How much rear travel do you need for DH?

Hi Lee,
I am interested in purchasing a new DH race steed. I am a competitive expert racer and I was wondering if a 7-inch bike would be a major disadvantage on MSC and G3 racecourses. I am specifically looking at the Commencal Supreme DH, which I understand a few of the WC teams are running. However, I am still skeptical of a 7-inch Down Hill race frame. I am not the gutsiest or smoothest rider, but I very much enjoy going fast down a racecourse.
Thanks For Any Advice,
P.S. I appreciate what you are doing for the mountain biking community!

The more you click, the more I can post. Lee Likes Groceries dot com!

Hi Jeff,

In 2004 the Mighty Steve Wentz was riding a Turner with about seven inches of rear travel. Do you think that bike held him back?

That bike won’t hold you back.

The overall balance and function of your bike is way more important than the amount of rear travel. When you factor in the human (you), raw travel means even less. Which bike can you pedal, turn, pump and otherwise braaap?

Comfort and confidence are huge: If you can ride your 7-inch bike every week, but you can only pilot your 10-inch sled once a month, you’ll be way faster on the smaller bike. I’ve seen guys who ride SX Trails day-to-day absolutely rip at Whistler, on the Shore and on race courses.

Oh, and let’s not forget Ariel Lindsley and Mike West. These ex-XC-weenies both raced Maverick ML-8s (with 6.5 inches of rear travel) at the MSCs this year. Ariel was a strong pro, and Mike owned semipro. These guys know how to ride those bikes!

In general, lower-travel bikes are lighter, lower, quicker and more responsive than longer-travel bikes. Their suspension is also a bit stiffer, which helps you plane across rough terrain. Read: Skimming over obstacles

Here’s another way to look at this:

If you’re not a rock star: You can’t wring the full performance out of a real DH rig. Show me someone not named Graves or Leov who out-rides his Yeti 303, and I’ll show you some swampland in Florida I’d like to sell ya. Since you can’t maximize a 45-pound 9-inch bike, you might as well rock a 40-pound 7-inch bike.

If you are a rock star: You’re strong and smooth. You pick good lines. You know when to skim across obstacles and when to drop in for some pump. You know how to maximize a bike that carries good speed through rough stuff and accelerates like a rocket. Anne-Caroline Chausson and Cedric Gracia ride that Supreme DH.

Minnaar at Durango, 2004.

And another thing:

When Honda built a downhill bike for Greg Minnaar, they had access to the best suspension in the world, as well as the best research. They could have built an engine-less CRF250R with 12 inches of travel, but they didn’t. According to race-day sources, the RN01 has about seven inches in the rear, and they usually run the front at six or seven inches. Honda collects telemetric data from practice and sends it to Japan. The Japanese engineers analyze the data and send the suspension settings to the race mechanics. These guys know their stuff. Seven inches.

Of course, Steve Peat and Nathan Rennie go pretty good on V-10s … It’s all about what you’re comfortable on.

7 replies
  1. Patrik says:

    And if I remember correctly, Nico used to run between six and seven….and that man is still god on a DH bike…

  2. Patrik says:

    Yeah he was riding the gemini at the time. seven inch single pivot bike. I rode it too for a while, super fast and fun bike. A lot of racers (and my slow but included) prefer a little less travel. little more lively feeling, and jsut leads to a fast ride.

  3. Ryan says:

    Keep in mind Duncan Riffle prefers to keep the front of his DH bikes as low as possible. Back when he was racing on a Yeti 303 he kept his Fox40 at 7 inches of travel and flipped the stem upside down to drop the bars even lower. I haven’t seen how he set his Iron Horse up, but I would imagine the same way. Just another example of a pro prefering 7″ over longer travel.

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    That’s awesome info. Thanks!

    I have some ideas for cool experiments:

    – Timed runs by a variety of riders on a variety of trails and bikes.

    – Put Lopes or some other fast guy on a hardtail. We do back-to-back timed DH runs, me starting on a hardtail and working up one step at a time to a DH bike. See when — or if — I run faster than him.

  5. Tim says:

    honestly 7-8 is the standard. Theres a s#$t ton of v10’s and demos up here in NorCal but other than that I say 7 rocks the market now adays.

    I ride my 8 front 8 rear 50lb bike every day. I do a ton of city riding, single track, and full blown out dh on it. I ride ever day for at least 5 miles a day on it. I don’t mind the weight because I know when race time comes Ill be 10x’s as fast due to it being my primary bike.

    Now if that doesn’t sound like fun then just built up an adjustable travel front dh rig. Heck even the 888’s had an adjustable travel model. Makes it easier to pedal up stuff.

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