Epic tech from Houffalize

Race tech: UCI World Cup MTB XC Series, May 8, 2008

The first few UCI World Cup races in Europe usually carry with them a swathe of new bikes and kit but this year's deluge at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California left few surprises. Even so, that doesn't mean that there was nothing of interest to see as our man on the ground, Luke Webber, reports.

As it turns out, one of the biggest pieces of news didn't even involve anything we saw but rather something that was said (or more specifically, wasn't denied). Given the progression of Specialized's recent mountain bike product development over the past few years, it doesn't take a genius to figure that the short-travel Epic cross country race platform is next in line for a redesign and what that change might include.

Swiss powerhouse Christoph Sauser was rightfully coy when we asked him about the possibility of an all new Epic but the smile was arguably all we needed to know. As expected, the new bike is expected to use the same basic suspension architecture as the current Stumpjumper design with its rocker link and centrally located shock (current Epic shocks are placed on the non-driveside seat stay). Also as we guessed, the bike will probably come with Specialized's own house-brand fork which is sure to include a more firmly tuned version of the Brain inertia valve technology found on the Stumpjumper. We'll have to wait until next month to see if these 'rumors' hold true but we'd be awfully surprised if they don't.

Development work and race testing was also in progress in the Trek/Gary Fisher/Bontrager stable. We've already given you a sneak peak at the new aluminum hardtails Gary Fisher is working on for '09 but much is underway with Bontrager's rolling stock, too. Some new tyres are currently making the test rounds to accompany the Dry X released last winter and a new wheelset is also rumoured to launch soon. According to our information, these will be substantially lighter than the current Race X Lite and might incorporate one of two advances - either the carbon rim we've seen at some races or upgraded hubs based on the DT Swiss 190 Ceramic model. We also don't rule out the possibility that we'll see both but we'll keep you posted.

The consumer version of Fox Racing Shox' handlebar-mounted lockout was also spotted on a few bikes, in particular that of Marie-Helene Premont in Madrid this past weekend. The team bikes of Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjå and the rest of the Multivan Merida team were also fitted with handlebar-mounted remote lockout levers although these weren't exactly being used as the manufacturer intended. In fact, the team uses Manitou forks and DT Swiss rear shocks but team mechanics attached RockShox PushLoc levers to some homemade machined cable guides to actuate the rear shock lockout on their new Merida Ninety-Six bikes.

The dry and fast conditions of the last two World Cup rounds also provided a perfect environment for hardpack tyres. Multivan Merida riders were suitably equipped with the Ridgeline and Monorail patterns that Maxxis introduced last year. Both were converted to tubeless and mounted on ultralight NoTubes ZTR Race wheelsets.

Over in the Topeak/Ergon tent, world champion Irina Kalentieva and other teammates were found with their usual crop of team-only tyres from German manufacturer Continental. In addition to unique rubber compounds, team mechanics have mentioned that the various prototypes are also occasionally built with special casings for such characteristics as faster rolling or increased puncture resistance.

We also spotted a few non-functional standouts, namely the Day-Glo pink outfit of Specialized rider Lene Byberg (she later swapped to her Norwegian national champion colours) and the bovine-themed saddle cover of Multivan Merida rider Jose Hermida.

Interestingly, Byberg and Sauser's teammate, Liam Killeen, was also seen with an interesting clear moulded helmet cover that left just a few vents open for ventilation. Was it meant to retain a bit more heat? Seal out insects? We're not sure just yet but we'll work to find out by the time the circuit resumes come the end of May.

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