It was exciting news earlier this year when Ben Cathro decided to race World Cups again and come on board at Pinkbike to become the new 'Privateer' in 'Walk The Talk'. Racing plans have been put on hold for now but this is the bike Ben will eventually be tackling the season on... A Santa Cruz V10 finished off with components from FOX, Shimano, Race Face, Deity, Schwalbe, and CushCore whilst Ben will be dressed in kit from Leatt and shoes from Five Ten.
Ben has been riding Santa Cruz frames for a while now and has been able to follow the progression of the V10 over the last few seasons. He stands just shy of 2 metres tall so is definitely on the upper extremities of bike sizing and has benefited from bikes stretching out in recent times as well as the introduction of 29ers to DH racing, something which Ben said he got his first taste of last season and felt immediately comfortable on. He's also familiar with FOX suspension and has got his hands on the latest generation of FOX 40 and DHX2. He said he noticed a big step up in both the shock and fork but it was the DHX2 that left a lingering impression on him, particularly when it came to its performance over square-edged hits.
Shimano Saint brakes and drivetrain are no stranger to Ben as well as the Schwalbe rubber, running CushCores has allowed him to drop his tires pressures slightly in the search for extra grip. He's running a DH CushCore in the rear and an XC version in the front which are tucked away in a set of Race Face Atlas wheels. He's opted to sample Deity's 35mm cockpit which is his first foray into the larger diameter bars and stem, but he also has a 31.8mm equivalent that he is wanting to test back to back with. His bars are uncut at 810mm, have a rise of 38mm, and are anchored to a 50mm stem.
Height 6’7 / 199cm
Hometown Pitlochry, Scotland
Model Santa Cruz V10
Frame Size Extra Large
Wheel Size 29"
Suspension Fox 40 & DHX2
Drivetrain & Brakes Shimano Saint
Cockpit Deity Racepoint
Wheels & Rubber Race Face, Schwalbe & CushCore
You’re one of the lankiest riders out there, has it been a struggle to find bikes that fit throughout your career?
It’s an interesting thing because I’ve decided over the last few years that there’s no such thing. There are just bikes that are good for a purpose. I’m actually wanting to size down a few of my bikes now as I think they’re getting a bit too big and aren’t as fun. Way back in the day bikes were definitely too small for the purpose of downhill racing, but now I feel I’m pretty close. I could go bigger in terms of reach and length because my downhill bike at the minute is around a 497mm reach and my trail bikes are like 515mm and I’d quite like my downhill bike to be as long as my trail bikes… It’s been interesting starting from the year 2001 on a size medium V10 which was about 430mm reach I think maybe smaller and working up now to 500mm.
You’ve been riding Santa Cruz frames for a while now, did you not have one of Greg Minnaar’s prototype XXL frames a few years back? Were you giving any feedback for that?
Yeah, it was the one he ran in Lourdes when he had the bust thumb in 2015. It was a preproduction 650b but they were already going into production but I got mine before they released them, I snuck in there! I spray painted it and pretty much ruined it. I wish I hadn’t...
When did you jump onto a 29” downhill bike for the first time? What was that like, do you think it played to your strengths and suited your style of riding?
It must’ve been the start of the 2019 season, so last year was my first year on the 29er. To me, yeah it did but it wasn’t a very good year for me racing wise. I was like I’m gonna win f****** everything now! And then I kinda did okay… The bike felt really nice, it felt really comfy and I like the stability of 29” wheels for racing, even though I didn’t have the best of years. It looks way better than a 650b bike on an XXL frame which now just looks ridiculous! The wheels are just normal.
So what size of frame are you running on this current V10?
They shrank the amount of sizes, so my current XL is bigger than the XXL 650b that I had. It’s quite a bit bigger, I think my old XXL was just under 480mm reach and the new one is now 497mm with a reach extender cup in it. So a 7mm reach adjust and the rear end is in it’s the longest setting to try and balance things up.
It's not just the brake pads that have been getting the silent treatment from Ben, his cables have been wrapped in tubing and there have been some additions to the rear end to keep chain slap to a minimum.
Can you run us through how you’ve set up your new Deity cockpit?
I’m trying out the 35mm bars and stem this year. They come in an 810mm width so it’s the widest bars I’ve ever tried, they have a 38mm rise, I’m a big boy so like a big front end. I’ve also got a 7.5mm spacer under the stem to lift it up a wee bit more, then the fork crowns are about 3mm from the top of the fork legs so they’re pretty far up! The stem is 50mm.
How much do you think you’ll play around with that through the season?
I’ve got a 31.8 stem and bar to change and experiment with but I’m only going to do that when we can ride properly and test both. I’m also going to play with bar height a little bit as well, so the spacer might be coming out and I’m going to move the forks through the crowns once we can.
