When the Santa Cruz Syndicate announced that in 2010 they would be competing on carbon fibre downhill bikes, with carbon rims – and sometimes using air shocks too – there was a collective holding of breath.
After all, while carbon has been embraced by cross-country racers for its light weight and stiffness, surely it wouldn't be tough enough to stand up to the repeated pounding of a World Cup track? Only GT had dared field a carbon bike at the top level, and composite rims were a totally unknown factor in downhill racing.
But after the year's first two World Cup races, where team member Greg Minnaar won at Maribor and came third at Fort William, the apparent gamble seems to have paid off. Of course it wasn't really a gamble, as the squad carried out thorough pre-season testing of the cutting-edge kit before letting it loose on the race track.
We caught up with the reigning World Cup champion's mechanic, Doug Hatfield, at Fort Bill to get the lowdown on this very special machine, the Santa Cruz V-10.4 Carbon.
Santa Cruz V-10.4 Carbon
Santa Cruz boss Rob Roskopp seems extremely pleased with the new bike – watch out for a full interview with him on BikeRadar soon – and Doug reckons Greg shares his enthusiasm, now that he's put in some time on it.
"The carbon frame is a bit stiffer – it's designed to have flex, but it is stiffer than aluminium – and the angles are slacker, so it definitely took a bit of getting used to," he said. "It's lighter, and the suspension is more progressive as well; the linkage ramps up faster, which is better for pedalling. Once he'd been on this bike he didn't want to change. The other bike [the old alloy V-10] feels way different."
The new carbon V-10 is lighter and stiffer, with a more progressive suspension feel
The new bike actually weighs in at an incredible 35.5lb (16kg) with RockShox Vivid coil shock. While the front end is full-carbon, it uses the same alloy rear end as Santa Cruz's Driver 8 (for more on the V-10's frame, see last month's First Look article).
It features the same VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension design found on all of the company's top-end bikes, which uses chain tension to counteract pedalling bob, with 10in of plush travel. The team are currently trying out two different lightweight carbon fibre upper links, with Greg opting for the stiffer version for the tough Fort William track.
The carbon fibre top link saves weight and lowers the bike's centre of gravity
Much has been made of the fact that the Syndicate have been running the new RockShox Vivid Air shocks, but in Scotland they opted for the coil version instead – albeit the hush-hush BlackBox version developed for SRAM's most elite racers. Doug reckons the standard shock, with titanium spring, "has a more solid feeling for the long track".
The custom team bikes are longer and slacker than the standard V-10. Apparently 6ft 2in Greg runs the same size bike as his inch-taller team-mate – and reigning world champion – Steve Peat, but with an inline rather than layback seatpost for a slightly shorter cockpit.
Greg Minnaar eschews the current trend for super-low front ends
Up front are 758mm-wide, 30mm rise Truvativ Boobar bars clamped to the top of a BlackBox Boxxer World Cup fork with a direct mount stem. This sits on top of a 6mm riser to give Greg his favoured fairly high front end – no trendy flat bars and super-low position here. The prototype tapered headset is fitted with a Chris King PreLoader – King don't trust star nuts in oversized head tubes.
Greg runs 203mm brake rotors front and rear for his BlackBox Avid Elixirs – unlike Peat, who has been known to run discs as small as 140mm to save weight – and sintered rather than organic pads. "Normally Greg needs the most braking he can get, so metal pads are the ticket," said Doug.
Greg runs 203mm rotors on his BlackBox Avid Elixirs for maximum braking power
For Fort William, Greg's Edge Composites carbon rims were shod with Super Tacky compound Maxxis High Roller tyres. Pressures were slightly higher than average, at 31psi front and 32psi rear. Doug explained that the Syndicate have to run custom Maxxis tubes with longer 45mm valve stems due to the 30mm depth of the rims.
Other notable features include the custom BlackBox SRAM X0 shifter with Greg's name on it, the custom mechanic's tape wrapped around the driveside chainstay to "kill the noise and chatter" and a smattering of titanium bolts.
The perks of being one of the world's top riders include customised gear shifters
Even this incredible bike wasn't enough to put Greg on top of the podium at Aonach Mor thanks to blistering performances by Gee Atherton and Cameron Cole, but you can expect to see him back in the hot seat soon – maybe even at Leogang in Austria this weekend. It looks like one of the most successful race bikes of recent years just got even better.
- Frame: Santa Cruz V-10.4 Carbon
- Rear shock: RockShox Vivid Coil, 550lb spring
- Fork: BlackBox RockShox Boxxer WC
- Headset: Chris King 1.5-1.125in prototype
- Stem: Truvativ direct mount, 60mm reach
- Handlebar: Truvativ Boobar, 30mm rise, 758mm width
- Grips: Lizard Skins Peaty, black
- Front brake: BlackBox Avid Elixir, 203mm rotor
- Rear brake: BlackBox Avid Elixir, 203mm rotor
- Brake levers: Avid carbon
- Rear derailleur: BlackBox SRAM X0 10-speed
- Gear shifter: BlackBox SRAM X0 10-speed
- Cassette: SRAM Force 10-speed, 11-26T
- Chain: SRAM PC-1090 10-speed
- Crankset: BlackBox Truvativ Stylo DH, 165mm
- Chain guide: Gamut 38T
- Bottom bracket: Truvativ Stylo ceramic
- Pedals: CrankBrothers Mallet
- Rims: Edge carbon
- Front hub: Chris King ISO, 32 hole, 20mm axle
- Rear hub: Chris King ISO, 32 hole, 150mm width, 12mm axle
- Spokes: DT Swiss
- Front tyre: Maxxis High Roller 2.5in Super Tacky
- Rear tyre: Maxxis High Roller 2.5in Super Tacky
- Saddle: WTB Silverado Slimline Syndicate
- Seatpost: Truvativ (30.9mm)
- Rider's height: 6ft 2in
- Rider's weight: N/A
- Saddle height, from bottom bracket: 660mm
- Seat tube length, from bottom bracket: 470mm
- Tip of saddle nose to centre of bars: 520mm
- Head tube length: 130mm
- Top tube length: 580mm
- Bike weight: 35.5lb (coil shock) / 34.5lb (air shock)
Greg's mechanic, Doug Hatfield, with the world champ's Fort William race bike