Lapierre and RockShox, along with Lapierre's sister brands, Haibike and Ghost, have been secretly working on a computer-controlled shock which is named 'e.i' for Electronic Intelligence. The shock is driven by a system, patented by Lapierre and was built in conjunction with RockShox on the 2013 Monarch RT3 platform. A pod attached to the damper contains a servo motor which alters the shock damping from locked out to wide open in .01 seconds. Sensors on the crank, hidden in the BB shell determine if the rider is pedaling, while accelerometers located on the stem cap and the fork slider register the severity of each impact BEFORE the rear wheel hits the bump.
The 2013 RockShox Monarch RT3 Relay damper on a Lapierre Zesty of the same vintage. The aluminum servo head houses a small digital-proportional electric motor that operates the same three manual compression settings of the more-familiar blue lever. The internal cam that drives the low-speed compression needle is stainless steel and there are no detents. Rebound is still manual, via the red dial below the servo head.
The system is locked out when pedaling, open when coasting and has two modes for bumps - pedaling platform for small or medium hits and wide open for big hits. Riders have four options on a remote handlebar switch to toggle manually from automatic, medium, open or locked modes. Also, there are five sensitivity options that can be easily preset using the display to create an overall firm or smooth ride. A stem cap replacement houses the computer and one accelerometer, and also houses a display that shares speed and time functions with shock mode indicators. The e.i electronic system is said to add 350 grams to the bike. Prices are not yet set and there will be no aftermarket sales for the foreseeable future. The good news, we are told, is that e.i will be appearing on relatively affordable bikes. Lapierre will have 10 models at three different price points, Haibike will have five models and Ghost will offer seven.
How and Why e.i Suspension Was Developed
(Clockwise) Lapierre's carbon fiber Zesty trailbike showing the size of the e.i battery pack mounted on the down tube. The handlebar remote control has a central nib to orient your thumb correctly. The opposite side of the Monarch RT3 Servo showing the rebound adjustment dial. The lower accelerometer and its speed sensor up close. The e.i display can be removed with a twist - and the system will run without it. The Monarch's compression adjustment can be operated manually with a 2.5mm Allen key - just in case.
Before this all gets confusing, Lapierre and RockShox decided to break the news at Lapierre’s press camp in Morzine, France, along with two other brands, Ghost and Haibike (Hi’ Bike), that fall under the same ownership. All three brands have exclusive rights to the technology for a yet-to-be-disclosed time interval. Lapierre owns the patents (five of them) to the technology, while RockShox partnered to build the servo mechanism into its 2013 Monarch RT3 air-sprung damper. RockShox owns all the stuff from the damper to the end of the wire that plugs the shock into the system, so d.i shocks and servos will be serviced by RockShox. Lapierre is responsible for all the main electronic bits.
E.i’s electronics were developed by a firm called Trelock, and the engineering was assisted by the technical university students at Ecole Centrale Lyon.
The development period was five years in the doing, with RockShox coming on board for the last two to bring the business end of the system into fruition. RockShox’s Jeremiah Boobar admitted that electronics were on the company’s list of must-dos, and that this was the first time that RockShox/SRAM had entered into a partnership to develop a core product. With RockShox’s blue white and black competitor’s announcement that it was going electronic earlier this year, the marriage could not have occurred at a better moment.
