The Pioneer mountain bike stage race is just hours away – or it’s started if you’re reading this down the track. As a 7 day race along New Zealand’s Southern Alps, The Pioneer presents it’s own unique requirements, but also very similar ones to other mountain bike stage races around the world. We often get emails or messages about bike and equipment choices, so here’s what I’m running and why for The Pioneer.
Frame – Norco Revolver FS
This was an obvious choice. Sure, there is a lot of climbing, about 15 000m through the week. And lots of gravel road. But also lots of very bumpy farm track, long rough descents, cycle trail and singletrack. The benefits of a dual suspension frame make sense. We bough the Norcos as they tick most of the boxes in what I think works for a race for marathon and stage racing bike. They’re light, take a full bottle easily, with a 2nd mount, they pedal well, have modern geometry and run only a couple of bearing sizes.
Pioneer suspension picks
We run Fox suspension as they sponsor us. But Fox assist us with suspension and servicing as we sought it out as they have the performance we want. The 32 SC fork is super light and I really like the updated tune. I have it at about 68psi. The rear shock is 140psi. I’ll run them both open a lot, given the constant lumpy terrain. I don’t use remote lockout as I rode a Scott Spark for too long and still have bad memories of too many cables! Plus it’s less to maintain.
Shimano drivetrain – 1 x 11
I could happily be running 2×11, but my team mate Justin’s Revolver frame doesn’t allow it. So we might as well be in the same boat. This race is more about gearing for the climbs, as the elite field isn’t really deep enough to have a hard charging group at the front for the first hour, like at the Cape Epic.
I’ve got a 32t ring on the front on some well-used cranks. I have a chain guide but still dropped the chain today and it turned into a birds nest. I really need to buy Shimano’s updated chain ring for better security!
I’ve also opted to run an 11-46 cassette. It’s close to half a kilo of metal, and really is just an XT 11-42 with the 42 replaced with a 46. I think it doesn’t look great, and was surprised that with a bit of B-tension adjustment it is a really smooth shift. Pleasantly surprised, to be honest!
Wheels and tyres – Valors and Maxxis
This combo has always been reliable. 1.28kg wheels are awesome. The bearings don’t last for years, but they roll well and feel great. Justin and I are both running 2.2″ Maxxis Ardent Race on the front, and Ikon’s on the rear, EXO EXC TR models. It’s a versatile selection.
We’ve also got the Mt Zoom through axles in the back ends of the Revolvers. They neaten things up a lot. Justin has one in the front, I have the stock 32 SC Kabolt.
XTR Trail brakes, a Wahoo ELEMNT computer, and a Di2 shifter make up the main pieces, plus a dropper lever for the KS Lev Ci dropper. Already on a prologue preview I’m stoked to have it on. Lightweight dropper posts are the business.
Spares on the bike
I think Shaun Lewis (non-real) once said it’s best to keep spares off your body as then they are on your legs too. It’s a good point. There is a bit to carry as The Pioneer requires some extensive mandatory gear. I’ve got a saddle bag on for the first time since being here a year ago, with our First Aid kit, patch kit, warm headwear and a multitool and mini Leatherman in it.
I’ve got one spare tube and a lever down low with a Mt Zoom strap. Some people hate these straps – but I’ve used others in the past, when I was racing more from say 2007 until 2010, and the non-rubber backed ones meant that about in one or 2 races a year – I’d lose my spares. It just happened. Ant White designs the Mt Zoom stuff, has raced more than anyone I know, and knows what work. These work. Down low keeps the weight lower and more stable, and your spares are cleaner. I have a quick link on my dropper cable housing too.
Brakes – XTR Trail
I find these work the best for me. 160mm rotors, IceTech, 4 ti bolts, and with Miles sintered pads. This has proven to be a trusty set up.
And lastly, that Kogel bottom bracket is going strong. Jet washing is a part of bike racing, especially marathon stage racing. So having such good seals in the BB and jockey wheels, plus great bearings, is awesome. If only they did head sets!
All in, this is stuff that works. I’m happy to be heading into the next 7 days, knowing that any mechanical is still a possibility, but I know all the parts I use, and have experience with them. So touch wood!