Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Forking Confusion

<==Specialized's Rockhopper 29"er single speed: One of the rare 29"ers left designed around an 80mm fork. (photo credit: Grannygear)

Something has happened to 29"er hard tail geometry. It happened quietly, without any fanfare at all. (Which I find amazing, by the way). What is it? Well, that would be the move by most manufacturers of 29"ers to geometry based around a 100mm travel suspension fork. 

More Must Be Better: It used to be that folks were concerned that 29"ers with a suspension fork would have too high a front end. So, manufacturers were only building to suit 80mm travel forks, which did jack up the front ends of bikes a hair over their 26"er forebears. Nobody seeemed to mind, and bikes like Niner's and Soul Cycles', which were sporting rigid forks corrected for 100mm travel, and frame geometry to match, were seen as freakish. The Niner goes back to a shorter fork on the rigid bike, right when the industry as a whole swaps over to longer legged front ends. Weird. I guess that means "do whatever the opposite of what Niner is doing", if you are looking for geometry advice. But I digress............

It was easy to find a frame and rigid fork a couple of years ago that would play well with each other. Usually a 465-470mm axle to crown 29"er rigid fork could be pretty much slapped on any 29"er of the day and work within reason. Then, as I have said, the suspension forks got longer, but the rigid offerings?

Not so much.

Niner left the long fork market, and Soul Cycles still has some 490mm axle to crown forks, but the carbon rigid fork market is non-existent and steel rigid forks in longer lengths are nearly impossible to come by.

My! What Long Legs You Have! Not that I am a fan of those longer forks anyway. They look.....well, gangly, and weird. All that space above the front tire on a long rigid fork just seems wrong somehow. I have two bikes here with those long, spindly legs, and I can't get over the look. Maybe it is just me.

The older fork lengths look okay to me, but I really like the rigid only set ups of the Salsa Cycles Fargo and the Singular Gryphon. They look right. No extra material. No weird, dead air space above that front tire. Just pure, purposeful bicycle goodness. Committed rigidity is where it's  at, ya know?

So here's to the companies that see fit to bring on the rigid look and not worry about compromising for suspended bits. That said, the folks wanting to run rigid need some decent frame geometry, (ie: 80mm travel designs), or longer forks for these longer travel hard tails.

Until then, getting set up for a rigid ride will be a confusing and frustrating process.


Captain Bob said...

Ok, Gted. You have personally witnessed my frustration and sometimes desperation. Others haven't so much. In addition to what you have posted there's another factor. How to understand the geometry charts these companies have listed. I won't mention any names but I have recently (within the last two weeks) found out from real workers how they measure head angles and seat angles. There seems to be no consistancy to it at all throughout the industry. Some use sagged measurments. Some don't. Some post it on their site if they measured when sagged or not. Shops don't know either unless they do their homework. Some shops just seem to make up something that might make sense to most customers. I called four bike mfg's and three of them put me on hold for over five minutes. One mfg still doesn't know. Some used sagged on one line of 29ers and nonsagged on their other line of 29ers. Then you ask the question will the head angle change if I put "this" fork on it. If they don't really know who does the customer turn too? I know who I turn to but it shouldn't be this complicated. Ok, rant mode off.

Steve Fuller said...

Do you suppose the drive around that is due to fork manufacturers not making many 80mm travel forks, trickledown influence from the downhill bikes, or something else? I'll be honest, I'm not sure I'm sold on suspension forks at all yet. Guess I need to get more seat time in on the one I put together

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller: I think it is marketing driven by the companies, especially the bigger companies. Everyone wants to see the "next step" instead of refining and being pleased with what we have. If "Company A" does 100mm travel hard tails, well, where does that leave "Company B, C, and D"? Behind in the public's eye, I'm thinking. although I think in terms of 29"ers, this move isn't a step forward necessarily.

Personally, I like what Specialized did. They spec'ed 90mm travel forks on their upper end hard tails, which I think is a good, smart amount of travel for 29"er hard tails. (Especially when fork sag is considered)

mw said...

three non corrected bikes in the stable seems kinda dumb but man, not when you are riding them around here.

MG said...

Unless I'm racing, I'm perfectly content without suspension. But as soon as I put a number plate on my bike, I want a fork on my bike, because I flat out guarantee I'm faster.. And several of you that have already commented know I'm a pretty darn good technical rider.

But when I run an 80mm fork on my bike, I'm never satisfied. 100mm is the sweet spot for me. The bike still handles great and I can hit things at a speed that are impossible to attain with a rigid fork or an 80mm fork.

But like I said, for most daily riding, I'll take the simplicity, direct handling and ease of post-ride cleaning that comes with a good rigid fork and I'll simply slow down a little bit in the really rough stuff.

When I'm racing though, it's all about doing whatever I have to do to get to the finish line the fastest, and in that realm, I want a suspension fork every time. Many times, I even want full suspension.

So there ya' go...