What would you ride in an endurance mountain bike race? A two-time champ weighs in.

Racers Pose Following the True Grit Mountain Bike Race
Dylan and the rest of the Cameron Mountain Bike Team after True Grit  (Photo by Josh Tostado)

Getting everything to run smoothly in a 100-mile mountain bike race is no easy task. If you ask around at the finish line of one of these events you’ll find that pretty much every racer had to deal with some kind of setback whether it was cramping, fatigue, dehydration, crashing, mechanicals or other miscalculations. Having the proper bike set up goes a long way and there is no right answer. People enter endurance mountain bike races on everything from rigid singlespeeds to squishy trail bikes. Having the right bike will make all those miles that much more enjoyable and in turn produce a faster time.

BIKE OF CHOICE

My bike of choice for this year’s National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) was the Niner RKT 9 RDO. With 90mm of travel in the rear and the option to run a 100 or 120mm fork, the RKT is a race-specific cross country machine which is perfect for many endurance mountain bike races that have a mix of trail and gravel.

Some of the highlights of my bike build included a 100mm Fox 32, Stan’s Valor wheels, a Quarq power meter, a 100mm KS Lev dropper post and a full Niner carbon cockpit. I was amazed to get the bike down to 21.8 pounds ready to race and that’s with a dropper post.

DROP IT AND GO

I put the dropper on for the first mountain bike race of the year, the True Grit Epic in St. George, Utah, and expected to take it off after that event. The True Grit course was filled with technical desert slickrock. Going into the race, I knew the RKT was capable for a cross country bike but I was thoroughly impressed with its performance there. The dropper only added to the bike’s handling ability and I found myself going off rock drops mid-race, sight unseen, with no problem. It turns out that the dropper wouldn’t come off my bike for the rest of the mountain bike race season.

In the middle of a mountain bike race, Dylan Johnson heading for the win.
On the final descent during the Pisgah 111k. (Photo by Icon Media Asheville)

The next NUE race was the Cohutta 100 in Tennessee and that course couldn’t be more different from True Grit. This mountain bike race is 70 percent gravel and screams hardtail course. I opted for the RKT again and I didn’t regret it. The CVA suspension design makes for an excellent pedaler and I didn’t feel the need to lock out the suspension for the gravel roads. In fact I preferred to keep it open to reduce the chatter and save energy. The race finished with singletrack where the RKT opened up and I was able to maintain a gap to take the win.

THE SEASON CONTINUES

The RKT was pushed to it’s limits at the Pisgah 111k in North Carolina. This was a home race for me that featured some of the gnarliest downhills in Pisgah with the worst of it coming at the end of the race. I was able break away on a gravel climb and hold it for the win. Again I didn’t even need to lock out the rear suspension, I just kept it wide open and enjoyed the ample traction. On the final technical singletrack downhill I just let the bike do it’s thing and that’s really all I could do with my body aching after 6 hours of hard racing. I was pleased that my sloppy late race riding didn’t seem to slow me down.

It became clear throughout the season that the RKT was more than capable of handling a variety of terrain from the tight twisty singletrack of the Lumberjack 100 in northern Michigan to the wide open downhills of the Tatanka Epic in South Dakota.

After the Grizzly 100 Mountain Bike Race, Dylan Johnson poses with his RKT 9 RDO after winning the NUE series.
The two-time champ smiles. (Photo by Michael Smart)

I earned my 4th NUE win of the season at the Crotched Mountain 100 in New Hampshire where it poured rain the day before the race and the root infested course took slick to a whole new level. I managed to stay upright all day and save energy through the technical singletrack to put the power down when it mattered.

At the final NUE mountain bike race of the season, the Grizzly 100 in Big Bear, California, local racer, Chad Hall broke away on the first climb. On the following descent I managed to catch him by the bottom having never seen the trail before. The descent was extremely sandy and loose and incredibly steep. With the dropper post slammed the RKT made light work of the off camber pitches and steep switchbacks. I came in third that day but successfully claimed the NUE series title for the second year in a row.

SEE YOU NEXT SEASON

As I packed my bike up to fly back home from that trip I couldn’t help but think about everything Cameron Mountain Bike Racing has been through this season. We went across the country three times and raced everything from the rock laden desert to slick and rooty east coast singletrack. I didn’t have a single mechanical this year in hundreds of miles of racing. There is something to be said about that. There were so many aspects of this season that aligned to make it successful and although at the end of the day it’s the rider who has to power themselves to the finish line, being on the right bike certainly made my job easier.

By Dylan Johnson, 2x NUE Series Champion

Note: Dylan Johnson rides for Cameron Mountain Bike Racing, a grassroots team supported by Cameron Group, BASF, Leska Restoration, Metro SealantFamily Bike Shop and Niner Bikes. In his “spare” time, Dylan is a coach for Carmichael Training Systems

For other NUE season recaps:

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