Enduro MTB rider Martin Zietsman is currently hooked up with and riding a pre-production Knolly Fugitive, the hugely anticipated 29er frame that is set to hit the market soon. While out training in SA, we met up with Martin to scoop some pics and info on the bike. Take a look…
For those that don’t know you give us some insight into Martin Zietsman and your racing background?
I’m 33 years old, currently living in the UK working as a vehicle damper design engineer for Bilstein, while chasing the dream of being a professional MTB racer and rider. I moved to the UK at the start of 2017 so I could be closer to the EWS (Enduro World Series) in Europe and to train on more technical terrain to better prepare me for racing at an international level.
I started riding Downhill and Dirt Jumping in the UK in 1999 and quit in 2005 after my fourth major injury (airlifted out of a quarry with a mangled ankle). I always regretted not going pro, or at least trying to go pro, so when the cycling bug bit again in 2012, I decided to give it everything I had. I raced XC as a semi-pro/ sponsored athlete for three years before making the obvious jump to Enduro racing in 2016. A very unfortunate crash in April 2017 ended my season with a broken wrist a week before my EWS campaign started. I’m back with a vengeance and now ready for 2018.
You are currently riding a pre-production Knolly Fugitive. How did you end up on this bike?
Trail Tech Cycles in Nelspruit negotiated a sponsorship with Knolly Bikes for me at the end of 2016 and I knew the bike was in development when I first joined the brand. Given my height and the fact that I’ve always struggled with bikes being too small for me, I put in the request to ride it from the very beginning knowing that it would be a bigger bike.
With my move to the UK, it was easier for me to deal directly with Knolly and allowed me to build up a really good relationship with the guys there. Given my relationship with them, my connections to RSA and the UK, and my social media work, Knolly didn’t put up much of a fight when I found out the first prototype/ pre-production frames were on the way. It also helps that I’m a design engineer and provide a lot of feedback to my sponsors about the products that I use.
Tell us a bit about the Fugitive and how it compares to its Knolly brothers and sisters?
The Fugitive is Knolly’s first 29er bike and has been highly anticipated by the brand’s die-hard fans for a very long time now (when you become involved with the brand you start realising what an incredible following they have, especially in the States and Canada. Ride one of their bikes and you’ll understand why).
This bike is designed to be an aggressive trail bike and the frame comes in two travel options, with 120mm or 135mm rear wheel travel available (Fugitive and Fugitive LT). This is obviously a shorter travel bike to the Warden Carbon that I normally ride with its 155mm of travel, but I believe it is the perfect bike for South African trails, hence me having it here now. The bike still uses Knolly’s patented 4byFour linkage system on the rear which is renowned for its incredible pedalling platform and cornering traction.
This may be a brand new product release, but it is undeniably a Knolly, both in visual appearance and in ride quality.
Give us some insight into the tech side of the bike and the components you’ve used to build it up?
There are quite a lot of awesome tech bits regarding this frame and I’ll do my best to cover them all as briefly as possible…
Firstly, the two travel options on the Fugitive (120mm & 135mm). Both travel options use the same frame, it’s just the rear shock that changes for each travel option. I have mine setup with 135mm of rear wheel travel.
The frame uses a trunnion mounted, metric rear shock. The trunnion mount allows you to achieve longer shock strokes in a shorter package space. Not only does this allow you to neaten up the area around the shock, but it has great performance advantages by allowing you to have a greater oil volume in a smaller space. More oil volume means better heat dissipation, so you have a shock than runs cooler. I won’t go into detail about reduced damper performance at elevated temperatures but I will say that a cooler shock is preferable. My bike currently has a 185x55mm Fox DPS shock to give me those 135mm of buttery smooth travel on the rear (the DPS is a temporary fix due to shock manufacturers being behind schedule with production).
Another key feature on the bike is the 157-Trail spacing on the rear hub. This is not a new standard by any means, but rather Knolly making use of the DH bike standard rear hub spacing. Knolly never felt that the move to boost rear hub spacing (148mm width hub) provided enough of an advantage to justify making the jump. Rather, they opted to look at an existing standard that offered considerable advantages in both rear stiffness as well as tyre clearance options. Some incredibly clever and creative design work on the rear end means that they have been able to make use of a standard width BB while only losing a total of 7mm of heal clearance (so despite using a narrow BB, there’s less chance of knocking your heals on the chainstays).
Finally, there’s the bike’s head-angle. This is where I can start getting really technical and we could have a rather in-depth discussion about handling characteristics. Most media reviews won’t go into much detail about this so I’ll just touch on it. If anyone reading this is interested, they can do some research about my comments. The Fugitive runs slacker head-angle angles than you would normally find on 29ers, especially when using standard offset forks. This gives you some interesting ‘trail’ figures and creates a bike that handles quite differently to most other 29ers on the market. Unfortunately, I’ve not ridden another 29er to compare with, but I can say that I’m incredibly impressed with my first few rides on it!
