Fox Racing Shox
filed a number of patents for electronic suspension controls in 2010, and by the 2012 racing season, its iCD remote control suspension was secretly competing in World Cup XC competition. With the planned release of iCD this Winter, Fox pits its manual-remote electronic suspension against the equally impressive Lapierre/RockShox 'e.i'
computerized rear-suspension system which was released in June. With two well-engineered electronic suspension designs on the market from such big hitters, it is prudent that we take a long hard look at the concept.
Introducing Fox iCD Electronic Remote-Control Suspension
| (Clockwise) Fox's iCD shock has a large servo motor that switches its low-speed damping between 'Climb' and 'Descend' modes. The red clicker is its external rebound control. A look at the iCD fork's crown-mounted servo and its two waterproof connectors. The iCD remote switch can be placed on either side of the handlebar and only takes up ten millimeters of precious space. |
Fox's iCD is a simple system that uses powerful servo-motors to operate Fox's well-proven manual low-speed compression damping circuits.
ICD features a simple ring-shaped slider-switch at the handlebar that simultaneously opens or locks down the fork and shock damping with a flick of a thumb or finger. The entire iCD system only requires three wires to operate both ends of the bike's suspension, so it looks much cleaner than a cable-actuated remote system. ICD isn't cheap - Fox sells the system (fork, shock, electronics, battery, and charger) for around $2000, and offers a fork-only system for $1500 USD. Weight is pegged at 1860-grams (4.10 pounds) total weight for the dual-suspension option, with the fork-only system coming in at 1555 grams (3.43 pounds).
| A look at some of the details of the Patent filed by Fox indicates that its iCD manual remote system may only be the tip of the electronic suspension iceberg.|
While Fox already offers a mechanical system that accomplishes the same function with a series of levers and cables
, the party line is that computer-controlled electronics are a much simpler method to get the job done. Perhaps more importantly, the ring switch takes up less real estate on the handlebar and also requires less attention and effort from the rider than a dual-lever mechanical device that must overcome the friction of two cables and housings. ICD's ease of operation reportedly encourages riders to use the system much more frequently in high-stakes racing situations. The useful life of the lithium-ion battery is stated at over two months and recharges are said to take only 1.5 hours. Should you run the battery to death or cut a wire, the system defaults to the open 'descend' mode. Reliability of iCD is assured by the fact that Fox partnered with Shimano to develop the electronics using the same single-wire PLC computer controls and battery system that the industry leader developed for its Di2 derailleurs and shifting.
Presently, iCD is only available for XC -racing, packaged with Fox's Kashima-coated 'Factory' 100 to 120-millimeter Fox 32 Float forks and Float shocks, but insiders say that Fox is already working on a long-travel ensemble which will be racing the European Enduro circuit next season.
Santa Cruz Tallboy Meets iCD Suspension
| Santa Cruz's versatile Tallboy 29er is a perfect platform for a trailbike evaluation of Fox's made-for-XC-racing iCD electronic suspension. The Tallboy's 'mistake-proof' handling enabled us to push the new system to its limits over a wide variety of terrain.|
With a long-travel system in the works, we decided to build up a test bike with iCD to test its merits on trail, where most PB riders live. Fox agreed to set Pinkbike up with an iCD system that included a 120-millimeter fork. To take maximum advantage of the shorter-travel suspension, we chose a Santa Cruz Tallboy for the test because of its legendary handling, and the fact that larger-diameter wheels augment the suspension, which would help us to better evaluate iCD's benefits for the wilder side of the sport.
| While we are at it, take a closer look at PB's Tallboy iCD test bike. (Clockwise) Sturdy tapered head tube and semi-integrated Cane Creek headset keeps the handlebar height low. Formula's 'The One' Carbon brakes are as good as they look. The Tallboy's forged rear dropout incorporates a super rigid derailleur mount and a bottle opener. The VPP suspension's angular-contact bearings are adjustable.|
Fox iCD Installation
ICD kits arrive with a battery charger; a water-bottle-mount battery holder that also integrates the computer functions; the remote ring-switch; an in-line LED indicator; and a number of wires with pre-applied waterproof connectors. Cables are available in a number of lengths to avoid unsightly loops and adhesive conduit tape is included in the kit to help keep the assembly looking professional. Instructions are minimal - route the wires so they don't interfere with moving parts and then snap the connectors firmly in place. The battery box mount has an aluminum extension that fits beneath a water-bottle cage. This requires longer screws to mount the bottle cage, which are the only items not included in the kit. We have no need for a bottle, so we opted to cut and shorten the battery mount to clean up the installation.
