I love riding my bike, it’s a massive part of my day. I’ve passed the stage in my life were lightweight equipment is the answer, I want products to be light, but functionally perfect for the job of MOUNTAIN BIKING. This involves anything from long rocky descents at speed, to slow technical on the brakes type of drop-offs with your bum buzzing the back tyre. Most of the XC/Marathon products out there are lacking the “MTB Tough” approval nowadays. My own equipment choice is based on performance, functionality and reliability. If the product is better for a certain job and is heavier, I’ll put it on within reason. I mean I won’t fit a DH fork to my XC/Trail orientated bike, I’ll rather choose a fork suited to the bike.
Recently, due to some bad luck, I had to upgrade my trusty old Rock Shox SID XX WC 100mm. My first instinct was another Rock Shox, as I’ve been a fan for a while now. My bad luck happened during the amazing three day MTB Stage Race, the Wine2Whales, in my hometown. I took my bike to my friend, Robbie Powell, for inspection. Go check out RBC. The news wasn’t good. So my choice was to replace my fork, but with what? Robbie is the PUSH Industries FOX Service Centre in RSA, and supplies forks and upgrades to FOX forks and rear shocks. He services any suspension fork you can think of and he works his magic, in particular, on FOX suspension. Upgrades that Robbie does vary from Push Industries Dustwipers to shim stack and valve tuning. While my fork was out of commission, I had a planned service on my FOX RP23 Kashima rear shock, which was custom tuned to my bike from Niner Bikes and the FOX engineers. I watched as Robbie stripped my shock in front of me. I told him that my rear shock wallows under hard hits and packs down after repeated mid-stroke hits. Meaning that it damping gets over worked on big hits, and it barely copes to return the shock to full travel on repeated mid-stroke bumps like a flight of stairs. We measured the Nitrogen pressure in my shock at 300psi, which for a 68kg rider is way to hard, I wanted my shock more plush and this was one place to tune that. We tested a few different pressures and settle on half that at 150psi. The other thing we noticed, was that my rebound setting was on it’s fullest adjustment, meaning I could dial off the rebound (to make it faster) because it was at the end of it’s range. All these issues add up to the factory tuning these shocks to the “Average” rider, meaning 80kg. Once we had tuned this with a shim stack to accommodate all this, Robbie replaced the Shock body with PUSH Industries own Epoxy coated body, which is harder and smoother Kashima. This sexy little black number promised to be slippery and longer lasting, increasing small bump sensitivity and longevity of product. BONUS!
Fork wise he suggested I get, taking my riding style into consideration, a FOX 32mm Factory Fork 100mm sporting the FIT4 damper, with a PUSH industries firm tune. I was hesitant at first, I heard the word “FIRM” tune and I wasn’t convinced. I’ve known Robbie 25 years odd, so I trusted his expertise and judgment. I told Robbie that I love a plush fork with small bump compliance (so soft air pressure) but I hate how my current fork dives through a high speed corner or berm. The nose of the bike would just dive down at the most inopportune time, so to counter this I had to firm up my air pressure to fight this, leaving my fork not so plush with very little if no small bump compliance. Well, my fork arrived at the agreed deadline, and I fitted in earnest. In my Fork box was, a card of PUSH Industries stickers, the manual, the star-fangled nut, front brake hose clip, a fox fork sticker and a number of fork air tokens. (these are plastic spacers that clip together and are inserted into the air chamber to reduce air volume and in so doing, increase spring ramp rate making it more progressive and less linear) On Robbie’s recommendation, I fitted an extra token, the factory fit 1 as standard. I followed the manual’s recommended air pressure for my weight and off I went on my first ride.
