Atherton Bikes – Next Level Thinking?

ARTICLE 1.3.007 Bicycles and their accessories shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practising cycling as a sport.

So the Athertons have a launched a bike brand, sort of. Robot Bikes Co has emerged butterfly-like from its chrysalis and has unveiled itself with Atherton winningness on the head badge. But is this just a cash in on their brand whilst Rachel is still at the height of her career as Gee’s star is on the fading side of his? Or could it something else, or both?

I have previously mused on the UCI article 1.3.007 and how it requires all bikes raced to be available for purchase by anyone. I am of the mind that this, in fact, stifles bike development. This requirement for a race bike, means that compromises must be made if the bike raced is for mass public consumption.

That is a ferocious follow to post ratio.

If you built a bike that was a pure race only machine, it would probably have quite a high cost of entry regarding the skills required to pilot it. Race teams are primo marketing for a bike company. So the ability for the man on the street to buy the same bike as the racers they follow is a big draw. It is also one of the things that makes bike racing unique compared to automotive racing. But does it make for better racing? Yes and no.

If teams were able to race custom built machines never intended for public consumption, like F1 or WRC. Then the teams with the deepest pockets would win. But it means that top tier racers are always fighting with bike fit and suspension kinematics. There is only so much you can do to make a frame fit with anglesets and custom linkages, this is only exacerbated when your over 6 foot.

So how do the Athertons and Robot, I mean, Atherton bikes come into this train of thought? This could be next level thinking to work within the UCI rules and still ride the perfect tailored race bike.

Looks like a session.

Robot Bike Co’s USP was their method of manufacture and their offer of custom geometry. By using sintering additive manufacture (3D printing in metal), they were able to make each bike to order, exactly to your bodies measurements. They were a tailored suit in a world of off the peg frames.

So acquired, re-branded and re-launched as Atherton Bikes means Rach, Gee and not forgetting Dan, now have the ability to have the perfect fitting bike, with the exact geometry they need. The kinematics or reach not working out? Then a new front triangle or linkage can be fabricated between races, it can be that quick.

Selling direct to consumer, they can then offer the “Gee Bike” or the “Mere Mortal” editions of their frames. If each bike is a custom piece, then they can constantly evolve and adjust the design betweeen races. Just like F1, which is funny as two of the founders of Robot work in F1.

Stealthy.

So are the Atherton’s cashing in on their brand? Well maybe, but who can blame them, Peaties been selling unicorn jizz in his retirement afterall. But is this a next level strategy crossing over from motorsport into DH? Maybe, just maybe.

Growing Pains – The EWS & Doping

The EWS was (and possibly still is) the wild west.

Not the bad stuff about the white man’s manifest destiny, but the open, wild space where the spirit animal of early downhill had found fresh pastures. But with the announcement earlier this year that the UCI is going to adopt the series, was too strong a trigger for many Pinkbike warriors to resist. They would bring about certain standardizations and (god forbid) rules that would kill what the discipline was, “the spirit of Enduro” would die and whither on the vine.

It was too easy to make Ratboy hiding the bong jokes to see what was coming, yes, drug testing, but also positive results and the inevitable hard questions.

The EWS when it was founded reached out to the UCI. The UCI at that time was not looking (or willing) to adopt enduro as a discipline. That meant, that the EWS was unable to issue the hallowed and iconic rainbow stripes to its champions. It also meant that certain other duties where left to the individual federations of a races host nation. Duties such as anti-doping screening.

With the structure of the EWS being what it is, with each race run by different national organizations and federations, the rules and format at each event can be different. With each race organizer having a different opinion on some of the finer points.

This in the first few years caught out some of the riders at the sharp end of the league table. Riders have been hit with penalties due to infractions that some would argue, wouldn’t have happened during a different race. What constitutes shuttling during practice for example.

On top of this, the penalties for similar infractions have been, varied. Fabien Barel received a five-minute penalty for shuttling at Crankworx back in 2013 compared with Adrien Dailly, Dimitri Tordo, and Florian Nicolai receiving twenty seconds in Colombia earlier this year. Whilst this isn’t comparing apples with apples, it is certainly something to think about when you take a step back and look at the EWS over its 6-year history.

