By Seb Kemp
Photos by Adrian Marcoux and Sebastian Schieck
The RockShox Pike is back. Sort of, but not at all. The original Pike was released to the world in 2003 and was, in many respects, well ahead of its time. Its versatility and resilience made it a firm favorite for riders who were exploring what all-mountain meant. More so, it was seen on a huge cross-section of bikes, from dirt jumpers to trail slayers.
The Pike slipped out of the RockShox line up a number of years ago (the current RockShox Argyle does bear an uncanny resemblance), but you still might see it on some bikes because it was tough and multitalented, all purpose even.
RockShox has resuscitated the Pike for 2013, but only in name and character. The 2013 iteration is a total redesign, and not just externally. The Pike's internals feature a few major design developments as well. We spent a few days sliding around the Sedona desert on the Pike and were given the chance to pick the brains of RockShox's engineers.
RockShox Pike—By the Numbers
• Intended Use: trail > all mountain
• Weight: 1838g
• Travel: 140-160mm (29er 140-160mm, 27.5/26" 150-160mm)
• Upper Tubes: 35mm
• Wheel sizes: 26", 27.5", 29"
• Solo Air or Two-Step Air
• RC or RCT damper options
• Steerer: Taper only
• Axle: 15-millimeter only
• $980-$1085 (depending on spring and damper configuration)
• Available : May
RockShox Pike Highlights
• Brand new, fully-sealed, one-piece damper cartridge (Charger Damper).
• Three-stage compression, with efficiency circuits sitting behind the performance circuit.
• Refined rebound damping allows recovery on successive hits (Rapid Recovery).
• Totally redesigned chassis.
• Murdered out look.
The New Chassis–Sculpted Yet Burly
RockShox wanted to build a versatile fork that had nearly the stiffness of their Lyrik model but was closer, in terms of weight, to the Revelation. The Revelation chassis, when pushed out to 150-millimeters of travel, gets a little overwhelmed when ridden hard. On the other end of the enduro bell curve, the Lyrik handles the kind of abuse that makes tigers whimper, but might have a little too much heft for the kind of riders, racers and bikes that are in vogue.
Product design is about compromise, balancing one criteria with another. It would be easy to build a stiff fork – you would just make it out of a block of steel – but then it would weigh as much as a buffalo, making it untenable for pedal power and also the immense sprung weight would overwhelm the suspension. The Pike designers had to strike a balance between all these parameters, and after a few rides on the fork, I came away with the impression that they performed the balancing act quite well.
One thing the Pike's designers did was create an asymmetrical chassis that skimmed as much excess mass as possible for the lowers, yet retained material where stresses are high (for example, more on the caliper side leg). The goal here was to shave grams and yet retain stiffness under braking, lateral, and twisting forces. The stanchions are 35-millimeters wide just like Boxxer and Lyrik forks, but the crown and lower legs have been radically sculpted to create the desired stiffness and keep the weight low.
The black stanchions are anodized, not to be confused with DLC (or Black Gold) coating that some RockShox BlackBox athletes have been testing for several years. The DLC is far too expensive to produce and is not robust enough for consumer needs. So why black anodizing? Well, 'it just looks rad' is RockShox's stance. It doesn't improve performance, but the "murdered out" look does suit some palates.
The Pike sports an updated Maxle Lite mechanism. While the size (15-millimeters instead of 20) might disappoint some riders, RockShox surveyed many bike manufacturers and discovered that a 20-millimeter axle is considered just for downhill and heavy freeride applications these days. Fifteen millimeters seems, increasingly, to be the coin of the realm, so to speak, for forks in the Pike's category.
Rather than shrink the popular Maxle, RockShox designers set out to create a brand new clamping mechanism for the Pike. The Maxle Lite is a bolt-thru QR, that requires no tools to lock, open or adjust the position of the cam lever. To adjust, simply push in the end and twist, much like the child safe mechanism on pill jars. The Maxle Lite is also said to increase the clamping force over previous designs because it is a compression (clamping comes from the ends) rather than from expanding collet design.
All New "Charger" Damper Cartridge
Inside the Pike, things have changed radically too. The Charger damper is a brand new, fully sealed, one-piece cartridge that is a big change from the Motion Control system on some other RockShox forks. Whereas the Motion Control damper uses ports (and a shim circuit on some models) to control the flow of oil through the damper, the Charger damper uses shim stacks and staged circuits to create the best damping performance with three distinct settings (open, pedal, lock).
