American Sam Schultz is only just starting his second year as a professional mountain bike racer but the 23 year-old Missoula, Montana native who now calls Colorado Springs home has already been drawing attention with his impressive mix of climbing speed and flatland power that belies his lanky frame. Schultz won the short track and finished second in the cross-country at this spring's Sea Otter Classic and then gained some valuable experience on the World Cup stage in Offenburg and Madrid.
As a member of the well-stocked Subaru-Gary Fisher team, Schultz enjoys the luxury of having several different bikes at his disposal (not to mention a new Subaru WRX wagon… vroom vroom!). Included in the stable for any given event are an aluminium hardtail and Gary Fisher's new HiFi Race short-travel full suspension platform, both with 26" wheels, as well as the company's new Superfly carbon fibre 29"-wheeled hardtail flyer.
Schultz had 29" bikes available to him last year but rarely opted for one on race day given their extra mass. But reasonably successful forays into the larger wheel size by teammate Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and the Superfly's svelte sub-1.3kg (2.9lb) frame weight have made the choice more palatable now.
"I think this year I'm going to be on it a lot," said Schultz. "It's as light as my 26 inch. That's one of the big things is that it's a little bit heavier. In the past I haven't picked it on climbing courses as much but now it's going to be more of a viable option.
"Basically, if the overall speed is fairly high then the two-niner seems good but if it gets really tight and twisty and the overall speed is low, then it's maybe not quite as good just because the acceleration is a little bit slower because you've got some more weight in the wheels. It handles super well but still, in the super tight stuff, it's a slight weak point. I actually really like it for short track. Cornering on this thing is unreal."
Naturally, a lightweight frame deserves lightweight parts and Schultz' rig doesn't disappoint. Bontrager Race X Lite TR Disc 29 wheels are wrapped with narrow 1.75" Bontrager Dry X rubber and the 2x9 drivetrain sheds a few more grams thanks to a custom aluminium spider on the Bontrager Race X Lite carbon crankset. The Bontrager name is also emblazoned on the Race X Lite saddle and carbon post, Race XXX Lite Carbon flat handlebar and even the dual-density grips and carbon bottle cage.
SRAM provides the rest of the finishing kit, in particular the RockShox Reba Race 29 fork. This Gary Fisher-exclusive version features more offset in the crown in keeping with the company's new Genesis 2.0 front end geometry. By reducing the trail, RockShox claims to improve the bike's low-speed handling while maintaining the original Genesis geometry's stable high-speed traits.
Schultz' drivetrain features more SRAM bits in the form of an X.0 rear derailleur and trigger shifters, X-9 front derailleur, PG-990 cassette and PC-991 hollow pin chain. Avid's top-end Juicy Ultimate hydraulic disc brakes are already light but the team has taken a few extra measures to shave even more weight: Schultz runs a tiny 140mm-diameter rear rotor paired with a standard 160mm disc up front and both are attached with only three titanium bolts each.
The payoff for all of this effort shows at the scales. Ready to race with Nokon aluminium cable housings and Crankbrothers' feathery Eggbeater 4Ti pedals, Schultz' Superfly weighs in at just 10.05kg (22.16lb).
No bad attitude here
Youth and early success all too often results in brashness and cockiness but Schultz' humble disposition and utterly likeable personality have made him a star off the course as well as on. Schultz bears none of the classic signs of burnout that have plagued many of his compatriots and even with the added pressures of an Olympic year, he has also managed to remain level-headed and focused in his goals.
"So we know he's got the legs, but the thing that impresses me every time we talk is his attitude," said Gary Fisher brand manager and team director Travis Ott. "I have never seen the guy bummed. He's always positive, always smiling. His easy-going demeanour, roll-with-the-punches attitude serves him well. With all those smiles and humility, you can easily miss how driven Sam is. Yet he's always working towards something and totally unflappable. So yeah, we're a fan of Sam."
Team mechanic Matt Opperman is similarly impressed but cautions that the burgeoning talent has some growing to do. But Schultz has proven eager to learn from his more experienced teammates.
"For me, Sam brings a youthful excitement that is refreshing to see and watch as he matures into an elite racer," he said. "He has been like the younger sibling to HIJHK [Heather Irmiger and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski] and Willow [Koerber] - watching and learning. He is also like the kid in the candy store [with] loads of toys at his disposal. He has had to learn to choose the right equipment for the job which he has really had to work on. He has had to learn if you want to ride the light tyres, you need to be a little gentler on the bike - preserve the bike/equipment to get you to the end.
"It has been a thrill to watch him go grow. He is also just a great guy to have around. Always smiling and in a positive mood."
Next stops on the calendar for Schultz and his teammates are the UCI World Cup rounds in Andorra and Scotland followed by the UCI World Championship event in Italy shortly thereafter. The team will then make its way back to North America for a pair of NMBS races and the US and Canadian National Championships.
It's still far early to predict how Schultz will do in those tests but he has the talent and hopes are running high. Opperman, for one, is optimistic: "I think we have not even seen the tip of the iceberg of Sam talents."
- Frame: Gary Fisher Superfly, size L
- Fork: RockShox Reba Race 29
- Headset: Cane Creek ZS6
- Stem: Bontrager Race X Lite, 110mm x -7°
- Handlebars: Bontrager Race XXX Lite OS Carbon Flat, 585mm
- Tape/grips: Bontrager Race
- Front brake: Avid Juicy Ultimate, 160mm rotor
- Rear brake: Avid Juicy Ultimate, 140mm rotor
- Brake levers: Avid Juicy Ultimate
- Front derailleur: SRAM X-9
- Rear derailleur: SRAM X.0
- Shift levers: SRAM X.0 trigger
- Cassette: SRAM PG-990, 11-34T
- Chain: SRAM PC-991
- Crankset: Bontrager Race X Lite with custom two-ring spider, 175mm, 38/28T
- Bottom bracket: Bontrager GXP
- Pedals: Crankbrothers Eggbeater 4ti
- Wheelset: Bontrager Race X Lite Tubeless Ready Disc 29
- Front tyre: Bontrager Jones Dry X TR, 29x1.75"
- Rear tyre: Bontrager Jones Dry X TR, 29x1.75"
- Saddle: Bontrager Race X Lite
- Seat post: Bontrager Race X Lite
- Bottle cages: Bontrager Race X Lite Carbon
- Other accessories: Nokon derailleur cables and housing
- Total bicycle weight: 10.05kg (22.16lb)
- Seat tube length, c-c:: 400mm
- Seat tube length, c-t:: 490mm
- Saddle height, from BB (c-t):: 781mm
- Tip of saddle nose to C of bars (next to stem):: 595mm
- C of front wheel to top of bars (next to stem):: 655mm
- Top tube length:: 622mm (horizontal)