I recently had the opportunity to ride four bikes belonging to top Enduro World Series Athletes. Fox Suspension put on a “Ride the Pro’s Bikes” day in Whistler, BC, the day after the Crankworx enduro. Jared Graves, Nico Lau, Justin Leov, and Francois Bailly-Maitre are four guys who regularly finish in the top 10, or win EWS races. They’re fit, they’re fast, and they ride professionally maintained equipment.
Honestly, I was a bit nervous about riding these bikes. Aside from the overall high value of the bikes, the bike set ups were probably going to be no anywhere close to how I would ride my bikes. And while that certainly proved to be the case on three of the bikes, it still wasn’t as bad as I though. Another thing I discovered is that Whistler if full of really hard charging riders who see everything in the lift line, and that definitely includes what bike you’re riding. So when you’re on an unannounced black carbon Yeti, but one that’s been well documented online, and it’s sporting the #2 EWS number plate, you get some looks. Especially when everyones looks up expecting to see Graves pushing the bike, and it’s not him, the looks become at times odd, and at times questioning. It was a bit unnerving with lots of sets of eyeballs on me. So I tried to just ignore it.
I did the best I could at separating the suspension from the bike, which is by no means easy. All of the guys were running the Fox 36 up front, in a 160 travel, except for Lau. His bike featured 180mm of front travel, and combine that with Lau’s preference for running multiple spacers under his riser handlebar, and you had a bike that felt like you were sitting completely upright. Hey, it works for him.
And the rear shock on each bike was also the same model, the Float X. Three of the bikes (Lau’s Cube, Leov’s Trek, and Bailly-Maitre’s BMC) were either prototypes or running custom valving inside the fork or shock, while the one bike, Graves’ Yeti, that I expected to have the most Fox bling, the RAD super secret gear, didn’t have it. Graves is running available production front and rear suspension. You can go buy it yourself, right now. What you can’t purchase is his mechanic, who keeps that gear it tip top shape.
We’ll touch briefly on each bike, then get into a five question interview I did with each rider.
A few points. All of the guys are running Shimano components and drivetrains. Three are running Fox DOSS droppers, while Graves uses Thomson.
BMC TrailFox TF01 – Francois Bailly-Maitre
This was the first bike I rode on the morning, and wow, set up was stiff. Bailly-Maitre told me he prefers a stiff set up even for his weight, so being almost 20 pounds heavier than me, this thing felt like a race car, not a monster truck. However, in a trend that continued on all the bikes, I could feel the small bump sensitivity and how the suspension was doing a great job at sucking up the smaller stuff, and transmitting very little vibration to the hands.
Trek Remedy 9.8 – Justin Leov
I’ll call it a different name this time, but firm was the feeling I got riding this bike. Prototype Bontrager wheels, being mega stiff, while being probably fast and strong, did not help me to enjoy this bike. The only bike I actually felt slightly uncomfortable on. It works for Leov.
Yeti Cycles SB6c – Jared Graves
To repeat a story line, the suspension set up was stiff, but surprisingly not overly so. Maybe because I’ve been riding two different Yetis over the last two years, but this bike felt at home to me. Really supple, and absolutely bottomless on the bigger stuff. The progression of both front and rear ramped up really nicely, and I felt completely in control at all times. This was the last bike I rode, and I took one extra run on it, compared to the other bikes, and was feeling pretty warmed up at that point. Mid stroke is where I noticed the suspension really shining. Plenty of suspension for whatever lay on the trail, but never a soft pedaling feeling, it was always ready to be attacked hard.
Cube Stereo 160 – Nico Lau
Lau’s Stereo had the suspension set up that was the most fun to me personally. Much softer and more plush than the other bikes. Throw in the 180 front fork, and you have a bike that I could have ridden all day in the Whistler park. Lau is also running a 2×10 setup. Interesting. His dropper control is on the right hand, with the Fox CTD on left hand. Makes for a busy cockpit.
We weren’t allowed to change anything on the bikes, so nothing was tuned for my riding weight and preferences. The bikes were as the pros rode them. And as I wrote above, they were stiff and race ready. The level of care and work going into the suspension was evident. Small bumps, big hits, it didn’t matter. They felt excellent. The 36 up front provided ultimate steering control, with no perceptible flex. If you were off line, it was your fault, not because the fork was letting you down. The Float X in back has a very nice progressive feel, and really ramps up towards the end of the stroke. If Fox was trying to impress us, they did a good job. I look forward to spending more time on each piece of suspension, on my own bike, with my own settings.
Interviews I asked the guys the same five questions, trying to find out a little of their personalities. Unfortunately, Justin Leov was deathly ill during and after the race, so he couldn’t join us, but he was gracious enough to send along his answers.
-How do you like your suspension to be set up?
Francois Bailly-Maitre- Quite soft at the beginning for comfort, but at the same time, consistent and firm, when you’re in the berm, to avoid the feeling that you are flat at the rear. And what I like with the 36, when it’s steep, is that it stay’s high, it does not get low. The 36 is a bit different, because at the beginning, it feels a bit hard and stiff, but when you are racing with that, you know that you can be fast compared to the 34, you can go straight and it’s stiffer, so you are faster. It’s a feeling that you don’t hurt the rocks at the bottom, but at the same time, you are not doing all the travel. Nico Lau- Three words, smooth, flow, and fast. I like to play with the terrain, the ground. You have to have suspension adapted to this kind of riding style. Hah, this is what I can say, smooth and flowy. I ride like I feel. Yeah, I think so, you tell me, I have fun on the bike. I like to have some movie sessions, so I can compare the riding style and to find better set up for suspension. Jared Graves- I’d like to say, efficient, smooth but aggressive when needed. Justin Leov- I’m a balanced guy so it keep it the same way with my suspension. I tend to run my suspension quite stiff as well. When I’m going fast it will sit on top of the bumps and holes without dropping into them to much, which is what you need when your racing.
