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  1. #1
    DJO
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    Best suspension for climbing - Maestro vs Brain vs VPP

    Last year I owned a 2013 Giant Anthem X1 and 2013 Specialized Epic Comp Carbon. I sold my Anthem to buy the Epic and recently sold my Epic to buy a Santa Cruz Tallboy carbon w/ X01 build kit.

    I was a BMX kid and have been looking for the perfect ride that fits me. I am very surprised and a little disappointed in the Santa Cruz VPP suspension. For slow/medium speed bump compliance the suspension works fine. The SC is slightly smoother than the Epic through the rough rocks/roots - about the same as the Anthem X1. The SC's geometry is nice and the bike handles well, but climbing is a big part of riding in my area.

    For in the saddle climbing, the VPP does a decent job keeping the rear wheel planted. For out of the saddle climbing, it bobs like crazy. I am very surprised by the amount the bike bounces when climbing out of the saddle. It is significantly slower than the Epic on long climbs.

    The Epic climbs noticeably better than both the Maestro and VPP, it is not even close. You can stand and power through hills with the Epic with very little pedal bob.

    I will ride the SC for the year and go back to the Epic in 2016.

  2. #2
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    Yeah Brain is fantastic as long as you leave it on the Epic. It sucks on the Stumpy.
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  3. #3
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    I've ridden an Epic with the Brain and quite liked it on some long climbs in the Park City area.

    Niner's CVA rear suspension is also very efficient for climbing. I have experience on both a Jet 9 RDO and RIP 9 RDO, but others have reported that the WFO is also a good climbing bike despite the more DH orientated geometry.

  4. #4
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    Pays to swap out shocks on most bikes before you condemn them , especially if you've paid big money.
    i've noticed bigger difference swapping or tuning shocks than I have between suspension kinematics.
    I've got a Ax 29er. a TBltC and a 4 bar linkage design [ cube ams 100 super hpc race 29].
    I can't say I'm a fan of the SC VPP as it is too linear on the TBLTc and when you raise the air pressure to reduce mid stroke wallow and bottoming out it increases pedal feedback to much.
    The Ax 29er when you give it plenty of sag[ 35%] and run it with a 120 fork just rocks as a short travel trail bike. Doesn't climb well with so much sag but the progressive suspension sucks everything up and the light alloy frame just feels very playful to ride.
    Both these bikes I've swapped shocks etc and have made improvements in doing so.
    To my mind they will both suit a Debonair, vorsprung corset or new Fox DPS shock. either of these shocks you can add plenty of air pressure and build mid stroke support and reduce pedal feedback.

    Unfortunately on these 100mm travel they nearly always use a 6.5" i2i shock where there's almost no ability to tune the air vol . I suspect a Vorsprung sleeve on yours would be the business if it was available. There is a 6.5" Debonair option. I have one[as yet not fitted] but i think it is only available after market. Unfortunately they are also only off the shelf in Med comp tune which tends to be pretty firm and the SC vpp struggles to overcome the extra comp. Need a L tune kit as well. If your local LBS could order one special with L comp tune and Debonair air can then I would say it's worth a punt. the Debonair will build mid stroke support which firms up cranking out of the saddle. the bigger air vol means you can use every bit of the 100mm travel[important on short travel bikes]
    I really need to get my act together and try my debonair on the AX. I should be able to run less sag to improve climbing and the bigger vol sleeve will allow me to use full travel easier. I've got a Vorsprung kit on order for my TBLTc . it should stop the mid stroke wallow as well as decrease pedal feedback. T

    On the side, my cube ams 100 , off the shelf , out climbs both Ax 20er and TBltc[ smooth and rough climbs] and provides less pedal feedback. Shows you can make 4 bar linkage work without a brain. It feels more delicate [ 4.5 lb frame] than both the other bikes so it doesn't get pushed as hard[ endurance races only]

  5. #5
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    Yes, the Vorsprung Corset air can (assuming you have a Float shock) - apparently makes a big improvement on VPP bikes (better mid-stroke support and small-bump), so it might be worth trying one on your Tallboy.

