Photos by: Ezra Newick
Have you ever wondered why the pros are so fast? Sure, they are incredibly skilled, but what actually are they doing differently?
Turns out a lot.
I recently had the chance to link up with EWS phenom, Sam Shaw to test his braking with the BrakeAce automatic coaching software. Sam was setting up his suspension with Jono from The Suspension Lab, so we thought we’d combine forces to help Sam dial in his ride with full data-acquisition (DAQ).
We met at The Suspension Lab, where Jono had already mounted suspension ptentiometers on Sam’s Transition Sentinel. Sam had ridden the same frame setup over the past year in the EWS, but this was a new frame and drivetrain, with upgraded Fox Factory dampers. He only had a few runs on the new setup so far for the season.
As you can see below, this was a top-notch build!
What I’ve found over the last few years of testing riders is that nobody really know what they are doing when they are braking. That’s what makes the BrakeAce so valuable.
Over the last year, we have focused on transition from raw data to automatic software analyses. Raw data as in the video below is nice, however it can only be taken so far.
The reason the raw data is so difficult is because braking power is going to affect your speed and control differently based on a number of overly complicated physical factors.
With the automatic coaching software, we filter through all the confusing bits for you and simply show you what you did in practical terms, and where you can improve on the trail.
At the end of 2019 when we collected this data, we were storing all data on an AiM EVO 4s data logger then running files through our own software (AiM software for suspension).
The trail we chose was National Downhill in Rotorua. Sam could shuttle to the top, plus the track features big hits, tight turns and ridiculously high speed (scroll to video!).
This track at Sam’s pace would surely push the suspension and the brakes to their limit!
After Sam’s first run, we noted where he was brake checking, which was a lot (13 times!). This was fair enough for his first run down the trail in a while. He was also super heavy on his rear brake at around 85%, which was probably because he was just trying to control his speed so much of the time.
There were a number of other metrics were showed Sam, too, such as his number of braking events and their locations on the map, FlowScore, brake intensity, modulation, places where he was dragging or feathering his brakes, corners where he was braking beyond the apex, how hot his brakes were getting, and locations on the trail where he could improve his braking the most–all automatically!
Between runs, Jono did his own analyses. Based on his expert knowledge in suspension, he was able to use the data to make the call of what to adjust next on Sam’s suspension. Things like damping, volume and pressure were all adjusted.
Believe it or not Sam finished after 4 runs and said that his bike felt better than any other time last year!
Sam got faster and faster each run, too. By giving him specific locations to focus on his braking –and simply giving him the awareness of what he was doing– Sam changed his braking and went faster by over 10 seconds! Add to this that his suspension continuously got a better tune, and that is how you make a fast racer even faster!
At the start Sam was braking for over 80 seconds, but was able to brake less and less to down to 69s. His FlowScore improved hugely, from 94 down to 73, which means he was way more efficient at using his brakes.
One of the biggest surprises was Sam’s reliance on his rear brake, which you can see in the video below. The rear brake got SO HOT that it melted the outside of one of the wires! He was using the rear brake so much and front so little because he has the skills to be able to ride fast through turns and doesn’t need to slow down as much in them–just maintain a good speed.
Another thing we showed in this video below for the first time ever is the interaction between braking and suspension movement. It was really surprising to see how much the fork compressed during braking with the front brake and how the rear suspension got less active with rear braking.
Obviously braking and suspension SHOULD be working harmoniously because the actual fact is that we still need the suspension to work properly even when we are braking (especially when even the fast riders brake so much!). In reality they braking and suspension activity seem to be fighting each other.
The funny thing is that most people will look at this video and focus on the rear suspension/braking interaction, saying that they prefer this or that frame manufacturer. On the other hand, I am focusing on the front suspension/braking interaction since this is our first point of contact with the trail. Importantly, consideration needs to be taken that traditional telescopic suspension like the Fox 36 is so well-accepted that it is basically our ONLY option [edit: now there are linkage forks]. Obviously something needs to be done.
What do you think?