Being so ridiculously tall means I was able to fit a 9point8 Fall Line dropper post on the bike, giving me an incredible 200mm of seatpost drop. This means that saddle is waaaay out of the way when the gradient turns negative!
You also can’t miss the wheels on this beauty. Industry 9 make some of the sexiest looking and sounding wheels on the market and they knocked the colourway on this build out the park! I’m currently running the Enduro 305 rims on the Torch hubs with orange and turquoise spokes. I’ll soon take possession of some Pillar Carbon wheels as my racing wheels in the same colourway.
How does the Fugitive compare to other Enduro bikes you have ridden/ raced?
For me, the biggest thing comes down to the sizing and geometry on the bike. I’ve always struggled with bikes being too small for me and I was so excited when I saw the geometry specs for this frame (the production frames have been tweeked even more from this pre-production frame, so get excited!). With 17mm more reach than my previous bike, a longer wheel base and lower BB (yup, lower BB on a 29er compared to a 27.5”), I knew this bike was going to shred!
From the first ride, I instantly felt the difference, especially when things started getting steep. For the first time in my life, I comfortably and naturally had my weight more central on the bike on steep descents instead of hanging off the back of the bike. Although you do want your weight more towards the back of the bike, you don’t want to be hanging off the back of the bike. When you’re hanging off the back, you haven’t got weight on the front wheel to provide traction, you tend to hang/ pull on the handlebars instead of standing over them controlling the bike, and in general you’re more of a passenger than a pilot. Nothing beats the feeling of being in control! The head angle I spoke of earlier also makes a big impact here!
Obviously, the larger wheels also make for a significantly different ride to my Warden. They definitely suit a rider of my size a lot better and I feel a lot more planted and comfortable on this bike. I can’t knock the 27.5” though and will still be racing that bike this year.
It’s also quite incredible how the bike feels like it has a lot more than just 135mm of travel on the rear.
What are your highlight features of the bike?
Mmm, so many, like everything! [laughs] The colours. Dam, she so fine. I mean, who doesn’t notice that straight away, especially with those wheels fitted?! Obviously the size too, it’s amazing.
What are your highlight components on the bike?
I think my two favourite components are the MRP Ribbon fork and the 9point8 dropper with its 200mm of drop. The Ribbon fork didn’t win Pinkbike’s 2017 suspension product of the year for nothing! I also can’t wait for the new Box Components drivetrain to be fitted in early May. That’s going to be really special. Oh wait…those wheels! [laughs].
How would you best explain the ride and handling of the bike?
Aggressively stable. Designed to go fast and make you smile.
How would you best sum up the Knolly Fugitive?
My dream bike. The one I’ve waited my entire cycling life for!
When is the Knolly Fugitive expected to go into production and be available to the public?
The frames are due for release to the public around the end of July I believe.
What colours it will be available in?
My bike’s colourway is one of the options. There’s also a purple with chrome lettering and a brushed aluminium with orange lettering option. You can check the options on Knolly’s website or even scan through my Instagram for pics of the other options (@fietsman_SA).
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Well, I think being in a position where I get the level of support from such incredible brands like Knolly is definitely a highlight. I’m actually already living the dream while I’m chasing my dreams and I get to represent brands that are as passionate about mountain biking as I am.
2nd overall in age group at the 2017 Welsh Gravity Enduro series was awesome (the Masters category in the UK is the biggest age group and give the elites a run for their money). A 3rd at round 2 of the Scottish Enduro series was also really special.
What style of riding do you enjoy the most?
Either super natural and steep, or fast and flowy. I think the fast and flowy is where I excel most and have the most fun.
What’s on the cards for Martin Zietsman regarding racing in 2018?
I’ve got a super action packed season ahead of me. I’m working part-time for Bilstein now to allow me to travel and race a full season. I’ll be doing at least 4 rounds of the EWS, with my name currently on the waiting list for 2 more rounds. I’ll be aiming for the full UK Gravity Enduro Series as well as the Scottish Enduro Series.
In South Africa I’ll be at the York Timbers Enduro, the SA National Enduro Champs and the CrankChaos event at Afriski in Lesotho. I’d love to do more races in SA but while I’m still self-funding the majority of my racing, my trips back home remain limited.
The main goal for this year is to get in a position where I can race full-time in 2018.
Any closing comments?
As mentioned, I have some incredible brands supporting my dreams and I’m so honoured to have them along for the journey. I’m very fortunate to be sponsored at a factory level by all the brands (direct from manufacturer) and a special thanks has to go out to Trail Tech Cycles for working to help set most of those up. The brands that are making chasing dreams possible are:
Knolly Bikes, Trail Tech Cycles, Maxxis Tyres, Liqui Moly, Leatt Protectives, MRP, Box Components, Industry Nine, 9point8, Galfer Brakes, Rudy Project, Chaintamer, Cadence Nutrition and Mudhugger.