Gear

Tech Report: A trip to the desert with RockShox

This time of year is almost like Christmas for those of us who love bicycles and the annual improvements to the technology that adds to the pleasureof riding them. That's right, it’s time for the 2005 product roll-outs! I've really been enjoying the fact that next year’s suspension product lines are going to be marked by serious competition and some major developments. Manufacturers have been particularly eager to showcase technology to help them hold or regain a foothold in the lucrative bicycle suspension fork and shock market. Manitou was first this year to debut its 2005 product

By Andrew Juskaitis, VeloNews Technical Editor

April Lawyer rides the lightweight air-sprung Reba

April Lawyer rides the lightweight air-sprung Reba

Photo: Dirk Belling

This time of year is almost like Christmas for those of us who love bicycles and the annual improvements to the technology that adds to the pleasureof riding them. That’s right, it’s time for the 2005 product roll-outs!

I’ve really been enjoying the fact that next year’s suspension product lines are going to be marked by serious competition and some major developments. Manufacturers have been particularly eager to showcase technology to help them hold or regain a foothold in the lucrative bicycle suspension fork and shock market. Manitou was first this year to debut its 2005 product offerings in Scottsdale, Arizona in mid-February. For the past three days, RockShox has fired back with a roll-out of its own radical suspension technology.

Located a short 25 miles outside of the glimmer and glam’ of Las Vegas,the relatively sleepy town of Boulder City, Nevada, played host to “SRAM/RockShox’s 2005 worldwide product press launch.” Centered at the up-and-coming mountain-bike Mecca of Bootleg Canyon Park, the launch offered three days of “Grade-A” singletrack testing. Taking full advantage of the park’s “built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers” 45-mile trail system, our RockShox guides (including the venerable Greg Herbold, trials demi-god Jeff “Leapin’” Lenowsky, and pro gravity gurus April Lawyer and Steve Peat) directed our daily rides on some of the most beautifully designed flowing singletrack in the western U.S.

Rockshox’s new royal couple
Under our command (riding Santa Cruz Blurs) were two of Rockshox’slatest mountain bike suspension fork offerings: Reba and Pike. Move overJudy, and see-you-later Psylo, these two new forks both offer a radicalnew damping system targeted at the latest trend in suspension: the newlynecessary “Stable Platform Performance,” which quells suspension movementunder body movement, but activates under trail forces.

The twist in RockShox’s technology is that its Motion Control dampingsystem offers a wider range of adjustment in addition to being on-the-flyactivated or deactivated. This on-the-fly activation is accomplished througha top cap mounted or remote-activated compression switch.

Confused? Here’s the deal: both Reba and Pike forks can be rider adjustedfrom fully active (meaning just about any trail impact or compression willstart to compress the fork) to nearly fully locked out (meaning only themost severe hits will begin to compress the fork). One the fork beginsto activate, regular spring rates take over and control the opposing forceto the compression of the fork.

Here are the individual line breakdowns for both Pike and Reba (no,not the country crooner McEntire):

Reba is designed to, “establish the new standard for lightweight performancesuspension.”

Well, let’s qualify that a little: No, it’s not a replacement for thehyper-light cross-country racing oriented SID, but it will replace most of the lighter air-sprung Duke models. According to RockShox’s Sander Rigney, “Yes, you can race it, but you can just as easily trail ride with this fork. It’s a lightweight fork designed for the adventure racer, all-day rider or performance-conscious weekend warrior. No, it’s not a freeride fork.”

The air sprung fork will come in six configurations: three offeringfixed travels of 85, 100 or 115mm (3.45-pound* Team, 3.53-pound* Race and3.53-pound* SL) of travel and three offering a U-Turn external travel adjuster(3.66-pound* Team U-Turn, 3.74-pound* Race U-Turn and 3.74-pound* SL U-Turn)which infinitely adjusts the fork’s travel from a range of 85 to 115mm.Each of these forks sport 32mm Easton aluminum stanchions, a butted aluminumsteerer tube and Motion Control damping system. Each can also be upgradedto RockShox’s innovate remote compression adjuster (threshold adjustablelock-out) switch called “PopLoc.”

Pike is the successor to the Psylo line and offers U-Turn adjustabletravel from 95 to 140mm. The three forks in the line (4.75-pound* Team,4.95-pound* Race and 4.95-pound* SL) also feature 32mm stanchions, coilspring compression, Motion Control damping and a clever new “Maxle” 20mmthrough-axle system.

Riding impressions?
Understanding that the forks we rode this past week were close to production, but not 100 percent, I have to say walked away from camp quite impressed with RockShox’s 2005 efforts.

The key to RockShox's new damping system-the Motion Control damper system found inside the right leg of PIke a ...

The key to RockShox’s new damping system-the Motion Control damper system found inside the right leg of PIke a …

Photo: Dirk Belling

Why? Two words: “Motion Control.” While I’ve been a fan of “stable platform” suspension technology since its inception over five years ago, I’ve not been won-over by the lack of small bump (chatter/stutterbumps) sensitivity that riders have had to sacrifice in order to gain pedalingefficiency. With other technology (i.e. Manitou’s SPV fork technology)I found my hands, arms and back more sore after a long day of riding becausehigh-frequency vibrations were able to make their way through the forkand into my upper body. While even more adjustable in 2005, Manitou’s SPVtechnology still leaves much to be desired for small bump sensitivity [based on my early season testing of the company’s long-travel Nixon line].

And that’s the key to RockShox’s Motion Control: it offers a very noticeablerange of on-the-fly adjustable “pedaling threshold” adjustment. Riderscan not only set the point at which the fork becomes fully active, butcan also completely deactivate all compression damping (making the forkextremely reactive to all hits).

Steve Peat hammers the longer-travel Pike fork through Bootleg Canyon

Steve Peat hammers the longer-travel Pike fork through Bootleg Canyon

Photo: Dirk Belling

In my opinion, this is the best fork application of a pedaling platform:fully active in stutter-bump sections, or partially-to-fully active forthose times when a rider desires pedaling efficiency (such as climbing orsprinting) or compression resistance (G-out sections).

For racers or avid riders, this technology makes sense. On-the-flyrider-adjustable sensitivity is the ideal application of stable platformtechnology. I think set-it-and-forget-it pedaling platform technology makesmore sense on rear shocks, but not so with suspension forks because riders/racers ask so much more from front suspension. Small bump sensitivity, bottom-out prevention, pedaling efficiency and anti-brake dive performance-it’s a lot to ask from a suspension fork’s damping system.

Keep in mind the most important function of any suspension technologyis to keep the wheels on the ground. Where other stableplatforms sacrifice this, RockShox’s design seems to have hit all the bases.Yes, you’ll find yourself reaching for a whole new array of levers and/orremote activators while riding, but for those who ask the most from theirsuspension, I feel this a small price to pay for wide-ranging performance.

Just to underscore how times are changing, both Reba and Pike will beoffered in only bossless disc-specific versions.

Look for more information on the 2005 RockShox and SRAM product linein issue #7 of VeloNews.

*all weights are manufacturer’s claimed projected final productionrun weights

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