Bike Check: Felix Burke's BCBR-Winning Rocky Mountain Element

Jul 13, 2019
by Mike Levy  



Rocky Mountain's Felix Burke came into the BC Bikes Race knowing that he was strong, but an overall win on his first attempt at the week-long event? Well, that'd be impressive, especially considering that Geoff Kabush, the Yeti-Maxxis racer who won in both 2017 and 2018, was gunning for the hat-trick. After battling over mere seconds for the first few days, and some confusion due to sabotaged course markings that saw the previous stage neutralized, Burke took to the final day's start line with a handful of minutes over Kabush. He finished the stage in the same style, too, rolling under the inflatable banner by himself to extend his winning margin.



BCBR overall winner Felix Burke s Rocky Mountain Element
Burke's BCBR-winning Element gets a 120mm-travel Fox 34 Step-Cast up front that's a bit softer than usual, but with added ramp-up from three volume tokens.


Burke's Rocky Mountain Element is a 100mm-travel cross-country race rig, but Rocky offers it in two guises: The XCO version gets a 100mm fork, but you'll find 120mm up front on the other models. Felix's race rig gets the same treatment, with a 120mm Fox 34 Step-Cast to take the edge off the long days and technical terrain.

His fork setup evolved over the week, too, with the first two days of racing seeing him use 73 PSI and two volume-reducing tokens for a firmer, racier feel. "I felt like I wasn't choosing the smoothest line all the time when I was tired, and my hands were getting tired,'' which is fair after so much time in the saddle.


BCBR overall winner Felix Burke s Rocky Mountain Element
BCBR overall winner Felix Burke s Rocky Mountain Element
There are a lot of options with the chip-in-a-chip Ride-9 system (left), but Felix kept his in a more progressive mode with 40-percent rise. A OneUp tool (right) is tucked into his steerer tube for emergencies - racers get way out there during the BCBR.


Dropping the fork pressure down to 69 PSI and adding a token created a more forgiving ride but still kept him off the end of the stroke, he said: ''You're definitely not riding the descents as well as when you're fresh, that's for sure.'' Having been in Felix's shoes, albeit a few hours behind guys like him by the third day of racing, I can attest that line choice becomes much more of a roll of the dice than trying to be inch-perfect.

And speaking of breathing through your eyeballs while choosing lines, Felix's Element is rocking a set of CushCore's cross-country tire inserts front and back. Yup, you read that right; apparently tire inserts aren't just for the downhill and enduro crowd.


BCBR overall winner Felix Burke s Rocky Mountain Element
Tire inserts for cross-country racing? It worked for Felix Burke at the BC Bike Race.


Ultra-light cross-country race rubber and their toilet paper-esque sidewalls wouldn't survive the last-minute pre-race dash to the outhouse, let alone a single stage of the BCBR, so it's no surprise to see Burke running a set of 2.35'' wide Maxxis Aspens with the relatively robust EXO casing. When you add in the 150-grams per end for the inserts, it's obvious that Felix was thinking about a lot more than just weight.

''Scott Pilecki, our Team Manager, sent them to me to test out, and I was thinking about the weight, too,'' he replied when I asked him why he wasn't bowing to the Almighty Gram Scale God (AGSG™). ''But, I think the way things are going, it's not all about weight anymore; it's about getting a performance advantage,'' he told me before explaining how he can stay seated and keep the power on over rocky and rooty false flats that he might otherwise have to pick his way through with more caution.


BCBR overall winner Felix Burke s Rocky Mountain Element
BCBR overall winner Felix Burke s Rocky Mountain Element
Felix's Aspens (left) were between 17 and 19 PSI during the BC Bike Race. He used a 34-tooth chainring all week.


I can understand where they'd help, I told him, but does he see other cross-country racers happily adding 150-grams of rotating weight to each end of their bike? ''Obviously, you don't want to add too much weight because it still counts, but the performance advantage is more than what the weight is going to take away. There's less sliding out, which saves a lot of energy.''

