When I decided in 2013 to get a bit more serious about off-road racing and Xterra Triathlon, I knew one important thing: I didn’t know enough about mountain bikes. And this is an issue if you happen to be a pro triathlete that wants to make a switch and be competitive. Yes, it’s mostly about fitness… but a bit more so than in road triathlon, off-road equipment (and race-day setup) can offer not just marginal gains but significant gains.
Luckily, I quickly found a resource in Bauerhaus Bikes, Boise. When I dropped by the shop, I realized pretty quickly that I was talking to people that could very easily be doing something else for a living, but were passionate about cycling and had knowledge that permeated every aspect of the sport in great depth. “Oh, that’s neat I’ve never seen (insert just about anything here) before. Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist.” “We’ve just worked with someone to make it.” Whaaaa?
Those be my kinda peeps. So, more and more I’ve been lucky enough to work with the amazing group of folks at Bauerhaus is just that. A fit studio. However, it’s also a pro-shop for anyone with particular tastes, or wanting a bit more (or a lot) of customization. It’s basically a candy-store for bike geeks that have PhD’s and wear skate shoes and like DIY projects. They, and the brands they represent are playing a significant role in my education and evolution as a racer and person. I’ve been fortunate to have their guidance and advice on equipment selection and set up. It helps that they only purvey the best, most reliable equipment for training and racing. They have me set up to roll on the speedy products of Niner Bikes, Rolf Prima Wheel Systems, Maxxis Tires (Tyres), Shimano/PRO Components, Rockshox.
With that, before I get her all dirtied up…. I thought I’d introduce you to my 2016 racing setup, the Niner Bikes RKT 9 RDO:
This is a size Large frame. I’m only 6’0″, which should technically have me on a Medium. But when Michael Tobin at Bauerhaus fit me on my first Niner, we found that it was most optimal for me to be on a size Large. Probably due to my high “ape index”. Related side note here: there are some dropper-post options on the market for XC racers nowadays. But due to my gangly build, I can get my butt on the rear tire in technical situations, so no dropper needed for me, at least for now…
Now, I’ve noticed that the more “guy’s guys” riding for Niner have all chosen to run the Black & Red color scheme. But, I’ve gone the “Green and Greener” route. I’ve never been a “guy’s guy”. Anyway… I also like being myself, different, and besides it “pops” better in race photos. And it’s all about representing the companies that support me. If I could, I’d paint the whole thing neon, ala Sven Nys. Regardless of your color preference, it’s a dead sexy machine.
And for as “dead sexy” as it looks, it rides that way. The bike is just as confident than I am in technical terrain, or even more so. My mechanic suggested we go with XTR 1×11 drivetrain, mainly for it’s reliability. There used to be a trade-off since the cassette “only” spans from 11-40. But I’m a fairly large MTB racer (read: ok power) and with 30T-36T sprockets to choose from, this wasn’t a significant issue that warranted compromise in reliability. Also, (but not pictured) I use a Stages Power meter on an XTR left crank arm. It’s currently on my hard tail since I raced it last weekend.
A good friend of mine, Eric Lagerstrom turned me on to Rolf Prima Wheelsystems at training camp in Poway, CA. I had ridden a pair of Rolf Vigors back in the early 2000’s and they were sweet. This year, I was lucky enough to start a new partnership with them and they really have delivered the goods. The new Alsea Carbon racing wheel set is fantastic. The paired-spoke lacing system provides significant rigidity that takes a 29er wheel to 26er stiffness and handling. The lower/paired spoke count decreases the “sail” effect I get from 29″ wheels while flying over waterbars in high cross-wind situations. So it’s nice not to lose your bike from under you whilst airborne.
