In racing circles this year there has been a lot of talk about the difference between winners and champions. One man who undoubtedly falls into the latter category is Fabien Barel. Throughout his racing career he has always been a man apart, approaching every race and every challenge in his own inimitable style with ruthless determination and clockwork precision. Over the years he has flown at the highest altitudes of our sport, winning at the highest levels, but his journey has never been an easy one, plumbing the depths of adversity with horrific injuries that would have ended many careers. After taking on the challenge of racing enduro in 2013 and winning the first ever EWS race in Punta Ala, he has continued to be at the forefront of the discipline - despite yet another horrific injury in the first round in Chile that ruled him out for most of the 2014 season. 2015 marked his 20th year racing - a milestone he decided would be fitting to call time on his professional racing career. We caught up with the French racing legend at his home in the South of France to ask him why now was the right time to walk away from competition, what's next and where he sees the development of mountain bikes going in the future.



Fabien Barel Interview



Looking at your results from this year, you won the most stages of anybody this season...

Yes, I won the most stages and the best performing rider if we take points for top three stage results.


People are going to ask why you are walking away when you are this fast?

I always wanted to stop while I was at the top of what I was doing. It was the case in downhill and I did not stop downhill to get involved in enduro. I got involved in enduro for developing the Strive for Canyon. I definitely believe that racing is the best base for testing and development. I also got involved to help the growth of the sport and kind of involve my legitimacy for the general industry to push enduro to where it needed to be. There have been some highs, some lows with the organization, with the races, with everything and clearly it has been a whole challenge. I had to re-adapt myself physically, technically, in my bike setup, in my way of riding, etc. It was a challenge, but I really feel that I achieved what I wanted after those three years, especially coming from the injury. The reason I stop now is because it has been 20 years of racing, it is time.


What is next then?

Next is... There are definitely other challenges in the sport that I will do. I am not planning on stopping completely my sport's career and not doing any racing anymore. I will keep doing different sports and I will still be involved in races now and then, in enduro and even in downhill, which I miss. But I want to use this outside my professional work and everything I will be involved in the work side of things is on another side of the industry.



Fabien Barel Interview



Can you talk about that now?

There is not much we can say now. Lots of people are talking about me being a manager, which is not going to be the case. I am not going to be a team manager. I am going to be involved in supporting riders and helping them to grow and perform. I will be closely involved in R&D with both Canyon and Mavic and with definitely developing a very good program with Canyon for next year and the future. It is a long-term relationship that we are working on at the moment.


You said there were high and low points with the racing. Where do you think the sport needs to go?

I do believe that enduro is going in the right direction, those are the words I said when we had the riders’ meeting in Whistler. We have to realize that nowadays we have a sport with a value equal to downhill with just two or three people running it and a few organizers. The cost of an EWS race is maybe 1/10th of a DH world cup. I do believe that the job that is done is a good job, but there are clearly evolutions that need to be done on the race format, technicality of the terrain, the right balance between climbing and downhill and also a right balance between the sport side of the events and the festive side of the events. All these are compromises to find ballance and one aspect cannot make the other fail and the success of the EWS will definitely be in general aspect and compromises that will be done on all of it.



Fabien Barel Interview



It was interesting seeing the Enduro de Portes du Mercantour this year - a lot of the top ten were there, but the ambiance was very different to an EWS race.

When you go to regional races, you kind of find the real spirit of enduro where you just go out there for fun and play and laugh, etc. EWS, with the commitment of the industry, with the money, with the media, with everything, it is putting pressure on the riders, it kind of creates animosity between the riders, which should not happen. I still believe we are in a sport in which we are fighting against the clock, same as downhill, and the best one wins, that’s the way it should be.


Finale felt really symbolic, with you stepping aside, with Tracy as well. It seems some of the downhillers are stepping back.

