Before we talk about the Cane Creek DB Air IL, we need to discuss the elephant in the room—the Inline debacle:
Cane Creek wowed the industry when it introduced its ultra-compact 4-way adjustable DB Inline shock back in 2014. High and low speed compression and rebound, plus a Climb Switch, in a piggyback-less air shock? It seemed to good to be true—and it sort of was.
Cane Creek sealed OEM deals with major brands to spec the coveted Inline on their highest-end builds. What wasn’t sealed though, was the Inline itself. Everyone who rode the shock was impressed with its performance, but it was so fraught with reliability issues that many riders only got a few fleeting moments of bliss before blow-out. I know a guy who had so many issues with the Inline on his S-Works Enduro that he actually got a second one, so that by the time one blew, he’d have a freshly rebuilt one to throw on his bike. That pretty much sums up the Inline. It was a shock so good you’d be willing to get two, but so unreliable you just might need to.
Cane Creek DB Air IL
In January of 2017, Cane Creek announced the DB Air IL, an all-new shock to replace the DB Inline. The Air IL features a redesigned oil seal head and modified air piston for improved reliability, as well as a new air spring, dubbed “LinEair.”
Since we’re on the topic of reliability, let’s dive right into how that Air IL has been holding up. I’ve had a 200 x 57 on my Salsa Redpoint for a year now, and it’s been working flawlessly. I will admit that due to injuries, travel and other testing assignments, I haven’t spent as many hours beating the Air IL down as I’d like, but the rides I have spent on it have mostly been sloppy and demanding ones.
I suffered a broken bone after just a handful of rides on the Air IL, which left it sitting in my shop for the next three months. When I was finally healed up, I dusted off my trusty steed and broke out the shock pump, fully expecting the shock to have lost pressure during the downtime. But the sag was still at 30 percent, right where I’d left it months earlier—and more than a year since first airing it up, I still haven’t needed to touch it. So that’s one good thing.
By the time I was riding again, my local trails were a mix of snow, slush and mud, and the the Air IL made it through a wet winter and hasn’t evacuated its oil or let air into the damper yet, which is more than I can say about another shock I had on a different bike. Now, that doesn’t mean the DB Air IL is never going to have issues, and I’m in no way making any claim that it’s the more reliable than anything else out there. Shocks undergo a ton of stress and most will eventually fail, especially without regular maintenance. What I can say though, is that so far, the Air IL is a huge improvement over the Inline as far as reliability is concerned.
The DB Air IL hasn’t disappointed on the performance front either, but that’s probably not much of a surprise to anyone. The shock has the same 4-way adjustability that all Double Barrel shocks are known for, as well as Cane Creek’s Climb Switch which uniquely slows rebound as well as compression. But the Air IL is much more than just its knobs. The shock manages oil flow incredibly well, without feeling over-damped.
As long as the shock is doing its job, I prefer lighter damping, and the Air IL let’s me speed it up to where I like it. It’s a huge improvement over previous Double Barrel shocks, many of which always felt over-damped to me. Lighter damping is beneficial for lighter-weight riders as well, especially on the rebound stroke.
The adjusters are working within a more usable range than on previous Double Barrel shocks—it’s more of a fine tuning affair from open to closed—so it’s actually tougher to mess up and make your shock feel like crap. Plus, following Cane Creek’s recommended starting setup and using the educational tools provided, simplifies what might seem like a daunting setup and dialing-in process.
Every time I ride this shock, I’m always blown away with the level of traction it provides. It’s able to do so because when set up correctly, it remains supple and active while still providing plenty of support. It doesn’t rely just on the air spring ramping up for support, but on controlled oil flow. Because it’s an effective damper, you don’t need to get to the portion of the travel where the shock feels supportive—it can feel that way anywhere in the travel. And since the damper is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, like it’s supposed to, the air spring can be more linear without the shock blowing through travel, which gives the bike more usable travel before the spring ramps up. It’s these kinds of things that separate the best from the rest.
All in all the Air IL has been an impressive shock, offering excellent adjustment with top notch damping quality and consistency. I just hope it keeps on ticking. According to Cane Creek, chances are pretty good that it will. I just spoke to product manager, Sam Anderson, who informed me that so far, over a year into production, less than 2 percent of Air IL shocks have come back for service, down from numbers well into the double digits at the height of the Inline fiasco.
If you’re still riding an Inline, it might be worth upgrading to a brand new Air IL next time your shock is due for service, because Inline owners can do so for $225—only $65 more than a standard service.
DB Air IL Sizing
The Air IL is available in 15 sizes, including most standard and metric measurements, and a few custom lengths for Ibis and Specialized. Unfortunately, trunnion mounting isn’t supported because the valve body interferes with where the trunnion bolts would need to go. DBAir CS and DBCoil CS will be available in trunnion starting August 2018, though.
Standard sizes available:
165 x 38
184 x 44
190 x 50
200 x 50
200 x 57
216 x 63
Metric sizes available:
170 x 30
170 x 35
190 x 40
190 x 45
210 x 50
210 x 55
Custom sizes available:
184 x 42 – Ibis Ripley
216 x 57 – Specialized Enduro (2014-2016)
210 x 50 – Specialized Stumpjumper (2019)
OPT Climb Switch Remote | $55
Normally, I’m against remote lockouts of any kind. I don’t race, and frankly I think if a bike requires one it hasn’t been designed properly. Remotes are a band-aid for bad kinematics or bad dampers, and they clutter up the cockpit. My Salsa Redpoint’s Split Pivot suspension doesn’t require a lockout to pedal efficiently—and we’ve already established that the DB Air IL is a good damper—so why on earth would I want to try this thing?
Because it’s different. The OPT takes advantage of Cane Creek’s adjustable Climb Switch (CS) by employing a sort of soundboard slider remote design. It allows the rider to dial the CS firmness up and down with a quick flick of the thumb, anywhere between fully open and firm (it won’t completely lock out).
I honestly thought I’d put it on the bike, not use it very much, and take it back off again, but I actually wound up using it all the time. It was like when I first got a dropper post. I started out with it all the way up on climbs, and all the way down on descents. But then came infinitely adjustable posts with easy-to-reach shifter type levers, and now I adjust my post as often as I shift. The other thing droppers have allowed me do to is optimize my seat height for maximum leg extension. It used to be customary to run the seat a bit lower on mountain bikes, for maneuverability, but now we can run full height and get the best of both worlds.
The OPT remote lets me run the low speed damping wider open than I ordinarily would, since I can easily add any amount I want quickly and easily. I can make the shock super sensitive to small bumps, virtually eliminating trail minutiae, and then firm it up whenever I want a little extra support.
There are two main things that make Cane Creek’s climb switch system perfect for this type of remote: The infinite adjustability, and the fact that the switch slows rebound as well. When you’re climbing, you’re usually going slower, which means your rebound doesn’t need to be as quick. When it is, it tends to intensify any pedal bob, making the suspension feel pogo-stickish. The ability to slow rebound with a slider on the handlebar, to match not just the gradient you’re on, but the speed you’re going, is pretty sweet—and it’s something nobody else is offering.
I still don’t love having an extra cable, and I’m not a fan of the way the cable housing exits straight out of the remote, perpendicular to the handlebar. It would be great to see that cleaned up, although it looks pretty tidy if you attach it to the front brake hose with heat shrink tubing for the first four or five inches. It also really helps if your bike has cable routing to the shock. Otherwise, things are even less tidy.