Inside the Pro’s Bikes – Greg Herbold
I have been fortunate enough to have worked with SRAM and related SRAM brands for over 25 years. Many of those years were spent racing, freeriding and exploring, as well as working with almost every other division of the company. However, the one aspect that excites me the most, and probably the one task I am most proud of, is being a product development test rider. From the RockShox MAG 20 to the current Pike fork, and Gripshift ESP to the SRAM XX-1 drivetrain, serious progress is taking place, and we the riders are shredding sweeter than ever. Nice.
As a product development test rider, it is important that I have test bikes that range from lightweight XC race machines to full-on downhill bikes and basically everything in between. I would love to show all the MBA readers what SRAM is working on right now (probably to be introduced in 2016–2018), but my contract forbids it. However, I think it would be cool to share some very interesting and, for me, very entertaining bikes. Some of these test bikes are perhaps new to the traditional marketplace but are suddenly becoming very relevant, plus I just think these bikes are cool.
Name: Greg Herbold
Nickname: HB, H-Ball, Hbizzle, Herbs
Birthdate: December 11, 1962
Birthplace: Denver, Colorado
Shoe size: 45
Helmet size: Small
Waist: Waist, 34; success belly, 44
Marital status: Married 20 years to Deborah
Current home: Ranch in Durango Colorado; home with shop in Moab, Utah
Cars: Ford F-150 truck and Ford Flex (both with Eco-Boost engines)
Started racing: 1984
Turned pro: 1987
Racing specialty: I raced all disciplines: cross-country, hill-climbs, downhill, dual slalom, trials, Scot Trials, eliminator races and even road.
Favorite course (U.S.): Probably Mount Snow, Vermont
Favorite course (Europe): Any race in France
Favorite food: Pizza
Goals: Have fun every day
Heroes: Many of my racing counterparts, old motocross racers
Favorite recording artist: Led Zeppelin
Favorite movie: Terminator, Zoolander and, of course, the greatest mountain bike movie ever, Tread!
Favorite hobbies: Motorcycles (I own like 25 of them), RC cars, off-road cars.
Jobs held (other than racer): Dishwasher, motorcycle mechanic, bicycle mechanic
Most embarrassing moment: Racing a circuit race in the rain in my underwear (tighty-whities) at the Ross stage race in 1987. They were not white by the finish.
Always takes on a trip: Comfy shoes, Tums
What you would be if you were not a racer: Probably a salesman or a movie star, or maybe a spy.
Current sponsors: SRAM, Rockshox, Avid, Truvativ, World Bicycle Relief, Continental, Oakley, Troy Lee Designs, Camelbak, Giro, HPI Racing, Yamaha Blu Cru
1986 Norba Single-speed National
1987 Dual Slalom Champion
1988 Norba National Downhill Champion
1989 Norba National Downhill Champion
1990 UCI World Downhill Champion
1991 North American Downhill champion
1992 I got 2nd place a lot
1993 Norba National Points Series
1994 I had amazing skinsuits;
8th World Championships
1995 Farewell tour
1996 Inducted into the Mountain Bike
Hall of Fame
2010 USA Cycling Masters Downhill
National Champion 40+
INSIDE THE PROS’ BIKES
I acquired the KHS before 650b bikes became 27.5 bikes. Kudos to companies like KHS and Jamis for adopting and producing the new in-between size early, and my initial testing confirmed that the 27.5-inch size had the benefit of the fun and playfulness of a 26-inch wheel and the rolling and momentum bonus of the bigger 29-inch size. I used this bike for a year or so, then it kind of was hanging up in the shop, mostly getting used by visiting friends. So, I decided to rebuild the KHS into something exciting and a bit more modern. It turned out sweet!
