It was really only a matter of time wasn’t it?
Well, the time has come, and Santa Cruz has just gone and dropped the first 29in sized bomb onto the mountain bike industry. Officially announced on its website as of this morning, the Santa Cruz Syndicate World Cup team will be racing this weekend in Lourdes aboard a 29er version of its V10 downhill bike. Get those pitchforks ready!
A few years ago, the concept of a 29er downhill bike was a truly far-fetched idea. As an early adopter of 29in wheels, Trek tested the concept ages ago, and other brands such as Intense and KHS have also shown off various prototypes over the years, much to the smug humour of online commentators. But as geometry and suspension have evolved, and components such as wheels, hubs, tyres and forks have continued to improve, the idea has seemed less and less far-fetched.
For Santa Cruz, the push for a 29in V10 came from within the race team, with Greg Minaar warming to the idea after spending some quality saddle time aboard a Hightower.
“I raced the Hightower at the Enduro World Series in Finale Ligure, Italy, last October, and it just held so much speed,” explains Greg. “That’s when I knew we had to come back to the 29er V10 idea.”
While many brands have flirted with prototype long-travel 29ers in the past, Santa Cruz was able to revisit the idea once they received a prototype 29in 40 downhill fork from Fox Racing Shox.
“We’d looked at doing a 29er V10 a few years ago, but the fork options available at the time wouldn’t stand up to World Cup racing” explains Jason Marsh, Greg’s mechanic. “Greg’s experience in Finale got the project off the shelf and back into development. FOX gave us a critical piece of the puzzle when they delivered a prototype 40 for us to test on a modified Hightower. Our first test session aboard that Hightower showed consistently faster times on the bigger wheels, we all decided we had to go for it”.
Once the project started to gain momentum, the big machines were switched on and prototyping entered the next phase of development. Thanks to its past experience from building alloy frames in the US, Santa Cruz possesses the necessary internal firepower to weld and machine alloy mules to its hearts content. And so various alloy swingarms and linkages were made up for the existing 27.5in V10 carbon mainframe to squeeze in larger 29in wheels and that Fox 40 prototype fork.
“We played with linkages and shocks to achieve different angles, travel, and leverage ratios until Greg felt happy with setting everything in stone“, states Nick Anderson, Santa Cruz’ head engineer. “We’re fortunate enough to co-own our own carbon manufacturing facility in China, which gives us bandwidth to indulge in this kind of project,“.
While Santa Cruz was able to work on the frame side of things, there would be a number of components from its partners that would be required to create a genuine race-ready package. With the Santa Cruz Syndicate team having joint sponsorship with Fox, ENVE and Chris King, this was going to be a team effort.
“Fox had race-ready forks in the pipeline, and ENVE was on board to build some 29-inch M90s. Maxxis delivered bigger versions of the Syndicate’s preferred tires, and Chris King’s Buzzworks group whipped up some custom headsets to bring the geometry in line. It sounds simple enough, but the reality was anything but”, explains Anderson.
In discussions with Fox Racing Shox, one small hurdle appeared in the form of a new 20x110mm hub standard – Boost. Yes, you read that right, Boost hub spacing is coming to long travel downhill forks.
As of right now, most long travel single crown and dual crown forks already use 20x110mm hub spacing, so that doesn’t change. What a Boost 20x110mm hub however does is exactly the same as what a Boost 15x110mm hub does – it makes use of that extra width by pushing the hub flanges apart wider to create a stronger and stiffer wheel. And when you’re talking about a downhill 29er, every bit of wheel stiffness helps.
But by making use of the full 110mm axle width by bringing the hub flanges apart, the Boost 20x110mm hub also pushes the disc rotor mount further out from the hub centreline. That means a Boost 20x110mm hub is not compatible with a regular downhill fork – it requires a Boost 20x110mm fork to put the rotor in the right position.
Of course the new Fox 40 29er fork will technically fit an existing 20x110mm hub, but because the brake mount is offset, a new hub is required. In the case of the V10 29er project, that meant Chris King had to machine a one-off design that it’s calling “ISO-AB (Asymmetric Boost)”. While it’s a prototype for now, we’ve heard enough vicious trumours within the bike industry to be confident that this new Boost 20mm standard is coming in a big way, so expect ‘prototype’ to become ‘production’ very soon.
Back to the V10. So we don’t have a whole lot of information on geometry and suspension, though we can confirm that the bikes the Syndicate race team will be on will have 190-210mm travel depending on frame size.
“Psychologically I think it really helped that the bike already looked refined, straight off the bat” said Syndicate team rider Luca Shaw. “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.“
According to Anderson, a few design challenges were thrown up during the testing phase. “We 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 young Frenchman, Loris Vergier, wasn’t so keen on the 29in wheels at first. “Greg practically forced me to try the bike“, says Vergier. “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 quickertimes 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.“
As it stands, the 29in V10 is still in the development phase, and the Syndicate race team will be experimenting with different swingarms, linkages and geometry over the coming race season to fine tune the overall design. Given that Santa Cruz has already committed to carbon moulds though, perhaps this will simply be to determine the final design of the VPP linkages? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
In the meantime, we’ll be watching the Lourdes World Cup round this weekend to see what other brands are unveiling 29er downhill bikes, because Santa Cruz most certainly ain’t the only one…