Trek Factory Racing Downhill for inaugural season


(Waterloo, WI) — Trek and Trek Factory Racing announced today the creation of a marquee World Cup-level Downhill racing program for the 2016 season. The new team will take on the full UCI World Cup series as well as select regional Red Bull events. Joining Trek Factory Racing Downhill for its inaugural season will be Rachel Atherton (UK), Gee Atherton (UK), Dan Atherton (UK), and Taylor Vernon (UK).

Atherton Racing in Wales, United Kingdom on the 04 November 2015

The Athertons rank among the most triumphant families in cycling. As a trio, they represent decades of downhill racing excellence on the professional circuit. A combined six World Championship titles, fifteen National Championships, two European Championships, and over thirty World Cup wins decorate the family mantle.

Trek is proud to partner with Dan, Gee, Rachel, and Taylor, and will offer full support to their exceptional competitive trajectory. Beyond their success in competition, these athletes are phenomenal ambassadors for the sport of downhill mountain biking. The Athertons’ wealth of experience also gives them a unique perspective on product development. Trek will rely on their expertise and input in the continued development of downhill bikes and equipment that have been raced to victory at the pinnacle of the sport.

Atherton Racing in Wales, United Kingdom on the 04 November 2015

“We are delighted to be a part of Trek Factory Racing,” said Team Director Dan Brown. “The team have substantial goals and we’re really excited to have Trek’s support and partnership. We’re looking forward to bringing the passion and professionalism that Trek have demonstrated across their whole cycling portfolio to our World Cup Downhill campaign and beyond.”

Atherton Racing in Wales, United Kingdom on the 04 November 2015

Trek Factory Racing’s product development relationship with its athletes has been a successful recipe, and one Trek plans to replicate with the new downhill program. Trek will work with the new team on the continued development of the best bikes and equipment through active research and testing around all aspects of downhill racing. “A lot of people out there are already saying that the Session is the fastest bike on the circuit,” said Gee Atherton. “Trek have shown how receptive they are to rider feedback, and we want to put our own stamp on the bikes.”

Dan and Rachel Atherton are equally excited to participate in the development process. “Trek is super-motivated to develop the bikes and push the brand forward,” said Dan. “They are as hungry to progress the sport as we are and we can’t wait to get started.”

Atherton Racing

Rachel added, “I’m stoked to be working with Trek. I remember watching my fellow Brit Tracy Moseley absolutely tearing apart the field at Worlds in 2010 on her Trek Session, then going on to dominate the 2011 season. Trek is a brand with a lot of positive associations for me.”

Gee, Rachel, and Taylor will ride the Trek Session, one of the most decorated mountain bikes in history, equipped with Bontrager components, wheels, and tires. Dan Atherton will be taking turns on the Trek Session and Slash depending on the race and terrain.

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Video – ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 7


The final World Cup race of the year capped a very successful year for the Syndicate riders! Greg finished 4th overall and Josh 5th. Despite early-season injuries for both, consistent, solid results (including 3 wins out of 7 races) kept them both on the series podium for 2015. Only the Syndicate and Aaron Gwin won World Cup races this year, and Gwin took the title after Greg crashed trying to grab a win in Val di Sole.

In this weekend’s qualifying, Greg placed 4th and Josh 8th, after both felt they had marginal runs. With lots of improvement to be had, both riders charged as hard as they could on that last run of the series with mixed results. Josh landed another podium with a 5th-place run and said, “This track is so physical and there is no place at all to rest. After training all week I woke up this morning and my arms felt like I had already done a run. I gave it everything I had and towards the bottom it was all I could do to hold on. I’m satisfied with my run, and I’m fit and healthy going to World Champs in 2 weeks.”

Greg set himself up to charge hard in the final but hit the deck when he pushed too hard and lost the front wheel. He had to straighten his bars before he could get going again, costing him precious time and resulting in 54th on the day. The lack of points dropped him from 2nd place to 4th overall, but he was happy that he gave it his all, and said, “I knew if I was going to challenge Aaron for the title I had to give it everything. I’m satisfied that if I was going down I went down swinging. I’m happy with my season and I’m looking forward to Andorra in a few weeks.”

