Bike Check: Charlie Harrison's Session 29er - Val di Sole World Cup DH 2019

Aug 1, 2019
by Mike Levy  

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.

Regions in Article
Italy, Bike Park Val Di Sole

Trails in Article
Black Snake


  • 70 4
 I would do the sex with it
  • 4 1
  • 11 0
 How in the duck do these pros ride such stiff setups. I ride 119 psi 3 tokens and 1 click of hsc. I ride pretty fast too and weigh 30lbs more than him. That’s just insane
  • 42 0
 Clearly not fast enough!
  • 18 28
flag hifiandmtb (Aug 1, 2019 at 17:21) (Below Threshold)
 He's not winning, therefore he needs to rethink his setup ;-)
  • 5 0
 172 psi w/max tokens and almost max compression for a 174 lb rider.... extrapolating.... you'd be looking at 200 psi w/everything maxed. Think I might try these settings just to make myself laugh.
  • 4 0
 I know I might too haha. Everyone who rides my bike tells me it’s stiff (lol) this must be so unreasonable @gemma8788:
  • 1 1
 @gemma8788: Anyone know ballpark what that translate to on a Fox 40 in terms of air spring pressure?
  • 1 4
 I agree with @hifiandmtb, While I can't discount Charlie's ability or preferences at all, I'm just an armchair racer, but I do suspect that if he did like Greenland and started to allow the bike to do more of the work for him, he might be able to find some more speed, and that's the name of this game isn't it?
  • 1 0
 @gramboh: Looking at pressure charts for both forks I'd say around 110psi in the new 40..
  • 1 0
 @hirvi: Cheers, that's pretty stiff, I think I ran 95 maybe 100 psi in my 2017 40 when I weighed 225-230lbs geared up lol.
  • 10 0
 "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 bike?"

I think you meant "Bite"
  • 7 2
 I think you're right haha
  • 2 4
 @mikelevy: details details...
  • 7 2
 @mikelevy: If they were XT's he could use his screw driver to adjust the bite point just perfectly right Smile
  • 8 1
 @Dexta: for 5 minutes until they wander
  • 3 1
 @kleinblake: 5 min is enough
  • 1 0
 what if the grips wear down?
  • 11 0
 thought he had orange reflectors on his pedals at first
  • 3 0
 Safety first!
  • 1 0
 Ha, no, just the CrankBros Mallet DH 11's... only $350!!
  • 4 0
 Funny that the brake lever measurement comes across as nit picky. I feel like that’s one of the first things you feel and notice about a cockpit. I’d personally get along great with Charlie’s setup for brakes. All my bikes are setup approximately 65mm also, slight variance depending on brake lever shape (hope vs shimano) and try to keep bite around 40mm.
First thing I noticed getting on a friends bike. Levers at about 45mm and bite at 10mm, he loves the super close to bar feel. Brakes, bar roll, and grip diameter are some of the most personal parts about a bike.
  • 5 0
 Bite point close to the bar for less arm pump
  • 1 0
 @nojzilla: wow, you live you learn. Never thought about it this way.
  • 2 0
 @nojzilla: if that were the case, wouldn’t everyone do it? Genuine question.
  • 1 0
 You mean you don't have the same parts on each of your bikes ???? how do you even ride bro
  • 1 0
 @tobiusmaximum: maybe they just haven't tried it or prefer they're brakes further out. Personal preference. Simple experiment though, stick your brake finger out far reach and then closer to a fist and feel the tension as you move in a braking action, in the muscle on the top of your fore arm. I (personally) get less tension the closer my finger is to a fist an that helps me to brake an control, grip with a more relaxed fore arm
Another reason is you need good/tune'a'ble brakes to work close to the bar with a short modulation, could be another reason?
  • 5 0
 @nojzilla: deathgrip ftw!
  • 1 0
 @tobiusmaximum: Brake setup depends most on preference. I have my guide R's out about 74mm (3 clicks from farthest setting) and they feel nice. I would like to bring the bite point closer to the var though.
  • 1 0
 @Pavel-Repak: everything regarding set up depends on preference
  • 1 0
 @tobiusmaximum: yep, it really depends on your hand size and everything you bar setup right, is your bike the right length, is you stem the right size and much more.
For some people it does the Trick.
Personally i have big hands and i also prefer them a little further out..
  • 6 1
 I absolutely love Trek's paint jobs, there is no other company providing this kind of stuff. RockShox paint jobs are a different story though.
  • 2 0
 Agreed on both points...
  • 4 0
 The Canyons are cool
  • 1 0
 @theunknowncustodian: for the first time in years...
  • 7 1
 Great bike check gang. Keep up the good work
  • 8 2
 Looks like a GT.
  • 1 0
 I was under the impression that Line DH 30s were carbon, but this post indicates they're alloy. @mikelevy have I been misled all along? In any event nice to see 32H F/R, and I wouldn't change a damn thing on that whip.
  • 4 0
 What is the purpose of the grip tape on the outer faces of the cranks?
  • 6 0
  • 14 1
 When cornering fast, riders will take their outside foot off the pedal and stand on the crank to get more lean and weight the side knobs better. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of this
  • 1 1
 It's actually a moto trick as far as stance in a sweeping turn. Again looking to the big dogs for high speed solutions.
  • 1 0
 Such a great example of why it's pointless to ask how the pro's are setting up their suspension. If us mere mortals tried to ride that setup, we wouldn't get halfway down the mountain without dying! LOL.
  • 2 0
 Great to see him back and on a fresh rig. Surprised his front end looks low while others are jacking theirs up.
  • 2 2
 can someone explain to a hack like myself what is meant by bite point? everyone on the internet seems to complain about inconsistent bite point with all the brakes.
  • 10 0
 The point at the brake lever at which the pads contact the rotor.
  • 7 0
 @fartsmellow: so in charlies case, his lever moves 10mm before he actually does any braking
  • 2 5
 How much lever pull for maximum braking power

