After spending a good amount of time riding our local DH trails, and considerably less at the bike park, I decided it was time to change my DH ride, a Trek Session 88FR into a full-blown downhill steed. The first release of the Session 88 was offered in two configurations: Freeride and Downhill. With the same chassis at the heart of the bike, the only differences were the components and fork. The DH race specific model, was spec’d with weight conscious components: SRAM’s XO group, and a Fox 40 fork. The freeride model was set up with Shimano Saint, and a Rockshox Totem. I ended up going with the FR model as it looked to be a more versatile set-up for the traveling we were doing at the time. When I first decided on this bike, I had always planned at some point on setting it up as a dedicated downhill ride- all it needed was a dual crown fork.
Truth be told, I loved the graphics of the FR designated model, and was psyched on the more durable Saint group that was spec’d on it and the uber-powerful brakes.
The new Boxxer fork has been redesigned for 2010- the upgrades put it on par with the Fox 40, but from my experience with SRAM forks, and after seeing all the maintenance issues my fellow riders have been having with the 40, the Boxxer has my name all over it. While it may not have been the best financial choice at the moment, the opportunity was there, so I pulled the trigger. Initially I had been looking at the entry level Boxxer Race model, as it’s considerably more affordable, but the 2010 Boxxer Team model with its upgraded internals really offered the tunability I was looking for. It also comes in white, which quite simply, would really look sharp on the bike. (see ladies, color matters to us too)
The weight on the Totem was listed at 2874g; (6.33lbs) the Boxxer was listed at 2989g.(6.59lbs) It looked like I would be getting a slight increase in weight for the additional inch of travel I was gaining. I’m not obsessed with weight, but anyone that tells you they don’t care how much their bike weighs either never pedals it, or just can’t afford to spend more. In this case, the weight gain should be easily offset by the savings I would get by changing out the brick-like Deity stem I was running, (which, while it was heavy, was reassuringly stiff) to a direct mount stem.
The cool thing about changing up the components in the cockpit, is that these are the components on your bike you look at the most. Adding new parts here was really going to complete the transformation from FR to DH and give that fresh new bike feeling. After some looking, I decided to go with a combination Sunline Bar and Stem. I have been running the V-One OS Bar in the 38mm rise with the Totem and really have liked it. To keep my bar height constant with the increase in travel, I chose the 19mm rise version of the same bar. It’s a strong but lightweight (listed at 260g for the 3/4 rise) DH bar, with a really nice sweep. The 29″ width is long enough without feeling too wide, and provides both leverage and stability at speed. I’m a fan of the bead blasted finish as well, since it will still look good even after it gets marred up from getting jostled around in the shuttle truck. (hopefully not too soon- I hate that)
Last time I ran a direct mount stem on a Boxxer I went with the E.13 model. This time I decided to try the Sunline model, as the finish not only matches the handlebar, but the graphics of the bike as well. At 147g for the 50mm length, it is respectably light, and the machining on the stem is really something to look at.
One thing I really like about the stem is the the 3 piece design. The one piece face plate adds a nice level of stiffness and holds the entire unit together. It has a reassuringly solid look considering how little material is there, holding the bars on.
To cap it off, I elected to complete the set by adding bolt-on grips from Sunline. In a dramatic change for me, I decided to go with the thicker grips. With an integrated bar-end cover, they look really good; the low profile flanges are nice as well, while staying out of the way of shifter operation.
The installation went smoothly. A few additional parts were needed to make it all come together. The stock Totem fork had a 1.5″ to 1 1/8″ tapered steerer necessitating the purchase of a lower crown race to adapt the 1.5″ lower cup to accept the 1 1/8″ Boxxer steerer. Fortunately, as reported on previously, Cane Creek offers parts for their headsets as needed off their site directly. A few clicks and I had the correct crown race in hand. I also needed a disc brake adapter in order to continue running the 8″ rotor on the Saint brake. The Totem had post mounts, which the caliper directly mounted to. The Boxxer also now comes with post mounts, but it is set up for 6″ rotors, as many pro racers, like Steve Peat run the smaller rotors to save weight. I’ve been considering trying the smaller size as well, as the new Saint brakes offer gobs of stopping power. In fact, my brakes work so well that I’ve been experiencing constant spoke breakages with the stock Bontrager Big Earl Wheels. They keep warrantying the wheels though, and I keep replacing the spokes in the mean time. At some point I’m going to want to get off the crazy train, and decreasing the stopping power slightly could put an end to my spoke issue.
How does it ride?
After getting everything installed, I recently had an opportunity to get out and get some shuttle runs in on the new setup.
The fork’s action was sticky out of the box- rubbing some fork oil on the stanchions and cycling the fork a few times has helped loosen it up a bit, but it still feels slow. To counter that, I began the initial settings with everything wide open. It feels pretty good so far, but will take a bit of tweaking and dialing in before I have her set the way I want. Even with the rebound set on fast, it still feels a bit sluggish on the rebound. I tend to run my rebound fairly quick, for pop of jumps, and so I can pull up into manuals easily. I’m going to have to investigate this further, as I tried doing a manual off the last 10 feet to a drop off of a elevated ladder- and ended up dropping the front end. I had to really lean back to avoid disaster on that one. Fortunately the transition of the landing was ample.
The extremely low temperatures aren’t helping with the tuning either. In fact, our trails have pretty much frozen; making for an interesting cornering experience. I’m unsure if the cold has been effecting the settings, so I will have to put some more time in before doing anything further, like opening up the fork.
Geometry and handling
I’m still adjusting to the changed ride height and geometry. I found myself over steering quite a bit, but once I get used to it, it shouldn’t be an issue. Our trails go from steep and fast to some tight and techy turns, with roots sticking out everywhere, and I was constantly over correcting. It’s no biggie, just the matter of getting used to the feel of riding a full on DH bike, vs. a Freeride bike. The bike feels solid, and the front end is super stiff- not that the previous set up wasn’t reassuringly solid as well. At the moment, the biggest issue I’m having trouble getting used to is the increased width of the grips. I may be doing some dremelling to customize the grips a bit, or going back to thinner grips. The headset adjustment loosened up on me- an issue I had with my last Boxxer. I ended up running an Azonic Headlock to avoid any issues. I’m keeping an eye on that one, as riding a loose headset is the fastest way to destroying a frame and voiding a warranty.
The bike now has a very different personality. With the Totem, the bike felt as if it got up to speed more quickly- with the Boxxer, it feels better once you’re up to speed. The single crown felt really good for burly trail riding where the quicker handling was nice. The dual crown fork just begs to go faster.
So far though, I’m stoked.