The new C-Quent is the least adjustable shock that Cane Creek have ever produced. This, from a company that has always prided itself on offering riders the ultimate in tuning options, which is quite the about-face if I've ever seen one. To find out why Cane Creek believes in the C-Quent and how they're aiming to turn things around on the reliability front after the DBinline, I boarded a plane to visit the company's headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina. The blacked-out C-Quent is unmistakably a Cane Creek product, even without the gold dials.
The press release for the C-Quent shock was quickly followed up by a few hundred comments lamenting the poor reliability of its cousin, the DBinline. And while Cane Creek was admittedly bummed out by the many critical words, it's hard to argue in the DBinline's favor. Simply put, there have been many issues with the shock - we've written about them here on Pinkbike many times - and now Cane Creek is going to offer a new shock that looks a lot like the one that so many mountain bikers have had troubles with?
You're damn right there's going to be some heat in those comments.
The C-Quent is actually a very different beast compared to the DBinline, even if it looks similar from the outside. But will it work for more than a handful of rides? I believe that it will prove to be as reliable as anything from Fox or RockShox, partly because Cane Creek simply has to make it so after the DBinline turmoil, but also because they've taken some serious measures to ensure that the C-Quent (and any other forthcoming suspension product) runs trouble-free.
I'll talk more about reliability later on, but first, let's take a look at the C-Quent itself and how it's different to the DBinline. Less Adjustments, Simpler Design
The most obvious difference between the DBinline and the C-Quent is the lack of external adjustments on the latter. There are four dials on the DBinline that allow users to tune, with the help of a 3mm hex key, high-speed compression and high-speed rebound, as well as low-speed compression and low-speed rebound, all of them separate from one another. There's also a shock-mounted lever that lets the rider pile on the low-speed compression and rebound to aid climbing efficiency - that adds up to five damper adjustments in total. Use them correctly and you can possibly make your bike perform better than it should; use them incorrectly and the opposite can happen. Finally, no tools required. Cane Creek's other shocks will continue to call for a 3mm hex key, however.
On the other end of the spectrum, the C-Quent sports only a single traditional damper adjustment to tune low-speed rebound, and unlike the DBinline, it's finger-friendly. It still has a Climb Switch - the gold lever that adds a load of low-speed compression and rebound - but the C-Quent is actually less adjustable than the very familiar Float DPS from Fox. Is this really the same Cane Creek?
''The idea behind the C-Quent was to take the performance of the DBinline and make it more approachable,'' said Jim Morrison, Director of Engineering at Cane Creek, when I questioned him on why the company known for adjustments was now going to offer a shock with way fewer adjustments. ''It is possible for less experienced riders to adjust the shock so it performs poorly. You can adjust it wrong, for sure,'' he said of the DBinline, despite Cane Creek's tuning guide and recently released tuning app. People don't like to get things wrong, and some people don't even like the option of getting things wrong, which is where the C-Quent comes in, but offering an easier to understand (or maybe harder to tune incorrectly would be a better way of putting it) shock surely wasn't Cane Creek's only motivation.
Given that it's a simpler shock, the C-Quent must be less expensive to manufacture, right? ''We had several large OEM customers say, 'Look, we can't spec your shock on anything but the highest-end bike,' and that's not necessarily just because of cost. Yes, cost does have something to do with it, but it's the next level down, the XT bike. Often times, that customer wants the best bike for the money and they may not be interested in all the tuning options our shocks provide.''
Less cost is one thing, but while the DBinline's massive external adjustment range allows a single shock to work well on a number of different suspension designs, the C-Quent's fewer external tuning possibilities require Cane Creek to tune the shock internally to bikes that it is going to be spec'd on. That means that the C-Quent will only be available on frames and complete bikes, and that you can't just go out and buy one. For now, anyway. Fox and RockShox both offer shocks with bike-specific tunes, so I'd expect to see the same with the C-Quent down the road. The C-Quent on the far left is a rough working prototype, complete with a 3D printed rebound dial and Climb Switch, and bespoke, hand-made steel shaft.
