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Dialled Rides: Tuning tips from the pros: Jamie Nicoll

Welcome to Part 4 of our weekly feature, Dialled Rides, where we expose the mysteries of bike setup and reveal secrets from those at the pinnacle of the sport!!  Check out part 1, 2 and 3 where we talked with the current Enduro World Series Champion, Jerome Clementz the Aussie powerhouse Jared Graves! and Scotland’s Dudes of Hazzard

One beauty of enduro is that it emerged from nowhere, a simple collective herding of riders from ranging disciplines, each put to the test against the clock.  Without a specific pedigree everyone was anticipating the odd surprise here and there, but no one was expecting the podium of Round 5 held at Crankworx Whistler, to be graced by a rider sponsored simply by a small New Zealand based climbing company Cactus Climbing.  The fact that a privateer rider without factory support could take 3rd in the international event captured the imagination and interest of the global media.  That rider was 35 year old Jamie Nicoll, a humble and friendly Kiwi, riding his own Santa Cruz Nomad Carbon! He has followed the series for the last 6 months on a self funded shoe string budget, sharing trails with people from all over the world and serving as raconteur at many a camper van meal!

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Jamie Nicoll! A friendly face in the EWS pits!

We sat down with Jamie to simply talk about his bike, however it was a nice evening in Finale Ligure and his interesting character demanded more interview time!   What makes his story all the more engaging is that he suffered a horrendous abseiling/burns accident just 3 years ago, and after just a few years of recovery has bounced back to become a top 10 ranked world class rider.

It kind of grew all by itself, I never set out to become a world enduro rider, it just happened”, Jamie Nicoll

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So you kind of came from nowhere and burst onto the international scene, how was your first year in the EWS?

Val d’Allos was the first EWS event for me and it was tough, on the first stage I was running 6th, and so just powered into stage two and tore a tyre off the rim, so that was it for me, I was way down in the rankings.   I was a privateer this year because I started a bit late looking for sponsors in 2012 and did not manage to put something together in time.    But there have been positives and negatives, for sure it has cost me financially, but starting out as a privateer and doing well created a strong media interest, people embraced it as a cool thing in enduro, that you can be a privateer and still be a top 10 rider!  It has given me a lot of exposure and hopefully it will help with contracts for next year.

Did your accident change the way you think about riding?

Anything like that is really terrible, you would not want it to happen to anyone or yourself, but you learn so much and have to seek the positives.  It’s a well told story but in the hospital when I came round, I was delirious and thought I was in a race, and had done really well, it was all nonsense and part of the coma, but it certainly cemented something in me!  It gave me focus to get better, ride to the best of my abilities and do well.  3 weeks before the accident I had been in whistler, racing in the CrankWorx enduro, a single stage race, then everything changed, It has had a strong forming aspect on my racing!

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Did you have to stay off the bike for a long time?

I was back on the bike very soon, but in a very limited capacity.  A lot of mates laughed at my first riding efforts on the road to recovery, it was not good, I was constantly losing skin from my hands as everything was so fragile.  I was just so limited and energy resources were really low.  I felt really strong last year, but looking back I think I was still giving something back to the burns recovery..

So you keep yourself fit now then?

Yeah I do, Ha I’m known for being a bit odd with training, its maybe because of my circumstances but I am known for doing everything on the one bike!  Back in New Zealand, I’ll be out there road riding on the Nomad, and it’s no bad thing, it means you can do an hour’s road riding then shred down some singletrack on the way back.  It’s the bike that you race on; I think if that’s the bike you have to sprint on and put power through its good to do your training on it as well.  They are slow on the road, but you are out there to train, to do the weights essentially, so something that makes you work can only be a good thing.   I often go out with my mates on their road bikes and try and keep up on the Nomad, at Eurobike I was gate crashing the 2 hour night road rides on this beast, HA!

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How would you describe your riding style?

I am always working on being smooth, as I think that is the key.   I am not always known for being the smoothest rider, you know feedback through the press etc!  It’s not something that is super natural to me; I have to work on it!  I have been focusing on it for the last few years, finding more spots to go light on the bike, it’s all about how fast you can process what’s coming, finding those opportunities to go heavy or light.  I don’t go through as many wheels as some people so I am somewhere in the middle hopefully!

Do you go in for chainless riding to smooth out your style?

No I haven’t yet, saying that on one stage I lost my chain, and did not have time to pick it up as it was the last stage of the day.   I was very aware that as I was not able to get on the gas to bring the bike up to speed, I took on a different style of riding and my cornering was really nice.  It’s also what makes it so fun, drawing energy from the trail itself brings art to biking!

