It’s currently Day Two of the 2017 Fort William World Cup, and riders are getting out on course to practice their lines on the new racetrack and to scope out what equipment changes they need to make for the weekend’s impending wet weather. There’s been all sorts of action going on, most of which you’ll be able to keep track of via our Fort William social feed page.
For many riders, the Fort Bill World Cup is an opportunity to put new products to the test to work out bike and what setup is likely to carry them as fast as possible to the finish line. With our cameras set to ‘nosey’, we’ve wrangled our way into various race teams pits over the last two days, where we’ve spotted a bunch of prototype bikes ready to be put to the test on the long and rough racecourse of Fort Bill. So without further ado, here’s a look at the bikes that we can’t talk about that much…
1. Commencal 29er
Already spotted during the Fort William round of the British Downhill Series is the 29er downhill bike from Andorran-based brand, Commencal. Using a similar alloy frame design as the current Supreme DH V4, the 29er prototype also features the same high single pivot suspension design, along with an idler pulley mounted around the main pivot to mitigate chain growth during compression of the suspension.
The shock sits low down in the frame, with a separate link driving a rocker link to compress the end of the coil shock. There’s no current info on exact numbers for geometry or rear travel, but the back end looks short, the front end looks loooooong, and given how well-finished the frame is, we can only guess that we’ll be hearing more about the 29er downhill bike in the near future.
2. Transition’s Carbon Downhill Bike
Bucking the current World Cup DH hype around the big-wheels is Transition Bikes, who brought a rather lovely-looking carbon fibre downhill bike. Yet to be named, this could either be the replacement for the current alloy TR500 downhill bike, or an addition to the range.
What’s immediately clear from the new bike – aside from the chunky carbon frame – is an entirely new suspension design. The current TR500 frame uses a single pivot rear swingarm with a linkage activated shock. The carbon prototype shown here also uses a linkage to drive the rear shock, but out back it’s a little different…
Much like the new Scout, Smuggler and Patrol, the carbon prototype is running a horst-link rear pivot on the chainstay. Given that Specialized’s patent on its FSR design expired not long ago, more brands like Transition are now able to make use of a chainstay mounted rear pivot without fear of litigation. The idea is to allow the seatstay and the rear brake mount to ‘float’ within the linkage, with the goal being reduced brake input on the rear suspension action. Amusingly, Transition don’t call this design a Horst Link, but rather the ‘Giddy Up’ link.
On the note of the rear end of the prototype Transition, it’s also made from carbon fibre too. That’s a sure sign that things are moving along in terms of production.
Transition was keeping mum on details for the carbon prototype, but they did inform us that the bike will be officially released sometime in September this year. It certainly looks close to production, and given that Transition will have invested a significant amount of money into the moulds for the frame, we’d hazard a guess that there won’t be a whole load of changes to the bike over that time, but rather small tweaks to the rear suspension linkage.
3. Specialized 29er Demo
Following the current trend for big brands to test big wheels, the Specialized Gravity team is also testing out a 29er on the Fort Bill race track. This one here was spotted in the Specialized Gravity race pits, and it belongs to a certain Frenchman who everyone will be watching come race day on Sunday.
The Demo 29er that Loic Bruni is testing uses the same carbon front triangle as the current 27.5in S-Works demo. To make the 29er wheels fit, Specialized has built a custom linkage at the back, a custom seatstay assembly, and called on Ohlins for a custom dual-crown fork.
There aren’t many more details than that on the 29er Demo prototype from Specialized, but we expect to hear more from the brand as it continues to test the concept on the World Cup circuit. Specialized has been a big proponent of 29in wheels for a good few years now, having changed many riders’ opinions when it launched the original Enduro 29 back in 2013. So expect to see it grab the 29in bull by the horns if Loic decides he likes the big wheels.
