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13.30.08
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World champs
One race, just a few minutes long, that determines who wears the coveted rainbow stripes.
PHOTOS CREDITS: PARIS GORE
World champs
One race, just a few minutes long, that determines who wears the coveted rainbow stripes.
PHOTOS CREDITS: PARIS GORE
World champs
"One track, one weekend, and a couple of closely matched riders to design for, that's a really fun challenge, one that I really love being in a position to tackle."— Dave Weagle
PHOTOS CREDITS: PARIS GORE
World champs
This is a one-off bike, manufactured by hand in Devinci's Chicoutimi, Quebec, factory. It has been designed to use 650B wheels.
PHOTOS CREDITS: PARIS GORE
World champs
Steve Smith's one-off prototype | World Champs. One race, just a few minutes long, that determines who wears the coveted rainbow stripes. And we're not talking about having the stripes for only one season - you get to own them for all time, a message to others that on the big day you were the fastest rider in the world, bar none. It is true that some racers don't put as much stock in the single day event as they do an overall championship that spans an entire season of racing, but for most it is the ultimate win that will be the crowning jewel on their résumé. It is also fair to say that more effort is put towards this single race run than any other during the season, with year long training regimes tailored to the course, and special on-off equipment provided by sponsors willing to invest heavily in their racer's chances of taking the big win. Never has this been more true than for this weekend's pedal heavy track in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, a unique course that calls for some very unique equipment. This fact is highlighted by Stevie Smith, the Canadian Chainsaw Massacre, and his radical, one-off Devinci race bike that has been designed by Dave Weagle especially for this event. True, the top racers often have access to some special equipment, most often frames that are lighter than production models, or prototype suspension that consumers won't have access to for years to come, but never before has a machine been designed solely for one track, on one day, for one rider. This is as Formula 1 as it gets in the mountain bike world, folks, and we're here with an inside look to explain it all.
bigquotes

"One track, one weekend, and a couple of closely matched riders to design for, that's a really fun challenge, one that I really love being in a position to tackle. If I can help these guys take even a tenth of a second off of their time, then I'm ecstatic. In this case, I'm hopeful for seconds." - Dave Weagle, designer

Here are the facts: This is a one-off bike, manufactured by hand in Devinci's Chicoutimi, Quebec, factory. It has been designed to use 650B wheels, and Stevie is one of only a few select BlackBox program riders who will have access to the very special 650B-compatible RockShox BoXXer that is pictured below. Travel sits at 165mm in the back and 175mm up front. Saying that the bike is light would be stating the obvious, although an exact number proved to be elusive. A guess in the very low 30s would be a good place to start, though, especially given that the aluminum frame is likely among the lightest in action. Geometry? Slack and low. ''In this case I closely matched certain parts of the geometric and ride feel of the existing Wilson,'' Weagle, the bike's designer, explained. ''This bike is made to keep Steve in his comfort zone, while letting him carry more speed in certain areas, and gain speed where a full DH bike may be more cumbersome.'' In other words, special geometry tailored exclusively to the South African track.

"The trick is to understand what each rider’s strengths and weaknesses are, and to try to predict what combination of bike setup, rider fitness and style, and track conditions all add up to the least amount of elapsed time on the course. Steve and I spent a good deal of time last fall and winter talking about the current Wilson, this year’s schedule, and places that we felt that we could take time out of the course. South Africa was one track where I felt that we could make substantial gains with a different approach than normal." - Dave Weagle

The question in our minds, and probably yours as well, is why put Stevie on a completely new machine when he is obviously getting on quite well with his current Wilson Carbon, with wins at both the last World Cup stop at Mont Saint Anne, Quebec, and the Canadian Open race during Crankworx. And it looks as if many of the top racers within a shot of the win are doing just that - sticking to what they know, albeit with a featherweight build - while Smith will be aboard a completely different bike. Wouldn't a special, lighter weight Wilson Carbon make sense? ''Possibly,'' says Weagel, ''And initially this was an approach that we considered, but in the end Devinci decided that they wanted to design a longer travel all-mountain bike in the future, and this World's Bike could be a great test bed for new ideas.'' There is always a lot of talk about racing relating to real world products, but it doesn't get any more clear than that.

The Design: Gone is the Wilson's relatively high main pivot, massive carbon swingarm, and 'Control Link' rocker arm that rotated around the bottom bracket. As one might expect, Split Pivot is still used, with a concentric axle pivot that allows Weagle to separate braking and acceleration problems during the design phase. The bike's RockShox Vivid Air RC2 shock, likely hiding some BlackBox tuning within its unassuming body, is driven directly off of the seat stays, with a compact two-piece, bolted together link adding rigidity to the frame by tying the seat stays and the seat tube together. There are the same amount of pivots as the Wilson, but it is fair to say that this prototype carries a more traditional appearance.

