US Olympic hopeful Heather Irmiger is making her way across the hectic UCI World Cup circuit on her usual bright pink bike, only this season it's a brand new all-aluminum model also shared by teammates Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Willow Koerber. Logistical constraints have meant that each team member could only take one bike to the first five races and the World Championships. For the majority of those European courses, a hardtail was deemed the best option.
Unlike Irmiger's 2007 aluminium hardtail which was a wholly custom build using a mix of various tubing (including some Klein Gradient road-specific pipes), the new machine is closer to a stock offering, although consumers still shouldn't expect to see anything like it in the near future. Her new rig is actually a prototype '09 model built with 6066 alloy and far more dramatic tube shaping than we're used to seeing from the nameplate. In fact, the prototype's curvaceous multi-sided down tube bears a similar profile to that of the current Fuel EX of parent company Trek, while the top tube employs the more familiar Gary Fisher hydroformed design cues.
In spite of the swoopy appearance, the new build seems fairly straightforward with TIG-welded joints, standard dropouts, a conventionally threaded bottom bracket shell and non-integrated post. As with every prototype, though, there is always a question mark over the outcome. Irmiger was decidedly optimistic about it:
"Even with a new bike we still know it's going to work great!" she said. "It usually takes me about half a season to bond with a bike but I already like this one a lot."
Some of that familiar feel was undoubtedly due to the steering geometry which, at least currently, is nearly the same as she used last year. According to our information, the company does plan to introduce the latest Genesis 2.0 geometry on its '09 production hardtails but the requisite increased-offset forks weren't available just yet.
Regardless, that fast adaptation phase is important as the races come thick and fast this year - the first three weeks comprised a whirlwind tour of Belgium, Germany and Spain before a two-week break and another series of consecutive events. So far the bike has passed its first three tests and met Irmiger's expectations while also picking up some classic Euro style along the way.
Irmiger's flat bars are a tad wider than the de rigueur 560mm (22") classics but the added length is a closer approximation to the riser bar she used to use. The taller front end of the '09 prototype frame demanded the change though she's a little disappointed in dropping the 'moto cool' characteristics. Covering the ends of the bars is some Bontrager road bar tape instead of foam or rubber grips.
"It's great for small hands and doesn't leave me tired reaching all the time," she said.
A few more style points are earned by the matching gold accents on the anniversary edition SRAM X.0 rear derailleur and Nokon derailleur cable housing and white highlights of the new Bontrager InForm saddle and revamped Race XXX Lite carbon seatpost. A bit more carbon can also be found in the Bontrager-badged Truvativ crankarms which were fitted with a 40T outer ring.
Nokon cable housing gives extra style points
One key upgrade from last year has more to do with function than style, though, as the front end of Irmiger's bike was graced with a new RockShox SID Team complete with side-oriented PushLoc remote.
"The new SID is so worth the wait," stressed Irmiger. "It's super stiff and I love the feel even though it is more travel at 100mm than I would usually use. It's much better for the overall feel of the bike. I'm a small rider and even I can notice the huge difference in stiffness; the fork is pretty much the product for 2008."
Judging by the vast sea of new SID forks on the starting lines, Irmiger is not the only one to be converted.
The PushLoc remote for the RockShox SID Team forks
Irmiger and the rest of the cross country crowd are now being treated to a much needed break from competition as the next event isn't scheduled until the end of May in Andorra. It sounds like most of the mechanical bugs have already been worked out but the time off will provide some valuable days to rest and recuperate.
Will the team crack out the new Gary Fisher HiFi Race platform for the bumpier courses? We'll have to wait and see.
- Frame: Gary Fisher Genesisters aluminium hardtail prototype, 6066 aluminium
- Fork: RockShox SID Team with PushLoc remote, 100mm-travel
- Front brake: Avid Juicy Ultimate with 160mm rotor
- Rear brake: Avid Juicy Ultimate with 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 HollowPin
- Crankset: Bontrager Race X Lite, 22/32/40T
- Bottom bracket: Bontrager GXP
- Wheelset: Bontrager Race X Lite
- Front tyre: Bontrager Jones AC
- Rear tyre: Bontrager Revolt Super X
- Bars: Bontrager Race XXX Lite flat
- Stem: Bontrager Race X Lite
- Headset: Cane Creek integrated
- Tape/grip: Bontrager Cork Tape
- Pedals: Crankbrothers Eggbeater 4ti
- Seat post: Bontrager Race XXX Lite
- Saddle: Bontrager InForm RL women's
- Bottle cages: Bontrager Race X Lite Carbon
- Other accessories: Nokon derailleur cable and housing
- Total bike weight: 10.1kg (22.3lb)
- Rider's height: 1.63m (5' 4") ; Weight: 52kg (115lb)
- Seat tube length, c-c: 435mm
- Top tube length: 590mm (horizontal)