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Sea Otter Tech, Day 2: Team bikes, prototypes and custom-cut tires

It may be almost Easter, but day two at the Sea Otter Classic at Laguna Seca Raceway felt something like Christmas — a stroll around the grounds on Friday was all about the boys and their toys. Subaru-Gary Fisher racer Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski was feeling a little bit under the weather, but nevertheless took time to explain the development process behind his new Race Day Pro Caliber full-suspension bike. Giant may have had the least-attainable bike in the pits (it was more prototype than production), but Adam Craig seemed happy with it. He was also able to shed a little light on the new XTR

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By Matt Pacocha

Proud papa Travis Brown and his brown 69er

Proud papa Travis Brown and his brown 69er

Photo: Matt Pacocha

It may be almost Easter, but day two at the Sea Otter Classic at Laguna Seca Raceway felt something like Christmas — a stroll around the grounds on Friday was all about the boys and their toys.

Subaru-Gary Fisher racer Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski was feeling a little bit under the weather, but nevertheless took time to explain the development process behind his new Race Day Pro Caliber full-suspension bike.

Giant may have had the least-attainable bike in the pits (it was more prototype than production), but Adam Craig seemed happy with it. He was also able to shed a little light on the new XTR group and Fox’s new suspension bits.

Over at the Maxxis truck, team mechanic Gary Wolfe was polishing Geoff Kabush’s Nitrous and John Kirkcaldie’s High Line, a freeride bike built up especially for Sea Otter’s pedaling-intensive downhill course.

Trek R&D honch’ Travis Brown was beaming like a proud papa with his new 69er, featuring a 29-inch front wheel and 26-inch rear wheel. The pre-production prototype was anodized the appropriate color – brown. Trek also formally introduced a new full-suspension bike, the Top Fuel 8 an alloy Top Fuel.

Of course, it seems someone always has to work on the holiday. That’s where we found Michelin event manager Ralph Cronin, plodding away at one of the more tedious jobs on the circuit — custom-cutting downhill tires.

Fisher's Race Days

Fisher’s Race Days

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Gary Fisher’s bike for JHK
After a mechanical hampered his performance at the World Cup opener on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, Horgan-Kobelski showed up to Sea Otter feeling a little under the weather. He’s out of the cross-country omnium, but hoping to start Sunday’s cross-country race where there are UCI points up for grabs.

While waiting for Sunday to roll around, Horgan-Kobelski took the time to help introduce Gary Fisher’s new Race Day full-suspension cross-country race bike. The project, which has been in the final stages of development since the end of last year and is at last ready to meet the public, depended heavily on Horgan-Kobelski’s feedback.

“I was taken a bit aback,” said Horgan-Kobelski. “I have never had that close intimate, really authentic involvement with a company to actually develop a product.”

JHK’s two biggest concerns were weight and rigidity. His XL Race Day Pro Caliber delivers on the first, coming in at 23.8 pounds with pedals and a triple crankset. Horgan-Kobelski is known to use a 2×9 setup, which will drop the bike’s weight even further. He and Trek’s Brown carried out extensive testing last fall, the feedback from that session was incorporated into the production design, and the end product is something they are both proud of.

Highlights are specific to the professional-level cross-country racer. The single-pivot design and elevated chainstays deliver two distinct advantages — simplicity and light weight. The bike also provides Horgan-Kobelski with a 68mm bottom bracket shell and the ability to run a 108mm bottom-bracket spindle to achieve the narrowest stance width (Q-factor) available. As has been done with its new counterpart over at Trek, the Top Fuel 8, Fisher pushed the single pivot’s bearings to the outside to achieve the widest possible stance width for maximum stiffness.

The Anthem Composite

The Anthem Composite

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Adam Craig’s Giant Anthem Composite
Giant is sending its World Cup crusader into battle on prototype equipment – lots of it. The frame is a version-two prototype of Giant’s Anthem platform labeled with the simple working title of Anthem Composite. The bike will be produced entirely from carbon, save for the Maestro suspension links (lower). Though the pictured shock linkage is billet aluminum, as the season progresses we should see it changed to carbon.

Anthem Composite is a 2007 model, but not far enough along in its development to speculate on price or weight. The molds, however, have already been cut, so the geometry and shapes are what the standard production frames will have. The frame will be made from the same material as the TCR Advanced road bike – T800 high modulus carbon fiber.

Craig’s bike is adorned with the new ’07 XTR parts and ‘07 Fox suspension components. The new rear shock is called RP23, and the flashy white front fork is a refined version of the F80X. Craig seemed quite happy with all of his new parts and eager to share his few days of experience on the new parts.

