Suspension Product of the Year Nominees
With last year being a competition for the burliest single crown fork, 2021 was a time for brands to revitalize their staple suspension pieces and fill gaps in their product line ups. It wasn't an easy task to follow up on, but the nominees for Suspension Product of the Year each have a strong hand in the game. Fox and RockShox each still had an ace up their sleeves, and once the dust had settled Manitou and Cane Creek steeped in to show off familiar looking products.
For 2021, the nominees couldn't have been more dispersed in their genres. Just when the enduro craze seemed to be plateauing, RockShox unveiled their take on electronically controlled suspension to take long travel bikes to new heights, free of any wires. The array of downhill suspension products looked to be well established, but then Manitou dropped a refreshed Dorado with multiple trim levels, not lacking any features on the top spec either. Cane Creek's Kitsuma air shock has all of the adjustments you could ever need, packed into a slim design. Finally, Fox's 34 Grip2 headlines the trail suspension fork category, taking after the 36 and 38 with a rounded arch makeover.
Four opposing products didn't make the task of picking just one any easier amongst the team as all of the tech editors weighed in on the nominees.
Why it's nominated
The Dorado has been a long-standing icon in Manitou's catalogue and turns heads with its appearance and performance - there's no mistaking this upside-down fork. Carbon legs and chrome accents give the updated Dorado Pro a classy and boutique look, but it's not all smoke and mirrors.
Cult Manitou followers preach the adjustability of TPC+ damping, Infinite Rate Tuning air spring adjustment, and hydraulic bottom out, while disregarding the negative chatter about torsional flex in the USD chassis. In fact, it's often revered as a positive attribute to keep the front wheel tracking in a compliant manner.
From the first ride:
This layout, more commonly found in the moto world, leads to a lighter unsprung mass and Manitou has managed to drop 238-grams over the Expert and Comp models. 37 mm aluminum stanchions slide into large carbon legs that can accommodate either 27.5" or 29" wheels, by changing the crowns, not forgetting that the travel can also be set to 180, 190, or 203 mm. The Pro clocks in at a weight of 3003-grams, which isn't light, but its on-trail performance dismisses those stats.
Based in the steepest riding zone of the Alps, Champery, Switzerland, our tester Dan Roberts knows how to pilot a bike down proper tracks and is an actual, not an armchair, engineer. His initial ride impressions and ease of getting along with the Dorado Pro speak to why it is a worthy nominee.
Why it's nominated
One word to describe the 2021 Fox 34 Grip2 would be refinement. The 34 fork isn't a recently added item on Fox's menu, nor is the Grip2 damper, but it is now packaged in a slimmer, redesigned chassis. That combination of features has built a rise in harder hitting, yet lighter products aimed to reset "mountain biking", unpegged to any specific category. The 36 model was once the toughest single crown model in the lineup and the 34 was seen as an XC fork. That's not the case anymore.
Perhaps it has been the addition of the 38 and 34 StepCast that have further expanded Fox's fork platforms and given the regular 34 a wider application. The 1820-gram package is available in 120, 130, and 140mm travel lengths and is front and center on Specialized's classic Stumpjumper model, neither a downcountry nor an enduro bike. Being less "over-biked" is the name of the game with the 34.
From the review:
Post-mount 180 mm direct tabs, with the ability to go up to a 200 mm rotor, inform the user of the intended applications: long days in the saddle on any terrain. On top of the quality Fox is known for, a new air spring was built to offer more mid-stroke support with a more consistent ramp-up.
Before, the FIT4 cartridge held back the 34 mm stanchions, but now at the heart of the fork is the Grip2 damper. This new lower casting with a narrower crown has achieved a Goldilocks level of stiffness to weight ratio. Reliability and performance make the 34 an unassuming, yet standout performer on the trail; up, down, but mostly across.
For a mix of downcountry and trail, a 120 mm Fox 34 Grip2 has found its way to the front Kazimer's personal bike, a Transition Spur.
Why it's nominated
With zero wires in sight, the RockShox Flight Attendant equipment is without a doubt the cleanest presentation of electronically controlled suspension. Although it does require an entirely new bike due to the packaging constraints on the fork and shock, plus a sensor in the crank spindle, the whole ride becomes an unworldly way of managing energy loss from the suspension. RockShox has decked out six bikes ranging from Canyon's 130mm Neuron to the 170mm travel Specialized Enduro. Attaining one of these bikes would seem as if you are stepping well in the future - almost like you've been implanted with a microchip, but instead, your suspension has the major upgrades.
I can hear the moans about more batteries in the comment sections, but it's one or the other; add more energy cells or string out the deer catchers. The idea behind having these separate flashing units is to power small motors that automatically open and close the low speed dampers on both the fork and the shock, based on the articulation of the bike and the cadence of the rider. Basically, this means a climb switch is activated hands-free, on the fly, at all the right times, and in the correct doses.
Hidden inside are also features that we haven't seen before from RockShox. Rubber bumpers on the air spring and damper rods dubbed Buttercups provide an even plusher ride and pressure relief valves have made their way to the back of the lower leg casting.
The level of integration, sophistication, and performance does wonders for bikes of all travel lengths, however, it's clear that the long travel enduro bikes will see the greatest benefit here. It does change things to counter-argue the "over-biked" issue, since lockouts paired with modern geometry have no limits on pedalling performance when it comes to the amount of suspension a certain bike has.
Mike Kazimer was lucky enough to get his hands on the 170 mm travel Specialized Enduro with this equipment and found it natural and effective on the trail.From the review:
Why it's nominated
First on the block with an air shock to feature both high/low rebound and compression with the Doubler Barrel Air, Cane Creek set the bar high. Others followed suit and recently the North Carolina brand unveiled a revamp on the old classic. The Kitsuma Air builds off of the experience Cane Creek gained from the Double Barrel and features a tapered shape to fit more frames. It didn't just get a nip and tuck though.
Built for convenience on the trail, all of the adjusters have been evolved to eliminate the need for hex keys. The four damper dials can be turned without tools and there is a three-position climb switch with open, firm, and full lockout modes. Like most air shocks, volume spacers can be added, however, the process on the Kitsuma is very straightforward. Simply release the pressure, remove the O-ring, and slide the air can off.
From the review:
Between the four-way adjustment, air pressure and volume tuning, plus the three position climb switch, the Kitsuma ticks all of the boxes. The range of adjustment is boasted to be wide enough for a variety of riders and bikes and has a heavily damped feel.
In terms of performance, it comes very close to its rivals too. Mike was able to get the Kitsuma very close to his ideal setup and Cane Creek has been making tweaks to further process the range of adjustments.