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Turner goes dw-link: Q&A with Dave Turner

Q&A with Dave TurnerWe’ve known for some time that a major change was in store for Turner Suspension Bikes in 2009, but we weren’t sure exactly what it would be. While a change to the dw-link has been heavily rumored in forums and the industry alike, it was exactly that: rumors, no confirmation, no denials. But, our curiosity was piqued. When we heard the new bikes would be introduced at Eurobike, we called Delta and booked a ticket. Naturally, Turner was our first stop in Friedrichshafen, and Dave Turner, the company’s namesake, braintrust and fearless leader, was kind enough to spend a few moments with us to discuss the new bikes.

You’ve just made the second major change to your suspension design in four years. What prompted this?

Well, some consider the change from ICT to TNT a major change, and it certainly was an emotionally charged switch, but from the actual riding point of view I don’t consider the switch major at all. With field testing years ago I proved that the ICT did not work any better than TNT, which I had been licensing previously, so I vowed to change nothing in the future that did not actually make a better bike than what I currently had in production. The dw-link just pedals better. The exact relationship of the dw-link in relationship to the rider and frame geometry make for a bike that really accelerates in any terrain and is most apparent as the terrain gets steeper or you’re pedaling harder.

Q&A with Dave TurnerI was attending a fork-makers pre-season product launch on the same day as Dave Weagle, we got talking suspension designs, and he let me take his bike for a ride. We were on rocky terrain and I was anticipating pedal kick back and other bad habits like many other ‘mini link’ bikes exhibit. I was quietly shocked, the bike pedaled up hill almost like a hardtail as far as the rear end not squatting with each pedal stroke. Then when I rode across the many rocky sections the rear suspension would absorb the terrain. Kinda weird actually, to have a frame that felt like it was being held parallel to the ground, not dipping down with each pedal stroke, but would absorb bumps when rolled over. We traded cards and the rest will go down in history as THE major change in suspension for Turner Bikes.

So was it ‘love at first ride’? Or was it more of an intrigue that spawned a dialog between you and Weagle?

It was not love at first ride, but it was certainly noticeable what the dw-link did.Keep in mind that I was stepping off a 5 Spot to ride an unknown bike that did not handle like my 5 Spot. I had to focus on what the rear end was doing, and not be confused by non-Turner handling. That first ride certainly opened the dialog between Dave and myself. I actually had a dw-link equipped bike or two in the shop for some time, trying them on different trails before I committed to the technology. I really wanted to be sure that I was advancing the ride of my bikes with the dw-link. Truth is that we were selling good working, good handling bikes. And to go through the engineering and tooling effort (and expense) had to be justified with a better ride.

Now that the idea has developed into reality, what characteristic will a current Turner owner notice most about the new design once they have the opportunity to ride one?

When you push firmly on the pedals the bike doesn’t ‘bob’. This ‘bob’ as the bike industry calls it, is the bike squatting in the rear when the bike is pedaled forward. This is the only suspension design I have ever ridden that really feels firm when pedaling and then seems to have the magic ability to be free when hitting rocks and roots and ruts. We are spec’ing the lightest compression valving that Fox will sell, and the bikes feel flat and fast hammering along. This is due to the dw-link creating the support for the rider and chassis. This light valve spec then allows the rear suspension to really follow the trail obstacles.

Q&A with Dave TurnerSomething that Turner riders coming from TNT bikes might notice is that the rear suspension is a bit more active under braking. I have to think about the difference in braking between TNT and dw-link, but under some conditions, it is indeed noticeable. After comparing the FSR/ICT licensed rear end with the TNT I appreciated the slight amount of brake energy being fed into the rear suspension as the TNT gave the bike a more stable feel especially on the steeps. Well, the new dw-link falls pretty close to the middle on brake effect on the rear suspension. Having ridden and designed bikes around the three different types, the dw-link creates a rear suspension that gives more control on the steeps than my earlier designs with FSR/ICT but in the high speed chatter the rear wheel follows the ground better than TNT. Splitting hairs I know, but that is how I roll!

And someone that’s riding a Turner for the first time?

Well, it has been said at least a thousand times, Turner Bikes are the best handling bikes our customers have ever ridden. Keep in mind that when a customer gets to the point of considering a Turner Bike they have certainly ridden another brand or three. So, I am sure that the whole bikes handling will impress most right away. If the rider has not ridden a dw-link bike before their first ride, then, as the first miles unfold they will notice that the bike is more responsive under pedaling input. The bike just feels like it wants to fly parallel to the ground as the rider lays down the power. Now someone that is used to a bike that has a great amount of chain torque that is fed into the suspension to lock it out, like many other mini link designs or even high single pivot locations, may want to argue with me by saying that those bikes pedaling-induced lock-out is good “counter bob”. It is my experience that with those types of bikes you can actually feel the rear suspension trying to lift you as you pedal hard, so lifting the rider during every pedal stroke with a bunch of chain torque is not very efficient for going forward, and of course when under power the suspension is rendered mostly useless.