I do believe some of the downhill riders got involved to help the sport grow. Even if people were saying they were jumping in for the money side, I do not think this was so. I do believe there is a position we have in the industry. I believe when you become a champion or you have certain notoriety, it gives you rights, but it also gives you a duty to carry a certain message to the people. And I think in terms of rules, attitude, commitment, there are people looking up to you. When I see soccer players talking badly on TV and then kids are dreaming to be similar to them, this is not the right message. We need to make sure that our sport has the right message, which is nature, commitment, passion, and that is what our sport is about.


With the young riders coming to the forefront now, you see guys like Richie, Florian, and Martin, they have the chance to do many things, but choose to race enduro which is a powerful thing for the sport.

I'm not sure it is not a choice for Flo; it is clearly a choice for Richie or Martin. I do believe that it is the case right now and we need to not make mistakes in the general format of the races in order to not lose people. There is clearly a fact that they are interested in it as there is the possibility to take a position in the industry and they have the physical and technical abilities to compete in this format. Enduro is not downhill. It is not as simple as thinking because you are good in downhill that you will be good in enduro, and if you are good in enduro that you will be good in downhill. It is not the same technically, it is not the same approach of racing, it is not the same physical capacity - it is a different sport. That is why for me, I am very proud to have been able to transfer from one to the other, lose weight, become able to accelerate for longer than 30 seconds and all that needed to be relearned for me.



Fabien Barel Interview



Something Enrico Guala said is interesting: with enduro it is the first time a major movement in our sport started here in Europe and has spread to America. Historically all the major movements in the industry have tended to come from America.

There is a large influence from America, just by the fact that the market is big and lots of the big brands in the past were there. I definitely believe this is changing right now and we can see that in the events. I am not sure it has to do with the racing side of it, did 4X start in America? Dual slalom probably did. I am not sure that downhill did start there, I am not sure, I do not want to say anything stupid. For sure, the influence from a large market has been affecting in the past the general sport and this influence was coming from the US mainly. But this is clearly changing, just because of the fact that we have more champions, a lot more big companies, etc.


You have been one of the proponents of long bikes over the years and you were one of the first guys really pushing that. That seems like a very European idea at the moment, one that hasn't been embraced on the other side of the Atlantic.

You can definitely see since we brought out the forward geometry that Cannondale, Trek, Specialized have been extending their reach and front centre massively and the geometry because they realized we were going in the right direction. You can see this in the fact that they were looking at stability with 29ers and everyone wanted to be back on the bike because of the mass. Coming to 27.5, they began looking for this effect with stability through the wheelbase. The right compromise is to have a fairly long wheelbase and keep the dynamic through the wheels with 27.5, and that is what you see more and more now. If you look at everyone’s ratio through the height and position in the EWS, no one is riding with a short bike.


Sure, a few years ago, you were the guy with the biggest, wildest bike on the circuit, now you look at the bikes, your bike looks fairly normal.

Even two years ago when I brought out the first geometry for the Strive, the forward geometry with the 0 stem was something people were looking at weirdly as a concept. But when I ride with a Strive, people even internally at Canyon were saying, “Fab, it is way too long.” Today it is not too long. Everyone is going with it and for sure our technology, our thoughts, our needs are definitely stepping forward in Europe by the fact that the momentum on the bike is really changing, especially in trail riding and this influence is now massive in the industry.



Fabien Barel Interview



What do you see as the next evolution, the next direction for the development of bikes?

If you think of direction, we have been looking at suspension for the last 15 years. Now we can see geometry and wheel sizes having a big effect and a big influence. This still needs to be stabilized in the market, for me, as you can see that now they are going in with the plus size bike and they are trying new things. This tendency to bring out new thing is also to resell bikes. That move for me is also something that the industry is looking into what is the perfect compromise. Soon this will stall, I am sure that we are going to restart on a new concept, on a new direction. The only way of thinking is to make sure that every single product is 100%, suited to our discipline. I can tell you that the stem was useless, coming from road cycling, I can tell you that small wheels and small frames had to be changed. For me, today, there is no place for a derailleur on the rear, because that comes from road cycling. If today, you completely forget about the impact of the market, you restart fresh with a chart of what is needed on an MTB, would you place a mechanical thing next to the rear axle? You would not. That is an example, there is also the materials through the frames, there is also all the electronics coming in that are changing a lot, there is also a lot more development that needs to be done on what I call bike changes on the fly like we did with the Shapeshifter. There are for sure a lot more possibilities, everyone is looking at us weirdly with what we have done in the industry. But a lot of customers are really happy with what we did with the Shapeshifter and I do believe that the concept of a hybrid bike is needed and is the future: you want to climb up like a cross-country bike and ride down like a downhill bike and that is the first stage that we have done, but there will be more to come for sure.


