Cane Creek DBair CS Review

Jul 12, 2013
by Mike Levy  
Cane Creek's highly rated Double Barrel shock receives a new climbing assist feature, the Climb Switch, that increases the shock's level of low-speed compression and rebound damping in tandem. The CS feature has been in the works for about two years, with it being the result of much testing with radical prototype shocks, dubbed 'Frankenshocks', that allowed the Cane Creek team to make independent external adjustments to both LSC and LSR specifically for climbing, as well as having the ability to turn them on and off instantly. This convinced the
development team that not only was a traditional lockout not the answer that they were looking for, but also that increasing the shock's low-speed rebound is key to climbing performance. While Cane Creek knew that a climbing aid would go a long way to improving the shock's all around performance, they weren't willing to compromise when it came to its damping abilities. ''The CS climbing function is an addition to the functionality, not at the expense of what riders already expect from the DB. It had to ride like a DB, and it does. Exactly like it, actually, since when the CS is 'off' it is a DB,'' says Cane Creek's Josh Coaplen, who is VP of Engineering at the Fletcher, N.C., company.

The Climb Switch will be available on both coil and air-sprung versions of the shock, and non-CS DBcoil and DBair shocks will also still be available. The CS function is not retrofittable, meaning that you'll have to splurge for a new shock if you already have a DB but feel like the CS lever makes sense for how you ride. There is no handlebar remote available at this point, but you can expect that to change down the road.

DBair CS Details
• Intended use: trail/all-mountain/enduro
• Aimed at 130 - 170mm travel bikes
• Adjustments: spring rate, high speed compression, low    speed compression, high speed rebound, low speed    rebound, Climb Switch on/off
• Air can sizes: standard (all lengths) Extra Volume (200, 215,    222, 240mm)
• Sizes available: 7.5 x 2.0'' - 10.5 x 3.5'' (eight in total)
• Weight: 509 grams (claimed, varies by size)
• Availability: August 1st, 2013
• MSRP: $695 USD



What is the Climb Switch?

What the CS lever isn't, and what Cane Creek really wants to stress, is that the small aluminum lever does not act as a lockout by any stretch of the imagination, but actually tames BOTH low-speed compression and low-speed rebound when flipped on. This is in contrast to most of Cane Creek's competitors who offer a long-stroke shock with some type of pedal-assist feature, usually a lever that either adds more low-speed compression damping or functions as a true on/off lockout. The DBair CS and DBcoil CS take a different approach to the problem of trying to create an efficient pedalling bike for climbing or less aggressive terrain: ''We wanted a climbing mode for the DB shocks that allowed full suspension bikes to shine uphill - to highlight the benefits of climbing a suspension bike (traction and comfort) while 'damping' the negatives (perceived or actual inefficiency, excessive chassis motion),'' explains Coaplen.

Cane Creek DBair CS

The Climb Switch can be set to either on or off, and the lever has about 45 degrees of motion.


In order to not take away from the traction and comfort that a full-suspension bike can provide on a technical or rough climb, the new CS-equipped shocks offer quite a subtle firming up of the compression stroke when the function is activated. In fact, depending on the tune it might take a few good pushes to really notice the difference between open and closed settings. The interesting bit comes as the shock rebounds, though, with it clearly being slower and more controlled than when the CS lever is flipped to its open position. The obvious question is why the shock's rebound would need to be damped at all, especially given that the common train of thought is that efficiency comes through keeping the shock from being compressed unnecessarily by pedalling forces or the rider's body moving as he or she turns the cranks. ''When climbing, there is plenty of time to think about all the forces and motions at all the contact points between you and the bike. As these forces and motions vary, your body feels them,'' Coaplen says. ''This is true both in compression and rebound of the shock. By tweaking the LSC and LSR you are essentially changing the forces and motions felt by your body, minimizing the extent to which they change. If you don't alter the LSR, you only mitigate a potion of these forces/motions.''
bigquotesA traditional lockout was never considered. We designed an experiment to find out what works best, then we figured out how to implement it into a DB shock. If a traditional lockout had been the result of all this testing, we would have implemented that. But it wasn't. - Josh Coaplen, VP of Engineering

While all that might sound a bit complicated, Coaplen described to us a simple exercise that highlights the difference between only damping the compression stroke and damping both the compression and rebound. Hold your arm out in front of you and push it to the side with your other hand in three different ways: 1) push very fast and let off fast, 2) push very slowly and let off fast, 3) push very slowly and let off very slowly. Which is the least bothersome?

