School is in Session
VAL DI SOLE, ITALY
MS Mondraker Team
Marzocchi 380 C2R2 Ti
WORDS Lukas Haider and Mike Levy
PHOTOS Flo Smith and Lukas Haider
After what could only be described as a comeback season in 2012, in which Brook MacDonald took his first World Cup victory aboard his Marzocchi equipped Mondraker Summum and Emmeline Ragot stood atop the podium in Fort William, the Italian brand has launched a completely new fork and shock for 2013, the 380 C2R2 Titanium and Moto C2R. The MS Mondraker team has played a large role in the development of both, with some of their fundamental features being tested and developed incognito during the 2012 World Cup campaign. While it may have looked like last year's race bikes were fitted with standard 888 forks and Roco shocks, that was far from the truth. Despite the progress made last season, there was still some testing that needed to be done before the season kicked off in Fort William, so the team gathered in Val di Sole, Italy, to do just that.
As the location of the second round of the 2013 World Cup downhill calendar, Val di Sole offers some of the best conditions for assessing new gear in a limited amount of time, especially suspension. This time of the year usually means that the area is bathed in sun and the tracks are dusty and fast, but Mother Nature decided to throw a curve ball instead, with the weather quickly taking a turn for the worse. The team went from riding in 20 degree centigrade temperatures one day to freezing conditions and snowfall the next. While the circumstances were far from ideal, current World Champ Morgane Charre, along with Markus Pekoll and Innes Graham made the most of the slick conditions.
The session began with an introduction to the new suspension in order to give the riders a better understanding of not just the features, but the hows and whys behind them, as well as the development history that culminated with the forks and shocks being fitted to their team-issue bikes. This is an important step, as the riders should know more than the basics, and most do, when it comes to what their bike is doing under them. With school out of the way, the first day was spent with the team using last season's 2012 Marzocchi suspension. While that may sound counterproductive, it is vital for the riders to have a reference to start from on the rough Val di Sole course before having their bikes fitted with the new 380 C2R2 Titanium fork and Moto C2R shock.
The Men Behind the Scenes
| The men who make it happen: suspension technician Pietro Palladino, North American race support from Naz Evangelista, and team mechanics Andy Ward, and Hugues Postic|
The Val di Sole test session was important for Marzocchi and the MS Mondraker team for more than one reason, though, with it also serving to bring together everyone who will be playing a role in the 2013 season. The Marzocchi full-spec truck that goes to the major races arrived, complete with Pietro Palladino at the wheel, the Italian who is responsible for the tuning of the suspension on the MS Mondraker team bikes. Pietro joined the program just prior to last year's World Cup race at Val di Sole where he proved his suspension mastery right out of the gate by tuning Macdonald's fork and shock, with the Kiwi going on to take an impressive victory on race day. Also on hand were Naz Evangelista, the Canadian who will be responsible for Marzocchi's North American race support during this coming season, as well as Andy Ward and Hugues Postic, the MS Mondraker mechanics who keep the team bikes running smoothly. Last but not least, Stefano Migliorini, the man behind the Marzocchi and MS Mondraker collaboration, was also in attendance.
Both Ward and Postic had their hands full early in the test as they built up fresh 2013 Summuns for each rider, with the bikes featuring a number of special tweaks and adjustments that consumers will be able to see come the next production run. Gear from team sponsors, including Mavic, Schwalbe, Renthal, Formula, and SDG, was bolted to the bare frames, as well as a SRAM X0 DH drivetrain, with the built bikes weighing in at just under 35lb depending on tire and pedal choices per each rider.
