Bike Check: Martin Maes' GT Force - EWS Finale Ligure 2018

Sep 27, 2018 at 17:11
by Mike Levy  



Martin Maes has had one hell of a season. The Belgian powerhouse became the first racer to stand on the top step at both an Enduro World Series race (Whistler no less) and a World Cup downhill event (La Bresse) back-to-back, and on very different types of terrain. Talk about versatility. Pinkbike photographer Ross Bell caught up with Maes in Finale Ligure, Italy, at the final round of the EWS season to talk about his 150mm-travel Force, 29ers, and how racing World Cup DH compares to enduro.


Martin Maes is looking forward to the new season rolling on Schwalbe tyres. Valdivia. Chile. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Martin Maes
On the left, Maes is standing with his GT Sanction in 2016 at the first stop of the EWS series in Chile. On the right, he's with his new Force in Finale Ligure, Italy. The two bikes are completely different machines, with the new Force featuring a more conventional suspension design.

Martin Maes
Martin Maes
Details of one of the fastest enduro cockpits around.


The six foot tall Maes is on a large-sized GT Force, but he's gone against the 'longer is better' trend with a reach that he says is about 10mm shorter than the Sanction he was racing on previously. ''You know, 10mm is not much, especially when you're switching bikes,'' he said about the change and running the same 55mm length stem. ''It's a whole different platform, it's carbon, and everything is so different, so I kind of adapt myself to the size. It feels pretty good.''

That Race Face stem is combo's with a 780mm wide handlebar from the Canadian brand, and it's a cockpit that Maes says is a ''Pretty casual setup.''


Martin Maes
The Force delivers 150mm of travel, and Maes has had success with an air-sprung shock.


At just a hair under 160lb, Martin is on the relatively light and lanky side of the field compared to guys like Rude, and his suspension setup reflects this despite him being one of the most aggressive guys out there. Up front, he's got his Fox 36 pumped up to 77 PSI and has fitted just a single bottom-out token. ''I'm pretty in the middle; nothing extreme, but I couldn't tell you how many clicks,'' Maes replied when quizzed on his damper preferences.

''Coming from Whistler to Ainsa [the previous EWS stop], we adapted it a bit in terms of compression and rebound because, you know Whistler, it's so steep. So we had to change the low-speed compression, but that's pretty much the only change we've made since Whistler.'' So a relatively linear and normal setup for the fork, and 172.5 psi in the Float X2 shock.

Finale Ligure has all the rocks, so it's no surprise to see that Maes has gone with full-on Super Gravity tire casings again, and there's a CushCore insert in the rear that apparently kept him rolling last weekend in Ainsa: ''That CushCore actually saved my weekend. There was a pretty big dent on the back wheel, and without it, I think that would have been the end.'' Pressure sits at 23.9 PSI up front and 26.8 PSI in the rear.
Martin Maes
The 160mm-travel 36 on the front of Maes' Force has 77 PSI and a single volume spacer inside of it.

Martin Maes
Martin Maes
The Belgian's wheel setup is all about reliability, with Super Gravity casing tires from Schwalbe, a CushCore out back, and pliable aluminum rims that can be worked back into shape if things go south.


And speaking of wheels, how does the Belgian feel about big hoops? ''I'm interested, for sure. We've had a chance to try a 29er, but I don't think, and I don't believe, that it makes me faster. There is obviously the positive and the negative but in the end I kind of feel like I'm an aggressive rider on track, almost to the point that when I was riding a 29er, it's like I had too much grip. It was harder to reach the limit, or if I was reaching the limit, it was too late and I was down.''

''So I don't think a 29er would make me faster overall after a weekend of racing, but maybe on some stages. But maybe I'd lose time on other stages and in the end. So I'm not convinced or 100-percent sure, and I'm sure that you don't need a 29er to win races.''


Martin Maes
Maes poses with his GT Fury downhill sled that he raced to victory at a muddy La Bresse.


Okay, but what about in World Cup downhill, a place where Maes just won on small wheels? We've seen many show up with new 29er DH rigs this season, and some of them have gone back to 27.5'' wheels, too. Some never left. ''I don't think it makes any difference in downhill,'' he replied. ''It's all about how you adapt to the wheel size and, obviously, if you stick to it, you're going to adapt at some point to the bike and not even think about it. Not going back and forth, that's key to making you go faster.'' I guess he would know, eh?

bigquotesYeah I don't know what happened! I just rode my bike fast. The conditions were very hard and very hard to be consistent in. I knew I had to pull a run all together to do a good result, but for sure I didn't expect to win. I'm over the moon. I had no goals. Coming into Fort William 3 months ago, a top 15 would be perfect, I'd be over the moon if I got a top 10... I got a top 10 so for this one in La Bresse; it's a short track, it's the same kind of ground in Belgium, the same conditions... So I'm aiming for a top 5, and if I get a top 5, I am stoked. F***. I got the win... I don't know what to expect next. I just rode my bike fast; I didn't take any extra risk... I wasn't out of control at any time, so that feels even better... Knowing you can be on top and not taking any stupid risks is sick! I'm over the moon.Martin Maes


Foot u and full gas to the line in the pouring rain for Martin Maes.
Foot out in the mud on the big bikes in France. Dave Trumpore photo.


