Jolanda Neff is one of the most exciting and dynamic riders in cross-country racing. She is the reigning XCO World Champion and won the XCM World Championships in 2016. Neff has also confirmed she will ride the Whaka 100 in New Zealand this October. Since riding for Kross Neff has been on a Kross Level hardtail, and even opted for a hardtail on previous teams. But courses are changing and we heard Neff would be on the new Kross prototype full-suspension bike – the Kross Earth
“We started two years ago to plan the new full-suspension frame to make a project and design it and have it in 2018″ said Rafal Luksza from the Kross Team at the Nove Mesto World Cup.
The frame has a huge headtube, flared for stiffness into a massive downtube. “The head tube of the frame is the Kross DNA, it’s in every full suspension and hardtail model. The head tube adds rigidity for aggressive handling,” said Luksza.
The Earth model name did belong to a previous 26″ model but now adorns the 29″ full-suspension bike. The frame is single pivot driving a linkage, and like many new full-suspension bikes it has no rear pivot, relying instead on flex stays. The frame delivers 100mm of travel, matching the 100mm of travel in the DT Swiss ODL 100 fork.
The rear shock is a metric sized Dt Swiss R414. This frame is still a prototype and as such the shock, and the cable routing, aren’t completely finalised. “We just got the DT Swiss shock this week, we are changing pressures a lot, they still need to be finalised,” said Luksza.
The Kross Earth has a dual remote lock out, fitted above the bar on the left for Neff’s bike, sitting above her dropper post lever.
You can see how the new XTR M9100 brake levers sit further inboard, with the reservoir against the bars to make a stiffer brake.
The geometry is said to be very aggressive. “The Earth has a 68.5 degree head angle and 74 degree seat post angle. It’s very aggressive for the XCO courses as they are getting harder.” Chainstays are kept to a short 435mm.
The wheel base is only 1cm longer than the hardtail. “Not so much but it has to be some difference,” says Luksza. “It is really stable on the downhills so you can push hard. We say it rides more like an enduro bike than a cross country bike – but it can really climb too.”
Neff rides a small size which is 15.7″. The frame weights 1.8kg, or 2kg with a shock. The whole bike as shown here with a dropper post is 10.8kg.
The new Shimano XTR M9100
Jolanda Neff is one of a select few riders to have the new Shimano XTR M9100 group set already. The whole group set has dropped about 150g, despite moving to a 12 speed cassette. Most of the weight saving is in the cassette and in the crank set.
The 10-51 cassette is Neff’s choice, with a 32t chain ring for Nove Mesto. She used a 36t for the short track. The chain rings are now direct mount in 30-38t sizes. There is also a 10-45 option, and 2x options.
“She really enjoys it thanks to the wide range of the cassette. Jolanda and Maja used the Shimano XT 11-46 wide range cassette previously, so they are really happy that the new cassette is so wide.”
And what do the mechanics think of the new XTR?
“It’s really easy to fit, it’s lighter and it’s stiffer. It works better and it looks better – it’s a more aggressive group set overall.”
There are 3 derailleurs, depending on group set configurations.
If you watched Jolanda Neff’s performance in Albstadt then you would also be interested in tyres.
“It is our second year with Mitas,” says Luksza, “After the race in Albstadt everyone was coming to our tent and checking with the rubber compound asking what the hell was with this bike that Jolanda was so fast on on the downhill!”
Jolanda Neff in Albstadt
“We tested the wheels on Tuesday or Wednesday when there was lots of mud and we already knew how it would work. After we saw the U23 women race when it was raining, we decided to use mud tyres, and they were perfect.” Mitas Hyperion tyres were the choice that weekend, but in Nove Mesto the Scylla were fitted.
In the cockpit, Neff uses 690mm wide handlebars, and what looks to be a 90mm stem, with Kross grips.
“Jolanda is using a KS dropper seat post in the fully and hardtail. 100mm on the fully, 125mm for the hardtail.” we are told.
“She uses 175mm cranks – but nothing special. She prefers just to ride the bike. She really doesn’t care about specifications, she is easy to work with,” continues Luksza.
XTR cranks are still alloy – as they are stiff and light. That’s a Ceetec chain device.
“We assembled the bike, came here, gave it to her and she just went for a ride. She came back and we did a small adjustment to the saddle and the brake levers and that was it.” That does sound pretty easy to get along with!
The XTR Race brakes are all new, and don’t use a banjo for the brake hose.
Like the rest of the Kross Team, wheels are DT Swiss XRC, with no upgrades to the stock 36t ratchet. “It might have too much force with a big gear,” says Luksza, as the faster engagement means smaller teeth. Shimano have their own Micro Spline standard with their new XTR M9100, and DT Swiss are the only other manufacturer to have compatible freehubs at this time. The XRC wheels have a 25mm internal width.
The Kross Earth was ideal for Nove Mesto, taking Jolanda Neff to a sprint finish where Annika Langvad prevailed. But will we see it used in other races?
“Hard to say,” says Luksza. “This course is definitely perfect for full suspension with berms and roots and rock gardens. But the full suspension is also perfect for the uphills here, so the wheel stays on the ground.”
“But the future? Maybe Andorra also suits the full-suspension bike, it’s pretty much the same as here. I’m not sure about Val di Sole and we don’t know about La Bresse as it’s a new course.”
We’ll see when we next see Jolanda Neff in action – but we are keen to take a closer look at that new XTR M9100 group set!
Photos: Phil Gale