After the hustle and bustle of April, a month filled with product launches centered around the Sea Otter Classic, May got off to a rather quiet start, but gathered steam as the weeks progressed. World Cup DH racing took a break, but there was still plenty of action on the Enduro World Series and World Cup XC circuits, plus high flying nuttiness from the FEST Series. A number of new bikes and components were revealed for the first time as well, providing plenty of fodder for heated online debates. What follows is a recap of the highlights and lowlights from May, 2015.
Fans of Going Huge
FEST Series Continues to Raise the Bar
Anyone whose idea of a good time includes watching uber-talented hucksters launch themselves off the biggest jumps imaginable had plenty to be thankful for in May. The month kicked off with Clay Porter releasing his CruzFEST highlights video, a six minute montage of nasty whips, flips, and slams, all set to a classic hip-hop track. The visual stimulation didn't end there, though, and a few weeks later images and helmet cam footage started showing up from stop two of the FEST Series, Aggy's Reunion, which was held in Kamloops, BC.
As impressive as the course built specifically for the event was, footage from a run down a partially completed trail in the same vicinity was what captured the attention of millions of viewers. In it, some of the world's best freeriders effortlessly boost over enormous gaps, capping off the run with a jump over a standing tree. It's the kind of video even a non-mountain biker can appreciate, one that puts into perspective just how talented (and slightly insane) the FEST series riders truly are.
As round two of the Enduro World Series in Wicklow County, Ireland, got underway, all eyes were on Greg Callaghan. Racing on familiar trails, and coming off an 11th place finish in Rotorua, there was plenty of speculation that the 23-year-old Irishman had the speed and strength to take the win.
Come race day, everything seemed to fall into place, and under sunny skies and in front of hordes of cheering fans, Callaghan put the hammer down, winning three out of seven stages to finish 15 seconds ahead of second place finisher Justin Leov. There's something deeply satisfying about an underdog emerging victorious, and Callaghan's victory is especially deserved considering that he only recently signed to the Cube Action Team after spending last year's race season living out of a van as a privateer. And for anyone who doubted that Callaghan deserved to be up on the podium with the big dogs, he backed up his result with a solid third place finish in Scotland the following weekend.
Taking it to the Streets
Matt MacDuff was everywhere this month, stealing the show in Scott Secco's Builder movie, and then releasing a video collaboration with Kali Protectives that had street riding aficionados struggling to contain their excitement. Riding a brakeless hardtail, Maduff spins 360s into flights of stairs, jumps over handrail and tosses a barspin before landing on a concrete transition ten feet below, all while genuinely having a good time and making every trick he throws seem effortless.
Street riding and dirt jumping may exist on the fringe of mainstream mountain bike culture, but MacDuff's easygoing personality and fearless nature seem to resonate with a larger audience, attracting the attention of riders who don't typically pay heed to this niche of the sport. What's next for MacDuff? Only time will tell, but rest assured that whatever he comes up with next will be infused with his unique style and devil-may-care attitude.
Specialized's Stumpjumper Has a Built In Storage Compartment
Specialized's 2016 Stumpjumper FSR lineup looks as refined as ever, with a range of wheel sizes and frame materials to fit the needs of nearly any trail rider. But it's not the revised geometry, or the addition of a 27.5+ model that caused a stir; it was the inclusion of a storage compartment in the down tube of the carbon fiber front triangle that had everyone talking. For better or worse, Specialized isn't known for holding back when it comes to bringing a new concept to market, and the SWAT compartment is a prime example of their capabilities
On paper it seems like a fairly simple idea – make a hole in the frame, and come up with a panel that can be latched on while also holding a water bottle. No big deal, right? But then consider the expense of creating new carbon frame molds, constructing that extra panel, and putting a plug in the downtube so items don't fall out of reach, all without raising the bike's final price to the stratosphere, and it becomes clear that this is an idea that could easily have been left on the drawing board simply because of the time and resources an endeavor like this requires. The fact that Specialized seem to have pulled it off makes it a good month for them, along with any mountain bikers who harbor hoarding tendencies, and don't ever want to be more than an arm's length away from their favorite snack, tool, or bag of weed.
Mountain Bikers Interested in Shimano's 1x11 XT
Single Rings Nowhere to Be Seen at Launch
The lakeside town of Riva del Garda, Italy, served as the location for Shimano's official launch of the latest XT gruppo, a gorgeous setting surrounded by towering peaks full of steep, overhanging cliffs. The launch's timing overlapped with the Riva Bike Festival, a massive gathering of mountain bikers from all across Europe. A beautiful location, good weather, and a fleet of bikes equipped with the new product – from a distance, everything seemed to be in order. But there was one thing missing – a rideable version of Shimano's answer to SRAM's narrow-wide chainring design. There was one pre-production sample on hand, but it wasn't installed on a bike, and no one seemed to be able to answer questions about how well the design worked without a chain guide, or to explain exactly where the ring's chain retention capabilities come from.
It's understandable that Shimano doesn't want to sweep their front derailleur technology under the rug – after all, it's the result of years of refinement, and the new Side Swing technology works incredibly well – but the demand for single ring drivetrains continues to increase, and SRAM's offerings are becoming more and more affordable, which is why it seems odd that the Japanese giant still appears reluctant to promote their own 1x system.
Sunny Weather on Race Weekends
Foul Weather Causes Course Revisions
Mother Nature is fickle, especially during springtime in the mountains, and this month she decided to try and put a damper on the second round of the British Downhill series, as well as the third stop of the Enduro World Series. At the BDS event in Fort William, Scotland, high winds forced the closure of the gondola typically used to transport riders to the top of the mountain, resulting in a drastically shortened course. The weather remained poor throughout the weekend, and by the time the elite men began to drop into the course conditions were about as foul as they could get, with a cold rain pelting riders as they made their way down the hill.
Things were a little better at round three of the Enduro World Series in Scotland, but heavy rains the night before the final day of racing turned parts of the course into a soupy mess, and a forced two stages to be eliminated from the race. In both cases, racing went on as well as could be expected, but you can be sure that the spectators and participants wouldn't have minded a little more sunshine added into the mix.
Red Bull Sky Gate Race Places Priority on Spectacle
Red Bull's not one to shy away from events that are out of the ordinary, sponsoring everything from the Flutag, a homemade flying machine contest, to downhill ice skate racing, so it's not entirely surprising that a race involving sending mountain bikers down 999 stairs and off a large stepdown before crossing the finish line ended up on the calendar.
Unfortunately, the length and steepness of the stairs, combined with the fact that riders couldn't let off their brakes for even a millisecond or risk careening out of control, meant that carnage was inevitable. It wasn't long before a video of Kelly McGarry losing his brakes and suffering a brutal crash near the bottom of the stairs began making the rounds, graphically illustrating the sheer stupidity of the event. Other riders lost control after landing the final stepdown, sliding into the metal guardrails that surrounded the finish area, and further showing how unnecessarily dangerous the course was.
I don't blame the riders for attempting the course – after all, someone paid for them to fly all the way to China, and as professional athletes they undoubtedly had sponsors to please, but realistically, the event never should have happened in the first place. Urban mountain bike events have the potential to expose the sport to a wider audience, but in this instance it's unlikely that any onlookers will be inspired to pick up a bike after witnessing the spectacle that unfolded. Promoters need to ensure that athlete safety is their number one priority, and in this case it appears to have been well down the list.