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Tech feature - March 29, 2005
2006 tech: SRAM empire unveils huge range
RockShox: Less weight, lots more choice
Component maker SRAM - which now includes RockShox, Avid and Truvativ as well as the original shifter and derailleur company - recently unveiled much of its 2006 range to the press. James Huang takes a three-part look at what's new from the Chicago parts producer, kicking off with new kit from suspension maker RockShox and an exclusive peek at the World Cup Reba fork.
Picturesque San Luis Obispo, California was the setting for SRAM's Media Camp where they introduced their (mostly) complete family of 2006 product. The weather proved to be slightly less than ideal but, I, for one, was certainly not going to complain much having traded 35 degree weather for 60. Let's just say that the beautiful terrain and breathtaking ocean views weren't exactly a drawback, either, but I digress.
SRAM has morphed significantly in recent years, having added RockShox, Avid, and most recently, Truvativ, to their lineup. Sales, warranty, and technical support for the entire SRAM family have been integrated into their Chicago office, but SRAM is thankfully letting their acquisitions operate much as they had previously in terms of research and development. Clearly, though, there are a number of benefits to operating like a small company but with major financial and engineering backing, as demonstrated by the slew of exciting new product. We'll kick off by taking a look at probably the most important part of the SRAM empire, at least as far as bike spec is concerned: RockShox.
Secret squirrel Reba upgrades
SRAM was very tight-lipped about any updates or changes to the RockShox Reba, SID, and Boxxer lines. However, what isn't said can be just as informative as what is, provided you know which questions to ask.
The Reba Team has been the fork of choice for many a cross-country racer as of late, but as always, lighter is better as long as you can maintain performance. In the works is a new top-level model which will include a one-piece molded carbon fiber crown and steerer tube. Rumors about what will presumably be designated a 'World Cup' model have abounded and a photo smuggled from the Taipei show has been circulating on the web, but that was it until now. We spotted that one of the bikes used for a tech clinic was equipped with one of these gems and I managed to take a handful of close-up images.
The new carbon assembly is styled similarly to that of the SID World Cup, but with a neatly integrated housing stop for the remote lever. The carbon crown and steerer produced only a modest drop in weight on the SID, but there is a lot more aluminum to replace on the Reba, and we should see a substantial weight loss as a result. In addition, the carbon construction should provide concurrent improvements in rigidity and vibration damping. Optional rim brake bosses will likely also find their way on to this top-end model with possible trickle-down to the other Reba versions.
Some have predicted the demise of the SID line, but few can argue with the performance advantages gained by its superlight weight. Expect an upgrade to Motion Control there, but little else of significance to speak of. Sharp-eyed readers may have seen spy photos or heard rumors of a lighter weight, air-sprung Boxxer. While no one would confirm its existence, no one would deny it, either. I would expect it to show up officially at SRAM's mid-season launch some time later this summer along with the addition of Motion Control dampers to at least some of the Boxxer lineup.
RockShox - the rest
As the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary. RockShox found the resources to introduce not one, but three new fork platforms even after the very successful launch of the Reba and Pike platforms last year. The new lines, dubbed Revelation, Recon, and Tora, share many design elements with last year's Reba and Pike. All of the new lines share a common theme of vastly improved chassis rigidity while maintaining reasonable weight. In general, RockShox seems hell-bent on maintaining the momentum they've gained last year with few, if any, holes in their fork line. Overall quality appears to be excellent, and anodized and laser-etched control knobs now grace most of the lineup. 2006 also marks the arrival of numerical nomenclature, such as "454", "426", and "409", to distinguish different models in each line. These numbers may sound somewhat familiar to you as they are references to the engine displacements of classic American muscle cars. Don't fret that RockShox has committed automotive blasphemy by mixing designations from different brands; just remember that bigger is better!