There are two positions for the CS switch - on or off - and the level of LSC and LSR that it adds is preset by Cane Creek after working with the bike manufacturer to figure out what best suits the bike's suspension design and intentions. That means that the added damping might be more apparent on certain bikes, but Cane Creek also told us that one of their service centers can either increase or decrease the CS switch's effect if the owner is looking for a different feel from their shock. While the large majority of riders will no doubt prefer the shock-mounted CS lever over a remote on the handlebar, Cane Creek does plan to offer a remote system at some point down the road. No word on what it might look like, but it is likely safe to assume that it will be a relatively small lever that can be mounted either above or below the bar.


How does the Climb Switch work?

Cane Creek's Double Barrel lineup has a reputation for being complicated, but with great setup guides and hints on their website, as well as adjustments that feature straight forward names that accurately describe their functions, we'd have to disagree. Having said, explaining exactly how the Climb Switch functions might be a lot to take in at first read. Instead of rehashing Cane Creek's own words, we'll let them do it justice:

Double Barrel shocks with the CS feature have four low-speed damping circuits: LSC1, LSC2, LSR1, LSR2 in addition to the two high-speed damping circuits: HSC and HSR. In the “off” position of the Climb Switch, the low speed damping is controlled by LSC1 and LSR1; this is analogous to traditional Double Barrel shocks without the CS feature. In the “on” position of the Climb Switch, the low-speed damping is controlled by LSC2 and LSR2, the ‘climbing circuits’. These circuits are heavily damped and tuned specifically to limit low frequency motion of the bike’s suspension, but not to the extent that traction during climbing is sacrificed.

Cane Creek DBair CS


Why have the shock's dials been changed?

The anodized gold adjustment dials that have become synonymous with Cane Creek's Double Barrel lineup look quite different to what the new CS-equipped DBair and DBcoil shocks employ, with two smaller, stainless steel hex screws now sitting above the two very different looking gold coloured dials. Those two smaller stainless steel adjusters control the low-speed compression and low-speed rebound, and their new position at the top of the shock's piggyback is required due to them needing to be turned on and off by the CS lever that sits just below them. Both the gold high-speed compression and high-speed rebound dials are in the same location as before because they are not controlled by the CS lever and are active in both CS-on and CS-off modes. Many Double Barrel owners have requested tool-free dials over the years, and while the new shock's adjusters cannot be turned with fingers, they now require a common 3mm hex key instead of the funky box end wrench of previous years.


Performance

One thing became instantly clear to us during our first ride on the DBair CS - it is every bit a Double Barrel when the CS lever is set to its open position. The majority of our seat time has come with the shock fitted to a 150mm travel Scott Genius 720, a bike that we had trouble coming to terms with during our testing of it earlier this year. Much of our troubles boiled down to the DT Swiss Nude2 shock that came as stock equipment from Scott, with it feeling harsh overall and short on tuneability. Bolting the DBair CS to the bike was a revelation, with it transforming the bike's suspension into a package that allowed us to push harder. None of this came as a big surprise to us given our very positive impressions of the standard DBair's performance when we tested it on Banshee's Rune earlier this year. It also needs to be mentioned that the setup procedure is no different than that required of the non-CS Double Barrels, only that the CS lever be switched to the open position when setting the bike's sag.

Cane Creek DBair CS

We wrapped up our testing of the DBair CS with it bolted to a 140mm travel Knolly Endorphin, an ideal bike for how the Climb Switch is intended to work.


What did come as an immediate surprise, though, was just how effective the CS lever was when flipped to its 'on' position, especially because the difference between the on and off settings can feel very subtle when giving the bike's suspension a quick push at the trailhead. In fact, we have to admit to wondering if there was some sort of setup issue when we first activated the CS function in the parking lot before hitting the trail - it is that subdued. Getting the bike on some loose, technical climbs proved otherwise, with it behaving very differently from what we were expecting.

