The freeride movement was still in full swing back in 2004, and it was catching on around the world. There was still a very strong Canadian contingent at the fourth Red Bull Rampage, but more and more international riders were showing up to compete for part of the $15,000 purse. The event was only a fraction of the size it is today, and the same goes for the size of the drops and jumps scattered about the course. There weren't really any designated "dig teams" either. Everyone – riders, photographers, and mechanics were out on the hill helping each other to create and figure out the best lines. Landings were much narrower, many only 3 to 4 feet wide, and the course had a much more raw, ungroomed nature. Cedric Gracia, the previous year's winner, was looking to repeat, but, due to a crash in practice, he wasn't able to compete in the finals.
The bike Gracia had for the event was a custom Cannondale Gemini. The bike looks fairly basic by today's standards (and compared to some of Cannondale's other DH creations), but there was a lot going on behind the scenes to make sure the bike could withstand the rigors of Rampage.
Team liaison Doug "Double D" Dalton was tasked with taking the feedback from the Volvo-Cannondale and then Siemens-Cannondale riders on the World Cup circuit and transferred it back to engineers and the rest of the development team in-house. As the information link between the teams and engineers, Double D says, "The most fun part of the job was building custom bikes for cool people like Cedric Gracia or Myles Rockwell" and a few of those special bikes still happen to be around if you know where to look.
'04 Cannondale Gemini Details
• Intended use: Red Bull Rampage
• Wheel size: 26"
• Hopey steering damper
• Fork/Travel: Manitou Dorado, 7", custom valving
• Shock/Travel: Manitou Swinger, around 7", custom valving
• Brakes: Shimano XT 4-piston
• Drivetrain: SRAM/FSA
• 63° head angle
• Weight: 50 lb
On Gracia's Red Bull Rampage bikes, there were a number of adaptations made. Every year for World Championships or other special events, Double D would try to paint the top riders a special bike - they would train all week on their old bike, and then he would pull everything off of it to build up a new, freshly painted, cool frame. Something that would build the stoke and be special for the event. This year, a Cannondale team was leading a major road stage race over in Europe and they were painting pink bikes for them to ride, so Double D had them send a frame through for Cedric's Rampage bike since he had won the year prior.
A Profile Racing front hub and Goodridge brake lines - nothing but the best that was available in terms of performance.
The rear shock and front fork both have heavy compression stacks in them. There would be different sets of suspension that could be swapped out as the terrain got burlier.
A Hopey steering damper was put on in case Cedric wanted to try a no-handed lander, a trick that had become common in the freestyle motocross world. The handlebars were narrow by today's standards, but the width could be adjusted with custom-made plastic plugs that were inserted into the ends.
For Rampage the bike was outfitted with 2.5" tires to provide more float in the softer dirt and to soak up the harsher landings. The wheels were the strongest that Double D could build. The tires were lined with motocross tubes, which increased the weight of the wheels by about 2.5 pounds...Supposedly that weight helped the bike to fly a lot straighter on longer jumps.
The head angle of the bike could be adjusted, and in this case Cedric had his bike set up with -3 cups to give it a head angle of about 63 degrees. The bike was as long and stretched out as they could get it.
As far as brake setup, this was one of the first bikes Double D built with a floating rear brake to eliminate brake jack. He says that they could never prove that there was brake jack on the computer or in testing, but for production, people saw this as a feature and they were excited to have it even if they didn't know what it was doing.
There were two different length swingarms for team riders that were made. This bike had the longer of the two so it would track better at higher speeds and handle better on bigger jumps.
This, and other bikes that the Cannondale team developed led to the production bikes that Cannondale sold. The Gemini's single-pivot swingarm was supported by the downtube, which had a tendency to flex a little on harsh bottom-outs. There were two different thicknesses of downtubes - one was used to get down weight and allow the bike to be more forgiving in high-speed corners, and the other was used for venues like Red Bull Rampage or Mont Sainte Anne, where they would run frames with a thicker tube to ensure the strongest head tube sheer strength possible.