Last Saturday, the 28th of March in Vars, France, Eric Barone broke his own World Speed Record by bike on the steepest speed snow track in the World at 7:38 am. The maximum speed recorded was 223,30 kph (138,75 mph), probably faster than you can do with your own car!
French athlete Eric Barone, 54 years old, a.k.a " Le Baron Rouge" because of his red speed suit, was a ski patrolman back in the 80’s, then worked (and still works) as a stuntman in the movie industry (Taxi, Taxi 2, Highlander, Lucy, etc.). He rode a Mountain Bike for the first time in 1994, and after few races, he won twice the European and the World MTB Downhill titles in the Master category. Then, he fell in love with speed and, after several World Speed Records on snow and land with a bike (1994, 1995, 1997, 1999), he broke a new World Speed Record in 2000 in Les Arcs with the mythic speed of 222,22 kph.
In 2002, during a new speed record attempt on the Cerro Negro volcano slopes in Nicaragua, he had a terrible crash at 170 kph on the very rocky and abrasive volcano land due to a mechanical crack in the carbon headtube of his Sunn prototype bike. Two torn shoulders, a broken femur, six broken ribs and a seriously infected hand were a part of the body damages he suffered. But the worst thing to deal with was probably in his head : the fear. During 8 years, Eric didn’t ride any bicycle at all, he even didn’t think about that, it was a long period of recovery, physically and mentally. Then in 2012, he decided to come back to his passion and did a run at 201 kph on the snow speed track in Les Arcs with a normal DH MTB (a Scott Gambler). Confidence and need of action were back in his head, « Le Baron Rouge » was back in the game. Then, he decided he wanted to beat his own record from 2000 and started to work hard with a team of partners, engineers, brands, mechanicals, etc. to come back with a bike he could go fast with. In 2013, he had a run at 217 kph in Les Arcs and in 2014, he rode 7 times Chabrieres in Vars with his bike from the top (more than any skier) which is the steepest speed track in the World (trust me, just standing there is impressive). He didn’t beat his own record but the performance was incredible.
Finally, Eric Barone was back in 2015 with a new bike, I mean with a new aerodynamic carbon body on his modified downhill bike. A 29’’ rear wheel, a 27,5’’ front wheel, new suspension (SR Suntour) modified with a 70mm travel fork and a 100mm travel rear suspension, a wheelbase extended up to 6,5cm and a 64,5° head tube angle. At this point, this was not the kind of DH bike you could buy in your shop anymore. With the help of aerodynamic specialists and their specific wind tunnel ACE (ex Prost Grand Prix engineers), Marc Amerigo (Eric Barone’s friend, Engineer and Technical Coordinator), Fred Bernard from Antidote Solutions (frame and suspensions MTB specialists), Mavic for the modified carbon profiling Crossmax XL wheels, Hope for the 200mm ventilated disc V4 brakes, several other technical partners for the carbon fiber, the machined foam and different aluminium pieces, and Sunn who brought their image and money to the project, Eric Barone was able to have a very specific fast bike after 8 months of hard work. All the Barone team came in Vars 10 days before the World Record, testing several suspensions settings after multiple test runs with the mule test bike, putting Eric in the right physical and mental conditions, and filming for a future 3D movie about his project. He almost did an attempt few days before the record, but finally, due to weather and snow track conditions, everybody had to wait. Mother nature is still the boss, even more when you do this kind of things in the mountains. The night before, all the team was back in Vars, Eric would attempt a new World Speed Record early in the morning while the snow was still hard like ice. As we were en route to the summit in the snow groomer at 5:30am with the team, the wind was really strong even if the sky was clear. Some worrying looks were shared, it was not good at all for Eric. But despite of these extreme wind conditions (we recorded some wind gusts at 70 kph) at the top of Chabrieres, and a first part of the track really icy and not as smooth as it should be, Eric had the green light from Marc and Philippe Billy, the speed track boss. He did a first run with his mule test bike, and then came back at the summit wearing his red speed suit, get on his F2.0 Race bike, put on his helmet, and threw himself into the impressive 42° icy bumpy speed slope. Less than 20 seconds after, the job was done and the maximum speed recorded was 223,30 kph, only 1kph more than in 2000, but due to the extreme start conditions, this run was beyond the records, it was extreme, really extreme.
Wind tunnel control room, do not enter!
Xavier Gergaud (L) from ACE and Marc Amerigo from Enginova push the wind tunnel power at its maximum to determine the CX (aerodynamic efficiency) of Eric and his bike.