The best way to describe how the CS function performs is to say that it results in a very quiet bike when climbing, and we are not referring to any sort of noise but rather the way that the shock is able to eat up a stepped section of roots and rocks very much like it would when set to CS-off mode while also keeping the suspension from plunging into its travel from pedalling forces or body motion. The feeling of it absorbing the terrain is where the magic of the tamed low-speed rebound comes into play, with the shock not only being able to soak up the initial impact, but also remaining controlled in its extension when it reaches the other side. Contrast this to a much firmer lockout that not only causes the tire to deflect off of the root or rock, often feeling like the rear wheel is catching on an obstacle slightly before rolling over it, while also rebounding quickly if it has managed to compress at all.

Hard out of the saddle efforts, the kind of sloppy exertions that come when the gas tank is on empty but some horsepower is required to crest that last steep pitch, are exactly where the shock's Climb Switch function makes the most sense. The added traction is a huge benefit because your tired body is likely not operating to its full potential, but the restrained compression stroke keeps the bike from flailing wildly through its travel. The was true of both the Scott Genius and the 140mm travel Knolly Endorphin that we used as our test sled for the final few rides of shock testing. The bottom line is that traction was far better than if the suspension was locked out or even firmed up to a middle compression setting, and both bikes pedalled excellently with the CS lever switched to its 'on' position. And because the shock is still relatively active with the CS flipped on, we didn't feel the need to constantly reach down to turn it off on rolling terrain with short downhill sections sprinkled in between the climbs. We did notice that the firmer low-speed rebound managed to take some of the bike's playfulness away during those moments, though, meaning that we weren't big fans of turning the Climb Switch on when riding tame terrain - it took too much pop away from the bike's abilities.


Issues

Given that the only complaint in our initial review of the standard DBair shock was the lack of a some type of pedal-assist feature, it doesn't surprise us that we don't have much to grumble about now that Cane Creek has addressed this. We were both very surprised and impressed by how activating the shock's CS function was able to tame suspension action without robbing traction, although it needs to be said that it is far from being the firm lockout that the rider who goes KOM hunting up gravel road climbs will be looking for. This isn't the shock for those types, and you may want to look at a more traditional lockout-equipped shock if that sounds like you.

While the shock's climbing performance is impressive, not to mention its proven downhill prowess, we can see that Cane Creek might have an uphill battle on their hands when it comes to convincing riders that, depending on the type of climbing that you do, a traditional lockout might not make as much sense as their CS feature. After all, firm suspension is fast, right? As it turns out, not always. According to Coaplen, testing with different bike manufacturers during the shock's development has shown that many go from looking for a full lockout setting to something more inline with how the CS performs. ''They think they need super firm because that is what they are used to needing, but they no longer need that with the entire low speed damping being properly addressed,'' he told us. ''So, once we start tuning the climbing settings, the desire for super firm shifts to the desire for a stable chassis when climbing while not sacrificing traction.'' Having now put some solid miles on the DBair CS, we aren't surprised to hear that sort of feedback.


Pinkbike's take:
bigquotesHad you asked a month ago, prior to us putting any time on Cane Creek's new DBair CS shock, if their approach of increasing both low-speed compression and rebound would offer an appreciable advantage on climbs over a more traditional pedal assist feature, we likely would have said no way. We would have been very wrong. While not the ultra-firm compression setting that feels quicker on those long, smooth climbs, Cane Creek's Climb Switch offers a substantial advantage when it comes to any sort of technical terrain, be it trail littered with rocks and roots or extremely loose conditions, and the improved traction allowed us to focus on where we needed to be on the trail instead of being worried about constantly spinning out. Cane Creek's out of the box thinking has resulted in not only one of the more unique suspension products on the market, but also one that has proven itself to be very effective.- Mike Levy


