Thursday, October 25, 2018

Rigid In My Thinking

Further to my recent Outside column about the joys of voluminous tires, I see that a new suspension fork has hit the market with great fanfare:

Now I should begin by saying there's certainly lots of room for improvement as far as suspension forks.  I should also say James Huang knows his stuff, so if he says this fork addresses many of those shortcomings I'm inclined to believe him.  Nevertheless, as a cloyingly smug rigid bike enthusiast it's hard not to read stuff like this and wonder, "Why?"

“On every telescopic fork, when you come into a corner, you want stability. But what happens is that you weight the front of the bike, the fork dives, you get less mechanical trail, and the bike gets less stable. We humans have learned, over 120 years of riding telescopic forks, to just deal with it. The brain is good at just making it work.

“But I wanted to know what happens if you make it more stable? Is it worse? Does it not make any difference at all? Or is it super better? So I designed a device to answer that question. It was this crazy-ass test mule, a big Terminator-looking thing that weighed 7 1/2 pounds (3.4kg). I built it up, bolted it up, and went for a ride in the middle of January 2014. I got two corners into it and was like, this is way better.”

Sounds like he's managed to invent something that handles nearly as well as a rigid fork with high-volume tires.

Then there's the price:

As groundbreaking as the Message clearly is, my guess is that Trust may still have a tough time getting people to buy into the idea. For one, it may offer some genuinely tangible performance benefits but it also comes with an outrageous price tag of US$2,700. That obviously leaves an awful lot of room to expand downmarket with a less-expensive version, but for now, it’s only deep-pocketed buyers who will even consider this.

I strongly disagree, and in all sincerity I think $2,700 is way too cheap.  Two grand is the going rate for a wheelset these days, and the most expensive telescoping forks are already well over $1,000.  Why not just price the thing at $5,000?  Not only will the Mountain Freds gladly pay it, but they'll be more likely to pay it because with a price like that it's gotta mean business.

Anyway, hopefully this fork takes off and they have to start designing bikes around it, which will make pretty much every mountain bike currently out there obsolete.

As for me, I've been reveling in smugness recently by riding a bike that lacks not only suspension but also derailleurs:

I know I said I love the plus-sized tires--and believe me I do--but I also love flicking around a light, singlespeed bicycle with "skinny" tires:

Actually, it's not even that light, but after riding the Jones it feels like it weighs like fifteen pounds.

It's been just over seven years since I first took delivery of my artisanal handmade Engin, and while commissioning an expensive bicycle that can't be shifted may seem no different than paying $2,700 for a suspension fork that works almost as well as a rigid one, I congratulate myself for doing so every time I ride it.  I'd been a fan of Drew's bikes (check out his Instagram by the way) since I went down to Philly with some friends years ago to check out his workshop, I'd never had a custom bike, I wanted one because I was a newly-minted author and celebrity bike blogger, and here's why a singlespeed made the most sense for me.  For one thing, I have the most fun on them because they bring me back to my BMX-and-tube-sock days:

(© Danny Weiss)

For another, while you can put together a pretty sweet singlespeed mountain bike for cheap, most of the frames are suspension-corrected and/or designed to be run with or without gears or just generally funky because they're for people putting together their sixth or seventh bike out of stuff from their parts bin.  I, however, wanted a nice, clean, rigid, purpose-built singlespeed, and the way to get that was to go custom.  Sure, you can't tell from my shitty zoomed-in photo, but you don't get awesome rocker dropouts like that on a Surly:

Instead you get something like this:

And that's in no way meant as an insult to Surly, who I applaud for their versatility.  But I wanted a really nice singlespeed, not a giant adapter, and so Engin it was.

Then there was obsolescence.  No velocipede is more obsolescence-prone than the mountain bike.  Suspension; frame spacing; drivetrains...all of these things are way different now than they were just seven years ago.  However, it's hard to imagine a time when I won't be able to find the necessary parts for this thing, and geometry fads aside, an awesome-handling bike is an awesome-handling bike.  Best of all, since it's designed not to use gears or suspension it was already "obsolete" the moment Drew finished welding it, so what do I have to worry about anyway?

In any case, the joy one gets from material things is always fleeting.  Nevertheless, thus far my rationale for commissioning this bike has been borne out, and I'm also glad I got in the queue when I did because now he only builds in titanium and on a limited basis and probably wouldn't even give me the time of day.  Really, if you think about it, my ordering this bike was like getting in on the Google IPO.  (Assuming someone would give me like $25K for it right now, that is.)

Wonder how it would ride with one of those Trust forks...


Serial Retrogrouch said...

Bing, bang, bong?

bad boy of the south said...

Well,if there's a fork in the road...

Chazu said...


"Select Images With Cars" Blah.

Grandmaster Flash said...

Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge,
I'm trying not to lose my head.

wishiwasmerckx said...

A fork in the road, you say?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It is, of course, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

janinedm said...

I'm kind of disappointed that no one took my modest proposal seriously yesterday. I've run the numbers and there is zero (0%) chance of you getting an injury on a bike if you give me all your bikes and all your gear starting with the steel ones. If any of you have one of those cool looking Panasonics from the 1980s or something with purty lugs, do what's right for the people who love you and give me that bike.

