Riding Nico Lau's Cube Stereo in Whistler

Aug 22, 2014
by Mike Levy  




A Unique Setup

While we saw him running the aluminum framed Fritzz earlier this season, Cube's Nico Lau raced the Whistler EWS event aboard his 160mm travel, carbon fiber Stereo that he spec'd with a 180mm FOX 36 fork and Float X shock. Both the fork and shock are a step up from the production bike's 34 and Float CTD suspension bits, although that's not really a surprise given that Lau spent the weekend racing down some pretty serious terrain (to finish second overall, by the way). His race bike is full of interesting setup choices that show he's not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to how to run his personal bike.

The most obvious of those unorthodox personal touches has to be Lau's bar height, with his grips towering over the handlebars of his competitors. This is compounded by the skyscraper-like stack of spacers both above and below his short stem that allow him to make bar height adjustments as needed. It may look like he's one step away from running the adjustable stem that's on your grandma's town bike, but there's some method to the Frenchman's madness. First, take note of the bike's relatively stubby head tube that requires some extra stack from the conical top cap of the FSA headset that he's running. Second, Lau is aiming to create a cockpit that resembles a downhill bike, which isn't out of line given that he was basically racing five different and long downhill stages throughout the event. The 180mm travel fork, combined with the two tall headset spacers under his stem, accomplishes exactly that.

Nico is also one of the few top racers who often uses two chain rings and a front derailleur, and his Whistler race bike didn't even employ a chain guide. During a time when everyone out there, including yours truly, is going on and on about how great single ring drivetrains are, one of the fastest enduro races in the world is using a drivetrain that, while pricey, wouldn't be out of place on a weekend warrior's trail bike - how's that for a dose of irreverence? Nico has some sound reasons for going this route, though, as I suspect that it comes down to his Shimano XTR group not utilizing the massive large cog that you see on SRAM's single ring setup, meaning that he has to go with a smaller chain ring if he wants to be able to spin his legs and recover on the transfer stages. This necessitates two chain rings, of course, and his outer bash guard is actually the standard XTR big ring with the teeth removed. Simple, clean, and judging by his second place result, just over two seconds back of Jared Graves, trouble free.

Nico Lau s Cube Fritzz Photo by Matt Wragg
  This photo, taken at the Chilean EWS round, shows Nico's quirky control layout. It was even more complicated at the Whistler event due to a front shifter being added into the mix, but the setup obviously works well for him. Photo: Matt Wragg


Up front, Nico's handlebar arrangement had me wondering if I was coordinated enough to actually ride his bike. On the right, he has the rear shifter, rear brake lever, and the dual-lever FOX D.O.S.S. dropper post remote. On the left, he has his front shifter, front brake lever, and the CTD remote to control the FOX Float X shock. I'm not going to lie, I knew that it would take me a more than a few rides before I would have been used to where everything was enough to not fumble around like I was performing a rolling coordination test, so I decided to just leave the seat post down, the chain on the big ring, and the shock left in its open Descend setting for most of the ride. If anything, it proves that Nico has excellent dexterity.





FOX Suspension

The entire purpose of our time on Nico's bike was to get some insight into how his FOX suspension was set up for the technical Whistler EWS course, and my time on his machine certainly convinced me that it's worthwhile to be a bit more open minded when it comes to dialling in a bike for a specific type of terrain. Not only that, but also that an unconventional setup that feels awkward on normal trails might be just the ticket when you get the bike on worthy terrain. Out back, his FOX Float X shock was running what I would refer to as a very soft and undamped feel, enough so that the bike was even topping out slightly when giving it the 'ol seat push test. His work card in the FOX truck, which the techs use to keep track of his spring and damper settings, and if any changes are required, said that he was running just 145 PSI. This was soft enough that, at 170lb, I was sitting into roughly 40% of the stroke, and I'd say that Nico isn't a whole lot lighter than I am. Up front, his 180mm travel fork definitely felt more controlled, with heavier damping all around and a spring rate that was more in line with what it'd expect.