Some frames end up being really good for testing, and the KHS is one of them. Proven FSR suspension with the Horst Link has always been one of my favorites, and the design really allows the rider to feel the rear shock performance. Standard threaded BB shell, full-length external cable and brake-hose routing, standard rear shock length and hardware, 135-millimeter QR rear end, high direct front-derailleur mount, and even the placement of the bottle cage make this bike perfect for switching out test parts in a jiffy. Solid-build alloy construction of the frame also means you do not have to worry about scratches, dents or shuttle dings. The geometry is pretty old-school by today’s trailbike standards (steep and high), so I made some changes to make the KHS more of a “leaning” steering bike and better suited for the rough trails around Moab.
This is a very early prototype sample of the Pike fork with dual-position air. I like how it is totally stealth with no decals or logos or even writing on the knobs. It has had a few internal parts replaced, but otherwise just keeps performing nicely, which is a great indicator of a potentially very successful product, which the Pike fork has become. The travel is 150 millimeters, which, when mated to the 135-millimeter rear suspension, the longer fork kicks the front end up and out, slackening the head angle of the frame. I occasionally use the climbing position on steep sections.
Rear-shock technology and performance gets better every year, and it is amazing what the addition of a modern rear shock to an older bike can do to improve the comfort, feel and fun of the machine. The Rockshox Monarch RT3 Debonair made the already-plush suspension design feel amazing. The Debonair air can uses very large positive and negative air chambers that make the bike feel like the wheel is riding on a pillow at the top of the stroke. The adjuster is easy to reach, and I use all three positions. The lower rear-shock eyelet has an eccentric bushing that reduces the overall shock length 8 millimeters, lowering the BB height, and again slacks out the head angle a bit more for more high-speed stability.
SRAM XO hubs: Very durable and able to easily convert to almost any axle configuration. Uses standard jJbend spokes.
Spokes: Basic, DT, double-butted, stainless-steel spokes; 32 of them.
Rims: Surly Rabbit Hole 26 inches. These are 50-millimeter-wide rims.
Tires: Surly Dirt Wizard 26×2.75; 18 psi rear, 16 psi front. The rubber compound is a little hard, but they should last for several seasons.
Here is where things get crazy. I wanted to test a 26-plus setup as soon as I saw Surly made such a thing. The only bike they would fit in just happened to be the KHS, so that is how the KHS SixFifty656XC became the SixFifty656XC 26+! I have just enough chainstay and seatstay clearance to get the meaty wheels in the frame. The 27.5 Pike has plenty of clearance. The 26+ rolling diameter is a bit smaller than, say, a 27.5 with a 2.3 tire, so my axles and BB and center of gravity are lower, improving stability and cornering.
The 50-millimeter-wide Rabbit Hole rims and big 2.75-inch tires create what I call the “potato patch” tire contact-patch area. Basically, the contact area that the tire hits the ground is shaped roughly like a potato. This shape works amazing for rough, technical, rocky sections; both climbing and descending; and gives the rider amazing control and traction. On higher-speed sections, this setup is a little bit loose and skates around a bit, and there is noticeable sidewall movement at these low pressures. However, this bike will go anywhere if you have the skill and power and is a blast on trials-like moves, either on the trail or in an urban setting. Really fun wheels and bike for doing party tricks!
Avid XO Trail, 170-millimeter rotors front and rear. I love the 170-millimeter size and prefer more equal braking power front to rear. There is a reason why rear pads wear out first.
SRAM XO 2×10, Gripshift shifters; XO crank 175 millimeters; 24-36, XO front derailleur, XO rear derailleur (mid-cage with clutch), 11-36 cassette, PC-1091 chain.
It is a bit of a switch going from 1×11 systems back to 2×10, but this setup works really well. The newer Type-2 clutch rear derailleur keeps the chain tight and quiet, and the 24-36 provides great range. I still love Gripshift because of the speed and precision, and I find them very comfortable to ride on. I am used to the great chainring clearance of the 1×11 setup, so I installed a carbon chainring guard for smashing into stuff.
Rockshox Reverb Stealth 125 millimeters. The Stealth routing is the way to go, and my frame got a tiny bit lighter with the small hole I drilled in the seat tube. (Please consult your physician before drilling any hole in your frame). The Reverb lever mounts under the bar on the right side and mates perfectly with the Gripshift and is very easy to operate.
