16/10/2009 | 7 comments
Bike Test: K-9 The Full Package
Of the production bikes that have been featured recently only the South African Morewood Makulu and UK made Empire really stand out, they came almost one hundred percent ready for action. Each had a package of components both complete and appropriate for the business of racing downhill and of a quality that didn’t take the piss out of the asking price. The beautiful BOS suspension damped the Makulu very, very well, sprung correctly and still reliable after six months abuse. Then Craig Robertson at Empire, a manthat knows how to present a bike, and through a family history in two–wheel sport knows a thing or two about damping. Craig talks a
good race too, but the fact of the matter is that the Empire along with the Makulu is of the best performance production bikes available. Not because everything else is rubbish, just because every detail is considered. They’re not bikes handed off a shelf with a mass produced shock and standard spring bolted in the middle.
Obviously this is not about the others, but it’s important to take stock of where we’re at. It’s a frequently asked question. The Trek is clearly one of the best bikes money can buy by far, with excellent performance, but we’ve seen that some smaller companies can offer you more. With highly tuned and correctly sprung suspension the Morewood and Empire offer something that little bit extra, the heart of which being those BOS and Cane Creek units which are simply playing in another league when it comes to dealing with rough ground. Which brings us to K–9. Now Luis Arraiz will not mind the prologue here because he knows these and other companies well. Or at least he knows the product, the numbers, the angles the suspension. After all he is a leading expert in this field, an extremely knowledgeable mountainbike scientist if you like.
This is obviously gigantic talk here, but what Luis doesn’t know about bikes isn’t really worth knowing. He can tell you how a bike rides even without having ridden it. It really is staggering. Several times I have been on the phone to discuss a bike test problem and Luis will provide a scientific basis on which to back up any potential fault in handling. There is no bias, just some straightforward facts that an expert in vehicle dynamics would tell you.
The point I’m making here is not that the rest of the world makes shit bikes, far from it because there are some real gems in the mass produced market, but few have the ability to tailor make both bike and suspension, it’s very often a case of bunging on a less than great production Fox DHX and leaving everything else to the rider. Suits most people, but not everyone. What K9 offer is unparalleled information on set–up before, during and after you’ve bought a bike.
K–9 DH001 – BIKE TEST
Oxford based Luis recognises the guys that make good bikes then, but here is their own bike, one that the company have been working on for the past three years. Knowing they are obsessed with detail and damping I was eager to see how the new bike performed. Before he even wheeled the K–9 over the border I knew that set–up would be the last thing I’d have to worry about, yet the early prototypes were heavy and cumbersome like a lot of protos are.
What are you getting? Lets take a look at some facts:
Choice of four sizes
Correct suspension spring rates
Choice of RockShox Vivid, BOS Stoy, Cane
Creek Double Barrel
Choice of colour
Hmmm. On paper I can only see a couple of things that make this bike any different from the rest. Maybe I’ve been fooled. I mean a lot of companies and shops will provide at least the first six, the seventh is dependent on your nationalistic tendencies, the ninth not really a matter of massive significance. Maybe it’s the fact that you can buy this bike with a Cane Creek? Hell I could buy no end of bikes cheaper and bolt one of them on. So what about the handling and performance? True to his word the new DH001S lived up to the colossal big talk with stunning efficiency. It is without doubt the finest piece of bicycle set up I have ever had the pleasure to ride. Luis had at the touch of button provided me with a bike perfectly set up for the occasion.
The combination of the BOS cartridge BoXXer and Cane Creek shock is the best suspension I have ever ridden on a non–factory bike, it’s also the first time it’s been presented perfectly. Big talk backed up big style. What more is there to talk about?
What K–9 offer is total set–up whereby the limiting factor will always be the rider. K–9 have the knowledge, which is way over and above what is currently offered to the majority of world cup riders. Yet what makes Luis and his team special is that he can supply base settings for every rider at the touch of a button (More than that he could probably supply every rider on every bike that – and he’s proved that he has the ability to do it). Consider for a moment that you’ve spent many weeks on achieving base settings only to loose them; well Luis can take you back to that point even without going onto the hill. With his background in vehicle dynamics he owns a database of knowledge that can also account for changing weather conditions and tracks. So whilst on paper many companies might offer some hardware to go and rant down a hill on a whim, no company that we know if exists that will be able to provide you with performance knowledge and settings.
On our test session we found the rear of the bike not pushing back quick enough, holding onto the impacts. The data analysis showed this, but not only that Luis was able to interpret what was happening and make the changes necessary within seconds. A day with Luis would benefit any rider.
WOULD I BUY?
