Racing used to be a game of inches, nowadays it's a game of millimeters. World Cup mechanics are constantly looking for small advantages they can eke out of bikes to get them working that much better for their athletes. So, while pros bikes may look similar to the ones we ride, take a closer look at the set ups and you'll see a number of nifty hacks that are used to give them a competitive edge. Ten of our favorites are below.Wheel weights
If you get a mountain bike wheel spinning fast enough, you'll sometimes start to see it wobble from slight deviations in the weight. For pro racers, this can be off-putting, especially when they're in the air. These deviations can come from manufacturing or, most likely, from the valve stem, so to keep their wheels running straight and true downhill racers use wheel weights to counterbalance any anomalies. For some, it's a case of simply glueing a bit of metal onto the wheel but others, such as Sam Blenkinsop, have had a full, custom set of weights built
to fine-tune the weight distribution.Custom links
A linkage that works for us mortals may not be quite up to the task for the world's fastest racers. The one pictured above was produced by Devinci for Dakotah Norton and provided a bit more progression for the bigger hits he can expect at World Cup level. We've also seen a lot of custom links these past few seasons as teams try to get their heads around changing wheel sizes, especially when the mullet phase came in last year. The good news is, if custom links are successful, we very often see them trickle down into production eventually. Customized Cassettes
Getting good gear spacing can be a case of personal preference for a lot of riders and so some of them will look outside the box for the perfect cassette. Road cassettes have much more tightly packed gears so can often provide better ratios for riders looking for downhill racers looking for slim advantages, on top of this, they can sometimes provide a straighter chainline that can improve reliability and suspension performance. This year we've seen everything from 4 to 8-speed cassettes
cobbled together to get the chain line and ratios to match a rider's preference. The best bit of cassette tinkering still goes to the Athertons though and their neutral gear system
designed to eliminate pedal feedback. Mix & match pads
In an effort to get the best of both worlds, some racers run mix and match pads in their brakes. Greg Minnaar, for example, has previously used one metal pad and one resin pad together. The metal pad sits on the side that receives best airflow for improved cooling (inside for front and outside for rear). Data acquisition
Yes, we may have Shockwiz and SussmyBike, but the kind of telemetry that World Cup racers are using is way out of reach of most mountain bikers. The Stendec kits that a lot of teams were running in 2019 uses an array of pressure, speed and acceleration sensors used to assess suspension action, braking, ride height, and weight distribution. It all adds up and Stendec claims the data, if interpreted correctly, can shave three to five seconds off a two minute track.Custom noise dampening.
A quiet bike is a fast bike or, at least, a quiet bike lets a racer push harder. One of the biggest trends in mountain bike racing in the past few years has been towards silent bikes, and it works too. Standing trackside now you'll no longer hear creaks, cracks and slaps; instead there's just the whir of a freehub and the thwap-thwap-thwap of rubber on root. A lot of production bikes do have molded chainstay protectors now but World Cup mechanics still go a step further and use folded inner tubes, rubber pillows or velcro to keep the bikes quiet enough to ride through a library.
Some mechanics take this a step further and fill frames with expanding foam to keep internally routed cables quiet. Be careful if you're doing this yourself though, when we spoke to Brook MacDonald's mechanic
he told us that he made a mess of his personal bike before he got the hang of the technique to try it on Brook's.Cut spikes
If a tire's tread isn't quite suited to a rider's liking, the tire cutters will come out and it will get trimmed down to match their preferences. Most commonly, center knobs will be shaved to reduce the rolling resistance. This means a rider can stay on a tread pattern they're familiar with while keeping a tough carcass and cornering performance but still not feel held back on flatter, hardpack sections.
If you want to try this yourself, practice on an old tire or just buy a tire that's designed to replicate a cut-down spike, such as a Maxxis Shorty.Brake and shifter grip tape
There's nothing too technical behind this but a finger slipping off your brake lever or shifters could cost you the race. Most racers will put a thin strip of grip tape on the important controls to give a bit of extra purchase and ensure that no chances are taken.246mm rotors
As the wheels get bigger, the riders get bulkier and the speeds get higher on World Cup tracks, more stopping power is needed to keep it all under control. Galfer have been pushing the boundaries of rotor size recently and introduced this mammoth 246mm rotor to the front of Baptiste Pierron's bike this year. This is probably another bit of tech you can expect to trickle down soon but it will probably come to e-MTBs first as they need the extra stopping power more than a regular bike due to their extra mass.Grip protectors
With mechanics spending most of their days working on pros bikes, the chances of their greasy paws contaminating a rider's grips are fairly high. To combat this, most bikes will sit in the pits with a piece of branded fabric over the grips, keeping them pristine for when a rider hops on.