On long/steep descents, most brakes' bite point and overall feel/modulation will change a bit.
  • 22 1
 it's the point where CHARLIE BIT ME
  • 3 0
 @nvranka: this can’t be true. Must be first contact point, no? How would you measure max braking power? Locked wheels? That differs on tires, surface, weight etc.
  • 3 0
 @mitochris: ye max braking power can be measured only in lab......bite point is first contact of pads with rotors
  • 1 0
 @mobil1syn: Correct, 10mm free stroke before pad contact. I think you'll find most brakes inherently have a varying bit of free stroke built in.
  • 1 0
 @mitochris: yeah I’m wrong for sure haha wasn’t thinking
  • 2 0
 I hate dead throw on brake levers . Gimme power and gimme it now.
  • 1 0
 Do you even modulate bro?
  • 1 0
 who makes those chainstay / chainslap protectors? have seen them on a few bikes lately
  • 3 2
 that rear rotor is massive!!
  • 1 1
 220mm SRAMs by the look. Apparently athlete only ... Bugger
  • 1 0
 @alisterp: Galfer make 220mm rotors if you feel you need them
  • 2 3
 "...which means that Harrison's Session is hovering somewhere around a chopper-like 61-degrees, otherwise known as slack as hell."

No, it means it's slack as AF.
  • 10 0
 Slack as as f*ck? That’s pretty slack..
  • 1 0
 @tobiusmaximum: Yep, had a f*ck once and it was indeed, quite slack.
  • 1 0
 oooh a nice red coil would really pop against that frame. sick bike!
  • 3 1
 Looks like a Session
  • 1 0
 Why griptape on the cranks? Can somebody tell me why?
  • 1 1
 It's not really griptape, it's more like truck bed liner and as far as I know just to have a more durable surface finish and a little impact protection. It's nothing custom, it's a standard feature on the new X01 DH cranks.
  • 1 1
 To use outside foot to stand on the crank in faaast corners
  • 1 0
 Fantastic bike check keep up the good work
  • 2 1
 Looks like a Gambler
  • 1 0
 Looks like a Kona
  • 4 5
 i would pass on sex with it, until it could fit a coil in the rear
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