Slow guys on fast bikes: Fox’s Ride the Pro Bikes event

Gear editor Ryan Palmer spends some time on Jared Graves' and Nico Lau's race-winning rigs.

Photos: Anthony Smith

Never ones to turn down an amazing opportunity, we jumped right on board when Fox Racing Shox invited a handful of us wannabe-fast-guys to hop on some of the world’s quickest bikes. Just one day after the most grueling round of the Enduro World Series, held in Whistler, British Columbia, I experienced winner Jared Grave’s and second place Nico Lau’s bikes exactly as they were set up during the race. While the pilots were recovering, they nervously watched us hacks pedal off on their finely-tuned race machines. The bikes would have to wait one more day for a rest.

It’s a bit strange to hop on a bike without setting it up for myself, but we were under strict instructions not to make any changes, with the exception of running our own pedals if necessary. Tire pressure? Leave it. Fork and shock settings? Hands off. Bar height, seat height? No and no. So with my setup complete, off I went on Nico’s completely foreign Cube Stereo 160.

The author gets thrown right into the mix on Upper Angry Pirate, part of stage 5. The bike of second-place finisher Nico Lau was set up for the steeps.

The author gets thrown right into the mix on Upper Angry Pirate, part of stage 5. The bike of second-place finisher Nico Lau was set up for the steeps.

Nico's bike is a Cube Stereo 160 Super HPC, running a remote-activated Float X shock and a 180-millimeter Fox 36 fork.

Nico’s bike is a Cube Stereo 160 Super HPC, running a remote-activated Float X shock and a 180-millimeter Fox 36 fork. Those of you not aware with Cube, it’s a German brand currently not available in the US. The Horst Link suspension platform is very active, which explains Nico’s choice to run a remote CTD lever.

The remote cable routing is as clean as possible. It needs to be long enough to not to tug on the cable when the shock is compressed.

The remote cable routing is as clean as possible. It needs to be long enough to not to tug on the cable when the shock is compressed.

If you can keep up with Nico maybe Fox will build custom suspension for you, too.

If you can keep up with Nico maybe Fox will build custom suspension for you, too.

PALMER-FOX-RWTP-2178

Busy bars: With a double up front, a dropper post and shock remote, Lau has a lot going on.

Busy bars: With a double up front, a dropper post and shock remote, Lau has a lot going on.

Nico likes a tall front end. His Cube has a pretty short headtube, so he spaces the steerer out quite high in addition to running a tall handlebar.

Nico likes a tall front end. His Cube has a pretty short headtube, so he spaces the steerer out quite high in addition to running a tall handlebar.

Nico’s setup is interesting. He runs the shock softer than the fork rather than balancing the feel of the suspension. This actually suits steep descending well since the front of the bike is weighted more. Even though the bike felt a bit small for my 6-foot frame, and the shock felt a bit soft for me and my beer belly, the setup was comfortable and fast. I definitely liked his call to run his fork at 180 millimeters. Lau normally pairs his 160-millimeter frame with a 170-millimter fork, but opted to step it up a notch for the steep stages in Whistler.

The Fox race technicians make setup notes each time the bikes come in. They then transfer these notes to a spreadsheet where they track changes for each athlete through the entire season. With this information they're able to spot trends. For example, if most athletes run the low-speed compression backed all the way off, they might look into tweaking the adjustment range.

The Fox race technicians make setup notes each time the bikes come in. They then transfer these notes to a spreadsheet where they track changes for each athlete through the entire season. With this information they’re able to spot trends. For example, if most athletes run the low-speed compression backed all the way off, they might look into tweaking the adjustment range. Nico’s fork notes are on the left. The numbers represent clicks from fully closed. His high-speed compression is fully backed off, which is why there’s a note to change the valving. 

Taming the Beast–Graves’ Yeti SB6c

Jared's prototype Yeti SB6c doesn't play games.

Jared’s prototype Yeti SB6c doesn’t play games.

Jared Graves is friggin’ strong, so you’d think that his setup would be off-the-charts stiff. However, he chose to run things a bit softer than normal here to combat the chattery race course. Still, I found that the fork at–74 PSI–was still a bit too firm for me. I had trouble maintaining traction in the brake bump-riddled corners in the Whistler Bike Park. Jared opted to run his bike with a very balanced feel, with fork travel matching the SB6c’s 160 millimeters and spring rates feeling even-handed. The bike felt incredibly fast with pinpoint accurate handling. I felt like the faster I rode, the better Jared’s bike handled. If I eased off just a little, the bike would beg me to get back on the gas.

Graves dominated the final stage of the EWS on his prototype Yeti SB6c, landing him in the top spot in the toughest race of the season.

Graves dominated the final stage of the EWS on his prototype Yeti SB6c, landing him in the top spot in the toughest race of the season.

The Float X shock on Jared's bike is pretty stock, aside from being built and serviced by hand by the Fox race support crew.

The Float X shock on Jared’s bike is pretty stock, aside from being built and serviced by hand by the Fox race support crew.

Fox lets Jared get away with running the Thomson Covert Dropper internally routed post instead of the D.O.S.S. He has it mated to a XTR shifter that his mechanic Shaun Hughes masterfully modified to actuate the post.

Fox lets Jared get away with running the Thomson Covert Dropper internally routed post instead of the D.O.S.S. He has it mated to a XTR shifter that his mechanic Shaun Hughes masterfully modified to actuate the post.

The dummy shifter actuating the dropper matches the feel of the rear shifter, making it easy to find and actuate, as well as mounting cleanly to the brake lever with Shimano I-Spec.

The dummy shifter actuating the dropper matches the feel of the rear shifter, making it easy to find and actuate, as well as mounting cleanly to the brake lever with Shimano I-Spec.

You don't see a lot of 'ghetto tubeless' setups these days, but the system works really well. Filet a 24-inch tube leaving the valve on, and stretch it over the rim. Then install the tire and sealant and inflate, Finally, trim the excess tube. The tube acts as a barrier between the rim and tire, preventing pinch flats to the tire and creating a more solid bead lock.

You don’t see a lot of ‘ghetto tubeless’ setups these days, but the system works really well. Filet a 24-inch tube leaving the valve on, and stretch it over the rim. Then install the tire and sealant and inflate, Finally, trim the excess tube. The tube acts as a barrier between the rim and tire, preventing pinch flats to the tire and creating a more solid bead lock.

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