The inserts mean that his bike went up in weight but that Felix could go down in air pressure. ''With the CushCore, I was running between 17psi and 18.5psi in the back, and between 18psi and 19psi up front,'' which are much lower numbers than the 22 to 23psi that he was running pre-inserts. But are they coming out as soon as he gets home from the BC Bike Race? ''I think I'd only take them out for an XCO race that's really rolling,''

Burke, who usually focuses on shorter, all-out XCO-style events, will probably be looking to add other stage races to his calendar. Next up is the Downieville Classic, where the twenty-three-year-old will use this exact bike with the addition of a Minion DHF up front.

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50 Comments

  • + 21
 I'm curious...how many other people run more or the same pressure in their front tire? I have always gone a few psi lower in front, not higher. What characteristics of higher front do they prefer? I get it you have more traction in back that way, but it also seems like you're giving up traction which can prevent front wheel understeer...
  • + 8
 Maybe it is that he just needs more traction for the climbs, so he lowers rear pressure. 19psi is still pretty low up front, so I imagine understeering wouldn't be much of a problem
  • + 11
 Pretty bizarre approach: He wants more cush from front end, so runs softer fork settings on longer, heavier fork, then hands some of that cush right back w/ higher front tire pressure than rear. Same story w/ his tread: runs Maxxis' least grippy XC tire for lower rolling resistance, then drops pressures for more traction, which increases rolling resistance. Hard to argue w/ winning result, but I'd like to see empirical testing that actually demonstrates the speed advantage of this setup over a grippier tire at normal pressures.
  • + 27
 It might be to avoid the front tyre folding in on itself under heavy breaking and cornering. I find that to be the major limiting factor for how low I can go in the front, while the rear is more limited by the risk of punctures and rim damage.
  • + 5
 @Sylesej: that seems like the most logical explanation...I like logic
  • - 2
 @Veloscente: lower pressures decrease rolling resistance.
  • - 3
 @Veloscente: dropping PSI and adding a token doesn't really make the fork softer except around the sag point too.
  • + 1
 @Veloscente: It is just 1 PSI less, and VERY low pressure for both tires that would not be possible without the CushCore.
  • + 4
 @Veloscente: Actually in the XC world everybody is running low pressure. That 20psi mark is pretty normal.

Nino is rumoured to be running 2.4s with inserts at 16psi. I am going to assume he knows what he is doing.
  • - 3
 @WhatAboutBob: yea I was going to say I run 20psi with no inserts w/ a 2.3 tire and I'm 215lbs.
  • + 2
 @clink83: No, increasing pressure lowers rolling resistance. Consult the tables on this testing site: www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/mtb-reviews For a given surface, there is a tipping point at which increasing pressure results in enough loss in traction that it is no longer worth it, but there is a reason why road time trialists still run pressures over 110psi for nontechnical TTs.
  • + 2
 @clink83: Also, no. Adding tokens makes the spring rate more progressive: this means that when you set up a fork for maximum plushness off the top, the softness continues well into the mid-stroke, unless additional measures are taken (e.g. increasing low-speed compression).
  • + 3
 @LokiTheCat: concerning pressure in the tires: that heavily depends on the surface you're riding over.

Yes, on tarmac higher pressures are beneficial.
Over rough trails though, a softer tire (e.g. 28 PSI instead of 40 PSI) will roll easier, as the entire weight of rider + bike doesn't need to be lifted over every root and rock, but the tire can absorb the impact.

