Santa Cruz has shown a 29er version of its V10 downhill race bike in a surprise move ahead of this weekend’s World Cup race in Lourdes, France.
According to a press release from Santa Cruz, the new bike will be beneath Syndicate riders Greg Minnaar, Luca Shaw and Loris Vergier for this weekend’s race.
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Santa Cruz was able to take the frame from a part aluminium mule through to a full carbon race-ready bike in just a couple of months. Minnaar can be considered the driving force behind the new bike, he was keen to try a 29er V10 many years back, but limited fork options soon put the brakes on the project.
"I raced the Hightower at the Enduro World Series in Finale Ligure, Italy, last October, and it just held so much speed," explains Minnaar. "That's when I knew we had to come back to the 29er V10 idea."
Santa Cruz toyed with multiple chassis setups including three aluminium swingarms and many different suspension linkages before Minnaar felt happy with setting everything in carbon.
Not every rider took to the bike right away though, reveals Syndicate rider Loris Vergier: "Greg practically forced me to try the bike."
"I tried it once in testing, but went straight back to my original 27.5-inch bike because that's what felt fastest across the length of the test track. But Greg insisted I give the 29er another shot. So I did, and I felt like it was still slower. The clocks don't lie though, and I was consistently posting quicker times on the new bike compared to the old — and this was on my local track! That's when I realized the new bike was deceptively quick."
Luca Shaw, on the other hand, took to the bike straight away: "Psychologically I think it really helped that the bike already looked refined, straight off the bat."
"The swingarm and links are custom, and they're mated to a production V10 front triangle. Loris and I are riding bikes with 190mm of travel, and Greg's got 210 because the XXL frame has more room," says Shaw.
Another key part of the project was sourcing the right components, that included 29in versions of Fox’s 40 fork, Chris King knocking up custom headsets and hubs as well as ENVE building 29in versions of its M90 wheels. Last but not least, Maxxis supplied upscaled versions of the Syndicate's favourite rubber.
Things are still very much in development though and we’ve been told to expect frame hardware and headsets to change over the course of the seasons as each rider works towards their ideal setups.
Santa Cruz head engineer Nick Anderson explained things further: "We needed to sit the bike into the travel to compensate for the BB height change created by the larger wheel diameter, and the guys at Chris King were able to make us a Buzzworks headset that then corrected the resulting change to the head angle.
"We also had to reduce the travel to maintain tire clearance at bottom out, which then meant we had to change the shock rate progression to maintain good suspension feel. The leverage curve is similar to the existing V10, but the leverage ratios have been modified slightly."
The team has mentioned that it isn’t fully committed to 29in wheels at this time though, stating: "If any of our riders feel more comfortable in particular conditions or on certain courses with 27.5" wheels that's what they'll ride."
This isn’t the first time that 29in wheels have been seen on downhill bikes of course. A few manufacturers have dipped their toes in this area before, most notably Intense, which produced a 29er version of its 951 frame back in 2009.
Santa Cruz has beaten the rest to getting riders out on such bikes, but we wouldn’t be surprised if further 29in downhill bikes were announced as early as this weekend. We’ll be on the ground at Lourdes to keep you up to date, so keep your eyes peeled.