Some rivalries are better left unsettled. Red Sox vs Yankees, Bears vs Packers, Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock. It's exciting to have conflicts that will forever force us to pick sides. And we have plenty of our own in the bike world. One that has a lot of us jumping the aisle lately is air vs coil, and it will likely never be settled.
But what if we limit it to one bike, one place, and one time? Like, the Santa Cruz Nomad in Whistler at Crankworx? Both the Nomad and the Strega are available with either the coil or air-sprung RockShox Super Deluxe, so I brought both.
I clocked days in the park in each configuration. Six laps on the techy puzzles of No Joke, In-Deep, Angry Pirate, and the like. A half dozen on the lofty playgrounds of A-Line and Dirt Merchant... but not Crabapple. I took a run on each shock down the moonscape of Top of the World. I also went on an air-sprung self-propelled adventure exploring the epically named Lord of the Squirrels. And I had an all-day pedal on Blackcomb with the coil shock, descending bits of the unrelenting Comfortably Numb and super-steep Microclimate.
I was measurably faster on the coil shock, and I felt remarkably safer. I often found myself behind park rats far more familiar with the trails and, let's be honest, with far more raw talent than me. The Super Deluxe coil stayed glued to the ground when I needed it to most. And on my days clipped-in and climbing, the lockout (which of course is not quite a lockout) kept my ride height high and my fatigue low.
But (you knew there was a 'but' coming) both coil and air shocks are getting better every year. In the case of the Super Deluxe paired with the Nomad, it's hard to point out faults in either. And a week into my extended stay at Crankworx, I'll be bolting on my Super Deluxe Air and leaving it there.
Whistler's endless variety of top-quality terrain is what keeps it in my dreams all year. And the air spring's unique ability to be purpose-tuned for each of those terrains is what will keep it on my bike all week. On a day spent crushing jump runs, I'll bump up the pressure. On a day trying to shave seconds off more technical laps, I'll take some out. As more of those seconds get shaved off, I'll drop in a volume spacer to soften the hardening blows.
I'm not here to settle this debate, but to encourage it. In fact, we'll be diving into another air/coil comparison once the loam settles after Crankworx. We’ll have a different shock, a different bike, and most importantly, a different rider.