| MS Mondraker team mechanic Andy Ward gets to it, assembling the riders' bikes and fitting the new 380 C2R2 Titanium fork and Moto C2R shock.|Onto the Hill
| The Val di Sole track is fast, rough, and unrelenting, the perfect combination for what the MS Mondraker team was looking to accomplish.|
With the riders educated and the bikes built, it was time to get to it. While hard empirical data is invaluable, the three day Val di Sole program would focus on rider feedback rather than timed runs or data logging - if the rider feels comfortable with a setup, he or she will be able to go fast regardless of what the computer is saying should be happening. Many top level riders are able to feel and offer feedback on the smallest of changes, and the riders on the MS Mondraker team are no different. Doing back to back runs on their older setups followed by doing the same on the new fork and shock allowed them to dial in the revised suspension to a point where they felt quite comfortable while at a fast pace. Each rider took a slightly different approach depending on what they were looking for, with some repeating sections of trail while making changes via the fork or shock's external rebound and compression dials, while others chose to simulate race conditions by doing non-stop runs at a good speed. The latter is especially hard to do given that nothing can push a rider to their limits like being in an actual race, but getting close to the edge during testing is vitally important. Team rider Damien Spagnolo was doing just that when he went down hard during the first day, sustaining some fairly serious injuries that will see him miss the second World Cup, ironically to be held in Val di Sole.
| Pietro working his magic, with the Moto C2R shock fitted to a vacuum pump to ensure an air-free bleed.|
The new Moto C2R shock offers a wide range of tuning via its external adjusters, with separate low and high-speed compression, as well as low-speed rebound being adjustable, which makes it easy for the riders and mechanics to do any trail-side tweaking. World Cup racers aren't your average riders, though, and they often ask for much more from their equipment than you or I could dream of. With his extensive knowledge of the inner workings of suspension, this is where Pietro comes in. In a previous life Pietro spent many years in the motorsport arena, often working on suspension that is leaps and bounds ahead of current mountain bike technology, and he brings that know-how to the MS Mondraker team. Shocks are opened up, completely disassembled, and then rebuilt with custom shim stacks that meet the requests of the rider. It is also a matter of build quality, with Pietro's custom built truck being fitted with both a vacuum pump and a nitrogen filling station, tools that allow him to ensure that his shocks are ready for action. The vacuum pump guarantees that the shock will be 100% free of air, essential for it to provide consistent damping while being pushed hard at a World Cup rider's speed. Nitrogen is nothing new in the mountain bike world, although the large majority of shocks are now filled with air simply because it allows riders to easily adjust the pressure. The big advantage to nitrogen, however, is that it is far less susceptible to the high temperatures caused by the shock working fast, allowing it to remain at a constant pressure.
Into the 380
| The 380's Dual Bleed Cartridge allows for easy access for custom tuning to be done.|
Like the Moto shock, the new 380 fork allows for a wide tuning range, including the added adjustment of both high and low speed rebound. This makes for four external damper adjustments, and the MS Mondraker team were happy to use these to dial in the fork to their liking. This didn't stop Pietro from making some internal modifications to the fork in an effort to give the riders a slightly different base tune to start with that better suited their riding style. This isn't the first time that team riders have spent time on the 2013 suspension, though, with the fork's DBC cartridge being testing during last season within the older 888 chassis without anyone noticing. The testing pays off now, with the riders already somewhat familiar with how the fork will react at speed. Now is the time for them to fine tune the fork's performance for the coming race season.
| Tools of the trade.|
The 2012 World Cup season was the first step of Marzocchi's comeback to the top tier of international racing, and although wins were not expected to happen right out of the gate, Val d'Isere proved that their (and Brook's) hard work was beginning to pay off. The development and testing of the new fork and shock may sound like a dream job to many, and it often is just that, but it can also be an incredible amount of hard work behind the scenes. In the end it is a job that needs to be done, just like any other job, regardless of whether it is a beautiful warm day on a dry track or spending hours in the rain working on a section or problem. After three days of fun, hard work, and trying weather, the MS Mondraker team left Val di Sole satisfied with their progress. They won't stop there, though, as much in-season testing needs to take place, both during race meetings and off-time, in order to push the limits of the riders, bikes, and suspension.www.marzocchi.comwww.ms-racing.at