Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Nathan Hughes

Every once in a while you see something on a pro rider’s bike and think, “what the hell is going on there?” It happened to me recently when I saw the front end of INTENSE Factory Racing’s Dakotah Norton’s bike. What looked like a million spacers (slight exaggeration!) under the upper fork crown on his M279 HP1 downhill race bike at the recent Lenzerheide World Cup. I needed to know more.

OK Dak, so first off, what is going on here? Why are you running so many spacers under your upper crown?
Before we go into upper crown spacers, I think it’s important to keep in mind I have the lower crown towards the minimal height setting from Fox (forks), with the upper crown 5mm from the top of the fork with drop crowns. So everything works off the lower crown height, and the spacers in the middle are a result of the headtube length. Other than bar height my stack to the upper crown is normal, it just looks a bit funny.

You say that it’s actually not that abnormally high, and that it’s just an optical illusion from the length of our headtube. Why is the headtube so short on the M279 HP1?
I noticed the head tube is a bit short on the M29, and I think a lot of riders originally anticipated that they would want low bars on a 29’er platform. Although it may just be for looks, I may be completely wrong.

When setting up your bars, do you measure from the ground up, or is it more of a ‘feeling’ kind of thing?
Nope, everything works off the geometry of the bike. We’re running the measurement within the realm of the Fox 40, and from there I prefer to be able to fully stand up and not have to bend my hips to roll across the parking lot. But this seems to be similar every year with a drop crown and 10-15mm under the stem with 40mm rise bars.

I heard you joking about riding too many 450 motocross bikes and Choppers, have you always run your bars at this height, or is it something new?
I actually run pretty high bars on my 450, and run some 9” Thrashin Risers on my Harley. So it’s a bit of a trend, but we always joke that I’m trying to make my bike a moto, and my moto a bike.

From looking at your bike your steering tube is cut pretty long, with room for your bars/upper crown to go even higher… is that the plan!?
I don’t think the bars will go any higher, if anything we will push the tubes through on the steeper tracks to slacken the bike and lower the bars to account for that. My bars look the highest on the flatter tracks when the bike is the least slack. Again, it’s just a bit of an illusion really.

So you would rather lift the upper crown up through the fork legs than use higher rise bars?
At some point your at the limitations of the lower crown height and it goes to spacers under the stem. Personally I would like to run my crowns lower and a higher rise bar if they made them. It would be pretty freeride.

Do you vary the height depending on the course, so is this it, set?
Yep, for the most part the axle to bar height never really changes, but the geometry may for the track.

Is your frame different to the rest of the team, or do you always just go for a high front end?
The frame is the same, and my bar height is similar if not lower than team mate Joe Breeden’s. I just run my rear end in the long position.

It’s interesting to see the differences between the upper crown set up on Aaron Gwin’s (above) and Dak’s bikes.

Why don’t the rest of the team go this high?
I have really long legs and short arms, so I’m going to be different than a rider with different measurements. Everyone is unique, so the bike set ups should fit that.