These growing pains were however necessary, for the teams, privateers and the series organizers, to work out what the EWS was and is going to be. As the series has matured, teams have gotten wise and become more attune to these variances, with fewer of these mishaps befalling the top riders.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

From the start there has been a strong statement against doping within the EWS, Chris Ball is very clear on his position on the matter. But with the anti-doping screening programs being delegated to each individual host nations federation, consistency has arguably been lacking.

Consistency in the application of both the testing and contents of the rules regarding doping is something that should have as few inconsistencies areas as possible. One person’s asthma prescription is another person’s positive test response after all.

This all leads us to the anti-doping testing at the Olargues stage of this years series.

What we know so far;

  • 9 male athletes were tested.
  • The tests were carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).
  • 2 riders samples returned “adverse analytical findings”
  • Jared Graves & Richie Rude have confirmed that they returned those findings.
  • Four of the others tested have confirmed their tests came up clean.
  • 3 unknown athletes have not come forward as yet.
  • The AFLD have yet to release their findings and any sanctions.
  • The UCI did not oversee these tests.
  • The UCI may restrict sanctioned riders from racing next year.

So why have we had a round of testing now? And why none of the female athletes? Well the lack of females being tested was due to no female anti-doping officers being present, again the lack of consistency is evident. The AFLD may have opted to test at this race precisely because the UCI would be doing so next year. They may have wanted to appear proactive and not ignoring the event. This is pure conjecture and we will never know why this race.

Why have we not had more people caught in the past? Is Enduro inherently more clean than other mountain biking disciplines? Probably no more or less so, but regular testing doesn’t currently exist. In fact Rude implied that this was the first time he had been tested whilst racing the EWS, which for a two time world champ is kind of incredible.

As the standardized anti-doping test regime and infrastructure of the UCI comes on stream with the EWS next year, the contents of the banned substance list and the true ingredients of the supplements used by athletes will no doubt be poured over by the teams. The level of rigor on the nutritional aspects of the athletes will level up so to speak.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

Cedric Gracia told a story in one of his vlogs about doping in early French XC racing. The essence was that during a race someone from the crowd held out a bidon. He took the bottle whilst passing and his Dad basically saw this and tackled him off the bike. The reason being, you don’t know what is in the bottle. It could be just an isotonic drink, but it could also be a banned substance. It could be an over the counter supplement that contains a banned substance. A deliberate act of cheating would not have taken place, but Gracia’s career would potentially not have happened if he had tested positive.

Something of this nature may have happened, feed stations are an important element of a race day nutritional strategy. This with the fact that other riders in other disciplines have provided positive samples due to a supplement not listing all the ingredients it contains give plenty of scope for how this could have happened innocently.

The fact that they were once team mates and training partners, as well as both sponsored by Rhino Power supplements. Will no doubt raise some eyebrows. However, even without the confirmation of guilt, the fact is that these test results may impact Grave’s return to racing and Rude’s plans for the 2019 season if not beyond.

Whilst this whole episode is sad to see, I am not really surprised that it has happened. We just have to wait for the full findings and any sanctions to be published.

Is The UCI Stifling Innovation? – Sick Bike Co Collab

As part of what I hope to become a series of guest Vlogs (still hate that term). I recorded this vlog posing the question “Is The UCI Stifling Innovation?”. I look at the case of DH and XC, looking at how the UCI technical regulation affect and shape the disciplines. I also ask whether they should and what the “soul” of those races should be.


Excert from the UCI technical regulations, the full document can be accessed here.
ARTICLE 1.3.007
“Bicycles and their accessories shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practising cycling as a sport. Any equipment in development phase and not yet available for sale (prototype) must be subject of an authorization request to the UCI Equipment Unit before its use. Authorization will be granted only for equipment which is in the final stage of development and for which commercialization will take place no later than 12 months after the first use in competition. The manufacturer may request a single prolongation of the prototype status if justified by relevant reasons. The UCI Equipment Unit will pay particular attention to safety of the equipment which will be submitted to it for authorization.
 
