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First Look—Bold Cycles Unplugged Prototype

More than what doesn't meet the eye

So, someone hid a shock inside a frame. Big deal. I’m not ashamed of my shock. I think it looks fine. In fact, I want it out in the open. I want it to feel the wind in its hair. Suspension designers go to great lengths to keep heat from disrupting a shock’s damping characteristics. That’s why I’ve had a “thanks but no-thanks” opinion about Bold Cycle’s hidden shock design, first introduced on the Linkin bike two years ago.

But then Bold’s newer, bigger, meaner model, the Unplugged, rode by our booth at Sea Otter, chauffeured by Vincenz Droux, Bold Cycles’ brand manager and product developer. It’s a 165-millimeter rear-travel, 170-180 front-travel, multiple wheel-size mastery of Swiss engineering. He gave me some stats that challenged my concerns about shock temperature. Then, he went down the list of the many non-shock-related features on the new enduro-oriented Unplugged prototype, and I began to fall in love with it. Now, I’m about to try and get you to do the same, but I do it with a heavy heart. For the time being, there’s no conventional way for someone in the U.S. to buy a bike from Bold, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way. The bike is launching in Europe some time late this summer, so you have some time to find a way to get one stateside. In the meantime, here’s what I learned about the Unplugged.

The Hidden Shock: Not a big deal, but also kind of a big deal.

Like Bold’s breakout model, the Linkin, the Unplugged’s rear shock sits vertically at the very bottom section of of the seat tube. Unlike the Linkin, the Unplugged fits a piggy-back, trunnion-mount shock.  The one we got our hands on had a RockShox Super Deluxe RT, which really is the only practical choice for the Unplugged at the moment. Its air valve sits right behind the bike’s removable access plate, while other shocks would put the air valve far out of reach.

“How you doing in there, R2?” Your little buddy is running the show out of harm’s way.

The RT in Super Deluxe RT means Remote. If you’re not a fan of rear shock remote control, the Unplugged offers a unique reason to become one. The cable stays hidden inside the frame as soon as it enters it. Look anywhere behind the head tube, and you won’t know it’s there, and it attaches to the stationary end of the shock, so the cable stays still and quiet.

The shock is deceptively easy to remove. I watched it happen. Pull off the magnetic access plate with a thumbscrew, and you’ll see the shock sitting there, upside-down… or rather right-side-up because you’ll have the bike upside-down. Remove the trunnion bolts, and you can access the eyelet bolt on the opposite end through a port in the frame. Remove that bolt, and with some slack on the remote cable, you can pull out the shock. The Unplugged’s shock is easier to remove than that of a Santa Cruz Nomad or any Evil bike.

None like it hot.

Fair enough, but my main concern about Bold’s design is its effect on heat build up in the shock. Damping characteristics become unpredictable when temperature fluctuates radically. A shock’s job is turning kinetic energy into thermal energy. Putting such a device in a carbon box and and rolling up the windows would lead to oil temperature rising indefinitely when it might simply plateau with a traditional setup. But the windows aren’t rolled all the way up.

The plate beneath the downtube is held on by magnets and a single thumbscrew. It keeps the shock safe, but removes in a flash.

There are vents on either side of the shock and below the access plate. And there are some intake vents up by the cable ports so, at speed, air circulates naturally through the inside of the frame. And as the shock compresses, it sucks air in through the ports and expels it as it extends. The frame is always breathing, which is both nifty and creepy. In the end, there is a negligible effect on shock temperature. Bold Cycles tested the shock’s surface temperature inside its frame versus the same shock on a traditional bike. They found it to be between just 1 and 3 degrees Celsius warmer in their design.

Rocker plates and bell cranks. Here’s the guts that moves the external to the internal.

On top of there being no real disadvantages to the internal shock configuration, there are some real advantages. The shock and its mounting hardware are protected from the elements. But more importantly, the structure surrounding the shock protects it from the lateral forces that, in a traditional setup, can cause minor binding to a shock during compression under lateral loads. The compact design and the massive 30-millimeter inner diameter pivot bearings help too. And of course, the internal shock looks really cool. That can’t be overstated. It really looks really cool.

