By Ryan LaBar
Stuffed into the back of a military surplus Mercedes-Benz Unimog that was tearing around the desert as if to elude pursuers, and with the flaps of the truckbed drawn closed to leave me completely shrouded in darkness, I had no idea what was going on. Cannondale had something top-secret to unveil, and after a 6:30 AM wakeup call and the rude rumble-about in the back of the no-so-cushioned truck, it had sure better be good.
When the truck finally came to a stop in a corrugated-steel-walled storage container, in an undisclosed location, I disembarked to the glare of Klieg lights and a number of Cannondale employees running around in hazmat suits. It looked like a community theater version of a scene from the “Moonraker,” the James Bond flick, but we would soon learn that the dog-and-pony show was worth it.
We has been summoned to the desert to meet Simon, all-new Lefty fork technology that uses accelerometers, current feedback sensors, Hall effect sensors (whatever that means), infrared sensors and, generally, a boatload of sophisticated electronic engineering know-how to create perhaps the smartest suspension fork the industry has ever seen.
After five years of secretive development work, the project was finally ready to be unveiled.
The new fork uses an integrated programmable computer to achieve a massive range of suspension responses--in total, we’re talking about a staggering 10,000 different possible settings. The stem-mounted computer requires riders plug in their weight and suspension-stiffness preferences via a bar-mounted joystick, which, after the suspension is setup, allows riders to toggle through five riding modes
Up for cross-county, down for downhill, right for all-mountain, left for Travel Management and in for lock-out.
The Simon uses five different sensors to control the way fork reacts to the terrain. Cannondale claims that these sensors can regulate settings according to the terrain faster than the human brain can receive the sense of touch up the spinal cord.
Yes, Simon has more technical babble than a the programming manual for the Hubble telescope, but what about the ride? We were able to get a feel for the Simon system on a small obstacle course in the paved space surrounding the storage unit where the concept bike was unveiled. It was essentially a glorified parking lot test, but even with the limited terrain to test the bike on, the suspension felt pretty rad.
Setting up Simon was intuitive and easy. After entering shock stiffness preference and rider weight, the computer displayed the recommended air pressure for the fork. It then showed the actual sag of bike compared to recommended sag.
While riding, the most impressive setting of the five, perhaps, is the lockout mode. The electronic blow-off was instantaneous, without the harsh feeling that most platform forks are prone to. It was as if the fork was completely unlocked on impact.
The travel management is the Lefty’s first stab at an adjustable travel system. Just by thumbing a joystick the Simon can be programmed to incrementally sink down into its travel down to a minimum of 30 millimeters of remaining travel.
Sadly this fork will not be available any time soon, but Cannondale did say to expect trickle down technology to start showing up. The travel-adjust alone--heretofore impossible to achieve in a single-leg fork--is an enticing possibility for Lefty users.
Stay tuned for a complete run-down on Simon from the floor of Interbike.