When the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup hits Fort William each year, downhill and four-cross racing takes centre stage. But there's plenty more going on in the pits/expo area, where the latest bike tech is on show and there's a chance for the public to mingle with their cycling heroes. Here's what we've spotted so far...
At last year's Fort Bill World Cup, Empire designer Chris Williams told us he was working on a shorter-travel companion to the British company's AP-1 downhill bike, and here it is. The MX-6 carries over the AP-1's swoopy lines and unique, girder-like frame sections, but it's made from machined rather than cast alloy.
Williams told BikeRadar: "What we wanted to do was create a 150mm-travel all-mountain/enduro type of product and keep the essence of the AP-1; bring it across, style wise. We wanted a product that you could tell what it was without any stickers on it.
"We decided to machine this one from solid billet so we can offer different sizes... [On the downhill bike] the tooling restricts us to producing one size only." The machined construction of the MX-6 also enables Empire to shed a little weight compared to a cast bike.
Features include a bolt-on lower shock mount – which will be swappable to alter head angle and bottom bracket height – a removable cast alloy seat tower which takes a 30.9mm post, a tapered (1-1/8 to 1-1/2in) head tube, a 73mm bottom bracket and tabs for an ISCG05 chain device. It's designed to run a 2x10 drivetrain, with a 38T chainring up front.
The MX-6 should be available by the end of the summer. The version seen here is a prototype and there will be some changes, including a slightly higher main pivot and a 142mm back end. RRP is expected to be around £2,500 for the frame and £4,000 for a complete bike.
As for the AP-1, it's gone down in price by a whopping £1,000 thanks to a switch to mainly SRAM group components (including Avid and Truvativ). RRP is now £4,600 for the complete bike. Hope components are still available as upgrades.
Bluegrass, the new protection brand from MET helmets, had their latest helmets and body armour on display, including the Brave full-face lids used by Bernard Kerr and Fanny Lombard. This currently sponsored-riders-only design will be available to the public from the autumn, in blue (as worn by Bernard) or green (as worn by Fanny), for £130.
UK distributors Fisher Outdoor Leisure also gave us a sneak preview of some prototype soft leg armour. The Super Bobcat takes Bluegrass's existing Bobcat kneepad, which uses the same d3o 'smart' armour as SixSixOne's Evo pads, and adds a shin guard.
There's plenty of padding on the sides, and silicone gripper and three straps to keep them in place. Expected to be available from January 2012, the pads will be available in four sizes. They look like they could be a good option for trail/all-mountain riders who want a bit more protection than kneedpads offer.
Transition's UK distributors Surf Sales were showing off the new BottleRocket on their stand. It has the same short, slack and low-slung geometry as the eight-year-old original model – 67° head tube, 429mm chainstays and 352mm bottom bracket.
However, there's now a tapered (1.5-1.125in) instead of 1.5in head tube up front, and travel is adjustable between 130 and 150mm (5.1-5.9in). According to Surf Sales, it's an uplift/play bike that's all about "having the maximum fun on the downhills".
It's available as a complete bike only, with a RockShox Domain fork and Van R shock, Truvativ Hussefelt finishing kit, Avid Elixir 5 brakes, own-brand Revolution 32 wheels and Maxxis Minion tyres. RRP is £2,500, and it's available in red (with black anodised pivot caps) as well as the black finish shown here. Claimed weight is 37lb.
We happened to drop by the SixSixOne stand at just the right moment, as 2012 glove designs were being discussed, and managed to grab this sneaky shot. We haven't got any details at this stage, but the word on the street is that SixSixOne will have loads of new kit on their stand at this year's Eurobike show. We'll bring you more news as and when we get it.
Rose custom builds
The guys from Rose Bikes UK are at Fort Bill to support four-cross and downhill racer Katy Curd and they had two interesting-looking custom builds on their stand. First up is a Verdita Green – the women's equivalent of the Granite Chief – which has been transformed from a 140mm-travel trail muncher into a 100mm playbike thanks to some fettling of the Fox Float R rear shock by TF Tuned.
It's the personal bike of Rose/TFT's Greg Marshall, who told BikeRadar: "The stroke of the shock has been reduced internally, which has sunk the whole bike down, and it also has a firmer platform. It started out like a jump bike but it's turned into a sort of four-cross/play bike. It's really nice." Why the women's frame? It's the equivalent of an extra-small men's bike, making it easy to chuck about.
Despite the bombproof build – including a Fox TALAS fork, single chainring and Gamut chain device, Shimano DX flat pedals, Spank jump bar and stem, and Formula The One brakes – it's surprisingly light. Rose didn't have any scales on hand but a non-scientific pick-up test suggests it's certainly sub-30lb.
Also on the stand was Rose UK main man Finlay Paton's custom Beef Cake SL. He reckons this 180mm-travel rig weighs just 37lb, including pedals. And that's without cutting any performance corners – the Fox 36 fork and Van R shock are both coil rather than air units (ignore the TALAS stickers on the fork – it has custom coil internals courtesy of TFT), and component swaps could easily shave off another couple of pounds.
Fox Racing Shox
UK Fox distributors Mojo had the super-light new Float Ti fork on their stand – the only one in Europe, apparently – and it really is an impressive bit of kit, with its investment-cast (it's formed around an internal mould which then has to be destroyed to be removed) titanium crown and steerer. For more details, see our articles from Interbike and Sea Otter.
Mojo were also showing off some of Fox's motorsport shocks, made for motocross bikes and ATVs – available in both air and coil versions, these things are absolutely massive and put even the beefiest downhill dampers to shame!