Racing is a brutal world. Athletes push themselves every day to find an edge and keep progressing in their skills. I was no different. I raced downhill for years at the sharp end of the amateur division, even dipping my toes into professional-level racing for a bit. I spent more hours in the gym than I care to remember and did more laps at the bike park than could possibly be documented. I was always told to get a good dirt jump bike to work on my skills off the race course, but every time I tried to ride one of those little bikes, I felt cramped and uncomfortable at speed. Instead of giving up, I set out to make my own training tool.
Modern dirt jump bikes have evolved from the world of 20" BMX for quick movements and tricks. I was never interested in learning these skills, so the bikes didn't interest me either. The bike I wanted needed to feel like my big bike. To accomplish that, I wanted more room behind the handlebars and an overall more substantial feel. I thought this would be simple. I started from my existing mountain bike geometry and shrunk everything down to a 26" hardtail platform to see what that would feel like. Unfortunately, I was very off in my assumptions. The first prototype was a complete failure. It felt so bad and awkward to ride that I hung it up almost immediately. Back to the drawing board.
I borrowed all of my friends' bikes that would let me, and I kept notes on what I liked about each one relative to the failed prototype I already had. From that point, I studied the geometry charts of all the bikes I had been riding and compared that with my notes of ride feel. From that point, I returned to my failed geometry and made a few changes. Some were substantial. Some were small. After this round of work, there were a few key findings.
1: At over 6' tall, I greatly prefer a slightly longer chain stay. Most modern DJs are built with a chainstay close to 390mm, and that just wasn't working for me. After sampling everything from too short to too long, I found that 405mm felt the best giving me a geometry that is biased towards forward motion rather than just steep lips and spins.
2: Because I come from a racing background with big bikes, I liked the feel of suspension. A 120mm fork gave me the right amount of squish while still giving the snappy feel that a DJ fork should.
3: The "stability" I was after came from some elusive ratio of rear end length to the front end length. A slightly slacker head angle gave me that balance I wanted without compromising the cockpit feel I wanted.
Back in the lab, I plugged all these things into my geometry formula. After a couple more prototype iterations, out came the current version of the El Niño. It's nothing like the other bikes on the market, and that's exactly how I wanted it. It's a racer's jump bike. It's calm, cool, and collected, with a ferocious appetite for speed. It's just as happy on a steep dirt lip as it is going full tilt around your favorite pump track finding all the little gaps and transfers. Not only is this my favorite bike I have ever ridden, but very soon, you will be able to have one of your own. Pump tracks, Jump lines, flow trails, whatever. El Niño does it all. Flip it. Rip it. Spin it. Race it. You will love your new bike. Guaranteed. Let's RIDE!!!