Sam Hill might be a man of few words when it comes to those who aren't close to him, but that hasn't prevented the Aussie from becoming arguably the most popular downhiller, or even mountain biker, of all time. If anything, that quiet but straightforward, Kimi Raikkonen-like approach to interviews has only added to the fanbase of the racer who invented the sneaky inside line. The Champion of Platform Pedals is using the downtime between World Cup events to race this weekend's Enduro World Series stop in La Thuile, Italy.
As you'd probably expect, Hill's bike is the 27.5" wheeled, 160mm-travel Mega rather than the shorter-stroke 29er version, and at 178cm he's gone with a stock, medium-sized frame rather than up-size like so many people prefer to do these days.
''I'm a medium-sized guy so I'm running a medium,'' Hill said of what sounded like an obvious choice. But why not go for something even longer than the medium bike's 435mm reach and 1187mm wheelbase numbers? ''It seems like a bit of a trend, everyone trying to make things longer over the last couple of years, but I'm comfortable with the medium,'' Hill replied.
It sounds like at least part of Hill's reasoning for going with the medium-sized Mega is to keep things feeling more consistent between it and his downhill bike, the 200mm-travel Pulse. ''It's a little bit different, I think, but not massively," he explained of the change in reach difference between the two bikes. The same rule applies to all his machines, it seems: ''We use all the same length cranks and handlebar widths to try and keep them feeling the same. We try to keep everything consistent, from what I train on to what I race on.''
When it comes to suspension, however, Hill's downhill and enduro bikes simply can't feel the same. At 72 kilograms, Sam is running a very firm 95 PSI in his Lyrik, along with three volume spacers that help the fork to ramp up quicker when some extra bottom-out resistance is required. That'd be an extremely stiff setup for a normal rider of the same weight, but Sam ain't that normal, is he? Out back, there's 215 PSI in the Monarch shock, and two volume bands in the shock's air can in order to keep Hill from hitting bottom too often.
That's a fairly firm setup, and it's a very different approach to what Hill takes for his Pulse. ''I think I like my downhill bike to be pretty soft and then ramp up a lot more. And then with my trail bike, I kinda like it stiff right off the bottom,'' which is a setup that makes sense when you consider that he's likely hitting things quicker on the 160mm-travel Mega than most people would when on their downhill sled. ''The shorter travel, there's not as much there, and it feels a bit more playful when I have it stiffer,'' he explained of his suspension preferences.
Hill is one of the few racers who are openly using two different tire brands, with Schwalbe being fitted to his downhill bike and Mavic's rubber put to use on his Mega.
Tires can be a very personal thing, and while most options are pretty good these days, it can be a mentally challenging task to have to switch between two types of tires, let alone two completely different brands. Not so for Hill, he says: ''When that deal first came around, I thought it would be a bit weird trying to get used to two different tires, and obviously the rubber is a bit different and that sort of thing, but I find it quite easy and really like the Mavic tires.''
The Mavic tires on Hill's bike are special, of course, with their tread being laid over a burlier casing compared to what you or I can get our hands on. ''We've got a couple of prototype ones with thicker casings than the regular tires,'' he said of his French rubber that allows the Aussie to run a bit lower pressure than he would with the stock casing.
Sam Hill swears by clipless pedals these days... just joking. Hill and platform pedals go together like Hill and inside lines, which is a fact that probably won't ever change. He's not just being stubborn, though, as he has tested and even raced with clipless pedals in the past. ''I did a little bit [on clipless pedals] whenever the South Africa World Championships was, and I used them a bit in the off-season leading up to that, and then kinda got comfortable on them,'' he said of his time experimenting with having his feet locked in place. ''But I did the whole season on flats and tried them out again before the South Africa Worlds but, obviously, I had enough time on them. I got rid of them after that.'' Into the bin with the clipless pedals, it seems.
But if nearly everyone is winning on clipless pedals these days, doesn't Sam feel slower not being clipped in? Nope. ''I had to ride cautiously for the turns with the clips on. It's not really the way I like riding,'' he replied in that 'so what?' way that only Hill can. ''It's always an argument between everyone on what's faster and what's not but I think flat pedals are great. The only place I feel that it is a bit of a disadvantage is when you're pedaling over rough stuff and your feet bounce a little bit. I'm sure there's a lot of pros that feel that way.''