The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Manitou Absolute+ Tuning Awesomeness

A while back I was assigned to guinea-pig around on a demo Manitou fork. Was I a bit concerned, you ask? More than a bit, I reply! I had ridden, observed, and worked on recent iterations of Manitou forks, and they had been gabbage for a while. They hit their nadir in about 2004, which is about when I gave up and became a fan of another company's suspension offerings.

These new forks, I was assured, are completely different. They feature the Mars air-assisted coil spring (of which I was suspicious), a brand new damper (of which I was suspicious), a new crown casting which would be stronger than the previous one (of which I was suspicious), and a brand new feature: custom tuning (of which I was more than suspicious).

Then along came the Tower Pro into my life. I rode around with it, and it was nice. I put a 17 degree stem on the bike, flipped it, slammed it, and rode it around some more. Magical things began to happen: with the Absolute+ damping system and its subtle-to-pronounced platform settings, the bike felt lively and quick. The front wheel stayed planted in corners. The platform kept it from diving, and it is adjustable with the little red dial on top of the right leg.

But the real magic comes when you get done with a ride and say, "Meh. The fork didn't feel good today, and the little red dial wasn't doing it for me." With the Absolute+ damper, we can totally change what your fork feels like.


Because Manitou has put the power in our hands to make your suspension what you want it to be, if you can describe what you want, we can make it happen. If you want lots of high-speed damping for big hits at speed, we can do that. If you want a solid platform for race day that opens up to linear-rate travel, we can do that. If you want progressive, non-bottoming travel for dirt jumping, we can do that. If you want maximum versatility because you have no idea what you're getting yourself into, we can do that!

For my demo fork, I felt that the stock platform was too firm and that the high-speed damping was preventing me from getting full travel. It felt a bit harsh in anything but the wide-open setting. I'm more of an XC guy than a trail guy, so I wanted the fork to be super linear whether the platform is on or off. Once I break that threshold, I needs me my travel.

So I shopped their handy super-secret tuning catalog, looking for something that would suit my needs. I found this setting and decided to give it a try:

But the platform was way too light! It broke free at 50 lbs of force, which is fine for smooth riding, but when I was cranking up a hill, I easily overwhelmed it. Maybe for an 80 lb. junior racer, but not for a 180 lb. cannonball.

I figured I would need more than double that to be truly happy in life. By my specious calculations (involving some serious rounding) on the back of a random receipt, I discovered that I could get around 115-120 pounds by changing the platform shim from 1.5mm to 2.0mm.

Fan-doodly-tastic! Now to actually make it happen!

This is the red dial of fun. I will eventually get the optional MILO handlebar remote kit so that all this fun is accessible without getting my hand tangled up in my shift cables on rough trails.

Whoa, Nelly! Can you say "options paralysis?" This is the Absolute+ tuning kit. We have one at each location.

Thankfully, the stout yeomen from Hayes/Manitou/Answer/Sun/Ringle/Wheelsmith provided us with the super-secret tuning manual that features a color-coded cheat sheet. "Yes, but what if I'm colorblind?" Well, be sure and ask someone you trust before you leave the house if you pick out your own clothes.

Once you pull the compression damper, that 13 mm nut is the only thing holding it together!

OK, there's your entire compression damping assembly. Mine is pretty simple because I don't need a lot of high-speed damping. Otherwise there would be more shims in the stack, and they would be different sizes according to their function.

These two items are the only ones that matter for our purposes. The one on the left is called a clamp shim and comes in two different sizes that make a huge difference in the breakaway rate and feel of your platform. A bigger clamp shim means a more pronounced sense of break-away on your platform. The one on the right is the platform shim itself, and its thickness determines how much actual force is needed to overcome the lockout.

Confusing? It makes total sense when you feel the difference.

There you is. Now, into the fork you goes, mister .2mm shim! I'll leave everything else the same this time around.

And... slap it back together. I topped off the oil at the factory-specified height (with Motorex oil, of course!). Must not lose the detent BB's. They're little fellas.

Voila! It's a totally different fork now. Just honching around the shop demonstrated that I should be able to gorilla-climb without overwhelming the lockout, but the lower settings are pretty much the same as the middle settings with the previous shim stack. And the compression rate will stay nice and linear, just like I want it. It should be perfect! If not, I'm the guinea pig, so I'll try again!

So how will 115.3 pounds of lockout work for me? I'll find out tomorrow morning.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Real World Suspenion Tuning

Whoa! This could be the future of rear sus.
...This is the true story... of a room full of suspension tuners... picked to learn in a together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...SRAM TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY, 2011 TunerPalooza.

Dbl D and a tool I just gotta have!
Many years ago I went to the RockShox compound in Colorado Springs learn about their forks and stuff. It was a different time in suspension. The Pure system was king. Names like Duke and Psylo were the hot topics of the day. Hippie Tech and the Angry Asian were the big tuners at the time and PUSH was about to happen in California. There was change in the air.

