Every year we close the summer with great anticipation of the upcoming Interbike tradeshow in Las Vegas. The buzz of the show builds all year, as manufacturers leak details of cool new stuff and promise that it will be visible there. The show is a mad rush for us, as meetings and a generally tight schedule keep us very focused on who we need to see when and where. Here are the highlights that distracted/attracted us enough to stop and snap a few photos.
One ride will tell the tale. The new SRAM XX gruppo is one of those new products that we think we’ll be seeing a lot this next year. We attended technical clinics to learn about it and then we rode it. XX can be summed up like this -- getcha some! For all of the efforts of Cannondale and Ritchey over the years to lure riders to make the switch from three chainrings to two up front, perhaps this is the best laid plan yet. SRAM makes the leap to 2×10 with the new XX. Their commitment to the entire group makes it all work. Of course, there is a 10-speed specific shifter that pulls a matched rear derailleur. One of the key elements is the 11-36t 10-speed cassette. The word on the street is that the guys at SRAM chuck a hunk of steel billet in the CNC machine, press play, and go home to get a good night’s sleep. After a late breakfast, they go get it out and marvel at their creation. So for all the tenuous machine work, what do you get? Only the most impressive and lightest cassette we’ve ever seen. It’s going to be expensive, but it kicks ass, plain and simple.
The rest of the group is equally impressive. The shifters, derailleurs, and brakes all use T25 hardware for installation and maintenance. One of those old L-bend torx wrenches that comes with Avid brakes could be the only tool you’ll need on the trail for emergencies. Carbon levers on the brakes and shifter paddles team up with a super clean matchmaker setup to reduce weight and make control adjustments better than ever. Out on the trail, we felt like the front shifting was the best we’ve ever ridden. 43 different front derailleur versions are gonna be hell from an inventory standpoint, but we’ve felt the result of their optimization. Aside from high/low clamp, direct-mount, and top/bottom pull versions, the derailleurs are available with cage shaping specific to chainring diameters. That’s how they make the front shift as good as our road bikes. Bang, bang, bang.
The rear shifting is equally smooth. We think that SRAM’s nerds have gotten their tooth shaping dialed-in with XX, lending to the quickest rear shifting that we’ve felt. Shifts up the cassette from little to big cogs can be made in two stabs at the lever. In fact, one swing of the thumb paddle will take the chain six cogs up. Shifts to harder gears have to be made one at a time, in theory. However, it can be double clicked in rapid succession like double clicking a mouse button, the resulting upshift is instantaneous and so smooth, you’d swear you just went one gear instead of two.
The brakes feature a first-for-SRAM aluminum spider coupled with a stainless rotor. They will be available in 6-bolt and centerlock versions. One concern that we’ve had and heard echoed around the industry has to do with the Q-Factor of the cranks. At this point and with some preliminary measurements we’ve made, we can say that the Q166mm version will fit many XC or enduro style bike. Some frames will accept the Q156mm version. Trust us, we’ll have compatibility specs nailed down for the bike models that we carry as soon as we can. What we really want to know is -- where is the172.5mm version? It would seem that most MTB riders (especially the XC set) cross train using a road bike. Road bikes use a 172.5mm crank for the most part, and share a low Q factor. If one were able to replicate their road and MTB set-ups pretty closely, you’d optimize training, and ultimately performance – not to mention pick up 2.5mm of added clearance on a carbon crank, and it’ll be a percent or two easier to turn over. At this point however, the XX cranks are only available in 170mm and 175mm lengths.
Steve Peat has been riding on SRAM 10-speed. He finally won his first world championships this year. Lance Armstrong blistered the course record when he won the Leadville 100 last month riding with an XX group. Hmmm, maybe there’s something to this?
The Niner booth was hot! While only the hardest of hard men still ride fully rigid bikes these days, Niner gives them a reason to be proud to have saddle sores and loose teeth. We dug the look of their painted-to-match carbon forks. With integrated headsets, their bikes are colorful and super-slick!
POC had a great looking booth this year. They have jumped on the bold color bandwagon. We really dig on the return of neon colors (when done right). Strangely one of the highlights of the show happened at the POC booth, although the source was just a dude checking out their protective gear. The story is, the guy was a top notch freerunner and stunt man. He walked into the booth and asked to ‘try out’ some gear. After a moment’s pause the POC guys gave him a Spine VPD vest to try. He zipped it up and promptly did a front flip onto his back on the concrete floor. As the crowd gathered, his acrobatics escalated. He set up obstacles with chairs to jump and flip over. It was awesome. How did he like the gear? Since he was still breathing after flopping onto the floor like a sack of concrete, we assume it did its job perfectly.
