TESTED RockShox Pike Team

WHAT: RockShox Pike Team U-Turn
WHERE: www.rockshox.com
HOW MUCH: $515

Back in April, RockShox rolled out their 2006 product line for the cycling press (Click the following link for the ROCKSHOX STORY

RockShox debuted a completely revamped line of forks at that press launch. 2006, it seemed, would be a year of great change for the suspension manufacturer. Observant readers, however, may have noticed that little was said in that article regarding RockShox's plans for their Pike line. There's a reason for that—the Pike line is, realistically, a generation ahead of most of RockShox's cross-country/All Mountain forks. In fact, it's fair to say that the new lines (Tora, Recon and Revolution) have more in common with the 2005 Pike than they do with the forks (such as Pilot) that they will soon replace. RockShox isn't giving the Pike line a facelift for 2006 because the fork doesn't really need it. That's saying a lot given the degree to which suspension technology evolves each new product year.

Here's the basics on the model tested here: the Pike Team U-Turn features 95 to 140 millimeters of adjustable travel, thru-axle, disc brake-specific lowers, a whole gang of damping features, and a fighting weight of about five pounds. In short, you're looking at a light, stout, and infinitely adjustable fork that can be run on a wide range of mountain bikes—from lightweight Cross Country rigs to burlier All-Mountain models. Now for the specifics.

Burly yet light—that's Pike's mission. To that end, the fork features 32-millimeter Easton EA70 aluminum stanchions (which have been given a low-friction anodization for a smooth stroke), a hollow fork crown that's been forged from 6061 aluminum, an aluminum steerer (essential to keeping weight down), and stout, one-piece magnesium lowers that feature RockShox's Maxle Thru Axle.

Max-whu? For those of you not yet familiar with Maxle, here's the deal. Twenty-millimeter Thru-Axle clamping systems add a ton of rigidity and steering precision to forks. This is particularly important on single crown forks (which have a tendency to get noodle-y when run at five or more inches of travel). The only downside to thru-axles is that they typically require owners to loosen and tighten four small pinch bolts every time they change a tire, or want to put the bike on a roof rack. This can be a pain in the ass. Maxle, on the other hand, is sort of like a quick release thru-axle. Sorta. The magic, so to speak, is incorporated in the axle itself. Instead of clamping the lowers onto the axle (as you'd do with a typical thru-axle design), you simply thread the Maxle through the lowers until snug, and then close the quick release lever. Closing the lever activates expansion wedges which cause the axle to expand and swell within the fork's dropouts. If that sounds complicated, you might recall how the binder bolt on an old-style quill stem wedges itself into a fork steerer. If this still makes no sense to you, just take my word for it—closing that lever makes things nice, tight and secure…no pinch bolts or tools required.

For starters, you've got 45 millimeters of travel to play with here. If you own a stout hardtail with a reinforced headtube, you can set the Pike at four inches of travel (roughly 100 millimeters) and basically run an incredibly stout front end (perhaps for urban riding or dual slalom racing). Most folks, of course, would run this kind of fork on a full-suspension bike. Since I've been spending a lot of time lately aboard six-inch travel All Mountain bikes, I generally kept the Pike set at 140 millimeters (about five and a half inches).

Of all the fork manufacturers out there with "wind-down" travel adjusters, RockShox has done the best job, to date, of actually making their adjuster painless to use. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't take a rocket science to figure out that twisting a knob changes how much travel you have at your disposal—that's never been a problem. Some adjusters just don't wind down very smoothly. RockShox has gone the extra mile here by rubber coating their adjuster (easy on the hands) and adding travel gradients to their stanchion (so you actually know how much travel you are, in fact, running). It's also worth noting that changing the fork's travel doesn't change its spring rate—so you get a nice consistent feel regardless of how much travel you're running.

The Pike Team also features external rebound, compression and lock-out adjusters. Rebound damping is fairly straight forward, so I won't say much other than that the Pike features a usable range of rebound damping. A more elaborate explanation is required when we get into the compression side of things. In a nutshell, you can lock the fork out by twisting the lever at the top of the fork leg—and you can change the stiffness of that lockout by first twiddling that little brass floodgate adjuster. I, for example, tend to run the Pike with the fork in lock out mode and the Floodgate set so that the fork bobs very little during climbs, but opens up on the slightest of hits.

I guess you could call this "platform damping". That's the popular term these days—and it's a term that makes intuitive sense, though I imagine it pisses off every fork manufacturer aside from Manitou (who coined the term). Motion Control damping/Platform damping. Po-tay-toe/Po-tah-toe. Different approach/same exact mission. Bottom line, you can tune the Pike to run super plush at all times, sorta plush (so that it opens up when you start smacking shit), or just plain firm as hell. The nice thing is that you can accomplish all this by simply twisting two knobs on top of the fork—changing the firmness of the platform doesn't require that you change air pressures or stop and fiddle with a knob at the bottom of the fork leg. Nice. If you want to fork over another $40, you can even get the bar-mounted Pop-Loc adjuster, which allows you to make these adjustments without letting go of the bar at all (though it does add yet another cable to the nest of cables already sprouting off the front of your bike).

I've spent three months aboard the Pike Team featured here. Despite a decent dose of Springtime rain and muck, the fork is still sliding smoothly, compression adjusters are as effective as on day-one and all is pretty darn blissful.

I'm not a huge weight weenie, so I never gave much thought to the fork's lack of heft.
I am, however, a big fan of rigidity and that's where the Pike shines. The 20-millimeter Maxle adds noticeable steering rigidity to your bike. I've swapped the Pike for another 5-inch travel, single crown fork on the same bike and have hit all the same trails…the steering definitely suffered without the thru-axle. Since I mount my bike on a roof rack (with a Hurricane thru-axle adapter), I've also grown to love the convenience of the Maxle. I now tend to swear a lot whenever I'm using a standard thru axle and am forced to dig around for an allen wrench every time I need to remove the front wheel.

As far as compression goes, the fork is firing on all cylinders, so to speak. The Pike Team eats small, medium and monster bumps without a hitch. The ability to run the fork wide open or with adjustments to the platform is a big boon to anyone who rides in areas that require long climbs before the pay-off of a long descent.

I really don't have any complaints regarding the Pike Team. It's proven reliable, stout and easy to use. My local bike shop owner winces whenever I bring up the topic of opening the fork and working on it (he prefers dealing with Marzocchi internals, which he contends are simpler to maintain), but I can't make any such judgments as of yet—since I really haven't felt inclined to delve inside the fork. In short, so far, so very good