You mention getting rid of derailleurs, have you tried the Pinion or Effigear gearboxes?

Yes, there is too much friction and lot of weight. Now with e-bikes coming in, there is going to be a lot of discussions and lot of things on and off. I am not saying that we should go for a gearbox or get rid of the derailleur, I am just saying that this is something that will change in the future. And this is something that is fully controlled by the big brands at the moments, which are doing a huge amount of work to make those parts 100% reliable for us.


MENTIONS: @mattwragg / @Canyon-PureCycling / @urgebikeproducts / @mavic




80 Comments

  • + 185
 Did anyone else read it in his accent?
  • + 7
 HE CAME TO AUSTRALIA!
HE RODE AT MY LOCAL A WEEK AGO!
YEW!
But i wasn't there Frown
  • + 3
 Hahaha!!! Yes I did, and I thought about asking the exact same question! brilliant! Smile
  • + 6
 For sure Wink
  • + 16
 "really, really challenging..."

-my fav Barrel phrase.

Great article. Love this guy.
  • + 1
 Me, too!!!
But it kinda comes automatically because of the way he talks. It's just french...translated. So the sound (accent) comes naturally Smile
  • + 2
 I totally did too. Hilarious how that happens. Gonna miss Fab racing, what a great competitor and innovator he has been.
  • + 1
 Challenging here, challenging there. hahahaha. Good points anyway.
  • + 4
 It is such a french structure (using "challenge, etc, re-adapt...)
His accent is following me everywhere I read something he wrote (and clearly here, Matt retranscripted word by word).
It's funny and creepy !
  • + 1
 Haha yes me to I read that completely with his accent in my mind.
  • + 3
 For sure
  • + 1
 He sounds like Idi Amin..
  • + 22
 It'll be be weird not seeing him race next year. He's faster than a bullet on crack
  • - 2
 On met with speed man !
  • + 17
 This is a great interview Matt! Fabian is really open and honest in his answers. And insightful. Also I think Canyon deserves an applause for keeping him involved in R&D for the long term. Love their bikes.
  • + 11
 I'll buy anyone who reads this a beer if the gearbox will ever become the norm.
  • + 10
 ok, will put that in my reminder list!
  • + 3
 People said the same thing about carbon frame/wheels for downhill 10 years ago. You used to get laughed at for suggesting such a thing.
  • + 1
 3D printing bro , it will happen once the bigger brands get onboard like he said
  • + 6
 I very much doubt gearboxes of any type will become the norm for a long time, they would be shooting them selves in the foot financially, all these wearing and easily breakable parts are far to lucrative for them to abandon. Sure wish it would happen though, rear mechs are archaic and victorian in their function,sure they may work well but pushing and pulling a chain sideways across cogs to change ratios is some thing that should be left in the 1800's.
  • + 0
 Disagree. What does a gear box replace? A cassette and a derailleur compared to a 1x system. Shimano makes them (well Alfine internal hubs), SRAM has the Hammerschmidt, (not exactly a gear box). But gearboxes weigh a ton compared to the FR & RR derailleurs and cassettes. Are they more reliable? Don't know, but you can't mix and match like a XTR rear mech for Zee, etc. Pros and cons and I think for MTB the cons have won it for now.
  • + 0
 they do not weight a ton, atleast for freeride. an effigear box weights 200gr more than a complete shimano saint groupset. obviously they are way heavier than the xo dh1 set or xx1
  • + 2
 Wait until you see how flimsy a gear box that competes in the weight and friction departments is. That bad boy will need adjustment and service non stop @bigburd
  • + 1
 When was the last time you adjusted the gear box in your car?
  • + 2
 My car has robust helical cut gears and suffers roughly 15% percent loss (maybe 20) between the flywheel and the wheels. I'm not saying gear boxes are impossible, they already exist. Making them similar to motorcycle or automobile transmissions seems to me to be the incorrect approach. You can move the mech somewhere safer, that would be cool... but to abandon the direct drive cog to cog we have now will cost efficiency. I don't really want to give that up. Not when in my own experience derailleurs work well.
  • + 1
 Yeah I guess I'm using the term gear box incorrectly, I don't mean literally the same mechanics as a car gear box, what exactly I don't know.

