Some of you may know Bernat Guardia from his downhill racing days during the ‘glory years’ of the sport, rubbing shoulders and racing against the likes of Steve Peat, Sam Hill, Greg Minnaar, David Vazquez, Tomas Misser and many others. After retiring from racing in 2015 he then went on to manage the INTENSE Factory Race team, looking after riders such as Jack Moir and Dean Lucas (amongst others). Since then he has become a much loved and key member of the INTENSE brand.
Bernat now wears many hats as an ambassador, product developer and marketing guy for a few selected brands that he has worked very closely with over the years and he is an integral part of INTENSE, “I mainly advise on marketing related stuff and run the social media channels for Europe. I do some testing, I was really involved with the M16 and M29 development. It feels good when the product comes out and you see the people shredding with it.”
Bernat provides important feedback on a whole host of subjects. He’s a true pro, and he has ridden pretty much every INTENSE bike made over the last 10 years (almost). But of all the bikes he has at his disposal he’ll more often than not pull out the big rig for some DH action.
You ride an XL M29, so how tall are you?
I’m 190cm (6ft 2 3/4).
You have a lot of great riding around you near Barcelona?
The DH scene where I live was pretty big in early 2000s, with a bunch of pro riders racing World Cups and pretty much everyone built their own tracks back then. Some of those tracks are still running. There are also a few bike parks that run all-year long now: 4 Riders Bikepark recently opened and it is unreal. And then during the summer there is Vallnord, EVO Bikepark, Morzine and Les Gets in France.
The M29 runs on 29” wheels, when did you make the switch?
At the start I was really into 275 wheels, but then the boys in the team (Jack and Dean) were always telling me how much they loved their Carbine 29, and that was about the time when we started developing the M29. So I jumped onto them at the end of the 2017 season and I couldn’t believe how good they felt. From then on I’ve never looked back. Full 29er guy.
So would you always choose 29” wheels over 27.5” for downhill now?
I’m always open to ride new stuff, but I feel so good on the 29 set-up that I don’t see it happening. I understand that shorter riders than me have to go to mullet set-ups, as there’s an actual physical barrier when you need to stay far back on your bike on steep sections or stay low on a jump. When your butt hits the rear wheel it’s not fun.
You have ridden a lot of downhill bikes over your racing career, how would you compare the M29 to some of those other bikes?
It may sound like a sales pitch, but I always feel really good on the M29 from the first go. With the M29 I can jump on it after weeks without riding it and I can be just as fast on the second corner as if I’d been riding it all the time. I think it’s the most balanced bike from a geometry standpoint that I’ve ever ridden, also the 29” wheels carry lots of momentum and I feel so much in control when hitting jumps or going at full speed.
How would you describe your riding style?
I’ve been always really smooth on the bike, trying to flow as much as possible. I’m really good at cornering and keeping good momentum. Now that I’m not racing anymore I try to find my perfect run of smoothness without pedalling too much, it’s not the fastest but it gives me such a great feeling by hitting perfect lines and being as smooth as possible.
How do you have your suspension set up?
I run my front suspension really stiff at around 15% sag and then the rear a bit softer at around 25%. The rebound not too slow, not too fast, ha ha! And for the compression usually the slow speed compression almost fully closed and the high speed fully open. To me this is the perfect way to have a predictable bike that doesn’t change its behaviour.
Do you change this set-up at all depending on where and what you are riding?
I’m really picky on my bike set-up. At the bottom on my first run I’ll go straight to my van to modify something – from tire pressure, to suspension settings, bar height, lever position, etc. but just small changes.
Do you have any odd set-ups on your bike?
I do run my front brake really close to the grip, I’ve never liked the front brake and I don’t use it much. When I was racing I even put a bit of oil on the rotor for my final runs, as I hated that bite point that makes your front wheel skid at the worst moment.
Have you always ridden clipped-in?
Yes, when I started racing there was almost no option, there were no proper flat pedals on the market or sticky rubber shoes.
Do you have a favourite part on the bike?
To me it has to be the frame, it has to be correct – with a balanced geometry, suspension kinematics and the right stiffness.
What about your tires?
I’ve been on Maxxis almost all of my life, and I’ve been always been a huge High Roller II fan. They currently don’t offer it in a 29” DH Casing, although I’m pushing them as much as possible ha ha. So now I’ve been trying almost all their DH tires. The new Dissector is pretty good, so looks like I’m gonna stick with it for a while.
You have had a long racing career, competing at the highest level...
During large parts of my ‘Pro’ years I was studying Physics at university, so it was hard work for me to be at my best level for both, so all my victories and good results felt like double the triumph. I do remember my first World Cup top 10 in Les Gets in 2002, that feeling of happiness and relief after all the hard work, it’s hard to explain.
Do you have a favourite track from back when you were racing, and a favourite track now?
I loved the track in Champery in 2007. It was the steepest World Cup track we’d ever ridden, super technical, all natural, loamy. I qualified third even with a crash. For the finals I got caught in the rain and then caught in a net! My favourite track today has to be the Blue Line at 4 Riders Bikepark, it’s just like riding a pumptrack for grown ups.
What do you think about the current state of World Cup racing?
I think it’s awesome for the riders, the top 20 guys are now making a good living out of it. They’ve got good salaries, and good opportunities from sponsors. I do envy these guys a bit, but at the same time I’ve no regrets from my years of racing and had lots of good and wild times out there.
Can you give us some ‘INTENSE’ highlights from your time with the brand?
There are so many. I think retiring with the brand that as a kid I always loved it. Having the chance to meet and hang out with Shaun Palmer, also the first World Cup podium as a Team Manager with Jack Moir finishing second in Fort William, and all the times I’ve spent with Jeff and Jenn Steber (INTENSE CEO) during all these years have been awesome.
What does INTENSE mean to you?
It means bikes that I love and trust. It means work, and it means family.