Luis has put me in tricky position. Is it the bike that is good or is it the settings? From the first minutes of the test days I was convinced that the BOS cartridge BoXXers were too soft and yet this sublimely balanced bike felt right on the trail and data logging on the following day proved this as the fork was providing the correct amount of travel. The Morewood was an incredible bike but the K–9 adds an edge certainly in terms of performance on proper descending. Superior damping always gives you time to think. Any rider looking for improved results but cannot access the information allowed by the top guys should be knocking very hard on Luis’s door. On the flatter ground the K–9 needs more understanding than say the Morewood. I felt it didn’t cover flatter ground as quick, most riders will find this largely insignificant I know, but then even the odd World Cup like Le Bresse for example is known to be pretty loose on the contours. You need to know how to ride the bike and keep the gas flowing in theses conditions. Of course it could be simply down to the fact that the suspension was working so well. Luis works hard on getting ‘frequencies’ correct, yet most of us are so used to bikes that are less than a hundred percent efficient and without the sublime Cane Creek that it takes a bit of getting used to.
For grip matters the K–9 is an absolute ruler. Root to rock will hold no challenges for this bike and this is the terrain on which it excels. I’d even consider faster rolling or harder tyres knowing that grip would unlikely be an issue. And in the whole dirty world of balance and dynamic geometry whilst descending – well I wouldn’t have expected it to be anything other than what it delivered, perfection. Looks wise the new steel front end works for me, so does the white paint job, the decals and cosmetics are a lot better than the originals and critically it is so much cleaner in the link area. The angles are good, the maintenance is easy, everything is easy to get at. Yes it could probably be refined even further in places but it works. There are options here on build kits and the frame and fork option seems the way to go, but remember you will be getting the full package set–up wise whatever you choose. BOS or BoXXer paired to a Stoy or Cane Creek being at the top of the wish list, but consider the Vivid too. Leave everything else to them. Essentially then this is a huge amount for your money here, OK you could well go and buy a Trek or Orange and bolt on a better shock, but what you won’t get is the knowledge. Yes the service and knowledge is available on other bikes too, but this is about the DH001. Based on the bike we were given it’s one of the best performance bikes I’ve ever ridden over demanding terrain, production or factory. Remember K–9 offer the non–pro rider a true works set up.
LUIS ARRAIZ – TEN KEY QUESTIONS
Why did you choose this particular linkage design?
The L.A. Link is a 4–bar suspension design similar to the SLA race car suspension design. Using a 4–bar suspension allows the designer to have a range of freedom on what the suspension should do. You can tailor the axle path, instant centres, compression ratios and many other parameters with ease. The current configuration using short upper and lower arms with the rear triangle allows us to have a very stiff and light structure too. The L.A. Link configuration provides a very linear and rearward axle path for enhanced stability and bump absorption, a controlled migration and position of the instant centre that provides the desired anti–squat.
The suspension was specifically designed to work in conjunction with the idler pulley, as the position of the idler decouples the suspension movement from the pedalling forces by reducing and minimizing the chain length growth and the pedal induced torque which often causes the bike to bob under pedalling (regarding of the front sprocket size). With the current 4–bar design I can effectively utilized the upper link to achieve the desired compression ratio, installation ratio, wheel rates and wheel frequencies to achieve small bump sensitivity and big hit capabilities in a smooth linear progressive manner.
What are its benefits on the trail?
Well you get a bike that provides a very comfortable and controlled ride, it is very stable at high speeds, and corners well, pedals well, jumps well, and provides you with a vast amount of grip over any terrain without bottoming. It is a very easy to ride bike and very intuitive, it let’s you get on with the line choices and you know the bike will be able to do what you want it to do, it is a very predictable ride.
What about axle paths? You have strong views on this?
Axle paths are an important part of any bike, and my views are that a linear and rearward axle path will give you more stability, bump absorption capabilities especially when the speed and travel increases, my ideal rear axle path would be 100% parallel to the front axle. However in order to achieve this you have to forget about the current drive train system location, as the trade off of chain length growth and pedal feedback would almost negate the benefits, that’s why I and several other designers
utilize the idler along with a different pivot and instant centre location which allows to achieve a more beneficial axle path.
What shock should riders choose? How big is the difference in performance between the three shocks you offer?
