AJ's Best of 2018 Title Image
It Was a Good Year

AJ's Best of 2018

Words AJ Barlas
Photos AJ Barlas Unless Noted
Date Jan 8, 2019

Croatia DH World Cup Opener

Racers and fans headed into the first Downhill World Cup of 2018 in Croatia with questions about the track's suitability for the world’s best downhillers. Once the downhill circus arrived in April the tune changed considerably. It turned out the stretch of rocky terrain leading racers to the shore of the Adriatic Sea was worthy. Not only that, it was down-right challenging.


To say the race was eventful is an understatement. Tight and rocky, the track forced racers to take note early on. The unrelenting assault of rock challenged the focus of the best DH racers in the world. Tactics shifted to preventing wheel damage and preserving momentum.

The race also gave insight into the changing of the guard. While they didn’t win, young racers like Luca Shaw, Dean Lucas, and Dakota Norton each placed in the top five. Jack Moir, Laurie Greenland and Loris Vergier placed well for a total of six young riders in the top ten. When not hampered by injuries, each continued posting strong results throughout the season.

Brook MacDonald Croatia crash

A gutted Brook MacDonald after crashing in his race run at the Lošinj World Cup. He qualified first but left with a broken collarbone. Photo: Red Bull/Bartek Wolinski


 Brook MacDonald has been quiet for a few years but he kicked off 2018 with a bang. He qualified in first, just over a second ahead of Dean Lucas. But Lošinj bit back, taking him down during his finals run and sending him home with a broken collarbone. Aaron Gwin held it together and won aboard his new YT Tues, with Luca Shaw showing he has what it takes, finishing eight-tenths of a second back. World Cup racing was back and I was stoked. Croatia showed that a track can be worthy of a World Cup event without a bike park, resort, or the Alps present, and the scenery from the area was phenomenal.

A Long Hot Dry Summer in B.C.

This definitely won’t sit well with everyone but heck, I’m a huge fan of hot, long, dry summers. It was a favoured element to growing up in Australia and despite a short stint chasing cold white blankets, I’ve resorted back to my old ways. So when we had an especially long dry period and the trails were loose and dusty this summer, I was right at home. 


norco-aurum-hsp-060918-ajbarlas-0583.jpg

I enjoy sucking dust through my full face in the summer heat. 


Despite my affection for desert conditions, there were times when I used to struggle. This year, thanks to my current bike setup, I rode comfortably in far worse conditions than previously. That enjoyment on top of already being warm and dry made me one happy Canalian!

This weather brought some downsides and the fire situation throughout B.C. was hectic in 2018. It still is in parts of California. My thoughts go out to all affected by fire in these areas. While I enjoy long hot summer days, I really hope the fire situation doesn't return. I'd happily move somewhere that is naturally warmer if B.C.'s climate reverts to cooler and wetter preventing the devastation seen in recent years. 

Fox 36 FIT GRIP2

Earlier this year Fox unveiled the GRIP2 damper in the new 36. The use of GRIP technology from wallet-friendly forks confused some riders at first but the new version built on the tech. The 2019 36 GRIP2 replaces the RC2 and offers a higher level of customization thanks to high and low-speed rebound adjustability in addition to high and low-speed compression. The air spring was also updated to provide a more linear curve, included a new mid-valve in the damper for improved mid-stroke support, and the re-worked system also moves with less friction. Externally it looks the same, but the 2019 Fox 36 rides quite differently to the already strong 36 RC2 that came before it.

2019-fox-36-float-x2-140618-ajbarlas-7326.jpg

The 2019 Fox FIT 36 GRIP2 damper is largely responsible for my positive experience with the fork. 


There’s always room for improvement and while I’ve never been 100% with a suspension package, the 2019 36 GRIP2 has been the most comfortable, externally tunable fork I’ve had the fortune to spend time on. There are heaps of great options available currently too, with current RockShox, DVO and Öhlins models at the top tier being impressive. But from the very first section of trail aboard a 2019 36, I was the most impressed. And once adjusted to suit it only got better. It's just been serviced after a long, hard year and feels fantastic on the currently wet and greasy trails.