| Shimano provides the iCD battery box and waterproof wiring system, which is exactly the same as its Di2 road-bike shifting system. The lighter gray battery module plugs into the frame-mount and latches closed. A safety button (right) releases the battery when the latch is opened.|
Our Factory Float shock already had low-friction bushings and hardware dedicated to the Tall Boy's VPP suspension, so it simply bolted up. The servo motor module is quite large, but not obtrusive. Tucked in the center of the black box is a red rebound dial. Low-speed rebound and air pressure are the only manual adjustments on both the fork and shock. The fork's servo-control is integrated into the right fork crown, where the familiar blue compression and lockout dials usually rest. The plastic cap has two sockets for the wiring and that's it. Fox said that the Factory offers 20 different tunes for iCD forks and shocks that range from full lockout to various levels of pedaling platform. Our suspension setup had an aggressive 'trail' tune, which translates to a healthy amount of pedaling platform in the closed 'Climb' position and smooth, nearly wide open compression damping in the 'Descend' position.
| Fox limits the iCD Factory Float shock to Climb and Descend functions only.The severity of the 'Climb' function can be factory tuned from a firm pedaling platform to near lockout. The two wire leads can be interchanged without altering the correct function of the system. In the event of an electronic failure, iCD reverts to the open, 'Descend' mode.|
At the handlebar, the remote switch slips over the bar and is fixed in place with an Allen set screw. The switch has an on/off indicator on two sides, so it may be used on either the right or left side of the bar, and it measures barely ten millimeters across, so it takes up very little space. The switch has an anti-friction washer that faces against the rubber grip. The last piece is a small in-line LED indicator that is wired to a short lead that sprouts from the remote switch. The indicator turns green when the servos are in action and then shuts off. As the battery is exhausted, the LED flashes green when the charge is below 50 percent, steady red below 25 percent and then the red LED flashes to signal the battery is completely run out.
Wiring it Up
| This little guy is an LED indicator that displays battery life. Shimano sells a computer app that allows iCD users to program a third function - shock on and fork off, or the reverse - which is the LED indicator's secret purpose. We used aviation safety wire instead of the supplied zip ties to fix it to the shift housing.|
The LED indicator is zip-tied to a brake hose or gear housing near the handlebar. A short wire runs from the LED box to one of the two sockets in the fork servo. A second wire runs between the fork and the shock servo, and finally, the third section of wire spans between the shock servo and the battery. It's pretty fool proof. The wires that enter and exit the dual sockets at the fork and shock servos can be interchanged, and the the single cable that connects all the elements carries both the battery current as well as the digital signals from the computer controller. The one warning worth noting is that the waterproof connectors fit tightly and take a good deal of force to remove or install. Shimano sells a tool to remove them that was not in the Fox Kit. Be sure not
to pull the connectors out by the wire - do this only by grasping the connector body.
