First Ride: RockShox RS-1

An all-new take on the original mountain bike suspension fork

There aren't many better places to ride and test equipment than the harsh trail networks in Moab. But Moab met its match with the new RS-1

There aren’t many better places to ride and test equipment than the harsh trail networks in Moab. But Moab met its match with the new RS-1

The RockShox RS-1 name is steeped in historical nostalgia. It sort of changed mountain biking forever. At the time, there were no niches, which enabled the first mountain bike fork in existence to win both cross-country and downhill titles–a feat that will probably never be repeated. In a sport born by converting primitive newspaper bikes into mountain-going machines, the RS-1 was a major technological breakthrough. But it was met with extreme skepticism. However, racers such as Greg Herbold and Dave Wiens proved its validity, and now we can’t imagine life without suspension.

It’s cool, I suppose, that RockShox is bringing that name back, tugging at our heart strings, rekindling old memories. But it’s really just marketing hype, isn’t it? The name doesn’t mean anything; it’s a story that the marketing dweebs at SRAM dreamt up. The real question is, is the sequel as good as the original?

The obvious answer is, yes. Technology has come a long way since 1988. The new RS-1 is an amazing fork, far better than the original. Will it revolutionize our sport the way that first RS-1 did? Probably not. But it’ll breathe new life into cross-country–a segment that has seen little, to no suspension advancements in the past ten years.

While we didn't see any damaged equipment on our trip, we're still a little scared of scratching those unprotected lowers.

While we didn’t see any damaged equipment on our trip, we’re still a little scared of scratching those unprotected lowers.

You’ve seen the hype. You already know it’s an inverted fork with a once piece carbon upper. But why go inverted? It’s well known in the suspension industry that inverted forks perform better. The fork seals are constantly lubricated, and lower bushing placement makes a stiffer fork with less bending, resulting in lower friction. The problem is creating torsional stiffness. This is where proprietary technology comes in. With no brake arch connecting the right and left stanchions, the job has to be done by the axle.

Lab testing proves torsional stiffness.

Lab testing proves torsional stiffness.

RockShox’s solution is a massive one piece, 27-millimeter axle in the front hub, secured by a Maxle Ultimate 15-millimeter skewer. The hub is proprietary, which is kind of the bummer of the whole system, but it’s necessary. SRAM will be offering three wheelsets as well as a hub, in 28 and 32-hole configurations to mate up with the RS-1.

We were given the chance to ride the new RS-1 in Moab, Utah for a couple days, and I was blown away at the performance. Essentially, it provides Pike-level performance and stiffness in a cross-country package. The sealed cartridge-style damper is supple at the top end, but is tuned to resist diving during hard braking, and one flick of the handlebar-mounted remote provides a robust lockout to satisfy purist’s needs. There’s no external compression adjustment, but Bottomless Tokens can be added to keep aggressive riders’ forks riding high. I added two Tokens in my 120-millimeter 29er RS-1, and it felt perfect on the ledgy trails of Moab.

The RS-1 blurs the lines between purebred cross-country and trail.

The RS-1 blurs the lines between purebred cross-country and all-mountain capability.

Cornering stability is right up there with burly, large stanchioned forks, but the RS-1 sports little 32-millimeter tubes. Bump sensitivity is astounding, but I never had issues with bottoming, partly due to a fancy new bottom-out bumper to soften the blow on huge hits. I rode the RS-1 alongside guys on 160-millimeter bikes adorned with Pike forks and Monarch Plus shocks, aboard a Trek Fuel EX and 120-millimeter RS-1 on the rowdy Porcupine Rim trail, and never felt under gunned. While it may not be as revolutionary as the original, the new RS-1 is an astounding fork. If you can afford one at the similarly astounding price of $1,865 you definitely will not regret it.

The RS-1 will be available in June in 80, 100, and 120-millimeter travel options. 29er only. More technical jargon can be found at: sram.com

One push of a button activates a firm climbing lockout.

One push of a button activates a firm climbing lockout.

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