2005 Rotec RL9 rebuild


Retro Guru
This is a bit newer than a lot of the stuff on here but as it's still nearly twenty years old I thought it might be of some interest to at least a few of you. Back in January 2005 I 'signed' with Rotec for racing DH in the UK with their then new RL9 which was the first departure from the ostensibly White Brothers derived frames that had been the mainstay of the brand since the late nineties. After delays with sourcing the Easton RAD tubing and having it built by the frame manufacturer down in Oregon (the same guys who were making Turner's frames at the time) I finally got the frame in December 2005. When I first built this up it was all top spec stuff from the likes of Hadley, Fox and SRAM. All helped by so called 'pro' deals, and the exchange rate of USD to GBP being somewhere around the 2:1 mark. It was heavy, but on faster tracks it was a really stable and fast bike, and that was coming off the classic 'fast' bike of the final gen Intense M1 with the Progressive 5th Element shock fitted. The downside of the high speed/rough track performance was that it definitely didn't work so well on the flatter end of the spectrum for UK tracks. Rheola and Fort William were great, places like Pitfichie and Bringewood not so much.


Rotec started out as a side arm of White Brothers and was definitely very moto, with long wheelbases, short stems, and a linkage driven rear shock using a BB concentric single pivot, and there have been quite a few threads on those older bikes here before. Sully's initialdesigns were outwardly similar but different, the linkage setup ditched and had a shorter front centre. The RL9 was therefore quite a different animal as it used the Mert Lawwill rear end, and was actually a closer implementation of the original Mert design than the Yeti/Schwinn iterations thanks to its concentric BB pivot. It was a stout bike and it definitely rode well in the main without any foibles, other than the aforementioned weight!


After two seasons I was a bit fed up with racing and not really interested in the whole sponsored deal any more, and basically didn't ride a bike for about six months. I did pick up a new frame for '08 though which led to me selling this, never to be seen again. That was until last year when I walked into Loulabelle's café in Innerleithen to find it sat in the window. A note left with the server and I had a text from the owner who actually turned out to be the same guy I'd originally sold it to. And would I like to buy the frame back for £450? The answer was an emphatic yes, and it came with a Fox 40, Avalanche spring charged cartridge, both the sets of Hadley wheels I'd sold him and a bunch of spares. Pretty good going I thought! It was ironic that I walked into the café having been talking about the bike with a friend earlier that day having not thought about it in ages.



So what have I done with it? I've played musical rims on one set of wheels and rebuilt the red hubs with some old Stans Flow EX Mk2's I had hanging up, and for the other set of black hubs I'm in the process of tracking down either a matching black Mavic EX729 or Sun MTX34 as the mis-matched rims hurt my eyes. I've then built it up predominantly with spares that had spent the best part of 15 years sat in boxes, aside from a few things like cranks and brakes. The Saint cranks were £30 off ebay and the brakes not much more (although given they're SRAM even that's overpriced).


Forks - I always ran Fox 40's on this as the RC2's were sub $1000 at the time which meant I could buy a set, run them for 6 months, and then sell at a profit to go again. These ones I think are a bit of a Johnny Cash mix, but the best bit is the Avalanche spring pressurised 40 specific cartridge fitted. I know Craig's stuff is good and it's very well made but many years of development and the gap between stock and his stuff is now pretty slim, if any. I recently pulled them apart to fit some new SKF seals as I suspected the ones in there to be at least ten years old, and they were in surprisingly good nick internally. It's a shame the spring isn't Ti as the green's the correct weight but I never ran steel springs back in the day. The one thing that I modified was to remove the HBO (hydraulic bottom out) from the bottom of the damper. One reason was that it had been catching and shedding metallic particles into the oil, and the second was that I've never been a fan of them. They have a tendency to keep the fork sucked down a fraction too long at a point where your weight is already likely still quite far forward if riding anything other than single big drops. My old BOS Idylle RaRe's were like this and it drove me nuts. All that said I might need to put it back in as the fork feels a lot softer now thanks to the slicker seals!





Scraped HBO bits...


Shock - These were originally spec'd with 5th Elements but they were delayed and sent over a month or so later than the frame. In the interim I bought a spare Manitou Swinger from a mate who was sponsored by them at the time and fitted that. Ostensibly they were the same shock anyway with slight tuning differences to the SPV. Once the 5th turned up I was a guinea pig for Neil down at TF to convert from platform valve to shim stack. I ended up selling this separately and the Manitou went with the Rotec. Since Neil and Tim moved on from TF I only ever use the guys down at Sprung Suspension as I've known Jake for years through doing media camps and races together so he knows what I want from my suspension. Therefore to get the Swinger serviced there was only one logical choice, and luckily he still had his shim stack notes from back in the day and was able to build an appropriate stack for this as well as put a new bottom out bumper in there to replace the rotted original. So now there's an as new shock on the bike ready to go. One of the issues with this bike originally is that being designed around the 5th, there was actually very little clearance for any other shocks, especially if you wanted to get to the adjusters. The problem was that the upper pivot bolt went through right above the shock. Later bikes had a slightly different arrangement using two of the custom threaded ends, one on each side, and the middle tube cut out. This allowed things like the Roco to fit in there.



