Sea Otter bike test report-
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  1. #1
    Reputation: derby's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004

    Sea Otter bike test report

    I went to Sea Otter both Friday and Sunday hoping to test some 5+ inch travel trail bikes and learn more about the new generation of platform shocks. I can't say there was anything really new or unusual this year. The extreme riders are more extreme than ever. More women racing. There were more venders than ever, many new niches and styles of suspension, dirt jump, and cruiser bikes.

    I did ride the Intense 5.5 VPP with Manitou 4-way SPV air and Minute SPV fork. It was very plush over the erosion bumps I was able to find there. The 5.5 felt a little bit lighter than my Tracer which is set up with coils front and rear. The shocks had none of the platform harshness Iíve felt with the new Romics Iíve tested. After the ride my Tracer felt like it had much shorter travel than I remember it having before. I didn't see the 5.5 pedal bob when I was seated, but it looked like it extend-bobbed (initially rose up) when standing and pedaling even in the big ring, I probably had a little too much static sag set up in the rear. I did actively look for the pedal stall I noticed a lot on the Blur test ride in Moab. It was harder to notice on the 5.5 with so smooth rolling terrain at Sea Otter. But it was there too. I imaging it would be something that a rider would adapt to in cadence, just like riders adapt body-english and cadence to bikes that bob and squat a lot when pedaling. And new-to-full-suspension riders would not notice it. The bike was set up with a long stem and straighter bars than I'm used to so I didn't get a good sense of the handling since I was way more stretched out than I was used to. I got the feeling that the steering was pretty steep for having so much travel but it seemed to turn easily without over turning or washing out easily. The shock and fork were not as buttery as my old-school Marzocchi coil fork or Vanilla-R shock, so I could feel the tire knobs rolling on smooth pavement with more staccato than my bike. But they did keep the bike very stable with no wallow, and swallowed any bumps much better than my 1.5-inch shorter, 4 inch travel bike. I think the rear shock is mounted such that it is initially falling rate suspension for nearly half travel and then the air spring ramps up in the bottom half of travel to make it feel bottomless, which makes it more stable when pedaling and swallow bumps very well when not pedaling. Combined with the SPV it was very impressive in "plushness" and wallow free stability. I'd like to try the bike with coils front and rear, and without SPV. Although the reduced wallow of SPV probably hides the pedal stall in bumps a little better.

    I also test rode a Kona Coiler with a Fox Propedal Vanilla-RC. It was set up for dirt jumping by its owner who was about 50 or 60 lbs lighter than me. It actually felt like the spring rate was about right for me considering static sag, but the main compression may have been too slow for XC riding (set up for dirt jump landing) because it felt very harsh and choppy over the erosion bumps. It wasnít a good test of the Propedal Vanilla-RC. Even though it was harsher over bumps it did seated-pedal bob on smooth pavement more than the much plusher bump swallowing 5.5 VPP with SPV. Otherwise the bike felt very flex free, but heavy and handled rather slow for XC use, but probably great at higher speeds and super rough terrain. Itís more of an extreme terrain bike.

    Neither Turner nor Titus nor Yeti had demo bikes that I was specifically interested in riding. I wanted to try a large 5-Spot, the Talas/Talas Switchblade and 5-inch Loco-Moto with SPV coil (which is an option), and the Yeti 575 with platform shock.

    Iím really interested in the Talas/Talas Switchblade for the ability to adjust the handling by pitching the frame forward for tight switchback riding, and lowering it overall for steeper climbs, and slackening the frame angles slightly for downhill or rocky desert riding. Iím guessing the Propedal air Talas wonít be quite as buttery as coil suspension, so there are tradeoffs. I talked with Chris Coclias (Titus company owner) about the Loco-Moto with Propedal and he said it really improved the ride, but the advantage of the Horst-linked Switchblade is the damping can be faster with a similar level of stability. He confirms my opinion that faster damping is more desirable for bump compliance and versatility to varied terrain. A Quazi-Moto light (with Switchblade rear links) may be the bike Iíd be most interested in now for 5+ inch travel since it is warranted with a coil spring and the Switchblade requires air spring progression to limit usable travel. I would still want an on-the-fly adjustable height coil fork to lower for climbs. Maybe a Marzocchi with ECC is the best option for that, but maybe the Psylo coil with the great U-Turn feature has been improved to reduce stiction to Marzocchi or Fox quality since I last rode one 3 years ago. I hope to ride a 5-Spot someday too, to compare to the Titus bikes.

    The Yeti has a monopivot that makes a suspension path nearly identical to the Moment or Id and has a fairly low 13.75-inch high BB so it probably kickbacks when pedaling about the same (very little). But the Yeti is designed for air springs with a falling rate linkage while the Ellsworth bikes are rising rate so the Ells would feel smoother on smaller bumps, but the Yeti would be more stable without slowing damping as much that would sacrafice higher speed handling. The monopivot mounted brake on the Yeti would lock up a little easier without adding floating brake linkage, but help make it more stable handling in the hands of an expert rider who modulates the brakes with finesse.

    Darren (Push Suspensions) was in the Turner race tent and all the race bikes has his stickers on Pushed Vannila-RC's (shocks and forks), no more Romics to be seen there. I didn't even see a Romic tent anywhere although Risse and Stratos, and of course Fox, Manitou, and Sachs (RockShox), were there. The Turner race bikes had boxes with wires attached to either the fork or shock and Darren could download data to a hand held computer that showed the results of riding. I respectfully asked if I could listen in to one of his debriefings with a rider but he said no. But I could still hear what he said while I waited for someone else to ask questions to about demoing a 5-Spot. There was nothing he said to the rider that wasn't obvious in his quest for finding better evidence to fine-tune the shock characteristics. He said that there would soon be a box that could read both front and rear shocks together. Currently he has only one shock read at a time and no ability to sync the timing of the data between both shocks. The coming research development to capture both shocks in sync will obviously much better help tune the balance of the suspension front to rear based upon the most subtle vibration variables that human riders just can't communicate to engineers as clearly and completely. Darren is obviously passionate about improving the quality of mountain bike suspension using technology that only the top funded motor race teams can afford to apply in testing.

    I asked the Specialized rep why the new Big Hit has the extra triangulation for the shock mount on the chain stay arm for the rear shock. He answered that it was to add weight to the rear and lower the CG, both to help balance the handling better. Also to remove the stress the shock from the other suspension bearings so they could use lighter bearings up high. The BB shell area of the Big Hit is massive so there is much concentration of weight down low. I imagine DH bikes are forward weighted with their heavy forks and want to dive nose down off jumps. Perhaps that's why the best riders like to keep pedaling in the air, to help keep the front end up. The Specialized design should neutralize the handling in the air better without adding weight up high that would resist quick handling on the ground.

    It was a great Sea Otter again and very comfortable conditions with little wind and partly cloudy weather on both Friday and Sunday. I heard Saturday was colder. Attendance didnít seem as high as I remembered, but I missed Saturday which was probably more crowded.

    - ray

  2. #2
    No, that's not phonetic
    Reputation: tscheezy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    What a shame. I was just down in SF for two weeks and would have gladly loaned you my Spot for a day. Oh well.

    Thanks for the write-up. I demoed a 575 in St. George and a Spider in Moab. The 575 had a 5th air and the Spider an AVA non-propedal float. I skipped demoing a blur because they all had paltform shocks and I really wanted to ride the vpp without a band-aid shock. I was impressed. I wanted to ride a 5.5 and an X-5 also, but I could not find any...

    My video techniques can be found in this thread.

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