Öhlins TTX Shock
WORDS MATT WRAGG
PHOTOS CAMERON BAIRD/SPECIALIZED
|We are quite proud to be partners with Ohlins and know that this is far and away the best shock ever created in the mountain bike world. - Sam Benedict, Specialized|
Specialized certainly aren't shy about the new Demo and Enduro Evo-specific Öhlins TTX shock. It was all in the delivery of that sentence. You didn't get the feeling they were boasting or exaggerating, it was more like a statement of fact. Normally we would be deeply cynical about such a big claim, but there's one word in what Sam said that made us sit up and pay close attention: Öhlins. For a start, it is Öhlins themselves who designed the shock the TTX will inevitably be compared against - the Cane Creek Double Barrel.
The Öhlins TTX shock in its natural environment, a Specialized Demo.
If you follow motorsport, especially on two wheels, there's a good chance we don't need to tell you anything more about Öhlins. If they aren't a name you're familiar with, or they are just a word on the side of your Double Barrel with a funny umlaut over the ‘O,’ then understanding who they are and what they do helps put this shock into context. Started in Sweden by Kenth Öhlin in 1976, his suspension was piloted to its first Motocross World Champion title just two years later by Gennady Moiseev. From there, they built a reputation for making the best suspension in two-wheeled motor racing and, more recently, four-wheeled as well. In 2007, the company celebrated the 200th world title for racers using their shocks and forks.
Browsing through their hall of fame, the names include icons like Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Tommy Makkinen and Juan-Pablo Montoya. It's an impressive pedigree, no doubt, spanning MotoGP, Formula One, WRC, Indy 500, Les Mans, and nearly any other type of racing that involves an engine and, more importantly, suspension. There is something that makes their record even more incredible, Öhlins have never sponsored anyone with free suspension. Every single one of those racers and teams who won on Öhlins suspension had to pay to use it.
|For sure, it has happened that riders have got things free from other companies and left us, but they have, for the most, returned to us after a month or two. - Kenth Ohlin|
The TTX isn't Öhlins’ first foray into mountain bike suspension. They were responsible for the Cane Creek Double Barrel, which is widely recognised as the shock that all others are measured against today. At the time, the Double Barrel was the best shock that Öhlins could make, and we are sure that if they felt it wasn't up to scratch, it would have never seen the light of day with the Öhlins name associated to it. The Double Barrel, however, was designed seven years ago, and Öhlins has learned a lot more about suspension since...Origins of the project
In a previous life as a motocross mechanic, well before he was Specialized's Director of Suspension, Mike McAndrews knew Kenth Öhlin. During Mike's recent travels they crossed paths again and they began talking about working together. Not long after, Specialized test rider and R&D mechanic Brad Benedict made his first trip to the Öhlins headquarters in Sweden for their first test session. Head engineer, Jason Chamberlain, explains: "We went in with no expectations whatsoever, purely to see what was possible... Mike McAndrews started talking to them and then when Brad started riding started riding the stuff, Mike and Brad started to realise there was the potential for more traction, for the rear wheel to track the ground better, and we realised there was something there."
Brad Benedict, testing with Öhlins
"The way they explained it to me was taking something from a box and putting it in a smaller box," says Benedict. "We had dyno'd out some other dampers that we were riding, just so they could see what everyone was working with. I noticed something was going on was when it started to rain. You put this shock on your bike and all of a sudden you'd just go straight through all these wet roots. I was not sure what was going on, but it just worked, and as we worked more, the traction went up even more. I think the thing is their ability to explain where the traction was lacking and they could just continuously make it better and better. Their biggest focus is traction. There are a lot of guys thinking about how it's going to land off a jump, and this and that, but they're constantly just thinking about traction."The Öhlins TTX Shock
• Specifically designed for the Specialized Demo and Enduro Evo
• Twin-tube design
• Nitrogen-filled bladders to reduce cavitation
• 7 click rebound, 16 click low-speed compression and 3 click high-speed compression adjustment
• Springs in precise 24lb increments
• Available on 2014 bikes and framesets and aftermarket for existing Demo owners
The resulting shock is something rather special. Motocross riders may have already noticed that the Öhlins MTB shock shares its name with their current motocross damper, which is no coincidence. In terms of mountain bike suspension, comparing it to the Cane Creek Double Barrel is a good place to start to understand what they have created. First, there is the benefit of those seven years of progression by Öhlins and second, the new MTB shock is specifically designed for one bike. It could be argued that, because the Double Barrel was designed to work well with a wide range of bikes, it may not the ‘perfect’ shock for any one of them. All top mountain bike makers work closely with suspension manufacturers to develop custom-tuned shocks and forks, but it is rare for them to have the opportunity to co-develop a shock from the ground up for a specific bike.
