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Specialized Bicycle (SBC) is a large company full of bright, passionate bike riders who are constantly working to create new products that increase convenience, comfort, speed, and generally, push the limits of what’s possible on a bike.
The 2012 Specialized line not only contains 10 29er models available from base to S-Works spec versions, it is also full of new widgets, and here are a few of them.
What’s not to love about the new AutoSag technology built into the Fox rear shock of the StumpJumper FSR? Designed by Specialized, AutoSag allows the rider to set ride height (sag) of the rear suspension in seconds without a ruler or other measurement device, nor anyone to assist. The guts of the system are surprisingly simple, consisting an additional Schrader valve low down on the side of the air can connected to a port that vents a centimeter or so above the seal at the end of the can.
Setting the sag consists of four simple steps. (1) flip the blue compression-damping lever to the open position; (2) pump the shock via the main (black) Schrader valve at the head of the shock to 50psi beyond the rider’s numerical body weight measured in pounds (or to three times the body weight measured in kilograms); (3) while sitting on the saddle in a riding position, depress the red AutoSag Schrader valve until air no longer comes out, then release the valve; (4) bounce up and down a bit on the bike, set the compression and rebound damping, and go ride.
The innovation here is that the red Schrader valve vents air until the piston seal closes it off. By pumping the shock too high, the piston moves beyond the port (i.e., the hole in the side of the air can) connected to the red valve, even when the rider is sitting on the bike. The distance from the port to the air can end seal is equivalent to around 20 percent of the shock’s total travel length. So the release of air via the red valve is closed off by the piston seal once the shock has moved its sag distance. In other words, the pressures in the positive (main) air chamber and in the negative air chamber (area between the piston seal and the air can lower seal) will be equal when the shock has moved its sag distance of approximately 20 percent of total shaft travel.
So carrying a heavier hydration pack or switching riders on the bike no longer requires a time-consuming re-setting of ride height to maintain optimal suspension performance; with AutoSag it only takes seconds (and no measuring) to reset the ride height.
To bring other new ideas into fruition, Specialized uses an in-house 3D printer to make plastic prototypes quickly of practically anything you can imagine. Here’s a video of how one works. The company uses it to make instant prototypes of anything from helmet shells and parts to suspension members to human-shaped wind-tunnel mannequins.
High-Tech Brain Bucket
One new product involving lots of such rapid prototyping, as well as carving of traditional clay models, is the new Dissident carbon-fiber downhill helmet designed by full-face motocross helmet guru Bob Lakes.
At $450, the Dissident is the most expensive downhill helmet on the market, but it also has unsurpassed fit, safety, ventilation and aerodynamic features. Any gravity rider would want a helmet that fits well, including being snug around the cheeks, has good air flow (unlike many other gravity helmets, its 4th Dimension Cooling gets air to flow through the foam from vents in the shell), is aerodynamic, mates with any riding neck brace, and is lightweight.
But in the event of a spinal injury, this helmet could also make the difference between a life of more bike riding and walking, and a life spent in a wheelchair. If the rider has a suspected spinal injury, EMTs will see two features labeled for them to assist in removing the helmet. First, the tight-fitting cheek pads pull out from the bottom of the face guard using labeled tabs; so little tension is required for removal that the helmet, and hence the head and neck, will not move at all. Secondly, the “Eject” airbag build into a recess in the EPS foam above the head can be slowly inflated through a tube at the back of the helmet while stabilizing the head, allowing EMTs to gradually and gently pull the helmet off without putting pressure on the neck.
Pulling a helmet off is something you want, but pulling your full-fingered glove off in order to work a touch-screen computer — who wants that hassle? Specialized’s WireTap technology available in some of its Body Geometry gloves could be the answer many a technophile is jonesing for.
The thumb and forefinger have metallic threads stitched at diagonal angles at the tip designed to activate touch-screen computers. Perhaps I’m too dispassionate, but I was unable to make my iPad move with anywhere near as light a touch with a WireTap BG Ridge glove on as with my bare hand. I found that I needed to really press hard with the little grippy rubberized areas of the glove a bit back from the fingertips to make the screen do what I wanted, and I further found that with similar pressure I could make the computer work using the other three fingers that do not have the metallic threads at the tip. It’s a cool idea, and maybe it does work great for other people. WireTap is available in men’s and women’s BG Ridge gloves, in a winter glove called Element, and as an option in the BG Gel glove, too.
The Command Post BlackLite is a lightened Command Post that comes in three different travels: 75mm, 100mm, and 125mm. Those of us who have become devotees of on-the-fly-height-adjustable seatposts can appreciate the tighter tolerances of the bushings on the two keyways that control twisting play of the saddle; they are burnished newly each time the post comes to the end of the travel, keeping the tolerances tight and the side play of the saddle minimal. Rather than an infinitely-adjustable hydraulic system, the Command Post BlackLite is mechanical and clicks into one of three positions (via a stainless collet that engages machined grooves), thus not depending on hydraulic seals to maintain saddle position. The first stop is 35mm down to allow pedaling as well as saddle clearance for mixed terrain. The second stop at full travel is for technical descending. At 500 grams (for 75mm), it’s 100g lighter than previous Command Posts, and the lever is integrated with the grip.
In the advocacy area, SBC launched First Gear in January. First Gear is a worldwide program to get more kids on bikes. This video was shown at the company product launch to illustrate the spirit the company hopes First Gear engenders in kids. Specialized is also one of the founding sponsors of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA).
“High school is normally the time where kids these days stop riding bikes,” says company founder and president Mike Sinyard. “This high-school mountain bike league bridges the gap.”
Another recipient of SBC largesse is Right to Play. Through its matching-grant program, Specialized has awarded 151 grants totaling $360,000. Here’s one of them. The company understands that its ability to grow and continue to develop innovative bike widgets will be enhanced by increasing the number of bike riders worldwide, so it puts its money where its mouth is. And those of us who already are lifelong riders once again have more groundbreaking Specialized products to play with.
Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Lennard Zinn.
Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (www.zinncycles.com), a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”
Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.
Follow Lennard on Twitter.