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Downieville Race Rig: Santa Cruz Blur LT Carbon

The Downieville Classic challenges riders both physically and mentally. The mental aspect is tested even before the event happens as riders try to prepare their bikes. The All-Mountain category of the Classic requires riders to use the exact same bike for both legs of the event -- summiting the eight mile, 4500 vertical foot climb on the 29-mile XC course the first day, and ripping the 17-mile downhill course the following day. Bottom line -- it’s gotta be light and efficient (but not too light), and strong, yet not overbuilt.

After months of product testing, evaluation, and consideration, my Downieville Classic race rig tipped the scales at 26.74 pounds (12,140g).

I saved weight where I thought best, and opted for durability in the areas I thought most important. Here’s the spec I decided on:

Santa Cruz Blur LT Carbon (medium) – I rode the aluminum Santa Cruz Blur LT for the last year and got very comfortable. The redesigned VPP suspension climbs incredibly well, provides optimal traction and soaks up rock gardens -- all traits that will be tested to the fullest during the Classic. I felt its 140mm of travel would be ample for the downhill section, but not be overkill for the XC. Sure, it’d have been nice to step up to 160mm or so for some extra cush, but that adds weight simply by virtue of the fork and the related components necessary to spec the bike. With a 5′ bike, I could run a Fox 32, but with a 6′ bike, I’d most certainly need to run a Fox 36. So, I didn’t see it as a necessity, and if it wasn’t necessary, you won’t find it on this bike. With the release of the 5.6 pound Blur LT Carbon, it only added fuel to this fire, as the gap between 140mm and 160mm grew significantly. As the LTc was just released a few weeks ago, I’ve only recently built mine up. Thankfully the geometry is identical and replicating fit and position was a complete non-issue thanks to our Retul bike fit system (which allows us to create a template of an existing bike and replicate the fit on another.) In the handful of rides I’ve had since, it’s handled nearly identical to the LT aluminum only with a stiffer chassis and more precise tracking -- it rails!

One weight concession I did make was to opt for a Fox DHX 5.0 coil shock with a titanium spring. This added roughly .86 pounds to the bike (as opposed to running a Fox Float RP23), but the way it glides over the roughest terrain can’t be beat, and is well worth the weight. It’s very forgiving when you make a bad decision, and the truth of the matter is simple -- I’ve only ridden the course a handful of times. Chances are good that I’ll miss a line. I hope not, but you have to be a realist. This decision did however require some time. I made the decision this past fall at Mark Weir’s suggestion, and have been training with it since. It required me to transform slightly as a rider, as you really can’t climb out of the saddle with any efficiency. It’s OK to stretch the legs from time to time, but if you try to hammer out of the saddle up a climb, you’ll be dropped. Thankfully, in the past I’ve generally split my time climbing between the saddle and standing, and it required just a focus to stay seated a whole lot more. I did countless seated hill repeats to train myself to ride this way.

Fox 32 TALAS FIT 150 RLC 15QR fork with Tapered Steerer – As Fox has the greatest damper on earth, this decision was fairly easy. The 150mm of travel allowed me to maximize the front travel with virtually no weight penalty. A thru axle was mandatory to ensure wheel security, stiffness and premium tracking characteristics. The TALAS feature will allow me to dial down the travel for the prolonged climb to start the race, putting myself in a more desirable climbing position. Truth be known, though, I never use the TALAS feature on my home trails -- we just don’t have the sustained climbs to support it. I’d probably have just opted for the straight Float version of the fork to save a few more grams otherwise. For 2010, this fork shed nearly 177 grams as well. Not too shabby.

Cane Creek 110 Frustum ZS Headset – The Cane Creek 110 headset is vastly underrated and under appreciated. Precision bearings and top notch craftsmanship are trademarks in this series. This particular headset is somewhat unique in that it uses an integrated top race and a 1.5 bottom race to work within the confines of the tapered headtube of the Blur LTc. Available in beautiful ano colors, I thought it only fitting to add a dash of color with one.

Formula R1 Disc Brakes 180/160 – Anyone that read my review knows exactly why I’m using these beauties -- light, powerful and premium modulation -- what else could it possibly be? Not to mention they look great on the bike as well.

SRAM PC-991 Chain – SRAM makes great chains at a reasonable price. I was tempted to opt for the hollow pin version of the PC-991, but I thought better of risking it over a couple grams weight savings. The tool-free PowerLink makes repairs a cinch as well.

Shimano XTR CS-M970 11/34 Cassette – Light and crisp. There’s no finer shifting cassette at the moment.

Shimano XTR FC-M970 Crankset 44/32/22 w/Ceramic Bottom Bracket – There’s no finer crankset available than XTR. At less than 800g, it provides all the stiffness for which I could ask. The chainrings are top notch. It looks great, and it’s available in a 172.5mm length. Why 172.5? It’s all about the weight savings. No, I’m just messing with you. I experimented with the 172.5 length last year when I built up the Ventana El Bastardo project bike. I liked the idea of having slightly more clearance over rocks and other obstacles, enhancing my ability to turn the cranks over by some small amount, and mimicking the length of the crank on my road bike. After all, I use both bikes to train effectively, and it’s one (albeit small) step closer to being similar. I elected to go with the ceramic bottom bracket to minimize drag at no weight expense. We’ve been doing these ceramic conversions for a couple years now, and it’s proven to be a worthwhile upgrade to each of my project bikes.