We spoke of Nitrogen! Unheard of.
Back then the education I got at Rock Shox was pretty wide open, I don't think anyone told my tutors not to tell me everything. For the last decade things have been different for sure. At best training from the factory was based on eye candy, sales pitch, free lunch, swag and then a trip home. You tended to feel a little dirty and guilty when it was all done; after a shower and some introspection you went back to the shop and figured out how to fix things on your own.

Well, what I am calling "TunerPalooza" was definitely a different beast entirely! Rock Shox spilt out all the pixie dust and unicorn oil for us to see. Illicit secrets were confessed and dirty laundry was aired and we all spoke freely (I did hold back a little as I have learned people look at me funny when I don't).

For me it was a great opportunity to connect with old friends and meet some legends of the industry.

With the major suspension companies really taking an "open source" policy with professional tuners and service centers the future is bright. The Shockspitals, Suspension Experts, Garage Works, Dirtlabs and Push' of the world have been tuning, rebuilding and repairing better than anyone for a long time (most have worked for the big three). It will be really beneficial for the companies like SRAM and Manitou that are building a nest in the trust tree for all of the professionals. Performance and Customer service will only improve with policies like this.

FOX is still keeping its secrets; we will see how that works out for them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If a grenade went off...

Shockspital/Freewheel helped make history this week, taking part in the first-ever gathering of suspension gurus from across the country.

Get a bigger truck!
SRAM Technical University (STU) pulled together a veritable who's-who of suspension service shops at their facility in Colorado Springs for a two-day master class in being awesome. Pick any legend in the MTB suspension service/tuning industry who isn't currently working for one of RockShox's competitors, they were probably there.

And this wasn't your average Chuck & Dave's Comedy Hour kind of STU (okay, yes it was, but...). Instead of the usual pair of instructors--who do fine job on their own--SRAM threw everything they had at us. In the room at any given time were product managers, lead technicians, race mechanics, engineers, marketing staff, the folks behind the technical documentation, you name it. At several points there were as many SRAM/RockShox employees in the room as there were "students." Clearly there was something special going on here.

The group gathers for knowledge absorption
And in many ways what RockShox was doing is unprecedented. Not only had the attendees never all been in the same room together, we had never been treated to such unguarded candor from a major manufacturer before. Typical tech trainings are informative but very by-the-book; we learn the official way of doing things and don't get to see behind the curtain, to hear about the product eccentricities that often we have already discovered for ourselves, but have had to develop our own techniques for dealing with. But at this event we were treated like trusted insiders. RockShox was more interested in knowing how they could make our lives easier as suspension techs rather than getting us to toe the line and promise never to take apart their dampers.

Come in close, kids! Don't want to miss anything...
Our time, as usual, was split between the classroom and the lab. But again where this STU session differed from the norm is that the classroom time was a big group discussion, with equal amounts of information coming from all corners of the room. And in the lab, taking apart Boxxers, Monarchs, Vivids and Reverbs under the tutelage of an impressive team of experts, we got into such detail that the STU instructors were asking questions along with us. We now know things about RockShox rear shocks that are so privileged that I'm not allowed to blog about them! But rest assured that it's information that helps us do our jobs better.

Our friend Luby expertly attends to a Monarch
The best part is that this wasn't a one-time deal. The idea is for this first meeting to develop into a long-term relationship between us and SRAM. This has the potential to benefit everyone involved, not least of whom is you, the customer!

And though the folks from SRAM treated us very, very well, and are clearly very serious about this venture, don't forget that the first company to bring us into their trusted circle was Manitou!

Monday, December 5, 2011

What I did for my Winter Bike Expo!!

  This past weekend was the Winter Bike Expo, and it was a hit! We had seminars on things like Tire Science, Winter Maintenance, The Arrowhead Adveture Race and how to dress for the cold.
  There was food, beer, prizes, racing and beer.
  There were demos of fat tire bikes from Surly and Salsa and lots of sales and specials to help get you out fitted for this winters riding season.
As far as I can tell the Winter Riding Expo was a huge hit! Seminars on Winter riding, tires and Maintenance; as well as the Arrowhead. There was free beer and beer tasting.                     

Here is a good shot of me from the  side. Also in the background is the Midtown Bike Centers service leader and "Too Tall" Tyson of Shockspital fame.

Here is I am in a funny hat; and this little honey is the Beez Knees, literally... really she is!
This is me At the Festival enjoying, all the conferences.

 This is me about to mug these people. Shhhhh, be very very quiet.
Here I am telling a very funny story.

This is a self portrait I took while riding a Moonlander through a crowd of people.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Stuff Really Works

I didn't expect that it would but it kept my coffee from soaking my shirt! Then it kept water from soaking into my shoes.