| Fox did a good job of hiding iCD's wiring and servo mech inside the Kashima-coated 32 Float Factory fork. The in-and-out wiring reduces the system to only three wires from the handlebar-switch to the fork, the shock and to the battery. The manual low-speed rebound clicker is in the standard position, under the fork's right slider. |
The last bit to do is to secure the wires to the bike. Fox provides grooved adhesive backed plastic tape that can be used to hide the wires along the frame, but that won't survive the repeated pressure washing that most race bikes endure, so we suggest pairing the three runs of wire with a nearby cable housing or brake hose and fixing them with small zip ties. The host hose/housing will help to protect the wires and your bike won't have black band-aids all over it. Because our Tall Boy chassis was bare aluminum, I ditched all the plastic zip ties on the bike and routed the housings, hoses, and iCD wires with stainless steel aircraft safety wire to continue the bare metal look from tire to tire. Setting Up the Suspension
Once the wires are snapped in tight and checked, install the battery and he iCD system should jump to life with a click of the remote switch. The servo motors are quite loud indoors, but less noticeable outside on the trail. Dialing in the suspension is straight forward - turn the remote to open (descend) to free up the low-speed compression circuits and add air pressure to establish 25-percent sag with you riding weight aboard (You, your gear and all the water and stuff you plan to carry.), Then take a bit of a ride to establish the proper low-speed rebound damping with the red dials beneath the right fork slider and under the servo box of the shock.Riding Fox iCD Electronic-remote Suspension
Electronic servo motors powerful enough to reliably operate the Fox low-speed damping controls are not the silent type, so the first thing we noticed was the 'zip-zip' sound of the motors each time we tapped the iCD's remote switch. The iCD processor operates the fork first and then the shock to reduce the draw on the battery. Immediately after each use, the entire system then shuts down, so there is no on/off switch. ICD is always at the ready. Once underway, the zip-zip of the servos faded into the background noise. Functionally, the slim ring switch is spot-on, with a short throw to affect mode changes and a nub that lets the rider operate the switch with the index finger instead of the thumb. The tactile feel of the iCD switch, however is a bit cheap and plastic-like. We would have expected Fox to replicate the feel of its machined aluminum suspension clickers in this new application. Perhaps weight savings was a motivator, as iCD is targeted at the sport's most elite XC racers.
The ease of operation that Fox advertises as iCD's essential benefit is a reality. We reset our initial suspension settings much softer after we realized that we could firm up the suspension instantly, even for two or three meters on a climb if we felt the need. The iCD switch is like the 'push-to-pass button' that modern race cars feature. We could firm up the suspension, take five hard pedals out of the saddle to get by a rider, and then settle back into the saddle and spin the cranks with the suspension comfortably opened up. In fact, most of the time spent in the 'climb' option was for out-of-the-saddle pedaling efforts. Santa Cruz tuned the Tallboy's VPP suspension to pedal efficiently with the shock turned on, so when seated with the suspension locked out, any benefits that a rider may feel are perceived - not real.
Those who have experienced lever-type handlebar-remotes have confused the shift levers with the controls that operate the suspension. Regardless of how much practice, the human brain cannot reliably discriminate which lever is which in an emergency. Fox's ring switch has a completely different feel and function than the shift and brake levers, so the brain has no problem adapting the new technology to rote memory. The ease of which we learned the iCD system, though, was not as much of a surprise as the iCD's ease of operation. Call us lazy, but three minutes of push-button suspension control made us wonder why we ever thought wrestling with cables and hydraulics was a good idea.
With iCD, you only need to ask
the suspension to switch from climb to descend mode, you don't have to make
it happen. There is more to it, because with a mechanical device, after each action you must check to ensure that the levers have moved far enough and that the suspension actually did what you asked of it. With iCD electronics, you hit the button, hear the zip-zip of the servos and that's it - job over. Even in the event that you forgot which way you moved the ring-switch, all you need to do is reverse the switch and give the suspension a check bounce. ICD is about an instant and sure response from your suspension, any moment that you may ask for it. Is iCD a Useful Tool for Trail and Gravity Riders?
After spending time on the Tallboy with and without iCD, we found that the difference it less marked than expected, but that had more to do with the fact that the Tallboy's short-travel suspension pedals quite well wide open. That said, we used the Fox electronic suspension control far more than we did with say, the Scott Genius, which is a long-travel bike that lives or dies by its mechanical-remote suspension controls. The instant and sure response of iCD had us imagining how much more effective the push-button suspension control would be for a mushy-pedaling 160-millimeter-travel AM/trailbike. Arguably, the addition of electronic controls to a traditionally mechanical device like a bicycle is a questionable leap, but in its defense, many of iCD's potential anti-technology detractors have no qualms about packing an i-Phone, recording every ride with a GPS, riding a 1,200 horsepower electric uplift, or shuttling all day in a computerized, fuel-injected truck. After a very positive test with Lapierre's e.i active electronic suspension and now, an equally promising trial of the new Fox iCD manual remote electronics, we expect to see battery-powered controls on long-travel production bikes and perhaps for DH racing in the very near future. And if anyone is listening, we want a push-button electronic remote dropper post that goes up and