Deluxe Decimals

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

If you take a couple steps back and look at the advancements in mountain bike technology that have happened in the last few years, you’ll see an astonishing amount of progress. Think about it: You don’t need many fingers to count the bike brands without carbon-fiber offerings; 1x drivetrains are the norm, not the exception; bikes without dropper posts are more or less limited to dedicated XC and DH racers; and your garden variety, solid-pedaling trail and enduro bikes are more capable descenders than full-blown downhill race bikes of the early 2000s. Yet despite the sport’s progression, frame and suspension manufacturers continued to hold on to modes of thinking that were, frankly, outdated.  

So, when RockShox asked its engineers to significantly raise the level of performance and durability in its trail and enduro rear-shock offerings, it gave those engineers a clean sheet of paper from which to start.

Sure, the notion of starting from a “clean slate” has become a bit of a worn-out cliché in marketing parlance, but a clean sheet of paper — the removing of extraneous boundaries — can unleash an engineer to make magic happen.

The Metric System

To explain it as simply as possible, ever since mountain bike manufacturers started building full-suspension bicycles, the process has been to design the frame and linkage first, and let the shock company finish the equation — literally and figuratively. The system worked, obviously, as evidenced by the hundreds of incredible new bikes available each year for at least the past several model years. But that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be a better way to do things.

RockShox engineers suggested a metric solution: rational sizing, with even, logical steps between eye-to-eye and stroke, a new relationship between eye-to-eye and stroke, and new mounting options. Implementing these suggestions meant that bike manufacturers would themselves have to question the system that had worked well enough for so many years, and agree that there could be a better way to approach suspension.

Luckily, many of the world’s biggest and most exciting mountain bike manufacturers came onboard with the idea, which is no small ask, considering the fact that existing bike designs would need to be reengineered to work with the new shock sizing.

If the story stopped right here, we’d have enough to celebrate. Simplifying the eye-to-eye to stroke relationship and paring down the insane amount of mounting hardware to a reasonable level is enough to make shop mechanics everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. But the point of changing the approach was really all about performance.


Fighting Friction

The new, metric-sized Deluxe and Super Deluxe benefit from greater bushing overlap on all moving elements of the shock. This is significant in the fact that it increases lateral stiffness, which, in turn, helps to decrease friction.

For sure, friction is a vague thing — not easily measurable when it comes to suspension. Everyone inherently understands that friction is the force that allows their mountain bike to go, stop and turn, but not everyone understands the negative effects it has on suspension — beyond, perhaps, friction-wear. The fact is that air springs and dampers are forced to compensate for friction in a rear-suspension system. Reducing friction in the system wherever possible allows both spring and damper to work more freely, which makes the bike’s rear-end more responsive — which increases traction and control.

While on the subject of friction reduction, the RockShox engineers examined the rotational friction at the shock mounts. Typical vertical- and horizontal-mount systems rotate 70-120 degrees at the link end. For some bike designs, the addition of a bearing-mount option increases suspension responsiveness dramatically, so the new Deluxe and Super Deluxe will be available in standard bushing-mount and bearing-mount models.

As a bonus, less friction also means greater durability. So, the engineers looked at ways to beef up durability elsewhere. The change in the eye-to-eye to stroke relationship allowed the use of a new, more robust scraper seal, which helps lower the amount of required maintenance, and helps improve performance across a greater temperature range.


Ride

But numbers, durability and talk of friction mean nothing if the ride quality is missing. RockShox added its Counter Measure spring to the two new metric shocks. Borrowed from gravity-focused siblings Vivid and Vivid Air, the spring works to drop the shock’s initial breakaway force, which adds to the supple feel on small bumps. Deluxe and Super Deluxe also feature dedicated DebonAir chassis — another check mark in the small-bump sensitivity column. And finally, these new shocks benefit from Bottomless Token air volume tuning.

Is it all worth it? Do we need change? RockShox employees are admittedly biased toward the new products, but there have been reports of smashed personal records — even in adverse weather conditions — and small trail debris simply disappearing. Believe that or not, if change means a shock that works better, longer and makes more sense, then the answer is yes.

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