It’s a fair question: what bike should I take to the Crocodile Trophy? Unfortunately there isn’t a one word answer. Like any mountain bike stage race, the Crocodile Trophy has its own unique challenges. And each rider has their own unique requirements. But let’s break down the kind of choices to make, and what might influence them. Make sure you take a look at the whole stage plan to get a good understanding of what’s in store for you.
Hardtail or Full Suspension?
While previously known for endless red dirt roads and deep corrugations, there’s little of that in the modern Croc Trophy. I’ve raced the Croc on a hardtail twice (2011 and 2012) and a XC full-suspension twice (2014 and 2017) and found the full suspension perfect for me. 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. Remote lock out is certainly a bonus, as there are times you’ll want the bike to lock out completely. If it’s not remote – that is by no means a deal breaker. Hey, it just means you have less cables and outer to maintain – which is a bonus in itself.
If you prefer the agility and responsive feel of a hardtail, take that. If you are taking a full-suspension bike be mindful of weight, and how easy it might be to lock out the rear shock. There’s enough climbing on sealed road going up the range 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. If you’re taking a hardtail, opt for something that can take good, wide tyres. A 2.25″ or even 2.3″ tyre on a wide rim will roll super fast at a reasonably low pressure and add comfort. A modern hardtail design will have clearance for tyres that size, and probably have a supple frame for the tiniest bit of shock absorption. If that doesn’t sound like your hardtail, maybe you should consider a full-suspension bike.
For thought, the Cannondale F29 and Specialized Epic were two of the most popular bike frames in 2014. More recently the Giant Anthem 29er has been popular, as have Trek Top Fuels. Specialized Epics are still very common in their new guise, as are Merida Ninety-Six full-suspension bikes.
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. Bike geometry has completely caught up to big wheel sizes. If you’re there for the experience, and really prefer your 26″ or 27.5″ bike and that’s what you have – 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 even a little larger like a 2.25″ or 2.3″, especially if you’re taking a hardtail. The Scott-SRAM team are even riding 2.35″ and bigger in World Cups, for reference. For tyre size at the Crocodile Trophy, this is as much about racing for 8 days as the terrain. The wider tyres will float well in sand, and be better on rougher terrain. There’s enough data out there that says a wider tyre at lower pressure has less rolling resistance. Trust it. You really don’t need a crazy deep tread height, but it’s worth having something with a little bit of deeper tread in the front, because you never really know what is coming up.
The change to a slightly more technical route means that semi-slicks would not be fun. I chose to run a 2.2″ Maxxis Ardent Race on the front and 2.2″ Ikon on the rear in both 2014 and 2017. Both tyres had EXO casing for strength. MarathonMTB.com racer Imogen Smith ran the same in 2014 – 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. You should invest in a tubeless plug kit and know how to use it. This is the fastest way you can repair a flat tyre in a race!
Can I ride it on a single chain ring?
Yes of course! Whether you have a 1×11 or 1×12 group set you should have the range of gears you need. If you have a 1×11 group set you might want to take two chain ring sizes. Use a 32t for the first few days, then swap out for a 34t. The same might make sense for a 12-speed group set as well. It really can help to have an extra gear in the bank when you’re racing for over a week. Just because you can push a gear doesn’t mean you should.
You really end up needing a very wide gear range for the race, but a modern 1x group set will offer that. If you have a 2×10 or 2×11 group set you aren’t at a disadvantage, you’ll have the gears you need, but hey it’s another shifter, derailleur, cable and outer that needs maintenance.
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. Not sure how much to drink? Try our hydration tips.
If you choose to use a hydration backpack, make sure you have ridden or raced with it before. Be sure on how it sits, the best amount of fluid to put in it (you don’t have to fill it up all the way…) and understand whether it restricts access to your jersey pockets. The Camelbak Chase Bike Vest is a popular choice.
What spares do I carry, and where?
This is bike dependent, but two tubes, a CO2 head and cylinders, pump, tyre boot, derailleur hanger, quicklink, multitool, tubeless plugs and tyre lever should be your minimum. Wrap some tape around your pump and even think about have a few small zip ties. These additions weight nearly nothing but can go a long way in making a bush repair.
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.
It’s worth including a small bottle of chain lube, electrolyte tablets and painkillers. Maybe even a small first aid kit. The Crocodile Trophy goes through some remote areas, and while help is at hand, it is unlikely to be instant.
What should I avoid?
It’s unwise to take bike parts that you haven’t used before, or ones that need a lot of attention. Big races aren’t the time to try something new or mess around with parts. Superlight carbon rims might not be the best choice if you’re a heavy rider. Go right ahead and take your usual carbon wheels if you have used them, but this is not the race to build a weight weenie project wheel for, to try it on Stage One.
It can be tempting to change tyres to suit the stages, but a sealed tubeless bead is best left in place. Focus on your recovery and nutrition instead of messing around with small bike changes.
Use sintered brake pads for the long life, and full cable outer for you drivetrain 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 lock ring, and chain ring bolts.
Don’t forget your cleats – they’re out of sight, 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. Look at the sidewalls for abrasion, small tears, or anything that would suggest you might be better off with a fresh tyre.
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 plus sealant and valves, 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.
Over a week of racing takes a big toll on your bike (and body!) so having the spares on hand is essential. Chances are you won’t use them, but if you have them you might even help save someone else’s race. I have taken spare tyres to the Croc each time, and rarely gone home with them even though I didn’t change mine.
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.