Q&A with Dave TurnerOn the other end of the spectrum if they are coming off a low single pivot or an FSR/ICT type bike which are generally accepted to be very active, then the rider will notice immediately that the bike feels like it is floating parallel to the ground with pedaling input having little effect on the rear end squatting under every pedal stroke. As obstacles are hit, the rear end seems to move up and down vertically, more so than arc around the BB area. This is something I noticed right away riding DW’s loaner bike in the rocks of Arizona. I am having a tough time describing this as it is a unique feel to the dw-link, but to me the wheel feels like it is on a track sliding up and down following the ground contours. No, the rear axle does not go perfectly straight up and down, but it does have much more sense of vertical movement. Then, under hard pedaling up through rocks the rear suspension will stay active, and because the whole bike is not squatting under each pedal stroke, the rider can stay more centrally seated and just lay down the power. Sure the steeper it gets the more a rider will have to move forward to keep the front end down, but nothing like on a FSR/ICT or low single pivot bike where the steep grade combined with the pedaling induced squat will have the rider sitting on the seat nose to keep the front of the bike down. When you don’t have to slide as far forward on the seat to counter the chassis squatting, you can put more power down in the seat position (that you spend more time in), because I think it is more efficient due to the fore/aft and height being a place your legs are the most used to.

Standing here looking at the line, the bikes still look like Turners. They appear to still have all the qualities that have come to define your company’s bikes – journal bearings (bushings) to maintain super-high tolerances, zerk fittings to allow for easy maintenance, US production, and massive tire clearance. Did anything else change apart from the suspension?

Well they certainly do look like Turner Bikes, but every one of them started with ground up thinking. Every part and geometry number was thought about before it was applied to the new models. Standover heights were revised, with most getting lower. When the top tubes were being adjusted I redesigned the seat tube gussets so that there is no more weld across the front of the seat tube at the top of the gusset. Due to the very high loads ‘mini’ link bikes see on the lower links we bumped up the pivot size of the dw-link for higher radial and thrust load capacity. We have used grease fittings on every Turner Bike ever produced, but now we have a totally custom proprietary design made out of stainless steel that will thread into all the pivots. These will have a thread lock on them so they will stay in the bike against high pressure grease and with their super low profile shape will not snag rocks or sticks. As you mentioned the tire clearance is huge, but only by other companies’ standards. All the models on display have the same tire clearance as their predecessors. The new RFX, which is not ready yet, will have a touch more tire clearance for running 2.5 tires with plenty of mud or bent wheel clearance. Another big change to the line will be the switch to a 30.9mm seat post diameter. This is to make the frames compatible with the lighter weight adjustable posts like the Crank Brothers Joplin. As more and more of these types of posts become available, I know that they will all be offered in the bigger diameter. This did not change the front derailleur though -- it is still a 34.9mm high clamp with top pull cable routing.

It looks like your cable routing has changed as well?

We have run the cables along the down tube for years on the DHR and 4SL race bikes and the Highline. Historically the trail riders were more traditional and we stayed with top tube cable routing, but recently more people wanted the down tube routing on the trail bikes so now all models will be this way.

Do the frames still use the same derailleur hanger?

Same fit and bolt pattern on the derailleur hanger for the last 11 years. In 2008 we updated it with a new alloy and made it 1mm thicker, but it will bolt onto a 1997 and all the XC bikes since then.

For 2009, you’ve pared the Turner line down to five models from seven. What models/changes might we expect in the near future?

We will make another group of 4SL frames for the slalom and Mountain Cross racers, this I am sure of! If riders get their order in early we will make them for non-sponsored riders as well, it will have the same geometry of the past bikes but have a dw-link rear suspension. Everyone at Turner that has ridden the 650b wheel size loves it, but that is on the back burner until a major fork maker makes a fork that will work safely with that wheel size. Sometimes I think about bringing back the Nitrous, but then I think about how small the XC race market is, at least in the United States.

Fox, Rock Shox, are you listening? And, for what it’s worth, we think you should bring the Nitrous back, Dave. It’s been the choice for XC racers since its inception.

Naturally, our curiosity is piqued. We’re dying to throw a leg over one, but you obviously didn’t bring any demos with you here to Eurobike. Will you have some ready for Dirt Demo at Bootleg Canyon September 22?

We will have demos on the dirt in Bootleg Canyon!! We will have the first 3 models -- Flux, Sultan, and 5 Spot -- of the new lineup ready to ride out Outdoor Demo, but the DHR will be show only. The RFX will not be available till spring.

Dave, the line looks awesome! We can hardly wait to throw a leg over them and hit the dirt. When can we expect availability on these five 2009 models?

The Flux, Sultan and 5 Spot will be ready to ship in limited quantities in October. The DHR will be March, and the RFX after that.