Too Cool for School? A tutoring lesson with RockShox
Have you read the instructions? No need! Did you pay attention at school? Nah, that’s just for geeks. Can I set up my fork? Course I can! So many of us think we know what we’re talking about when it comes to suspension, but we’re often missing the basics. Boasting won’t help you here. We head back to school to receive a lesson from the experts in suspension – RockShox. This is where we found out how a few grams of plastic can make a noticeable change to your suspension.
Thankfully now long behind me, my school years weren’t all that enjoyable. “Why do I need to learn this?” was the question I frequently asked during the all too frequent teacher-centred lessons, as the correlation between theory and practice constantly evaded me. This is where good education is crucial – and when it comes to suspension, it does not come better than the Education Camp from RockShox.
This time the subject matter was anything but dull – and the material anything but super-complex and unrelated to real life. It was about unlocking the mysteries inside your suspension and, with that, the tailoring of the suspension balance to one’s personal riding needs. The keyword wasn’t ‘algebra,’ but rather ‘tokens,’ or ‘air spring volume.’ Instead of a sticky classroom rammed with hormonal teenagers, we took to the best trails of the Canary Island of La Palma. No balding, middle-aged teachers on the verge of a burnout, but multiple experts from RockShox, experienced from many seasons looking after both World Cup riders and OEM customers.
From the get-go, Thorben, the rear shock technician, makes one thing clear to us: there’s no right or wrong in this subject. What counts is the rider’s personal preference (and physics, naturally).
Alongside the basic functions like setting up the correct air pressure and the rebound damping, you can also adjust the volume in the air chambers of the suspension from RockShox. This influences and alters the characteristics of the suspension. More tokens – aka volume spacers – means more progression, meaning more power is needed to make the fork or the damper bottom out.
“The number of tokens depends on the rider’s preference – not his or her ability.”
The mistake of drowning students in abstract theories (like my teachers did) was not one that the RockShox experts could be accused of. No wasted words here, just tech talk and testing – the ultimate in theory and practice combined. Our testing ground, a trail dropping about 450 metres in altitude, was perfectly suited for the task. Berms, root gardens, jumps, g-outs: it was all there.
Initially we started the testing procedure without a single Bottomless Token in the fork or Bottomless Ring in the rear shock. My test bike for the two days was a large Canyon Strive AL with Shapeshifter technology, which I had ridden a few times already (and was therefore familiar with the geometry). With this new starting setup I immediately felt a little uncertain: the behaviour of the bike was undefined – I lacked any feedback from the ground, and average bumps caused full travel despite having the right sag. The fork was working so hard that increased wear was a worry. Trying to recapture some control, I tightened the low-speed compression on the Pike RC a few clicks and the problem was solved – although there was an immediate impact on the comfort. This wasn’t a setup that I was happy with.
The Bottomless Tokens (rings) don’t just influence the travel, but can also have a dramatic impact on the balance of the bike. For the optimum setup, take note of these important tips:
- After inserting or removing any tokens, make sure the sag is still the same
- If you add tokens, then it will be necessary to reduce the air pressure to ensure the sag stays the same.
- To get a noticeable difference we’d recommend trying at least two tokens on the rear.
- If the change is too big, then remove a token to find the perfect compromise.
- Make sure you adjust the rebound damping after inserting or removing tokens.
Generally, to really get a significant change in characteristics on the rear shock, at least two Bottomless Rings are required. We opted for the extreme variant and mount four on both the front and rear. So as not to dilute the contrast, it’s important to set up identical sag. More rebound damping was added to control the higher return power generated through the reduction in volume at the end of the stroke. One to two clicks of additional damping is usually enough.
What a transformation – the rear triangle was now completely to my liking: forgiving, stable in the centre, and confidently end-progressive. However, the fork was far too direct, too demanding, and I was only using 75% of the travel. So once again, I quickly opened the spring leg with the 24mm socket and removed a token. Then take the shuttle and hit the trail again. This time it’s perfect for me: I’m using the travel efficiently, and the fork is giving me some decent feedback whilst remaining predictable.
At this camp it isn’t the teachers who judge the performance – instead, we students assess the results and subsequently discuss and fine-tune the setup with the experts before the next descent. Here’s my cheat sheet (rider’s weight: 84kg) that I scribbled down for you all:
|RockShox Pike RC Solo Air||RockShox Monarch Plus R|
|Low Speed Compression||3 clicks closed||—|
|Rebound||14 clicks from open to closed||5 clicks from closed to open|
|Bottomless Tokens/Rings||3 Tokens||4 Rings|
Being faced with detention the following day was nothing like the nightmare it was at school – instead, it was pure enjoyment. With our now perfectly tuned bikes, we set off at 6 AM to the summit of the Roque de los Muchachos (2,426 metres), the island’s highest point. From there, we took on the extremely diverse trails that lead back down to the sea. In the words of pro enduro rider Bryan Regnier, who spent two days with us: “Fuck yeah, bro, that was awesome!” Rather than cramming onto the school bus home, we flew back to Germany feeling enlightened and educated. Wondering where I sat? Right at the back, of course – just like the cool kids.
Text: Christoph Bayer | Bilder: Victor Lucas / Christoph Bayer