When looking at component upgrades on a either a freshly bought bike, or a whip that’s been a proven favourite for a rider, suspension upgrades often go completely without thought. A suspension rebuild to keep things fresh? Sure. But the idea of going for a custom tune, or getting other upgrades done inside an existing fork, where most riders will never even look, is an easy oversight. On top of the fact this won’t carry the flash of a new Enve bar, most people just plain don’t understand the potential. “It feels fine the way it is” many would gripe. However, suspension is something that almost always has the potential to be better.
Enter Suspension Werx in North Vancouver – a suspension service and tuning shop headed by suspension guru and former World Cup race mechanic James Downing. On the mountain bike side of things, they deal with Fox, Cane Creek, BOS, DVO, DT Swiss and Suntour, as well as aftermarket goodies from Push Industries, Ohlins, and Andreani, to name a few. They also provide warranty service for many of the brands they handle, and have recently started offering suspension service for power sports.
Before downhill season kicked off, I had my 2014 Fox Float 40 fully dressed up by Suspension Werx. This includes the installation of an Ohlins damper piston, custom damper tune, low friction damper seal head, and SKF Green wiper seals. The most noteworthy of these upgrades is surely the Ohlins piston, which replaces the stock rebound piston, and also adds in a shimmed mid-valve for more dynamic compression support. This along with the custom tune are the factors which have the potential to transform the fork, which I figured would be a hearty task, as the Fox Float 40 was a pretty impressive fork out of the box.
The Ohlins piston was co-developed with the Andreani Group in Italy, and is the most attainable way to get Ohlins performance for the everyman rider. We’ve all seen the Ohlins shocks getting mounted to the back of Specialized Demos and Enduros for a while now. But since Specialized has exclusive rights to these, at least in North America, you’ll have to jump through a few hoops, pay well in excess of $1,000 for the shock alone, and then send it out to have it custom tuned to your bike. Full Ohlins cartridges are available for the Fox 40 through Suspension Werx, as well. But, again, you’re looking at paying a healthy grand to get one of these. The piston, however? With a custom tune it’ll add $150 to the price of your fork service at Suspension Werx (typically $145 for a complete fork rebuild). In addition to the Fox Float 40, there are also Ohlins pistons on offer for certain models of the Fox 36, 34 and 32.
The basic principal of the piston is to increase the potential oil flow though the main damper piston. Doing this accomplishes a few thing. First is that it makes for faster recovery on the rebound stroke, which aids traction and prevents the fork from packing up under successive hits. In regards to compression, the added oil flow allows for a compression shim stack to be added to the bottom of the piston, which creates a greater range of damping properties. Most notably, this tends to create more mid-stroke support, eliminate damping spikes, and creates a better transition between low and high speed events in the damper.
For a testing ground, it didn’t make sense for me to spend much time anywhere but Blue Mountain – the spot where I’ve established the best baseline feel on the fork prior to any upgrades, and with terrain that has a reasonable mix of chunky, fast, steep, wet, dusty, etc. On a dry day, Blue Mountain’s notorious moon dust presents the most daunting of challenges for both the traction a bike can hold, and the integrity of the wiper seals.
Setting up suspension for a tune and upgrade such as this can sometimes be tricky. In this case, part of what made it tricky was that on my first laps the fork already felt miles ahead of the stock setup. There was a noticeable improvement in the recovery rate of the fork, greatly aiding traction and letting me hold lines with much more confidence. The mid-stroke support made huge leaps, and the combined friction loss between the new damper seal head and dust seals mixed with my tuning request of “priority on small bump compliance” made the fork glide buttery smooth across root and washboard sections, as well as helping to keep my hands relaxed and arm pump to a minimum.
However, I knew a custom tune with a completely new damper piston would have more potential than that. As such, I started experimenting with the setup, and working towards my preferred style of setup: one with a bit less air pressure than normal, but with the LSC wound in a bit stiffer to compensate. The basic idea behind this is that I can get firm low speed support, while still allowing the suspension to open up liberally for for proper bumps. On stock tuned damper, this can often lead to a wallowing mid-stroke, harsh small bumps, or a generally unpredictable feel. However, the dynamics of the damper proved to be excellent in this case, and provided not only great performance, but a great range of practical damper settings for different tracks.
Adding the suppleness of the SKF Green seals and low friction damper seal head onto the already superb small bump sensitivity of the Float 40 left the small bump compliance to be all-but completely dictated by the damper settings. The progressiveness of the low-speed circuit and nice transition into mid-speed events courtesy of the Ohlins piston, allowed me to regularly switch between about 8 to 15 clicks of low speed compression for different terrain. Flatter, higher speed runs were aided by running low speed compression to keep the front end relaxed and grippy over the small bumps and washboard sections at speed. Cranking the low speed in further would boost the front end support for steeper tracks, or for buff bike park laps.
My one caveat was that my rebound was possibly a little slower than I would have liked it on the fork, though I will assume as much responsibility for this as anyone. I had the rebound run wide open, and while it performed well, I would have liked to try running it faster to see what the results were. This was how my fork came stock, and I neglected to tell this to Suspension Werx when I sent my damper out for the service, so it makes sense that they would assume the rebound rate I had was adequate. On that note, the improved recovery rate of the fork did add to the rebound performance after Suspension Werx worked their magic. Suspension Werx took my damper back and did the rebound re-valve at no charge. Though downhill season ended before I got a chance to get on the re-tuned fork, the floor feel of it seems to be spot on, with enough range to easily cover any adjustments I’ll want to make, but with fine enough increments to avoid leaving me between clicks.
All in all, this deluxe Suspension Werx treatment presents an extraordinary ratio of performance gain per dollar. While the $350 (Canadian) is certainly nothing to scoff at, for someone looking for an unencumbered performance gain, this should be very attractive. Not only does the peak feel of the fork get a healthy boost, but the the rider specific custom tune allows for a superb adaptation to various terrain. At its most basic level, this means the performance seeking weekend downhiller gets down the hill more relaxed, with more confidence, and ultimately less fatigued both at the end of a run, and at the end of a long day. For the racer, this can easily mean seconds off the clock.
Now is the perfect time of year to send your goodies to the fine folks at Suspension Werx. You can book an appointment by contacting them at email@example.com Also check out their Shop Partners to see who can assist you in your neck of the woods.