I think that the most noticeable (and important) difference between the Alsea and other leading brand wheel sets (Yes, I’ve ridden them) is that the they “spool up” or accelerate noticeably quicker. I assume this has something to do with equations containing pi, moments of inertia, and tangential forces. Regardless, if you are an XC racer this is just an important fact. I’ll leave it at that. 😉
Since I started a new partnership with Maxxis Tires this year, there was a learning curve in tire selection. As I mentioned in my sponsorship announcement, I decided to try out the IKON, BEAVER, PACE and ARDENT RACE models. Turns out that the IKON works VERY well in most conditions. Especially in dry conditions with some loose spots. However, I’ve found the most surprising tire to be the ARDENT RACE. This tire looks at first to be similar to the Schwalbe Racing Ralph that was previously my go-to tire for most conditions. But with the closely placed, ramped center knobs, this tire rolls a bit faster. They both have similar cornering knobs, but the ARDENT RACE’s knobs keep biting harder at steep angle and inspire cornering confidence. I just raced the IKON front and back with success in Bonelli, but the ARDENT corners better than the IKON on looser (think Boise in Summertime) trails, so I’ll probably be running this up front most of the time in Idaho. I honestly don’t see a reason not to.
When it comes to suspension, on previous bikes, I found that I could not stand opening and closing valves manually when my eyes were crossed from intensity in a race. So, one thing I insisted on when building my RkT was to have simultaneous dual-lockout suspension. I want it either fully open for locked. Rarely do I see the need to lock the front and not the back, or vs versa.
We did this by swapping out the rear for a RockShox Monarch XX and then tied it in with the RS-1 Fork via the Full Sprint Dual-Lock Remote. Oh man was that a good choice. Yes, I know the FOX has some electronic dohicky, and locks out fully rigid, but I actually like that this setup. It soaks up light chatter, even when locked. But it doesn’t bob. I’ve found it sprints up hills well and maintains traction when “locked”.
And when it’s opened up… BRAAAP! I feel like this suspension combination was made for the RkT. It’s plush over serious terrain and the RS-1 fork just goes where you aim it. (e.g. This video was shot on some deceivingly technical terrain.)
The keen eye may notice we’ve added some little goodies. Xterra racing, although similar to XCT/XCO in duration and intensity… is self supported. So that means I had to find smooth and lightweight support solutions. I like the aftermarket EMT gear for this. I put an EMT Chainbreaker top cap on the bars, with an 11 speed quick link in it, just in case I break a chain. (which has happened) Also, that thing under my side-pull water bottle cage is an EMT multi-tool. I actually also use it to build and break down my bike when I travel. Pretty slick. Not pictured is the dual CO2 holder I attach via the water bottle cage bolts. It’s just a piece of aluminum that has threads in two directions to hold two standard CO2 cartridges. From there I just strap a lightweight tube, tire lever, dollar bill and nozzle to the frame. Typically inside that little triangle. That keeps the bike’s center of gravity pretty low compared to a saddle bag.
By now, the weight weenies may be wondering “But Christopher, what does such a setup weigh?”. Well, it comes in at 23.8 lbs. Nearly 2 pounds lighter than the Jet9 I raced last season. However… just like with discussing Watts and Tire Pressure, I think people get a bit too caught up in absolute values. I know there are lighter bikes out there. Humans don’t like to hear this, but it’s relative. To begin with, this is a size Large. So it’s a bigger bicycle. More importantly, I weigh 162-167 lbs during the year. So I’m on the higher side of the weight scale being a triathlete with an upper body. SO, this is a light bike for my size and body weight. Really, any weight that I lose in my trunkjunk is more important to me than compromising performance to get my full suspension rig below 23lbs.
By far the most important thing is that it does what I need it to do. No more, no less. Honestly, I feel like if Niner would have asked me what I wanted in a racing bike, yeah, I would have included some built-in self-support solutions… but from a performance perspective: I would have come up with this bike. From aesthetics to high performance, it’s a rad machine all-around and I’m beyond stoked to be riding it in 2016. I’m also really excited to represent such great brands on the UCI, ITU and XTERRA circuits. Special thanks to Niner Bikes, Bauerhaus Bikes, Rolf Prima WheelSystems, Maxxis Tires for their support this year!