Truvativ Stylo T-40 15-millimeter rise, 720 millimeters wide.
Truvativ Stylo T-40 5-degree rise, 75-millimeter length.
King Cage titanium bottle cage. Very light and strong and handmade by an old racing buddy, Ron Andrews, in Durango. It’s steam-punk style (www.kingcage.com).
Old and poochy but comfortable.
Salsa Bucksaw BLL (Bud Light Lime)
Full-Suspension Fat Bike
I have enjoyed riding fat bikes from the very beginning, when I purchased two Surly Pugsley bikes for my wife and myself. We had a blast riding in sand washes and snow trails around Durango and Moab. The bikes themselves were pretty primitive compared to the other carbon fiber space ships I was testing. My argument that modern components and suspension needed to be developed for fat bikes for many years fell on deaf ears, especially from “super cool” people in the industry. Most of these riders had never even tried a fat bike. I continued bouncing down the trail with a smile on my face and preached the goodness of fat bikes to anyone who would listen.
The guys at Salsa listened, and in the winter of 2011/2012 I was shipped a sweet Salsa suspension frame to ride. My bike was test sample #5, and, man, was I pumped! There is a great story of the development of the Bucksaw, and it can be found at www.salsacycles/culture/developing_bucksaw. Salsa was nice enough to send me one of the first production Bucksaws in Bud Light Lime Green, and, yes, I still have prototype #5 in my barn (fat bikes like living outside)!
Of course, the real missing link was a real suspension fork designed for these machines, and after endless pestering and babbling on my part (and others), the Bluto project at RockShox was given the green light, and suddenly I had a real reason to be riding all over the place on these crazy fun bikes! Thanks, guys!
The Bucksaw frame utilizes the Dave Weagle-designed Split Pivot system. This design makes for a very rigid rear triangle and also offers very efficient use of the wheel travel under pedal loads. There is some inherent “tire bouncing” that takes place in rough terrain, and the rear suspension really helps keep the wheel on the ground. The BLL has really low standover height, which is awesome when you are floundering around in the snow. The frame is modern with a tapered head tube, large seatpost diameter—heck, it even has a Reverb Stealth port for the hose. Plus, it just looks cool in lime green.
Rockshox Monarch RL custom tuned for the Split Pivot system.
Rockshox Bluto, 120-millimter travel, upgraded RCT3 compression damper. The bike comes stock with a 100-millimeter fork to match the rear travel, but I prefer to run the longer 120-millimeter version. I can set up the fork a little softer, and the bike is more stable on steep drops and chutes it so craves. The RCT3 compression damper has independent low-speed compression, which is nice to keep the Bluto riding high in the stroke. I use one bottomless token on the Solo air side to get a bit of ramp and bottoming resistance on big hits or jump landings.
Salsa Hubs, black spokes, Surly Marge Lite rims.
Surly Nate 26×4.0 inches, 127 tpi, 12–20 psi front and rear. The wheels are greatly improved compared to older models, mostly because the rims are lighter and of better quality. I prefer the 4.0 tires over larger versions, mostly because I ride on dirt, or if in the snow it tends to be packed or not very deep. I call the tire patch on the BLL the “pumpkin patch” shape because it is very round like a pumpkin. Many fat shredders like to go tubeless, but I prefer tubes, and the tubeless setup is not that reliable. Besides rubber is rubber, whether it is in the shape of a tube or a pint of sealant, and the Surly lightweight fat tubes are reasonable in weight. I tend to run more pressure on the BLL because the suspension is smoothing out the ride; obviously, less psi on snow. The Nate tires get a ridiculous amount of traction—almost too much sometimes—with the angular, widely spaced knobs and deep siping. They make crazy-cool sounds when pinning through rowdy terrain. Be warned; plan your loops with as little pavement as possible, because riding the Nates on the street is like riding on soggy Belgium waffles. It’s going to take a while to get home. Great tires for this bike, and don’t worry, hikers will hear you coming.
