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RockShox 2011 Forks

--As much as I’d like to say it was all for fun, the RockShox Base Camp event that I recently attended in Durango, Colorado was still work related. And as such, my duty list includes some reporting. So without further ado, here we go on a thrillride through the sage and scrub oak aboard some hot new items from the RockShox 2011 Suspension Fork product line. Here’s what I personally rode…

Revelation RLT Ti — Dual Position Air Spring. Dual Position Air is the easiest to use crown mounted on-the-fly travel adjust available. It will only come on the Revelation for 2011, though I don’t expect the technology will be limited to this model in the future. Dual Position Air is cool in a number of ways -- (1) The carbon fiber adjustment lever is just a tad longer than the lockout levers they’ve previously used. This makes a mere swipe of the fingers across the outside of the fork crown effective at making a travel height change. (2) It only has two positions. Twist the lever forward to drop the fork roughly 30mm, twist it back towards you and it comes back up to the full 150mm travel. The lever only swings about 90° so the adjustments can be made easily even when you take a desperate swipe at it, in a lactic acid crippling haze. (3) The system relies on a super simple design housed within the left fork stanchion. There are basically no moving parts aside from the lever and associated check balls inside the top cap. So instead of hydraulic fluid moving between chambers to stage the fork height, like the 2-Step Air system, the Dual Position Air system simply uses air from the positive chamber.

One effect of the system is a slight lowering of the spring rate in the reduced travel setting. It makes sense and it works. Imagine where your center of gravity goes when you’re climbing a steep hill and might make use of a travel adjust… backwards right? That makes for rearward weight transfer and less weight on the front end of the bike. At this point, a lower spring rate is beneficial to maintain correct sag and consistent bump performance as you climb. Better performance, better traction, better geometry, better steering, better weight balance -- these are the benefits. And to think it’s all accessible with a quick swipe of a lever. You won’t need to stop and twist and twist, nor will you have to selectively aim for a sharp edged dial on the fork crown and go for one of three settings. Folks, this one’s either high or low -- stab it and keep on jammin’.

On another high note, the Revelation RLT Ti used a 1-1/8′ to 1.5′ tapered aluminum steerer. Tapered steerers are awesome because of the extra stability it gives the front end of the bike. The bigger lower bearing is also more durable and can take a serious beating. RockShox offers up a full carbon fiber crown and steerer for the World Cup version of the Revelation, but only in tapered. It shaves 157 grams (.35 lbs) from the weight of the RLT Ti that I rode, and it’s just as stiff. Another nice aspect, and not a surprise either(!), was the 15mm Maxle Lite thru-axle.

The latest version of the Maxle Lite, both in the 20mm and 15mm versions, took a few design cues from their 12mm rear Maxle. Most notable is that the internal skewer rod is terminated shortly after it runs through the expanding wedge for the collet. RockShox engineers determined that the old Maxle design with an expanding collet on each end was redundant due to the threaded interface between the left side of the axle and the fork leg anyway. So they 86′ed the assembly on the left side and cut 3/4ths of the rod out, saving more than a few grams. And after all that, the RockShox Maxle system still securely eliminates all axial and radial play in the hub/fork/axle assembly… and they’re the only ones with a legitimate claim to that.

The ride qualities of the Revelation RLT Ti were superb. The BlackBox Motion Control Damper allowed for low speed compression/lockout and threshold adjustment on the crown. As usual, the lockout was easy to use, and the carbon lever cap matched the Dual Position Air lever on the left side. The Revelation employs their Dual Flow Rebound damper. Basically you can control the beginning stroke rebound with the ending stroke rebound factory set with the shim stack on the rebound piston. The reason they split the circuits is to keep the end stroke rebound set as to avoid packing in successive bumps. What they found is that most folks like to have more rebound control for the beginning stroke, for a variety of reasons be them preference or performance. Either way, too much rebound damping at the end of the stroke and performance suffers -- not only rebound, but compression as well since a fork that packs up will ride successively farther into the travel with every repetitive bump, with a greater spring rate and eventually less headroom for bump absorption. So they’ve taken some of the guesswork out of great rebound performance.

The Revelation RLT Ti has a claimed weight of 1727 grams (3.81 lbs). We’ll see how that stands up to production specs later in the summer when these forks hit the shelves. Either way -- 150mm of travel and sub 4lbs is pretty sweet. Plus the easy to service Motion Control Damper and travel adjust make it a great package. There will be three axle options for Revelation for 2011 -- quick release, and 15 and 20mm Maxles.

Sid World Cup — I expected a lot from the SID… and not because the last time I was on one did it leave big shoes to fill. No the old SID with the 28mm stanchions was due a redesign long before it inevitably got what was coming. I rode the new SID in a 120mm World Cup version and it went beyond what I thought it might in terms of both performance and how I might use it. Had I not been handed this bike as-is, I doubt I’d ever have really ridden a 120mm SID. I’d have never thought that it would be an appropriate fork for a dude who’s a few years past prime condition and a good ways from the 145 lb Elite XC racer mold. In the end, I’m glad I rode it because it shattered my perceptions of how it would go in rough terrain.

This is a fork that utilizes carbon fiber for the crown and tapered steerer. This, in combination with the SID’s abbreviated upper tubes makes it 1365 grams (3.0 lbs). Now that’s a light fork! If you were around back then, remember when three pounds was the standard for lightweight in the mid nineties, then fork manufacturers started slipping us 3.5 and 4 lb forks when we weren’t looking as we were focused on getting more than 70-80mm of travel from them?

