Alan Hatherly on his new Epic, the EVO, eMTB’s & being World Champ | 15 Questions

Alan Hatherly, the multiple World Champion, Olympian and Commonwealth Games medalist on training, new bike setup and what it means to be flying the SA flag abroad.

Alan Hatherly on the new Specialized Epic mountain bike as interviewed by Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Somerset West South Africa on 10 July 2020.
Alan is 178cm tall and rides a size medium 2021 S-Works Epic.

How much time have you had on the new bike and what are your thoughts on it?

Quite a bit of time actually – we managed to get on the new bike for a week of testing and setting up around the middle of February at our team camp earlier this year. First impressions coming straight off the previous generation Epic and switching between them a lot during the team camp was just how incredibly stable the new Epic is. When really pushing the limits like we always do, I never had the feeling like I was going to go off line or run wide and paired with the big weight reduction the bike really just inspires confidence all round.

Have you stayed with the same frame size as the previous iteration?

Yes, I’m still on a Medium frame.

Some of the key geometry numbers are not that far off from that of gravity bikes. Do you find the bike a lot more capable on technical trails?

The new Epic as a package actually comes with a lot of updates that all complement each other with updated geometry, suspension and the new updated Roval wheels. The geometry definitely has a more trail bike type feeling to it but the incredible lightness of the bike definitely reminds me that I’m on an XCO rig. The Brain suspension is much more responsive as well as much firmer than the previous Epic. The Rovals are now wider giving the tire more volume and increased puncture resistance. All together this bike thrives everywhere and is an improvement across all terrains both up and down. The power transfer is more direct, there’s a more traditional ‘lockout’ feeling on the suspension and there’s increased grip – to make chasing Strava KOM’s easier.

You are yet to race the bike at a World Cup but do you think the revised geometry and in particular, the head angle, means you really don’t need to consider running a 110mm fork for some of the WC XCO tracks?

I’m actually a bit on the fence now with forks – this new bike is really allowing me to push sections harder than before and I’m definitely carrying more speed which is making me lean towards maybe giving a 110mm fork a go.

How does that shorter stem feel when you are on the rivet on a steep climb and need to get your weight forward on the bike? Is it much different from the feel of your older bike and if so how quickly did you adapt to it?

I haven’t really noticed the shorter stem on the climbs, to be honest – the bike just feels a lot more responsive now with the shortened stem and slacker head angle. The new geometry puts the rider further back of the bottom bracket than before and paired with the longer top tube I find standing/sitting on steep climbs the grip is so much better than the need to be over the front is not as much. The reach is still the same so the biggest adaption for me was just getting used to the slacker head angle and handling characteristics of the new Epic but the adaption both in February and now was just an hour or so I felt completely comfortable and ready to race.

The rear of the bike tests stiffer. For you, at the top of the game, can you feel the increase in responsiveness from the stiffness – or are you as a rider not so sensitive to ride feel and just kind of go with what the engineers say?

No for sure the stiffness is noticeable; acceleration and hard cornering/g-outs is where I felt the stiffness improvement most I would say. To be honest the old one was already incredibly stiff and at my weight of 65kg, feeling flex is not easy. 

For off-season events would you consider racing the Evo model – just as a fun day out kind of thing? What about something like Wines2Whales? Would you choose the Evo over the Epic, or vise versa and why? Also, with the new bike being so good, do you think you might use a hardtail still, at the odd race?

For now, the Evo isn’t really an option with the suspension being the traditional manual lockout system. I suppose if the trend continues with the courses getting rougher and rougher it may be an option to consider but for now, the new Epic with all its improvements is more than enough for me.

To the Brain suspension, the spring curve has changed to offer more mid-stroke support and the new design gives better oil flow which smooths out the transition between locked and open. How have you found the changes, do you feel like the grip of the bike has improved and did you make any major changes to your setup for this new Brain?

The new suspension is amazing – it’s a lot stiffer on the firmest setting (firmness is adjustable!) which really feels good when accelerating and standing. The fork I’ve left as it comes out the box, it has a real subtle bottom end with some nice progression towards the top giving extra confidence for bottom outs. The rear shock we changed slightly to put me on the more progressive spring rate – just because I was going way faster and hitting obstacles harder than before but out the box, it has a lot more resistance to blowing through the travel at low pressures.

You and JP Jacobs tweak pressures per track you arrive at and things like the dirt, technicality of the course and weather forecast have an impact on your settings, but could you share your base pressures for tyres and suspension with everyone?

My base set up on the new Epic is 20psi/21psi in the front tire/rear tire and 60psi/135psi in the fork/rear shock (with stiffer spring rate).

Looking at the 2019 season which was not only your first in Elite Men but you moved up as the reigning U23 World Champ which can compound the pressure or expectations to perform. Can you talk to the challenges you faced when moving up and what did you learn in your first year as an Elite?

I think the biggest thing for me was changing my season around. I did Cape Epic for the first time meaning I had to be and was at my best shape possible in March already as opposed to the normal May for World Cup XCO’s. Managing the shape with a lengthened season didn’t go as smoothly as I had imagined and I ended up pretty burnt out by mid-year after completing the South African XCO season. I learnt a lot on fatigue management and when to draw the line and take rest when its needed most which is such a valuable lesson in the long run so I’m happy to have gained that out of it all.

In terms of your training, does your coach John Wakefield tweak things a little to factor in preparation for eBike Worlds? Like extra strength training?

No, the eMTB Worlds is just like any other XCO event so training is as per normal. My weekly gym program and core work is enough to handle the heavier bike and gnarlier tracks so it works really well for me to add some eMTB into my racing calendar – and plus it’s so much fun!

Do you think the time you spend riding the eBike adds to your ability as a WC XCO racer or detract from it? And why?

The speed difference transfers over nicely to the normal pedal bike and the line choices adjustments also help see some different options which weren’t considered before on some sections.

The whole of South Africa is behind you as you fly the flag abroad. Do you get a lot of messages before and after each race and do you read them all? What does it mean to you to be racing for SA on the world stage?

I do get quite a few messages before and after a race – I tend to delay the opening of the messages prior to the race just because it makes me more nervous for some reason but I still see them and I appreciate all the support that is given to me! It’s a real honor to fly the South African colours both on my National Champion kit and at the World/Continental Championship events. We have such an amazing cycling pedigree and culture in our country and to put that on the podium is always the goal!

Outside of cycling what do you do to unwind and relax a little?

It varies at times but at the moment its fishing and off-road motorbike riding in the mountains.

Thanks so much Alan. Lastly, what’s the best piece of advice for bike riding you have ever been given and why?

A few lessons by my coach John Wakefield actually – one is patience, gaining speed and power is a process to be consistently better instead of having a random period of improvement followed by a major dip. Secondly – Rest, its harder for some than others but its when the adaption to training load actually happens and it doesn’t mean losing fitness when resting. Once those two principles are put into play I think a successful career can start to be built.

| IMAGES: Etienne Schoeman |

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