SRAM Guide prototypes. These brakes were meticulously hand-assembled from many tiny prototype parts, but they still seem to work great. I like the raw aluminum look. They have a #2 stamped on them. I run 180-millimeter front and 170-millimeter rear rotors.
XX-1 RD, XX-1 cassette 10-42, XX-1 175 crank, XX-1 Trigger shifter, PC-1190 chain, and a whopping 28-tooth chainring. Fat bikes have suffered from chain line and tire-rubbing issues in the past, but these newer models have wider spacing, and it is not an issue anymore.
Rockshox Reverb Stealth; lever is under the bar on the left.
Truvativ BlackBox Jerome Clementz signature carbon bar, 740 millimeters wide.
Truvativ AKA 70 millimeters.
Lenz Sport Mammoth Grape Ape
Devin Lenz is a small frame builder in Colorado who makes some really cool and unique bikes, including the best ski bikes on the market. He was a perfect candidate to make the custom frame. The Grape Ape is based on his Mammoth model, but with a longer rear center to accept the very large diameter and wide tires. I wanted the front to remain relatively short so the bike would not get too long and be a chore in tight terrain or switchbacks. The suspension design is fairly basic, and the shape of the main tubes and CNC pivot joints make the frame reasonably stiff but still comfortable.
Rockshox Monarch RT3. It took me a couple stabs at getting the right tune on the shock, but I ended up with a “low” compression and rebound tune and added three volume spacers in the air can to get the proper spring-rate progressiveness to resist harsh bottoming.
Rockshox Pike 29 prototype. Warning: do not try this at home! Rockshox does not make a fork to accept the 29×3 wheel size. I heavily modified several components to get the fork to work with the wheel size, and was only allowed to do so because of my very lengthy SRAM contract.
I actually have two sets of wheels for the Grape Ape.
SRAM Roam 60: These wheels utilize 28mm-wide carbon rims and are very strong and light. I use these wheels during the shoulder seasons when I might run into snow or mud, as they make the tire profile a bit smaller and give me more frame and fork clearance. They are better for long rides because they are so light.
Surly wheels: These wheels use SRAM XO hubs and Surly 29×50-millimeter Rabbit Hole rims. They make the tires even bigger. You can run lower pressure with the wider rims as the tire does not wallow around as much.
Surly Knard, 29×3.0 inches, 27 tpi, 20–28 psi. These wheels are big rolling stock. I like to call the contact patch the “banana patch,” because it is so long but still has decent width. It takes a lot of inertia to get these wheels going, but once up to speed, it is like a runaway train! The diameter is so big that the wheel misses half the holes and ledges. The Grape Ape is a little cumbersome in twisty technical terrain but loves flowing fast sections. Fast rocky sections seem to disappear beneath you as the diameter and flotation of the Knard tires, combined with the very plush suspension, make for one of the smoothest rides I have experienced. Cornering is more like an oil tanker than a jet ski, but if you lean a bunch, it gets there. And don’t even get me started about stability: you could take a selfie at 30 mph on the Porcupine Trail, no problem. All this diameter and inertia comes at a cost, as it takes a lot of power to get the Grape Ape going. A big bike best suited for a larger rider, it is a blast to ride. Just try not to stop and maybe get an air horn.
Brakes: X0 Trail, 180-millimeter front rotor, 170-millimeter rear rotor
Drivetrain: X0-1 alloy crank, 175 millimeters; X0-1 rear derailleur; X0-1 Trigger shifter; 30-tooth chainring; XX-1 11-42 cassette; PC-1190 chain
Seatpost: Reverb Stealth, 125 millimeters, lever under bar on left
Handlebar: Truvativ Blackbox, carbon, Jerome Clementz model, 740 millimeters
Stem: Truvativ AKA, 80-millimeter offset, 5-degree negative rise.
All three bikes have SRAM grips.
KHS: 33 pounds
Salsa: 34 pounds
Lenz Sport: 33 pounds
Photos by Whit Richardson
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