What's the Deal with Linkage Forks?
Trust might have broken the internet and divided opinions when they announced their Dave Weagle-developed Message linkage fork a few months back, but they're hardly the first to the weird fork party. In fact, linkage front-ends have been around much longer than the now-dialed telescoping forks we get to use today, with relatively primitive examples showing up as far back as the late 1800s.
From there, these funny looking contraptions have been used on the front of everything from folding bicycles to Grand Prix racing motorbikes and all that's between. But do you know where they haven't shown up? On the front of many people's mountain bikes. Despite a lot of attention and excitement, linkage forks have largely been a commercial flop, with only Girvin (aka Proflex) and AMP enjoying some brief success when the time was right and most things sucked anyway.
And then poof, aside from a few low-volume, boutique manufacturers that probably sell a couple of forks every year, the Erector Sets were mostly gone from the front of our bikes and we really only had telescoping models to choose from.
Not that that's a bad thing - when it comes to suspension, we've got it damn good these days - but it is a little... boring. I mean, isn't that freakshow below interesting?
AMP's minimalist design (left) was intended to be a lightweight cross-country fork that could compete against equally spindly 50-millimeter-stroke telescoping models from Manitou and RockShox. The Motion Ride fork (right) offers up to 170mm of travel via a carbon leaf spring.
Whyte's PRST-1 (left) from the early 2000s used a linkage fork that offered consistent trail but its appearance was, er, challenging to say the least. Structure Cycleworks' prototype also integrates the fork into the front triangle, making it a package deal or nothing.
Interesting or not, I seriously doubt that many of us would be okay with an expensive, unproven linkage fork with a non-existent track record. Or would we? After many years of the Big Two (RockShox and Fox) practically owning the high-end front-suspension market, there was a promising shake-up when the latest linkage fork arrived back in October with a lot of carbon fiber, a fancy thru-shaft damper, and a Dave Weagle. It turns out that we're all still interested in linkage forks - that was one of the most-read articles of 2018, and it has nearly six-hundred comments, many of which seem to be upbeat about the new challenger's prospects. That said, I think that success for Trust would look like a good number of forks sold and to have them perform well and reliably. The OE sales numbers that the Big Two can boast about are essentially untouchable for the foreseeable future, of course.
So it seems like a good as time as any to take a look at how linkage forks work, as well as why they might make sense and why they might not. Oh, and if they're so damn good, why aren't they on the front of all our bikes?