BREW Nitro Shox
If you're thinking that the BREW Nitro Shox looks homemade, that's because it is. However, this is the only Nitro Shox in the world at this point in time, and you shouldn't let its unfinished appearance put you off: there's some tricky things going on inside that its designer, Joe Hunter, is saying puts it head and shoulders above what we're all used to riding. It might also look a bit familiar because it's the latest incarnation of the fabled Millyard damper that, while showing great promise, seemed to fade into obscurity for reasons apparently unrelated to its performance. Hunter has been re-working the design with big intentions in mind, and even taking it as far as the MotoGP paddock where a different iteration of the design has been put to use, although he can't legally divulge by what team or riders.
Moving back to the mountain bike world, Hunter went on to say that back-to-back timed runs comparing the Nitro Shox with an unnamed production shock showed that their test rider was consistently ten percent faster with the BREW damper on his bike. Claims aside, while the internal bits of the Nitro Shox sound like they're actually less complicated than what's used by suspension companies these days, it still takes a bit to grasp how the very different layout of the BREW shock works. Here's the basics
The first thing to understand is that the BREW shock uses a completely different layout than a traditional design that we're used to seeing from FOX, RockShox or anyone else, with it being based on the same principles as the oleo struts that were first employed on tanks and the landing gear of airplanes for many, many years. Ol-what, you ask? An oleo damper is relatively simple compared to a complicated mountain bike or motorbike shock: on one end there's a pressurized chamber (filled with nitrogen in the case of the Nitro Shox, hence its name
) that's separated from the damping oil by a piston that we'd usually refer to as an IFP (short for Internal Floating Piston
). An important thing to note is that the nitrogen charge in the BREW shock actually acts as the spring, whereas the pressurized chamber on the opposite side of the IFP is only used to provide back-pressure and room for oil displacement on a traditional shock.
Now let's pretend we're riding the Nitro Shox: when your rear wheel hits a bump and the shock is compressed, the damping oil pushes on the the IFP and the nitrogen charge is compressed - this gives you your spring rate. On the opposite end of the shock is a tapered metering pin that aligns with a bleed hole on the metering / damping orifice, and this is what determines the amount of pressure that's applied to the IFP and the nitrogen charge. This means that it's able to supply as much spring force as required when there's a massive impact, but then also bleed off that pressure as needed. In short, it provides both a non-linear spring rate and damping force that allows it to react in a way that a standard shock would never be able to, and, according to Hunter, in a way that gives the rider more control.
So that's the gist of an oleo damper, but BREW have made a few vital changes to get the system working well for mountain bikes. ''The BREW shock absorber differs from the conventional oleo suspension unit by incorporating two patented designs,
'' explains Hunter. The first is where he's located the damper assembly, moving it from the damper rod to the end of the shock in order to integrate an adjustment dial or two. The second patent involves a way of changing the pressure of the nitrogen charge in order to adjust the shock's spring rate - the prototype shown here doesn't allow a rider to do that. Less Adjustments
The current Nitro Shox damper doesn't allow the rider to fiddle with much in the way of adjustments, and while Hunter believes that this is for the better, he is looking at more user-tuneable models for down the road. The anodized blue prototype pictured here, the model that BREW is looking to put into production first, doesn't even allow the rider to adjust the spring rate, with it being set at the factory to your weight, riding style and bike model. That is going to sound insane to a lot of us - it did to me, to be honest - but the design and function of this first shock doesn't permit that. He is working on a future model that sports a piggyback, not for oil displacement, though, but to serve as home for a type of volume adjustment that would allow for spring rate tuning.
The single red dial on this shock is going to leave some riders with idle hands, with it being using to adjust both compression and rebound damping. This is an entirely different sort of thing to what we're used to, though, with the somewhat limited range being accented by the shock being able to "auto adjust" the amount of damping that's applied by roughly ten to twenty percent in each direction (Hunter didn't want to supply exact figures on this
). Hunter does have plans to offer a shock with separate rebound and compression dials as well, although he sounded a bit skeptical as to if the design really called for allowing riders to tinker with these settings in that way.
I've left Eurobike without a Nitro Shox damper in my bag, but Hunter is aiming to have a finished test unit shipped out to Pinkbike within the next few months. Right now, after reading all of the above, I can understand the skepticism that might be present about the design. Not being able to adjust the shock's spring rate? A single dial to tune both compression and rebound? It all sounds a bit out there to me, but sometimes it takes a wholesale change in what we know to be able to take the next step (or leap
) forward. We'll see.