Crank Brothers Candy 4ti Pedals – Easy in, easy out. Four-sided entry and premium mud shedding (though it looks to be a rain-free weekend!) Sub-200g weight is pretty tasty too.

Shimano XT Direct Mount Front Derailleur – Omigod, why hasn’t everyone adopted the direct mount front derailleur yet? Installation was a snap, and my front shifting has never been better -- not even close. You won’t believe it until you try it.

Shimano XTR RD-M971 Long Cage Rear Derailleur – If you run Shimano shifters, you run a Shimano rear derailleur. Naturally if I’m building a bike to perform, I’ll take the top-of-the-line, thank you. I opted for the more traditional alloy cage as I’m not 100% comfortable with the carbon cage of the Shadow sitting so close to the spokes.

Avid Rollamajig – The downside of a Shimano derailleur is the big loop of cable you wind up with to provide the correct entry to the derailleur. It’s prime to snag some debris and cause a mechanical, and the drag created by the extra housing is unwanted. The Avid Rollamajig resolves that by allowing one to tighten the entry point to the derailleur using a simple pulley wheel. The ‘loop’ is gone, and Shimano shifting is like butter. They’re tough to come by given that they’re no longer made, but you might find one on eBay. Not because they didn’t function, but because Avid is part of SRAM, and SRAM is a direct competitor to Shimano, so why would they want to make their competitor’s stuff better? I still think someone needs to re-invent the Rollamajig. Yo, Tyler at Twenty6 Products! Are you listening?

Shimano XTR SL-M970 RapidFire Plus Shifters – Light multi-directional action. Sweep a few gears at once. What’s not to like?

Thomson Elite Masterpiece Seatpost – Keep it simple. No one does seat posts better than Thomson. The Masterpiece is a lightweight take on their classic Elite model.

Fizik Gobi XM Kium Saddle – Nothing is more personal than a saddle. What works for me might not work for you. I love the shape of the Gobi, and it’s proved to be very durable as well. I started training on it, and never got off it. I stuck with Fizik’s proprietary K:ium rails for durability reasons. I just didn’t see the weight savings as substantial enough.

Salsa Lip Lock Seat Clamp – Call me crazy, but I like the security of a non-QR seatclamp -- I don’t want the seatpost to slip while I’m riding. The anodized red finish only added to the bike’s aesthetic.

Syntace Vector Carbon Handlebar – All we need to talk about here is the 12 degree sweep and subtle. It’s my favorite all-time handlebar as it provides such a natural position for my hands and wrists.

Syntace F119 Stem 90mm – The F119 is the perfect lightweight compliment to the Vector bar. The 90mm length puts me in the perfect position for both the XC and DH -- not too long, not too short.

Ergon GE1 Enduro Grips – To ride all-mountain terrain you need to have the flexibility to maneuver your hands on the bars to react to unexpected situations on the trail. The GE1 provides enough contour to support your hand without limiting your range of motion. My favorite feature is the bolted end caps, which provide just enough of a ‘rim’ at the outer edge of the bar for me to maintain maximum control.

Industry Nine All Mountain Wheelset – It’s hard to get me off Industry Nine wheels. The freehub engages quicker than any other which is great in technical terrain. Their aluminum spokes help create a super-stiff wheel, no matter your rim selection. Here, I’ve opted for the Stan’s No Tubes 355 front rim for its lightweight and ability-to-go-tubeless characteristics. For durability in the rear, I’ve added 40 grams or so, and gone with the Stan’s No Tubes Arch rim which utilizes the same design as the 355, but adds a support (the arch) throughout the rim. The front hub is the Industry Nine Enduro hubshell stepped down for the 15QR thru axle of the Fox fork.

Tubes – Ha! I don’t have time for pinch flats. I’ll have one in my pocket though, just in case…

Tires – I’m still undecided, but they’ll be run tubeless for sure. Going tubeless allows me to run less pressure, enhancing traction and vibration damping qualities while eliminating the pinch flat. I’m running the course Thursday, and I’ll decide thereafter. The photos of my bike show the great all-around Continental Mountain King UST 2.4, but I’m leaning towards the WTB Weirwolf LT Team FR – high volume, low profile, reinforced sidewalls, with great cornering knobs. In my experience, they roll real quick which will be ideal for the XC event. For sure, it’ll be one of those two models. Stan’s sealant? Of course. It’s paid dividends for me in the past.

My one wish is that I had a water bottle braze-on on the underside of the downtube. I’d prefer not to carry a pack, but my hand was forced. All said and done, I can hardly wait to put this beast through the ultimate test -- the Downieville Classic.