Val di Sole also saw the return of the legenedary Steve Peat. Steve is coming back from ACL reconstruction and decided to give it a go at one of the hardest tracks on the circuit. He took some stitches to the shin in practice, but didn’t back down. He gave it his best in qualifying but missed the cut. He looked great, with his skills still shining, but the track was just too physical on the arms, and on a track that challenged the very fittest to their limits, not having peak downhill fitness was the missing link.

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Inside Line: Morpheus Conspiracy Downhill Bike


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Morpheus is proudly displaying an all-new downhill bike here at Crankworx and we caught up with company founder Michael Schwartz to get the lowdown.

This full carbon fiber rig is the first project where Morpheus sought expertise from outside the company to assist in frame design and suspension kinematics, “to make [the Conspiracy] a bike that goes against the other bikes in the category right now, we really had to seek help,” said Schwartz. “We worked with a new FEA program that’s used in Forumla 1 to test parts pre-season and that was extremely useful because we never had such a well-sorted bike from a first prototype.” Here, Schwartz is hinting at Morpheus’ previous downhill prototype, which the company ended up scrapping entirely because they couldn’t achieve the results they were looking for. “We wanted to accelerate the project because people have been waiting for a downhill bike for a long time from us,” Schwartz continued.

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Well sorted, indeed. The Conspiracy’s fit and finish looks spectacular. It’s truly light-years ahead of the previous prototype and this sample was on-par with some of the best in the business.

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During initial prototyping, Morpheus entertained the idea of making a bike that offer 26- and 27.5-inch capability. Ultimately, they decided on 27.5 because they were able to hit their geometry targets while also taking advantage of the inherent traction advantage of 27.5. Choosing one wheel size also simplifies construction significantly.

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The Conspiracy’s geometry falls right in line with what’s developing as the “standard” range for bikes in this category; 17.1-inch chainstays, 13.6-inch bottom bracket height and a 63.5-degree head tube angle.

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Notice that chainstay pivot? Yep, it’s a Horst Link, which is now free to use after the patent recently expired. Morpheus calls its suspension design Optimized Performance Suspension (OPS), but didn’t offer any further specifics.

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Though it’s designed as a race bike, Morpheus sought to maintain a lively feeling suspension to maximize fun in the bike park too. Schwartz wanted a bike that’s at home smashing rock gardens and hitting the jump line.

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Another of Morpheus’ key targets for this bike was affordability. As a smaller, consumer direct company, Morpheus has less overhead than many of the large manufacturers, so they’re able to offer a competitive package to the end consumer. The Conspiracy frame will retail for $2,495 with a Fox X2 shock and the standard build with a Rock Shox Boxxer, Vivid rear shock and mid-level Race Face components. Even the premium build, which is said to weigh less than 35 lbs., will retail for $5395 with a Fox 40, Fox DHX2 rear shock, Race Face Carbon components and DT Swiss wheels for $5,395. Expect bikes to ship in February of 2016. If all goes well, you might even see a few of these in action at Red Bull Rampage this year.

 

 

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Inside Line: The new Maiden DH bike from Rocky Mountain


There are a lot of bad bike videos out there. This is not one of them.

Good music, not too much slow-mo, good job capturing the feel of just how fast this bike is movings, and Vanderham isn’t dressed like a toddler who didn’t get out of his PJs.

Bravo.

Below is the bike in the video, the new Maiden.

MAIDEN WORLD CUP HERO VERTICAL

It was no secret Rocky was developing a new downhill bike, its previous downhill platform, the Flatline was long in the tooth, to say it nicely.

The details from Rocky’s press release:

• Full carbon frame, link, chainstay, and seatstay

• Optimized for 26” or 27.5” wheels with Equalized geometry

• Four bar Smoothlink suspension

• Pipelock collet axles lock into the frame for stiffness

• Oversized Enduro MAX type bearings for longer bearing life and higher load capacity

• Integrated frame protection: molded downtube guard, shock fender, chainstay protector, and bolt-in fork bumpers

• Di2 electronics compatible with internal stealth battery port

• Internal cable and brake routing

• PressFit BB107 bottom bracket, drop-in IS42|52 headset, 157mm axle spacing, ISCG-05 tabs

• Sizing: S/M/L/XL

Geometry:

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There is a lot of interesting tech going on with this bike, and I’m about ready for bed, so check out BIKES.COM/MAIDEN for the lowdown on the result of four years of development.