“That new version of the X fork is rad,” said Craig, adding that the inertia valve’s action “is no longer discernable at all. It works super good — between that and the new RP23 in the back, it’s perfectly balanced.”

Craig has also been a big fan of Shimano’s Dual Control shifters since he got on them. “The modulation is so much better,” he said. “Once the brakes broke in, I totally blew the first corner on the course in grand style, it’s amazing how much better the feel is.”

The hydro-formed seatstays on Brown's 69er

The hydro-formed seatstays on Brown’s 69er

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Travis Brown’s Brown Bike
After the formal presentation including the Top Fuel 8 and the Race Day, Brown brought his new 69er single-speed over to answer questions about it.

The first prototype made its way into Brown’s hands right before the ’05 world single speed championships. The new bike is a final pre-production prototype. As a project that Brown himself has pushed through the development process, it is an eclectic mixture of off-the-beaten-path craftsmanship and true cutting-edge engineering. Every tube on the bike is manipulated in some way; the seatstays, chainstays, seat tube and down tube are all elegantly hydro formed. The single-speed dropouts slide with the disc tab attached to tension the chain, while providing for easy adjustment free flat repair and the use of a standard light weight quick release.

Trek’s Top Fuel 8
Brown and Trek storyteller Zapata Espinoza teamed up to introduce Trek’s new Top Fuel 8 for 2007. The new bike will be constructed of ZR9000 aluminum instead of the current generation’s OCLV carbon. The short-travel bike is positioned for the privateer racer, providing much of the performance of an OCLV model at an economical price.

Though it’s not carbon, this bike was designed specifically for the racecourse. Every aspect has been refined to capitalize on the aluminum Top Fuel platform’s performance. The Hi-Low asymmetrical chainstays offer clearance to the industry’s largest 2.35-inch tires. The newly designed main pivot has been widened to 65mm; this provides durability and stiffness. Though the bike will ship with a 100mm fork it will readily accept an 80mm option while keeping the headtube angle at a not-too-steep 71 degrees.

The new Top Fuel 8 will be available in two versions, priced at $1800 and $2000, and in four sizes. And like all of the high-end, race-specific models from Trek, the aluminum Top Fuel 8 will be handmade in Waterloo, Wisconsin.

Team Maxxis Turners
Team mechanic Wolfe and assistant Adam McGrath were working overtime to keep their charges’ rigs shinny and smooth through the torrent of racing and rain the riders were dragging them through.

Kirkcaldi will be riding one of the more interesting rigs for Sea Otter’s pedaling-heavy downhill, a Turner High Line freeride rig. The eight-inch-travel rig is considerably lighter than the Turner DHR, which is the usual go-to bike for the team’s downhill racers. The bike has a lighter single crown, the Fox 36 Talas and single-ply cross-country tires – a Maxxis Medusa 2.1 in the rear and a custom super tacky 2.1 Swamp Thing on the front.

While Kirkcaldi is riding an oddball bike to deal with the Sea Otter course, Kabush is riding a standard setup in his cross-country events. The only change was switching out his high-volume tires for narrow 1.9 Larsen TTs to handle the muddy conditions.

While Kabush’s setup may be standard, it is anything but plain. His Turner Nitrous is equipped with lots of cool custom bits, most of them orange. SDG makes the team custom saddles while Jag Wire created custom orange cable housing. The bike features a mix of standard 2006 XTR. Hayes El Camino brakes provide ample stopping power, and the cranks go round courtesy of Crank Brothers standard spindle 4ti pedals. Like many these days, the bike is finished with a ti’ bolt kit.

Groovin', on a Friday afternoon

Groovin’, on a Friday afternoon

Photo: Matt Pacocha

Michelin
One of the services Michelin provides to its sponsored downhill riders is custom tire-cutting, a chore handled by event manager Cronin, who sliced away under the broad canopy of Michelin’s awning, protected from the rain.

The purpose of custom-cutting tires is to increase their cornering bite. And while everyone at Laguna Seca was hunting the fastest way through the mud — in the wet, Michelin’s racers will be using the 2.2 Comp 16 or the 2.2 DH Mud 3 — Cronin was looking ahead toward the upcoming NMBS Series opener May 5-7 in Fontana, California.

This custom modification is made to the DH24 and helps on courses with wide-radius, high-speed corners. Cronin removes the solid side knobs in between the siped side knobs using a tire groover, which operates off an electric current and slices through rubber like a hot knife through butter (the do-it-yourself privateer can get similar results with a pair of snubnose snips or heavy-duty shears).

Cronin can cut a tire in 10 minutes with the electric groover, but says it shouldn’t take an experienced racer more than 15 or 20 minutes to do it with a pair of snips.

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