2021 Pinkbike Awards: Suspension Product of the Year Nominees

Dec 8, 2021 at 14:13
by Matt Beer  


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.

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.

Manitou Dorado Photo Ga tan Rey Shaperideshoot

From the first ride:
bigquotes... it was a cinch to set up with Manitou's guide and so far is exhibiting the same suppleness that builds into nice support deeper in the travel. All combined with good control and usage of travel that allows you to just forget a little bit more about your bike, lift your eye line and focus on the trail. Its reduced weight, some 210g, is also noticeable. It's not front and centre but it's a chunk of weight less to pull up every time you need to. Dan Roberts








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.

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.

Fox 34 review 2022

From the review:
bigquotesThe regular 34 sort of flies under the radar, sandwiched between its racier StepCast sibling and the stouter 36. It shouldn't be overlooked, though, especially considering how well suited it is to the latest crop of modern, shorter travel fun machines. It punches well above its relatively light weight out on the trail, and is a standout option in the 140mm-and-under travel bracket. Mike Kazimer








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:
bigquotesElectronically controlled mountain bike suspension isn't exactly new - I'm old enough to remember the 9-volt battery powered K2 Smart Shock from the late 90's. Thankfully, there have been massive advances in technology since that time, which has allowed RockShox to cook up the best execution of the concept yet. Flight Attendant has the potential to turn more gravity-oriented bikes into potent all-rounders, or to make mid-travel options more XC-oriented nature on the climbs, all without sacrificing anything on the descents. Mike Kazimer








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.
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.

Cane Creek Kitsuma review

From the review:
bigquotesThe Kitsuma does a great job of muting bigger hits, especially on high speed, chunky terrain, and it offers a wide array of effective adjustments that are easy to access. For constant tinkerers, having all of those potential settings at their fingertips is going to be a big plus. Mike Kazimer







67 Comments

  • 53 4
 I forking hate how they keep us in suspense for the final winner
  • 7 0
 Youll be in shock when you find out who wins. Might shit your bottom out
  • 41 2
 We all want to see best comment of the year
  • 1 0
 true
  • 20 0
 Manitou is kind of quietly killing it these days. Their suspension stuff is top notch AND they make the best brake under a grand (truck stuff aside). That’s no small freaking feat. Couple that with bringing literally their best tech into multiple kids suspension platforms with custom tunes and nearly every other kid component…and wow. No one’s perfect but that set of companies is pretty badass. More of all of that please.
  • 19 1
 Dorado is the best looking fork out there. Period. Don't care about tech stuff.
  • 16 2
 Trust forks are awes...
  • 10 0
 Hot in 2020, dead in 2021.
  • 7 1
 @AndrewFleming: I don't believe we've ever nominated Trust to a suspension product of the year award. It did win an innovation award in 2018 though.
  • 13 0
 I'd say Dorado, but what do I know, I'm part of a brainwashed cult Wink
  • 8 0
 My GF runs a kitsuma it is amazing. I will be getting one for my next bike. It’s the only shock that is a match to my dorado. The old dorado is a unicorn fork. I can only imagine what the new one is like.
  • 2 0
 Are you able to say how it compares to the DBair?
  • 3 0
 @chakaping: no sorry. Just mainstream air shocks from the big two. I had my super deluxe ultimate and float x2 factory worked on by local suspension gods and they came out much better, but the kitsuma feels like a development step an order of magnitude ahead of both. Not useful for you with a DB, but maybe useful for someone else. Haha...
  • 10 2
 My ex-GF was Katsumi and she was amazing indeed. Very well damped Smile
  • 2 0
 @Afterschoolsports: A comparison to the X2 is useful, thanks. I have ridden that and the DBair extensively and always preferred the more damped feel of the Cane Creek. I strongly suspect I'd prefer the Kitsuma over the X2 as well, despite Mike seeming slightly lukewarm on it.
  • 2 0
 @chakaping: the thing that stands out most every time I ride the kitty is that the dampening feels more controlled deeper into and out of the stroke, rather than just fighting against the air spring as it ramps up with little care for how it is riding. It’s really very impressive in that respect.
  • 3 0
 @Afterschoolsports: Interesting thanks. I'm not sensitive enough to critique exactly what I'm not so fond of on the X2, but it generally has a light, "not-there" feel which can be great for trail riding - but I sometimes I want a more "magic carpet" feel that really smothers the trail.
  • 1 0
 @chakaping: I’m so fat that I’m frequently in the end of the stroke. Hahaha.