Nico Lau s Cube Photo by Fraser Britton
  Nico's FOX Float X and 180mm travel 36 Float both received custom valving changes for the Whistler EWS.


It was obvious upon first look that Nico's bike sports a very unique setup that is geared towards all-out speed on rowdy descents, which makes a lot of sense given that the timed portions of the Whistler enduro race included trail that most riders would have to convince themselves to even roll into, let alone race. That said, with an extra 20mm of travel up front, a relatively soft spring rate out back, and a handlebar height that looks like it would tower over where the grips sit on most downhill machines, Nico's bike is on the extreme end of the scale compared to what much of his competition uses. At the risk of offending the man from France, his race machine felt downright strange while pedalling around on flat ground. Then again, you don't win an EWS race on flat ground, do you?






Nico Lau s Cube Photo by Fraser Britton


On the Trail

When I set up my own bikes, one of the major points I consider is balance. This goes for both spring rate and damping, as an evenly tuned suspension system usually makes for more predictable handling in all regards. Things aren't so clear when you're racing down steep, rough chutes at Nico's pace, however, and his unbalanced suspension setup reflects a desire to have his Cube Stereo handle more like a downhill bike in such sections. This would explain the 180mm travel FOX 36 fork that sports an added 20mm of travel over not just what many other racers are using up front, but also the 160mm of rear suspension on the Cube Stereo. The bias towards front end height doesn't end there, though, as he's decided to run the shock quite soft. There are two reasons for this: a) it helps to keep the back of the bike a touch lower, and also the head angle a touch slacker as a result, for the steep bits of trail. And b) the soft spring rate won't feel so soft when his weight bias has shifted forward on said steep sections. The very unique setup leads to a very unique ride...

Nico's Cube feels a touch peculiar on downhill trails that aren't steep enough to have you leaning back a good amount, and while the back end of the bike is very, very forgiving, it also feels very open in regards to damping. This leads to an extremely active ride that, at least when under me, sees the shock going through a lot of its stroke in places that you might not expect it to do so. Looking at the o-ring on the shock's stanchion revealed that I was using full travel in a number of sections that I wasn't expecting it to do so - rough berms on nearly flat ground, for example - and there were even a handful of audible bottoming moments that had me surprised. The 180mm travel fork, on the other hand, felt relatively normal in its action, and I didn't find myself wanting for any changes up front. That said, Nico's pace makes me look like I've spent a grand total of twenty minutes on a mountain bike in my life, so I'm pretty sure that I was barely touching what the fork was actually capable of. Remember that this little experiment was put together for me to ride bikes of the top EWS racers without making any changes, so the last thing I wanted to do was tinker with his dials. I doubt he'd appreciate that, either.

Nico Lau s Cube Stereo Photo by Fraser Britton
  The unbalanced suspension setup on Nico's bike felt a touch odd on smoother trails like the one pictured above, but really delivered when it got steeper.


I'd like to think that the words above are just calling it like it is rather than complaining about Nico's very distinct bike setup, and also highlighting what FOX is able to accomplish for their racers, even if it does feel a bit odd to someone who doesn't posses superhero-like riding skills. And while I might have been wondering if Nico was smoking some of B.C.'s finest when tinkering around with a shock pump and the shock and fork's dials, it turned out that his quirky preferences make for one hell of a quick machine when the trail gets steep and choppy. It almost felt like a downhill bike, and I could see how he'd feel comfortable, and therefore fast, on EWS tracks that are more Champéry than Pietermaritzburg in nature. It also felt like there was enough traction from the back end for me to literally slow to a stop if I was to roll down a vertical cliff, with the rear of the bike digging in like it had claws. Was this because of Nico's efforts to place some weight bias back further than it would be with a more conventional setup? I believe that's the case, and while time didn't permit, I found myself daydreaming about what his Cube would be like on some of the mega steep section up in the Garbanzo zone.


