Cane Creek 3
Cane Creek 3

US suspension and component specialists Cane Creek just launched their new DBInline shock with all the tech of their Double Barrel Air CS, and Dirt got the invite for an exclusive pre–launch look and ride on the company’s home trails.

DIRT ISSUE 148 - JUNE 2014

Words by James McKnight. Photos by Derek Diluzio

Getting over our assumptions

When Dirt’s Ed Haythornthwaite visited the premises of Cane Creek back in early 2011 he talked of pre–formed misconceptions of a company that was seemingly a powerhouse of the cycling industry, yet on inspection it turned out to be nothing more than a small set–up based in a factory deep in Western North Carolina, USA.

Even having read Ed’s article on the company in Dirt #113, and having been filled in on the peculiarities of the place and the friendliness of the people by the author himself, I still had my own preconceptions upon arrival into Asheville; but the rows of rocking chairs in the airport waiting room, complete with grannies knitting, salesmen conference–calling and families waiting for their flights all sitting side–by–side came as a precursory introduction to the small town experience I was about to enter into. It turns out that Cane Creek really does have a modest, but certainly not limited, set–up.

I was in the South for two reasons: To get an exclusive early look at Cane Creek’s latest rear shock, the DBInline, the privilege coming from Ed having managed to weasel his way into ‘For Employees Only’ information. Secondly to ride the nearby Pisgah National Forest in all its vastness and to explore its copious trails that serve as ample testing ground for the passionate bike riders from Cane Creek. In this article, part one of two, we’ll take a look around the intricate workings of the DBInline, then in part two next month we will delve into the full country experience.

A brief history

Cane Creek’s relatively short history in suspension is well known in mountain biking, or so I thought. The Double Barrel and DB Air shocks of recent times are but a tiny part of the company’s sprung heritage; I was more than surprised when I first heard that in the very early days of suspension on mountain bikes they were in fact producing forks for RockShox for example! Since then they have also produced their fully air (i.e. no oil whatsoever) shock, the Cloud 9, which is now discontinued, and have had a lot of experience working on projects for other companies in the sport. One other thing that the company has accumulated aside from experience and reputation is a loyal staff who now own the company and therefore have every interest in putting out perfect products every time. I went through the stages of building a DB Air shock on their production line so I can verify that care is taken to put every shock together and also that each and every one is dyno tested with the results checked and logged. There’s a good level of attention to detail at Cane Creek, which should explain the reason that their logo is essentially a stamp of quality wherever it appears.

Of course, traditionally best known for their Aheadsets that have featured on countless zillions of bikes (that, as Ed noted in his previous feature, were in some cases simply branded Cane Creek as they owned the patent but weren’t necessarily made by them), in recent times they have blazed a trail of glory as innovators with their AngleSet and the aforementioned Double Barrel shocks. The coil version of the Double Barrel, with its independently adjustable (and therefore unaffected by one another) compression and rebound circuits, I think it is fair to say was a downright success with all users. The DB Air then, a natural progression of the coil shock, and the later addition of DB Air with Climb Switch (CS), have also been largely praised – although our very own chief bike tester Steve Jones has struggled to come to terms with what he sees as a drop in performance over the coil–sprung sibling. Personally I’ve only had good experiences with the DB Air CS; for example I used it on a bike with 130mm travel for the Enduro World Series finals in 2013 and it never faltered. I’m a good three stone lighter than Steve (I flatter myself), perhaps an explanation for our differing opinions of the DB Air.>>

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[part title="GETTING INLINE WITH CANE CREEK PAGE TWO..."]

Cane Creek 5
Cane Creek 5

Of course, the clearest problem with the DB Air is compatibility. That gert big piggyback reservoir makes it nice and efficient at dealing with heat, but other simpler inline air shocks fit nicely into compact frame designs and in some cases the DB does not, not to mention the fact that it could be seen as a little ‘overkill’ and heavy for shorter-travel bikes. Thus the next step in the natural progression of Cane Creek’s shocks, the DBInline, which has been developed over the last two years by a small but supremely talented team including two of my hosts at Cane Creek and the employees who were to show me around the shock: Josh Coaplen, who has pretty much been the major innovator and a huge asset to the company since he started, and Brandon Blakely, who joined the company in the last two years but whose experience not only as an engineer but also a top up-and-coming downhill racer adds valuable depth to Josh’s clearly endless wealth of experience, passion and intelligence.