With his World Cup downhill win in La Bresse, it might come as a surprise to learn that Maes was actually quite nervous before racing the big bike at the highest level again. ''I was scared of the downhill races because I don't want to take that much risk, but actually, I realized afterward that you're not taking much more risk than in enduro because you know where you're going,'' he said of the two related but also very different niche gravity sports.

''In enduro, you go so fast for such a long time, and you don't actually know where you're going because you only have one practice run. I feel like you learn so much while riding and racing enduro because you constantly have to adapt your speed, to your bike, and to the conditions. It's been very interesting.''


Martin Maes
GT stepped away from their novel but sometimes troublesome AOS suspension layout and its floating bottom bracket for a much more conventional design. It's looking like that was the right call, too.


Maes went on to take a second at the downhill World Champs in Lenzerheide, an agonizingly close +0.213 behind eventual winner Loic Bruni, thereby easily making him the most successful male part-time downhiller out there. Some of that success might come from his enduro history, he believes: ''I feel like you're learning from riding enduro and going to downhill because you actually ride for a long time over the weekend, and on all sorts of terrain. I don't feel like I learned so much doing those two downhill races. It's always the same track, and in the end, it's how far you're going to push your bike on race day, and how good you'll be able to hit the lines. So I was actually kind of struggling in Ainsa because I was like, 'Oh God, do I need to go faster to be on the pace again, or do I have to slow down? What should I do?' And I was a bit lost.''

A "lost" Martin Maes ended up just 7.9 seconds and one position behind eventual winner Richie Rude. Have you ever been so lost that you finish second at an EWS race? Me neither.


78 Comments

  • + 219
 Maes comments make me happy. No magical setup, no particular wheelsize, no special clicks in or out, no unicorn fork unavailable to the masses, no proto tire compound. Just sets in a normal human range that makes sense and then destroys the trail with incredible skills on a bike that you or I could be riding. Respect.
  • + 8
 Yeah but what’s wrong with nerding out and knowing all those exact figures. It’s fun!
  • + 24
 Rode the lift with him at Killington @ us open. The guy really is so down to earth. Just happy to be riding and I can appreciate that.
  • + 29
 No I've always told myself the only reason I'm slower is because I'm not running carbon and prototype custom everything, I don't want to hear it that I could be winning World Cup podiums on my bike lol
  • + 7
 Well that Addix Soft Nobby Nic on the rear isn’t available to the masses!

