Throwback Thursday: Chris Porter's Prototype, 3 Air Chamber Fork From 10 Years Ago That Nobody Noticed

Oct 17, 2019
by James Smurthwaite  

A video posted from Formula today reveals a piece of mountain bike history that has been hidden for 10 years. While talking about the Formula Nero's 3Air triple-chamber air-spring system, Chris Porter revealed he had made a similar prototype fork for Fabien Barel in 2009.

Barel was running a prototype Mondraker frame in 2009, designed by Cesar Rojo, that would form the basis for the brand's future Forward Geometry.(reducing the stem length and then adding that length to the front centre). In combination with Rojo's Zero Suspension system, Barel took the bike to the win on his return from injury in Maribor and then earned fifth at the World Championships later that year.

Forward Geometry wasn't the only new tech on that frame. Chris Porter created a fork with three air chambers that remained hidden from the world until now. There was a positive chamber, a negative chamber and a third one that controlled end stroke progressivity. This third chamber was not a traditional bottom-out chamber, which operates only at the end of the travel (and often in a sudden, uncontrolled way). Porter's design allowed for fine-tuning the compression curve from about half of the stroke to the end of the fork's travel. Chris claims this allowed them to tune the fork from track to track - a linear rate for flatter tracks to a more progressive rate on steeper tracks, where the rider needed more support. Chris hid the technology by creating a fake extension at the top of the spring-side stanchion tube.

There's a full bike check from that era here, although it doesn't look like the bike has the modified fork installed:

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59 Comments

  • 27 4
 Am I alone in loving forks pre-2009?... My 05' 888 is the best fork I've ever owned. The Shiver and Dorado were great, too.
  • 8 0
 I second that. My works 888 was a fantastic fork!
  • 5 0
 Dorado is still rad... But it now contains this very technology.
  • 16 0
 1000% I wish I never got rid of my older forks!
The first 3 years of the Marzocchi 66 were super buttery smooth and ramped up awesomely!
  • 2 0
 Yep, I'm with ya. Thought I was the only one. Glad to hear others have had the same experience
  • 2 0
 Not really. Z1 feels really bad compared to a modern 36. Shiver DC und SC were very sensitive but had basically no compression damping. Dorado still is one of the greatest forks in my opinion. It just shows how far away Manitou was back in the days with their damping system.
  • 2 1
 @blackforest: i had new dorados around 4 years ago, they worked fantastic but so unreliable, i had 3 sets in 3 months and the worst customer service! Such a shame!
  • 3 0
 i agree my 888rc are still going and my 66rc are a work of art, coil and air ramp up, reliable still working after 15 years and serviced every 3 years!! ... apart from the weight.
  • 2 0
 Triple 8 were awesome.
  • 5 4
 I happen to have a 2003 Marzocchi Shiver at home, and wouldn't ride it anywhere else than to make a commuter trip to pretentious bar to drink craft beer. They had no low speed compression up till 2010, and even then they were collapsing under braking and in corners. Pre 2010 Marzocchis were great because there was nothing better on the market at that time, especially after Manitou sropped TPC+ and developed SPV which was total shit. Yeah by 2006 standards Marzocchi were great. In greater scheme of things Foxzocchis are the best forks and shocks that ever had M logo on them.
  • 1 1
 on my XC bike im running a 1998 RS Duke Race, double air chamber, its smoother than most forks i've tried !!!
  • 2 0
 @nikoniko: yes, yes, yes
  • 14 0
 Sounds exactly like what you can get out of Manitou's IRT system now!
  • 11 13
 Yeah and what made Öhlins RFX air such a pain in the ass. Not to mention Marzocchi doppio air. In luftkappe we trust
  • 4 4
 Sounds exactly like what you could get out of Marzocchi's ATA and Doppio Air systems in 2004. And out of Fox's TALAS system in 2004. What's old is old again.
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Luftkappe made my old Pike sing!
  • 6 0
 Man you can like Fabien or not, but this guy is really understanding what is going on his bike. We lack this type of racers nowadays. He really allowed to push the boundaries of what was possible and what was "the norm" for a bike back in the day...
  • 9 1
 Chris Porter has some good PR reminding us that he was smarter than you back then.
  • 1 0
 He made it a different colour! Does he have to feed it to us like baby pablum? Yes. Mmmmmm baby pablum.
  • 7 1
 ...and should probably be a candidate for the MTB hall of fame
  • 4 0
 Go check the full interview out today, it's super interesting.
  • 1 0
 @rideformula: do you have. Link to the full interview?
  • 3 0
 If you haven't tried a fork with this tech I suggest you do, impressive stuff. IRT, Runt, Chickahawk or however it's spelt or the SD components DVC all do the same thing more or less. Can really tailor the spring curve to suit the rider/track and get that initial stroke compliance very close to coil. It should be more widely used IMO.
  • 3 0
 Yep, I was thinking IRT all the way. I love that system in my Mattoc and Dorado.
  • 5 0
 I have a Nero with the 3 air system, works pretty nice!
  • 4 0
 Happy to hear that!
  • 3 0
 That's pretty cool how they disguised that cap. hilarious! I'd love to know all the secret bits hiding in plain sight on pro bikes.
  • 29 26
 Member when Kazimer couldn't work the IRT system in the new Mezzer? I member.
  • 19 2
 I member. You member?
  • 7 0
 member?
  • 22 8
 @mm732, no, I don’t. In fact, I distinctly recall writing, “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.”
  • 16 3
 @mikekazimer: Mike, don't bite, they're just jealous cuz you got a cool job and they're all busy pushing brooms or holding back the walls.
  • 12 0
 @mikekazimer: wow! You have a good membory!
  • 3 2
 So you don’t member?@mikekazimer:
  • 16 3
 'member that time @mm732 called out @mikekazimer but then got flamed by @mikekazimer for being wrong?
I 'member...

