It’s a fair question: what bike should I take to the Crocodile Trophy? Unfortunately there isn’t a one word answer, but I’ll break down the kind of choices to make, and what might influence them.
Hardtail or Full Suspension?
While previously known for corrugations, there’s little of that in the modern Croc Trophy. I’ve raced the Croc on both options, and found the full suspension perfect in 2014. But this choice should be made on what you’re comfortable on. If you like to sit and pedal, and plow through rough sections – take the full suspension bike. A short travel bike with agile handling would be perfect.
If you prefer the agility and responsive feel of a hardtail, take that. Be mindful of weight, and how easy it might be to lock out the rear shock. There’s enough climbing on sealed road on stage two that if you think your suspension moves too much you might start losing the mental game very early on.
Maintenance is a worthy consideration. A hardtail will typically need less looking after, but if you have a good eye for what’s required it won’t be too much of a burden on a dual suspension bike.
For thought, the Cannondale F29 and Specialized Epic were two of the most popular bike frames in 2014.
What size wheels?
Unless you’re really short, take a 29er. The extra rolling speed is a huge advantage, and they’re not too slow through the rest of the trails. If you’re there for the experience, and really prefer your 26″ or 27.5″ bike – then by all means take it. But if you’re reading this as you want to be competitive, a 29er is the ticket.
Something full-bodied and strong. Make sure your frame allows a fat tyre, and run a 2.2″ or similar. You might run a 2.1″ on a full suspension, but if you’re taking a hardtail allow for some cushioning. This is as much about racing for 9 days as the terrain. The wider tyres will float well in sand, and be better on rougher terrain.
The change to a more technical route means that semi-slicks would not be fun. I chose to run a 2.25″ Maxxis Ardent Race on the front and 2.2″ Ikon on the rear, both with the EXO casing for strength. Subaru-MarathonMTB.com racer Imogen Smith ran the same – neither of us had any troubles with flat tyres. Run a lot of sealant and make sure it’s fresh before you leave to go to Cairns.
Similar patterns were also popular, but those without re-inforced tyres had a lot of problems. Always carry two tubes and a pump each stage, as it’s a long walk if you have bad luck with punctures.
Can I ride it on 1×11?
Almost certainly. SRAM 1×11 with a 10-42 range will give you the range you need. Some riders with this setup had a 32t for stage 2, but soon swapped back for a 34t. A Shimano 11-40 or 11-42 might be a little narrow, as sometimes the range needed for steep and loose climbs, and driving it in a bunch on the flat is too broad. I ran a 2×10 25/39 to 11-36 combination in 2014 and found it ideal, but would happily run a 1×11 with the right spread. Either way take a heavy chain lube that will last 100km, carry a spare link (and hanger) and know how to use it.
Should I fit aerobars?
How many bottle holders?
This is your preference, but having two bidon cages on your bike is a big bonus. Feed zones are neutral. There are no feeders allowed, everyone stops to fill up. The distances between feeds can be done on one big bottle (800mL)… probably. If you have one cage be prepared to have a bottle in your back pocket, or have a small hydration bag for the stages where it’s needed. Be used to riding with one, don’t just put it in your gear bag.
What spares do I carry, and where?
This is bike dependent, but two tubes, a CO2 head and cylinder)s), pump, tyre boot, quicklink, multitool, and tyre lever should be your minimum. If you can have the tubes taped on your bike, or have any other spares attached, it keeps your pockets free for food and a spare bottle. It will also keep some weight off your legs.
What should I avoid?
It’s unwise to take parts that you haven’t used before, or ones that need a lot of attention. PF30 bottom brackets are sub-optimal. Superlight carbon rims might not be the best choice if you’re a heavy rider (that said, both Imogen Smith and Cory Wallace rode on Stan’s ZTR Valor wheels in 2014 with no issue).
Use sintered brake pads for the long life, and full cable outer as well if possible. You might not be on endless kilometres of dusty roads anymore, but less maintenance each day helps.
Aim to not take anything that is too exclusive. The mechanics are very, very good with repairs, and have a lot of useful spare parts. But if you have something that is very unique, and it breaks… your race might be drawing to a close.
If you have parts that are ‘set and forget’ and ones that are super cool but need frequent and fiddly maintenance… take the first set.
What should I do each day?
Clean your bike, and look over it. Check your chain for links that might be stiff or showing wear, and give it a good clean and re-lube. Check all bearings for play, and wipe the frame down to look for damage. Check your pad wear.
Check spoke tension and look closely at your tyres for tears or thorns. Bolts can rattle loose on a stage race, pay particular attention to rotor bolts, your cassette lockring, and chain ring bolts.
Don’t forget your cleats – they’re out of site, but losing a cleat, or a bolt, is a guaranteed way to make your day less fun.
Check your tyre and shock pressures, and make sure everything is well lubcricated for the next day.
What spares should I take to the race?
Anything specific for your bike. That includes bearings for your hubs, bottom bracket and headset, spokes and nipples to suit your wheels, a set of your tyres, the grips you like, spare cleats for your pedal system, the right brake pads, a matching chain (and even cassette and jockey wheels). It wouldn’t be crazy to take some handlebars and a saddle too – these sorts of things can break in a crash.
A seal kit for your fork or shock is also a smart move.
If you’re going with friends, split some of the big spares, like wheels – as long as you both use the same standards.
The most important thing is being familiar with your gear. Have your bike serviced in advance of going, by your local and trusted shop who know what you’re off to do, and understand the demands of the race. Don’t make last minute changes to your setup or equipment. The mechanics at the race are excellent, but no one likes attending to problems that could have been avoided.