One slight issue I came across is that the lower shock mount has absolutely no flex in it to help clamp the shock. It also relies on a shouldered bolt to stop any excess play. It had either been run with the wrong bolt in the past, or with top hat style spacers that had worn as there is now a recess on the inside of the mounts which is allowing for play and preventing it being tightened up properly. So how to fix it? A slightly wider pin wouldn't work as it wouldn’t fit through the slot to get to the bagged out bit so instead I got some M8 0.1mm shims with a small OD and glued them into the recess, clamping them in place until the epoxy had properly set. This has removed most of the slop but there's still a slight knock that needs some more thought to resolve.


Headset - Originally this was an FSA 1.5" reducer external lower cup and a zero stack custom turned upper cup that just took a standard 1 1/8" Cane Creek bearing. However, this was 2005 and so the head angle was 66 degrees which is steeper than any trail bike I've had in the last ten years. With a spare FSA Orbit Angleset sitting there from when I was onboard with KTM I thought I'd swap it out. However, it's ZS top and bottom and still only gets me to 65 degrees. Therefore I might swap it out for a Works -2deg with an external lower cup, both to match the original headset arrangement I had, and get a slightly more reasonable 64 degree angle. Even at 65 deg with the Angleset it still looks steep compared to anything modern!


Bars - I originally ran 685mm Answer ProTapers but I did the usual racer trick of running lock on grips 20mm over each side to get some extra width. Those bars are now on my Tazer so some old Nukeproof 760mm's are on there currently, although given the abuse they took when I was using them in anger I think they should be for display purposes only! Maybe a set of RF Diabolus bars would be a good 'age/spec appropriate' pick.


Stem - Back in the day I had a mk1 Race Face Diabolus stem in 50mm with 25.4mm bar clamp and at one point swapped to an X-Lite Steve Peat 50mm thing, but that's now earmarked for my Animal 222. Unfortunately these 40's have a Function aftermarket top integrated crown which both clashes aesthetically with the stock lower one, and also means the steerer has been cut too short to go back to a normal clamp on stem. Ideally I'd replace the steerer as I have a stock top crown there to use, but an alternative would be to replace the top crown for a genuine direct mount Fox crown and use a spare Burgtec DM stem I've got. I'll see which one would be easier to do but it'll likely be down to which option comes up first on ebay!


Gearing - This was all SRAM X0 stuff back in the day and the shifter here is the original 9spd one I used after being fitted to numerous bikes since. The mech is a spare but not the original. It definitely wouldn't be the original as this bike was like no other I've ever ridden or owned for destroying rear mechs thanks to the rear chainstay pivot location which is where a mech would normally sit. This pushed the mech lower and into the firing line of any and all rocks. Many, many mechs met their untimely end on this frame!


This particular incident wasn't the fault of the mech position but me carrying on down the top section of Ft Bill at an SDA with a puncture. The D521 rims certainly weren't that tough once the tyre was gone!


Cranks - Originally these were 'just released' Race Face Diabolus that weighed a ton but were super stiff. To minimize Q factor we ran the triple ring 73mm version (despite the 83mm shell), but with no axle spacers. Then we gained sponsorship from Middleburn (I think Sully might have ended up as the US distributor), and I went with the ISIS spec RS7 DH in 165mm which weren't as stiff but were a fair chunk lighter. I started getting stuff for this just to get it moving but I'm now more minded to build it closer to 'as was', which will likely mean hunting down some RF cranks, or Middleburns, but 165mm RS7 DH's now seem to be daft money. Annoying as I think I sold mine for about fifty quid! It's currently got some dirt cheap Shimano Saint M815's on there as they were the right price at the right time.


Chain device - I was supported by the UK Gamut distributor at the time so I was using one of their early P40 guides with the upper solid block and lower roller. They were one of the earlier plastic bash guards and were actually pretty tough, I rated them , especially compared to the aluminium based MRP stuff, or the aesthetically over-chunky mk1 E13 stuff which were pretty weighty.


Brakes - These were going to be Hayes Mag's but by the time the frame turned up I'd moved onto the first era of Avid Juicy 7's which came with the stop gap GT DHI I rode in late '05. I rode these for most of '06 and then swapped to the first gen of Avid Code's when they were made available on early release in small numbers to teams etc. They were great brakes, powerful and pretty reliable all in. I've built this up with a dirt cheap set of SRAM Guide RS's but like most SRAM brakes they're crap, and cheapness was their main selling point. Power wise they're better than the Juicy's but probably not the Codes. Long term though I've got the intention of trying to get at least one working set of Hayes Mags running out of the many bits I've got so I'll probably fit them, along with the GRC 'Long' levers that Sully also made. They'll likely be even worse than the Guides but for a wall hanger they'll do the trick.