While the C-Quent ditches the four tooled adjustment dials in favor of a single finger-friendly knob, it still looks similar enough to the DBinline that even a layman would recognize it as being from the same family. Regardless, it is, I've been told, very different internally. ''The C-Quent is our first completely new damper since the Double Barrel,'' Morrison said of the new shock. So does this mean that it isn't just a DBinline with fewer dials? ''All of the internals operate differently, we really went back to first principles,'' he went on to say.
|The goal was to take this new damper and replicate what the DBinline does at various tunes. So what we do is go out with the OEMs and do a test ride session to develop a base tune. Once there's a base tune for the DBinline, we come back and say 'how can we make a C-Quent.' - Jim Morrison, Director of Engineering|
“With the C-Quent we were given the opportunity to re-think the ideal damper having removed the requirement for nearly limitless external adjustments,'' Morrison explained of their approach to designing the C-Quent. ''If you only need LSR and a CS, everything can get smaller, lighter, and simpler. In the final design, we left the LSC and LSR valving in the valve-body up top just like our other shocks. Doing this facilitates our patented CS feature that adjusts LSC and LSR simultaneously and it puts the LSR adjustment in a convenient location for the user. Unlike our other shocks, we moved all of the high-speed valving onto the main piston thus shrinking and greatly simplifying the valve body.''
But wouldn’t it have been easier to just make a mono-tube shock? ''Well yes, probably, however, we still strongly believe that the twin-tube architecture provides the best performance in a rear shock due to its extreme resistance to cavitation.”
This resulted in a pretty neat looking main piston that doesn't resemble what you might be used to seeing attached to the end of a damper rod. The compression side of the piston features pathways that have been machined into its face to allow pressure to form beneath the shims, and an offset between the face of the piston and the outer rim results in an inner surface that's slightly lower, giving the shims a digressive character.
This offset, along with the type of shims used and their layup, determines when the high-speed ''break'' in compression damping occurs. Hydrualic hieroglyphics. The channels machined into the C-Quent's piston give it a very unique look.
Creating the correct shape for the piston was a trial and error process, Morrison admits: ''There were days when we had these programmed up and our machinist at the time would bring me a piston, and I'd build a shock, run it, and go 'argh, not enough,' can you drill the holes smaller, bigger or move it in or out or whatever. He'd go modify the program and then bring me another one. There were days when we went through twenty prototypes.'' But What About Those Issues?
There's no way to talk about the C-Quent without addressing another topic: the widely known reliability issues of the DBinline, a shock that the C-Quent very much resembles, at least externally.
The DBinline's woes aren't a secret - I've written about multiple test bikes whose shocks eventually gave up, as have other editors here on Pinkbike - and Cane Creek never denied the problem, either. But what exactly was the issue? And is it truly sorted out? Will future DBinline and C-Quent shocks run trouble-free or will they be wheezing after only a handful of rides?
The streak of unreliable shocks was, according to Cane Creek President Brent Graves, a combination of the inherent complexity of the design and not fully realizing, at least at the time, the quality assurance and level or robustness that it required.
In other words, the DBinline is a complicated shock that calls for a medical-like level of manufacturing and assembly precision. So that's what Cane Creek did, eventually bringing in a quality assurance specialist, Jack Hedden, from the medical instrument field, an area of expertise where white overalls and hairnets are a requirement.
Hedden's job is to bring the manufacturing procedure up to snuff and to make sure that not a single hair was ever out of place. Literally.
''The design has to be robust. What we did with the DBinline was that we didn't realize, and, honestly, we chased it for a long time, that we lacked that robustness,'' Graves explained when I asked him point-blank what Cane Creek has learned from these issues. ''We even found that an applicator that's used to apply grease inside of a shock, which is generally a brush, can cause a problem. Well, sometimes you're painting a wall in your house, and a bristle comes out and you just paint over it.'' As it turns out, that small bristle, or even a human hair, could be the downfall of a rather expensive shock. ''We found that not only a bristle but also a human hair could cause a shock to cavitate.''
In other words, one hair can take down a shock that was designed to be ridden hard and put away dirty for months on end. ''It took us awhile to appreciate what we had to do to make it robust in assembly and obviously robust in terms of out on the trail. But things had to be too exact. Yeah, we have the precision, but it has to be more robust in terms of opening it up for production in large quantities,'' Graves said of Cane Creek's requirement to not just make a handful of shocks that work well, but thousands that work reliably for a long, long time. ''The tolerance that we're calling out for this particular part, is that realistic given that it's a bicycle and it costs this much? Maybe if it's a satellite or something, but those things cost a lot more. So it's just in the realm of what is realistic.'' The DBinline's damping circuits and valve body are extremely complicated, which made for a tricky assembly and affected reliability. The C-Quent's guts are a lot simpler, a fact that should make it a much more robust.