In an ideal world, where marketing and hype would not play such a big factor, every single bike, including short travel bikes, would have a Double Barrel or Stoy damper on them. On the DH001–S we are looking to spec the Cane Creek Double Barrel, BOS Stoy, RockShox Vivid and maybe a two way adjustable damper. The DB is an amazing shock, and it would be better suited to racers who know how to tailor the damper to the specific track and race conditions. It is a very precise damper with a great damping range and you can fine tune and adjust the low and high–speed compression as well as the rebound independently of each other. The Stoy is an unbelievable shock too, and it will suit riders who prefer to stick to the base set–up and only do minor adjustments depending on the conditions. It has very similar damping curves and range as the DB, but it only has rebound and low and high–speed compression adjustment. The Vivid is a good mass production shock, the best I’ve tested so far on the dyno and it will provide a good ride and it will feel very similar to the DB and Stoy, but it is not as precise. The damper has low speed and high–speed rebound as well as compression adjustment. It is a great entry–level damper for those who just want to ride the bike with the base set–up. It will provide sufficient damping and control for the entry–level riders. We are currently looking to offer a fourth option; it will be a 2–way adjustable damper with a very useable range for those who have a tendency to shy away from the adjusters. It will be a fit and forget damper that you cannot really produce a bad set–up with it. Anyway, regardless of which damper option the rider chooses to equip his/her bike with, K–9 will provide a very good base set up for the rider’s weight, including the correct damping, spring and pre–load. We’ll take the guesswork out of the set–up so you can just ride the bike as it was intended to.
Any scientific evidence to prove this?
Yes, we have extensive data for all the dampers that we have obtained from a damper dyno at Oxford Brookes University. The results are further verified by the results obtained from data logging. We are currently refining the base set–up for different rider’s weights on one of the dampers. After we find the set up for the different rider’s weights, the dampers will then be dynoed so we can compare and match the all the dampers curves so that they provide basically the same performance.
Why is eight inches the best amount of travel for a downhill bike?
For starters most DH forks have settled at 8”, which provides just the right amount of grip, small bump sensitivity and bottom out resistance. I believe that 8” at the rear provides the best balance between front and rear, as it is easier to match the wheel frequencies for the intended use. It is not about how much travel the bike has, but how efficient it uses the travel.
Will you be offering the option of a frame and fork kit?
Yes, K–9 is looking to offer the bikes as frame sets (frame, damper, chain device and headset) and frame kits (frame set and forks). Last year we spent a lot of time testing with several BoXXer Teams (standard, TF Tuned and BOS cartridges). The ‘08 BoXXer Teams were very good forks, but we were very impressed with the added performance benefits that the TF and BOS cartridges offered. We have been recently testing with the new BOS Idylle fork and it is an incredible fork and one that we are looking to offer on the bike. We’d like to test the 2010 BoXXers as they offer great potential, as well as several of the new forks to see if they can match the performance of the French fork, but we have been unable to test them.
And you will provide riders information for a balanced system?
Yes, the main reason behind offering the bikes as frame kits is to offer the customer the best possible base set–up that provides the optimum balance. There is no point setting up the rear suspension if the front suspension does not match the rear, as the ride will be unbalanced. It is about treating the whole bike as a system and making the system work. Customers will receive a copy of the base set–up and recommendations for different tracks and conditions. If they ever lose the base set–up, then K–9 will be able to provide them with the correct information from our customer database.
It sounds pretty much like a full package?
We’d like to think so. It is a lot of work, but I believe it is required. If a K–9 customer will invest their hard earned money on our bikes, I want them to be able to go out on the first ride and just enjoy the ride. I do not want him/her to worry about if it has the right spring rate, preload, sending the shock to get tuned, etc. We’ll provide a race ready bike
from out of the box.
The bikes will be available in four different sizes, so that anyone between 5’0’’ to 6’6’’ will have the bike that suits them. You cannot have one or two sizes only to fit every rider, there is too much to compromise. We’ll be offering several upgrade kits: Ti bolts, adjustable geometry (head angle and chainstay length), we are looking at Ti springs
option as well. K–9 is committed to provide the best possible service to our customers, which means that bikes will be sold by approved K–9 retailers. This way we can ensure that riders will be fitted to the correct size, and for the bikes to have the optimum set up. It is very important to us to offer the right after sales service for the bikes. We will also be offering discounted data logging sessions to all K–9 customers as well organized rides and uplifts with K–9 staff, retailers, etc.
WOULD I STILL BUY ONE?
Yes, because this is a company that will back up the big talk, not only that, Luis has the type mindset that can make the link between good rider feedback and correct settings relative to the terrain you’re dealing with.
Price: Vivid Frameset – £,2,500, Stoy Frameset – £2,700, Cane
Creek Double Barrel Frameset – £2,900
All framesets include: custom wide angle MRP system 3 chain
device & Cane Creek IS3 headset.
K–9 Industries Ltd. 01865 875 848