Describe your riding style.
FBM- I think I am quite smooth. I make no noise when I’m riding. When I’m racing, I’m trying to be clean, I don’t like when I hear my bike hurting the rocks and the roots. So I try to find the good way, the good lines, to stay clean. And I think for an enduro race, that is synonymous with good racing. NL- I ride like I feel. Yeah, I think so, you tell me, I have fun on the bike. I like to have some movie sessions, so I can compare the riding style and to find better set up for suspension. JG- Not soft, but not too stiff, as with all things in enduro, you never really have one good setup, because there’s such a varying terrain usually. I try to set it up so that it’s probably not going to be amazing on the small stuff, and not amazing on the big hits but will be able to handle either extreme with not too many problems, but a good middle setting for everything, so that it will do everything well. JL- Smooth and consistent. I’m not a flashy rider, never have been. I try to save energy where I can and use my training to get me a long the physical sections.
Do you enjoy the prototyping and testing process?
FBM- Yeah, sure, it’s really interesting. It’s useful, because we need some good stuff for racing. The guys are really impressive and we’re doing a good job with them. I’m really, really happy when I give my shocks to the guys, tell them about it, and I ride after, and I feel the difference, and I say, “Yeah, it’s good.” NL- I love working with these guys, because they hear us, they go and work on the shocks for two weeks, come back with completely new valving, they try to make us fast, they try to find a solution to our small problems. It’s intense work for sure. And when you are feeling tired at the end of a race, you need to find a solution to be fast. So these guys try to do that. They work with you, and hear you, and they try to make you fast again. It’s absolutely amazing. JG- I definitely like when they have a new bike, and they say “What do you want to see change over the current bike?” and then it’s fun to tell them what you want to do differently. I guess more my input is, I tell them what the current bike does that I like, and what it does that I don’t like and then the find ways to try and remedy that or keep doing what I like when I like a certain trait of the bike. I guess I’m more specific about geometry numbers and making sure the bike is as capable for the terrain as it can be so it just handles any sort of descent well, and you’re not feeling sketchy on it. There’s definitely some stuff here in Whistler, that I think on the 66, with a steeper head angle, and just all around a smaller bike, I think I would have been sketched out on a few things, so with the updated geometries of the new bike, it handles it a bit nicer, and gives you more confidence. So that’s the part of the process that I really like. JL- Heck yeah, I enjoy testing with Fox almost as much as racing. It’s really rewarding because you get to give your feedback on the products and you see them develop. I often think we have reached the highest level with suspension then Fox will have something new to test and it lifts the bar again. It’s cool to be involved in that process. The testing of prototyping is really two steps, initial feedback from directly riding it on the trails we race on, usually with Fox there. You know straight away if it’s on the right path or not when you ride it. The second part is long term testing and that comes from week in week out racing. We ride a lot in a season and the racing pushes everything to their limits so that gives Fox the feedback of any long term issues before they put their products to production.
What’s the best moment of your EWS career?FBM- La Thuile, because I was second, and had the battle for the win. I feel good (laughs). When you are good, you don’t feel the rough terrain. NL- The fresh, final stage for yesterday (Whistler, Top of the World) It was great, it was amazing, it was a hard day, and you stand on top of the mountain and the sun is going down, the view is amazing, you stand with all the best riders in the world, everyone is tired, it’s amazing atmosphere. People are waiting for you, at the bottom of the mountain, and when you cross the finish line, you see your name on the fast time on the weekend, I can’t believe it, because I had quite a hard beginning of the day but I feel (makes whooshing movement with hands) fast and flowy on my bike. Yeah, that’s amazing! JG- I think Whistler here last year. My first win ever, it was a pretty amazing feeling. Yeah, yesterday was definitely an amazing feeling, I’m super happy. But nothing quite beats the feeling of your first time you achieve a big goal. That was pretty special to me. JL- Standing on the podium in Scotland. That was such a great feeling! Looking forward to standing on their again I must admit, next time the top step would be excellent!!
What’s your favorite country to eat in?
FBM- Italy. The pizza, pasta, cookies. I like the Mediterranean food, the olive oil, tomato. Yeah, Italy. NL- I really like Italy, but you can find really good food everywhere in the world. I never have a problem to find really good food. Except in Norway, maybe Sweden. I miss my Mom’s cooking sometimes. Best beer is in France! (laughs) I press my culture on my German friends. Germans drink a lot of beer. JG- Definitely Australia. There are a lot of good countries around the world that have good food, but you just have your favorites. I go to a local Thai place at home, it’s just so good. At the end of a long season, when you go home, and go to your favorite places, you just know you’re at home when you get back to those regular places, it’s a good feeling. But hey, you can’t go past a good American burrito. I love a good burrito. That pretty much will be my last meal, a burrito of some description (laughs). JL- Italy! Great food, and not over priced. Coffee isn’t bad either, maybe 2nd after New Zealand Coffee but still drinkable haha!
Words: Daniel Dunn Photos: Fraser Britton, Fox Suspension