There will be four models and a frameset:

MAIDEN UNLIMITED SIDE

Unlimited — $10,499

MAIDEN WORLD CUP SIDE

World Cup — $6,999

MAIDEN PRO SIDE
Pro — $5,499

MAIDEN PARK SIDE
Park — $4,499

Maiden Unlimited Frame Only C1 (Black) side

Frame Only — $3,999

Hopefully we’ll get our first ride on the Maiden next week at Crankworx, stay tuned.

 

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Windham Mountain Bike Park celebrates Grand Opening


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Photo by Eric Lenseth, Windham Mountain Resort

On July 10 Windham Mountain Resort celebrated the grand opening of its lift-serviced Mountain Bike Park of downhill trails for pro and intermediate- level riders, a skills park,  and a pump track.

The park was officially opened when New York State Assemblyman Peter Lopez, Elite U.S. Downhill Racer Neko Mulally, Windham Mountain Resort President and General Manager Chip Seamans and Ted Davis, Director of Mountain Operations at Windham Mountain Resort, rode mountain bikes and burst through the “ribbon” at the bottom of one of the trails.

In addition to the Mountain Bike Park, recent additions to Windham Mountain Resort amenities include a new entry and access road, the Alpine Spa at Windham Mountain Resort, the Windham Country Club public/private golf course, newly-built condominiums, ongoing renovations at Winwood Inn at Windham Mountain Resort, multiple restaurants and the Adventure Park.

Windham Mountain Resort, located in the Catskill Mountains, first opened in 1960 as the Cave Mountain Ski Area. Only one hour south of Albany and less than three hours north of New York City, Windham developed its reputation as a destination for skiing (downhill and cross country), snowboarding, snow shoeing and tubing.

During the winter months, the population of the town swells beyond its year-round population of approximately 1,700 residents.

Serving as the only U.S. site of the annual Union Cyclists Internationale Mountain Bike World Cup for four of the past five years, Windham Mountain Resort has hosted tens of thousands of elite, pro, and amateur racers and visitors from around the world, who recognize Windham Mountain as among the finest in East Coast riding.

Windham Mountain Resort partnered with Gravity Logic, best known for developing the Bike Park at Whistler –Blackcomb in Canada.  The highly respected firm is the leader in the design of safe, sustainable, progressive, mountain bike parks. One of Gravity Logic’s founders, Tom “Pro” Prochazka, has been on-site working on the Windham trails to help ensure that one of the primary goals, accessibility, is accomplished.

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Windham Mountain Bike Park features two expert downhill trails, the UCI World Cup Downhill and Citizens Downhill and two intermediate jump trails, Batavia Skill and Wilderness Roll.

The UCI World Cup Downhill course is gnarly, rugged, rocky, and fast. The best in the world compete on this course, and features lots of drops, jumps, rock gardens, and even a massive road gap.

The Citizens Downhill is the course that has been used to host a number of Pro-Am events, including most recently the Eastern States Cup and Race the World.  It is a rugged downhill course with a natural feel that features terrain that made East Coast riding famous. There are a few options for riders, including some winding spurs off the original course.  This trail has its share of drops, rocks and more.

Batavia Skill is a Gravity Logic designed-and-built trail that features a single-track feel.  This trail is narrow and includes switchbacks, rock features, and wooded sections. Batavia Skill crosses in and out of the Whataride Glades area, and then shoots down into the trees between Lower Wipeout and Wonderama. After flowing out of the trees next to the Assembly Line, this trail finishes through the trees below the ‘B’ Lift Loading area.