Getting Inline

I spent most of my first day at Cane Creek looking through the intricacies of the new DBInline shock – from shim stack to external adjustment. There is a lot going on in there. Brandon had lost track of how many individual components go into making one, but he told me it is over 96… Everything that makes a DB Air CS is present, minus the piggyback. In total, Brandon estimated this took over 70 prototypes over the two years of DBInline’s development, a process that included an abandoned attempt at casting the main head of the shock. Starting at under 300 grams for the smallest shock, the finished product is a considerable amount lighter than a DB Air CS, opening up possibilities for more ‘racy’ short–travel bikes (down to 120mm), it comes with the Climb Switch (to reiterate, this is Cane Creek’s take on lock–out, which increases damping on the shock instead of completely locking it out and is in theory much better for off–road climbs), but still comes with the same range of adjustment (although with less turn on the dials as the Climb Switch apparently eliminates the need – think of crossover gears on a 27–speed transmission versus a 1x11 setup).

DBInline is a shock that you are likely to see stocked on a large number of 2015 bikes, so with its greatly slimmed–down body how can you be sure of its capability? Let me explain the testing process, of which Brandon has been a key figure: Mountain bike brands seem to like Cane Creek (great products and people – this isn’t hard to understand) and the number of bikes with one of their dampers as spec has greatly increased in the last couple of seasons. Those same manufacturers are excited about the DBInline and are stocking their bikes with it and so have played their own part in its development, with Brandon taking trips to ride and advance it on a number of companies’ new bikes during the latter stages of its development (I’m not talking niche brands either). In other words, there has been a lot of trail time on the shock and in a lot of different environments and on a lot of different bikes. I get the feeling that Josh (head of R&D) is beyond meticulous, which, to point out the painfully obvious, is a very good thing.

Ride time

Josh and I bolted an DBInline to my bike – a Canyon Spectral – and headed for the Pisgah Forest. The meandering roads and the deep forest you will hear about in part two, for now we’ll focus on the ride of the shock. It looks a little odd at first, with its four–way adjustment (hi and low speed compression and rebound) packed into a bulky, slightly alien–looking head unit... not that that’s relevant – function over fashion and all that. Josh set the shock to a middle–ground (side–note here: adjustments on CC shocks are made with tools not finger adjusters, and it was a little ironic seeing even Josh curse as he scraped around the depths of his backpack looking for the elusive Allen key – we’ve all been there with a DB shock) and we pedalled our way up a technical trail while I cycled the Climb Switch through its range to see its effect, All was working well and I agree with the theory that climbing is best done with some movement available from the shock (as opposed to full lock–out), as long as its damping is well regulated, which is certainly the case on this and the DB Air CS.

Terrain on the doorstep of Cane Creek is reminiscent of typical UK riding, with plenty of rocks and roots to keep you on your toes and your suspension working hard. DBInline felt composed and definite, controlled in its manner and it gave the bike a confident ride character on the trail, but at first it did feel too harsh over the rough stuff so we dropped pressures and compression as the ride went on. This felt better over the often washboard–like long sections of roots without affecting its composure – I didn’t get that feeling of wallowing or ‘falling’ through the travel that can occur on some ‘less good’ shocks shall we say. Throughout my stay I ran through settings for the rougher trails that came later in the week and reduced compression damping somewhat, which left a shock that felt pretty much akin to its piggybacked brothers. We rode some long old descents without any fade in the damping, pushing the shock to its limit and perhaps even beyond its intended purpose. So did I have any gripes or concerns? Nope, not really, not in my limited time on it at least. However, I would really like some time to compare the DBInline with a DB Air back on familiar trails at home, so for that matter I have both shocks lined up for a bigger feature, taking my Scott Genius LT Tuned and testing these two and other shocks back–to–back on the trails around our base at Dirt HQ. Stay tuned.