We caught up with pro endurance racer Sonya Looney (Freakshow Scott) while she was at the Trans-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race in central Pennsylvania this past weekend. Looney, who lives in British Columbia, travels the world competing in some of the toughest mountain bike stage races and marathons.
tan’s NoTubes: What wheels did you bring to the Trans-Sylvania Epic and why?
Sonya Looney: I brought two sets of Stan’s NoTubes wheels: 27.5-inch Valors and 27.5-inch Arch MK3s. I love my Bravos, but considering the travel for this race, I could only bring one bike, so I picked my two wheelsets that fit the non-Boost wheel standard of the bike I’d be racing here. For all the cross country stages, I raced the Valors, but for the enduro stage, I switched to the Arch MK3s. It was so worth bringing the Arch MK3s because I was able to get second in the enduro stage with those wheels on my cross country bike!SNT: How did your Stan’s wheels help you at the Trans-Sylvania Epic?
SL: Having a wheelset that I can trust on all the different kinds of terrain is key. A flat tire can end the race for me because the general classification is always so close. Feeling confident in my wheels is very important. For example, being able to use the 26mm wide rim of the Arch MK3s with 2.4-inch tires was helpful in the enduro stage because I was on my cross country bike and didn’t have the greater enduro suspension that most people had. I had to count on my wheels and tires to make up for it.SNT: A lot of people say wheelsets are one of the biggest upgrades you can make on a bike. What are the top three things you look for in a wheelset?
SL: Weight, stiffness and deflection. Weight is important, of course, because less rotational weight is the best thing you can do to lighten up how your bike feels. Stiffness - well, that goes without saying. And deflection is important because when you are running lower tire pressure, you know a rock is going to hit your rim, and it’s important to know that your rim can take it.
SNT: Everyone has their own preferred way to set up new tires tubeless. What works for you?
SL: I typically use an air compressor when I’m at home. When I’m not at home, I use a floor pump. Because I use Stan’s Race Sealant, I first pour it directly into the tire before fully installing it. Some people soap up the tire and inflate it before adding the sealant to first seat the tire, but I don’t do that because I never have any trouble installing and setting up my tubeless tires on the first try. SNT: What other Stan’s wheels do you ride - besides the ones you brought to the Trans-Sylvania Epic?
SL: Carbon Bravos are on my enduro bikes, and they are bombproof! I’ve raced three enduro stage races on them - in all different types of terrain - and never had an issue. I ride them at home in British Columbia, and they are amazing - they work so well.
SNT: How would you compare Stan’s Valor and Bravo carbon wheels to other wheelsets you’ve ridden?
SL: I haven’t ridden a lot of other wheelsets, but the ease of getting them set up tubeless stands out in my mind along with the stiffness of the carbon wheels. The stiffness makes me feel like I have more control in the rocks. Thanks to Stan’s WideRight technology, I can run the perfect tires for each wheelset and application. For example, on the wider Bravos, I run a higher volume, wider tire. The width of each different rim for various types of riding allows my tires to be at their optimal shape for the best riding traction and control. When you are cornering, you don’t want a square tire shape with outside knobs that don’t hook up as well - which is what happens when your tire is mounted to a rim that is too wide.SNT: How often do you check your Stan’s sealant?
SL: It’s important to refresh your sealant because it does dry out over time, so I check mine every month, plus I always put on new tires for races, which means that I’m putting in the right amount of fresh sealant ahead of every race.
SNT: Some people out there are still reluctant to go tubeless. Is there any one piece of info or advice that you could give about going tubeless?
SL: Switching to tubeless tires lets you run lower tire pressure and changes your riding experience by 100% for the better. With lower tire pressure, you don’t bounce off of things. You have good grip on every surface. Your risk of sliding or bouncing off of things is also much lower. It's pretty clear that Sonya Looney just loves to ride her bike. Photo by the Trans-Sylvania Epic Media Team.[/caption] SNT: Baggies vs spandex? SL: I race cross country in spandex, but I pretty much wear baggies the rest of the time. In B.C., you’re not allowed to wear spandex on the trail. I had to go buy baggies when I moved there.
SNT: 27.5 vs. 29?
SL: I’ll ride 27.5-inch wheels for any race that is mostly singletrack. For some international stage races, there are a lot of dirt roads, and for those, I prefer 29-inch wheels.
SNT: Dropper or no dropper?
SL: Dropper. 90% of the time. SNT: Would you own an eMTB?
SL: Not right now, but II rode one at Sea Otter at the Bicycle Leadership Conference.
SNT: Chocolate milk or special recovery drink?
SL: I make an almond milk smoothie with dates, cinnamon, almond butter and vanilla. I make it before each race and bring it with me all ready to go in my cooler.
SNT: Marathon stage races vs enduro?
SNT: Thoughts on current state of women’s cycling?
SL: Ignore all the complaining and just ride your bike and be yourself!
At the time of this interview, Looney was the elite women’s race leader at the Trans-Sylvania Epic. Unfortunately, she cracked her frame in a subsequent stage. Rather than drop out, Looney borrowed a bike from a spectator and persevered to the finish, evening knowing that she would be subjected to a one-hour time penalty for accepting outside assistance during the race. She still finished 10th overall in the five-day race.