www.ridefox.com


57 Comments

  • 36 0
 I like these unique setups. Riders get an ego with ridiculous setups like it's an enduro phallic symbol or something. To see one of the best enduro racers ride an unusual setup like this is awesome..
  • 14 3
 I wonder what Freud would say about your analysis
  • 114 0
 The same thing he's say about your user name?
  • 10 4
 Mhm, (some) ridiculous setup choices of amateurs are not necessarily driven by reason or any particular race experience.
  • 23 0
 @iamamodel well played. Touche
  • 13 1
 The setup is based on personal experience, not fashion dictated by Pinkbike!
  • 35 2
 I don't have anything to talk about so I thought I'd just say hi to everyone
  • 2 2
 Hey Bookie!^^
  • 14 0
 I really enjoy these articles. It's amazing how much difference that cockpit changes can make to a bikes handling.
  • 20 5
 Its not a very pretty bike
  • 3 1
 Ya don't look at the mantle piece while stoking the fire! Ive run similar setups for awhile due to injury and changes in bike geo and head tube forks etc things move on ya have to adapt, 5 years ago tall head tubes meant everything slammed, people get stuck in ruts instead of being analytical!
  • 2 1
 this is purely built to win races, form follows function.
  • 3 4
 The idea that form follows function is so stupid. Companies can do both. In this case the set up makes it look funny but if that is what it takes to win then so be it
  • 3 0
 companies can do both yes. Thats why he said "form FOLLOWS function" as in first you make it work well, then if you give a damn about that sort of thing you try and make it look nice without messing up the handling. I don't really care what my bike looks like, I only want it to perform, but saying that, when given the choice I go for red or black parts. I would never compromise on function for the sake of form tho. That IS stupid, and sadly all to common these days when our sport is overrun by trend whores
  • 14 0
 I was curious about his setup. Thanks for the article.
  • 4 3
 same dude
  • 7 2
 Bike looks old for some reason. Like a Kona Stinky. Probably because of the giant linkage.
  • 4 3
 Something about the look of that bike just puts me off... It probably rides great, and I've even had a couple of Cube hardtails myself - and liked them a lot. But their fully bikes... It's like this weird combo of new tech and brave avantgarde color schemes - mixed up with 2000-ish lines and suspension designs, that even Kona has ditched by now.
  • 3 4
 Wrong
  • 4 1
 Right!!! Probably slightly better with the 180mm up front, but IMO not slack enough in general for 'modern' riding. Cube could certainly get some tips from Kona about upgrading Wink Wink
  • 1 0
 is it problematic to bottom out a shock/frame regularly like you're suggesting you did on this bike? i've done it a few times, and it's jarring and I can't imagine it's good for either the shock or the bike... if so, does anyone know how bad it is?
  • 1 0
 yes. repeated havy bottoming does damage your bike. but this guys bike is a tool for winning races, not for lasting 5 years like a normal riders.
  • 3 1
 I can see the Fox guys snickering in the truck -- "Let's put a 180mm fork in, set the rear shock up way too soft, put cruiser handlebars on it, and tell the guy superman rides it exactly this way"
  • 5 0
 Did you take a weight?
  • 1 0
 yeh i really wanna know, cause the original spec. is super low...
  • 3 1
 I wonder why a lot of racers don't run a 180 fork with higher rise bars as that is my preference too.
  • 2 1
 I beleive it comes down mostly to handlebar height, and that all they usually need is 160mm of travel. There's also the issue of have a balanced bike - most enduro race bikes have 160mm of rear wheel travel - although Nico doesn't seem to mind the 20mm difference.
  • 3 1
 I mostly like it cause I'm a kook who's always going over the handlebars. Same reason I tune my fork stiffer than my shock. The way he has it tuned I bet he only uses the last 20mm in oh shit moments anyway. My first squishy was a 170mm JnrT fork on a 150mm travel Coilair. The guy who installed it set it up old school DH style as high as it would go. That was an enduro frame with a 64 degree head angle back in 2006. I had 3inch rise bars on it too. Great on technical DH but couldn't corner like todays bikes. Any problems with front end bite on Nico's bike I wonder?
  • 3 2
 those spacers....looks like bikepath bikes in Brazil but looks like Works good for him. Back in 2006 my Intense M3 has spacers like that
  • 3 1
 Nice to see some riders setting up to race!! ....Rather than a fashion show.
  • 7 5
 just think how fast lau would go on a properly setup bike Wink lol
  • 12 15
 "...Remember that this little experiment was put together for me to ride bikes of the top EWS racers without making any changes.."

