By Ed Snyder
Photos by Ed Snyder and Dan Barham
Time spent at Interbike causes a wide range of emotional reactions. The range of knee-jerk responses from us bike-loving types can include positives ranging from lust, amazement and near-worship. However, the show also brings out the dark side in us leading to bewilderment, mocking dismissal and old-fashioned anger. My days of roaming the floors of the Sands Convention Center in Sin City certainly had me spanning the spectrum from one end to the other as I scoured the floor for nuggets of new information, and bumped headlong into current trends that are shaping the bicycle industry.
More Fork Options
As we've said before on this site and in the pages of Bike, the rise of choice in larger fork stanchion diameters is a good thing. Frankly it cannot come soon enough. As travel increases on larger-wheeled bikes, the stress placed on the longer fork legs increases as well. After a certain point you simply have to throw more material at the problem to get acceptable rigidity out of the design. If you have ever ridden a 29er with five inches of travel (or more) on a fork that employs 32mm stanchions, you know exactly what I am talking about.
As more bikes in that range pop up on the market, fork makers are responding with suspension options that can provide both reasonably light weight and increased steering precision. Fox's new 34 lineup, as well as the X-Fusion Slant and Trace models all employ 34mm stanchions to get the job done. An exciting new entry in this category comes from Formula. Formula has been making high-quality disc brakes for quite some time, but they also have a long history with making performance motorcycle suspension, so they are not new to the bounce game.
Formula's current 33 fork uses 33-millimeter stanchions to dish out up to 120 millimeters of travel for 26-inch wheeled bikes. Their new fork, dubbed the 35 will use (you guessed it) 35-millimeter stanchions to manage 120-160 millimeters of travel in the 650B version of the fork and 100-140 millimeters in the 29er version. You read that right, there are currently no plans to produce a version of the Formula 35 for 26 inch wheels.
Details on the 35 are sparse at this time as this is the fork's first appearance, but you can expect the damping and internals to be similar to the 33. That extrapolation means that rebound, high and low speed compression damping will all be included. The quick change travel system will also be employed that requires only a single Allen wrench to remove the lowers and access tool-free spacers. This is a good thing as even the most ham-handed home mechanic will be able to adjust the fork's travel in less than 5 minutes. All of that news leads us to the warm and fuzzy feeling side of the emotional spectrum.
Formula is aiming to have the 35 out this spring but no date has been set. Pricing has not been fixed either, but it will certainly be more than the $999 MSRP for the Formula 33. They are also working on a tool-free 15mm quick release axle, but that part of the design has not been finalized at this point. So while some important details remain to be worked out the 35 shows great promise. The end result is a greater level of choice for riders, which always makes us smile.
The range of dropper posts currently available is impressive and with good reason. If your local trails have variable up and down terrain and you haven't ridden with a dropper post yet, you are seriously missing out. The only way you can effectively argue against dropper posts is if you have not tried them. Once you have, your world changes and you look back on the all the silly arguments you made as just that: silly.
Thompson is a brand with a reputation for cranking out high-quality, bomb-proof products. Their entry into the dropper post wars certainly garnered them a lot of attention as reliability has not been the strongest suit of every dropper post design. Thompson debuted their new post at Eurobike, but it was fun to get our hands on it here as well.
The design is a study in classic Thompson minimalism and the action is as smooth as a casino's freshly polished, marble floor. The demo version at their booth was sporting a very firm feel when compressed and that may turn out to be a concern, as the drop speed is fixed at .3 meters per second. If this post can maintain Thompson's legendary reputation for quality, we have a feeling the complaints about non-variable drop speed will dry up quicker than puddles in August.
The remote is worth mentioning too. It is very small which is a serious plus in a time when handlebar real estate has ever-increasing demands on it. The remote works via a cable which is side mounted when it reaches the post. If you would rather not mess with a handlebar remote at all, you can get the post with a control lever mounted directly under the seat rail clamp. To say that I am excited to try this particular product out after all the hype leading up to its launch is an understatement. If I was still in school, I'd have my mom pre-write an absence excuse note for the day this thing showed up.
Back to the future
I saw a few designs that heralded back to simpler days, but incorporated just about every modern convenience you might want on your ride. Basically retro is making a small resurgence. Case in point is this Retrotech hardtail outfitted with a fully modern kit. Standover heights be damned, this thing is as cool as a '57 Chevy at a drive-in movie. If you have to spurn rear suspension, you might as well look stunning while doing it.
So now I've covered some things that make my heart go all pitter patter. But there is no yin without yang, light without dark or get-rich-quick stories missing the broke-in-the-gutter plot twist. These are a few things that bring out the bewilderment in me that Vegas is famous for.
Electronically-controlled suspension does not make my heart sing. Not yet at least. To be fair I haven't ridden any of the new systems yet. I know electronically-assisted suspension works in race cars, Baja trucks and luxury sedans, but that doesn't mean we riders want it on our bikes. Many riders today do not even come close to using all the capability and adjustability they have in current suspension designs. So giving them more gadgets, which, in turn, makes it even harder to know anything about what is really going on between them and their wheels, does not seem like a magic bullet.
Rock Shox has their new Monarch Relay and other manufacturers won't be far behind. Again, I want to be clear: this is not a scathing indictment based on having actually ridden the new stuff: I'm simply asking a loud, public question--Is this really where we want to go?
At first glance, it seems like we're potentially adding more cost, complexity and durability concerns to mountain bike suspension, while potentially taking the control away from the rider and giving it to a computer chip. This trend ranks down there with smoking indoors, $18 hamburgers and surly waitresses on the "Things I don't like that I saw in Vegas" list.
Monstrously, Fat-Tired Bikes
This has got to stop. Really folks, it is just way out of hand now. Unless you ride on snow, sand or ridiculously rough roads with a loaded touring setup, this is pure folly. Now normally I am solidly behind anything that lets you have another bike in the garage, but this one seems over the line. A few years ago there was the Pugsley from Surly and life was good. People rode it and giggled, and life was good. Even I was won over by the set of rollers they made out for some rough-hewn tree limbs. Clever. Cute. An idle diversion for a select few.
Fast forward three years and the numbers of these beyond-balloon-tired, behemoth bikes have exploded. Bootleg Canyon was filled with them. I am not sure there is anything sadder than the image burned in my brain of an overweight shop owner grinding his way up the road in near-100 degree temperatures. The suffering was palpable and it made we want to scream out "STOP THE MADNESS!" at the top of my lungs.
If you ride on snow or sand or you happening to be training for the Iditabike race, ignore the above paragraphs and go on about your business. You have found the appropriate tool for the job. If not, wake up, get yourself a good cup of coffee and go find a bike that works for what you really do. They are a multitude of good choices. Interbike is proof of that.