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What the pros ride

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Today’s top of the line cross-country mountain bikes are a combination of futuristic materials and genius engineering – the result of product development based on feedback from top cyclists riding in every condition imaginable.

We caught up with professional cross-country mountain biker, Niner Bikes and Team Clif Bar athlete Ben Sonntag AKA “the German” and got a look of one of his competition machines.

While no one knows for sure what the price tag is for this particular ride, consumer versions go for about $10,000.

“Ultimately, most races are won in the uphill,” Sonntag said. So, to him and every other competitive cyclist, fast and light is the name of the game.

1) Space age material

“You see a lot of carbon on bikes these days,” Sonntag said. “It’s all meant to make the bikes as light as possible.” The Niner Bike frame that he is riding, rear shock included, tips the scale at just over four pounds. The complete bike: 21 pounds.

2) Shock absorbing

Suspension design in mountain biking has become a precision art comparable to any of its motorized cousins, from Formula One to motocross. Sonntag’s dual suspension racer has four inches of travel, front and rear.

“It’s a good middle ground from XC racing,” he said. “You gain more traction and you gain more comfort, and can carry more speed over rough stuff. I have a lever to lock both on my handlebar.”

3) Stoplight

Hydraulic disc brakes are the norm on today’s mountain bikes. Oil-fed brake lines push brake pads onto alloy rotors and allow them to cool rapidly.

“Disc brakes, we know from cars and motorcycles work in all conditions, if it’s wet or dry, they perform very similar,” Sonntag said.

4) Hot wheels

Rotational weight weighs more than static weight – it’s pure physics. Wheels, of course, spin so they become a logical point to reduce weight. Again, engineers go to carbon fiber. Sonntag runs 29-inch Stan’s NoTubes wheels, three inches in diameter larger than the once-universal 26-inch wheel sizes.

5) Drivetrain

Part athletic strength and part efficiency, by re-thinking a bicycle’s drivetrain engineers have found sweet spots in gear ratios and use only one front chain ring instead of two or three.

“We still have a really big ratio of gears to choose from,” Sonntag said. “And you don’t have to worry anymore about dropped chains.”

6) Better treader

Sonntag’s 2.1-inch wide tubeless tires are from Maxxis, makers of tires for everything from cars, ATVs, motorcycles and extreme off roading.

“Even though we could go with a bigger, softer tire which would offer more grip on the descents, the uphill is where we make our races, so we choose a fast rolling tire.”

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