STAFF RIDES "What bike would you get if you had to keep it forever?"
Brian Park's '10 Year' RAAW Madonna V2 Project Bike
We're unapologetically into new, exciting tech, but sometimes that cycle of new-new-new for its own sake doesn't sit well with me. Bikes are expensive, have environmental impacts, and should be awesome for many years. Forever is a long time, but over the last few years I've been thinking about what I'd build for the long haul.
For this project I approached the challenge of building what I’d want if I was going to be forced to keep it for 10 years. A decade seems like a reasonable amount of time. And no, I should come clean off the bat, I'm not going to keep this bike for 10 years—I've had it for a year, and I'm definitely going to run it for another year or two at least, but eventually I'll pass it on.
Maybe I'll make it a condition that whoever gets it from me will need to agree to check in once a year about the bike, what's failed, what's working well, etc...
Brian's RAAW Madonna V2 Details
• Intended use: Enduro-ish
• Travel: 160mm rear / 170mm fork
• Wheel size: 29"
• Frame construction: Aluminum
• 64.5° head angle, 440mm chainstays
• Weight: 36.5 lb / 16.6 kg (size M with pedals)
• Price: I don't want to talk about it
Basically my approach was to only choose things I believe would survive 10 years of hard riding, not including wear items. I did pay attention to those wear items and didn't choose anything totally disposable, but wasn't going to compromise by running hard compound tires or anything silly like that. I originally made a "no carbon" rule, just for giggles, but recently noticed that the seat shell is carbon, so I'm sorry to have failed you all.
Anyway, lets move on to the build...
For the frame
I went with the RAAW Madonna V2. It's an absolute tank of a foundation, massively overbuilt with enormous pivots. Mike Kazimer's review was titled 'Ready for the Apocalypse
' so it seemed the perfect fit. It's definitely not light at over 9lb (size M, with Float X2). By comparison, mainstream carbon enduro frames are ~7lb, and there are plenty of lighter options out there. Despite the heft, I love RAAW's design ethos of being utterly no-nonsense, and I love that their V2 of the much lauded original design was iterative and subtle, rather than throwing everything out and doing something new for newness' sake. If I'd had the choice I'd have gone with the raw aluminum colour to stick with the theme of longevity—raw just hides wear so well. Unfortunately raw had a crazy long lead time.
A smashy 160/170 enduro bike is definitely overkill for what I like to ride, but after some shoulder and arm surgeries I'm pretty sore these days, so I made the decision to over-bike. I don't mind carrying some extra bike around if it's going to make me more comfortable and safe.
The geometry is modern, but not silly. I thought about getting something slacker, but decided to get more wheelbase out of its 455mm (size M) reach than thinking about its fairly neutral 64.5° headtube angle too much. The Grim Donut is really fun and I do think elements of it are the future of race bikes, but I'm already overbiking with this thing so I didn't want to end up with something unmanageable.SUSPENSION
For the rear shock
I went with a Float X2, and it's been great. It's taken me the better part of a year to have the time and energy to do enough back-to-back runs that it's dialled in now. But on the fork
I cheated a little bit. I had a Fox 38, which I really enjoyed, and then Kaz sent up that EXT Era for a second opinion, and well, I like it more. I didn't realize how much I liked it until I took it off, and then immediately put it back on. I've largely been avoiding this writeup because I am hoping Kaz has forgotten about that fork. I'd really like to cut that extra steerer tube down...
It's worth noting that the recommended settings for the EXT Era
were bang on for me. I bracketed in either direction a little, but ended up going back to their original recommendation. Super impressive on their part.BRAKES
I went a little bit insane with the brakes
. Trickstuff Maximas are already the most powerful brakes out there, and then I paired them to some prototype 223mm rotors that Cornelius at Intend BC had made before he cancelled his brake rotor project. Those rotors are some of the best looking rotors I've ever seen, and the theory behind them (many little holes rather than a few big holes = smoother braking, less pad wear, more surface area for air to cool) seems reasonable. They've worked amazingly, but I ended up taking them off because I want to save them. I know, I'm broken. Now I've got utterly pedestrian Trickstuff Dachle HD 223 rotors on there (jokes, just in case...).
