Suspension Product of the YearThis time of the year means Christmas lights, mistletoe, and arguing in the comments about how so-and-so should (or shouldn't) be included in the annual Pinkbike Awards. Looking back, 2019 wasn't exactly a banner year for completely new and exciting suspension products, and it felt especially quiet after Fox's Live Valve and Grip2 damper, as well as Trust's linkage fork, all made 2018 rather interesting.
Modern suspension has gotten so good that it takes a lot to make a really appreciable leap forward in performance, and that simply didn't happen in 2019 - it was a year of refinements rather than revolution in the suspension world. Ultimately there wasn't one all-new product that ended up offering a significant performance increase over what was already on the market. So for that reason, we've decided not to award an overall winner - the Suspension Product of the Year title will be vacant for 2019.
Don't get us wrong, there are a ton of amazing suspension products out there, including the Marzocchi Bomber Z2 that is currently vying for the Value Product of the Year title. It's just that there was no all-new product that stood head and shoulders above the rest that we feel can lay claim to being the product to move suspension forward.
While there won't be a single winner declared for 2019, there are already several new products on the horizon and we get the feeling that 2020 will be a big year.
In the meantime, read on to learn more about three products that turned our heads and warranted some extra recognition. There's the Italian-made EXT Storia shock, with its hydraulic bottom-out feature that's the stuff dorks like me dream of, as well as the Öhlins RXF36 and Lyrik Ultimate, which both received updates that took them from 'Damn, that's good,' to 'Daaaaamn, that's really good.'
If you're going to call yourself Extreme Racing Shox, you should probably make some fancy stuff and charge a lot for it, which is one way you could describe their enduro-focused Storia Lok V3. Not exactly breaking news: Spending 799 Euro on a 'made just for you' shock results in some impressive performance. When Kazimer reviewed the third generation of their custom-tuned EXT Storia Lok back in August, he said things like ''The Storia made it feel like there was a layer of memory foam over everything,'' and used phrases like ''extra traction'' and ''Levy is faster than me.'' Okay, he didn't say the last one, and let's all be honest with ourselves and admit that bolting on a Storia probably won't make most of us any faster.
From the review:
So, why's it here? EXT has managed to fit a hydraulic anti-bottoming feature into the shock by placing a second piston where you'd usually only see the bolt on the end of the damper shaft. As the shock nears the end of its stroke, this piston enters a cup-shaped tube inside the end of the shock body, which, if you know how oil and displacement work, ups the hydraulic pressure to resist bottoming. EXT says there's a 50-percent increase in the force required to compress the shock during the last 15-percent of the stroke, and we believe them; it's an impressive and useful feature. It's also not new, with designs similar in principle being used by Manitou, Fox, Avalanche, and others, but it's especially beneficial inside of a coil-sprung shock.
Öhlins has a hell of a history, with so many victories and championships during the last forty-three-years that they're probably using trophies as paperweights at their Swedish headquarters. But practically all that heritage comes from their motorized exploits, so what about the mountain bike stuff? A lot of us dorks peed our pants in excitement when Öhlins started doing bicycle suspension, but it hasn't been the smoothest of rides so far. Early shocks sometimes felt over-damped and consumers were having reliability issues, while rumors of casting misalignments meant that some of the forks couldn't match the smoothness of Fox or RockShox.
From the review
But the new RXF36 M.2 has been nothing but impressive.
''Traction was there in bundles and built into creamy support when the energy inputs got higher,'' PB Tech Editor Dan Roberts gushed in his November review of the RXF36. ''The fork blended away, and it felt like I had a direct connection with what was going on at the ground,'' he went on to say. You can get a coil-sprung version, or the trick three-chamber air-sprung model that Roberts loved so much. Both types use their twin-tube damper, the TTX18, with 18 referring to the piston diameter that happens to be the same as what's used in the DH38 fork. It's as good - or maybe even better - as anything else out there, and the three-chamber air spring offers next-level adjustment.
RockShox didn't need to do much to improve the Lyrik and, truth be told, the previous version would have kept riders happy for many seasons to come without any updates. But updates are what RockShox/SRAM does, and the revised Lyrik gets both the new Charger 2.1 damper and changes to fight friction.
From the review
The Lyrik Ultimate (and all of their Signature Series forks) gets new SKF seals that are said to be just as seal-y but slipperier than those they're replacing, and there is also new Dynamic Seal Grease and Maxima Plush damping oil.
Speaking of damping, Charger 2.1 gets a lighter high-speed compression tune, a more usable low-speed range, and updates to the internal architecture for better control of the oil. Kazimer's spent a good amount of time on the latest Lyrik, and while the changes aren't of the day and night variety, the fact that they've improved an already impressive fork is, well, impressive.
While there was no clear winner for us this year, the EXT shock and updated forks from Öhlins and RockShox certainly earned acknowledgement. We'll have to wait another twelve months before a new title is up for grabs. So, what suspension component or idea - something that would make an appreciable step forward in performance or comfort - would you like to see come to life in 2020?