I do like the x2, I’ve had it tweaked by a suspension guy who did wonders to it. I would be fine if that’s all that was available. The kitsuma out of the box made both stock and tuned x2’s feel like they were from 10 years ago. That’s probably the best way to describe it.
  • 1 0
 @Afterschoolsports: I was just told my Float X2 body is cracked, so I am shopping around. This is useful. Thanks.
  • 8 0
 @brianpark when you guys going to drop an e-Storia review? I feel like had one been done by now it would be the winner this year.
  • 4 0
 I think Kaz has one!
  • 11 0
 DORADO!!!!!
  • 9 0
 Where are the Intend forks?
  • 5 0
 AFAIK, only products which PB have reviewed are included in this award category.

Hence why there’s also no Digit Integer strut + Analog linkage nomination.
  • 2 2
 @DirtBagTim: feel like there are other reasons that digit thing is not a nominee for the suspension product of the year
  • 7 0
 When Flight Attendant is a rear shock only thing, and preferably not pedal specific (shimamo has a hole in their crank too), they can take my moneys.
  • 1 0
 I played with the propain configurator last night and it lets you spec rear shock without specifying front or cranks so you might be in luck.
  • 1 0
 Sorry I mean it lets you choose rear flight attendant shock without the FA front or cranks. You still need to select cranks and forks for the configuration to work.
  • 9 0
 Dorado! You love to see it
  • 5 1
 Manitou deserves but RS or Fox are going to get it just bc they’re more popular companies.. n by popular I mean rich
  • 5 0
 Mani!
  • 5 1
 But didn't K2 make the first flight attendant.....
  • 4 0
 HEY Manitou!
How about a single crown Dorado for the enduro crowd,huh?
  • 6 0
 They have the Mezzer, which is a great fork. But I’d also love a single crown Dorado in 180mm 27,5 just for the inverted look.
  • 4 0
 Kitsuma
  • 3 0
 +1 for the Kitsuma. I am loving mine.
  • 2 0
 Does the flight attendant adjust the preload on the shims or move the needle?
  • 1 0
 Interested to know, I think it just switches between climb trail decent modes.
  • 1 0
 @richard01: That is what I thought too. So all it does it preload the shim stack automatically. Seems rather expensive for that.
  • 4 1
 Where’s that Bright fork???
  • 4 0
 Dorado!
  • 4 1
 Where is the era?
  • 3 0
 @brianpark:
Cheers Brian!!
Time flies by eh
  • 2 2
 Away getting it's bushes sorted. There is also nothing interesting or new on that fork.
  • 2 0
 The kitsuma review link points to the flight attendant system review
  • 4 3
 The 34 was never a xc fork. It's always been firmly planted in the trail category. No one would want a 160mm travel xc fork?
  • 13 4
 I definitely wouldn't want a 160mm 34.
  • 4 1
 @jeremy3220: I had one on my 16 trance sx. It was talas and super sick. I rode everything with that bike. 160 front, 140 back. If it was 29 instead of 27.5 I'd be riding it today. Have you ridden a 34? The stiffness between that generation and the 36 wasn't that different. They actually made the 36 more compliant this generation. All you are getting now is a fork that's closer to the 34 lol
  • 3 1
 @jeremy3220: I’ve got a friend still rocking a Yeti 575 with a 160mm *32* on the front of it. Still rips, but maybe the long travel is less of an issue with a 26” wheel.
  • 4 2
 Dear Pinkbike? What’s about Secus??
  • 4 2
 Cane creek makes itself trash by the lack of serviceability
  • 2 2
 This! My god apart from twin tube being unneeded the service part of CC is stupid.
  • 2 1
 Flight Attendant: Here, you test it...
  • 2 1
 The new 34 with the fit4 is just fine idk, it’s not that different
  • 1 0
 Pic is of the 2022 Fox 34
  • 1 0
 no Ext Era?!
  • 2 0
 Last year champ
  • 1 0
 @freeridejerk888: good call. I forgot about that
  • 1 0
 ALL air no coil?!
  • 4 0
 Dorado Comp is a coil option if you want to count that
  • 1 0
 Kapfinger got robbed
  • 2 0
 How many suspension units did he submit for review, do you think?
  • 2 5
 Where is Float X, as most popular shock from Fox?
  • 4 0
 Probably somewhere still in raw materials before being fully manufactured…
  • 10 0
 Probably out for warranty.





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