Maxxis Assegai DH Tire

By now you may have figured out that I’m a fan of the new rubber from Maxxis. A more trail friendly version of the Assegai was on my Christmas list and the initial impressions were really positive. Most downhill bikes I’ve ridden in the last few years have come with a variation of the Schwalbe Magic Mary. Prior to that, I spent most of my time on the Specialized Butcher and Maxxis Minion DHF downhill tires. The Assegai takes the cake.

Maxxis_Assegai (7).jpg

Maxxis has copped a bit of flack for the name, but the "Arse-Guy" is an excellent tire. The name can be overlooked thanks to its performance. Photo: Maxxis



I’m not sure why everyone, including myself, was surprised by how good the Assegai is. Greg Minnaar is no fool when it comes to riding mountain bikes and is one of the most successful DH racers ever for good reason. Together Maxxis and Greg developed a tire that includes the best traits from some of the most popular Maxxis tires available.

The Assegai may be on the slow side but it provides a calm, almost effortless amount of grip in a variety of conditions. Transferring from straight-line to cornering is performed with great composure and when in between the two they remain positive and in control.

Brandon Semenuk & Rupert Walker’s AIM Video.

If my calculations are correct, Semenuk and Walker released six videos in 2018; three creative shorts, one banger for etnies and two RAW 100 videos. Every video oozes style and skill—both the riding and the filming/editing—but the one that resonated most with me was the latest, AIM. Contra was phenomenal from an artistic point of view and the images shot by Anthony Smith were something else. Inertia was also impressive, albeit more in the direction of a ripping trail video. However, AIM continued with the dark and artistic undertone I've grown to enjoy from Revel Co.



For me, AIM is the sharpest cheese from a gourmet selection. It had more flavour and that’s without getting into the riding. Semenuk is known to drop videos with something new or groundbreaking and his cab 5 drop in was pretty special. It stroked my BMX roots just the right amount but the size suited the mountain bike perfectly. The flip to manual on the down ramp, flip-whip to x-up can, the list goes on. AIM was progressive in every aspect.


Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.


On top of the amazing visuals and riding, the message behind the short struck me as well. Ever since losing my closest friend I’ve been driven to create a life filled with what I enjoy. It’s a more common goal today than it was for my parents' generation. It seems Brandon is on the same train with his move almost completely away from competition and toward creating content. He also just won the CRC Rally Big White (at time of writing), taking seven of the eight stages, and putting 6:20 into the second place car. Brandon has transcended our little sport of mountain bicycling and if he had followed a path that he didn’t fully enjoy, that likely wouldn't have happened.   


GeoMetron G16

I know this was part of my list last year but a lot has changed since. Long, low and slack is now more cliché than ever. Every brand under the sun is slowly edging away from dated geometry philosophies and toward a mountain bike specific shape. Especially with aggressive trail and all-mountain sleds. My eyes typically begin to wander after about eight–twelve months with a bike. Beyond twelve months I’ve typically closed in on something else but I continue to grow more fond of this bike.

GeoMetron G16 with 29-inch wheels

When I first shared my G16 it was rolling on 27.5-inch wheels. Now it rolls on 29-inch wheels and along with a number of other key changes, continues to impress. I'll highlight the updates in a separate article soon. 



Over the last year the setup of my G16 has changed considerably but in all scenarios, it’s been a joy to ride. It's not perfect but it is the closest I’ve ever gotten and I now realize the minor details I would change to get there. A year of riding without back pain is enough to seal the deal. Add more grip, confidence and ease and it's clear why I keep coming back to the GeoMetron.

But wait! Since first writing this, Nicolai and GeoMetron released their latest weapon. Interested in what they had done I looked into it and low and behold, they appear to have answered my concerns. Does it mean I'm getting a new bike? Not yet but I'll be honest, it does have my eyes wandering. At the very least it appears I needn't worry about a custom tweaked G16 frame… 



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Comments

Brian_Joseph
0
Brian_Joseph  - Jan. 8, 2019, 8:05 a.m.

AJ could you please comment on the G16 relative to riding without back pain?  I think a lot of us ride with back pain, i assume the improvement is due to geometry but you could specifically explain how this bike has helped (or direct me to a previous post on this subject)?

