GEE ATHERTON’S “THE SLATE LINE PROJECT” DOWNHILL BIKE WHEN YOU’RE AT THE TOP OF A 300M DROP, THE GROUND IS MOVING UNDERNEATH YOU AND YOU’RE AFRAID, WHAT BIKE WOULD YOU CHOSE?
There have definitely been projects where I’d reconsider certain features based on the impact they would have on my bike, it’s always in the back of your mind. If you have any doubts about your bike and its capabilities, then doubt starts to creep in everywhere; when you’re tackling this level of challenge you can’t afford any doubt. Being so involved with every aspect of this bike’s design – having Dan and Rach, Dave Weagle and our brilliant engineering team, all of us so involved with the last micrometre of the manufacturing process, you can’t underestimate that.
It’s a mullet so it allows me to get off the back more easily on the super steeps which means that the bike can move around more. Something that loads of our first customers have said is that the frame gives you confidence, and that’s definitely true for me; when I’m taking on these projects the frame’s strength needs to be an absolute given, The Ridgeline had already proved how tough the bike which was a brilliant piece of evidence to have in the back of mind when I was up on that hill waiting to drop in!
The DW6 suspension platform makes sure that I’m totally connected to every tiny contact point I can find in the trail but I still have the support I need for the massive hits. We’ve tested 12 iterations of DW6 Downhill bikes in the last year so we were really able to fine-tune the suspension and geometry. That level of testing and tuning in a short period of time is nearly impossible in other frame and suspension architectures.
Most of the time for racing I’ll run an air shock but to optimise small bump sensitivity for this line we softened the rear with a 525 lb coil shock, I like my suspension quite firm and we increased the high speed compression to hold her up in the bumps. Fox 40s on the front.
I guess the biggest difference to my race set up is tyre pressure. There is hardly any grip to be found on that loose slate, as soon as you set off, the whole surface is moving underneath you, trying to carry you down the mountain. I needed the tyres to have as much compliance as possible so we ran them ridiculously soft, sometimes as low as 18psi. The tyres were Continental Kaiser prototypes with Stans sealant and hubs and the slate was so sharp it was literally cutting the knobs off. Unbelievably in 7 days of intensive filming and at such low pressures, I finished the week with the same set of tyres I’d set out on
The rest of the set up was pretty similar to my race bike – brakes were super important so Trickstuff Maxima with 203mm rotors, on those long shady descents you need something you can rely on not to fade! The MRP chain guard definitely deserves a mention for taking a huge bashing in its stride, similarly the FSA cranks were reassuringly solid underfoot. That might seem like a small thing but it’s huge for me and vital in building my overall confidence. Those cranks proved their strength through that entire week of huge drops and constant rock strikes, it’s so impressive the amount of hammer I give these components on a project like this and 3 weeks later I’m still riding around on them.
I’m more than happy to admit that I was terrified up there but one thing I wasn’t worrying about was the bike. It was the same for the Ridgeline, it’s really important to me to show exactly how tough these bikes are and what they can do. I’m pleased to report that despite a couple of spills, both me and the bike are still in pretty good shape. I like my front end quite high which I guess is a hangover from BMX days and Its pretty unusual for this kind of freeride but I rode clipped in, I did for the Ridgeline too. I prefer the increased feedback from the pedals.
Gee’s Downhill Bike
Frame: Custom fit, Mullet : 480mm reach, 450mm chainstay. Custom carbon tubing joined by additive manufactured titanium lugs. Suspension: Fox DHX Coil shock, 525lb. Fox 40s Tyres: Continental Kaiser prototypes , Stan’s No tubes sealant Wheels and Hubs: Stans Brakes: Trickstuff Maxima. 203 mm rotors Cranks: FSA Gradient Chain Guide: MRP G4 Bars: Renthal 31.8 alloy 785mm wide Pedals: Crankbrothers Mallets