Wheels - Hadley hubs rock. I like Hope but they've always been quite slow rolling compared to the likes of Mavic and Hadley, and with a low engagement they're not so good for getting a quick snap out of a corner. Some may doubt this but like for like you'd gain 1-2 bike lengths over the distance of the motorway at fort william between the types thanks to that lower resistance. I know this because we did a lot of testing back in the day and I've still got my note books. These Hadleys were cheap thanks to the deal we had at the time and I was pretty pleased to get both sets back. I'll eventually get some new bearings for them but they're really not too bad. That said, the proprietary bearing setup means that for my riding now I'd likely be spending a lot on bearings for not much benefit as extra pedalling effort is in the negligible category, and their sealing isn't amazing. Good enough, but not impervious. Mavic D321s in CD grey were the rim of choice although given how many I went through with racing these aren't what I've currently got. When I sold the frame I built one set of wheels up with the old WC favourite Sun Singletrack I had a spare set of (they'll dent before they puncture), and the other wheels were a combo of a black EX729 and a Sun MTX34 that I was running. I'll either get a pair of CD D321's, or find a matching rim for either one of those. My OCD can't cope with the mixed setup! I've got some old 26" Hutchinson spikes there at the moment (which handily can be shared across my other DH bike, an M9. The other wheels have seen the Singletracks swapped out for some Mk2 Stans Flows from an old set of test wheels and will get some Minion DHFs that will give a slight nod to modernity thanks to tubeless while being basically what I rode for years. They were certainly a crap load better than the popular but IMO awful and unpredictable High Rollers.


Other bits - The steering stop underneath the downtube needs to have the thread helicoiled as I ripped it out in a crash on the World Champs wallride at Fort William when I made an arse of it, and while I recovered it using a longer bolt I suspect the same thing happened at a later date as there are now no threads left. I've run out of M8 inserts though so that'll be a job for the future when I remember and get some more ordered. The bike also originally had a Hopey steering damper which was awesome on fast and rough tracks but was annoyingly lost by USPS when I shipped it back for a rebuild. Rather annoying, so that's something I'm on the hunt for. Decals came from Filip Badura in Poland and they're bloody brilliant, especially considering he created them from old pictures and no dimensions!



So there you have it, a 18 year old DH bike that's almost as it was when I was racing it. To say I'm pleased to have it back and built up is an understatement. I've even still got the old jerseys to go with it. I did review it for the now long dead Descent-World as one of the first articles I wrote but I'll need to go back through some old hard drives to see if I can find the original file with the words. Some of the pics here are the ones Ian Linton did with me down at Ae Forest for that article. The all in weight for anyone wondering would set weight weenies hearts racing; 45.2lb!





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Interesting read. The guy you bought it off is a moron for selling it so cheap though! The bell ends with Surrons are paying £7-900 for 26" Fox 40's. I sold my last set of Monster T's last year for £800 and I have no doubt what they would be going on...
Not sure I'd call him a 'moron' @Lacuna, not everyone keeps up with the going rate for everything, especially if it's been sat gathering dust for years. And if the going rate is £7-900 for a shagged out pair of nearly 20 year old 40's then the drug dealers on their electric motorbikes are welcome to them for that money. I certainly wouldn't have paid that sort of cash for something to hang on a wall and never get used, no matter how nice it was to have back.
Brilliant thread. Loved the details and the quality photos. Nice one, a great and interesting read
Cheers, it's nice to remind myself of stuff I've had/done by doing these. Once I've finished some other bikes off I'll post more. The race pics I *think* are all Ian Linton's, the other riding ones in the North West are my dads as he used to do a lot of the shooting for me when I was doing stuff for Pinkbike.
Not sure I'd call him a 'moron' @Lacuna, not everyone keeps up with the going rate for everything, especially if it's been sat gathering dust for years. And if the going rate is £7-900 for a shagged out pair of nearly 20 year old 40's then the drug dealers on their electric motorbikes are welcome to them for that money. I certainly wouldn't have paid that sort of cash for something to hang on a wall and never get used, no matter how nice it was to have back.

Yes, fair enough, that was harsh. It is true though that even a shagged set of 40's would go for more than you paid for all the parts you got on ebay
I spoke to the guy a couple of years ago about this and he wanted £700, told him £450 was more realistic and he never got back to me, glad it found its way home!
Just come to this. Excellent story, great history, super-aggressive looking bike 👍
Cheers Al. It was a great bike in its day. I'm going to get it out in the next month or so which'll be an interesting experience I'm sure. The rear end was always pretty good, if the front end was about 4" longer and the head angle several degrees slacker to match modern geo, I suspect it would still be very capable, especially on the burlier trails.