Reply

AJ_Barlas
+3 Cr4w Mammal mike
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 8, 2019, 9:21 a.m.

Hey Brian. As you assume, the G16 geometry has been the element to help rid me of back pain. Its length helps but more so it's the steep STA. I've found that being spread more and having my weight moved forward on the bike has been a huge help with my lower back. From this position, I can drive through the pedals better and keep stronger form. The longer rear helps too and this combination provides more traction with less maneuvering in the cockpit. This results in a quieter body, producing less "humping" to keep things moving. Hope this helps.

Reply

mammal
+1 AJ Barlas
Mammal  - Jan. 8, 2019, 12:15 p.m.

To add on to this... I tend to ride bikes that are a 3-5 years behind the curve (slack SA), and have dealt with back pain that's made worse by slack climbing position. 

Cutting edge geo aside, I've found it very helpful to slam the seat forward all the way. I know I'm not the only one out there doing this, but it really helped. This compromises some effective reach, so I actually sized up on the frame and slammed the seat forward.

I've since had a hardtail built up with custom geo, and that steeper seat angle is amazing for the back. I'm right over the pedals, and not levering through my torso as much when I'm grinding.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 8, 2019, 12:27 p.m.

Great to hear that you've found relief from steepening the STA too, Mammal. What custom hardtail did you get?

Reply

mammal
+2 Cr4w AJ Barlas
Mammal  - Jan. 8, 2019, 5:53 p.m.

Crimson is the pseudo brand, a buddy makes them.

Reply

peterbhorne
+2 Mammal Cr4w
Peter Horne  - Jan. 9, 2019, 10:44 p.m.

Its Brian! He's a legend.

Reply

mammal
0
Mammal  - Jan. 10, 2019, 11:01 a.m.

Lol, he certainly is... BK.

He very reluctantly agreed to my "progressive" geometry. In fact, he tortured himself for days over it (as is his way) until he finally made me come over and try my buddies old XL Crimson to make sure the length was OK. 

The bike's an absolute beauty, and fits great compared to my previous rides.

DemonMike
0
mike  - Jan. 8, 2019, 9:41 a.m.

What size frame is that G16 ?? One killer looking ride all blacked out like that.Also any chance of seeing this bike in person ??

Reply

nouseforaname
0
Nouseforaname  - Jan. 8, 2019, 9:56 a.m.

Mike - I'm pretty sure it's a Longest - from a previous article.

AJ - wondering what accommodations you made to the bike to run it in 29" trim, or did you just slap a fork and wheels in her and call it good?

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 8, 2019, 12:31 p.m.

Yes, this is a size "Longest" (Large). Nouseforaname, the change was done literally how you say. The low BB allows you to get away with it. Well, almost! I'm being picky but I would like it to be a tad lower. A follow-up article on the bike should be dropping soon and I discuss this in it.

Reply

nouseforaname
0
Nouseforaname  - Jan. 8, 2019, 12:37 p.m.

That's what I did with mine, but didn't feel like the BB was very low after measuring it < compared to my Trek Slash. I put in a couple of offset bushes. I'm not sure whether they'll stay or not - I've got a broken thumb so literally have almost no time on my bike before or after the change.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - Jan. 8, 2019, 12:52 p.m.

I just got my XL G16. I put the offset bushings in mine to steepen it up a tiny bit which made everything just come alive for me.

Reply

DemonMike
0
mike  - Jan. 8, 2019, 3:19 p.m.

How tall are you ?? going by their specs I would be on their smallest frame . It,s huge compared to my large Django. Curious if it will have room for a water bottle set-up. Similar to what you have done. I am roughly 179cm .

Reply

nouseforaname
+4 Cr4w AJ Barlas Andrew Major mike
Nouseforaname  - Jan. 8, 2019, 4:08 p.m.

Mike, if you're 179cm, you'd be a Longer frame for sure, not the Long (smallest). Because the seat tube is so steep, and the head angle so slack, the static Reach number doesn't do the sizing justice. They are also designed to be run with 30-35mm long stems instead of the usually 50+mm stems most bikes are fitted with. The Django has a Reach of 460mm (according to the Devinci website) so quite similar to my Slash.