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So are you a rider that likes to build up to speed in practice, or go for full on top to bottom runs?

I like to maintain a decent speed in practice so you know which sections will be challenging at race pace, but also try and scope out lines that could be done better!  It is important not to charge through stages and miss good lines; it is always worth walking back and checking things out.  If you try and do practices runs when you feel a bit fatigued they become really hard runs, when you feel good it is so much easier to maintain energy!  If you slow down and try and look at the track, it feels like you can no longer ride your bike..How some people dawdle down the trails is a mystery!

What do you think about lift assisted stages?

I like lift assisted stages, but if we talk about the ‘spirit of enduro’, there is definitely more spirit in the events where you pedal up together, you get to chat with other racers and I think that is what it is all about.  Whistler was a great mixture of lift assisted and pedal liaisons.  Sometimes lifts can take you to the top too quickly and you have to stand around a fair while waiting to start,  getting cold and stiff.

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What was the standout race for you this season?

I loved whistler, this year they just nailed it really nicely, it was not only that I got a podium, but I have always enjoyed riding there, loads of fast sections and also lots of nibbly awkward riding.  The last stage from the top of the world was epic.

So let’s talk about nutrition, you must burn a lot of fuel with your training?

I just eat a lot of food, trying to keep to things with a higher amount of energy.  I like to think I eat well anyway and try and avoid getting too focussed on nutrition, if you start to control your food around race time, it’s one more thing to be concerned about.  It is important to enjoy your food and relax, just eating right is the best way!.

So how much do you weight at the moment?

I try to keep myself at 75kg

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So let’s look at your bike, a Large Nomad Carbon.  I rode this bike over a stage yesterday and at about the same weight it is obviously super firm!  What pressures are you running in the shocks?

The pike forks are running at 80psi, SRAM fitted a volume reducer even before they gave me the fork so it ramps up really well, when you hit a big bump it holds you up, I had 36s before and find them just as stiff.  They also have that initial softness for small bump absorption.  I guess I do run them pretty hard for my weight!  With the fork I value it staying up, when you are in a steep tight turn it does not throw your weight forward and dive, and under heavy breaking it stays up to maintain geometry.  The rear shock is a Rockshox Monach plus L/L set at 140psi, it’s pretty new to me so I am still working with it a little, but it seems to be handling the heat a little better than the fox I had before.

Do you run a base suspension setting, or tweak to suit each stage?

I do not play with the pressure so much, as before I had the CTD to flick between modes, allowing last minute decisions at the tops of stages, firming up at the sacrifice of small bump absorption.

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Do you put aside time for setting the suspension?

Yes, I like to get the fork dialled, and rear shock sorted for a base setting, I know a few folk add a little more pressure if they think it will be rough, but I find the ramp up on this bike really good so tend to leave it at a standard setting.

What about tyres and pressures?

I do not really change from a standard of 27psi in the front and 30psi in the back, I will go up a little in the back if I am concerned it will be really rocky, but not more than a psi or so!  I am currently running a 2.3 Mavic Crossmax roam on the back and 2.4 Crossmax charge on the front, the front has a nice soft compound, maybe a little harder than a supertacky but not much, I sometimes pop a 2.4 on the back for more DH style runs.

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Have you spent much time on a 650B.

Yeah just this week actually, I suppose you may have thought it would have been something that I would jump on earlier but I have been spending a lot of time on my own bike.   I tried a 650B bike out at Roc d’Azure and I liked that I could tell straight away that the wheels were different sizes, it was immediately obvious and really positive, it held speed nicely and was really good through the corners.  There are many rocky trails that chatter away at your speed, and I could feel the bigger wheel holding speed a little better.  It felt really good railing into looser terrain, you could really feel the longer footprint!  (Jamie was supposed to have a 650B Bronson for the final stage in Finale but it got held up in US Customs!)

Do you run angle-sets or offset bushings?

Not really the bike is running totally as standard at the moment.

What chainring are you running?

36 at the moment, I never really changed off the 36.  I did not have XX1 at some of the bigger euro races and would have liked to have had a 38!  Now I have the XX1 I really like it, it’s the small details I guess, but I kind of feel like anything else is a downgrade!   It’s simple and that’s a beautiful thing, it does not chew gear cables which I love, and with the 10 tooth, even though I have not talked to anyone about ratios, it seems to make a much bigger difference than changing a few teeth on the chainring.  It’s a good advantage when you can keep pedalling and gain some seconds rather than tucking.