Nevertheless, 17 PSI seems to be very low -- but he'll know what he's doing.
  • - 2
 @LokiTheCat: dude that website has no bearing on the real world, we don't ride on steel drums. Lower PSIs are faster on trails, and 18/19psi isn't low pressure for XC.
On a 100mm XC forking 10psi will usually increase your sag 10%, so dropping your fork 3psi and adding a volume spacer isn't going to make for a soft ride on a 120mm fork. XC forks ramp up fairly quickly, this isn't a 160mm enduro fork.
  • - 2
 ^ and if I recall correctly, hes running 30mm ID carbon rims. I'm 215lbs and run 20psi on a 22mm ID carbon rims.
  • + 3
 @clink83: He's riding a Fox 34SC, its main selling point is it is NOT an XC fork, it is a trail fork tuned for weight reduction at the expense of adjustability. Even if it were an XC or "Enduro" fork, air spring is air spring, and midstroke support drops off with dropping air pressure. Hate to say it, you're talking out your sphincter on all fronts. Resistance testing on MTB tires benchmarks the inherent rolling resistance of the *casing* and the outer tread surface. Anyone with a brain knows the dynamics will vary as soon as the full tread engages a loose substrate, but go try rolldown testing on hardpack, gravel, and asphalt, and you will notice a direct correlation between lab numbers and real world rolling resistance: a tire that tests at 20W in the lab will rolldown faster than one that tests at 25W in the lab. Lower pressures reduce tire deflection, but they *increase* inherent resistance of the tire system at all times that it is not absorbing impacts.
  • + 1
 @LokiTheCat: p=nrt/v, a 120mm fork is going to ramp up extremely fast with 3 volume spacers because the air volume in the positive chamber is so small. The lower the amount of travel, the more progressive the fork is. A 4psi drop in fork pressure is going to do next to nothing compared to the bump in spring rate adding a volume spacer creates. If you going to say someone is full of shit you should be able to do the basic math, which tells you a reduction in volume will boost pressure more than a 4psi drop.

I'm 6'4 and 215lbs and only run 1 volume spacer at 20% sag in my SID wold cup, and I'm a lot bigger than Felix. If I run the fork at 20% sag with 2 volume spacers and 20% spacers I can only get 75% travel. You're on crack if you think that fork is set up soft in any way shape or form.

No, you will not find real world correlations based on that asinine steel roller test. The website you quote claims that a conti race king sport and pacestar Hans Dampf have the same rolling resistance at the same psi, which anyone with real world riding experience knows is false. Do you really think Nino Shurter was running 2.4 aspens at even lower pressures than Felix because they roll slow? C'mon now.
  • + 16
 10/10 use of both bottle cages for optimum hydration
  • + 13
 Rocky Mountain makes such awesome bikes.
  • + 1
 Truth!
  • + 8
 It'd be cool to see a flashback bike check of Hestler's Element T.O from the Transrockies Challenge (which he competed in before creating the BCBR for 2007.) He and Seamus McGrath had sweet rigs back then.
  • + 8
 I'll admit, I'm very Cush Core Curious.
  • + 4
 It's funny how "Ardents" is actually spelled Aspen. Aspen's actually have more grip than Ardents, which is slightly less than none. That being said Aspens are stupid fast on hard pack cross country trails, and with a pool noddle they are still lighter than a Ardent. If you've never ridden a bike with pure cross country tires it's hard to understand how fast these tires are. I can absolutely understand the want to have a fast cross country tire that can sustain a long ride/race.
  • - 10
flag pwn1 (Jul 13, 2019 at 23:48) (Below Threshold)
 Nope. They're Aspens. #knowyourtreads
  • + 4
 I think he may get up the climb at Downieville on that a little faster than I will on my 170/160 34lb enduro bike, and unfortunately he will still be faster on the way down too...