''We've definitely made a big investment in quality, and what we've got to do, what we've been doing, is focusing on quality assurance. Quality assurance is doing it at the front end, putting in controls to ensure that you're making it right to begin with. Quality control is checking it after the fact. Quality assurance is going back up the supply chain to the supplier and saying 'Okay, let's walk through the process.'' So the DBinline's assembly process, and therefore the C-Quent's as well, has been examined, simplified, and purged of any troubling steps, and the entire supplier manufacturing process has been scrutinized to hopefully eliminate anything that could cause an issue down the road. At one point, one of the suppliers was simply dropping newly manufactured shock shafts into a container, stacking up countless shafts on top of each other. This seemingly harmless act, likely done by someone who didn't know the tolerances required, sometimes caused tiny imperfections in the shafts, which would then lead to a transfer of air into the oil system or vice-versa despite them being essentially invisible to the naked eye.
|It's regrettable, and I tell you, no one feels it more than the people here on the shock assembly line who actually ride as well, and the engineering group of Brandon, Jim, and all those guys. They take it to heart, they really do, because we're not a big company; we're not a public company with millions of dollars floating around all over the place. These products are products that we're proud of, you know? - Brent Graves, President, Cane Creek |
As small as those imperfections might have been, the DBinline required NASA-like perfection during both manufacturing and assembly, which can be a tough ask when the product is passing through so many different hands. But Graves and everyone else at Cane Creek believes that the issues are behind them, both when it comes to current products and things that we won't see for awhile yet. ''We have a history of being the standard for reliability and robust design. Our 110-series headsets – with a 110-year warranty and DBcoil can speak to that. This is the standard that we want to maintain for every one of our products.''How Does the C-Quent Ride?
Unlike a lot of places I travel to in order to ride new bikes and components, Asheville, North Carolina, has plenty of terrain able to provide solid feedback. There's not a ton of smooth ground, especially when it comes to the handful of trails that I sampled, and anything that was close to being manicured was so high-speed that it felt anything but smooth. One trail in particular was littered with so many rocks of all shapes and sizes that I began to wonder if there was any dirt under them at all. In other words, absolutely perfect.
I'll never understand why we often fly halfway around the world to ride trails that don't even come close to requiring the bikes or gear that we're being introduced to, but that is all too often the case. Not this time. The C-Quent was mounted on a 150mm-travel BMC Speedfox.
My pony for all of this was BMC's new, $4,299 USD Speedfox 03 Trailcrew, a 150mm-travel all-mountain bike that leans more towards the lively handling side of the genre. Sag was set on the firm side (did I mention that these trails are fast
?) but within the recommended range by using the handy gauge at the rocker arm and seatstay pivot. The aluminum frame was also home to a Pike and a wallet-responsible build kit that mixes Shimano's SLX and Race Face drivetrain components, aluminum rims with proper Maxxis rubber, and the interesting HDK dropper seatpost that was surprisingly flawless.
The neon machine proved to be an agile performer, especially compared to most other 150mm-travel sleds out there, and this was further aided by great pedaling manners. Yes, it's going to feel a touch nervous if you're coming off a mid-travel bike designed to brush off bike park abuse or to allow you to keep up with your buddies on downhill bikes, but it sure was fun to lob into tight, rocky sections that might trip up a bike with lazier handling.
But what about the C-Quent?
To be honest, I doubt that I could tell the difference, in a blind test, between a RockShox or Fox shock of equal intentions and setup, but I'm pretty confident that I could tell you if there was a Cane Creek shock under me. They just feel different.
I'm not saying better or worse, and I'm also not sure if it's the twin-tube damping layout or just how Cane Creek valves their shocks, but there is something about the control of the stroke that makes them feel... unique. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the DBinline, but its Climb Switch works just as effectively.
The C-Quent has that same Cane Creek feel. If I didn't know any better, I would have assumed that it was a DBinline on the bike, which is a compliment to what Cane Creek have done. The new shock feels every bit like a Cane Creek unit - controlled and consistent - just without the multiple gold dials. This is good news if you aren't interested in adjusting your suspension, but I also know that some riders will miss those dials. For example, I prefer to run a bit more low-speed compression and low-speed rebound, depending on the bike, than other people I know, and that's not an option on the C-Quent. I guess that's why Cane Creek has their DBinline, though. And to be fair, I also can't tinker with those settings on an in-line shock from other brands.
How often do you feel the need to adjust anything on your shock other than its spring rate and the low-speed rebound setting? The answer is likely either ''not often'' or ''never'' for many of riders, which is where the C-Quent comes in. That much is kinda obvious, though.
The C-Quent has to be absolutely flawless when it comes to reliability, and the real story is what Cane Creek have done to ensure this. Only time will tell how the new shock will perform over months and months, or even years, of abuse.