Last year's Reba was very well received, but the all-mountain contingent still pined for a longer-travel version of the lightweight, air-sprung fork. To answer this call, RockShox has created the air-sprung Revelation. The design and construction of this platform has been optimized in terms of weight and stiffness for 130mm of travel, much in the same way Reba was for 100mm. As compared to Reba, Revelation sports a slightly reinforced crown, the same 32mm diameter aluminum stanchions, and magnesium lower legs adjusted for more travel. Although neither is an entirely new system, internal tweaks to the Dual Air and U-Turn air options allow for a more linear, coil spring-like feel. Revelation will also be equipped with RockShox's excellent Motion Control damper design along with optional Poploc remotes. Travel is variable from 100mm to 130mm depending on model, and weights should fall between 1.7kg and 1.8 kg (3.75 - 4 lbs). Four different models will be available, brake mounting options on all of them are limited to disc only.
The Recon line is intended to replace the aging Duke platform (which was already just a modified Psylo, making it even older). Recon offers 80 - 135 mm of travel and is intended as more of a mid-priced XC/All-Mountain fork with less emphasis on weight reduction. A steel steerer tube (aluminum is optional) and an all-new super beefy crown support 32mm aluminum stanchions and disc-specific or bossed magnesium lower legs. Recon will offer either coil-sprung U-Turn versions or a new air system dubbed Solo Air. The latter is essentially a simplified version of the company's venerable Dual Air system, but with self-adjusting negative pressure. Damping options will include a basic externally-adjustable rebound damper as well as full Motion Control, and weights will fall between 1.8kg and 2.1 kg (3.9 - 4.5 lbs) depending on model.
Perhaps of most significant impact to the average rider is the introduction of the new Tora platform. Tora is the direct replacement for the Pilot from a cost point of view but delivers an extraordinary performance leap. Overall, the jump from the Pilot's wimpy 28mm stanchions to 32mm ones along with the stouter crown and lower legs should make for a huge increase in chassis rigidity as compared to Pilot. To hit the price point, Tora's stanchions will be chromoly rather than aluminum. As expected, therefore, all of this increase in chassis rigidity does come with a slight weight penalty with models ranging from 2.0 kg to 2.2 kg (4.4 - 4.9 lbs). As with Recon, coil-sprung U-Turn and Solo Air variants will be available, along with either basic rebound dampers or Motion Control and disc-specific or bossed lower legs.
Even the workhorse Judy line has been revamped. Chassis designs remain the same as last year, but internals have been dramatically updated. Available travel is now up to 125mm with available Turnkey lockout and optional remotes, along with updated wiper seals for increased longevity.
The Pike platform has received some minor updates as well, mainly in the form of newly available Dual Air and Air U-Turn versions that add up to a total of nine different models. All of last year's key features carry over, but the air option now makes it possible to have the handling precision of Pike's stout platform and 20mm Maxle system, but in a fork as light as 1.9 kg (4.1 lbs).
Speaking of Maxle, the surprisingly easy-to-use thru-axle quick release system introduced on last year's Pike has now morphed into a rear thru-axle quick release system . Offering the same tool-free operation, the rear Maxle system will work on all 135mm or 150mm rear hubs equipped with a 12mm thru-axle but will require unique dropouts. Unfortunately, this system will not work with Shimano's new axle-mounted Saint and Hone rear derailleurs, and is not easily retrofittable for most frame designs . However, those frames with completely replaceable dropouts may be offered with Maxle options later, and several frame manufacturers have reportedly signed on with the system for 2006. Dropout specifications are openly available from SRAM for any frame makers interested in adopting the system in their line.
Motion Control is again the theme of the evening for rear shocks. Trek had an exclusive agreement with RockShox for Motion Control-equipped shocks last year, but now just about anyone can buy their way into the club. RockShox's MC 3.3 and MC 3.R rear shocks are now available in several sizes to fit the most popular full-suspension frames. The 3.3 will be equipped with a three-position Motion Control adjuster similar to Fox's Triad system with open, platform, and locked settings. The 3.R is equipped with a remote switch to toggle between open and locked settings. Both offer adjustable air preload, rebound damping, Floodgate, and all-new negative springs that eliminate the need for a separate negative air chamber. Weights are very respectable at about 250g for both versions, and both are intended primarily for cross-country and all-mountain applications.
James Huang is chief guru at mountain bike suspension site www.angryasian.com.