'member Ewoks?
  • 4 0
 I member! Ooh, member John Tomac?
  • 7 0
 @mikekazimer: It's not worth arguing over it Mike. I don't agree with your review on the Mezzer either as I happened to demo one the other day and it absolutely outperformed my 2019 36 Eliite and the Lyrik Ultimate my brother has on his bike. But I don't doubt you had issues beyond your control on your fork. When Manitou forks work well, they are absolutely incredible. But they have always had issues with bushing tolerance and internal lubrication that makes them super inconsistent. If anything, your review contrasted with the other (overwhelmingly positive) reviews serves very well to highlight that inconsistency.

I have a Mattoc on my trail bike that replaced a 2016 Pike that had scratched stanchions from a bad crash. It too had some minor bushing issues (too tight) that I resolved by having new ones sent to me by Hayes and 8 beers later had a fork that felt amazing. That said, I've been wrenching on bikes for almost 20 years (holy shit I'm old). The only thing that I think you did wrong on the review was arguing with the fanboys over your settings. I've never met you but you seem to be a relatively competent individual and I'm assuming you probably have a fairly mechanically savvy person to ask advice somewhere in the inner workings of Pinkbike. If you couldn't get it feeling right, there was something else going on.
  • 1 0
 member the time we were talking about how i couldn't remember, member?
  • 2 0
 @mikekazimer: member we got your back Mike
  • 2 0
 Reminds me of modifying the 888 ATA back in 2007/8 to achive similar effects. Low tech - changing the "ropes" length - but the fork worked so much better.
  • 2 0
 Did you make the string longer so the PAR piston travels further? Maybe i should do this to my ATA. Increase the par volume and decrease the positive air volume. And make the negative volume larger by proportion
  • 2 0
 @mountainjew: Yep, that is the logic. And by playing with the length increase and the pressure difference you can fine tune the beginning and mid-stroke support.
  • 2 0
 Fabien seems to be a sound knowledgeable guy. And Chris is in his own race, and the world is slowing him down. Brilliant
  • 2 0
 Luftkappe or Runt on a 16 pike? cant decide where to go!!!
  • 1 0
 I have the Luftkappe in a 14' Pike and it really transformed the fork's small bump compliance. There are diminishing returns on the DebonAir versions of the Pike/Yari/Lyric (introduced in 18?19?). The only downside I've found is that the Pneumatic topout makes ShockWiz setup tricky. You have to use a zip tie or marker to indicate full extension (the unloaded travel position) before you air down the fork (w/ ShockWiz setup you pull the fork back to full extension, but the Luftkappe pneumatic topout allows you to pull the fork past full extension). That being said the Runt is super intriguing, I would be curious to try that out. Can always run it by Steve at Vorsprung Suspension and have him convince you otherwise Smile
  • 1 0
 I have a Grip 2 fork now, but I had a 16 Pike with the Luftkappe mod and the two forks feel very comparable. I can't comment on the Runt, but the Luftkappe was by far worth the money I spent.
  • 1 0
 I hadn't heard of the RUNT. Great, thanks a lot, now I have 1 more thing to debate, go from 170-180, Luftkappe, RUNT, or just ride the damn thing. Fox 36 Fit 4
  • 1 0
 there's a pretty convincing member review on vital on the RUNT. the internet is full of positive reviews. ordered one... still waiting Mad
  • 1 0
 @t-stoff: I’ve got a runt, it’s so good. Honestly I don’t think I could ever go back.
  • 1 0
 The spring is lowered in the clamp so probably was installed in this video.
  • 3 1
 Chris is the man..
  • 1 0
 So the new Formula Nero is essentially Chris Porter designed?
  • 6 0
 No is not. The design that Chris made for Fabien is a little bit different. That fork has two valves only, like the IRT system. That means that the main chamber and the negative chamber are not separated, there is a pressure equalizer in it, as the vast majority of the fork out there nowadays. The 3Air system on the Nero R is different; we have three separated chambers and three valves. That means that you can use the negative chamber to set up the small bumps compliance. On top of that, our gold chamber is not a bottom-out system. All chambers work together, at the same time, all the way through the travel. You can start feeling how the gold chamber works at 110mm into the travel. Here you can find more info about the 3Air system www.rideformula.com/technologies/3air. Chris is a top dog, and we're more than stoked to work with him and having Geometron distributing our products in the UK and building our stuff on their amazing bikes.
  • 1 0
 @rideformula: Thanks for the reply. Can the Nero travel be adjusted? Can't see any reference to that in the videos?
Any plans for a less offset version in the 44-46mm range?
  • 2 0
 @chasejj: The Nero can be shorten to 180mm with internal adjustment. We're always working on new stuff, maybe a new rake coming in 2020.
  • 1 0
 @rideformula: What is the max psi on the nero main chamber, and is their a max weight limit?
  • 2 0
 also running a 7 speed!!
  • 2 2
 It’s the new bell bottoms!
  • 1 0
 Damn this is cool !!!!

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