Perhaps some thing like the alfine hub, but about 50 percent smaller that sit's into the axle or BB of a frame,maybe a new standard in BB diameters would be needed ( that will be popular ) , but it's some thing every frame manufacturer could adapt to fairly easily.
  • + 2
 I agree, I think relocating things would be nice, but would require a big commitment from some from some of the big players. I do not think it would resemble a "gear box" as we know it though.
  • + 2
 Yeah but that was when carbon technology wasn't quite what it is nowadays.

Gearbox-ish systems have been used succesfully for quite some time now (g-box, Honda RN01, Pinion, Zerode,..) but still haven't come close to derailleur systems when it comes to market share.
  • + 1
 Hondas gear box was not one. It was a derailleur in a box. I was a fan of that bike, not hating on it, it solves the biggest problem and gets it out of harms way. The gear boxes we have on the market are too heavy and draggy. I don't consider them a true success.
  • + 1
 I know but it was a departure from the derailleur-hanging-off-the back-ready-to-be-snagged-off system..
  • + 1
 Honda also tried a wave clutch wit a push rod. If anyone thought it was feasible it would've been Honda, I have a Hammerschmidt. The drag of gears is unacceptable. With everyone using carbon to save a few pounds it will be hard to adapt to a gearbox.
  • + 12
 Barel bikes are coming.
  • + 6
 Where do I send my money?
  • + 4
 to Canyon, he worked hard on the new suspension system for his bike.
  • + 8
 Absolute legend, class act, and one of my favourite all-time riders. Great interview PB
  • + 7
 Barel is by now synonymous with enduro, it'll be weird not to see him in video photo coverage of the races.
  • + 4
 "I can tell you that the stem was useless, coming from road cycling, I can tell you that small wheels and small frames had to be changed. For me, today, there is no place for a derailleur on the rear, because that comes from road cycling. If today, you completely forget about the impact of the market, you restart fresh with a chart of what is needed on an MTB, would you place a mechanical thing next to the rear axle? You would not."

There is not one single word of this that I do not completely agree with. I always asked myself what was the reason of the stem's existence, never found one. I have always thought derailleurs are a really bad concept in the first place, put in a really bad place, thus bringing tons of side problems and complexity. SRAM, now that Shimano is wasting time on electronic shi(f)tting it is time to step up and bring us gearboxes!!!!!!!!!!
  • + 6
 The development of gearboxes for ebikes could drive development of gearboxes for pedal bikes
  • + 1
 Given the constant torque output of electric motors, variable ratio gearboxes are totally unnecessary. I'm not sure much will carry over.
  • + 1
 derailleur makers need to develop something cheap to make which could also be extremely marked up, I bet derailleurs have the highest profit margin of all MTB components.
  • + 1
 Bike w gearbox were around in the '20... If they did not catch up, there is a reason.
  • + 1
 @Narro2 Not even close. Tubes, bro. If you wanted to start up the most successful bike shop ever, it would specialize in selling inner tubes. The markup on those things is insane.
  • + 2
 Who buys inner tubes?
  • + 1
 @twallywilly, I kind of suspected it and it makes sense, tubes are most likely made in AP at a very low price and marked up very well to be sold here, so i'll retract myself.
Still the rear derailleur is very highly price IMO and they break very often, I went through 2 of them last year, and one was a short cage that made me purchase another cassette. There is always one or two guys that break their derailleurs at every race.
  • + 5
 Why is Jerome reaching for Richie's groin on the podium picture... once you see it...
  • + 10
 pretty sure that's richie's glove...
  • + 4
 I assume he is trying to toss him off.
  • + 2
 I'd like to say "he's tring to see what it takes to win the overall" to make a joke but everybody knows that he already knows Big Grin
  • + 0
 It's a french thing.Get used to it Richie.
  • + 1
 trust you to spot that waki,made me chuckle though.
  • + 1
 Classy.
  • + 2
 Lord knows what Jerome is doing back there
  • + 6
 I really hope e-bikes don't become a thing. They seen like cheating.
  • + 2
 I was trying to decipher that comment. Here's a wild gearless idea: what about an ebike with no battery? pedals are a dynamo, motor on rear, inverter in middle to replace the gearbox. Could it work? would it work? how heavy are motors anyway? It would be pretty fragile though.
  • + 4
 Think there is an efficiency issue doing it directly this way, even with some storage mechanism and additional recuperation under braking (as per kers on f1 cars).