4. Miranda Miller’s Specialized Demo
Also lurking in the Specialized Gravity race pits was this gorgeous carbon Demo that belongs to Miranda Miller. It’s the same frame as the current Carbon Demo, but upon closer inspection, we found some interesting detail…
Specialized has been playing around with custom linkages on the back of the Demo for a little while now, with the ability to tune progression, geometry and ride feel by altering the link’s length and pivot locations. However, this is the only linkage of this type that we could see in the Specialized Gravity race pits, and it is significantly more machined-out that the links on other rider’s bikes. Perhaps it’s simply an opportunity to see how light they can build the frame? Or maybe it’s altering some other geometry and suspension characteristics that we don’t know about?
5. Norco’s Carbon Downhill Bike
Another brand playing with prototypes at Fort Bill is Norco Factory Racing. Although Norco already has a downhill bike called the Aurum, Norco Factory Racing’s Sam Blenkinsop and Joe Smith have been racing this prototype downhill bike for a little while now. It features a radically different design, with a mega high single pivot not unlike the Commencal Supreme DH V4.
Like the Commencal, the Norco prototype uses an idler wheel to guide the chain over the main pivot, and the shock sits down in the belly of the frame with two links compressing the rear shock from above. There aren’t loads of details of this one, though Blenki has been testing several different linkage sizes to get the right feel to the rear travel. Given that it’s a prototype frame, like Tahnee’s Transition, we reckon Norco will have an official launch at some point soon in the near future.
6. Pivot Phoenix 29er
If you’ve been staying up to date on singletrackworld.com, you’ll have already seen our spy shots of the Phoenix 29er from Pivot Cycles. Although the prototype was hanging up in the Pivot race team booth, it was cleverly disguised with the same paint job and parts spec as the team’s 27.5in bikes.
Pivot informed us that it’s only testing the concept at present, though we were able to confirm that the carbon frame IS a dedicated 29er frame, and not a regular 27.5in mainframe with big wheels squeezed in like some other brands are currently doing. Check out the article for more photos and details on the Phoenix 29er.
7. Intense 29er
Another brand to go with big wheels for Fort Bill is Intense Factory Racing. With Australia’s Jack Moir at the helm of this alloy prototype, Intense is utilising the opportunity to test different geometries, suspension setups and frame designs. Because Intense is able to prototype in-house, there’s plenty of scope for real-world testing on the racetrack.
8. Santa Cruz V10 29er
Easily one of the most publicised big-wheel prototypes on the World Cup circuit would be that of the Santa Cruz Syndicate team. The V10 29er was raced by the Syndicate during the first round of the World Cup series at Lourdes a few weeks ago, and the bike made a huge impact with some very fast qualifying times by Loris Vergier, Luca Shaw and Greg Minaar. The team will continue to race the 29er prototype this weekend at Fort Bill, and by all reports the guys are loving the big wheels. The V10 29er is made up of a stock carbon 27.5in mainframe, and uses a custom carbon-fibre swingarm and custom VPP linkages to fit the rear 29in wheel, and an angleset that steepens the head angle by 1-degree.
9. Mondraker Summum 29er
Also spotted during the Fort William round of the British Downhil Series was this 29er prototype from Mondraker. Using a welded alloy frameset, the bike is based on the brand’s current carbon fibre downhill bike called the Summum. Mondraker is likely testing geometry and suspension kinematics on an alloy mule before committing to a carbon fibre mould – if they decide to go to production with it in the first place.
As with all athletes currently repping 29in wheels on the World Cup DH circuit, Danny Hart’s Mondraker Summum 29er prototype also features Fox 40/49 forks, DT Swiss EX 417 rims, and Maxxis Minion DHF 29er tyres. Thanks to these race-ready components being available, it’s now possible to prototype and test full 29er DH bikes when it simply hasn’t been possible before, even if brands have wanted to.
And there you have it, a tour of some of the prototype bikes currently on show at the 2017 Fort William World Cup. We’ll be bringing you plenty of coverage from both the pits and the racetrack over the coming days, so stay tuned to singletrackworld.com for updates, and make sure you follow us on social media @singletrackmag