Seb Rides Many Bikes

Words Seb Kemp
Photos David Ferguson
Date Sep 23, 2010

Getting onto bikes was pretty hard (I will go into that later) but between the three of us we managed to ride 12 bikes. 

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

We would like to make one thing clear before you read any further. We only had a short time on each bike so this is by no means a comprehensive review, more of a flavour. Also for myself I was riding trails I was completely unfamiliar with so getting a feel of the bike was the best I could do whilst I was trying not to go OTB and get eaten by the flesh eating trail of Bootleg Canyon. However, we did ride which is more than can be said for the majority of media in attendance. Whilst we were out riding in the hot dry heat of the Nevada desert most others were in the shade knocking back beers and knocking out the occasional helmet cam quality video catalogues.

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Ben Reid and Ali Beckett of the Dirt/Norco team recently. One thing that stood out from my coversations with Ben is incredible eye for details especially in regards to the geometry of the bikes he rides. Ben had said he was a little reserved about the Norco DH before he had a chance to ride one, and when he did he was pleasantly surprised with the overall suspension characteristics and geometry of the bike. 

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

He and fellow Dirt team member, Dan Stanbridge have been working hard with PJ the engineer to design a brand new DH bike for next year. Unfortunately you will have to wait to see that baby, but rest assured with the experience and precision of Ben Reid, suspension knowledge of Dan Stanbridge (he used to race and work for MOJO who are based in Wales and are one of the leading suspension tuning centres in the industry), and PJ who has a solid background in high performance engineering for motor racing, the next bike will be something really special. 

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, back to 2011. The Norco DH was a pleasure to blow the Vegas cobwebs away on Monday morning. It relies on the tried and tested four bar FSR suspension platform which provides a plush small bump compatibility and eats up bigger hits and high speed dinosaur teeth trail hazards. Also despite the relatively tall looking silhouette of the bike the bikes centre of gravity does feel nice and low down. Coupled with the geometry on this red rocket it likes to maneuver around the trail and corners well. 64 degree headangle seems like a sensible headangle for race heads and pinners.

I couldn’t find anyone from Cove to ask about the changes as I happened across this white smear of stealth on the ELKA stand. What I can tell you is that this is a 2010 and a half model. Apparently there will be more changes, namely to the linkage which will give the bike a lowerage leverage ratio. This one appeared to have a new tube set, tube profile and few modes but still essentially the same Cove Shcoker that has proven to be a good DH bike in many places for so long. The seat tube is uninterrupted now, the tubes are narrower but lead towards a 1.5″ headtube, and I believe the overall weight has been reduced by 13/9ths of a pigs bladder on a full moon in a leap year…which means I have no idea exactly how much but I did notice it was lighter to the touch than previous incarnations.

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

As I said earlier I was sniffing around the ELKA stand when I saw the Cove Shocker. It made sense to kill two birds with one stone and take out the Shocker with an Elka rear shock. However, I would like to emphasise that I will not be making any solid asertions in regards to the performance of either the Shocker or the Elka because A) I’ve not managed to ride an older Shocker on this trail so comparison is difficult B) I haven’t ridden the Shocker with another shock so I can’t say what difference the Elka made C) We couldn’t get that much riding time on each bike. However, I tell you more about the Elka way of doing things and hopefully they will be sending a test shock that we can fit into our own bikes and hammer on our own trails, for a suitably longer time.

Elka have been in power sports for ten years now (by power sports I believe he means sledding and moto rather than power lifting or fist pumping). They custom build shocks for each customer and can even offer very special fine tunes and builds to whatever specs you could possibly want. So if you have always thought your bike could do with a 12 inch long 5 inch stroke shock with a curled shaft and leopard print medium speed rebound adjusters they could probably build it for you. However, they probably wouldn’t because they are serious about suspension performance in the real world not the forums world inhabited by 15 year old idiot savants.

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

Anyway, if you did want to procure a more sensible shock then you would do this:
1. Call them up (email would work too, fax possibly, a hand written letter would work but might slow the process down a little)
2. Tell them what bike model (include the year too) it is for.
3. Tell them your weight so they can figure out spring rate (be honest, it’s not a competition sweetie. You look simply marvelous in that dress).
4. Tell them what kind of riding you are into so they can custom valve the damping circuits (again be honest and self-reflexive. Don’t go tell them you are as fast as Sam Hill if actually you prefer crawling on teeter tooters and hucking off bus shelters).
5. Wait 10-15 days for your lovely new shock to arrive.

WARNING: the following is slightly techy and may lead to, at best, extreme boredom, or at worst, a coma to which you may never awake. Unless of course you care more for the internals of your shock than you do about the internals of your girlfriends complex emotional state of being.

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

So inside the Elka shock there is 12 shims on the compression circuit and 10 or 11 on the rebound. Each shim (which are like tiny thin washers stacked on top of each other in a stack) can be fettled. A shim can alter in its thickness (or thinness in this case) and the diameter of the hole. A skilled suspension tuner can change just the configuration of your shim stack to radically alter the characteristics of your bike. Because of this the Elka shock only needs to come with three adjusters; One for rebound, one for high speed compression and one for low speed compression. However, most of the major tuning is done in the configuration of the shim stack and if the tuner gets it right then your won’t need to play with the dials much at all. Most shocks that come stock on bikes are simply that, stock. Often factory tuned the least and to suit the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator). Which is why me and you could ride the same bike and come up with different impressions of the bike, because I know I need a thinner ring that isn’t blown out…

The Trance is possibly a boring bike. Not exactly boring, but it doesn’t stir the boner senses like many bikes. It’s irritatingly well designed and well specced but it feels like nothing. It just feels like a focus group of LCDs designed it in a laboratory. Everyone knows this bike. It is like a Ford Mondeo. However, it is a good bike. It works, it’s well priced and well specced. And it was the bike that all top three finishers of the 4Queens rode. Actually, forgive me if i’m wrong but 4 of the top five rode one.

