AE019 01 23 - Michael’s ÄXE - A race inspired bespoke trail bike designed to slay Sweet Sussex Singletrack...
Our background is un-ashamedly born in racing so when I start designing a mountain bike frame it has to have a XCO race bike DNA. But for most riders a pure old-school race bike is far too limiting - a modern trail bike needs to be able to take on Welsh and Scottish Trail-Centres as well as being faster than a cheetah on cocaine on your local Thursday night loop.
Luckily modern XCO race courses have also evolved over the years and the grassy road-races of the 90s are now firmly behind us - multiple proper trail features are now commonplace in International and National level racing and therefore XCO bike design has also leapt forward. Being involved as a mechanic (and as a rider) has allowed me to understand what a professional racer wants and needs from a bike - I’ve then distilled all the best bits of modern XCO and trail bike geometry, and produced what I think is, the finest hardtail mountain bike frame available.
Of course the beauty of working with a blank sheet of paper is I’m not limited to any one set of angles and measurements, and each client will discuss a unique brief before we start - in this case Michael wanted a bike that he can ride all day on our local trails, take on the odd trip further afield to somewhere like Wales or the South Downs, but also something which he can use for coaching, which he does most weeks for his club. This meant that I’d design the bike slightly more toward the Trail end of the spectrum rather than an out-and-out XC Racer.
In reality this makes very little difference to the geometry - I went half a degree slacker at the front (creating a longer front centre) and I also made the rear centre very slightly longer. The long wheelbase adds stability which is good at high speed on the Downs, but also brilliant for low-speed technical riding which is important as a coach. Crucially this is possible because I use a relatively steep seat angle (for an XC bike) and because brands are now offering different fork offsets.
One of the first things people often ask when I mention steel bike frames is, are they not really heavy? I mostly use Reynolds 853 double/triple-butted tubing which is just about the lightest stuff you can get and usually the difference between my bespoke frames and the factory carbon frames is in the region of around 200-350 grams. In short there’s much better places to save weight. What that tiny weight penalty gets you is a frame that fits you better and, I believe, handles better and keeps you fresher.
Next up are the wheels - our ULTIMÄTE HWEÓLS feature lightweight carbon rims with a 30mm internal width, suited to modern technical riding. Not only does the wider width put more tyre in contact with the ground it also produces a squarer profile to the tyre which is especially good for wet or loose sidegrip, where you’re constantly looking for traction. Often on a mountain bike your speed is limited by your surroundings and therefore ultimate rolling resistance isn’t as important as grip and stability - at some point I’ll write a proper wheel blog about how to choose what’s right for you, but in this instance grip is king! Like many of the other wheels I offer these rims were laced to Hope hubs using bladed spokes and brass nipples. Hope hubs because they’re the best, bladed spokes because they’re the strongest and brass nipples for ease of maintenance for years to come.
Braking is taken care of again by Hope - I commonly use the excellent X2 calliper on most of the XC builds, but Michael may use this bike at some point on holiday in the mountains so we went for the beefed up E4 callipers which are essentially the same, except they feature 4 pots rather than 2 to better control the heat and therefore modulation on longer/steeper descents. The Tech 4 levers are clamped to Hope’s own carbon low-riser bar - along with the carbon post and XC stem the finishing kit is super light, strong, but also compliments the steel frame nicely to help reduce any/all vibration from the trail.
I’m not overly worried about weight (although it seems to be a common worry for people and I’ve mentioned it several times in this blog), but the first thing Michael said when I delivered the bike was, “wow, it doesn’t weigh much!” He then immediately tested this by plunging down the first red run, with me desperately trying to keep up, and his verdict at the end was, “it feels very planted”. I guess one of those comments in isolation could be taken either way, but the combination of them means to me, that I think I got it right! We blasted down a few more runs and gave the bike a proper shakedown - I really like being present for the first ride as it gives the client a lot more confidence. You forget how many little details you forgot to point out or explain and a decent ride is the perfect time to go through all those things - or it could just be a good excuse for a ride! Either way there’s nothing like seeing the bike you made being ridden and the resulting smile on the face of it’s new pilot! If you’re interested in building your own bike for off-road or road please get in touch via the contact form or the contact details on the website (www.aeightbikeco.com).
Michael coaches for Bedgebury Forest CC (See the Facebook Group for the latest Coaching and Racing Information).
Photos and words by Glen Whittington
Full Gallery Here; https://www.flickr.com/photos/aeightbikeco/albums/72177720306933074
#aeightracer – Glen’s an ex-racer who still finds time to ride bikes for #SDWRacing. He started racing in 1998, initially specialising in XCO and Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike. He became a mechanic in 2002, working in shops and also for professional race teams. During this time he spent more time racing ‘Cross and Road, and then also TT. In 2013 he built his first bespoke steel frame and then spent several years at Roberts learning the art. Since then he’s designed and tested, alongside our CØLLECTIVE, his ØNE, ÄXE, HMŔ and GÅR platforms which he now offers to the public as part of his ÆIGHT brand.
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GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?
We’re always looking for riders to be part of our ÆIGHT CØLLECTIVE. The #aeightbikeco is about doing things a little differently - Rather than a jersey being the common theme, we kit our riders out with bespoke steel bikes and handbuilt wheels made in our Sussex workshops, the ÆIGHT WHEELWØRKS and the ÆIGHT MANUFACTØRY. We then support each other at events and races regionally, nationally and internationally - whether that’s for mountain bike, ‘cross, gravel, crit, road or TT - it’s what we call, the #protectedriderprogram
The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club - that includes racing in your club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we work with, mostly so we can standardise shared equipment, but your own sponsors and clubs are almost always welcome. We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of the #aeightbikeco then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to firstname.lastname@example.org