Greg Minnaar has been riding and racing World Cup DH longer than many people have been riding bikes. With the three World Championships, three World Cup Series Overall championships, and 75 World Cup DH podiums over the course of his career, the 37 year old from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, is one of the winningest racers of all time. A member of the revered Santa Cruz Syndicate team, Greg's experience and attention to detail is a valuable resource for product engineers in the development and testing process of new products, whether it's a new bike or, a signature tire.
I recently caught up with Greg in Santa Cruz, CA, to get some background on the design process for his new tire, the Maxxis Assegai
, along with some additional insight into how he went about making a career out of riding bikes, and advice he has for the youngsters.
Tell us a little about the tire...when did you start designing it? How involved were you with the process and what was the inspiration for it?
We started working on it in October of 2016 in Finale Ligure at the EWS race. It only took a few hours for me to convince the guys at Maxxis. I was pretty involved; the entire process was fairly simple, we didn't trace another tire, just combined current designs. The concept for the side knobs came from the High Roller, one of my favorite tires, that was the idea behind it. There are also traces of the Minion and DHR.
I brought the lugs up a little bit to get a good spread of rubber and work well in all conditions. The center knobs are existing Maxxis knobs, just a little bit taller. There's enough meat on the tires to give good traction in muddy bits, wet rocks, roots, handle well in corners and go back into the dry and dust. It's designed to be slow and gradual when turning. When you're racing and riding you don't really want the tire to break traction and then grab again. It's designed to hold traction throughout turning and give traction without slipping.
How many prototypes did you go through before arriving at the final process?
We didn't really go through many. There was a lot of discussion, but we came up with what we wanted and it was this. I didn't want to create all of these molds and then change it. This was the first one, they (Maxxis) came up with this and I told them, "This is great, let's go with this."
Is there one place in particular you had in mind when you were thinking it would work best?
For me, it was when you're riding a dusty trail and then you go into the forest and it's slimy, hard pack dirt, I'll just freak out. So I thought that's one of the places that I would like the tire to work best. If you can grip on that then you have a good shape to the tire and then when you get into rocks and roots, you'll be more consistent. It all came from that. I wanted it to be more aggressive like a mud tire, but a mud tire struggles in the hard pack. If you have the spread of rubber to cater for the hard pack, that's where the mud tire really sucks...it sucks because of its big spacing. If you have the spread of rubber right, you can run a taller knob because it's going to grip regardless, so we made the knobs a bit taller.
Did you design the Assegai as more of a front or a back tire?
I didn't really specifically design it as a front or rear tire. I made it as a tire that I could put on at a track like Mont Sainte Anne and it just work well in the rocks and roots there. As a rear tire, the braking is really good and there's a lot of traction all around.
Why did you call it the Assegai? Being it's a signature tire, why not have your name on it?
I'm not really someone that wants or needs my name on the side of a tire. We went through quite a few names for the tire. We wanted something that was South African, something that related to the tire. This Zulu spear was probably the most fitting.
So for obvious reasons, did you take into account the comments section on Pinkbike?
(Laughing) I figured that Pinkbike may not like it, from the comments, yeah...I think it's great. It just seems like those guys are obsessed with guys' asses. Haha, no, I think it's really funny. I don't take any offense to it. It's good fun. I do enjoy the comments though.
27.5" vs 29" - Is wheel size driving course design, course design driving wheel size, or is that all irrelevant?
Development of bikes and the size of riders is driving 29" wheels. I don't think it's dependent on courses.
How much of your own money would you pay to guarantee you wouldn't break a wheel or flat during a race run?
(Laughing) Oh, I don't know...Hmm, I figure at least 100k, it's worth at least that.
You've had a long and successful career. For those coming up and trying to make a career out of it, what advice or words of wisdom would you give?
I just really enjoy bicycles generally. If you're going to ride, ride BMX, ride downhill, ride it all, it doesn't matter. I take a break from downhill every bit then I get excited every season to race. Just enjoy it, just keep going at it.
How do you balance risk and reward? Have you changed your riding as you've gotten older?
I have gotten older, I am old. I haven't changed anything. I see this line and want to hit it up...just send it. I still like to risk it. I walk the track, check it out, hit it all on the first run. It's a balance though...I think I have the balance figured out.