Over the holidays in 2019, I joined forces with Jono from The Suspension Lab
in Rotorua, New Zealand to do full data acquisition (DAQ) on a professional level rider. With Jono’s suspension knowledge, and my brake power meter and BrakeAce software, we had a great opportunity to help one of NZ’s fastest go even faster The keen rider was Sam Shaw, who is a regular on the EWS circuit. Sam has recently been riding on a higher level than ever before and was wanting to set up his new frame for 2020.
Sam dropped off his new Transition Sentinel at The Suspension lab, and Jono had already hooked up the suspension potentiometers by the time I had arrived. I set about mounting the prototype BrakeAce sensor and getting everything fired up before we met at the trail. To fit on the brake power meter, we mounted Galfer 223 x 2.0mm rotors, which mated with his XTR brakes beautifully. It was a grabby setup with a light touch—perfect!
The aim was to have Sam do multiple runs on a track he knew. Between runs, Jono would do data-based suspension tuning, and I would run Sam’s braking data through the BrakeAce software to show him where he could improve his braking.
We picked one of the roughest, fastest tracks in Rotorua—National Downhill. It has everything: ruts, jumps, tight turns, drops and ridiculously fast speed sections. The demands on this course would put Sam’s bike and body through the wringer, so it seemed to fit the bill for our aim. Sam knew this track well--it was in his hometown, and he had even come 17th in a stacked DH field at National Champs less than a year before racing against the likes of Wyn Masters and Brook Macdonald on his trail bike.
Over the previous season, Sam used a super similar setup, only now he had upgraded suspension dampers and 12-speed XTR. The bike was pretty similar, but he hadn’t spent a ton of time self-tuning. Nothing really seemed to hold him back anyway.
While Sam had ridden a previous prototype of the brake power meter
, he never had a chance to use the BrakeAce software. After lap 1 we reviewed the data.
Firstly, this was the first time I had ever seen a data-driven approach to suspension tuning, and it certainly won’t be the last. Jono brought with him every tool possible, endless amounts of volume spacers, and one extremely accurate shock pump. And it worked, too. Sam finished the day by saying his bike felt better that day than any time last year.
From what Jono says, DAQ can help even the most experienced of suspension experts, himself included. The suspension experts have this uncanny ability to tune the suspension to best-ever control level by combining data, rider feedback, and suspension know-how. It was so cool to watch.
Out of all the braking Sam did while riding, 90% of his braking was with the rear brake. This was the first time I saw someone so fast riding heavily with the rear brake, but Sam mentioned it was probably due to all the deep rut and steep sections—he was just trying to maintain speed.
The BrakeAce software highlighted to Sam where he was Brake Checking, which ended up being 13 times in run 1. We looked at where these were on the map and tried to remove them. The software also showed the locations on the map where Sam had a very high modulation or where he was braking too long, too lightly or too hard. In total, he had 39 braking events in run 1, with the average being well over 2 seconds each.
In addition to all the unique braking metrics we have developed, one of the coolest features of the BrakeAce is that it is able to show the 3 places on the trail that Sam could improve his braking the most. We focused in on the sections between runs so that Sam knew where he could improve when he was back up to the top of the hill.
Lap after lap Sam was able to use what he had learned about his previous braking habits to make small tweaks as he went on. He cut his braking time down by 15 seconds in the end, and had shaved over 10 seconds off of his lap time! Overall modulation was down, and the average time of each braking event was 1.7 seconds--all marked improvement. Sam also took 20 points off his FlowScore, which is a braking efficiency metric we have been dialling in.
Now all I need to do is hit this trail to see what my own FlowScore is!
A super interesting outcome of this day with Sam and Jono is that we were able to visualize how a pro rider brakes, how their suspension moves, and how these interact with each other. While we didn't do a complete interaction analysis with statistics and charts (okay...maybe a little!), the interaction was super easy to see under close inspection of the data or with the data synced with video.
It's no secret that braking with the rear brake makes the rear suspension harsher, nor is it a new idea that the front suspension dives when the front brake is used, but this video really sent these ideas home for us. Some viewers will focus on the rear suspension, saying that this brand or the other is better or worse under braking. On the other hand, I am more focused on front suspension diving under braking. The way 99% suspension designs are today, we almost have no choice but to have a high friction setup and variable geometry under braking.
As technology continues to advance, the interaction of braking and suspension should really be an area where the industry seeks to improve performance. There is no doubt that a rider can ride smoother without braking, but there are often times that we need to brake in the rough stuff. The multiple units of suspension and brakes need to be thought of as parts of an entire unit—all made to work harmoniously together to help the rider maintain more control.
To that end, this is also what BrakeAce tries to do—it shows you where you can ride more efficiently. This doesn’t always mean that you shouldn’t be braking at all, but it does mean that riding performance is a constant evolution.
Just like technology.
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