One of the Wilson's defining attributes was its comparatively low center of gravity, a fact that is brought about by the bike's 'Control Link' that rotates around its bottom bracket shell, thereby allowing both it and the shock to be placed as low as possible given the parameters of the design. This prototype utilizes a more conventional layout, with the shock sitting slightly higher in the frame, although the use of an air shock in place of a heavier coil-over unit likely mitigates much of this. The use of RockShox's Vivid Air RC2 shouldn't come a surprise - the track is relatively smooth compared to most other courses that the riders race on - but it did necessitate a leverage ratio that best suits how the shock's air spring ramps up through its stroke, as well as taking into account how a rider like Stevie attacks a course.

It wasn't just the choice of an air shock that determined how the suspension would behave, though, with the bike's 650B wheels factoring in as well. Even the gearing that Stevie would run on the pedal-heavy track would have an effect on Weagle's decision on where to place the pivots. ''His new bike uses 650B wheels, and gearing that's pretty specific
for the South Africa course,'' he told us. ''I was able to dial in anti-squat and the suspension feel that we were after pretty closely. The Wilson obviously uses 26” wheels and has to accommodate a wider gearing range.'' What Weagle is saying is that during the design process he was actually able to take into account the size of the chain ring that Stevie would run on race day. No compromises to accommodate the fact that a consumer might run a single, double, or triple ring on their all-mountain bike, let alone any size of chain ring on their downhill bike, but rather all designed around an exact number of teeth.

The Build: Devinci isn't the only team sponsor who has put effort into this World Champs project, with RockShox, SRAM, Easton, and Schwalbe all providing components that are huge factors in the bike's performance. Of those four brands, RockShox has the largest presence, with an extremely special 650B BoXXer attached to the front of the bike. Yes, its insides consist of the BlackBox-level Charger BoXXer damper, as well as other tidbits that we might never know about, but it is the fork's lowers that make it so unique. See, you can't just go bolting bolting 650B wheels onto a bike and expect it to handle worth a damn because the larger diameter wheels require a different trail figure in order to restore handling to be similar to if the bike had 26'' wheels, and that is exactly what the different axle position relative to the fork lowers accomplishes. Don't be mistaken, this is a much larger investment than you might think, with the assets to create a new set of lowers likely costing in the high tens of thousands, maybe even more. This means that while Smith and a few others may be the only ones with 650B BoXXers right now, consumers will soon be able to purchase their own 'tweener wheel DH fork from
RockShox. Word is that Stevie was actually prepared to race with a 650B-compatible Pike on the front of the bike as it wasn't clear if the new 650B BoXXer lowers would be manufactured and delivered in time for the event, but sometimes the seas can be parted and the mountains moved when you're a BlackBox racer who many feel is a strong candidate for a top placing. The fork's travel has been lowered from 203 to 175mm, which is another factor that Weagle and Smith took into account when choosing the bike's angles. Stevie did tell us that would have been comfortable using a Pike if it came down to it, though, and there will surely be other racers who make the call to go with a single crown fork.

The bike's drivetrain is, without trying to sound blasé about it, fairly standard for a top World Cup racer's bike. That means a custom seven speed cassette, spoke guard, and carbon fiber X0 cranks from Truvativ. What is far from standard is Stevie's custom X01 DH derailleur that features a shorter than average cage to better suit its intentions. Easton stepped up to provide a set of 650B Havoc DH wheels for the bike, one of only a handful of such wheels in existence at this point, with them being shod with a set of Schwalbe 'First Ride' tires that go to only a few riders in the field. Expect a fast rolling rear tire installed on the rear wheel come race day, a spec that could save major time on the smooth and pedal-filled Pietermaritzburg track. The spec choice that will stand out for most people will be the RockShox Reverb dropper seat post, not something that you would expect to see on such a machine, and one that admittedly looks out of place at a World Cup race. Unlike how most riders would use a dropper post, with it raised the majority of the time and only lowering it when the trail points down, the post on Stevie's bike will likely be lowered for all but the long pedalling section that faces racers near the middle of the track.
Wouldn't it be faster to stand up and sprint? Maybe not, because with high speeds come much wind resistance, something that can feel like a brick wall when you're near your personal redline during a race run. Sitting, pedalling hard, and staying low on the bike can often make up time in certain situations, and taking that approach will also help save Smith's horsepower for the all-out sprint across the finish line. Having said all that, it isn't set in stone that we'll see it on his bike come race day, with Smith undecided as to if he'll run it or not.

There you have it, a very special machine for a very special race. While the Pietermaritzburg course has taken some heat for not being as full-on as a "true" World Cup track, the bottom line is that all of the racers have to race the exact same course, regardless of what it is, and all should be capable of giving an incredible performance despite the lack of extreme terrain. These are the best racers in the world, after all, and those at the pointy end of the field should be versatile enough to place high on the results sheet. It sounds like Stevie is one of the few who might be relishing the chance to show the fans that he has been training extremely hard during the off-season, and that he is one of the racers who can excel irrespective of the conditions. He certainly has a bike worthy of the cause, doesn't he?
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