The Wilderness Roll is a Gravity Logic-designed-and-built jump trail that was built almost entirely by excavators. This trail is wide and features plenty of tabletops, rollers, switchbacks, and giant berms.  The trail winds around off the summit, charges through the woods parallel to and above the top of Wraparound, then dives into the Wilderness Bowl, which is the wooded area between Windham Mountain Resort’s two peaks.  It then winds and turns through the trees, crosses White Way, wraps through the White Way woods, and finishes into the base area.

In addition to the trails, Windham Mountain Bike Park features:

A Skills Park where new mountain bikers will be born. This will be a beginner area to learn the basics – braking, weight distribution, how to stand on pedals, controlling the bike over obstacles, including rollers, roots, and berms. This area will be simple with small features throughout to allow riders the get their bike for the first time in a controlled setting. First-timers welcome!

The Pump Track, originally constructed by Red Bull in 2014 for “Berm Burners Challenge”, is designed so that riders use their weight and skill–without pedaling—to propel the bike in a loop of berms and rollers.  The best race for time, but anyone can give it a whirl.  It’s a lot of fun and a great tool for practicing bike control.

Safety is a top priority. Riders are expecting to gage their own skill level and helmets are required to be worn on all trails.  Windham Mountain Bike Park will also have bike patrol and on-site first aid, similar to winter.

Windham Mountain Bike Park has partnered with Trek, a leading innovator in mountain bike technology, to provide a fleet of brand new rental bikes that will be turned over every year so that equipment will always be in top condition.  All bike rentals include safety gear. In addition to rentals, the Mountain Bike Park will feature lessons, guided tours, a retail shop and refreshments at the Tabletop Cafe.

The Windham Mountain Bike Park is part of a larger vision for the community of Windham.  A network of existing cross country trails is being expanded to provide two-wheel access to restaurants, lodging properties, other attractions, and of course, Windham Mountain Resort.  Visitors will be able to park their car for the duration of their visit and experience all the community has to offer.

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Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 4


The World Cup’s first trip to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, was a smashing success. Making it look easy on the Steve Peat-designed track, Greg Minnaar stepped to the top of the box once again, taking his record-setting 18th World Cup win! Greg’s won two of the four World Cups so far this season, and sits in third overall, just 12 points behind Loic Bruni. Josh Bryceland continued his string of injuries with a dislocated ring finger sustained during practice, and got the finger re-located just hours before qualifiers. He put down a strong run in the finals and finished 12th, which moved him up to 7th overall. Watch the fourth episode of The Syndicate to see how the weekend unfolded behind the scenes, including Josh’s dining-table finger relocation!

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Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 3


Riding high after Greg Minnaar’s victory at the Ft. William World Cup, the Santa Cruz Syndicate heads to the second of back-to-back races in Leogang, Austria.

 

Rayboy’s race run

What’s it like to go warp speed? Check out Josh Bryceland’s helmet cam from his race run.

 

Keep watching

Catch up on all the episodes of ‘The Syndicate’ here.

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Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 2


While Aaron Gwin is getting all the headlines this week about his jaw-dropping chainless win, the weekend prior there was some big news as well, as Greg Minnaar matched his Santa Cruz Syndicate teammate Steve Peat for the most all-time World Cup wins with number 17 coming at Fort William, Scotland. In the meantime, Peaty and Josh Bryceland are on the mend after some recent injuries.

Catch up with the team in Episode 2 of The Syndicate.

 

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Sixth-generation Santa Cruz V10 now available


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We saw it make its debut under the Syndicate riders back in July, and now it can be yours — the sixth generation of what is likely the winningest downhill bike ever is now on sale. Now you can ride what Ratboy rode to a World Cup overall championship and bone-crunching second place at the World Championship.

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While the VPP suspension layout remains largely unchanged, the bike is completely new, from the handlebars to the larger, 27.5 wheels. It moves 216mm through its travel in two adjustable geometry positions: High, with a 64-degree head tube angle and 360mm bottom bracket height, and Low, with a 63.5 degree head tube angle and 353mm bottom bracket height.

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Santa Cruz says the shock rate is less progressive than the previous model, leading to a more consistent feel throughout its travel. It also has a longer reach in each of its four sizes, as is the current trend, and since it’s a Santa Cruz you’ll still find a threaded bottom bracket.