  6. #6
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    That's odd. I have a '14 Trance SX with 6" of travel and an Epic with 4". Even with the Trance being the longer travel bike, it has less bob when seated and about the same, maybe less than the Epic when standing. The Trance has an almost nonexistent seated pedal bob and that's with the shock in open mode, I've only used the climb switch twice just to try it out for fun. The Epic isn't bad at all in the pedal bob department, maybe because of the brain but it's weird to hear someone say it has less bob than a Maestro bike, especially a shorter travel bike than mine.

    Now that I think about it I know they made some changes to the virtual pivot point in '14 and the '14 and up Maestro bikes seem to like the 32-30t chain rings for a great balance between pedal bob and remaining active under power. I've never ridden the model in question so maybe it was worse than the Epic.

    I fully agree with others in that the shock can make or break any suspension design. My complete crap Fox CTD on mine made me hate the bike. It quickly got replaced by a Monarch+ and it transformed the bike, it literally felt like a different, better bike. Later, going to a CC Inline made another nice change. Not as big as the change from the factory crap shock to the RS shock but a nice improvement. I could fully see someone test riding my bike when it was stock and coming on here and proclaiming that the Maestro is crap with horrible small bump compliance yet blows through it's travel too easily. The factory tune is just a guess and a compromise. They don't know the weight of the rider and what type of terrain and style of riding it's going to see. I wish every shock and fork came with more damping adjustments, it should be mandatory, not optional on high end equipment. I'm getting ready to go with a Fox 36 on mine for the very same reason, the additional damping adjustments and ease of adding volume reducers. I have a feeling if all shocks and forks had the necessary adjustments people would stress a lot less over suspension design.
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  7. #7
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    On the rear Brain, 1 click (20%) makes a BIG difference. Much more so than a 20% bump damping change on other shocks. Its free to try.

    On the Brain forks (lots more clicks) 1 or 2 is still quite noticeable. I use the front to control the "set" under braking

  8. #8
    DJO
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    The question I forgot to ask in the original post is if the dw-link design climbs as well as the Brain on the Epic. I would love to find a bike that can climb like an Epic but still eat up the smaller ruts/roots that cause fatigue on long, fast rides.

  9. #9
    DJO
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    I am going to try out the Vorsprung Corset Air Sleeve to see if it will help. I will report back on what I find.

  10. #10
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    I've been on a Maestro that feels worse than a competing 7" single pivot (Reign X), and a climb KOM challenger Maestro (Anthem X 29). I've been on a "sit-and-spin-patiently-on-the-climb" VPP bike (Nomadc v2) and also a "climbs-like-a-hardtail-when-out-of-the-saddle" VPP bike (Spider 29 Comp). I've been on quite a few FSR, but only ever a Brain-equipped SID. I've been on a bunch of bikes in between. I've made my Enduro 29 into a climbing machine by pumping up the tires and susp to very hard, which managed to surprise me by beating my HT's times around my 8-mile loop, including a ~2 min short and steep climb (wasn't comfortable, my back felt like it would've gave out before my cardio and legs did). With my normal setup, it has good climbing for what kind of bike it is. Heck, I've gotten a KOM (50 second short, loose, and steep climb nicknamed the wall) on my 26" SJ Evo that I didn't even realize I got until I got an e-mail saying someone else took it from me, on a very common trail (pretty much raced my buddy up it). Point is, the marketing name of the suspension linkage means very little.

    IMO, the bike simply just needs to feel comfortable for me to ride it well, to my own known limits. A super light bike feels like cheating though. I try to eliminate the tire choice and setup of susp and tire pressure as variables that can potentially throw off an impression of how well a bike climbs. I know I had a bad impression of Niner since their demo came by equipped with slippery tires that didn't work well in super dry late summer dusty dirt. I had a real good impression of Yeti on the other hand, which came with Maxxis tires (Ikon rear). I know which brand tire I ran on each of my memorable climbing moments.

