by Felix Burke
Living out of a vehicle and travelling from one spot to the next for two months requires a slightly different setup than riding 15-minute laps of a race course as fast as possible does. I wanted a setup that would be reliable and versatile. I wanted to be able to ride new locations without having to worry about breaking parts and I wanted to be able to ride a wide variety of trails without changing anything. The good people at Rocky Mountain Bicycles know how to get a bike dialled and their support was paramount in putting this setup put together for the trip. The bike worked perfectly on everything from the long and flowy descents of Oregon to harsh rock ledges and cactus spines of Arizona and Utah.
The foundation of the setup is the 2018 Rocky Mountain Element Carbon 90 XCO. The frame is designed to be an aggressive XC bike. With its sealed cartridge bearings at all pivot points and two water-bottle cages, it is perfect for long ride after long ride. I did not clean it once on the trip and it worked perfectly every time.
The Element frame rides on Race Face Next SL carbon wheels. These are light, important for long rides, but really stiff and strong. With a relatively wide 26-mm internal rim width, I get a little extra volume in the tires, which can let me get away with some sketchier lines without worrying about smashing the rim. The wheels can handle the hits though. I have yet to put a dent in them. Trust me, I have tried!
The tires I chose are a 2.3″ Maxxis Minion DHF on the front and a 2.25″ Maxxis Ardent on the back, both with EXO protection. I find this is a good combination for a very wide variety of trails. I did not have a single flat on the trip.
The drivetrain and brakes are Shimano’s electronic XTR Di2. I used a 32-tooth front chainring and an XT 11-46 tooth cassette. From experience, I have to be riding faster than 45 km/h with the 32-tooth chainring and the 11-tooth cog to spin out. It is pretty rare that you pedal while going that fast on a mountain bike. The 46-tooth cog in the back gave me plenty of leverage to get up the steep hills, too. I did not run out of gears at any point on the trip, except when accidentally trying to ride the Hiline trail in Sedona backwards. Good luck making it up that though…
The squishy parts are from Fox. I am riding the 100-mm Factory 32 Stepcast fork (two volume spacers) and the 100-mm Fox Factory Float DPS shock. These are the best you can get for XCO racing and they served me well during the season, but for a trip like this I would have taken the Fox 34 (120 mm) up front. I don’t mind the 100 mm in the back. It keeps me humble. I hope it will help me put a dent in those darn Race Face wheels!
The final touches on the bike are a Race Face dropper post which worked flawlessly, a WTB Silverado saddle that has seen a lot of bum time, Race Face bar and stem (710-mm bars and 70-mm stem) and finally an extra safety measure when things get spicy presented by OneUp Components. I use that company’s chainguide and EDC multi tool, which slides right into my head tube, out of sight and out of mind until I need it.
Felix Burke is cross country racer from Mont-Tremblant, Que., training in Victoria, while studying at the University of Victoria. In 2018, Burke achieved his goal of winning the Canada Cup XCO series overall. He is sponsored by Rocky Mountain, as well as all the other partners of the Rocky Mountain Factory Team. When returning to studies and training this past September didn’t feel right, Burke decided to find answers on the trail. Where the Trail Leads is Burke’s story of the journey that followed.