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.