  11. #11
    cowbell
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJO View Post
    The question I forgot to ask in the original post is if the dw-link design climbs as well as the Brain on the Epic. I would love to find a bike that can climb like an Epic but still eat up the smaller ruts/roots that cause fatigue on long, fast rides.
    I own an Anthem 29er. My brother has a Pivot Mach 429. The two bikes feel very similar to me until you stand up and hammer mercilessly on them on big climbs. While you can (if you're careful, and do it just so) do this on the Anthem without significant bob, you can still feel it. The DW only shines in comparison to the Maestro here - the Pivot feels almost locked out when you stand up and crank down on it. My Anthem was purchased based on this little difference - I asked myself, does it matter enough to me to be worth nearly doubling the cost of the bike for that single bright spot? For me, since I don't race, and have no ambition to race, the answer was no. But if that's what you want, then I think the DW-link is probably the answer you seek.

  12. #12
    Keep on Rockin...
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    The Sana Cruz TBLTc I own does as very nice job with out of the saddled hammering. Not too happy with the rear shock overall, but all is well with climbing - even in the Open mode.

    CVA did not still seem to have enough anti-squat for me to call it a great stand up climber.

  13. #13
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    It looks like you are from MD area from your profile. It hink there is a shop in or near Germantown that is a Turner dealer. You may want to try a Turner Czar or Flux if you can find one. I haven't owned one but have rideen friends' 5 spot and MKIII with DW Link and it is most impressive for pedaling. Worth a look given how many bikes you have tried already:

    Turner Czar - Turner Bikes

  14. #14
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    I've spent some time on an 27.5 Anthem (rented) and although it does have high antisquat numbers it does Bob quite a bit out of the saddle. I believe it's mostly weight Bob, but still really annoying when u wanna put power down out of saddle.

    I think it's mostly cuz the shock doesn't have any platform (LSC) and is wide open all the time? I had a basic monarch on mine that didn't even have a lockout and was always super active.

    My Spark doesn't have near as high antisquat numbers but is pretty well controlled out if the saddle due to the platform in the Factory Float CTD BV.

    EDIT: I guess now that I looked at the figures, Anthem just has higher A.S. than my Spark.

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  15. #15
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    A month ago I was out on a gravel grinder race pre-ride and the guy I stuck with was on an Anthem, I could visibly see his bike bob whenever he got out of the saddle which is quite a bit... He is a heavier fellow though which likely exaggerates it.

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  16. #16
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    I think a shock change can make a big improvement in climbing. I just bought a Bronson with Fox CTD which had a lot of mid-range movement, soon switched to a CC Inline, and with the climb switch on it feels almost locked out.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJO View Post
    For out of the saddle climbing, it bobs like crazy. I am very surprised by the amount the bike bounces when climbing out of the saddle. It is significantly slower than the Epic on long climbs.
    Fox shock by any chance?

  18. #18
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    I think it's interesting how the standard for good climbing performance has evolved so much toward standing climbs. Few bikes are designed to do that well and those that do compromise other aspects of performance to accomplish it. A bike that has enough AS for standing climbs has too much for seated riding and a bike that uses platform for that purpose sacrifices small bump performance the rest of the time.

    Choose a bike that climbs well out of the saddle only if that riding is important to you. No bike will be ideal for both seated and standing climbs at the same time. You can always use your shock controls to help but not if you are riding a bike optimized for standing.

    What makes the best climbing bike for you depends on how/where you ride and how you fit the bike. Don't expect advice from MTBR posters on what the best bikes are to be worth anything at all. After all, in this very thread there's a comment on how great a climber CVA is and how bad a climber VPP is. That should tell you all you need to know...

  19. #19
    DJO
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fix the Spade View Post
    Fox shock by any chance?
    Fox Float CTD Adjust Factory Kashima

  20. #20
    DJO
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    Quote Originally Posted by craigsj View Post
    I think it's interesting how the standard for good climbing performance has evolved so much toward standing climbs. Few bikes are designed to do that well and those that do compromise other aspects of performance to accomplish it. A bike that has enough AS for standing climbs has too much for seated riding and a bike that uses platform for that purpose sacrifices small bump performance the rest of the time.