Anyway the brakes are mindblowing. They've ruined all other brakes for me. Stupid power, zero issues (except for that one time I forgot how to install Goodridge lines—cut me some slack, I hadn't done it in 15+ years). I'm firmly in the you-can't-have-too-much-power-I'll-modulate-with-my-fingers camp. You have to work for a whole year to afford these brakes, and then wait another year to receive them, but I guarantee that these brakes will give everyone else brake envy for at least ten years.
I struggled a little with brake hose routing. The Goodridge line was too thick to route where it was supposed to go between the BB and the swingarm, plus that routing pulled a lot
of housing as the bike went through its travel. To fix that, I 3D printed a guide for the chainstay and a plug for the main pivot axle that has the housing go right through the middle of the pivot. Shout out to Matterhackers
for help with the 3D printer and their excellent NylonX carbon fibre filament.
This way it pulls virtually no hose, requires less of it, and simplifies the routing a lot. I hope RAAW incorporates something like this for V3. And while they're at it, the shift routing could be simplified as well—maybe running under the chainslap protector.
were a conundrum. I knew I wanted to build something up because I've missed wheelbuilding the last few years, and I knew I wanted to use those new DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs. After a lot of waffling I went with a full DT build: J-bend Competition Race spokes, Prolock Squorx Prohead Alu nipples, and XM481 rims. For those of you counting, yes, I committed the blasphemy of 28-hole rims. I forgot to write the exact weight down, but the wheelset is well under 1800g for a pretty robust aluminum wheelset. To be honest, the 28-hole decision was mostly to see if I could get away with it. I hope I'm not cursing myself here, but so far I've gotten away with it. The rims have had a pretty rough life, but tires still seat just fine, the spokes stay tensioned, and they still run straight.
Originally the tires
were Maxxis Assegais with EXO+ casings, because this is more of an overgrown trail bike than a enduro smasher for me. At least that was the idea. Anyway they had tons of grip and I love how predictable they are, but I did get more pinch flats than I'd like so I went with Schwalbe's Super Gravity casing on the Magic Marys I replaced them with. Why not Maxxis again? Well I haven't ridden anything other than Maxxis on my personal bike in years, and that's silly, but also because I like their skinwalls. I'm vain, but I think it looks badass now.
I was running 28 psi rear, 26 psi front with the EXO+ Assegais, but I may drop a few psi with the Super Gravity casing Magic Marys.DRIVETRAIN
I went with an XT drivetrain
, because I thought something a little more workmanlike than XTR would suit this build, but then I threw that blue collar nature out the window and put Cane Creek eeWings cranks
on it. They're still a lot of money even if you amortize it over 10 years, but I don't think there's a lighter all-metal crank out there that's rated for any sort of aggressive riding. I've got the crankset in Cane Creek's Hellbender BB, which also makes some bold claims about bearing longevity so I figured this would be a great application for it. The setup has been as flawless as you'd expect.
I put on an AbsoluteBlack chainguide/guard and an oval chainring, just to try. While I can't say I notice any dramatic difference in oval vs round chainrings, it's been just good—no issues backpedalling or shifting or dropping chains. CONTROLS
is a 40mm Newmen Evolution SL 318.4 stem and Evolution SL 318 bar. The stem is pleasantly normal with a standard four-bolt design, but it's very light at 90g and has no weight or use restrictions. The 9° back and 9° up bar is really interesting and I like that position. Having that much upsweep almost feels similar to the 12° and 16° backsweep SQ-lab bars I've tried on my hardtail; all of them just feel a little more natural to me than the usual 9° back and 5° up bars out there. I've got S&M Hoder grips on there, which are so long they run right up to the brakes. It's a bit odd having that much grip, but they're a great balance between the softness of my usual favourite Animal Edwins, the tackiness and thinness of Renthal push-ons, and the cushion of ODI Longnecks. I think they're made by ODI as well, they have that feel anyway.Pedals
are Syntace NumberNine2 Titans (size L) because they're light, have a massive platform, and a grease fitting for easy maintenance. I also tried the Pedalling Innovations pedals for a while last year, and while I think there's something to their long platform foot position, I didn't notice a huge change when I went back to the Syntace ones.
