As our team manager sarcastically reminds us, every course is a dually course, or at least it should be, and there is some truth in that. This comes from the prevailing opinion that a “proper” XC course should have all the required elements to make a full-suspension (FS) mountain bike the best choice. Often, our World Cup courses demand a FS, but sometimes they don’t and that has us reaching for our hardtails (HT). On Norco Factory Team, we have two very competitive and fun bikes in the Revolver FS and HT and the support to help us make the best decision.
In this post, I will share with you how I make the decision of what bike to race and the different elements that go into that decision.
Typically, we race at the same venues each year and know what to expect of the course at each stop on the circuit. Leading into a race I have an idea of what bike I will likely ride based on my experience on that course and any changes that have been made. I also do a quick survey of what bikes/equipment choices riders made last year and use what I know about the different teams, bike brands, results, race conditions, and individuals to help me inform the why behind those choices. Basically, using all the information I know from my previous experience to inform the most likely choice of bike. With a limited amount of training time, this helps streamline the decision process so a maximum amount of time can be spent training on the bike I will race.
We usually arrive to key races on the Tuesday ahead of a Sunday race in order to prepare well. The first day on course for me is typically Wednesday or Thursday. On that first day on course I would be riding the bike that I believe will be the bike that I will race, but keeping an open mind to the other options as well. It is best to choose a bike for the entire course, not just one section. I combine all the information on the specifics in the next part of this post to come up with the best decision.
Big features and technical sections: Which bike will help you get through the section or feature most efficiently; fastest with the least amount of energy expended? Which bike will help you hit the feature or give you more confidence on that section?
Quantity, and Qualities, of climbing: How much climbing is there and what is it like. Is it very steep? Do you carry speed into the climbs? What is the surface like: smooth, bumpy, slippery, technical? If it is steep and smooth, HT would be better. If it is rougher or more technical, a FS would be better.
Roughness or smoothness of terrain and speed over that terrain: Smooth terrain will be faster on a HT, and rougher terrain at lower speeds would be manageable on the HT. The faster and rougher the terrain, the more a FS will be an advantage to carry momentum over that terrain.
Bike-Rider system weight: The fact is, since a FS has extra parts (shock and hardware), compared with a HT, there is always going to be a weight savings to choosing a HT. Additionally, a HT will have increased stiffness and better power transfer compared with a FS. If you are a smaller rider, the bike will be a bigger part of that overall bike-rider system weight, if you are a bigger rider, it will be less.
Weather forecast and potential race conditions: Will it be muddy? A HT might have less surface area for mud to stick to and be lighter if you must run with it. Which bike has more tire clearance? Will a FS help you if the technical sections get slippery?
Quantity of fun: What bike is going to be more fun to race on? Sometimes racing a HT is a blast because it takes a bit of extra skill in a few sections to manage and feels like a rocket ship. Sometimes a FS is more fun because you can send the technical more.
Breaking down bike choice like this may seem a bit overwhelming, but I would argue that a lot of these decisions happen in the background and present themselves as how the bike feels. Trust yourself to make the right choice and ride what bike you think feels best and the one that you will be fastest on. It is about seeing the forest rather than the individual trees, making the choice for the entire course, and the right choice for you.
Enjoy the ride and see you at the races, either on an FS or a HT but definitely on a Norco Revolver.