1904 Cadardi said...

Fun fact:
All Robert Frost poems can be sung to the tune of Hernando's Hideaway.

The more you know!

Drock said...

Just do push ups and make yourself strong, dual suspension unicycle.

1904 Cadardi said...


I'm way out here in flyover country and I didn't want to risk shipping. Sorry :-(

I LOL'd though. Does that count?

pbateman got in a decent ride today on some chubby tires and it was fun said...

@janinedm - there is actually a nifty P.I.C.S. panasonic for sale near me on the craiginglist. not the most awe inspiring color scheme but still has the original stem with the owners first name and last initial. pretty neat.

let me know where i can turn these two over to your care so I don't wind up dead. Hell, the one tried to take my foot off yesterday so i know its a matter of time before they go for the whole enchilada

i'd turn in my RB1 and RB2 but they are missing many parts to make them rideable so think i'm safe for now.

p.s. - i apologize for the bar tape that is dirtier than your mom. its on the to-do is your mom.

Anonymous said...

the trees are lovely dark and deep, but i have promises to keep.
not dylan.

Drock said...

The more pushups I do the more rigid I get. My dual squish unicycle has been turning heads lately.

Some guy from upstate said...

Sorry, talk of alternate suspension fork designs awakens douchey know-it-all guy. In the motorcycle world, myriad alternate front suspensions have been tried, all in attempts to improve on the clear and well-understood limitations of the telescopic fork. You can even go and buy expensive new motorcycles without a telescopic fork on the front. But look at the starting grid at any Moto-GP or motocross or flat-track race (or any competition, really), where performance counts above all else, and you will see nothing but telescopic forks. Read Kevin Cameron's excellent sidebar on this subject in the January-February 2018 Cycle World. So far, no one has come up with something that is convincingly better.

Totally sympatico on the joy of a light rigid singlespeed with "skinny" tires, at least on the right terrain. My favorite bike on the flowy, mostly smooth singletrack near my house is a 1972 Raleigh Grand Prix singlespeed conversion with cyclocross tires. Other than the shitty brakes it is damn near perfect. No @janinedm, you can't have it.

And reCapcha asked me to identify pictures with bicycles!

Matt said...

That "NEW" fork technology looks suspiciously like the parallelogram forks from 20+ years ago (I had an AmpF4 on my hardtail, 4" travel weighing just 2lbs). I think it was an awesome fork, but the carbon tubes were too thin and heavier riders were breaking them (I never had a problem). It was pretty brilliant design as the wheel travel was nearly vertical so it didn't change your steering angle (much). Can't remember who designed it...John Castellano? (sp?) Anyway...what's old is new again, only WAY more expensive.

JLRB said...

That fork looks like a thudbuster seat-post

I need to ride a bicycle - any bicycle - before I lose my mind, but here comes the rain

Seattle lone wolf said...


Sounds like the guys need more practice. So you should really give them your bikes.

bad boy of the south said...

Just found out we're losing our micro brewery in's a mystery, but there's a nano one that might fill the void for awhile.
Where am i gonna go for a post ride imbibe,now?

leroy said...

My dog informs me I'm not ready for a Trust fork.

He says we still have to work on my trust falls.

Ride safe all.

And if you see a dog acting as a trust fall spotter for a marshal at the Tour de Bronx this Sunday, please don't distract him.

janinedm said...

@pbateman: That ombre Dawes is gorgeous... uhh, I mean looks like a death trap.

@Seattle lone wolf: I'm sorry I can't read your comment. I think my internet is breaking up.

ken e. said...

basically scrolling around in a seventies pinto disguised as a web browser, but who doesn't love a nice (lugged or otherwise) old frame?


Uptight Luddite said...

I think the notion of obsolescence is pretty well now obsolete.

HDEB said...

Horizontal dropouts rule!

STG said...

@snob, what's the closest production bike to your Engin 29er?

BikeSnobNYC said...


No idea! All City has something called a "log lady" which is somewhat similar I guess but I don't think anybody makes a non-suspension corrected singlespeed like this. (I think the only person making stock non-suspension-corrected off-road bikes is Jones...)

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

When riding on pavement to get to the trail, do you find it frustrating to spin out above roughly 13mph (assuming you are geared low for trails)? I love my Kona Paddy Wagon as a single-speed on the road, and expect I would like a SS MTB too if I lived right near trails, but the idea of spinning out riding a SS MTB 5-7 miles on the road to get to my trails sounds frustrating. Thanks!

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 1:31pm,

I mean it would be nice to be able to shift but I don't mind. There's enough up and down on the ride to and from the trail that I'm not just sitting and spinning the whole time.

--Tan Tenovo

Anonymous said...

Gotcha! Thank you for your feedback. Alas, my ride to the trails is flaaaaaat.

Pist Off said...

Spinning out on flats? There’s a two-speed option via White Industries Dingle freewheel and two close ratio chainrings, or even the “two chainrings and a rear tensioner/old rear derailleur” setup. Don’t need a front derailleur. Single-speeding is a voluntarily chosen difficulty, who can argue if someone wants a road ratio and a trail ratio? Idiot bike nerds, that’s who, but just ignore them.