There isn't exactly a shortage of snazzy, high-performance suspension to choose from in 2018, with all sorts of options from the usual players that first come to mind. But if you want something that's less common, Cane Creek might be at the top the 'different list.' Best known for their range of Double Barrel shocks, the relatively small North Carolina-based company released their Helm fork in 2017 with a 27.5'' chassis that, as expected, left many riders asking when a big-wheeled version would be available. Well, here it is.
The 27.5'' Helm has been available for the better part of a year now, and it's quickly earned a rep for its supportive, well-controlled damping that suits hard-charging riders right out of the box. A big reason for this is the tuning of the Helm's damper that, unlike what you might expect to see given the twin-tube layout of their shocks, is actually a simpler mono-tube design. And guess what: the internals of the 29'' Helm are the same, of course, so riders should expect the same supportive stroke.
Cane Creek Helm 29er Details
• Intended use: trail / all-mountain / enduro
• Wheel size: 29''
• Travel: 100-160mm (air); 130-160mm (coil)
• Spring: air or coil
• Mono-tube damper
• External adjustments: low-speed compression, high-speed compression, low-speed rebound
• Stanchions: 35mm
• Steerer: tapered only
• 7'' post mount
• Axle: 'D-Loc' 15mm QR Boost thru-axle
• Color: gunmetal grey
• Weight: 2,080g (air, 160mm); 2,340g (coil, 160mm/55lbs spring)
• MSRP: $1,100 USD
Cane Creek uses a mono-tube layout for their damper with an expanding bladder to both compensate for displacement and to provide back pressure.
External damper adjustments are also identical, with riders able to tinker with low-speed compression, high-speed compression, and low-speed rebound. No, you still can't have a Helm with a pedal-assist lever that would firm the fork up for smooth climbs; Cane Creek says that they decided not to include one to avoid sacrificing any damper performance for a climbing aid.
If that doesn't underline the Helm's intentions, I don't know what would.
Low and high-speed compression are tuned at the top of the fork, while low-speed rebound is found at the bottom of the leg.
Just like its smaller-wheeled brother, the 29er Helm can be had with either a coil or an air-spring. Balancing the air-sprung fork's negative pressure calls for the same multi-step setup process, too. Here's how it's done: after pressurizing the positive chamber, you unscrew the aluminum cap that protects the equalizing button at the bottom of the leg, back out a small threaded collar that allows you to depress the valve, and then give it a push to instantly equalize the positive and negative air chambers.
Rather than use volume-reducing spacers to tune the ramp-up, the air-sprung Helm's progressiveness is adjusted by changing the height of a fixed piston that sits underneath the top cap. You'll need a 30mm socket wrench to get inside the fork, but the piston is held in place via a wing nut that can be loosened and tightened with your fingers, allowing for eight different positions.
The coil-sprung 29er model sees the same movable spring perch found in the 27.5'' fork that lets riders adjust travel between 130mm and 160mm in 10mm increments, while the lighter air-sprung version can be set between 100mm and 160mm of stroke by adding or removing small, clip-on spacers to the air rod. I've done this job a handful of times now and, if you're comfy using a few wrenches, it takes about ten minutes.
Externally, the 29'' chassis is essentially the same visually as the 27.5'' Helm, other than being longer, of course: 573mm axle-to-crown when it's at 160mm. The same clever 15mm D-Loc thru-axle is used, and there's enough room for big rubber, as well; even 27.5+ if you want to go that route. There's only a single, 51mm offset available right now, but expect to see a lesser offset version available down the road to work with the new-school, longer and slacker geometry that's becoming more and more prevalent.
I bolted the 29'er Helm, set at 120mm of travel, to the front of Santa Cruz's new Blur. It's been a fun combo on Squamish's rooty and slab-filled singletrack.
Alright, enough tech; how does the Helm 29'er perform? I'm not about to review the same thing in a different wheel size, but there are a few differences worth mentioning. The first, and the most notable, is that this thing is silly supple, even more so than the other Helm forks that were as smooth as anything else out there. There are a few reasons for this: first, the 29'er Helm sports a slightly larger negative air spring chamber compared to the 27.5'' fork at the same travel setting. That helps it feel slippery, no doubt, but the fact that my test fork is sitting at 120mm means that its negative chamber is much, much larger than it would be at 160mm.
The larger the negative spring, the more eager the fork is to go into its stroke, and this thing is damn eager to do exactly that. But it still has that controlled, supportive feel that Cane Creek's fork is well known for.
And speaking of damping, there's also a less obvious difference between their older and newer forks. ''The damper changes we made only pertains to the rebound. We went from 15 clicks down to 10,'' Sam Anderson, Cane Creek Product Manager said before explaining why. ''But in the process, we made each of the clicks have more influence, with more maximum rebound damping than the previous version.'' So less clicks and a wider range, with more damping available.
I've only managed to squeeze in a handful of rides on the 29'er Helm and it's been impressive, but the next thing to do is to bump the fork up to 160mm and bolt it onto the front of the Orbea Rallon test bike I have in rotation to see how it feels at full length. More to come soon.