The Golden Wrench

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Technical feature!? What technical feature? You mean that slightly rough section back there?

Suspension has been taking up a lot of my time lately. Riding it, working on it, trying to save money to acquire it...

For the last few years I've been riding a couple versions of Rock Shox's venerable Duke fork (30mm stanchions, outdated damping, miniscule travel). Back in the early part of this century this was a ground-breaking fork, but we're a decade into the 00's, and I was in need of an upgrade.

So back in July I pushed all my money into a pile in the living room and figured it looked like enough for a new fork.

But it couldn't be just any fork. The problem (and fun!) with working on everybody else's suspension components is that I get to see all the insides. I see the fancy stuff, I see the entry-level stuff, I see the ideas that didn't really work, I see the brilliant engineering solutions for complex problems. And I see the stuff coming out of Watsonville, California. I'm talking about Fox Racing Shox here.

Lots of people have lots of good ideas about how to make suspension forks that get the job done, and there are plenty of forks out there that will perform great on the trail for way less money than a Fox. But if what you're looking for is the silkiest, plushest, most ground-hugging, most fine-tuneable suspension on the market, Fox is it.

But I'm not the only person who thinks this. So if you're in the market for a Fox fork, be prepared to wait. I did. I waited two agonizing months. That's most of our riding season around here! And yes, Fox's stuff is expensive. But back up a couple paragraphs and you'll find that I already explained that. And let me tell you from first hand experience that my new fork was worth every second of waiting and every penny I spent.

My weapon of choice was the 2011 F100 Terralogic fork with a 15QR thru-axle. I was taking a gamble here--Fox reintroduced their Terralogic damper just this year, after pulling it from production in 2007 because the earlier versions weren't performing to expectations. But I had a feeling, similar to the one I had back when I bought a Burton Alpine and a season pass to a local hill before I'd even once ridden a snowboard--I just knew it was going to be awesome. And I was right both times.

Let me stop for a minute and explain what Terralogic is: Most of you are familiar with the ability of suspension forks to "lock out," usually by spinning a knob on the top of the right fork leg (some of you even have handlebar-mounted remote levers for this). This prevents the fork from compressing while sprinting or climbing, minimizing pedal bob and allowing for maximum acceleration. When you want the fork to go back to soaking up bumps, you spin the knob back to the "off" position.

This is a great feature to have, but here in the Midwest there aren't many places with sustained climbs. Most of my favorite trails have constant minor elevation changes and are more like a roller coaster than a luge track. That's an awful lot of knob-fiddling to turn the lockout on and off every 30 yards. And this is why Fox's Terralogic system is a miracle.

Built into the damper cartridge is an inertia valve (a large-ish piece of brass) which in smooth conditions keeps the compression circuit closed, so the fork is locked out. When you hit a bump, the BrassMass opens (an object at rest...), allowing the fork to compress like a non-locked-out fork. When the trail smooths out, the mass settles back into its closed position, and you once again have a locked-out fork.

I had my doubts in the parking lot, when it felt like I had two different forks on the bike depending on whether I was riding in the flat or hitting the speed bumps. But once I got out to the trail, the fork disappeared (I mean this in a good way) and I was riding faster than I ever have before.

Braking bumps disappeared, obstacles got smaller, corners got stickier, skinnies got wider and getting out of the saddle to hammer on the pedals no longer caused the front end to bounce and wallow. The transition between open and locked-out (and vice versa) was seamless and instant. No lag, no initial harshness, no confusion. Solid. Amazing. Miraculous.

Part of the improvement is definitely due to the 15mm thru-axle, which reduces front-end flex and make steering more stable and precise. Part of it is the extra 20mm of travel over my old fork, giving me more cushion to soak up the rough stuff (I was worried the extra travel would make my steering slower because of the slacker headtube angle, but for some magical reason this isn't an issue). Part of it is Fox's FiT damper, which is supple beyond belief. Oh, and don't forget the new super-slippery Kashima coat on the fork stanchions, which improves small-bump compliance and supposedly also improves durability.

In short: Awesome. Amazing. Worth the wait. The only downside is that I have to try harder to push the fork to its limits, meaning I have to ride faster, meaning I have to pedal more, meaning I'm a little sore today. And tired. But happy.

...this is all a long way of saying that we're currently offering a special on all suspension labor through the end of October. So stop by and give your fork and/or shock the love it needs (annual service!) while it's cheap.