Downhill Bikes

Nine iconic downhill mountain bikes

Legendary steeds

Downhill mountain biking has been littered with legends – Palmer, Vouilloz, Peat – but what about the bikes they rode? Can they be considered iconic too? We think so and here are seven of the most iconic, race winning bikes from the history of downhill mountain biking.

Honda RN01 G-Cross

No bike shook up mountain biking more than the Honda RN-01 G-Cross. It was a silver bullet shrouded in secrecy and designed purely to win. here at Dirt, we loved everything about it.

Honda was so protective of its gearboxes that they would be removed from the bike every night in case they were stolen. There is a video that shows it to be little more than an encased derailleur system, but the jury is out on how legitimate that is.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know for sure as the bikes were all (supposedly) melted down when the team disbanded in 2007.

Cannondale Fulcrum

Giove, Vasquez and Rockwell all rode these totally radical and innovative beasts in the late 90s. Three chains and four cogs make up the drivetrain, the fork was two leftys bolted together and each one is estimated to have cost over $20,000 to build.

The bike never made it to production and less than a dozen were even made for the 1998 season but we’re still drooling over it til this day.

Intense M1

The original Intense M1 was one of the first bikes to sport five inches of travel and that was a statement of the trendsetter it would become. In the late 90s it was the benchmark for speed with re-branded M1s being used on many teams (Haro and Muddy Fox to name a couple).

The M1 had its finest hour in 2002 when Kovarik put 14 seconds into the competition at Fort William and Sam Hill won the junior World Championships.

Santa Cruz V10

The V10 first came to life in 2002 but the v2 and v3 models really cemented its reputation between 2005 and 2010. Under the Syndicate team it was fired into a winning debut season under Steve Peat and since then Minnaar and Bryceland have both also won titles on it.

The crowning moment surely had to be Canberra, 2009, when Steve Peat took a red, white and blue custom design to his first World Championship title.

Sunn Radical Plus

Think of downhill in the late nineties and you think of the French and Sunn. Design similarities to the GT RTS aside, this was the bike that totally dominated between the legs of Vouilloz, Barel and Chausson.

Orange 223

There’s no bike brand more iconically British than Orange so Steve Peat was their perfect match. The four years they shared together on the 223 (and later 224) are legendary. The Orange team wasn’t about any of the corporate bullshit but about doing things a new way, with as much British product as possible.

From the soaring highs of Peaty’s first World Cup overall win in 2002 and his first Fort Bill win, to the crushing lows of Les Gets 2004, the 223 was a bike that was never boring.

Specialized FSR DH (Palmer DH)

Iconic bikes seemed to follow Palmer around. As soon as he left Intense he joined Specialized on their FSR DH bike. It may seem at odds with his persona but Palmer was apparently very involved with developing the bike down to the geometry and types of bushings used.

His influence on the bike was so strong that it became known as the Palmer DH and it saw him through to the sudden end of his (mountain bike) career.

Iron Horse Sunday

The Sunday is iconic thanks to one man, Sam Hill. The way Sam Hill approached every course was different to any rider before or since. He’d see lines where no one else could and changed direction faster than a hummingbird. Legendary runs followed – Champery 2007, Val di Sole 2008 – and the Sunday was the bike that took him there.

Before long uplift trucks were filled with them and sensible riding techniques were abandoned as young racers up and down the country attempted to copy the flat pedal thunder.

Karpiel Apocolypse

Is it ever going to win a downhill race? Not a chance. But the Apocalypse has done things no other downhill bike has in the hands of Josh Bender. Old New World Disorder films are testament to the power of this bike. 300mm forks, two shocks, it was mental.

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