www.canecreek.com


79 Comments

  • + 45
 I really hope company's like cc and bos stay true to who they are, top quality products in every sense, I hope as they get increasingly more popular they don't cut corners or stop pushing their products to develop the best suspension year on year the mtb industry has seen ...
  • + 19
 *Cough* Fox! *Coughs*
  • - 11
flag Lilshredman (Jul 11, 2013 at 19:52) (Below Threshold)
 Oh Dear, More Fox haters...
  • + 33
 CTD was a swing and a miss....
  • + 1
 I really don't see everyones problem with Fox, I had a DHX 4.0 on my old bike and now have a DHX RC4 on my Wilson and I love(d) them both. For that matter I also love my Boxxer and loved my Totem despite all the hate on RockShox. Only suspension I've had problems with was Marzochhi but until I broke (which was 100% my fault) them they weren't all that bad.
  • + 6
 My 2012 36 Float Kashima... Utter garbage.
  • + 6
 my floats aren't bad... nowhere near as plush as my 888 or the 55 I tried for a few rides though, but agreed on cane creek I hope they never cut corners or else it will be like marz in 2008 or well how rockshox has been since sram bought them
  • + 9
 @samtomkins if you know how to feel subtle differences in shocks and forks with different adjustments then you will understand why people hate ctd. From what i have seen people who dont mind the ctd are the people that cant feel a fork or shock acting up during its travel......like a fox diving under hard braking as where rockshox etc...doesnt really have that problem (and if they do you can tune it to make the problem disappear). I have been working in shops for a few years now and most people i see are happy with fox are the people who have no idea what or how to use suspension correctly. just as people hate the ccdb because they dont have the slightest idea on how to tune them properly.
  • + 6
 What does that have to do with CCDB?

And my 36 Float Kashima is just fine, thanks!
  • + 7
 why dont they make fork?
  • + 2
 Dude CTD not miss the mark , especially in the rear shock I love my CTD rear
  • + 17
 @ sladevallydh Thanks for the kind words! Here at Cane Creek we pride ourselves on making high quality products that cater to those looking to get the most out of their riding experience. We will never sacrifice quality for the sake of numbers, which is why we sometimes have a little more lead time with our shocks. However we think it's worth it for customers to know EVERY damper is hand built and dyno tested in Fletcher NC!
  • + 4
 Yes!! I just pre-ordered this shock and this review, along with tons of other friends who swear by Cane Creek, is making me super stoked and anxious to get it on my bike. Every damper hand made in the USA... yes please!
  • + 30
 works pretty good on downhill supreme... I like the shock
  • + 23
 "The lever has about 45 degrees of motion"
Damn! I need 50 degrees!
  • + 14
 That thing better s*ck me and f*ck me for $695 dollars.
  • + 9
 or just be very high quality and always deliver perfect performance every time... think cane creek is the only one who can hold that claim
  • + 63
 @ defineindecline Only if you promise to cuddle afterwards.
  • + 3
 Anyone else wanna question the Boss-ness of Cane Creek? They have been making top-tier products for longer than you realize, are always straight up about everything, and are the only ones who care enough to host "Ask us anything" chats on PB. And they cuddle!
  • - 4
flag defineindecline (Jul 12, 2013 at 23:46) (Below Threshold)
 I really hope that the person at Cane Creek that replied to me was a female or else I'm gonna feel really gay. Also, I'm drunk. sup.
  • + 10
 This actually makes a lot of sense. I basically never use the 'climb' feature on my CTD shock just because I prefer to have an active shock while climbing. 90% of trail time is spent in the 'descend' position and on the odd occasion I firm it up a tad for extended climbs. Would love to have a go on this on my bike!
  • + 5
 "although it needs to be said that it is far from being the firm lockout that the rider who goes KOM hunting up gravel road climbs will be looking for. This isn't the shock for those types, and you may want to look at a more traditional lockout-equipped shock if that sounds like you. " - or a hardtail haha! But anyway looks like a great design !
  • + 9
 Will Cane Creek provide forks in the future?
  • + 1
 I come from the future. Cane Creek will make the helm fork available in 2017
  • + 1
 @freerabbit: well done bro!
  • + 4
 Did they say it was tested on a 140mm endorphin?