yeah, Levy - it was set up for you especially... ( yeah, the important part of that sentence wasn't "me", but oh well)

enduro-mtb.com/en/ride-the-ews-pros-bikes-with-fox-suspension-crankworx-whistler

For a guy who seemingly is incapable of finding stuff to improve with the bikes you try and is apparently (imo) very good at writing editorial ads for bikes, it is odd you get to write as many reviews as you do.

can't wait for the two next tests.

carry on. (waiting to be negative rep'ed from here to eternity)
  • 20 1
 Ah, that wasn't mean to sound so exclusive, my bad. There were others there, of course, but none of us were permitted to change any settings, not even tire pressure - that's the important part. This was in no way a real test, just a sampling of a few interesting bikes with FOX suspension, but I feel like I was pretty critical of Nico's setup in this article relative to how I would run it myself (or how most other riders would prefer it). It was a strange bike, no doubt about it.
  • 2 1
 i just want to ride them bikes!
  • 16 2
 yeah, sorry - instantly regretted the comment after i made it. My bad.
  • 2 2
 I think its getter you cant change setups to suit your needs, we need that riders bike setup perspective as it is, so thank you to the pro riders like Nico and teams for letting this happen.

I live this, while this might not he good in a Carpark as you states its setup is purely for the Whistler EWS, Fabian Barrel was one of the first to run high stacks and short stems, FWD Geometry comes to mind, I run a Dune, but found his setups really helped me, I don't let lBS cut my steerer tunes never have, always like a stack on top.

Even with less travel Nico Lau likes a high stack from what Ive followed.

Keep em coming, love to get some other suspension perspectives from Rockshox and also say Cedrics DVO Nomad? Pse.
  • 1 1
 Yes Cedrics.
  • 1 0
 Fabian may have used shortish stems but he has long been a fan of long bikes so i would say that he preferred the high and long combo. These days he seems to run a very average looking stack height with low rise bars. Im quite a fan of the rise myself.
  • 1 1
 Is that a 160 mm out front specific frame?

Can most 160 bikes be comfortably bumped up to 180?
  • 3 1
 Some will take the extra 20mm better than others. Depends on the bike.
  • 2 1
 It kind of depends on the fork, i put 180mm forks on my 160 bike and it handles them fantastically. But on some forks the axle to crown height would bring up the front of the bike far too much. You might also want to read the warranty too because that might be void if the forks yoy put on are too big =/
  • 3 1
 I just put a van 36 and a 60 mm stem on my pitch(150mm out back), and it made the bike ride better than the 140mm pike (stock) and 50mm stem ( put on by the previous owner).

It climbs faster descends faster just rides better in every way.
  • 2 0
 Word, the warranty for my bike would definitely be voided if I made the jump.

I don't wanna screw with the geo anyways, I was just curious cause I don't know much about cubes...other than that they taste good in drinks.


Also, I just got an x-fusion metric (at160 mm) --it replaced a fox 34 talas ctd--and man does it rip! Totally transformed my whole bike and the way I ride. I'm climbing faster, hitting bigger drops, clearing bigger tables, and overall just smashing through bigger terrain with less fatigue and more confidence. Thanks X-Fusion!

Looking forward to getting an RV1...maybe RV2?

Down the trail.
  • 1 0
 no Schwalbe pro core?
  • 1 1
 Sweet
  • 2 2
 Wow, those spacers!
  • 2 2
 seriously!!!
  • 2 4
 Isn't this what we used to call a 'freeride' bike?
  • 1 3
 Unique?????
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