Professional mountain bike racers typically have a sizeable quiver of machines at their disposal to suit the task of hand: a full-suspension 26" bike here, a 29" hardtail there, a 26" hardtail elsewhere...
But a new breed of so-called 'all-mountain' racers such as 2008 Downieville Classic winner 'Rad Ross' Schnell have now become the everyman mountain biking heroes as of late, not so much because of their average abilities – Schnell's pro cross-country fitness and uncanny handling prowess are testament to that – but rather what they've shown can be done with just a single bike.
Schnell's custom-tweaked Trek Remedy is a prime example of that do-it-all philosophy. As he raced it at last weekend's Ashland Super D in Ashland, Oregon, it's impressively light at just 12.03kg (26.5lb), boasts a full 150mm of travel and meaty tyres at both ends, and yet pedals as well as most dedicated cross-country bikes – an ideal formula for a course that includes top speeds over 65km/h (40mph), 1,500m (5,000') of descending, and 150m (500') of steep climbing, all packed into about 19km (12mi).
"I don't think weight matters as much as people say it does – that bike is still really light," Schnell says with a chuckle before continuing on to discuss the course itself. "The climb is going to be super crucial. Guys that are super fit and maybe not even as good descenders are going to do really well. You could lose 30 seconds and not make it up on the fast descending stuff.
"The stuff isn't as technical as some of the other all-mountain races that we've seen so the difference in the technical abilities isn't quite as big and the pedaling is huge. Even the first fire road descent and the big one in the middle is going to be pretty crucial because you can't just sit and tuck – you have to pedal for the whole thing. Fitness is big."
Even so, some may question why Schnell would choose to run his aluminum Remedy over his lighter carbon one when even he admits that the course's short climb plays such a pivotal role. Both rigs were on hand in Ashland but ultimately, the aluminum one's single-ring MRP setup (the Remedy even has ISCG tabs stock) won out over the 2x10 XO kit installed on the carbon machine in an effort to keep the chain in place through the high-speed bumps.
"Pretty much all year I've been running the chain guide setup and I feel super comfortable on it and it's reliable," he says. "It seems like you should run what you're used to. The carbon bike is a lot lighter and definitely rides really well but at the last minute, I decided to go with what I know."
Schnell did swap out his usual RockShox Lyrik in favour of the company's latest Revelation World Cup, complete with a one-piece carbon crown and tapered steerer that brings the weight down to just 1,489g (3.28lb) and yet still offers a full 150mm of well controlled travel, not to mention a stiff 20mm thru-axle. Rolling stock follows a similar philosophy with lightweight crankbrothers cobalt wheels wrapped with high-volume 2.35" Bontrager FR3 tyres with a fast-rolling centre tread.
"I put some faster rolling tyres on it so they've got a good side knob and roll pretty fast," he explains. "I'm not too worried about flatting. I did put a Revelation fork on it, which brings the head angle down a little bit. It's plenty stiff enough for my liking and that's what I was worried about. It still has the 20mm thru-axle and is awesomely carbon fiber. And it rides really well."
Other versatile component choices include SRAM's ultralight XX group, crankbrothers' remote-operated Joplin 4 height-adjustable seatpost, previous-generation Candy 4ti pedals, and iodine 11 carbon riser bar, a Cane Creek tapered headset, and a fi'zi:k Tundra k:ium saddle.
While Schnell's Trek Remedy is a premium example of how one bike truly can do it all, there are still a couple of tweaks built-in that aren't available to consumers.
Schnell is obligated to run RockShox suspension but the stock magnesium EVO upper rocker link's proprietary shock mount will only fit the OEM Fox Racing Shox DRCV-equipped RP23 unit. As such, Trek supplies Schnell with a custom link that uses a more standard hardware setup up top so that he can use a RockShox Monarch 4.2 air shock instead.
Down below, tight clearances on the asymmetrical chainstays won't let Schnell run SRAM's smaller 2x10 chainring combinations either, so a special assembly with a revised forward pivot mount is on hand with more room for the front derailleur cage. As it is, Schnell still can't run his preferred 40T single-ring setup without first putting a little ding in the driveside stay, either.
And finally, there's the trick custom paint job that's supplied only to Schnell. In addition to the catchy blue and brown scheme there's even Schnell's last name (in customized font) painted on the top tube and sealed under clearcoat.
Schnell wasn't able to pull off the win in Ashland but even so, stands as a shining example to the rest of us of what bikes are capable of in the right hands and how true mountain biking as most of us interpret it isn't a collection of small, specific niches that each require a dedicated machine.
"My outlook on bikes has been totally transformed by a number of things but mostly because the bikes are getting so good," he explains. "That Remedy is 25 pounds and change with six inches of travel – there's no reason to ever ride a smaller bike. There are certain courses that dictate that if you're racing cross-country but the bikes pedal so well and they're getting down in the weight where that's literally the bike I ride everyday."