Both Jeremiah and Gilles Lapierre (Lapierre’s enthusiastic leader) stated that the first advantages of e.i suspension system will be to remove the need for a rider to fuss with tuning his or her shock for various situations, and then fiddle further with platform and lockout settings through the duration of each ride. The real take-away from e.i, however, will not be realized until the near future. If e.i’s accelerometer-controlled damping can separate pedaling platform from the suspension's action (and it seems to do a fine job), then bike designers will be freed to perfect the bump smoothing action of their suspensions instead of building in copious amounts of ride-tainting anti-squat into their systems.Breaking Down the e.i Suspension System
E.i begins with a small computer processor mounted above the stem in place of the stem cap. The system is actually quite simple and understandable if you take it step by step. I’ll introduce you to the players as they come on line:The pedaling sensor:
The first job of the computer is to check to see if the rider is pedaling. An electric sensor in the internal sleeve that surrounds the bottom bracket axle picks up a signal from a small magnet on the BB axle to let the computer know if the cranks are spinning. If they are not turning, the computer opens the shock’s compression damping wide open and waits. If the cranks are turning, the computer orders the shock to switch to full lockout for maximum pedaling efficiency. The accelerometer on the fork slider
: When the bike rolls over a bump, an accelerometer on the slider measures the intensity that the wheel is being deflected upwards and warns the computer. If it’s a small, easy roller, the computer tells the shock to open up about half way, so it still can provide pedaling firmness while sucking up the tiny impact. If the bump really sends the accelerometer, the computer tells the shock to open fully. There are about 43 inches between the contact patches of the front and rear wheels and thus, it takes a bit of time for a bump to reach the back tire after it has upset the front one. At the upper end of the speed range, where a guy like Nicolas Vouilloz spends a lot of time, that interval is about a tenth of a second. E.i’s computer can make 1000 decisions in a second, so it has plenty of time to communicate between the fork sensors and the shock and get it right before the hammer hits the rear wheel.The accelerometer on the stem:
So, what if the rider’s crazy pedaling input is causing the fork to compress, like when sprinting out of a corner? Well, a second accelerometer on the stem-mounted computer senses when the fork is being pushed down from above and warns the computer that it should hold fast and remain locked out unless it receives further information from its partner on the slider below. The speed sensor:
OK, engineers and physicists learn in kindergarten that the energy of an impact increases with the square of its relative speed. What that means is that as speed increases slightly, hitting the same bump upsets the suspension to a much greater degree. To counter this, a spoke magnet trips a speed sensor built into the accelerometer on the fork slider and the computer does the math – just for fun – while the bump is streaking towards the rear wheel and then makes the correction to its shock order just in the nick of time. Wide open, Mister Monarch RT3, trouble’s a brewin.’
The battery pack:
Take a look at the components: (clockwise) The business end of e.i is the RockShox Monarch RT3 Relay shock - wired up and ready to make history. E.i's processor is sealed into a molded plastic platform that replaces the stem-cap - the display twists and locks into it. The accelerometer and speed sensor are fixed with adhesive backing and a zip tie to the fork slider. A standard looking internal bottom bracket sleeve hosts the crank rotation sensor which picks up a signal from a small magnet fixed to the BB axle. The battery pack is good for 24 hours of riding - plus more than half of that in reserve if you need it.
Nobody told me what kind of battery actually powered the e.i shock, but it requires a rather large one (about the size of Shimano’s Di2 road shifting system). Lapierre officials said that the servo-motors required a little heft to operate the low-speed compression needle against the shock’s internal fluid pressure, and that took some juice. But the main reason was that the processor needed to be very fast and that speed required power. The real worry is how long will it last before it needs to be charged? And there are two answers: 24 hours at 250 suspension adjustments an hour is the number that both Lapierre and RockShox gave us. The second answer was that there is 80-percent reserve in that number, with an additional low-power survival mode built in. The system turns off when it is not making adjustments to save battery life. The recharge interval is three hours.The bail-out:
Thank RockShox for this one. There is a 2.5-millimeter Allen adjustment on the back side of the servo head that allows you to manually adjust the e.i damper to locked, platform, or open modes should you cut a wire or run the battery dead.The display
: The computer processor is in the housing below the display, so you can save your money by using it to program your processor and then tucking it away to avoid damaging it in a crash. The display has its own watch type battery and, beyond its function to show the rider if the shock is locked, or in platform or open modes, its most useful purpose is to switch the system between five sensitivity level options. ‘Sensitivity’ meaning level of apparent pedaling platform, with ‘five’ feeling like an XC hardtail under power and ‘one’ feeling like a short-travel XC bike with a good pedaling platform. You get a time and speed readout also, and you can toggle through the menu (with gloves, thank you) for average speed and top speed as well.The Monarch RT3 Relay shock:
RockShox didn’t throw a servo-motor on a Monarch and wave a flag at it. The fact that the shock is free to run wide open gave them tuning options that suspension guys dream about. Jeremiah Bishop explained that the compression damping could be much lighter and that the shock sag could be set at 30-percent (instead of 20 to 25-percent), which makes the suspension better able to keep the wheel on the ground. When the shock is running along in lockout mode, the bike’s tail end rides a bit higher too, so climbing geometry is improved. Bishop said that all three of the shock’s automatic settings can be tuned separately, which makes the e.i/Monarch RT3 a candidate for any theater of rear suspension from XC racing to all-mountain. First Ride on the e.i Suspension System
I rode the e.i system on two carbon fiber Ghost models – first on a 140 millimeter AMR all-mountain bike in moderately rough and muddy conditions at Les Gets bike park, and then an XC loop on the 110-millimeter travel AMR 29er with some rain and roots thrown in for fun. Setup was easy, just get the sag at 30 percent, set the rebound to suit, pick a number from one to five on the display and punch the handlebar remote until ‘auto’ appears on the face. I tried the strongest and the softest pedaling platform settings and I actually found that the softest was the most effective, producing the best handling with an over-the-top pedaling platform, compared to the likes of the Brain-equipped Specialized Epic. The setup was said to be fork critical, meaning that the best fork setup would produce a better shock feel – and this made sense, as the fork provides the feedback that dictates the shock settings. I also found that the front wheel would push a little without a tiny bit of low-speed compression in the fork to hold it up.
The Ghost AMR carbon framed all-mountain bike was a good test platform for the e.i electronic suspension. Ghost designers, who were also involved with the project, say that the electronic components are water tight to one meter for one hour - and rainy weather in Les Gets put that claim to the test.
Most of the Euro downhills are minefields of braking bumps, so I had ample moments to check the sensitivity of the back end at various settings by scrolling through the four options at the handlebar remote lever. The result was about the same feel as a well-set-up bike with similar travel with the platform wide open – all the time – but I could pedal as hard as I wanted to and the bike would immediately respond. I searched for a lesser word, but the first and only that popped to mind was, ‘impressive.’ Where I did feel some additional harshness, was over small chatter bumps at medium-fast singletrack speeds, even in wide-open mode, but that may have been due to an unfamiliar suspension design and no fault of the e.i system. Tomorrow I ride Lapierres and that will give me an opportunity for a more familiar comparison.
The display is going to take some getting used to. Perhaps not if you ride all day with a camera popping out of your lid, but I like simplicity and a digital display on the stem of an all-mountain bike is a bit like driving a Prius on a DH course. Once I got over it, I actually did check the display, more often than I believed, for my shock modes, which thankfully are represented in an easy-to-read, dark bar graphic on the left of the face (its shaped like a shock). Also, although all three bike makers slated to use the e.i system will be routing the wires internally to clean up their bike’s looks, the wires streaming from the handlebar were a bit much. If I own an e,i bike (it may happen) I’ll probably pair the wires up with my hoses and housing and use heat-shrink tubing the mask them as they leave the handlebar area.First Impressions:
Electronic suspension control has been great disappointment in the past, but much of that fail was due to an undefined suspension market and the inability of the maker to secure reliable electronics. Today, shocks like the RockShox Monarch are well understood, as is their target user. The simplicity of the e.i system – that it uses a computer to operate three time-tested low-speed compression modes – makes it a no brainer. That RockShox in is endeavor with both feet is an admonition to this fact. That said; a battery on a mountain bike is sure to draw ire from some, but most of that ‘some’ are probably parked on an iPhone at this very moment bleeding their life away on some useless battery powered app.
With e.i, I could ride everywhere on the mountain on an all-mountain bike without touching anything on my suspension. If a battery can make my suspension simpler and my bike go faster, then I can live with that – and Lapierre’s e.i suspension has the potential to do more, by helping to advance the handling aspect of suspension designs as well. I do think that an electric-powered 350 grams on a 100-millimeter XC bike to boost its pedaling platform is kind of like plucking feathers of a goose to make it lighter weight. For short-travel suspension, a mechanical lockout seems more than enough. Where e.i makes the most sense is on rear suspension in the mid-travel range, where chassis stability and pedaling efficiency are of paramount importance. - RC