We’ve been worried about the Slopestyle going away for some time now. The great news is that instead of going to the grave, it got reworked and revealed at the show with a new generation VPP suspension. Although details for production models weren’t clear at the show, we’re hoping for a two position upper link for some travel adjustability. A slacker head angle gives it more steering stability than last years SS. The Tracer 29 was shown in a killer green finish that we loved. Just like the Tracer, this one will be a uber-capable trail bike. It features Intense’s first tapered head tube, and adjustable VPP travel between 4.75 and 5.5 inches. We can’t wait to get on one and go get lost in the woods. It should be available in the Spring.
With the switch to dw-Link, Dave Turner has chosen to proceed at a manageable pace with his new designs in order to bring a ‘finished’ bike to market. Let’s let the factory riders do the tweaking and give boatloads of feedback. We’ll be ready to just get to some serious riding when it finally becomes available. We’ll expect that the new RFX will be just polished as the Flux, Sultan, and DHR when it reaches production. The rear triangle, like the DHR, is a departure from the two XC models. In typical Turner fashion, it looks like they’ve taken the hard road on this bike to preserve the ride characteristics that they sought. It will use a direct mount front derailleur, which we’ve found to offer super precise shifting.
The new RFX will also use the intriguing X-12 (12mm x 142mm) rear thru-axle from Syntace. It simplifies the challenge of the combined axial and radial preloading of the rear axle. The dropouts will actually have a taper to fit the axle ends and one tool or quick release will do the trick to get it locked and ready to rock. Obviously, the frame must be made specific to fit it, but it uses a standard 135 mm hub with thicker end caps. And most any wheel is convertible. The RFX will have a tapered head tube for a light and stiff front end. The chainstay yoke must be ultra stiff, as there’s no seatstay bridge. We’re dying to throw a leg over it -- hopefully by Sea Otter.
Santa Cruz Tallboy
What can we say about this one? Finally a 29’er from these guys! All we know is it was worth the wait. We’re already huge fans of the Blur Carbon and the Tallboy looks to build on what they developed there and taken it to new heights. If you’re a big wheel fan and have been crying over the lack of a Santa Cruz option, then your prayers have finally been answered. We rode it at the Dirt Demo and it rocked. The balance of the bike was totally dialed in. It had the familiar racy, yet supple feel of the Blur XC Carbon and the roll that only a big wheel can offer.
Simon. Hal. Terminators. These damn computers are taking over the world. Actually Cannondale’s new Simon front fork is based on their old Lefty platform, but uses a whole new damper assembly. Mechanically, it is quite simple. The piston in the damper assembly has one hole. It moves freely through the oil until a single needle squeezes into the orifice to slow fluid flow. The complex part is the brain of the system. An accelerometer sends information to an onboard computer and tells it how rough the trail is. The computer can then process that info to open or close the valve correspondingly. Apparently the gizmo can close the valve in six milliseconds. The whole deal is user programmable with a tiny handlebar-mounted joystick. It can be preset with different modes for different trails and riding conditions. Riders can stop trailside and adjust the damping rate for compression or rebound from the top to the bottom of the stroke. Travel height and lockout can be adjusted too. It looks to be a long way off, but maybe this kind of thing will take suspension development to the next level. It was very cool nonetheless.
Knog is one of those companies that started small, real small, and made great stuff and great decisions along the way. At the moment, their safety lights are some of our favorites. Their Frog is a permanent fixture on our seatposts. One super cool thing we saw in their booth was a transformer type widget. Folded up, it looks like some type of Autobot artifact. Once the magic code has been revealed, it opens up to function as a crescent wrench for fixed-gear axle nuts.
These guys make some seriously cool carbon fiber components. One of our favorite bikes from the show was in their booth. It was a dark blue Engin with slick white pinstriping. It was so sleek with one cog out back, a painted-to-match rigid fork, and all of the white brake hose and cable housing for the HammerSchmidt running internally through the frame and fork tubes. It rolled on their carbon clincher rims and was super cool.
We threw our legs over the new AS-R 5 Carbon at the dirt demo. This is a point and shoot bike at its best. With 120mm of rear suspension travel, it can handle most trails with ease. It come standardwith quick release rear dropouts, but it can be converted to use the new Syntace X-12(12 x 142mm thru-axle) for added stiffness. That may be the way to go if you frequently ride technical trails and use a 20mm or 15QR up front. The carbon monocoque front and rear triangles keep the weight below 5 lbs. That’s XC light! It was one of those bikes that we loved as soon as we rode it.
Nino Schurter’s World Championship Machine
Powered by the SRAM XX group and his Scott Scale, Nino Schurter attacked reigning World Champ Julien Absalon in the final 200 meters in Canberra, Australia just a few short weeks ago to take his first World Championship in the Men’s Elite category. Naturally, a feat like that is worthy of at least a few custom trimmings like this one-off Ritchey stem.