When Cane Creek announced their DBInline in the spring it provoked a number of questions. Could the new DBInline deliver all the proven performance of the DBAir in this lighter, smaller package? What was Cane Creek trying to accomplish with the DBInline?
If you bought a long travel trail or all mountain bike in the 140mm-160mm travel area more than a couple years ago, it is almost certain that it came with suspension that wasn’t exactly what you were looking for. These bikes fell into a hole in the suspension market. Mid and short travel bikes were well accommodated and the freeride and downhill segments had options. But if your bike fell into that middle-of-the-road, five or six inch area, you were pretty much left with a set of suspension bits that was either over or under built. As far as the two big suspension players go, you would probably be riding the same shocks that could be found on cross country bikes, and in the front probably a scaled-up version of a cross-country fork with 150mm of travel, but still with 32mm stanchions. On the other hand, you could also go with a coil shock, or maybe a second-rate attempt at a downhill air shock, and pair that with a lumbering, five pound beast of a fork
Thankfully, with the flourishing prominence of enduro racing and enduro bikes, these bikes are now seen as a segment that has its own specific and relevant needs. Enduro bikes will see downhill sections nearly worthy of a World Cup track, but the bikes still need to be pedaled back to the top. Forks were seemingly the first to adapt to this, with 34 to 36mm legged units being introduced at reasonable weights and with solid dampers. Rear shocks were soon to follow, with piggyback designs being couple with solid, air sprung platforms. Riders soon took notice that the 150-200g added by the piggyback apparatus was a welcome trade off for the significant rear damping improvement.
Cane Creek, however, wanted to take things one-step further. Their aim was to bring this level of performance to a shock that would be appropriate for even shorter travel bikes. The result is the DBInline, a shock that not only sheds enough weight to make it appropriate for bikes down to 120mm of travel, but also packages up in a design compact enough to fit on bikes that don’t have frame clearance for a piggyback shock.
Before we get any further, we should establish the benefits of a piggyback style shock, and how the DBInline brings these benefits into a compact package. The trait most commonly associated with a piggyback shock is an increase in oil volume, which prevents the shock from heating up as much as it otherwise would. While this certainly is a benefit, there is still another great advantage to them.
A conventional inline style shock handles all its damping by means of what is called a ‘mid-valve’. A mid-valve is a damping assembly that is attached to the main piston inside the damper. As that piston moves through the damper fluid, the mid-valve assembly uses its valving to control the motion of the shock. The problem with the mid-valve is due to the speeds that the piston can reach and oil flow rate the piston has to deal with. A mid-valve damper is always going to be a balancing act between low speed/small bump performance, and that of high speeds/big hits. The amount of oil flow a mid-valve has to deal with is just too great for it to perform well in all areas.
A piggyback style shock adds in the use of a ‘base-valve’ damper. This is utilized in addition to the mid-valve. On a typical piggyback shock, the base-valve damper is located between the main shock body and the piggyback reservoir. This is typically where you’ll find the damping adjustments on a piggyback shock. Unlike a mid-valve damper, which is attached to a moving piston, a base-valve damper doesn’t move. As a shock moves through its travel, damper rod (the small exposed shaft on a coil shock, for example) enters the damping chamber and displaces some oil. The base-valve relies on this oil displacement for its damping. Because the flow rate of this displaced oil is much lower than what a mid-valve has to deal with, and the fact that a base-valve is used in conjunction with a mid-valve, this design has much greater control of a wide range of damping properties.
The idea behind the DBInline is to incorporate a base-valve damper into a shock that doesn’t use a piggyback reservoir. It does so by adding a second oil/gas chamber, which serves the purpose normally achieved by a piggyback, onto the end of the main shock body.
On the left is a standard style inline rear shock. All the damping is dealt with on the piston (labeled as such in the diagram). The piston moves so fast and deals with such a range of oil flow rates, it can’t perform well on everything from very small to very large impacts
On the right is the DB Inline shock. As you can see there is still a piston that handles some damping, but there is also a base-valve (labeled as damping in the diagram) that adds damping based on the oil displaced by the piston rod entering the oil chamber. The nitrogen gas and small pocket of oil below it are what are what would normally be in the piggyback reservoir of a typical piggyback shock. The gas and oil in the DB Inline are separated by a rubber membrane.
The shock comes out of the box with an impressive presentation and set of accessories. Included is the standard owners manual, an air volume spacer to help you tune the spring rate, and a tuning field guide with a notes section to help you get started on your set up. They even throw in a little pencil for you to mark down your settings with.
