For the past five years there's been a hole in Manitou's lineup, a space in between the Mattoc trail fork and the Dorado inverted DH fork. The recently released Mezzer is the missing puzzle piece, and with 37mm stanchions and up to 180mm of travel it's aimed at the enduro / big mountain riders out there.
Suspension tinkerers will be happy to see that the air-sprung fork has adjustable high- and low-speed compression damping, and also features Manitou's Infinite Rate Tune (IRT) design, which allows the fork's mid- and end-stroke feel to be adjusted separately from the beginning stroke.
Available with either 37 or 44mm of offset for 27.5" wheels, and 44 or 51mm of offset for 29" wheels, the Mezzer Pro is priced at $999 USD.
Manitou Mezzer Pro Details• Air-sprung
• Wheel size: 29" or 27.5" options
• Adjustments: High- and low-speed compression, rebound, Infinite Rate Tune
• Travel: 160, 170, 180mm
• Offsets: 37mm, 44mm (27.5"); 44mm, 51mm (29")
• 37mm stanchions
• Weight: 2,030 grams (29", 160mm)
• Price: $999 USD
According to Manitou, the Mezzer is 28% stiffer than the competition, thanks in part to those 37mm stanchions. Now, stiffer doesn't always mean better, but it's a bullet point that's worth mentioning. Manitou's signature reverse-arch is in place, a design that allows for weight savings due to the lower arch height compared to forks with the arch in the front, while also protecting the fork seals from the mud and grit that's flung up by the front tire. On the topic of flying mud, the Mezzer includes a bolt-on fender that attaches to the backside of the arch. I wouldn't mind if the plastic was a little less flexible to prevent any noise, but it does the trick.
Previously, the brake line routing on Manitou's reverse arch forks looked a little odd – the housing ran along the back of the fork, and added to the 'Your fork is on backward' aesthetic. That's been sorted out on the Mezzer, and there's a cable guide on the front that orients the brake housing in a more typical manner. However, if you really want to run the housing the old way, that's still an option.
High- and low-speed compression are adjusted on the top of the right leg, and the low-speed rebound is adjusted at the bottom.Adjustments
The Mezzer uses the same air spring that's found in the Dorado downhill fork, along with Manitou's Infinite Rate Tune (IRT) system. IRT is a secondary air chamber that allows the fork's mid-stroke to be adjusted independently of the beginning stroke. It can take a little experimentation to find the right balance, but Manitou's setup guide is a good place to start. The IRT chamber air pressure is set first, and then the main air chamber is inflated via the valve at the bottom of the fork leg.
The Mezzer doesn't use a volume spacer system to adjust the amount of bottom-out resistance, but that can be tuned to some extent via the IRT chamber, and on top of that there's a hydraulic bottom-out feature, a separate damping circuit that controls that last bit of travel to prevent any harshness at the end of the stroke.
Compression and rebound duties are taken care of in the right side of the fork, where a bladder-style sealed cartridge damper resides. High- and low-speed compression are adjusted externally via dials on the top of the fork, and low-speed rebound damping is adjusted at the bottom of the fork by turning the blue knob. There are 11 clicks of LSC adjustment, 5 clicks of HSC, and 10 clicks of rebound.
Changing the travel of a Fox or RockShox fork typically requires purchasing a new air shaft, but that's not the case with the Mezzer. Instead, plastic spacers are added to the air shaft to reduce the travel. That does require disassembling the fork, but if you're careful it's a procedure that can be done without any oil loss. Setup
These days, the vast majority of bikes that arrive for review are equipped with RockShox or Fox suspension, and I've become adept at getting them dialed in within a ride or two. That process took a little longer with the Mezzer, and I tried multiple air pressure settings before deciding on 56 psi in the main chamber and 84 in the IRT chamber for my 160 lb weight. Those numbers are very close to what Manitou recommends; the only difference is that I ran a little more pressure in the main chamber in order to achieve the ride height I was looking for.
As far as compression settings go, I ran a fairly open setup, with LSC set at 8 clicks from closed (3 from open), and HSC 4 clicks from closed (1 from open). I found that the low-speed dial didn't have nearly as much of an affect as the high-speed compression dial, and while the difference between the HSC clicks is very noticeable, even at slower shaft speeds, the low-speed dial didn't make a drastic change in the ride feel no matter where it was set, at least in regards to the setup I was running. Adding more high-speed compression would have made it possible to have slightly more low speed compression available, but during testing I was typically looking for lighter, not firmer, compression settings.Performance
I've found that back-to-back testing is one of the most effective ways to suss out a fork's strengths and weaknesses. Otherwise, you start to forget how the other fork felt, and are less likely to pick up on the differences. With the Mezzer, I chose to pit it against a 160mm RockShox Lyrik RC2 after I'd put in plenty of ride time on my home trails to find my base settings.
The Whistler Bike Park served as the testing ground, where I took laps on the Mezzer, switched over to the Lyrik, and then back to the Mezzer on multiple occasions. In the parking lot both forks feel nice and sensitive off the top, but on the trail the Lyrik felt more comfortable, with a more supple, ground-hugging feel, especially on the multiple root-choked sections of trails like Miss Fire
and BC's. In addition, the Mezzer didn't seem to deliver as much grip, and it occasionally felt unsettled when I went through a chattery section of trail - say, a section of braking bumps on a moderately steep pitch. In that scenario it felt slightly harsh, and it wasn't able to make the bumps disappear in the same way that the Lyrik was.
Despite my best efforts, I just couldn't achieve a setup that gave me the floaty smoothness that I look for in a high-end fork. I experimented with different air pressures in the main and IRT chambers, and running the LSC and HSC all the way open, but no matter what I did the fork never felt like it was on the same level as a Lyrik or 36 when it comes to compliance and overall comfort, especially on rough, high speed sections of trail.
The Mezzer does deliver plenty of mid-stroke support, which comes in handy when there are multiple big impacts in a row, or in extra-steep terrain - in those instances it did a commendable job of staying in the sweet spot of its travel and not diving too deeply. The IRT feature is going to be especially useful for hard chargers or bigger riders who typically need to run higher pressures in their forks, since it allows for a softer beginning stroke than what would usually be possible with a single-chamber fork.
The hydraulic bottom-out feature worked as claimed, too, and there wasn't any harshness or disconcerting noises even when landing off of sizeable drops. As far as stiffness goes, I can't say I noticed a drastic difference between the Mezzer and a Lyrik, or a 36 for that matter, but I'm also not currently in the running for the World's Strongest Man title. All the same, it has a reassuringly stout feel, and there wasn't any unwanted twisting or vagueness in rough terrain or during hard cornering.Issues
Partway through testing the Mezzer developed what I would call excessive bushing play. It wasn't always noticeable, but occasionally on sections of trail where the front end was partially unweighted I could feel unwanted vibrations. It's a sensation similar to riding with a loose headset – when it happens you instantly get the feeling that something's not quite right, and it's not something that should happen to a relatively new fork.
Adjustable mid-stroke feature allows for high level of customization +
Hydraulic bottom out feature works well
Limited low-speed compression adjustment range-
Overall damper feel isn't quite at the same level as competitors'