Any 140mm bike that needs a pro-pedal isn't worth it's weight in tin.

Really needed to be tested on a big travel bruiser where it's going to be tested like an sx trail or giant reign.
  • + 4
 Length of travel has little to do with the need for a platform shock. Suspension design does. Designs with built-in platforms (DW, VPP, Switch, Maestro, etc) shouldn't need much if any shock-assisted platform. Knolly 4x4 and Speshy/Norco Horst Link benefit from some shock platform for climbing performance. That said, I agree that an SX trail is the perfect test vehicle for this climb feature.
  • + 3
 For everyone that is complaining about the price. I can tell you that I recently upgraded to the CCDBA and this shock has totally changed my bike for the better. You definitely get what you pay for. I struggled with adjustments and tuning on my DHX 5.0 Air for over a year before finally deciding to just sell it and upgrade to the CCDBA. Best decision that I have ever made. I have had the shock for less than a week and it has already have solved 100% of the issues that I was having with my DHX. For everyone else that is intimidated by the adjustments on the shock. Cane creek makes it easy to understand with their tuning guide and once you start playing with the settings you realize what the settings affect pretty quickly. Also it is notable that the CCDBA base tune that they published for my bike still blew my DHX out of the water after a year of tinkering. Also i can tell you that i think the CCDBA without a pedal assist, pedals better uphill than my DHX with a pro pedal switch. There is no compromise with this shock. Pedals good uphill, super capable on the down. Set it and forget it technology!!!!
  • + 2
 Nice review. Until I'm hours deep into a ride my endorphin doesn't really need much help from the shock to be quiet and efficient and I expect the DW and VPP bikes are similar in that respect but when the legs are roached and form isn't good it could be very welcome. ..and my endorphin has a different rocker link but is this years model. hrrmmm..
  • + 4
 Of all the reviews on this item, PinkBike def has the best writeup. And I don't mean the most glowing review, but the most information. Thank you PB!!!
  • + 5
 I've got one on order. Can't wait. Rode the standard DB Air for a few weeks and it won me over. Goodbye CTD.
  • + 1
 I have always felt that any form of lock out either a fork or a shock is a remedy for a poor design in suspension. I have never used a climb setting on any bike as I hate the feel even if it "helps" you climb. I currently run a db air on my enduro and I just set it to be better all around like a enduro should be.
  • + 1
 Just rode my first CCDBair shocks (without the CS) yesterday - on a Podium and a Chilcotin. Holy crap! Great shock, and I didn't even mess with the settings. It truly did feel like coil. Congrats on the CS technology - the missing link to push many over to the CCDBa.
  • + 1
 SWIM (someone who isn't me) just asked me "wouldn't it look a little cooler if the lever was gold too?" or "wouldn't it be rad if you could custom order the color of the lever?" another guy just asked me "wouldn't it be awesome if you could get it tri-colored like a rasta cap?"
  • + 1
 nice man
  • + 1
 I’m wondering if Cane Creek actually planned/wanted to change the rebound with the climbing switch or if they were forced to because of the way the DB Air works. Need evidence of this before they start boasting about how changing the rebounding matters in climbing mode. Bikers care about smart engineering not clever marketing.
  • + 4
 There's clearly a lot of effort put in to dampen the rebound - and it required a number of new custom parts compared to the normal DB Air. Having a flip lever that changes one thing is super easy, having a flip lever that changes two is much more complicated.

It's easy to see how this would help too - on slow, ledgy, rooty technical climbs, the "bounce" you get hopping your rear wheel up objects or getting over that apex move can easily upset your traction and balance. More than once I've lost traction because of this, and had no momentum going into the next move, which usually results in an unceremonious dismount.