Customers can build a bike however they desire, starting from a bare frame (in the higher-end CC carbon) with either a Fox DHX RC4 or RockShox Vivid R2C shock for $3,599. The standard C carbon frame built up with a Shimano Zee group and Fox 40 R fork it will set you back $5,699. The CC carbon frame with the downhill-specific, 7-speed SRAM X01 group and Fox 40 Float Kashima is a cool $8,799. And don’t forget there is always the ENVE wheel upgrade option…

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The V10 is available in white with red trim and black with white trim. Santa Cruz had the Syndicate team in the office for the annual Holiday party, and the red and white of the new V10 looked right at home.

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Inside Line: Get the scoop on Specialized’s radical new Demo 8


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I think it’s safe to say that Specialized has created an instant icon. Simply put, the new Demo 8 is unlike any downhill bike we’ve ever seen. While it retains the classic FSR suspension layout, the pivot points were all moved as far down as possible, with the main pivot finding itself concentric with the bottom bracket. With the pivots out of the way, the seat tube was really only there to support the seat, and since that doesn’t have the structural requirements of linkage, it could be pared away to its minimum. The resulting asymmetric frame design is something that could only be possible with modern carbon fiber technology.

specialized-demo-2015-12 See it in detail here.

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UCI releases 2015 World Cup racing calendar


The UCI released the 2015 schedule today and it includes six cross-country events, seven downhill events and zero cross-country eliminator events.

The season will kick off on April 11-12 with round one of downhill in the new venue of Lourdes (France). Although new to the World Cup calendar, Lourdes has already hosted the French Cup, and will present riders with a 2.5km long course that descends 600 meters in altitude.

The other first-time destination next year is Lenzerheide, Switzerland, which will organise a double event (downhill and XC) on July 4-5. This will be the first of three consecutive rounds (2015-2017) in the Swiss resort as it prepares to host the World Championships in 2018.

See the full schedule here.

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Coming soon: Radically redesigned 27.5 Specialized downhill bike


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Despite the continued success of athletes Troy Bronson and Aaron Gwin on the UCI World Cup circuit, Specialized’s top-tier Demo downhill bike has been around for quite some time. Advancements in carbon fiber and shock technology—not to mention those bigger wheels—meant it was time for a new bike. Specialized took advantage of the long layover between races on the UCI calendar to get the bike to its top athletes in time for its debut at Monte St. Anne this weekend.

See more about the bike here.

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POC Eastern States Cup expands for 2014


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The POC Eastern States Cup is offering a full plate of Gravity Racing in its fifth season. With the growth of the series it has become apparent that East Coast mountain bike racers want more racing. The POC ESC is stepping up to supply the demand with two Downhill Series, an Enduro Series and a new SuperD Series. All totaled, the 2014 POC Eastern States Cup will offer 16 Downhill, six Enduro and eight SuperD mountain bike races.

Learn more and see the full schedule here.

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SRAM unveils 7-speed XO1 downhill drivetrain


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With the drive forward to stuff ever more gears onto rear hubs, it is nice to see SRAM take a step back and create a group with less gears simply because that is what makes the most sense for the application.

The real key to this system is the new 7-speed X-Dome mini-block cassette in a 10-24 range. Most downhill bikes are equipped with road-geared cassettes with something like a 12-26 range and 10 speeds. While this was plenty of range for a downhill bike, the tight gear ratios meant often shifting two or three gears at once to get to the desired ratio.

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A similar range, with less gears means bigger jumps between gears and less shifting. Many riders of XX1 and X01 11-speed groups (with the 10-42 cassette) have discovered the same thing, that these larger jumps between gears is actually better suited to the way most people ride. This setup only works with the XD cassette body from the X01 and XX1 11 speed groups.

Read more about the new drivetrain here.

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First Impression: Intense 951 EVO 27.5


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Just a month ago we previewed the build up of our Intense 951 EVO test bike. Now with some hours on this boundary-pushing machine, it’s time to weigh in with a First Impression.

Aside from this being a very slick and purposeful looking, US-made bike, two characteristics really stand out; one, 27.5-inch wheels, and, two, the very progressive geometry. Read the full story

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