In March 2020, MarathonMTB.com Team rider Imogen Smith was making the final preparations to race the Cape Epic with Briony Mattocks. Her Norco Revolver was prepped, she was fit, they were there in Cape Town – and of course the race was cancelled hours before the start.
Countless teams were left wondering what to do, given the huge amount of emotional and physical energy put into the preparation. Some stayed on and rode, some got home as quickly as they could to avoid quarantine. The Cape Epic managed an event in late 2021, but the 2022 event returns to the normal March timing, and Imogen Smith is about to fly to Cape Town. This time, she is joining Gina Ricardo, who was also in Cape Town for the Cape Epic 2020. While Imogen and Briony cancelled their entry, Gina and her team mate postponed theirs. 2022 was the option, but with Gina’s team mate Georgie unable to attend, Gina got in touch with Imogen. And here we are.
Imogen’s 2020 Norco Revolver FS
This bike is essentially the same bike that flew to South Africa in 2020. And the same one that went to Switzerland (twice) in 2019, for the Swiss Epic and then again for the XCM World Championships in Graechen. The bike has since raced a few other cross-country events, the 99 Bikes Epic a couple of times, Dragon Trail MTB Stage Race, 2021 XCO and XCC National Championships, and the recent Otway Odyssey. But there are some recent changes. The frame has also had a full bearing kit replacement.
A change to 120mm
This is the main one. The Norco Revolver frame set can have a 190×37.5mm stroke shock for 100mm of travel, or 190x45mm for 120mm. With both ordered in 2019, Imogen has the longer stroke shock fitted. Unlike the stock 120mm models, remote lockout remains in place.
With a Fox 34 SC already on hand since The Pioneer in late 2018, the benefits of the slightly stiffer and longer travel fork were obvious. But the weight penalty of about 280g was less kind. With the 2022 Fox 34 SC shedding all but 40g or so compared to a Fox 32 SC, ordering a new fork was a no brainer. The fork has a 44mm offset and is run push to unlock, same as the rear shock.
The change to a longer fork does put the head angle back to about 67.5 degrees, and reduce the reach a little. But it’s a good overall combination, Imogen has found.
Shimano 12-speed – what else?
The drivetrain remains about the same as when the bike was first built, with a Shimano 12-speed drivetrain.
Imogen uses a 170mm Shimano MT-900 crank set, and has a new XTR 32t chainring fitted. The cassette is also a new Shimano XTR 10-51t model, with a new XTR M9100 SGS (long cage) derailleur. The chain is also a Shimano XTR model, degreased and currently lubed with Ride Mechanic Bike Milk. Bike Mix, which is longer lasting, will be used at the Cape Epic.
The MT-900 cranks might sit at odds to the full XTR drivetrain, but this is what was available when the bikes were built in 2019, and it remains compatible with Imogen’s M9000 era Stages Gen 3 power meter. The cranks spin on a Ceramic Speed coated bottom bracket, which has been in use on 3 bikes now, since 2018.
Pedals are Shimano XTR Race, which are light and low profile. Imogen has two pairs of Shimano Sphyre mountain bike shoes. One that was new in 2019, and one from 2017 as a spare set. They may not come back from South Africa!
Braking and controls
This is taken care of by the two-piston Shimano XTR M9100 brakes. New MT-900 rotors and sintered/Ti plate pads have just been fitted.
While the Cape Epic has a lot of climbing, it has a lot of descending too. Imogen is running a 180mm rotor on her fork, which is up from the 160mm she used for much of 2020. It allows a little more power, and it means you’re not on the brake as long and it can cool a little better.
For the controls, Imogen has her levers set reasonably close to her grips. She uses a Mt Zoom Ultralight carbon bar cut to 690mm. The grips are KCNC foam. These aren’t as wide as many grips, so are often a good match for anyone with smaller hands.
The stem is a Syntace LiteAce 60mm stem. The Revolvers are designed around short 60mm stems as the reach is quite long. Imogen also has a Shimano SLX shifter. It was a replacement during an event, but she prefers the very light shift action.
The left side is busy, as is any bike with dual remote lock out, mechanical shifting and a dropper post. Imogen is just transitioning from a BikeYoke over the bar lever as it wore through cables too quickly. She has a Shimano iSpec EV mounted dropper lever now, nestled in behind the Fox remote lock out lever.
In terms of saddle, Imogen uses a Tune Speedneedle, atop a BikeYoke Divine SL 80mm dropper. The only downside to the dropper is the fact it needs a specific tool for cable replacement. It’s essentially a ring spanner to access the cable mount which sits up inside the base of the post. It’s packed with her spares!
Wheels and tyres
There are changes here, like the suspension, compared to 2020. Imogen has moved to wider rims and tyres. Rims are the EIE Carbon A29C30D18 SL model in a 28h. So they have a 30mm internal width with a thick 3.5mm rim wall, and a shallow 18mm depth. The rims are built to DT Swiss 180 hubs, so the set weighs about 1360g.
Tyres are Maxxis Rekon Race 29×2.35, 120 tpi 3C EXO TR. The 2.4″ WT models fit, but with less clearance. Imogen has raced this at other rocky events like the 99 Bikes Epic and liked the rolling speed and grip. So they’re the choice. In 2020, Imogen had a Rekon 2.25″ front and Ikon 2.2″ rear, on 25mm internal EIE Carbon rims.
Imogen runs Ride Mechanic Hoop Goop sealant in here, with 17psi in the front and 18psi in the rear.
What about spares?
Imogen uses a Backcountry Research strap from Lead Out Sports, low on her frame, to hold two Pirelli Smart Tubes, a Pedros tyre lever and a DynaPlug tool.
On her gear outer, Imogen has a spare Shimano quick link.
Imogen has one bottle mount on the Revolver, with a Mt Zoom side mount carbon cage fitted for a right side removal. It’s a two piece cage so it’s an easy swap for left handed riders. She also has a Wolf Tooth B.RAD mount for a second cage on the top tube. There is 3M tape there to protect it.
All up the bike weighs under 11kg, with a few small changes like bigger tyres and wider rims, plus a burlier fork and bigger rotor adding a few hundred grams total to the bike compared to 2020. But for the most part, it makes for faster riding on rough trails. And any way to reduce overall fatigue is a bonus for the Cape Epic!