On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain became the first player to ever score 100 points in a single NBA game. There were no three-pointers back then, so 72 of those points were from his also record-breaking 36 field goals and the other 28 were free throws. That’s out of 32 attempted. Eighty-seven-point-five percent. He only missed four shots from the penalty line, and he did it the way he did all his free throws that season: by tossing the ball underhand. With both hands. Like, from between his knees.
It looks silly. “Granny-style,” some call it. Chamberlain himself even abandoned it the following season because he “felt like a sissy,” and his free throw average dropped precipitously as a result. Today, few players would blame him. Literally zero current NBA pros are willing to shoot free throws underhand. But studies have shown it is a demonstrably better way to do it. In fact, the number-four spot for best free throw average in the NBA belongs to Rick Barry, a dedicated and evangelical under-hander. And his 90-percent success rate is less than 0.5-percent off number one. There’s science behind those results. The ball is more likely to approach the basket from higher up, decreasing the size of the cross-section of its trajectory relative to the position of the hoop. It’s also easier to put more backspin on the ball, making it more likely to go in after hitting the back rim.
But again, it looks silly. And if I haven’t reached you with that heavy-handed metaphor (inspired by a Malcolm Gladwell podcast, to be honest), you might think the Message fork looks silly too. But it is a demonstrably better way to suspend your bike’s front end, at least in theory.
The Message fork is the first and flagship product from a new brand called Trust Performance, the mountain bike industry equivalent of a ‘super group.’ Trust was launched by Hap Seliga, Jason Schiers and Dave Weagle. Seliga, Trust’s CEO, is the co-founder of the online-retail powerhouse Competitive Cyclist. Schiers, Trust’s president, is the founder of Enve Composites. Weagle, Trust’s technical director is … Dave Weagle.
The concept was born out of an observation Weagle made about rear suspension. Namely, that it’s better than front suspension. It’s more sensitive in the early stroke, more supportive in the middle and more resistant to bottom-out in the end. Or rather, it’s possible to tune it to be that way. There’s only so much you can do to tune telescoping forks. On top of facing intense internal friction, they can only behave as well as allowed by their air springs and damping circuits. And the axle can only follow one path, a path that’s parallel to the bike’s steering axis and head angle. A linkage fork allows the designer to tune in a specific leverage curve, direct its motion with ball bearings instead of bushings and optimize its axle path. It is a better way to do it. At least, in theory, it’s better. We won’t get our hands on one for a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s what we know about the Message.
The Message forks are built and assembled in Trust’s own factory in Taiwan. For now, there is only one configuration available. That one configuration fits 27.5, 27.5+ and 29-inch wheels and, though measuring its travel is not as simple as on a telescoping fork, it essentially has 130 millimeters. The fork’s concept could work with virtually any travel you might want, and rest assured, Trust is planning on expanding its lineup to include different travel numbers eventually, but the brand is deliberately starting small. In fact, the first production run was limited to 2,500 units. Regardless, Trust claims that the single existing model of Message fork will perform well on 29-inch bikes designed around anywhere from 110- to 150-millimeter forks, or on 27.5-inch bikes meant for 130 to 150 millimeters. The Message’s axle-to-crown length is 535 millimeters. By comparison, a 29-inch, 130-millimeter Fox 34 measures 537 millimeters. But we’ll get to how Trust still claims it could fit so many bikes later.
The fork links, legs and steerer tube are all carbon. Unlike the similar-looking Lauf fork, which is an undamped-carbon leaf spring, the Message is an actual suspension product that uses a proper oil-filled damper and an adjustable air spring. Inside the drive-side leg is the damper, in the non-drive-side is the air spring. Each was designed specifically for the Message fork. Trust’s damper engineers brought Formula One racing experience to the table, and they came up with a through-shaft mechanism that’s likely as advanced as the chassis that houses it. There’s a rebound adjust and a three-position-compression adjust with a fine-tunable middle setting. The fork has clearance for 29-inch tires up to 2.6-inches wide and 27.5-inch tires up to 2.8. The brake mount is lined up for a 180-millimeter rotor and you can bump it out to 203 with a standard adaptor. The fork weighs 1,980 grams. For comparison, a 130-millimeter Fox 34 weighs 1,790 grams, but we’ve got no reference for stiffness or durability. There’s a chance it could be more comparable to a 36. One sure thing is that less of that weight is unsprung, so there should be a further boost to the Message’s small-bump sensitivity.
And the asking price for the Message will be $2,700. For comparison, that’s … a lot. About three times the price of a Fox Factory 34. And that’s even a consumer-direct price, as the forks are being sold directly from Trust’s website. But there really is no comparison. Like we often say when we see an expensive product that promises something you can’t get anywhere else, there’s a chance it’s worth it. After all, this is a completely new paradigm. Maybe one that could eventually change bike design as we know it.
The potential benefits in support and bump sensitivity are pretty simple, but the benefits to handling are more nuanced. When a traditional telescoping fixed-offset fork compresses and the bike’s head angle steepens, its trail decreases. At the most crucial moment in a hard front-end impact or g-out, a bike’s geometry is at its most precarious. Brands have been addressing this by designing longer and slacker front ends, which are really only a benefit in those crucial moments. Otherwise, they make bikes unwieldy and tend to limit front-wheel traction. But because the Message fork doesn’t have a fixed offset, it can keep the trail consistent throughout the front end’s movement. That’s why Trust claims the 130-millimeter fork works on such a wide variety of frames. It ought to lessen the relationship between head angle and ride quality. But still, regardless of front-end performance, changing axle to crown height will affect bottom bracket heights, seat angles and the “balanced” feel we’re so familiar with. We’re looking forward to putting that claim to the test.
If this concept catches on, bikes might someday be engineered around it from the ground up. Sure, head angles might get steeper, traction and control might improve. But the more subtle changes might be more interesting. Service intervals will likely improve, along with weight and durability. Tomorrow’s forks might someday have flip chips to adjust kinematics, offset or travel. There’s really no telling. All we have to do is get over the fact that it looks a little silly.