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By Matt Pacocha
The first big mountain-bike race of the season isn’t just a chance to see which racers have been following their off-season training programs — it’s an opportunity for gearheads to gauge which manufacturers have been doing their homework.
For most companies, design, prototyping and testing generally take place one, two, even three years ahead of production. So the racecourse is one of the best places to get a look at what may be coming down the production pike.
At this week’s NOVA National at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona, there were plenty of out-of-the-ordinary items on the bikes of top pros. You just had to look for them.
For example, we spotted 2008 Fox prototypes on Adam Craig’s Giant Anthem Advanced and Geoff Kabush’s Litespeed Sewanee. SRAM equipped Sam Schultz’s Gary Fisher Race Day with some 2008 prototypes. At the Trek camp, Travis Brown left an array of prototype 69er bikes on the team’s rack. Brown has further pushed the 29-inch front/26-inch rear wheel concept through development — this year, Trek has one production bike in the line, a single-speed, but from the looks of what Brown’s been racing, a full-suspension bike may be coming for 2008.
Some teams equip riders with truly one-off equipment, built solely for speed. Team Maxxis had its riders on full-custom Litespeed titanium bikes, which are a possibility for consumers as well, though they won’t get the custom fit and suspension refinements by R&D chief Brad DeVaney. Litespeed also had a prototype pivotless-chainstay, full-suspension bike floating around the pits. The first version went to team manager Gary Wolfe so that he could schuss the design out before putting his racers on it.
Back at the Subaru-Gary Fisher trailer, Willow Koerber had a new bike that will never make it to your local shop floor — not in its current configuration. Its mix-and-match tubeset blends the shaped top tube from a Race Day full suspension bike and road-specific Klein Gradient aluminum tubes, knocking more than a half-pound off the production Big Sur frame.
“It basically went from a 3.4-pound frame to a 2.8-pound frame,” said Matt Opperman, Subaru-Gary Fisher team mechanic.
It wasn’t perfect — there was a mix-up on the head-tube length, so Fisher engineered this funky long lower headset cup to allow the fork crown to clear the frame. Still, Koerber rode the new hardtail to fifth place in Saturday night’s short-track. Heather Irmiger is in line for the next custom machine, and the men hope to have their own soon.
While she waits for her own one-off bike, Irmiger has been racing her all-aluminum Big Sur 29er. The bike is outfitted with a 38/26-tooth Truvativ chainring combination. In the time trial she rode 29×1.8 Bontrager Jones XR tires.
Before the cross-country, she tested tire choices with teammate and husband Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, who used a single 38-tooth chainring on his 29er for the cross-country with a SRAM X.7 front derailleur as a chainguide (he used the same set-up at last summer’s nationals in Sonoma, California).
Both chose the larger Jones ACX in a 29×2.1 size to smooth out the fast, rough cross-country course. Bontrager’s new Race X Lite tubeless 29er wheels and tires have made it easier for the team’s racers to pick the big-wheeled bikes for racing. The wheels and tires trim some weight and offer the advantages of tubeless technology. Bontrager also has a new tire called the Dry X, which will be available in 26 and 29-inch versions.
Subaru-Gary Fisher team member Sam Schultz has been testing a new rear shock for SRAM called the Monarch 4.2. “It’s still Motion Control platform,” said Opperman. There is a lockout lever and a gate adjustment that acts upon the damper when it’s locked, he explained. Three different platform weights are out for testing — Schultz started out on the lightest and has since moved to the medium version, which has more bob resistance.
The biggest improvement is that the shock operates at a much higher pressure, and that makes it easier to tune, Opperman said.
“With the [older] lower pressure shocks, 1 psi makes a huge difference, whereas the higher pressure shock is a lot easier to fine tune,” he said. The shock also has a nifty rotating tuck-away air valve.
Look closely at the lower legs on this Reba World Cup, also on Schultz’s bike. You could see a slight bulge in the lower legs — we’re not sure if it’s further refinement to shave weight by using a Power Bulge type design carried over from the Lyric and Totem long-travel forks. That’s just a guess, but SRAM is launching 2008 product at Sea Otter, maybe we’ll learn more there.
Travis Brown (Trek-FRS) had two new 69er bikes under the Trek tent. Both were prototypes and looked to be based off of the aluminum Top Fuel. Both had Hi-Lo chainstays and wide-stance bearings.
The unpainted silver version is a four-inch-travel cross-country bike. Brown raced it in the TT and Super D. The other (blue) is a five-inch trail bike, according to Brown it still has a ways to go before it is ready for the market.
“I think that’s the category [trail bike] where the wheel platform shines the most,” he said. “The biggest advantage is kind of the same as going up a category in suspension travel. It gives you more confidence and you can descend faster without the extra height and without the extra weight of longer suspension.”
Geoff Kabush and Mathieu Toulouse (Maxxis) spent much of the day Saturday dialing in their Litespeed Sewanee race bikes. Everything was new to them so, they had quite a task to get it all set up correctly in one afternoon.
Team Maxxis Manager Gary Wolfe had one of the first prototypes of Litespeed’s pivotless-chainstay bike. If all goes well the team’s riders should be on them by the beginning of the summer.
Kabush’s Litespeed Sewanee had a new Fox rear shock. The air valve was repositioned, which will make adjustment much easier.
Luna Women’s rider Shonny Vanlandingham was the first on her team to get Orbea’s new Oiz carbon full-suspension bike. She didn’t have a chance to test it out before Sunday’s cross-country, so here hardtail will likely be her race day choice.
The Kona boys all had the new Marzocchi Corsa World Cup fork, team mechanic Mark Matson said that it’s almost three-quarters of a pound lighter than what the team was on last year.
Adam Craig (Giant Bicycle) has one of the first 2008 Fox F Series suspension forks. Fox officials would not give details, but the new fork featured sculpted lowers and a post-mount brake attachment. It has an X inertia damper, which is rumored to be leaving Fox’s line in 2008. However, Craig will not give it up and will continue to have access to the technology for racing. If you want, or were thinking about buying a Fox inertia fork, now is the time while it’s still in production for 2007.