The Pole Machine is certainly the most unique bike on the EWS circuit, It seems that for Leigh Johnson, jumping onto the Machine has poured petrol onto the fire!
Everyone knew Leigh Johnson was fast, he has always been dangerous, but this year he is taking it to a new level! Cleaning up in UK enduros and taking a solid 15th at the last Enduro World Series he is climbing the ranks. What has he been doing differently? Perhaps it’s his new bike? He certainly has one of the most distinctive bikes on the circuit, racing on the beautiful Pole Machine, machined from 7075 T6 aluminium, using a process that’s as radical as its geometry; 180/160 mm travel, 29″ wheels, 535 mm reach in XL, a slack 63.9° head angle and long 455 mm chainstays. A self confessed OCD when it comes to setup, we caught up with Leigh during the Tweedlove Whyte British Enduro Championships in the Scottish Borders to find out more about how he sets up his Pole Machine. Leigh is 187 cm tall and weighs in at 88 kg.
Interesting bike Leigh, did it take a long time to get to grips with?
“To be honest, it was really simple to jump on and ride fast. The bike actually fits me, I think that’s key. I am normally really careful with setup, but the Machine did not take long at all to get used to. One thing I was not expecting, was its ability uphill. With the long chainstays and steep 79° seat angle you can literally climb anything, I am sure you can go places on this bike that you could not get to on anything else, you can haul up some seriously steep stuff without spinning out or losing traction. I have been training real hard this year, but the bike has helped a lot too, I think it’s all coming together. This is the first year I have had someone helping me train, Rob Williams, he is helping me with a program and it seems to be really working.”
It’s a big bike, 180 / 160 mm travel, how do you setup the suspension?
“I run my suspension setup quite firm and slow compared to many people.” Leigh is running the previous generation Rockshox Lyrik with 180 mm travel, with 1 token and 96 psi in the air-spring and two clicks of low speed compression (from open). “I tend to keep the fork settings the same for all races, but I may add a click or two of low speed compression to the Rockshox Deluxe shock if needs be. The rear shock is running 175 psi with no tokens inside, quite an interesting setup on a EWS race bike. “On all my previous bikes I have maxed out the tokens, but after speaking to Leo Kokkonen (designer of the Pole Machine) the Machine simply does not need them. The suspension is very progressive, and it ramps up really nice. When it comes to rebound, I run my bikes quite slow, the guys back home always ran quite a lot of rebound damping, and I am now used to it, it seems to work well for me.”
How do you haul it down, you have some pretty big brakes there?
“Yes, I am running 200 mm rotors front and back with the SRAM Code RSC brakes, which are just awesome”. Looking in the calipers we can see that Leigh is running sintered pads front and back, “I prefer the sintered, after trying the organics I took them out and fitted the sintered as they seem better at handling the heat. I am normally OCD with bikes, making sure I get to a race with a dialled setup, but I have not had to touch the Code RSC’s since I have had them”. Leigh runs the levers pretty flat on the bars, “My levers keep coming up and up, the last few months I have raised them a few times, I think it feels a little more like the motorbikes I ride.”
Lightweight wheels, heavyweight tyres
Leigh is running some prototype Mavic Deemax wheels, with a 28 mm / 28 mm internal width and just 24 spokes. Leigh runs a Maxxis High Roller II DD 2.3” in the front at 25 Psi and a Maxxis Aggressor DD 2.3” at 30 Psi in the rear. “I don’t like going to soft with tyre pressures, I am always scared of pinching or rolling a tyre off the rim. I really like the Maxxis Aggressor on the back and the High Roller II on the front, I try and keep it simple and stick to those two tyres as much as possible, if it rains hard at a race I would drop a Maxxis Shorty on the front. I always have a Huck Norris in the rear to look after the rim.”
The Truvativ Descendant DH aluminium 35 mm bar is cut to 760 mm wide, paired with a 40 mm Truvativ Descendant stem. Leigh runs 10 mm of spacers under the stem, which looks pretty slammed until you remember it has 180 mm of front travel and a 29” wheel. “On my first Evo-Link, I had the bar height dialled, when the Machine arrived it had 30 mm more travel in the fork so I dropped some spacers to keep the bar heights roughly the same. When racing I carry a One-Up tool in the steerer, I try and keep as much on the bike as possible.”
Words & Photos: Trev Worsey