I want it!
  • - 3
 Like your comment ????????
  • + 2
 Aluminum rims you say hmmmm???!!!!
  • + 5
 Exactly! If you ask Martin about exact settings, he will tell you that it does not really matter... few clicks more or less on the fox suspension is not going to change the world. It is indeed the body that adjusts easier to the bike than the other way around. For the rest, great looking bike and nice bike check article!
  • + 3
 And not bothered about ST angles, it's what seat rails are for!
  • + 3
 cant upvote more. He's belgian thats it
  • + 2
 I can see many 160lbs still holding their shock pumps.
  • + 1
 @Trailstunter: I ve been trying to say the same for long time... We are to obsessed with bike geometry and we should start to look how all our difrent bodies adapt to...
  • - 1
 Even a poorly set up bike is fast somewhere on an enduro race weekend.
  • + 2
 @Ktron: yes! In Super Gravity casing, please. Thank you.
  • + 1
 @Ktron: it’s an interesting tyre choice for Enduro Nic doesn’t have a particularly tough casing and in anything other than speed grip is draggy (by that I mean the old trail star). With the speed grip compound I find it pretty useless as a rear tyre. Just not particularly good at anything.
  • + 0
 @Russyh: there is no way he's surviving an EWS on Snake skin casings...
  • + 3
 Been a fan of Maes for years, glad he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
  • + 1
 @ReformedRoadie: thats my point!
  • + 1
 @ShempHoward: Martin has been riding Stans Flow rims for years...
  • + 1
 @zoobab2: Happy Congratulations
  • + 1
 @PauRexs: exactly, and real riders know that, Martin is the best of them. How else could we ride BMX hahaha
  • + 57
 "I just rode my bike fast" : Legend status acquired. Great article
  • + 21
 The new Sensor and Force are killer value bikes. Pretty good geo, laterally bloody stiff, and nice and progressive suspension.
  • + 3
 agreed!
  • + 1
 Seems more like they are race winning bikes
  • + 17
 Tell me more about these Super Gravity Nobby Nics.
  • + 1
 came here for this... wtf !
  • + 3
 Are those tires 2.35 wide?
  • + 2
 Pros have had access to them for years now.
  • + 1
 And in soft compound!
  • + 6
 @endurocat: I know, weird right, and Bruni has been winning in 2.3 Spaz Butchers... its like the marketing is a lie?
  • + 10
 Great article and bike check. Maes is absolute machine and clearly a very likable/relatable guy. GT bikes are looking better than ever too!
  • + 3
 But that orange fork...hopefully goes away 2019.
  • + 1
 @jrocksdh: man, I'm with you on that. It's not that great of a color and was just a guady status symbol. Now it's not but it's still guady and not in a good way but in a MC Hammer Pants way.
  • + 10
 You know you’re pro when you count the decimals in tire pressure
  • + 5
 My tire pressures are metric. 0.9bar front, 1.1bar rear. Glad to see my pro status confirmed.
  • + 5
 What grips are those? They look...umm.. grippy... and i want a pair. Also - PB, please do an article on what grips riders are using across Enduro and DH, whether they use gloves or not and what size they're using relative to hand size. Its our primary point of contact with the bike and there are so few articles out there about getting it right!
  • + 3
 Think they are ODI elite pros
  • + 3
 ODI Elite Pros - designed by Curtis Keene. Most of the guys I ride with ride them, they eliminate a lot of arm pump, super sticky as they get worn in, and super comfy. Probably the best grip out there right now.
  • + 6
 In the 2nd to last pic, his feet are clearly still on the pedals. lol
  • + 2
 "Foot ON in the mud on the big bikes in France" - Much more impressive!
  • + 6
 The first GT I have liked since the Mid 80's GT Pro Proformers....
  • + 3
 Gt pro formers with white tires...sick
  • + 1
 My first freestyle bike was an 87 Pro Performer in purple. So fresh!
  • + 3
 Beautiful bike. I love how it doesn't look particularly exotic or special. Just straightforward and burly.
  • + 5
 Damn, Looks like a GT.
  • + 3
 new GT's are sweet, proven system nice geo! But I can't wait to see what they do for a new Sanction... Smile
  • + 3
 Just an average setup, shocks got 172.5 psi in it, that’s where I’m going wrong with my setup, I tried 172 and 173 !
  • + 3
 And he knows wheel size makes f all difference. No marketing BS from Martin.
  • + 2
 Wow. That bike looks really nice. And the article was spot on. Plenty of nerdy technical info, but still easy to read and absorb, and so down to earth, Martin is awesome.
  • + 2
 So @schwalbe , when is that Super Gravity Nobby Nic going to be available for purchase?
  • + 1
 150/160 travel on a 27.5 enduro bike seems a lot less than what I’ve been seeing. Used to seeing 160/170 rear and 170/180 front.
  • + 4
 That's why he can go so fast.
  • + 3
 Wait I spoke too soon thought you were talking about rotor sizes, regardless he still goes fast.
  • + 2
 Even the 29ers are running 170mm forks nowadays
  • + 2
 Is GT going to make a trail or enduro bike with the high pivot four bar system like the Fury?
  • + 1
 No 12 speed XTR on his or Rude bike. They say Rude is trying to figure out his crank arm length. I call B.S. as also seems a delay on new bikes outfitted with the 12 speed.
  • + 2
 If 29 is not necessary to win over 27.5 then
27.5 was never necessary for winning over
A 26" wheel ....
  • + 1
 Clearly an extremely talented rider, that relies on his own abilities, rather than bike setup (although tyre pressures seem important to him!) to make him faster.
  • + 2
 The numbers are nicer if you convert them into bar (1.65F and 1.85R). I'd say he's probably using that system and PB converted for us normal people Wink
  • + 2
 Big News... 29-ers don't make you faster !! Alarm at the PB Marketing Department, how are we going to spin this!!
  • + 2
 Rode a GT Fly and GT Performer as a kid. Thrilled to see the brand come back after a Pacific Cycle mishap.
  • + 2
 #gtbicycles yeahhh!!

Go Martin, full Gas!!
  • + 1
 The frame is good looking but I feel like GTs bikes graphics and logo are always a major letdown.
  • + 2
 What a boss. He knows he's fast and can prove it. Props to him!
  • + 1
 For us bike geeks, can someone explain the AOS sysytem and why it was troublesome. Thanks
  • + 2
 Are you really a bike geek if you don't know that tho?
  • + 1
 Never had a problem with mine at all on the old Force and it worked really well and was a great climber. It was linear digressive which was kinda odd but I think that may have been to great a linear feel throughout the travel . I could see that feeling good but it might not have any bottom out control. But I road the Force as a long travel trail bike so it never really mattered.
  • + 1
 Interesting that his set up is very similar to my bike! Why aren't I fast though
  • + 1
 Foot ON in the mud on the big bikes in France - Much more impressive!
  • + 1
 Def wanna try that new fury out.
  • + 1
 Good to see GT back at the top!
  • + 1
 Great kid, and a damn fast one! All the beat to you Martin!!
  • + 1
 Maes is a beast!
  • + 1
 HOW MUCH SAG ?!
  • + 1
 Damn..*best..
  • - 1
 Nice Remedy

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