e-bikes seem like a good way for older or disabled people to continue cycling when they would otherwise have to stop.
  • + 1
 Yes there will be losses in the transmission for sure, though I imagine most of the energy loss in ebikes still comes from the battery. Silly idea I know, just playing around Wink
  • + 1
 E bike race planned for Sea Otter. The future has arrived...
  • + 7
 L-E-G-E-N-D
  • + 5
 he's back on the dh bike whooohoooo
  • + 1
 Uncle Fab is a role model I believe in. Seems also for the rest of you. For me he made the comment of the century referring to the soccer players. Those mfers get paid millions, dont' give a shit for anything except themselves and thier tattos and for sure they do not care for the better of society... bad mouthing everything on the channels of media... nice.
Enduro is still at the more "mature" end of things, compared to general DH ( not all but general) and I hope it stays that way... I'd say there aren't many at the top who I would say are not good role models. I think a sport evolves for the type of people who focus on it which was how enduro grew... it is for the fun of riding down but also the "earn it to burn it" ride up and not for the crazy party of it and not for the bad ass of it.

If anyone knows of Don Cherry, he's a loud mouth but he also hits on the topic well - professional hockey players are told and I think still must wear suits to their matches, not track pants, nike or addidas gangsta shoes and hoodies and definately not showing off the tatts. Trying to keep classiness for the eyes of the fans.

Brand placement is part of the culprit here... slightly different topic.

I hope the general society shifts back to respect, honour and the general thoughtfulness of others because it seems dominated by those who care excessively only for themselves...

Yes, I stop my bike when there are hikers on the trail and let them pass... ( but I might yell at the slower rider in front of me if they purposely keep me from passing)



( sorry, i had to speak all of that... but in french accent)
  • + 5
 THOU SHALT NOT QUESTION FABIEN BAREL
  • + 2
 As always, extremely well versed and so passionate. Hey Fab, hopes to see you around - racing or on the development side.
  • + 3
 Fabien Barel is like Bruce Lee of MTB.
  • + 3
 first interview I ever read! cool
  • + 18
 So you discoverd that there is more to Pinkbike than pictures Wink
  • + 7
 I find my self skipping videos, and some times not even watching them in the past few years, I long for interesting, written interviews with people important to the industry
  • + 1
 Thank you bigburd. I totally agree.
  • + 2
 Plus, it's hard to say calm while watching a shredder-edit at work. Reading makes you so serious that nobody suspect that you aren't working ! hahaha
  • + 2
 barel is like mtb buddha. enlightenment on dirt.
  • + 1
 Before my death, I want to ride with him
  • + 1
 Is there going to be a Canyon DH team ? there is right ?
  • + 1
 I had high hopes for that... after reading the interview I guess we will have to wait a couple more years.
  • + 1
 He ended up his career as a pro athlete but he is still my fav' rider!
  • + 1
 New EWS spokesman
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