Also, I love my Cushcore inserts and wouldn't ride without them now. I wanna get a set of the xc ones for my Gravel bike.
  • + 3
 For someone obsessed enough w/ rolling resistance to ride BC tech on Aspens, it's puzzling that he's willing to drag a DHF for an hour up the Trail of Tears at Downieville: it requires double the wattage (~40 vs ~20w). Neither the XC nor the DH day features terrain that is gnarly or loose enough to demand a DHF. An Aggressor would be plenty, and the rounder profile would actually grip better on the sunbaked hardpack that is now the entire Sierra Nevada below 7k.
  • + 6
 @LokiTheCat: Props to you for actually considering wattage demands of various tires. Remember though, that those figures assume a fixed load on the tire, and as the load is reduced, the rolling resistance will drop too. A typical weight distribution may be 60R/40F but when climbing weight will shift even further toward the rear, meaning a large proportion of your total rolling resistance will be coming from your back tire. All that is to say, running a more aggressive tire on the front is less of a penalty on climbs than on flat terrain, and I've always thought that was a sweet setup as minimized the hit to rolling resistance when it counts going up, while still keeping most of the traction advantages when you need them going down. You know that terrain better than me though, and it sounds like the Aggressor would be the best choice. Out of curiosity, have you ever seen rolling resistance figures for the Agressor? I know it looks like and is reputed to roll faster, but I get frustrated by the lack of objective testing out there.
  • + 3
 @thekaiser: German Bike Magazin has tested Dual EXO 2.3 version of Aggressor at 32W (Google it for a pretty solid archive of tire tests from last ~5yrs. German language skills help, but numbers speak for themselves). The Aggressor is actually not a top-tier trail tire if rolling resistance is the priority, I just named it because Burke is a Maxxis rider, and it is Maxxis best all-around trail tire w/ a hardpack-friendly round profile that also has enough bite in the moderate amounts of dust & loose rock you'll find on the D.ville course. I've had great luck with a Purgatory Grid (24.5w) up front, and a Nobby Nic Addix Snakeskin (20.4w) out back at Downieville. Not only are the wattage numbers of this pairing vastly superior, but the handling characteristics are far less schizo than a DHF w/ a near-tractionless Aspen out back. Having a semi-slick let go on you in the dust-on-crust of 3rd Divide at 30-40mph will put you on the ground so fast, it won't matter what you're running up front.
  • + 2
 ''But, I think the way things are going, it's not all about weight anymore; it's about getting a performance advantage,'' - is this downcountry?

But seriously, this is real-life, normal-person bike building. Light is great, but only to a point. A flimsy sidewall ultralight XC tire might roll faster on the paved start-finish section of an XC race, and might _feel_ quicker from a standstill, but will need more pressure to give good support when really pushing it in corners, and that pressure means less traction and more fatigue. Spend some grams on a more supportive tire and you can drop the pressure and gain lots of traction and comfort, both which equal speed on actual trails.

I'm so happy to see XC riders and racers finally accepting and embracing that light weight should not be the top priority, maybe not even top 3 for non-pro riders: traction, comfort, durability, then weight.
  • + 3
 Light weight tires are still a priority in XC. You can get tires that won't blow out sidewalls in the 650-750g weight range all day long.
  • + 1
 @clink83: Still need more pressure to keep that light tire from squirming or burping, and that takes away from traction, which is my point.
  • + 1
 @mikelevy and other PB tech editors, can you please start noting what size cassette is being run in bike checks? It's interesting to see who runs the 10-45 instead of 10-51 and values closer gear steps and/or shorter cage versus widest range possible. Thanks!
  • + 1
 Yup, for sure! This one is the 10-51 Smile
  • + 1
 @mikelevy: much appreciated!
  • + 1
 Awesome! I am rocking the same setup. Just need a motor upgrade, ha! I have the 1up tool dropped in the pump housings and a spare tube sitting between bottle cages. Keeps the weight low in the frame.
  • + 1
 So if I get this straight this bike crossed the line without any rider on it. Tittle should be more like : the bike Felix Burke rode to victory. Imho
  • + 2
 I was gonna say the hey yalls were a nice touch considering it is the bcbr
  • + 1
 What stage was neutralized?
  • + 2
 Stage 5. earl's cove to sechelt
  • + 2
 What happened?
  • + 3
 @Rucker10: Felix and Payson went off course for a few minutes and had to backtrack and chase back on. it wasn't a mistake on their part or the events so in the end they gave Geoff and Felix the same time for the day.
  • + 4
 @Rucker10: Somebody sabotaged the stage by removing taping in an area. It was resolved tactfully.
  • + 1
 Any info on what he's running under the bottle cage? Is that just a pump?
  • + 1
 It's OneUp's small-sized pump. I use the larger one w/ the tool in the handle - it works well.
  • + 1
 Pretty sure it's OneUp's 70cc pump. I've got one on my bike, with a CO2 stored inside. Wonderful pump and a creative way to utilize the empty space inside the pump.
  • + 1
 Thanks, appreciate the reply
  • - 3
 Thumbs down for the Hey Y'all in the bottle cage.Thumbs up for the win.
  • + 3
 After 8 days of racing (and winning) I would say Felix can enjoy what ever beverage he chooses
  • + 4
 @johnnyswinger: just curious, why ?
  • + 1
 @pirati: just thought they should be enjoying some nice local micro brews is all.

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