What's more, RockShox placed the low-speed compression adjustments (twelve distinct clicks) on the fully open, performance setting. This allows the rider to personalize that aspect of their riding. Whereas the FOX CTD system has the low speed adjustments on the Trail (equivalent to RockShox's Pedal setting) RockShox felt that generally riders want the most performance and personal control of the forks damper feel when it is in the wide open setting – generally when they are descending.
RockShox's goal was to put more damping through the damping circuits rather than relying on the spring curve. With the Charger damper they could tune the damping curve for optimum performance for the trail rider – lots of plush, small bump compliance with ample resistance to diving when speed is introduced to the terrain and handed a sack of braking.
The Charger uses an expansion bladder system that provides a sealed environment for the oil to be displaced to during the full range of travel. It means that there is no air in the system and the flow of oil through the shimmed damping circuits do all the work. In other systems (Motion Control included) a sort of oil and air emulsion system is at work. It's a simple way of doing things, but RockShox contends that a sealed oil system provides more consistent damping performance.
As you can see in the video, as the damper rod is compressed the oil is forced through the circuits and is displaced into the bladder that surrounds the unit. As is extends then the oil is cleanly circulated back into the system.
The bladder is a rubber extrusion, meaning it is cut from a long length of rubber piping rather than molded. The extrusion process provides a product with a very consistent wall thickness and diameter, making it a more robust, resilient and, ultimately, a less expensive way to produce such a system.
According to RockShox, the new bladder system is incredibly clean, reduces contamination, gives a consistent feel, and is extremely easy to service. RockShox also believes the rubber bladder will prove extremely robust, which should reduce required servicing. As with Avid brakes, a syringe (supplied with the forks) and some 3wt RockShox rear shock oil is all that is needed to bleed the unit, making it relatively easy for home mechanics to keep their fork running smoothly.
The Charger damper was designed specifically for the Pike, but it is logical that it might migrate over to future RockShox forks.
RockShox has also embedded the Rapid Recovery design into the Pike. Simply put Rapid Recovery allows the suspension to recover faster on successive hits while allowing it to ride higher in the softer more favorable part of the spring curve. To do this RockShox has tuned the ending stroke rebound damper a little faster, but blends that with a slightly slower, more controlled, beginning stroke to keep you from getting too much rebound feedback.
RockShox's Jeremiah Boobar explains the benefit of Rapid Recovery this way, "It's not as easy as saying it is faster because it's much more refined than just adding oil flow. It's faster in a very specific way that makes it work. If it was just faster you would not gain control, you would lose it. It's faster as a specific force to generate control."
The RockShox Pike has a travel range of 150 to 160 millimeters (5.9 to 6.3 inches) and comes in all three wheel sizes (the 29" version also comes in 140-millimeters of travel). Air spring options include both Solo Air and Two-Step Air and damping options include RC and RCT dampers. The RCT3 version features Open (with an adjustable low speed compression), Pedal and Lock. The RC system features adjustable low speed compression to Lock.
The Pike's travel range alone makes it a very versatile fork for today's diverse mix of bikes and riders. However, what really makes the Pike multi-talented is the convergence of low weight, amount of travel, chassis stiffness and damper performance. This is truly a fork with the potential to excel in a wide range of conditions.
It's fair to say that FOX, having released their 34 model eighteen months ago, has captured a great deal of this market. The 34 was Goldilock's porridge for many riders and bikes, which is why it can be seen everywhere. RockShox needed to come back with a profoundly rad fork, and the Pike has a good chance of fitting the bill.
The Pike is lighter than the FOX 34 (4.05 pounds for the Pike and 4.49 pounds for the FOX 34), comes across as a very muscular fork, and the travel range makes it versatile enough to fit a wide range of riders and bikes. That the Pike comes in all three wheel sizes is a sensible choice considering that different riders are finding themselves riding similar terrain on rigs shod with different wheel sizes.
While features and specs are all well and good, it's the performance of the fork that really matters. We only spent two days chasing Duncan Riffle and Curtis Keene's dust clouds, but what immediately stood out was that the fork is extremely plush and forgiving, yet does a tremendous job of supporting the rider once the rider and terrain gets up to speed and things start to get a little wild.
The adjustability between the three settings was plainly noticeable, with a distinct difference between Open and Pedal. Also, having low-speed adjustments on the Open setting meant we were able to get the advantage of the Pedal and Lock settings without compromising the ride characteristic on the Open setting when it really mattered.
Expect more detailed analysis of the Pike from Bike Magazine in the near future.