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Now THAT Was A Bike: Nico Vouilloz’s Sunn Radical+

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For bike nerds, there is one bike that separates the early days of downhill from the modern era. That bike is Nico Vouilloz’s Sunn Radical+, designed by Olivier Bossard. It marks the change from the wild experimentation as the sport found its feet to bikes really working in a way that we would still appreciate today.

There is so much on this bike that we almost take for granted today – things like adjustable chainstays, high and low speed compression adjustment, an angleset or offset frame layout – yet in the late 1990s this was the highest end of World Cup exotica. Part of the explanation for this is the approach they took – they tested, timed and tweaked with a focus on outright performance. There were no focus groups, no marketing people to appease, the only thing that mattered is how well it performed on track.

Height 5’10” / 176m
Weight 155 lb / 70kg
Hometown Peille, France
Model Sunn Radical+
Frame Size Medium
Wheel Size 26″
Suspension Bos Obsyss
Drivetrain Custom
Brakes Formula
Cockpit Race Face
Wheels & Rubber Mavic rims and team-only hubs, Michelin tires

Fork travel 170mm
Rear travel 180mm
Head angle 67.5 degrees
Front centre 700mm
Chainstays 450mm
Wheelbase 1145mm
BB height 360mm
Weight 41.6 lbs / 18.9kg

You can just see the head angle adjustment sleeve beneath the headset cups. At the rear axle, the chainstay adjustment is a more open design than you’ll find on production bikes these days – as making sure you line the axle up perfectly on both sides is considered too much of a hassle to pass on to consumers. At the headtube is Bossard’s take on an integrated bump stop – only he decided to mount it in front of the headtube rather than in the mainframe itself.

Out front the Bos Obsyss fork offered 170mm of travel – you need to remember that in this era its main competition, the Rockshox Boxxer, only sported 151mm. From above you can also see how the split top tube design is offset.

It may seem like a small detail, but this freehub may be the most out-there component for the time on what is already a very out there bike. There are no pawls or ratchets in the body, instead these team-issue only hubs were designed around a one-way bearing. For the most part it works exactly like a regular hub, the only difference is the engagement – it is instant. And when I write instant, I don’t mean Industry 9/Chris King/DT Swiss freehub quick, I mean fixed gear track bike quick. Onyx uses a similar design in their hubs today.

With Mavic going through some tough times at the moment, these D521 rims are timely reminder of just how dominant the French wheel maker once was – for a long period of time was there even any other rim worth using? Those rims are shod in another reminder of a great French company who are working to retain their reputation – Michelin’s Comp 16, 24 and 32 tires set the standard for downhill tires until the early 2000s when they were surpassed by Maxxis as the benchmark.

Formula’s role in the development of the mountain bike disc brake is often overlooked, especially in favour of cross-Atlantic alternatives that shout a lot louder about their achievements, but in 1997 when Vouilloz wanted to slow down in a hurry, he turned to the Prato-based company.

ODI’s Ruffian grips – they are unchanged today. Direct mount stems were not yet a thing, so this Race Face numebr had to suffice. At a guess we’d put the length at around 70-80mm. Shimano’s DX pedals – another mainstay that has only recent been surpassed by more modern designs. A standard Shimano XTR shifter was paired with his EGS derailleur.

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