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By Matt Pacocha
Last month, Travis Ott, Gary Fisher’s brand manager and Subaru-Gary Fisher team director, personally delivered a new cross-country racing version of the brand’s HiFi full suspension frame to team riders Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger.
During our meeting in their hometown of Boulder, Colorado, at one of the coffee shops preferred by the pros, Horgan-Kobelski and Irmiger, who are married, gave the bikes a good look over while Ott ran through the basics of the new design.
Team members have worked closely with Fisher designers for several seasons developing cross-country full suspension designs. In particular, they helped develop the Race Day model, which was intended to be the brand’s all-out World Cup cross-country bike, to replace the venerable Sugar design.
However, soon after the Race Day was completed, Fisher unveiled the first HiFi model, which was lighter and had longer travel and an evolution of the company’s Genesis geometry, called G2.
“The HiFi definitely overshadowed the Race Day,” Horgan-Kobelski said.
In any case, with a few exceptions, the team has preferred to ride hardtails; choosing between 26- and 29-inch wheels depending on the terrain.
That may change this year, but the real test is a ride, not a discussion. So after the brief introduction Horgan-Kobelski set off on his new bike to ride 14 miles to Boulder’s Hall Ranch trailhead, while Irmiger, Ott and I piled into the couple’s team issue Subaru and met him there to give the bikes their first taste of Front Range trail riding.
Breaking it down
The Race Day is history, replaced with models using the new HiFi XC design, a racier version of the HiFi Trail. The HiFi XC is offered on three models: the ProCaliber, SuperCaliber and Caliber.
HiFi XC has 90mm of travel, cross-country-specific G2 geometry and a new co-molded OCLV carbon rear swingarm.
Further along we can get back to what Horgan-Kobelski — and I — thought after our first brief test ride, but first let’s break down how the Caliber models differ from other HiFi models.
A refresher: G2 refers to the alteration of the bike’s trail, which is achieved through a greater offset of the fork. By decreasing the amount of trail, Fisher achieves better slow speed handling without sacrificing high-speed stability. Fisher also claims better suspension action due to the better actuation angle. My experience is that G2 does do something to the bike’s handling, but the effect is subtle. My riding palate isn’t quite refined enough to evaluate G2’s claim of smoother suspension performance.
The HiFi builds on the original HiFi’s design. Here pedaling efficiency was a top priority. While the first inch or so of travel sags in similarly to the HiFi Trail, it ramps up its compression quicker to offer a firmer mid-stroke pedaling platform, while the end-stroke maintains a similar rate so that the bike pedals firmly through bottom out.
The main-pivot location is slightly higher, increasing the chain-pull effect. This feels more efficient and improves rear wheel traction.
HiFi XC frames are lower, longer and offer more saddle set back than the same-sized HiFi Trail frames. The HiFi XC has a short head tube with a zero-stack headset offering a ridiculously low bar position, if that’s what you desire. It’s also longer, in the cockpit and its front center measurement (the distance from the bottom bracket to the front axle).
The HiFi XC series bikes come with low-rise stems, flat bars and a greater, 20mm, offset seat post. All together, the bike’s cockpit is oriented for speed, not comfort.
The HiFi XC gets something else to give a winning edge on the racecourse: an all-new co-molded OCLV rear swingarm. The co-molding process, in which aluminum parts are molded into a carbon structure, first appeared on the HiFi Carbon and these specific seatstays were debuted on the HiFi 29, but the HiFi XC is the first bike in the Fisher or Trek lines to have OCLV chainstays.
Fisher continues to use an asymmetrical design to maintain maximum tire clearance and stiffness. Overall the combination of the HiFi design and OCLV swingarm makes the HiFi XC chassis 29 percent stiffer than the Race Day in Fisher’s internal testing. Besides adding stiffness, the carbon rear end saves 160 grams from the Race Day’s swingarm.
How It’s Packaged
The HiFi XC series will be available in three models. Each has the exact same ZR9000 aluminum mainframes mated to the new OCLV swingarms, differing solely by component spec.
? ProCaliber is the top of the line; with Fox’s F100RLC and RP23 suspension components and a drivetrain mix of SRAM X.0 and XTR along with Avid’s Juicy Ultimate brakes. High-end bits from Bontrager complete the package. The ProCaliber costs $5500.
? The $3300 SuperCaliber is positioned mid-line, with a Fox RP2 and F100RL fork with a Shimano LX/XT mixed drivetrain and Avid Juicy Five brakes.
? The Caliber has a Shimano Deore and LX mix with Avid’s Juicy Three brakes. Suspension duties are handled by a Fox RP2 rear shock and RockShox Recon Race fork. It costs $2420.
Whoa, this is low. The short headtube and large saddle-to-bar drop were the first factors to impress us as we pedaled up the technical middle-ring rock faces of Hall Ranch. The low front end was nice for climbing; it kept ample weight on the front wheel, but in some places it seemed like a bit too much as my rear wheel spun.
Turned back by mud, we pointed the bikes downhill. In this scenario the most immediate impression was of the G2 geometry; it really worked in the tight rocky terrain. Its effect was much more noticeable than on the previous trail platform. Hall Ranch’s switchbacks couldn’t have been better placed to illustrate G2 if the Fisher marketing department had placed the apexes themselves.
So everyone’s initial impressions were positive, but all decided to reserve final judgment until after precise fitting and some more time in the saddle — especially when there’s a start and finish line present.
For me, I can’t wait to race the ProCaliber. Something else I can’t wait for: To see how much the team rides their ProCalibers.
Horgan-Kobelski, has opted for full suspension for a few races in the past, most notably at the Mount Snow, Vermont, in 2006.
After trying the HiFi XC for the first time, Horgan-Kobelski, kept his cards close to his chest, but conceded he’d likely race it this year, at least on Vermont’s rooty trails.
“I would definitely anticipate racing this bike in Vermont at the National Championships,” Horgan-Kobelski said.
Racers: What you need to know about the new HiFi XC
? Genesis 2.0 Geometry
? 2345 grams (5.17 pounds) fuselage (17.5 frame with shock & hardware) HiFi Trail weighs 2378 grams (5.24 pounds)
? 23.8 lbs bike weight (17.5 ProCaliber without pedals)
? Custom Fox suspension: G2 offset for Fox F100RLC; RP23 tuned for HiFi
? 100mm front & 90mm rear travel
? Cross-country racing oriented suspension design and geometry, designed for pedaling over plushness or comfort
? Stiffer, lighter full OCLV carbon swingarm
? New cable routing along downtube