At the heart of the new Öhlins MTB shock is a high-volume, twin-tube design, which, since the launch of the Double Barrel, is now a much more frequently-seen design in mountain biking. The twin tube itself is in the main shaft of the shock which creates two routes for the oil to flow through: either through the damper in the center, or freely along the sides. Adjustment then comes by altering how much oil flows through the damper and how much oil flows freely around the bypass tube. For the TTX, Öhlins slightly changed the standard piggyback layout we are used to seeing, turning it through 90 degrees and using shorter, fatter chambers to increase its external surface area to help cool the oil inside more efficiently. Inside the piggyback are two nitrile bladders filled with nitrogen, one for the rebound and one for the compression damping. Pressurizing both sides of the damping circuit helps the shock deal with one of the main issues that Öhlins wanted to tackle: cavitation.
Cavitation occurs when there is a large pressure difference in the shock - where one part is under high pressure and another under a much lower pressure. The pressure drop creates air bubbles as the oil tries to equalise itself. When there are air bubbles going through your damper, they create inconsistency in the performance as they mix with the fluid and flow through the damper at a much higher rate. To combat this, the nitrogen bladders expand or contract, either pushing more oil from the reservoirs in the piggyback into the system or compressing to keep the pressure on the oil itself consistent. Öhlins say that this system using a pair of bladders helps to keep the internal pressure of the shock lower means they can use thinner walls on the shock body, helping to reduce the weight of the shock.
The TTX uses these unique, and distinctive, yellow Öhlins springs.
Öhlins places more emphasis on getting the correct spring weight than current mountain bike shock makers. Generally, springs are sold in 50-pound increments and it is accepted that there is a small margin of error for each spring. For the TTX, Öhlins offers springs in precise increments of 24 pounds, and those springs are made by the Öhlins factory. The many spring options Öhlins intends to offer, however, means that it will not be economically feasible for them to offer titanium springs for the TTX.
One area where they have taken a different approach to any other shock currently on the market is in the mounting. The TTX uses a spherical bearing mount, so the shock isn't a structural component of the frame. This means that the shock can move freely within the frame a small amount, so under hard cornering, for example, the lateral forces aren't transferred to the shock because they would restrict its movement.
Unlike the almost infinitely adjustable Double Barrel shock, Öhlins and Specialized made the decision to restrict the range of adjustment available to the new shock. This was possible because the damper design is so specific to the Demo and the Enduro Evo. As Specialized's director of high-end mountain bikes Brandon Sloan sets out, "We wanted to keep the adjustment range really simple. You can only adjust what you need to adjust. On our other bikes there are a lot of adjustments that we just don't need within the usable range of the bike." The new shock has a single low-speed-rebound adjuster with seven positions. For the compression damping, there are separate high and low-speed adjustments. The low-speed dial has 16 positions; the high-speed dial has only three positions.
Servicing is one of the big questions we always have when we see proprietary shock technology. Everything needs servicing and most things tend to fail when you're furthest from home. With the technology in the TTX and Öhlin's precise oil requirements (you're not going to want to improvise one of these with olive oil) they aren't serviceable by just anybody. The first piece of good news is that the service interval on the shock is 50 hours riding time, or one year, which is reasonable. Its predecessor, the Double Barrel, has proven its reliability over the last seven years. Secondly, being such a global company, Specialized have service centres all over the world who will be trained to service these shocks. Finally, Öhlins admitted that if you were really stuck you should be able to take it into any Öhlins supplier, regardless of their speciality, and they should be able to offer you some support and assistance as the technology is used throughout their range, although they may not have some of the special tools for this shock. There is also good news for existing Demo owners - the TTX will be available aftermarket from Specialized stores. It will fit any Demo from 2012 or newer, prices are yet to be confirmed.First impressions:
| We had an afternoon testing on a Demo equipped with TTX shock before the Val di Sole World Cup this year. As we always stress, there is only so much you can tell with so little time. This was made worse by the nature of the Val di Sole track, it's not really the place to go to try and work out your settings and find confidence in a new bike... Accepting that the World Cup track was just too much for this we hit the freeride track that runs underneath the lift. After a few runs of starting to understand the bike the first thing we had to do was completely reset the fork from our usual settings and re-adjust it to match the rear shock. Brad made us feel better about this when he explained that even Mitch Ropelato had to go through a similar process because it felt so different from how he was used to running his bike. Brad gave him settings from his testing with Öhlins and left him to get used to them. There is no doubt that most people will need time to adjust to the TTX. What is immediately apparent is that it is a class act, but if it was anything less we would have been sorely disappointed. Just how good it is remains to be seen; where this shock should shine is on those small percentages that separate the great from the good, where it stays that little bit more composed, recovers faster or grips longer. We'll have one on long-term test soon and will let you know if it lives up to Specialized's claim of it being "The best shock ever created in the mountain bike world." - Matt Wragg|