When I compared my Large Slash to the Longest G16 there was'only' about an inch increase in the distance saddle to bars, something i felt i could live with - especially as that was all i found second hand in NA!  At 6'5" AJ is definitely on the tall end for a Longest - apparently he rode both that and Xtra Longest before buying the shorter size. At 180cm i'm on the low end for that frame size so it'll be interesting to see how it works out...

P.S  Apologies for the mixed units.

Reply

DemonMike
0
mike  - Jan. 8, 2019, 4:51 p.m.

Cool thanks for clearing the sizing up , no worries about the mixed units. I am from BC and as a machinist worked with it for decades. I used metric as they are based out of Europe.

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 9, 2019, 7:28 a.m.

All good points. FWIW I’m 6’3”. Thank gawd I’m not 6’5”!

DemonMike
+1 AJ Barlas
mike  - Jan. 9, 2019, 11:13 a.m.

I contacted Geo , they recommended a medium/longer frame . And stated further questions would help finalize my suited size. I will keep them on the radar for my bigger plow 29er.

craw
+1 mike
Cr4w  - Jan. 10, 2019, 11:39 a.m.

I'm 6'5". Don't judge the size solely on reach. As Nouseforaname says - those big reach numbers don't mean as much when you factor against the shortening effect of a really steep seat angle.

Reply

earleb
+1 Cr4w Nouseforaname Mammal
earle.b  - Jan. 8, 2019, 9:59 a.m.

That tube and pump under the tt  should land you on the Team Robot kill list. Just no.

Reply

nouseforaname
+4 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian AJ Barlas Cr4w
Nouseforaname  - Jan. 8, 2019, 12:38 p.m.

I think TeamRobot ended up on their own kill list.

Reply

earleb
0
earle.b  - Jan. 8, 2019, 1:08 p.m.

Very true.

Reply

CSM
0
CSM  - Jan. 8, 2019, 4:12 p.m.

AJ, can you compare your experiences between the Geometron and Pole Machine?  There don't appear to be too many people like yourself that have ridden both.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 9, 2019, 10:27 a.m.

That's a tough one. The time I've had on my G16, with everything setup exactly how I like versus a couple of hours on the Pole that was poorly setup for me make it pretty well impossible to comment on. What I can say is they were similar in feel, though the steeper STA on the Pole felt great. The steeper HTA was also noticeable, but again, improper setup (oversprung and overdamped) affects that a lot too. Sorry I can't be of more assistance at the moment.

Reply

craw
+1 AJ Barlas
Cr4w  - Jan. 10, 2019, 10:22 a.m.

I owned a Pole Evolink 158 before getting the G16. The Pole fit well and the geo was great but the Evolink isn't a tough bike and it was pretty flexible under me. I blew the Monarch twice due to sideloading (as evidenced by wear on the shock's internal components and external hardware). The Pole suspension is really peppy pedaling and the neutral/extending rear end is super fast but it's very very progressive (maybe too much). It was my intention to upgrade from the Evolink to the Machine but given my experience I couldn't justify it. The quality of the G16's construction is impeccable and the suspension is everything it needs to be.

Reply

agleck7
0
Agleck7  - Jan. 9, 2019, 9:04 a.m.

AJ - what tire would you choose on your trail bike: WTB Vigilante you reviewed or Assegai in DD?

Reply

AJ_Barlas
0
AJ Barlas  - Jan. 9, 2019, 10:29 a.m.

I need to spend time on the Assegai DD but it would be a very close call. From memory the quiet and controlled demeanour of each was similar but the braking was better with the Assegai (in the rear). However, I need to spend time with the Assegai on the same trails and terrain as the Vigi to comment on that for sure. Both have the possibility of being an excellent front tire. Will hopefully be able to comment at length in a review this spring/summer.

Reply

agleck7
+1 AJ Barlas
Agleck7  - Jan. 9, 2019, 10:49 a.m.

Thanks!  Excited to try the Vigi myself this season

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