Science Plus Art Equals Speed
RockShox suspension testing with the Commencal Vallnord Team.
Pretend you’re a World Cup downhiller on the Commencal Vallnord Team, and you’re looking for another second—or split-second—of speed: What do you do to find that? There are the physiological things, like better physical conditioning and diet and more practice and looking for more creative lines. Sure, you’re always doing those things and you always will.
But what about the mechanical side of the speed equation? Here, you have what they refer to in motorsports as “balance.” Basically speaking, balance is the way a car, motorcycle or mountain bike is set up to give it optimal traction for a specific ground condition. For a World Cup racer and weekend warrior alike, balance is the confidence to ride the line you want to ride—at the speed you want to ride it. It’s the knowledge that the deft application of brakes just past that one gnarly root will set up the bike perfectly for that corner or rock drop or whatever. And finding perfect balance is pretty much equal parts art and science.
RockShox recently went testing with the Commencal Vallnord Team on their go-to test track in San Remo, Italy. It was our chance to help them find baseline suspension tunes for their new bikes as they prepare for the coming season.
“San Remo is one of hardest tracks—great for testing,” says team manager Thibaut Ruffin. “If it feels good here, we can go everywhere.”
This kind of testing is nothing new, really. Race teams do suspension testing—mostly with the help of technicians from their suspension sponsor—and we’ve been testing with athletes since the late 1980s. During this, like so many other sessions, RockShox technicians were able to custom tune the characteristics of the front and rear suspension to meet the wishes of each rider. It is a process that was already done for each Commencal bike that you can buy, but the wants and needs of the likes of Rémi Thirion and Myriam Nicole are slightly different than most riders.
This time around, however, there was another tool at the team’s disposal, one that they’re able to use to help dial in perfect air spring, compression and rebound settings for each track: Quarq ShockWiz. And despite their vast amount of experience both on the test track and in making mountain bikes go very, very fast, the team got its best lap times by following the ShockWiz data.
“We were more than impressed by the quality of the ShockWiz information,” says Ruffin. “Both for Myriam and Rémi—they followed the instructions given by ShockWiz and each time their feelings and their times confirmed the data. This will be a huge time saving during race days.”
Testing with an elite team is an extensive process. After a ton of runs and tweaks and conversations, the racers leave with suspension they like for their particular riding style, and the RockShox technicians leave with suspension data annotated in secret code.
And the race to the 2017 podium begins.
Photos by Keno Derleyn.