Australian Mountain Bike - - Gravity Check - WORDS: CHRIS PANOZZO PHOTO: MATT ROUSU

Lour­des France, April 29th 2017. It didn’t take long, less than 48 hours un­der the en­vi­ous eyes of the pub­lic and scru­tiny from in­ter­net fo­rums ev­ery­where and the Santa Cruz Syn­di­cate riders put a be­spoke 29er into three of the top six po­si­tions, in­clud­ing fastest of all dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for Round 1 of the UCI DH World Cup. Deep in the heart of France, en­sconced by thou­sands of coun­try men and women, you had the heir to the throne of cy­cling roy­alty com­plain­ing of un­fair ad­van­tage the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing had fin­ished. Af­ter the dom­i­nance of ten-time Down­hill World Cham­pion Nico Vouil­loz (clearly French) push­ing the bound­aries of tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing us­ing pit-to-rider com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the irony of Loic Bruni call­ing out a U.S man­u­fac­turer for any en­gi­neer­ing ad­van­tage surely must have put smiles on the faces of ev­ery­one present who didn’t know how to speak the lo­cal lingo. Present day and tem­per­a­tures have cooled dra­mat­i­cally, riders and en­gi­neers have all learnt the lessons of de­vel­op­ing prod­ucts in such a pub­lic en­vi­ron­ment where per­cep­tion is often quite dif­fer­ent to re­al­ity. The UCI seems in no hurry (are they ever?) to reg­u­late what they feel should be the core el­e­ments to moun­tain bik­ing and it seems the in­dus­try is set to self-reg­u­late what con­sti­tutes a fast rac­ing bike. Af­ter that ini­tial scram­ble of ev­ery­one in the pad­dock af­ter the first round in 2017, teams and man­u­fac­tur­ers who felt they had missed a beat pro­duced hastily thought-out bikes with grooves ma­chined out of fork crowns, mod­i­fied swingarms and pro­to­type tyres all to ac­com­mo­date the 29er at the fol­low­ing round in Fort William. Apart from Trek and In­tense, who had also been (semi) se­cretly de­vel­op­ing their own be­spoke 29er bike from the ground up. Now they thought, against the back drop of Fort William, well-known as one of the fastest and rough­est cour­ses in the world, what bet­ter place to see how their bikes stack up? Cue Jack Moir. Hav­ing had an in­jury free off­sea­son for the first time in as long as he can re­mem­ber, a works In­tense 29er at his dis­posal sized to match his own height, down he came and into his best re­sult to date in front of thou­sands of scream­ing fans, third in qual­i­fy­ing, sec­ond in the fi­nal, who won? Min­naar aboard his own cus­tom Santa Cruz 29er. At this point it seems a given the cham­pi­onship would surely fall to a rider on one of those three brands build­ing a be­spoke bike to suit the larger wheels, but as you know, it seems you can never count out Aaron Gwin. It’s worth not­ing that look­ing to the EWS where 29ers have been present since the in­cep­tion of the sport, not one of the men’s over­all ti­tles have been won on a 29er. En­duro is much more a re­ac­tionary sport though, with lim­ited prac­tice in some in­stances whereas you have an in­cre­men­tal ap­proach to speed on the DH World Cup. It might not seem that way were you to stand on the side of the track dur­ing first prac­tice and see riders come past at speeds you thought unimag­in­able, but ven­ture back up there to watch fi­nals and you will soon be pick­ing your jaw up off the ground. Know­ing in in­ti­mate de­tail where you need to have the bike placed ready for the next corner be­fore you get there is an in­tri­cate part of down­hill rac­ing, all the en­ergy and speed that comes with a prop­erly de­signed 29er does take a dif­fer­ent rid­ing style to pro­duce fast times, and at times can be harder to ma­noeu­vre than a bike with smaller wheels, with less ro­ta­tional mass, and there­fore less en­ergy re­quired to achieve a fast change of di­rec­tion, which could be a very real fac­tor in the EWS, where you are not sure what is com­ing up around the next corner, but not so down­hill. En­gi­neers can’t un­learn the lessons from the past 12 months and will be push­ing tech­nol­ogy they be­lieve will make them the quick­est. Surely the de­sign of­fices of all bike man­u­fac­tures, and sup­pli­ers for that mat­ter would have been tak­ing note what hap­pened in April 2017. Now only a month out from Round 1 of the 2018 sea­son and the ques­tion will be, are we about to see a re­peat of 2017 or has ev­ery­one learnt the lessons from those ini­tial 48 hours in France?

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