My first impression was that the fork was way to soft for me. It was ultra plush and moved on every small bump. On the first downhill near my house are 3 speed bumps, these normally kick the back end of my bike up and leave my hands rattled from the impact. I hit the first one at full speed as per normal. I heard “shooshing” sound and carried over the bump without leaving the ground. I pulled over quickly expecting to see a very soft tyre. Both my tyres were perfectly inflated!? I was confused, Did my bike just float over that now when normally just riding into the bump sends me air borne? I set off again hurtling towards the next one, this time making myself light as hit the next bump and the bike took a little air and landed, but so gently as if gravity itself was greatly reduced. At the bottom of this hill is a T-junction, so I slammed on anchors at the latest possible moment, only to find I had to release brakes and roll forward more. I chuckled to myself. Was my old fork so bad? This new fork had just outperformed my trusty old SID on speed bumps and braking. This fork had not dived under a sudden hard braking force and therefore also stopped me in a much shorter distance, and I can prove, from a higher speed. My old fork would dive and “brake-away” under hard braking and my weight would transfer onto the handlebar, which upsets the bikes overall balance bios to mainly frontal balance.
Out on the trail, I noticed how clean my cockpit was. No pesky extra cables, and thus giving my cockpit a very clean and tidy appearance. Riding wise, I was very keen to push my bike to test the fork and rear shock. I sprinted and bounced and slammed the wheels into every hole and bump I could find. I bermed and railed every corner in reach, and found none of the old characteristics of the bike. The bike was reborn, and felt like MY bike. I can’t quite explain that statement without equating it to having a suit tailored to you by an artisan. The fork would smash a gap jump and land like I was riding off a pavement. I could rail hard and push through a berm and the bike stayed balanced. I could brake hard facing downhill without the rear wheel lifting. After riding myself to exhaustion, I went home.
On arriving home, I got off the bike and just starred at the machine. I suppose I was looking for answers. The facts were, the rear end stuck like velcro to the terrain and never fluttered or packed down. The fork isolated so much of the terrain from my hands and steered so positively. The fork seemed way to soft to start off, but it was so plush out on the trail, and despite jumping and going crazy, I still had more travel left in reserve!
What I can conclude is, it’s been 2 months, and I can tell you that my bike hasn’t skipped a beat since. It has done 2368km with 37890m of climbing and descending. The conditions have been super hot and dry, on powdery dust and rock. I have done 169 hours of riding! I have cleaned the wiper seals with a rag and I store my bike upside down to let the juices flow to the seals to keep them wet for the next ride. The performance and the behavior of the bike is just sublime. Single word adjectives that describe my experience riding this setup: Smooth, Compossure and Balanced.
Why should you have your current shock tuned by Robbie’s Bicycle Concept? Robbie has years of riding experience, I mean since MTB hit South Africa, and he has ridden every type of fork invented. He has pinned it and binned it in every mtb discipline you can imagine, including observed trials, DH, Dual Slalom and XC. Robbie brings years of riding knowledge together with years of running a bike shop, designing bikes and bike parts for the overseas market and companies, he consults to engineers and factories in the industry and has spent time with PUSH Industries to learn specifically how to get the most out of each shock. Robbie in a word is a guru. How Robbie can help you is simple, take your fork or shock in for a simple standard service and you’ll get it back better than you sent it in. More than though RBC can tune your suspension for you to get the most out of your bike. Most of you are the “Average” weight (80kg) which is how the “factory tune” is, but this doesn’t take in consideration terrain which they also “guestimate” so what you end up with is a fork that works for 50% of the Average people, and lets not forget riding style that also effects your suspension setup. RBC will ask you questions about where you ride, how you ride, tyre pressures and all sorts of things to get clues and a bigger picture of how you ride. He even has an electronic shock setup gadget to attach to the front and rear shocks to suggest how to dial in your suspension even more! RBC has decked out their workshop to look after suspension in a drool worthy fashion, having spent R300 00 on the suspension servicing specific tools ONLY. Which is the upper level in his workshop, downstairs has an equal spend of standard bike repair tools all set out as tidy as you can imagine.
Go visit his site, and see what a difference he can make to your ride.