You know what they say about opinions, right? Speaking of a*sholes, Levy and Matt Wragg are never short of opinions, and most of them are at complete odds with one another. This time, it's lockout levers and whether they make sense or not. Matt is all about having two bikes in one, whereas Levy is convinced - and will try to convince you as well - that they're just a crutch for a design that could be better. Check out Matt's thoughts on lockout levers and then chime in below. Who's right might not be the best question, but is one of them less wrong than the other?
I don't think many would disagree with the idea that, along with disc brakes and dropper seatposts, modern rear-suspension surely sits up near the top on the list of important things that make our sport faster, safer, and loads of fun. But despite decades worth of really smart people doing clever things with pivot locations and nearly indecipherable shock technology, when faced with a stiff climb, most of us still depend on a tiny lever that essentially turns our modern full-suspension bikes into hardtails.
Just so we're on the same page here, we spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get the latest suspension technology... And then, in the name of efficiency, we make sure that it doesn't work at all.
Today's otherwise impressive bikes shouldn't ever need to have their suspension turned off, but most of us are just fine with doing exactly that.
With a strong rider able to put out something like just a single horsepower for a handful of seconds, it's easy to understand the need to get the most out of what we're working with. One horsepower (if you do your squats and lunges) pushing a 200lb-ish wheeled package up the side of a mountain is a math equation that, thanks to that whole gravity thing, doesn't work out in our favor.
Locking out your shock might save you the slightest sliver of power, which doesn't exactly sound like a bad idea when you're just trying to do your best on that long, steep pitch but your best is, well, barely enough. I feel you because that's me, and it's probably most of us at some point.
But damn, it feels wrong to me every time that I consider reaching down to flip that cheater lever. I don't think we should ever have to turn off, or even just firm up, our rear suspension.
Today's modern mountain bikes, regardless of whatever nominal niche they fit into, shouldn't require the rider to decide when its pricey, high-tech shock is best turned on or off.
They should damn well be on all the time and working for you, not against you. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that the suspension designs we rely on today aren't as good as they could be had the lockout switch never appeared.
Instead of sporting an active rear-suspension that's also incredibly efficient because it has to be, many bikes have active rear-suspension that depends largely on the rider firming it up, which is a bit of a joke when you look at how amazing our bikes are otherwise.
Of course, there was a time, not all that long ago, when it absolutely made sense to have an easy-to-reach lockout lever that helps direct your watts into forward motion. And the further back in time you go, the more important that lever was. Up until maybe six or seven years ago, there were loads of mid-travel bikes that had all the efficiency of rolling coal from stoplight to stoplight through the middle of Los Angles. No one really cared, of course, because it was the first time we had sturdy-ish rigs that we could both pedal way out into the forest and
ride off good-sized drops and jumps without worrying if our headtubes would snap off.
PB's Matt Wragg believes that lockout levers make too much sense to not use, while I think most examples act as crutches for poor designs.
Long climb ahead of you? Flip the shock's cheater switch to turn your rear-suspension off, but also forget to unlock it before dropping in at the top and having a shit ride until you realize, about halfway down, what's happening. Queue reaching down to casually flick the lever open without your buddies seeing. I know you've been there, too.
I'm not saying that lockout levers don't help or that you shouldn't ever use them, only that modern bikes shouldn't require them to feel sporty and efficient. The list of 150mm-travel bikes I've spent time on that can do that is pretty short (Mondraker, Ibis, Polygon, and a few others) and I'm well-versed on the balancing act that designers go through when trying to prioritize suspension action (the cool, interesting trait) with pedaling performance (the boring stuff) and other things.
Yes, I know that reaching down to lockout your shock, thereby turning it into the world's most complicated hardtail, isn't exactly a huge burden, but don't you think that these bikes should be better? Don't you think that your many-thousand-dollar all-mountain machine should be able to, you know, cover all of the mountain without having to literally turn off the technology that's supposed to be so amazing?
Well, maybe you don't, but I certainly do, and I'm tired of reading reviews that sum up an enduro bike's climbing manners with something like, ''It's not the most efficient, but it pedals well when you lockout the rear-suspension.'' Yeah, no shit, Sherlock, and so does a downhill bike.
We shouldn't need to be turning our suspension off. Ever.
Is Fox's electronic Live Valve suspension the answer? Maybe, but not until the price comes down, and even then it's not something that enduro types are all that interested in.
Things were different "back in the day,'' of course. Back when full-suspension was in its infancy, shock strokes were shorter than my attention span, and pivots were higher than me after 5pm, a little cheater lever sure made a lot of sense. If you were around in the early days of ''performance suspension,'' you might remember an overriding preoccupation with making sure that tiny shock wasn't sapping away any ponies, and because of the now rudimentary technology at play, being able to turn your shock into a block of useless metal and oil kinda did make sense. Pivot locations looked arbitrary. The pedal-assist switch made sense back then. It was needed back then.
And it's still needed now, but it certainly shouldn't be.
The solution? I won't even to pretend to know the answer, but I know that using loads of anti-squat probably isn't the way forward, at least not without something else that I'm not smart enough to think of; it just makes for an unforgiving ride and less traction. Regardless of how you feel about their looks, Polygon and Marin's NAILD R3ACT-equipped bikes manage to offer crazy impressive efficiency and ground-hugging traction at the same time without resorting to witchcraft.
Those bikes aren't perfect by any means, but name me another 180mm-travel rig that pedals like a trail bike. Thought so.
I can't argue that lockout levers don't make complete sense today - they do - but it's only because today's bikes require them. We don't make much horsepower, and a lockout lever offers the best of both worlds, right? Sure, but my point here is simply that today's bikes would be much better all 'rounders if the smart people who designed them didn't get to factor in lockouts.
Whose side are you on: Are you good with lockout levers and extra cables, or do you want your bike to work well without any of that stuff?
There's a long list of stuff that we used to think was indispensable but might laugh at now. Bar-ends for extra leverage when you're climbing? Wide handlebars killed those. I think toe-clips are about to make a comeback but everyone tells me that clipless pedals are the future. Tubes and front derailleurs? Never heard of 'em.
All of those sit somewhere between irrelevant, endangered, or extinct because we evolved and so did mountain bikes. Bar-ends didn't disappear just because we think they're dorky now, but because improvements in materials and understanding allowed handlebars to go from comically narrow to comically wide. You (probably) don't use tubes because tubeless rims, sealant, and tires are finally good enough to be relatively dependable. Do I even need to make the case for the great front derailleur cull of 2013?
Nowadays, you might be hard-pressed to find any of those items on a Saturday afternoon at your local mountain, or anywhere outside of casual cycling. I hope that we can say the same about lockout levers at some point in the future, and our bikes will be better for it.
Illustrations by Taj Mihelich