A lot of the questions we get about The Pikes Peak APEX presented by RockShox are related to bikes. We hope this guide helps answer them. For anyone wondering: what’s the best mountain bike and tire setup for the Pikes Peak APEX? Well, there’s no perfect setup for everyone, but here are some guidelines to help you bring gear well suited to the unique terrain and conditions in the Pikes Peak Region.
We can dispense with this one quickly. Almost all bikes on the Pikes Peak APEX start line will feature 29-inch wheels. The exceptions may be on size small or extra-small framesets, which are sometimes equipped with 27.5-inch wheels. Although 27.5-inch wheels are common on big travel enduro and downhill bikes, APEX courses include enough climbing that racers lean toward cross-country and down-country bikes rather than rigs designed for gravity events.
Hard Tail vs. Dual Suspension Mountain Bikes
The Pikes Peak APEX can be raced successfully on either a hard tail or dual-suspension mountain bike. For the most part, your choice will come down to personal preference, based on the following characteristics of each:
- Typically lighter: There is some crossover between ultralight dual suspension bikes and middle-range hard tails. However, if you are going for a featherweight setup, it will likely be a hard tail.
- Two frame-mounted bottle cages: Dual suspension mountain bikes that can carry two frame-mounted water bottles are becoming rare. Access to aid stations during Pikes Peak APEX means racers can use bottles instead of hydration packs if they prefer.
- Improved traction: Loose gravelly and sandy conditions are common on the trail systems used for Pikes Peak APEX. Dual suspension bikes keep your tires in contact with the ground uphill and downhill.
- Fatigue resistance: Hard tails might be faster for short, one-day cross-country races, but dual suspension bikes absorb energy-sapping bumps and vibrations so you can ride stronger over multiple long days in the saddle.
- Greater control and speed through rough terrain: The Pikes Peak APEX courses feature varying levels of technical challenge. Although you may not need a dual suspension for all of it, you may be very happy you have it for the rocky, technical areas of Palmer Park and the Royal Gorge trails.
How Much Suspension?
The most used bikes at the Pikes Peak APEX have between 100-120mm of front and/or rear suspension travel. Some riders may extend this to 130mm, but few riders bring or feel they need long-travel mountain bikes for APEX courses.
Long travel bikes are not necessarily beneficial for Pikes Peak APEX. Bikes with 130+mm of travel are typically built to perform on courses with big hit, big drop technical features than you’ll find on APEX courses. As a result, the frames and components are often heavier than cross-country or down-country bikes. Considering the course conditions, the amount of climbing, and the altitude, the weight penalty may not be worth it for the extra travel for the downhills.
That said, APEX courses include sufficient drops and technical features that a featherweight 100mm cross-country hard tail may not provide enough support and suspension for comfort and performance over four days. This is why the most used bikes in past editions have been cross-country dual suspension bikes with 100-120mm of travel.
Mountain Bike Tires for Pikes Peak APEX
Tire size, tread pattern, and inflation pressure are hotly debated topics by Pikes Peak APEX racers. Characteristically, experienced riders in the Pikes Peak Region tend to ride higher volume tires with more aggressive tread than newcomers would expect. This is because traction is hard to come by here. Most trails feature loose gravel over hardpack dirt. We have some slickrock (as in Palmer Park), but you won’t find much dark and loamy soil with loads of grip. As a result, riders prefer aggressive tread patterns for attaining reasonable traction and higher volume tires (29x2.3-2.4) to keep from sinking into and bogging down in the soft stuff.
Rigid or Dropper Post?
If you already have a dropper post, there’s certainly no reason to swap it out for a rigid post before Pikes Peak APEX. The more frequent question is whether a dropper post is necessary for APEX. The best answer is: There are some drops and technical features that may favor riders with dropper posts, but those features are rideable with rigid posts, albeit more carefully.
The Pikes Peak APEX showcases multiple trail systems within the Pikes Peak Region, and racers will experience everything from slickrock to loose gravel and long climbs at high altitude to flowing backcountry single track. When it comes to having fun and going fast, adaptability is the name of the game when it comes to choosing equipment for the region and this race.