I had a Vecnum Nivo 212mm dropper post
on the bike originally. It was awesome and super light, but I moved it over to an XC-ish hardtail build I'm working on. I switched to a Fox Transfer, which has a history of great reliability, but the return speed was just too slow for my tastes and I wanted a little more drop. Finally I went to what's probably our favourite all-round dropper right now: the OneUp Dropper v2 (210mm version shimmed down to 200mm). I'm using Shimano's non-series SL-MT800-IL dropper post lever and I think it's the best feeling one out there. The saddle
is a Specialized Power Arc. I get along with it, the stubby shape works for my position on the bike and the raised back is nice for pushing into on climbs.DETAILS Other details
include a ti King cage because I'm fancy, a OneUp EDC tool in the steerer, NSB fork cable guide because the 6mm Goodridge lines don't fit in the stock one, Stans sealant, and a 3D printed "Nano Bracket" tube strap holder I designed to hold a Schwalbe Aerothan tube. I've also been messing around with the idea of making a cover for the other side of the main axle void and using that as storage. I haven't quite got the design sorted out but we'll see.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM A YEAR ON THE MADONNA
One year on and I've had a great time on the Madonna. A lot of bikes feel pretty tired after a year—creaks that are impossible to track down, roached bearings, etc., but not this one. After a quick refresh a few weeks ago it feels brand new.
Riding the bike has been amazing. Now keep in mind, I'm not a tech editor and haven't ridden every enduro bike out there, but damn if this thing isn't a revelation. It took a few days at Big White for my brain to get over the crash
I had the year before, but I did eventually get up to speed. It's composed, it corners insanely well, and I feel right at home with its geometry. The EXT fork is a work of art, and this bike paired with the Float X2 is just magic.
Moving back to longevity, what wore out? Not much. Although I'm mostly a weekend warrior these days, I did manage to get through a set of Trickstuff pads (Power compound), a set of Maxxis Assegai EXO+ tires, and some Renthal Ultra Sticky push-on grips.
The hubcap-style seals do their job. I preemptively got some Enduro MAX style bearings to replace all my pivots, but after a year of riding, when I went to replace them, the frame's bearings literally looked brand new—even after being ridden a bunch on sloppy winter days, put away wet, and then eventually pressure washed with reckless abandon. Same goes for the Cane Creek BB. I'm going to have to save them as spares for the next owner.
The brakes have ruined me for life. They're so good. I still don't believe that nobody else can make brakes this powerful. It's just leverage after all, not magic. I want Trickstuff to succeed, so this is a bit selfish, but I hope other brands figure out what Trickstuff is doing and get their own brakes sorted out ASAP.
On the topic of brakes, I have a nostalgic soft spot for the Goodridge lines. Can we have those back? Is there a good source for them in North America? I had to raid Levy's stash to find some 20-year-old hose in order to run a longer line when I built the bike up.
Finally, I love how quiet the bike is. The DT 240 hub has an understated, bright-sounding buzz, but otherwise there's zero clattering around.
Okay, let's talk about some issues. The nitpicks are that the cable routing was a little annoying until I made the guides, and you need about 9 different torx and hex keys to work on Trickstuff brakes. A slightly bigger issue is the rear axle's tendency to come loose. It may just be a consequence of non-bridged seatstays, but some Loctite did fix it.
The most significant negative is the weight. Even with what I think is an insanely nice, lightweight build, it's pretty heavy. At 36.5lb it is probably ~4lb heavier than what it could be if I hadn't been choosing overbuilt stuff and avoiding carbon. Are those 4lb the price of longevity? Probably.
I get tired of the keeping-up-with-the-jones bike builds on Instagram. While there's nothing wrong with buying new, exciting bike stuff when there's a performance benefit, buying less and better things helps me put aside some middle class guilt about my recreational consumption.
The Madonna ticks all those boxes for me, and puts a smile on my face every time I take it out. This was a super fun project, and I'm confident the bike will provide many more years of service. What a beast.