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

Anyway, this year Giant have slackened it by .5 degree for more aggressive riding, added a tapered headtube for stiffness up front (where you need it baby), given it a straight top tube for lighter weight (minimal but everything counts), and a pressfit BB for strength, compatibility and ease of manufacture (like you care).

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

Anyway, these are good moves but still slight refinements. Giant aren’t going to go out and revolutionized anything overnight, they chip and tune and tweak to suit the most amount of people most of the time. And thats the issue. I like this bike and want to ride it more because lets face it, its a good allrounder that is relatively well specced at this price point. However, because they are trying to please the most amount of people they have skipped a few beats. Namely, long stem. Why oh why do I want a slacker stiffer bike if i’m still restricted by a bloody rudder of a steering device? I know that a lot of rider still think a long stem is good for the kind of riding they do, but if they actually did ride a better steering set up they might actually become better riders. Anyway, thats me, fighting against the tide of aging lycra bandits who are taking their technique and knowledge of road bikes to mountain biking situations…


The APP is the anti-acronymn. It’s half this and half that, but ends up being more than the sum of two differing halves. Like cutting a tiger and a lion in half, sticking them together and getting a rocket fueled Liger. In this case, which is real life and not a Napoleon Dynamite daydream, this means they have taken the single pivot added a rocker link and so has the benefits of both systems. In the Single Pivots case, the placement of the pivot creates a slight degree of anti-squat, which allows for lively pedaling response, and the high-forward positioning provides a more neutral braking reaction than other lower, more rearward, locations. And as for the linkage it gives a variable shock rate more like the full blown VPP bikes (Nomad, Blur, V-10, and the err…Tallboy).

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

However, this overview is starting to sound more and more like a catalogue which I know Santa Cruz wouldn’t like. They would probably be 6 beers deep and playing some garden game in the shade, like they were during the dirt demo. So hold on a moment why I pour Cam, Fergs and myself a tequila (a lovely estate bottled Anejo if you care to know. I love the states and it’s hyper cheap liquor).

Ahhhh, thats better, so what was I saying? Ah the Nickel! So the Nickel is the 125mm version. A slightly more feathery implement for cutting and carving trails on the face of things. However I found the 68degree headangle and stable geometry (longer cockpit, low BB) of the Nickel to give this bike some balls to attack the trails whilst going down, and the short rear end makes it climb very well indeed. The geo of the APP bikes is very different to the VPPs. Slightly slacker (relatively speaking), longer cockpits, and shorter rear ends means that it is the kind of geo that provides riders with a lot of confidence and stability. This is a friendly geometry, the kind of geometry that you instantly feel like very good friends with, you trust them, and you know that no matter how long it is between meetings you will always be on the same page. Good for intermediates who don’t want to be bitten yet with the kind of characteristics that turbo trail chargers will like the smell of.

Anyway, that will be the strong pour of the tequila speaking. I will finish up by saying that the Nickel has a tapered headtube and can although comes with a 130mm fork it could take more. I would personally but a burly fork up front but keep the travel down to still keep the axle to crown down but had lots of strength and flex resistance. Then it could be raced when needed but still have the pumping bulging loins of the Liger it is. The Nickel starts at $2200.

I would of liked to have got onto the Butcher which is the 150mm travel APP and I think would suit those with even more gnar tendencies, particularly from the Sea to Sky Corridor. However the Dirt Demo is full of riders who also want to ride the bikes you do. However, not everyone is built equal. For one it’s really hard to get on the bikes you want to actually ride because there are too many people at the Dirt Demo. It is supposed to be a chance for retailers, distributors and media to get their hands on the bikes and get a feel for the product out there. However, there seems to be a huge percentage of hacks that have slipped through the rigorous badge printing process and who are just there to have a ride on some bikes for free. They don’t know what, they don’t care what. They are just here to grab a lovely fresh new bike and take it out and smash it, because, as I heard the Lycra Bandit (see yesterdays pictures) say as he rides off down the trail with both tires flat “It’s not my bike, I don’t care, haha.”

seb kemp, dirt demo 2010, santa cruz, norco, nickel

Seriously, whats the point in manufacturers and companies spending a lot of time and money to bring a very expensive fleet of bike here if they are going to be so slammed fending off requests for vagrants, and fixing broken bikes for the growing queue of vagrants who want to break them again?

I had one dude at the Santa Cruz tent come and push past me (nothing new, no one in Vegas has manners, but thats OK, they are on holiday from everything, including manners) and ask for a large bike. When told that the only large bikes currently available at that time was the Driver 8 and the Tallboy he replied that he didn’t care so long as it is large. I turned to him and asked (politely) whether he knew what each bike was and the difference between them. He replied that he didn’t, but he didn’t care so long as it was large. I bit my lip and asked whether he was planning on doing some DH or more XC style riding on his TEST lap. He said “Son, I don’t know what you are saying, so long as I gets myself a bike damn it I don’t care if it triple x or not”. It’s at this point I should of directed him to the Ellsworth tent or perhaps the Hannebrink stand. I didn’t, I was crying inside.

This and other such dumbfounded incidents happened a lot over the two days. I am glad I don’t work as a demoist because I might be a murdering demoist after no time at all. Those guys must have the patience of saints.

The thread for Dirt Demo commentary is right here…


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