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And the brakes, I hear you are particular about pads?

I am running a 203 on the front and a 180 on the back,  I like running the organics pads, I used to run sintered on the back for the mud, but for racing I would totally not recommend them, the heat build up in racing is so different and the organics handle the heat much better and keep the rotors silver far longer.  My rotors used to go black really quickly with sintered.  The XO trails brakes have been great, light and efficient. I like to run my contact point really close to the  bars, if a SRAM mechanic ever gets his hands on them they always get wound out, so when I get them back I wind them back in again!  I think it really helps with arm pump, keeping the lever closer into your finger.

I see you still run a top guide on the XX1!

Yes, I never really went for the no guide option, I know less aggressive riders than myself who trail ride for years and never lose a chain, and then they enter an enduro race and drop the chain straight away.  In enduro racing you are putting down the power in so many places, pedalling in really rough positions, and you cannot afford to lose a chain with no time to pedal it back on again.  I may add a taco sometimes too as I broke a chain on the Trans Provence and think it was a stone that flipped up.

Do you tend to race with a backpack?

This year I have been trying to avoid the backpack, just carrying CO2 and a lever in my pocket with a tube attached to the frame.  I don’t carry water and tend to rely on feed stations.  On longer stages like the Mega, your heart rate never drops low enough to allow you to hold your breath and take on water!  I think it is pretty psychological; your body does not need it.

What about gels?

Yep, if I remember I keep a few handy!  They can be really helpful.

How are you finding the carbon bars?

I really like them; if they have the same properties as carbon frames then they are the way forward.  Saying that I ran the alloy Havoc bars last year and they were impressive.  I cased a jump really badly and put all the energy through my arms, bending the Fox 36 steerer tube at the stem, I could not get the forks out of the frame and had to cut them out with a hacksaw!   The bars were still perfectly straight, even though my arms the next day were destroyed!  I now have the Carbon Havocs and they have been perfect.

Do you always run SPD’s?

Yep, always on SPD’s, the old Shimano XT Trails!  I did a season on a mix of flats and Crank Brothers, but did not find the release speed worked for me.  The XT’s have a fantastic release and you can get a foot out in a half second if needs be.  The support from the cage works when you have softer shoes, but the Shimano shoes are great.  I slam the cleats as far back as they go, I have friends that dremel out the sole to get them even further back.

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You lost your seat in the mega right?

I was in that big pile up in row A of the mega last year and snapped my seat clean off, it’s amazing how much energy you use on a 45 minute downhill with no seat.  Normally the seat taps you when going off drops but without it comes straight up through your legs, you don’t realise how much feedback you get from a seat even when standing, using your legs a lot to control the bike though the seat. That’s when the thick canvas of the Cactus Pants came into its own!

Have you found it hard managing your own pits as a privateer?

Yeah, other journalists have asked me that and I am usually quite positive about the support that you can get from the other teams in the enduro scene, and that is true and still stands for sure!  But it is tough hanging around and endlessly asking for things, teams are busy and they have their own priorities, so yes it is sometimes hard, and you do make compromises.  I think it is those small details that would be helped by being supported next year, for example sometimes I do not have time to change a tyre, but I probably would if I had a mechanic and spare tyres!   You also don’t get to put your feet up so much and hydrate as you are always working.

And life as a privateer in general?

I spend a lot of time in my tent, and lots of folk have been lending me van space.  Some of the friendships I started building last year have helped this year and people have been generous with lifts and floor space, and I really appreciate that camaraderie! The camper van scene of the Enduro World Series is great too, being a part of that is really nice.  You have your bike right there, you’re eating dinner with a load of other racers and you are not locked away in a hotel, just good vibes and yarning about life.

You must be looking forward to 2014?

Yeah I am, it’s funny that it’s a whole other world that I never expected to see, being a paid professional rider travelling to amazing destinations.  It’s just a pity that you don’t get to see your partner as much as you would like, but hopefully next year we can sort something better out.

And what about the future of the EWS?

They do a great job, highlighted on the Trans Provence when riding with Chris Ball, he’s a shredder, seriously fast!  It’s so cool that he’s the dude out there checking that that tracks selected are good enough.  He chose what some people think are really gnarly sections but he has the knowledge and experience to run it close to the edge of peoples experience and ability.

Nice one Jamie!  best of luck for 2014!

Words and Photos: Trev Worsey

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