FWIW, I'm not a CC fanboy either, I'm on all 2012 Fox right now, which I have mixed feelings about. I NEVER use the propedal adjustments on my shock with my DW Link 145mm bike, unless I'm on a pavement climb - it just kills the bike's natural suspension ability. I can see this enhancing it instead, especially if tuned for it (I'd imagine less compression damping than a normal bike, but a fair bit of rebound damping for climb mode).
  • + 4
 @ erik2k10 Quite the opposite actually -- in testing, we found that LSR matters more than LSC for climbing performance. The twin-tube architecture of the DB platform is what allows us to change the LSC and LSR in concert. No one debates the effectiveness of adjustable LSC and LSR for suspension tuning when it comes to traveling at high-speed -- why wouldn't you want the same tunability at low speeds?
  • + 4
 Does it have a setting for 650b?
  • + 3
 Fantastic product but Cmon, EVERYONE here wants to see a Fork FRom CaneCreek!!!!!
  • + 1
 give it another 45 degrees to engage a full lockout and that could be an awesome option... i mean, more than it already is. Kudos.
  • + 4
 Lock outs are pointless on a mtb. We're not road cyclists here. Keeping the rear wheel tracking is much more efficient then a lockout.

Öhlins knows suspension better then you. I'd just take what they give us and accept that it's the best.
  • + 0
 Disagree. I like having the opportunity to lock it out completely for that long, sweeping fire road climb that is flat and featureless and there's no point in having any rear wheel movement. If it's an hour+ climb, I'll take the [albeit small] efficiency gain. Granted, this would be for a AM / Trail Rig that sees the full range of access climbs and less for the enduro crowd that does it's climbing in the trees, which by the sounds of it, this shock does really well.

All I'm saying If there's that much control over the circuits, it just seems like a really easy option to fully lock them out. It's a small point that would satisfy pretty much the entire spectrum. great descending, awesome trail climbing, and a lockout for those boring climbs or the rare time where you don't want any rear suspension movement.
  • + 1
 lockout for road climbs...?
  • + 3
 If you know how to pedal a bike properly, a lock out is totally pointless. If you're a hack on the pedals and smash down on them in hard gears, then yes a lock out would help. But learning how to pedal woul help more.
  • + 2
 this is true, sitting down and spinning is the way to go, but no amount of pedalling technique helps with standing up which caters to a few people's styles
  • + 2
 "percevied or real inefficiency" "perceived"..... Well said and understood.
  • + 3
 Compression and rebound adjusters for common hex wrenches. Finally.
  • + 2
 maybe its just me or i need to try one of these out. but i think the traditional lockout is awesome for me.
  • + 2
 This will be going on my Slayer next spring, thanks Cane Creek!!!!
  • + 1
 So the DB is not a good fit for Strava chasing DBs? Perhaps renaming it the non-DB air would be less confusing.
  • + 1
 Basically they said it depends on the terrain... Smooth uphill fire road, a normal lock out is better, any kind of technical climb CCDBA w/CS is much better, hands down.
  • + 2
 The best has just got better
  • + 3
 Pricy.
  • + 5
 Pricey*
  • + 4
 Well then, I did not know that. Very interesting.
  • + 12
 I can't believe you did all that research to prove a point. You're my hero!
  • + 7
 That just blew my mind....
  • + 0
 I just need an LSC lever to firm it up a couple clicks on fireroads. Would not buy a new shock. Existing works just fine climbing.
  • - 2
 Like people have said this lark about fox had nothing to do with cane creek DD, but if fox were so bad why do most of the pros use fox suspension. Plus Rach and Gee athertons use a fox float 40 and ATM are 2 first place wins so they can't be hat bad can they surely
  • + 2
 would love to have this on my pitch :-)
  • + 2
 FFFFFfffffffffuuuuu I need 120mm
  • + 1
 Man I wish I had money right now!
  • + 1
 sounds like this would be a perfect upgrade for my 575 pitty i'm broke....
  • - 2
 It sounds fantastic but having a third position that firms up the compression damping even more would be great. Just like ctd but with a completely different trail setting.
  • + 4
 Ride one, we think you'll find the CS will make any "third" position irrelevant.
  • + 1
 "Ride one"....I bought a CCDBA about a year ago. Do you want to loan me one of these so I can decide if the upgrade is worth it? ;-)
  • + 0
 Triple ring front d, fail, oh shock yeah = kewel.
  • + 0
 "ctd" I just climb and descend, screw the flat trails!
  • + 0
 perfection???!!!
  • + 0
 pricey but does the job
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