This article originally published on BikeRadar
Mountain bike endurance racing specialist Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) took her latest victory in the duo category with Nat Ross at the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo aboard Specialized's new women's-specific Fate carbon fiber 29er hardtail. According to the 'Queen of Pain', the light overall weight, comfortable ride quality, and fast rolling wheels and tires were just the thing for conquering the Arizona desert.
"What I have available to me for bikes with Specialized is the pick of the litter, which is sweet," she told Cyclingnews just a couple of hours before her first lap. "I've been riding the Fate almost exclusively since Leadville last year and somewhat experimentally with stage racing, taking it to Costa Rica for La Ruta and Trans Andes.
"I wasn't sure about four days in the saddle on a hardtail," she continued, "but I've been really pleasantly surprised with the fact that I think a 29er just gives you slightly more cush – not like a full-suspension bike – but in a lot of those endurance races, the lion's share of riding isn't super technical. And the fact that it's so light, it's so fast on the road – it does ride like a road bike on dirt roads and stuff like that so I'm pretty stoked with it."
Rusch is keen to point out that her switch to 29in wheels wasn't driven by sponsor pressures or marketplace trends, either, but rather back-to-back testing in race conditions.
"A few years I did my own little experiment where I rode my 26-inch Era for half the laps and a 29er Stumpy hardtail for the other half – I had to see for myself. It was really interesting doing the exact same course for a whole day and comparing the two bikes for myself and that's really what sold me. I can ride over stuff better and hands down, the wheel size is faster. And now they've gotten lighter with carbon wheels – there's no excuse now."
Claimed weight on the Specialized Roval Control Trail SL 29 wheels is just 1,530g, thanks in part to carbon fiber rims
Indeed, Rusch certainly couldn't have pointed to a heavy bike if things didn't happen to go her way - actual complete weight as pictured here is just 9.14kg (20.15lb) without the bottle and computer. Helping things along are a SRAM XX group with the lighter-weight World Cup brake option and 140mm rear rotor, a carbon fiber crown and steerer on the Specialized/RockShox SID World Cup fork with Brain inertia damper, carbon rimmed Specialized Roval Control SL 29 tubeless wheels, and lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber cockpit goodies from Specialized and Truvativ.
Rusch wisely doesn't prioritize weight above overall function, however, particularly in the context of a 24-hour event where reliability is key.
"I'm running the Control tires here, which are thicker, because of thorns and that kind of stuff," she told us. "That's a slight weight penalty but I've found that sometimes it's really worth it. A flat can cost you five minutes and then once you've got a tube in in the desert, you're kind of screwed so I'm going for a little bit of insurance on the tire casing."
Another change from previous setups is the Truvativ Noir T30 handlebar, which is uncut at 700mm across and also boasts a generous ten degrees of backsweep – but also 70g lighter than Truvativ's lightest option.
"What I'm finding is that for comfort, control, and keeping your hands from falling asleep that that's been a really good move for me."
Rusch tells Cyclingnews that a switch to Carmichael Training Systems for coaching services has prompted the last major changes – a Quarq power meter and Garmin Edge 500 – which she now uses full-time for both racing and training.
"I've got a new coach and they're all about the power – and I really wanted to try it. I first saw the new Quarq power meter at Interbike and there's hardly a weight penalty. I rode Trans Andes and recorded all the power for that and I'll record all the power here so it'll be really interesting to compare the first and last laps."
Rusch says the weight penalty on the Quarq SRAM S2275 BB30 power meter is so minimal that she has no issues running it for both training and racing
Rusch has rightfully earned her reputation as the dominant force in women's endurance mountain bike racing but what's also very impressive is how well she knows her equipment – after all, cycling is a sport of man and machine. Be it tire pressure, tire construction, fork pressure, bar width, bar sweep, or gearing, 'Reba' can not only pedal like mad but also knows what she's pedaling – pun intended.
"I'm a new rider and I didn't learn to mountain bike when I was five like a lot of these people and I've found that I need to stack the odds in my favor," she admitted. "I'm interested in the gear and I want to learn about it. I didn't even know anything so it's been a fun education but I'm way off the back – the gear changes so fast. But I figure that if I'm going to tell people about it or if women are going to ask me, I need to say, "this is why I chose this", instead of, "oh, my mechanic put it on my bike."
"That's part of the beauty of endurance riding – I don't always have a mechanic working with me so I've got to assemble my bike myself, I take it apart myself, I don't like to work on my bike but I have to sometimes, so it's been good. Then I don't just hand it over to somebody and have no clue what's going on."
While that tech knowledge makes Rusch better equipped to handle questions from fans and clinic attendees – she's the headline attraction for SRAM's Gold Rusch Tour – it also directly helps her sponsors. For example, Rusch noted that RockShox's printed-on air pressure guidelines only go down to a rider weight of 140lb.
"A lot of men and women I know are lighter than that!" she said.
According to Rusch, SRAM gave her a guideline of dropping 2psi for each five pounds of rider (plus gear) weight but she suggested simply extending the chart to eliminate the guesswork – something that SRAM is apparently considering for future production.
Rusch will use this same bike this August to defend her Leadville 100 title. The Queen of Pain undoubtedly will hope for an incident-free ride but even if some sort of mechanical does occur, it sounds like she'll be well prepared.