And that’s not even the best part…

It’d be fine if that were where the sales pitch for Bold Bikes ended. The Unplugged would be another nifty feat of Swiss engineering, but not enough to get me petitioning for its travel visa. What won me over were the brilliant geometry and customization features on the Unplugged. It also offers something I’ve been wanting to see for years, which I think in turn makes me brilliant.

Flip Chips and Dip

The Unplugged can accommodate traditional 27.5-inch wheels with traditional or 2.8-inch tires, all the way up to 29×2.6-inch. It does this with flip chips near the rear dropout, but not at the rear dropout. The Horst-style linkage hides its flip chips around the chainstay/dropout pivot. The clever system of several multiple-offset chips simultaneously adjusts the chainstay length and bottom bracket height. As it lengthens to accommodate larger wheels, the bottom bracket drops to do the same. And vice-versa. The Unplugged is not what Vincenz calls a “false 29” or “false 27.5.” It is precisely what you tell it to be. As a bonus, putting the flip chips at the dropout won’t disrupt the leverage curve like a flip chip at the rocker plate or shock eyelet will. That’s getting pretty techy, but remember, these are the Swiss.

The flip chips themselves are pretty burly, and each dropout takes two. That’s encouraging because there is a lot of torque back there.

Turning Heads

There’s also flipping to be done up front. The Unplugged features an adjustable head angle via internal headset cups that clock 180 degrees to steepen or slacken the head angle from 65.1 to 63.5 degrees. The system, being made by precision manufacturer Newmen relies on cups which are keyed to match the head tube, so they lock into position. The cups take relatively standard integrated bearings.

A model of the head tube inside the Unplugged (left), and the keyed cup that sits in one of two position inside of it (right).

Now, this is getting ridiculous.

Someday, the dropper post as we know it will seem primitive. One could say that about nearly anything, but I predict integrated dropper posts will soon replace traditional bolt-on ones. Think about it. We’ve changed our frames for lighter and stiffer bottom brackets, stouter wheels, and stronger forks. None of those advancements have been as revolutionary as the dropper post, yet what is the one, single way we’ve modified our frames to help that revolution along? We drilled a cable hole in it. That’s it. But that is starting to end. German brand, Eightpins has an enormous integrated dropper on its Liteville brand. BMC introduced its own integrated dropper, and further integrated it with the rear shock remote. Bold has taken a more nuanced approach.

Finally…

KS has been in development of an integrated dropper they call the Genesis system. It is essentially an upside-down traditional dropper. The tip of the “stanchion” bolts inside the frame, just above the bottom bracket were the cable actuates it. The rest of the post extends out of the frame, through (in the case of the Bold Unplugged) a titanium insert clamped in a traditional seat collar and binder bolt. Other adopters of Genesis may have different configurations for the post exiting the frame. The saddle mount is clamped onto the top end of the post and allows some fine adjustment of saddle height. Once you commit to a seat height, you cut your post, but you still have plenty of adjustment to accommodate different saddles, pedals, and shoes. Like Bold’s hidden shock, the integrated dropper looks better. Also like the shock, there’s more to it than that. It also keeps the post out of the elements, and it drastically increases the bushing overlap, leading to less wear and tear on the post’s structure.

The KS Genesis post is essentially an upside-down dropper. Just one extra bolt, and you can take it out in the open. For now, the Bold system limits the post at 150 millimeters, but the concept could easily offer 200 millimeters or more.

In its raw essence, the Genesis system isn’t too different from the Eightpins or even BMC’s Trailsync. But what really sets it apart is the fact that, aside from the proprietary method of fixing the bottom of the post in the frame, Genesis works with a traditional 31.6 post with a traditional clamp. Any traditional post, dropper or fixed, can be clamped into a frame built for Genesis. Other than the one fixing bolt inside the frame, removing the post is just like removing any other internally-routed dropper. The concept deserves a deeper dive than we’re doing here, but our first look on this first partnership in Genesis is very promising.

I didn’t want to like this bike.

It seemed like a gimmick. And maybe to a small extent, it is. But like so many things, there’s much more to the Bold Unplugged than what you’ll read in the headlines. Hopefully Bold will see a larger-scale expansion into North America, and we’ll all have a closer look.