Gear

Tech Report: Shock troops

In the beginning there was RockShox. When first raced in 1990, Paul Turner’sRS-1 fork jump-started the suspension revolution. As you’re most likelyaware, Manitou followed suit and produced its own elastomer-sprung forkjust a year later. Within two short years the two suspension companieshad locked horns over market share (albeit small dollars way back then). Fast forward to 2004 and the two are back at it again-this time vyingover potentially millions of dollars in original equipment spec' and aftermarket sales. Stroll on down to your local bike shop and take an informal poll and I’ll bet

By Andrew Juskaitus, VeloNews technical editor

Manitou has the upper hand... for now.

Manitou has the upper hand… for now.

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In the beginning there was RockShox. When first raced in 1990, Paul Turner’sRS-1 fork jump-started the suspension revolution. As you’re most likelyaware, Manitou followed suit and produced its own elastomer-sprung forkjust a year later. Within two short years the two suspension companieshad locked horns over market share (albeit small dollars way back then).

Fast forward to 2004 and the two are back at it again-this time vyingover potentially millions of dollars in original equipment spec’ and aftermarket sales. Stroll on down to your local bike shop and take an informal poll and I’ll bet good money you count two Manitou forks for every RockShoxyou see. The reason? RockShox lost considerable OE spec (the product manufacturers choose to put on their completely-built models) because of a serious case of lack of innovation. Why? Because when RockShox chose to move 100 percent of its production to Taiwan, it wasn’t able to spare any of its engineering resources to work on further developing the 2004 line. That means the 2004 RockShox product line remains pretty much the same as the 2003 line.

Meanwhile Manitou has been hard at work further refining its extremelypopular SPV technology (licensed from Progressive Suspension). To bringyou up to speed, SPV technology (both in forks and shocks) helps quellunwanted suspension movement from a rider’s own body weight, yet stillremains active to trail impacts. Manufacturers love the technology andrealize their customers will demand it in 2004, so off with the RockShoxforks and shocks and on with the Manitou goodies. That’s why you’re seeingso much Manitou placement these days. In fact, in speaking with Manitou’sJoel Smith, he explained that they [Manitou] perceive Fox [Racing Shox]as our closest competitor, not RockShox.”

Pretty bold words for a tough market.

So what’s to become of RockShox? My opinion is that it’s way too earlyto write off RockShox. While 2004 might not be a banner technological yearfor the SRAM-owned company, 2005 has the potential to really shine. Howmight I know this? A few weeks ago I packed up the car and made the 1 1/2-hour drive down to somewhat sunny Colorado Springs for an afternoon ride inthe city’s famous Palmer Park (think Moab, Utah, not Central Park, NY).

Rolling along the park’s seemingly endless technical singletrack, Iran into a few of the RockShox engineers hard at work test riding 2005product (RockShox has a R&D test facility only a stone’s throw fromthe park). While kind enough to highlight some of the technology they’vebeen hard at work at, I was sworn to secrecy, so I can’t spill any of thedetails I learned that day, but I will admit I was impressed with the directionthe company will take in 2005. The suspension war should heat up in ’05.

Speaking of riding 2005 product, Manitou has been kind enough to pluck me from winter’s snowy grip here in Boulder and has invited me to spend four days riding a host of their 2005 fork and shock technology down in sunny Arizona this upcoming weekend. If you care about this sort of stuff, look for my updates over the weekend (depending on how much Manitou will allow me to divulge).

For all those readers who’ve sent me their questions regarding last week’s posting of Michelin’s new road tubeless technology, you’re gonna have to wait another day or two. Michelin’s man with all the answers is on the road right now and unable to respond to my persistent e-mails and phone calls. Believe me, I’m just as curious as you are.