We’re back to the golden standard it seems. But for the feathery lightness of the SID, it was very surprising. In fact, I’d totally forgotten that I was on a SID until I climbed off the bike. I think that’s very telling of you’ve ever spent any time aboard the old super flexy 28mm SID. The full carbon crown and steerer were uber-stiff and the steering precision was remarkably unSID-like. I pointed…it went. Of course, the modern 32mm stanchions help make the fork more stable. I feel like the overall stability of this fork is due to the pleasant combination of many things -- tapered crown and steerer, 32mm stanchions, and lastly, the 15mm Maxle Lite thru-axle.

I certainly didn’t use kid gloves on it, and the 120mm SID World Cup never yielded. Whether through G-outs, loose ruts, cobbles, or hard corners it proved sturdy -- more so than you’d expect from a three pound fork. One thing that I thought was cool was how they shaved weight everywhere they could as long as it was sensible. One result of that was at the powerbulges around the lower bushings. No longer does the bulge wrap entirely around the lower leg. They’ve refined the shape based on stress analysis and found that they could remove the thickness on the inside half of the fork leg. The remaining bulge is reminiscent of a nicely tapered gusset, with long tapered tabs to ensure diffusion of forces in the leg. They also drilled out the bushings to save a few extra grams. For 2011, RockShox has a new coating called Keronite Grey. It’s similar to anodization in that the material is applied by an electrolytic process in solution. It forms a hard ceramic oxide layer on the surface of the magnesium lowers that is super durable and provides an awesome base coat for the clear finish coat to stick to. Even with the clear coat, the Keronite finish saves anywhere from 20-25 grams over powder coated black or white forks.

RockShox’s Blackbox Motion Control and Dual Flow Rebound dampers keep the springy action under tight control. The damping systems are the same as what I rode on the Revelation RLT Ti. What was a bit different was the Dual Air on the SID. There’s nothing like Dual Air to be able to fine tune exactly what you want your spring to feel like. You can easily adjust breakaway force and how the fork reacts to bumps, big and small. You can tune your fork in the parking lot to be super comfortable for 100 mile Leadville training rides on chattery dirt roads or for bottom out resistance for tough, high gradient singletrack. Also new for the SID this year is an integral hose guide on the arch. Say good bye to zip ties!

Lyrik RC2 DH — We did our shuttle runs on the Log Chutes DH trails in Durango aboard the 170mm long travel solo air version of this fork. It has the Mission Control DH compression damper. Essentially, RockShox engineers created this downhill specific DH damper to give the fork greater bump response and give you greater damping adjustment control. So if you ride mostly downhill or at the park and your climbing is limited and you don’t have a need for the lockout and threshold business, then this is the damper for you. You’ll benefit from a few grams of weight savings and a far smoother and more controlled ride in the rough stuff.

The Lyrik that I rode had a tapered 1-1/8′ to 1.5′ aluminum steerer and a 20mm Maxle Lite thru-axle. These two things combined with the 35mm upper tubes to make what can only be described as ‘moto-like’ steering precision.The Nomad was shod in 2.4 Continental Trail Kings, so I could pick a line and just nail it. And as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, the stiffness of the fork and the awe inspiring traction of the tires got me there.

I made a few adjustments after the first run on the Lyrik. The travel gradients printed on the upper tubes made it easy to tweak the air pressure a bit to achieve the amount of travel I wanted. Once the air spring was dialed, I sharpened the rebound a click or two so I’d have a tad quicker damping. On the compression side of things, the Mission Control DH offers up separate low- and high-speed compression adjusters. And the lack of lockout assembly simplifies the fluid pathway through the damper. This is what gives the Mission Control DH better small bump response. I’ve ridden the Mission Control quite a bit, and can say that the DH damper is noticeably smoother in compression. It also employs the Dual Flow Rebound system. This is the fork where I really noticed the benefits of this system. There was a rocky section in the trail that proved to be a great opportunity to sample the qualities of the dampers. Successive rocky outcrops and boulders came at quick intervals, quick enough to pack up a fork or rear shock if the rebound would’ve been set too slow. The preset factory ending stroke rebound allowed the shock to react fairly quickly to deep hits before the shock transitioned into user set beginning stroke circuit. This way, the fork was done absorbing and responding from one hit to be ready for the next and so on.

I’ve been riding a Totem Coil on my bike, and the 2180 grams (4.8 lbs) Lyrik RC2 DH felt absolutely feathery in comparison. And the 170mm of travel never felt like it gave away that much to the 180mm of my coil fork. In fact, the Lyrik felt better at the bottom of the stroke than my fork does. The Long Travel Air system uses a floating negative chamber to constantly shape the air spring throughout the travel. While it wasn’t quite as buttery as my coil at the top of the stroke, it wasn’t far from it. And the best part was where I might bottom my coil fork, the air spring on the Lyrik ramped up just enough to give the slightly shorter travel fork a bottomless feel to it.

--2011 looks like a good year for forthcoming RockShox products. There are a number of big improvements across the line and they’re determined to make inroads back towards the top of the realm where they once dominated. Stay tuned as I’ll report next on the RockShox rear shocks and new height adjustable seatpost that I rode at the RockShox Base Camp in Durango.