The modeling system is seen on a screen while Eric tries to find his best position.
The perfect aerodynamic position has to be found during the wind tunnel aero testing day while Eric discovers for the first time his finalized bike.
The SCx of the new bike is less than 0.20 which is better than the 2000 prototype bike, which is very good for a stock bike modified.
It's always interesting how the air goes through with the help of a white smoke.
A view of the wind tunnel from the rear.
The Sunn prototype bike with which Eric Barone broke the World Speed Record in 2000.
After the wind tunnel step, all the technical team is finally in Vars for the last part of the World Record project.
Eric and Marc study for the first time of the winter the speed track from the top.
Marc, Eric and Mathias have fun while they build a cabin at the summit.
A view of the mountains around Vars from the top of Chabrieres, the steepest speed snow track in the World.
Here it is! The new F2.0 2015 Eric Barone's speed bike. Even if it's shape is all about a technical and aerodynamic work, it's a real piece of art.
The brakes are really important on Eric's bike, in fact, he has to stop after a 200+ kph run.
29'' rear carbon cover wheel, stock Hutchinson Python 2 tyres with 4 bars of pression in it, single speed with a specific long chain, but it's just to say it's a bike because Eric doesn't really need to pedal.
This part of the frame is 6,5cm longer than the stock one thanks to his aluminium machined part. Even if you can buy these nice 200mm Hope ventilated discs brakes, you don't see them a lot on the tracks.
Fred Bernard from Antidote Solutions works on different rear shock settings for the mule test bike and the race bike.
The rear shock settings are really specific with a 100mm travel suspension plus the weight of the pilot and all the constraints you can have on a 200+ kph run.
Different settings and a bunch of rear shock plus a spare fork to be as flexible and efficient as possible.
Fred knows what he is doing with 20 years of experience in the mountain bike industry. He records all the different suspension settings on his computer.
"Le Baron Rouge" and his bike are ready for the first test runs on the Vars speed snow track.
I went for a ride at 3:15am once to see a very unique thing in the World...
David Suppliciau, from ITS, adapted a GPS to the snow groomer.
David Suppliciau, from ITS, adapted a GPS to the snow groomer.
Combining the snow groomer pilot talents and David's skills, the speed track can be shape with a 1cm precision. It's very unique.
Thanks to a specific cable, the snow groomer can almost go to the top part of the track, depending of the snow conditions. The photo doesn't deserve the steepness of the track, which is almost 45 degrees here.
During 5 hours every nights before the event, the speed track is shaped as perfectly as possible to allow Eric, skiers and snowboarders to go as fast as possible.
Four days before the World Record, the track was almost ready. But the highest part was seriously damaged due the a bad snow quality and even the machines seemed to not be able to repair it...
Eric and Marc, his Engineer and Technical Coordinator, observe the speed track from the bottom.
Last meeting with Philippe Billy to finally decide that the attempt will be on Saturday, the 28th.
D day. The team arrived at the top of Chabrieres at 5:45am to set up everything before the first rays of light.
You can't feel the wind here, neither the cold, but the conditions were absolutely not perfect for a World Record attempt.
Eric stays in a warm environment while everybody is out working to set up everything.
Despite the strong wind at the summit, Marc and Philippe Billy said it was ok for the run. Eric was ready to do it in his mind.
Climbing irons, ice ax and lifeline are the essential tools for the team to set up the start.
Eric focus before to go for his first test run from the top.
Everything is ready, mule test bike, 3D camera, team and pilot are ready. Dropping in 5 seconds!
Everything is gonna be ok, everything is gonna be ok, everything is gonna be ok, everything... Test run ok!
The moment Eric open his eyes and has only two things to do : go straight in the slope and keep the best aerodynamic position he can, like in the wind tunnel... No fear, only mind and body control.
The highest part of the track was bumpy and icy, the wind was very strong like it was hard to stand up while the race bike normally accept one good position to go as fast as possible. But he did it. Eric Barone did a World Speed Record run in very extreme conditions. But if you look at this still image, you can't even imagine how extreme it was.
The hardest part is done here and Eric can focus on his position to go as fast as possible.
15 years later and 1 kph more, here is the new World Speed Record by bike.
Even if he knows than his bike can go up to 230 kph with the good conditions, Eric Barone, 54 years old, can be proud of his new World Record as he did it in very extreme conditions.
The moment you celebrate with your team after 8 months of work.