The sixth round of the season takes us to Val di Sole and the legendary 'Black Snake' track that's been keeping racers on their toes for a decade now. Pinkbike's Ross Bell caught up with Grant Sides, the guy turning the wrenches for Charlie Harrison on the Trek Factory Racing team, to see how Charlie sets his bike up for racing in the Valley of the Sun.
After some impressive results throughout the previous seasons while on Trek's Test Team program, American Charlie Harrison moved up to join the factory effort for 2019. The 6'1" Californian rides an extra-large Session 29er that's fitted with air-sprung suspension and a mix of aluminum and carbon components.
Like a lot of World Cup racers, Harrison has tweaked the fit of his extra-large frame slightly by installing an offset headset that gives him an extra 3mm of reach (now 464mm in the low setting) while also relaxing the bike's head angle by one degree.
The stock rig gets a 62.1-degree head angle in the slacker of the two settings, which means that Harrison's Session is hovering somewhere around a chopper-like 61-degrees, otherwise known as slack as hell.
Like most World Cup racers, Charlie prefers a stiff suspension setup.
With angles like that and speed like Charlie's, his suspension has to be on the stiff side of things. "Charlie runs a really firm setup,
'' said Grant Sides, Charlie's mechanic. ''He has 172psi in his fork, his high-speed compression is one [click] from closed, and his low-speed compression is seven from closed. His rebound is five.
That'd probably rattle our teeth out by the time you or I got halfway down the mountain, but it works well for 174lb Harrison.
It's the same story out back, too, with 243psi in his 'Meg-Neg' air can that's said to provide more suppleness at the top of the stroke. Volume spacers? Yeah, all of them, please. You'll find five and a half inside his BoXXer World Cup, which Sides said is the maximum amount, and three in his shock. So, firm suspension with plenty of ramp-up that a guy like Charlie would need, but the extra-large negative air can is on the job to keep things as active as possible.
You'll find aluminum cockpit parts and rims on Charlie's Session, but he is running a set of carbon cranks with grip tape applied to the outer faces.
He's also a convert from coil springs, Sides told PB's Ross Bell in the Val di Sole pits: ''No coil shock for Charlie. He found air and really likes it. He came to team camp on a coil and that's where we really dialed in his air settings.'' And when Sides says "dialed in," that's exactly what he means - he's only changed his air pressures by +/- 3psi since that off-season team camp. The man knows what he likes, it seems.
That same approach is applied to his cockpit as well, with Charlie preferring to not mess with his handlebar height, regardless of the track's grade. He's running an aluminum Descendent handlebar with 25mm of rise and 790mm of width, and there's also a 50mm direct mount stem.
Bontrager G5 DH tires (left) front and back and no inserts. Charlie likes his brake levers (right) to rest a 67mm out, and the bite point to happen at 57mm out.
Quick question for you: Can you tell me how many millimeters out you like your brake levers? What about the exact measurement where they start to bite? Me neither, but Charlie can. He runs his levers out to 65mm, and the bite point is at 57mm. While that sounds maybe just a touch picky, Sides said that's not the case at all: "He's pretty neutral about most things. As long as you have his brakes working well and his suspension running firm, he's good to go otherwise.
Wheels and rubber are Bontrager, of course, with a set of G5 DH casing tires that are mounted to aluminum rims at 27 and 29psi. The team can run Cush Core if they want, depending on the track, but it wasn't installed on Harrison's bike for Val di Sole.