    Choose a bike that climbs well out of the saddle only if that riding is important to you. No bike will be ideal for both seated and standing climbs at the same time. You can always use your shock controls to help but not if you are riding a bike optimized for standing.

    What makes the best climbing bike for you depends on how/where you ride and how you fit the bike. Don't expect advice from MTBR posters on what the best bikes are to be worth anything at all. After all, in this very thread there's a comment on how great a climber CVA is and how bad a climber VPP is. That should tell you all you need to know...
    I agree with this post. Each rider will have to decide what suspension works best for him/her. The downside of the Epic Brain is that it is not great in rock gardens and small bump compliance. It almost feels like a hardtail that takes the edge out of lager bumps. The VPP on the Tallboy and Maestro on the Anthem is smoother, no doubt. For me the pedal bob and poor climbing, compared to the Epic, is not worth the trade-off. I am surprised because the Tallboy has been such a popular bike that I thought it would be a better climber.

    For guys who like to ride fast, as fast as possible....the Epic is a much faster bike than the Tallboy or Anthem.

    The perfect bike for me, would climb like an Epic and eat up the general ruts/roots/rocks like a Tallboy or Anthem.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJO View Post
    I agree with this post. Each rider will have to decide what suspension works best for him/her. The downside of the Epic Brain is that it is not great in rock gardens and small bump compliance. It almost feels like a hardtail that takes the edge out of lager bumps. The VPP on the Tallboy and Maestro on the Anthem is smoother, no doubt. For me the pedal bob and poor climbing, compared to the Epic, is not worth the trade-off. I am surprised because the Tallboy has been such a popular bike that I thought it would be a better climber.

    For guys who like to ride fast, as fast as possible....the Epic is a much faster bike than the Tallboy or Anthem.

    The perfect bike for me, would climb like an Epic and eat up the general ruts/roots/rocks like a Tallboy or Anthem.
    It is a great climber, just not for you. I live in MD also, for all the roots and rocks here I'd prefer some compliance in the rear. We don't have any thing around that I'd call a long climb here, at least compared to out west.
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  22. #22
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    Every rider has different needs/preferences. I am one of the few (apparently) who really likes the performance of the Fox CTD Factory Adj K shock.

    I just finished a 22 mile ride out here in New Mexico on my TBLTc, 2333 ft of climbing, put it in trail twice on a couple of short smooth sections, but the majority of climbing here is loose, technical, and long, and the open setting on my shock gets it done very well (for me).

    The climbs were almost as fun as the descents.
    2015 Tallboy LTc Fox 36 150mm

  23. #23
    DJO
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    Quote Originally Posted by TwoTone View Post
    It is a great climber, just not for you. I live in MD also, for all the roots and rocks here I'd prefer some compliance in the rear. We don't have any thing around that I'd call a long climb here, at least compared to out west.
    Where I ride, the climbs at the Watershed, Gambrill, Sugarloaf and even Little Bennet are pretty brutal. Not the crazy long climbs like the trails out west but still pretty taxing. The trails at Boyds, Shaefer Farms and Patapsco are not so bad. I see the Ripley in your sig., I understand that bike is a great climber.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by DJO View Post
    Where I ride, the climbs at the Watershed, Gambrill, Sugarloaf and even Little Bennet are pretty brutal. Not the crazy long climbs like the trails out west but still pretty taxing. The trails at Boyds, Shaefer Farms and Patapsco are not so bad. I see the Ripley in your sig., I understand that bike is a great climber.
    I had a TBc, just wanted a little more travel and try something different, so I'm giving the Ripley a try over the TBLT. The other thing that comes into play is form. Even between standing pedaling some riders are just smoother than others.
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  25. #25
    DJO
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    Quote Originally Posted by TwoTone View Post
    I had a TBc, just wanted a little more travel and try something different, so I'm giving the Ripley a try over the TBLT. The other thing that comes into play is form. Even between standing pedaling some riders are just smoother than others.
    yep, I agree. I will learn to ride the Tallboy more efficiently as I get more time in the saddle. I will also play with the suspension to find the optimal setting. I rode the Epic set up stiff, it was rough, but very fast.

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