Great downhill bikes consist of many attributes – good suspension design, effective geometry, a good pedaling platform, overall front/rear balance, stiffness in the chassis while being forgiving under certain circumstances, and a reasonable weight.
But what is that effort, design and investment all aimed towards ? In my opinion, there is one single outcome that is required for ultimate success and that single factor is traction.
I've been fortunate to spend 2011 on the saddle of a Morewood Makulu and it's been a hell of a good experience. Over 500,000 vertical feet of riding, with the Makulu handling the vast majority of that. Almost 30 days on lift assisted bike parks, and 60 days of riding. I've benchmarked myself against my peers and riding buddies, and the Makulu has delivered phenomenal progression. Faster, smoother, more aggressive, more confident, more natural and responsive on the bike, while having more fun than ever before. Every single day, riding with a huge grin on my face as I push the bike and myself harder.
Back to the issue of traction….I've run fresh new Minion DHF's front and rear all season....and I'm on to my third fresh rear tire. With that combination, trying to break the back end free on hardpark, loose, rock, or any sort of root cluster has been a vain effort. The Makulu has shined in every possible way but its ultimate defining characteristic has been traction. The Makulu has delivered pure, absolute grip under all possible conditions and on every type of terrain.
I'm not the sort of rider that likes to drift the back end, and I prefer a confident predictable feel for my bike. As I push on into a speed and type of riding that's new to me, I want to have all my concentration focused on where I'm going, without fuss or distraction. And I'm of the opinion that traction is the key to overall faster speeds in DH riding. Your rubber is the only contact point with the ground, so to keep that grip at a maximum is critical.
I recently spent a day at Sun Peaks – one of the burliest, roughest bike parks in BC. Dry loose conditions with the trails running fast were a perfect scenario to test the Makulu out. She was perfectly matched to the steep haggard singletrack, dropping endlessly through fast fall line trails. Long, intense trails demanding attention and constant focus. Shredding down steep sections almost sideways with the bike refusing to submit to the loss of any traction, holding lines through loose marbly dusty sections at speeds that were new to me.
So to sum up my time on the Makulu, it has all the many positive characteristics of a great DH bike, but simply delivers traction at phenomenal levels. Traction defines this bike in every single sense. It seems to have been designed to hold lines through any possible terrain, and boost over then back into terrain to maintain a traction mode that carries so much speed and delivers so much confidence, it's simply ridiculous. An unfair advantage, even.
One challenge for the season has been suspension setup. Running a Cane Creek Double Barrel can be a steep and tough learning curve. I once read book called The Dip written by a business writer called Seth Godin. Not one of those dull boring textbooks, it's actually very relative to life in general. In The Dip he writes about examples where people either gave up, when they are so close to achieving success, and he provides cases where people fought past their challenges to achieve great things.
At one point I was close to wondering if I'd ever get my Double Barrel tuned properly for the Makulu. Don't get me wrong, it was good, and it rode well, and I was progressing, but it wasn't amazing, and didn't quite feel like the glowing reviews and rider feedback that had set my expectations. But I carried on testing and discussing the bike and it's suspension with my riding network. A bit of rethinking and some brainstorming took me past “the dip”. I was on it….into a new world where the Makulu hit a new peak of performance. Lesson learned; never give up and push on to the next phase. Whether you race, train, cross train, etc, your “next level” is so close. Just don't give up, or settle for where you're at.