The use of equipment designed especially for the attainment of a particular performance (record or other) shall be not authorised.” The bicycle must be accessible to all participants. All the components of the bicycle must be available commercially (i.e. available on the market or sold directly by the manufacturer) at the latest twelve months after their first use in competition. To implement this twelve month period, the manufacturer must publicly announce that the product in question is being used in competition and when it will be available for sale. In all cases the product must be in a final stage of development, very similar to the product that will be marketed.
Thus, it is not allowed to use equipment in competition that is not either available on the market or authorized by the UCI Equipment Unit and previously communicated by the manufacturer (with a twelve months period for the marketing). The use of equipment specially designed for a particular athlete, event or performance are prohibited. “Specially designed” means a bicycle with a technical added value when compared with other equipment. No minimum production quantity or minimum price is defined for either bicycles or any component parts.
However, for down
hill and 4X cross mountain bike events, BMX, trials and indoor cycling, specific provisions are laid down in the part of the regulations concerning the discipline in question.

29ers – Are we really still talking about this?

The internet has calmed down and the storm over Lourdes may have passed, but the fact is, 29ers are here in DH. Deal with it.

It was going to happen, we all knew it would, we had all seen the instagram posts teasing us with hints at what was coming. We had heard rumours of 29 inch wheeled downhill bikes at the onset of the last few seasons, but 2017 would be the season.

The components had finally caught up with the frame design and geometry lessons learned from enduro and AM bikes. And once Fox had their 49 fork, well that was more or less the last piece in the puzzle of making a 29er DH bike happen and work.

People equate the UCI Downhill World Cup to the Formula 1 of mountain biking, and there is mileage in the analogy. but in reality, it is a very different animal in many respects. F1 cars are specific custom built by the teams, and you would never, ever expect to be able to buy one. Sure the trickle down of technology will eventually get there (adaptive suspension anyone?). But you accept that they are a different species to what we own and drive.

In the nineties and early noughties, it would not be unsurprising, in fact it would be almost expected, that the pros would be racing bikes that you could never have. One off team frames, prototypes testing suspension ideas, custom made components, drive trains that were not standard and would only work on that bike. Bikes like the iconic Honda RN01 and Miles Rockwells Cannondale Fulcrum are probably the two more famous examples.

Pushing the technology and what was thought possible on a pushbike. We wanted to see the engineering, the exotica, the unfeasibly skilled riding unattainable bikes.

In all other disciplines teams have to submit any technology being used for approval before it can be used, not so in MTB. So why are all the teams running more or less stock bikes? The UCI have rules stating that bikes raced on the circuit have to be readily available to the public. Within those rules, the manufacturers have used racing as a R&D proving ground and the bikes we ride have improved dramatically over the years because of that.

So why the shit fit over 29 inch wheels?

People have been genuinely furious about the Santa Cruz Syndicate debuting a 29er at Lourdes. Some of the hate has come from within the pro circuit, the Syndicate having apparently broken some gentlemen’s agreement that all the factory teams would show their hands at the same time. But this is racing, if you intend to use a 29er for worlds at Cairns later in the season, why not battle test it for a whole season?

“But it gives you an unfair advantage”

This is not a single manufacturer race series, this is not the Specialised WC circuit. If it was, each team would have the same frame at the start of the season and may the best man win. If you want to eliminate any advantage gained through different bike designs, then you have to give each racer the same equipment.

Fabien Barel famously said that is was “70% the rider 30% the bike”. So why would you get angry if a team tried to improve the 30% that can be adjusted through engineering? Bike designers, Team mechanics and the riders who can articulate what the bike needs to do to be quicker have been doing this as long as pro racing has existed.

For the fans who see this as some kind of bike industry conspiracy to enforce “another new standard”. Get over it, I’m sorry but its true. The fact that “standards” exist in cycling for components is a minor miracle. The fact that one hub wont fit every current production bike? Not really surprising, I’ll still sleep at night and I’m sure you will too.

If we applied the same component standards concept to say, the motor car, we would not have the same range and capability within cars. Hope created an entire new hub width that is specific to the HB211 bike. This allowed them to not compromise the design elsewhere and for the hub and rear axle to be a more integrated part of the overall engineering of the frame. Like how a car is designed…

But ultimately I think as soon as someone podiums on a 29er, we can finally stop having this discussion. JEFF STEBER of Intense fame had this to say in an interview with Dirt back in 2014.

“I always think back to when Doug Henry was the first to run the YZ400 F (four stroke MX bike) during a whole season of supercross and outdoor. He roared against a field of buzzing bees (2 strokes) and he focused on riding that bike for its strengths. After that season of huge success the rest is history. 29 DH needs a Doug Henry and a team willing to take it on and prove it to the world.”
Perhaps the Syndicate is that team.