It is common for people to express concern about the amount of adjustments on Cane Creek’s Double Barrel line. The number of dials and switches makes the shock seem involved, more geared towards advanced suspension tuners, difficult to set up, and contrary to the ‘set-and-forget’ type of rider. However, the very opposite is true. Cane Creek have gone to great lengths to make Base Tunes for as many bikes as possible available on their website, and working closely with many bike manufacturers to do so.
Most aftermarket shocks come internally tuned to a neutral base setting with only a few external adjustments available to the rider. If you want the shock tuned specifically to your bike model it will have to be sent off to a suspension tuning outfit, which typically costs $150-$250. However, because the Double Barrel shocks have full external adjustability and a convenient Base Tune guide available, it ensures that the shock can be set up specific to your bike at home in about ten minutes. If by chance your bike is not included in their library of Base Tunes, the shock comes included with a ‘Factory Neutral Base Tune’ printed on a card that you can start off with. Combining that with the information in the Tuning Field Guide should make it fairly simple to get a solid setup from the DBInline. I was forced to start off with the Factory Neutral Base Tune for my own bike, as there wasn’t a specific Base Tune listed in the Cane Creek database. However, it only took some small tweaks to get it set up nicely.
Once on the trail it took no time for me to take notice of the improvements over the Fox RP23 I replaced, which even got the Factory Tuning treatment from Push Industries (whom are great and I highly recommend for any such work). To compare, I even spent some time swapping the Inline with my old RP23 on the side of the trail and riding the same section repeatedly in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison.
The Inline was able to provide finely tailored performance in all events that the shock had to deal with. In the past I always felt like I was trying to balance my small bump/low speed compliance with a wallowing mid-stroke, but the Inline allows me to keep the shock very sensitive on the small stuff while still being supportive at the mid-point of the travel. The small bump compliance was so impressive that it mimicked the sensation of having less pressure in my rear tire. This advantage was most noticeable while climbing up steep, rooty and rocky sections where the rear wheel seemed to hug the terrain much more fluidly, and in rougher corners at speed where it greatly aided traction.
The twin-tube design of the shock also makes for exceptionally fast recovery from each hit, and as such is a superb performer on successive hits. In the past I would always have to make sacrifices to the rebound speed I wanted in order to help the shock deal with stair-step sections decently. But on the Inline the supportive mid speed performance – which distinguishes itself nicely from the low speed properties – combined with an exceptional recovery rate, means the shock can perform without nearly as much compromise.
The Climb Switch sported a unique concept that ended up creating the most effective platform setting I’ve used in a rear shock. Full lockouts are not preferred by shock manufacturers because they are hard on the shock, and don’t provide any compliance at all should you run into some more pronounced terrain. Most shocks will have a platform switch that just piles on the low speed compression. The difference between the Cane Creek Climb Switch and others is that Cane Creek not only firms up the compression damping, but also the rebound. While stiffening the compression definitely helps with pedal bob, the rebound from bouncing back from a pedal stroke, or bucking you out of a pot hole, are equally at fault. Cane Creek’s attention to this issue landed them the finest of lockout/platform switches around which operates completely bob-free under pedaling, yet still with a liberal enough blowoff to help you out should you gain some speed and find a few rocks.
High speed impacts are where I’ve always felt the benefits of a piggyback shock are most noticeable (though that’s not to say it’s the most valuable benefit, due to big hits being less common than low speed events). The damper was able to cope with a major impact without the harsh spike of a standard inline shock, and the separate adjustment for high speed rebound let me groom the rebound response on big hits to a comfortable level without effecting the rebound rate on most of the trail. I don’t know that the Inline was quite as competent on the big hits as some of the proper piggyback designs I’ve ridden. But, no less, the DBInline offers up a wealth of improvement over a standard inline design, and most definitely resembles the feel of a full piggyback shock more than a conventional inline design.
Cane Creek knocked this one out of the park. On top of offering up a top performer, they also managed to make a very successful attempt at filling a hole in the market. The damping is excellent in all manners, the air spring runs buttery smooth, with the air volume is tunable without removing the shock from the bike, and the fit and finish is impeccable. This will be equally at home on a 120mm trail ripper as it will a 160mm all mountain beast, and should be a coveted upgrade for people who have previously been either restricted from piggyback shocks because of frame clearance, or whom have been put off by the weight penalty. The DBInline only adds about 80-100g to the weight of a standard inline shock, and comes with an MSRP of $567 CAD.
Thanks to Andrew at Suspension Werx for the pointers on my shock setup. If you ever need Cane Creek suspension service this is a Canadian outfit that do top notch work with minimal turnaround time. Give them a shout.
Big thanks to Live to Play Sports, the Canadian distributor of Cane Creek Cycling Components, for providing us with the shock for review.