Have you tried 35mm bars before?
I’ve never tried them. I was always, well 25.4 and then 31.8mm.
I’ve already talked to a few people that say that 35mm bars are rubbish. Deity reckons these 35mm bars feel exactly the same, but I don’t know yet as I’ve not tried them so we’ll find out!
What’s your brake lever setup like?
I would say mine are pretty standard in terms of lever angle, kinda in the middle, but what I try and do is to have the start point before you even pull them as close as you can as I always find the further I have to hold my finger out the worse my arm pump is. So I have the start point as close as I can with the minimum lever pull before they bite, but then the bite point is pretty normal so it’s not super super close or anything. I don’t like my brake levers touching my grips as that means I’m losing out on power.
You’ve just got ahold of the new FOX goodies, have you had much of a chance to play around with that yet?
The new forks don’t feel massively different but they are mint. The new shock feels insane. It’s so good, especially on square hits. You can tune in quite a low level of HSC and it still has good low-speed support, whereas with the old one it’d lose some support if you tried that. You’re able to make it supple on the harder hits but still holds you up so I'm really liking that. I’ve not had a lot of time on the new stuff though, and there’s a lot more to experiment with.
You’ve gone for a coil rear shock, why is that and have you tried the air?
I’ve not tried the air, I did on the old 650b and I liked it because I wasn’t able to fit a big enough spring in the coil but now it’s got a longer shock I can fit a bigger spring and like it. The Syndicate boys have all tested it and they think it’s pretty similar either way so I’m just going to stick with coil for its suppleness.
You’re running alloy wheels, are you fussed on trying carbon rims?
Yeah I'm on alloy Race Face Atlas rims now. I was quite keen to go back to alloy just to see what the difference was. I’d need to do back to back runs, but my initial impressions are really good.
CushCores are run front and rear, a DH version in the back and an XC upfront. He's been able to drop his tires pressures slightly as a result and is currently running them at 28PSI in the rear and 24PSI up front.
What’s your setup with the tires?
Schwalbe Magic Marys in ultrasoft but I’ve also been experimenting with the Eddy Current e-bike tires as well. I raced on them out in Barcelona and they were really good. My go-to pressures are 28PSI in the rear and 24PSI in the front with a big CushCore in the back and an XC CushCore in the front. It’s all a new setup with the wheels and the CushCores this year so I just went with something similar to what I’d had in the past but dropped it a couple of PSI because of the CushCore. But again I need to experiment with it to see what works, I’ve just not had enough time on this setup to know exactly.
Can you run us through your drivetrain setup?
So it’s all Shimano Saint, I’ve made a custom 7 speed cassette on the back, an 11-34 that I just take the top 3 rings off. With the pedals I run the pins with little spacers to make them not quite as tall and I’ve got the engagement I’d say tighter than most. I like quite a firm engagement. Crank length is 165mm. I’ve got a 36T chainring on this year, I used to always run a 34T but I’ve gone up a size for the World Cups. I also run my cleats as far back in the shoes as they’ll go.
Have you noticed a difference in your strength and your bike handling since you’ve been training?
On my training rides because I’ve got some kinda reference through the winter, I was feeling stronger at the bottom of the descents when I was doing my cross country rides. That was the main thing I noticed.
So that hasn’t dictated any direction your bike setup has gone in with hardening up suspension etc?
I’ve not got to that point yet but it was starting to happen in Lousa and actually, in Lousa I noticed I was doing full runs on a rough test track and getting to the bottom and not being absolutely destroyed. It’s definitely feeling better because of that.
Is there anything you’re particular about with your bike setup?
My brakes. I’m the fussiest guy when it comes to brakes. Everything else could be f*****, I could have a flat tire and the seat snapped off and I could still be able to go flat out as long as the brakes were still working. If they don’t work I just ride like s***!
Are there any little customizations going on there?
I’ve done a few funky things. I’ve stuck adhesive tape underneath the brake pad fins to stop them from rattling. I stuck a load of that 3M mastic tape all over the chainstay and I’ve also stuck a couple of old FOX 40 bumpers so that the chain runs through them. Works pretty good! I’ve also done the classic bit of grip tape on the shifter, I find the upshifter takes less pressure so doesn’t need it but the downshifter needs it as it takes more pressure and you can sometimes slip off of it. I’ve also got some foam brake cable damper stuff that I’ve put on my cables where they come out the levers as I find they flap about and hit off the number plate and make a lot of noise.
Would you go over feel on the bike over looking at the stopwatch?
No. I like to do things by facts rather than feelings. Feeling is good for the bikes you ride for fun every day obviously go by feeling, but if it’s a racebike you need the hard data. I need the stopwatch.
Perhaps the most important mods of all... Ben has been busy making himself some customs stickers to plaster all over the bike.
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