Brendan Fairclough is best known for his no-holds-barred riding style. So how do you set up a bike to allow him to charge so hard? We talked to his mechanic Ben Vergnaud at the Lourdes World Cup to find out.
When we had a look at Aaron Gwin’s bike we were surprised at how (relatively) soft his fork felt — in the car park test at least. Not so for Fairclough.
Pushing down on the bars as I rode around the World Cup pits (with his mechanic’s permission, of course), the fork felt seriously firm and highly damped, with a fairly slow rebound speed.
Vergnaud told us he runs about 84psi in his Fox 40 fork, with about six volume spacers. “It’s pretty hard”, Vergnaud laughs, “I bet you couldn’t go down the mountain with that!” He was probably right; Fairclough’s bike setup felt seriously punishing to me.
When asked about damping settings, Vergnaud told us: “He’s on the (Fox) RAD programme now. I can’t tell you much about that, because I don’t know!”
As for the rear shock, Fairclough uses a 525 lb/inch spring. According to Vergnaud, that’s normally what someone around the 90kg mark would use with the Gambler, but Fairclough apparently weighs about 81kg. Again, pretty firm, but in the car park we noticed the fork felt even stiffer than the rear.
Coil ‘n’ oil
The bike uses a shorter than stock shock and a more progressive linkage too. When asked why they chose the coil shock over air, Vergnaud told us: “We tried using the air shock with this linkage too, but the coil shock works good enough now, and the air shock is just not consistent enough in my opinion… it’s more affected by heat.”
This is something we heard a lot in the World Cup pits. Riders are looking for a shock that can survive three minutes of some of the roughest terrain around, without the feel of the shock changing too much.
With air shocks, as the damping oil heats up, some of that heat can be transferred to the air in the spring and this increases the spring rate. Throw in lighter damping as the oil gets hotter and thinner, and the combined effect is to speed up the rebound, which can cause riders to get bucked towards the end of long runs. Coil shocks allow the heat to escape more easily, so damping remains more consistent and the spring rate doesn’t change with temperature.
Fairclough’s Gambler sports a non-production carbon swingarm. Vergnaud tells us it’s about 600g lighter than the stock item. When asked if there was a difference in feel of the rear end, he says “it just makes the bike feel lighter, easier to handle.” To that end, Vergnaud has fitted a full suite of Ti bolts — even the pinch bolts on the crank are titanium.
At around six-foot tall, Fairclough rides an XL frame and sticks to the Gambler’s longer chainstay setting for better stability. We were surprised to see that he is running the shock in the “High” setting, but apparently this is just to compensate for the shorter stroke shock used.
We’ve seen a few top enduro racers fitting narrow rear and wide front rim combinations in order to balance more predictable steering and lower rolling resistance. Fairclough does the complete opposite. He’s running a 30mm rim at the rear with a 25mm item up front.
Apparently, Fairclough likes the tyre to be “pinched, like a balloon” on the front: “he likes the feeling of the front tyre moving around on the front a little bit, but not too much,” says Vergnaud. As a flat pedal rider, Fairclough loves to ride over the back wheel, and the wider rear rim provides a little more stability for pushing really hard into corners.
Fairclough runs 26-27psi in the rear and 23-24psi in the front with his downhill casing Magic Mary tyres from Schwalbe.
That’s surprisingly soft when compared to his suspension setup. The spokes are set up “softer than DT Swiss recommendation” but, Vergnaud warns, “if you go too light the wheels are too loose so the spokes can push through the rim and puncture the tape, or the wheel can deform and cause it to burp.”
We asked if Fairclough was running Schwalbe’s Procore system and Vergnaud told us he wasn’t. Looking closely at the valves, very closely, it looks like he’s running the Cushcore in-tyre system. Whatever he was running, Fairclough appeared to burp the rear tyre in the race, but managed to ride to the bottom regardless to finish in 19th.