Rotec RL9 Test Ride, July 2007

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Sunday 8th July saw Southerndownhill meet up with Mark West, UK team rider for Rotec Cycles who are based in Seattle in the US, who was kind enough to lend us his downhill rig for a few runs at Cwmcarn to put it through its paces.

A little bit of history.
The Rotec RL9 is the latest incarnation of Mert Lawwill’s patented suspension platform, which was originally designed for motorbikes, and has previously been used on frames designed and manufactured under licence by other US based companies such as Schwinn, Yeti and Tomac. Schwinn ran the design with a pull shock system in the late 90s and developed it further by incorporating a more user friendly and simplified linkage with a more conventional push shock system. Yeti have also been producing Lawwill based frames, starting in 1996 with 3″ of travel which were not originally intended as downhill machines. This design evolved into the DH9 which ended production in 2004, a sad day for Lawwill suspension fans.
 
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Rotec RL9

John Sullivan of Rotec Cycles approached Mert Lawwil in 2003 with an eye to developing a new frame and has been doing so with lots of sneak peeks being available over the last couple of years from trade shows and exhibitions and team bikes finally hitting our shores last year.     

So how is the new Rotec/Lawwill suspension system an improvement on the old designs I hear you say? Well firstly the frame has finally been produced to the original ideas designed by Mert himself. The main swingarm pivot rotates on an concentric bearing wrapped around the bottom bracket shell. Bearing design and complexity have limited the use of such a pivot system in the past but modern production processes have improved to facilitate simpler replacement of these bearings. Also the shock is connected to the upper swingarm at one end and the lower swingarm at the other, completely eliminating it from the mainframe altogether making it almost unique in the downhill mountain bike world. Compared to previous incarnations, the top tube is now curved to allow a much better stand over height and the headtube has been equipped with a 1.5″ headset for the ultimate in fork/frame interface strength and it still features the floating brake mount to eliminate brake forces affecting the suspension action. The rear swing links have dual outboard bearings for added stiffness as opposed to previous single cartridge bearings holding the rear end together. The rear axle has been simplified to make dismantling the bike much easier.

Comparing it side by side to a 2001 Schwinn Straight 8 it was plain to see some major tweaks had occurred. Set up with Boxxer Solo Airs the head tube angle was a little steeper and the bottom bracket was a good inch and a half lower which would explain some of its handling characteristics. The wheelbase is also 3″ shorter than the Straight 8, a factor that has put many people off the later Schwinn and Yeti Lawwill bikes, simply because being designed for wider faster American DH courses they are so long and perhaps not nimble enough for the tight and technical UK courses. Another design feature of the bike which shouts about its American heritage is the fact it has a fitment for a Hopey steering damper behind the top headset cup on the toptube, something you are unlikely ever to come across on a UK downhill bike.

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RL9 Concentric BB pivot close up

And onto the ride itself…
Initial impressions were good, built with some fairly light components it felt well balanced and strong without being excessively bulky, perfect for a race machine or just for the keen enthusiast. The relatively low weight means it accelerates very well, you pedal and it goes. It’s as simple as that.

Straight from the word go the bike is simply eager to accelerate, virtually no pedalling motion is noticeably lost in the suspension action, yet it remains supple enough to absorb the small bumps to let you get on with the important business of pedalling. The rear end simply soaks up all bumps without bottoming harshly on large sharp edge rocks and steps and when you let the brakes off it just begs to go faster and faster.

Cornering feels 100% stable thanks to a the lower BB, brake late into the berm, let the brakes off before the apex and really force the back end into the berm and the low centre of gravity of the bike really helping with mid-corner stability. The RL9 just picks up speed again and you can hear the increased buzz from the tyres as it accelerates away. The bike is as much at home in the air as it is wheels firmly attached to terra firma, no wallowing on take off and it flies straight and narrow in the air, the lightweight Boxxer airs definitely making the front end more manoeuvrable.  

 
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Mark West airs the RL9 at Cwmcarn
One phrase springs to mind after only 4 or so runs on the RL9, and that is “absolute confidence inspiring”. If you have ever ridden a Lawwill downhill bike you will know what the ride is like and it is like no other suspension design on the market. The RL9 has to be the pinnacle of this system, where do I sign to order one…

Test Rotec RL9 specification:
Rotec RL9 with tuned 5th element shock and integrated 1.5″ headset
Boxxer WC Solo Air forks
Shimano XT rapid rise rear mech and shifter
Avid Juicy Carbon brakes
RaceFace North Shore cranks
MRP chain device
Hadley 72 pawl engagement rear hub, Mavic D721 rims
Maxxis Super Tacky ST tyres
Thomson seat post
SDG saddle
Funn Boxxer bolt on stem and bar
Intense lock on grips

Changes to the Rotec RL9 for 2008:
The 2008 RL9 promises to be even better than before. The standover height on the ’08 smalls will be around 27 inches (dependent on fork choice) and the top tube will be around 21 inches. Frame without shock will be between 11-12lbs and fitted with an air shock it should come in close to 12. This weight saving comes from replacing the existing wrap around gusset with a tube design, and the frame as a whole will look less bulky than before. The seat stays will be 1/2inch longer with some extra gussets placed on the chain stays for added strength. The RL9 is the first Lawwill bike to have a replaceable mech hangar and this has been revised for next year to bring you the best shifting Lawwill to date. 

The frameset in the States has dropped $100 to $2550MSRP for next year with prices being affected on our shores due to the strength of the pound and import rates. 

Many thanks to Sully @ Rotec Cycles for hooking us up with all the info and the ride, Mark West for lending us his team bike and Darrel Axford for the uplift places. 

Report by Tristan Veneer

Photos by James Kidney