Ground ControlIn the never–ending search for perfect suspension Steve Jones heads to northern Italy for something a little bit special.
DIRT ISSUE 145 – MARCH 2014
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones
Dark art or not, let’s face it, there’s some king–size talk floating around about suspension and dampers. We head to Vicenza to ride some custom–made units from Italian shock expert Franco Fratton.
There’s so much at stake way before you get into the ups and downs of a damper and it’s worth considering the landscape before diving in. Sloppy inefficient bikes for example, or uptight pedal efficient ones, some offer a smooth ride in tough terrain whilst others are designed to get as much drive as possible from the pedal stroke. The latter can sometimes be at the expense of control at higher speeds in tougher grounds. There’s surprisingly not that much in between – the middle ground that nearly every manufacturer claims to have found of up and down ability. There are a few gems. ‘Optimized’ is everything, and nearly every sales pitch will tell you that their bikes have both small bump compliance and offer great pedal efficiency – such bikes do exist but some people are lying to you – identify the bullshit.
Geometry and linkage design (if any) plays a bigger part in what you can do on a bike than a damper tune and people are spending big money on upgrading their shock when they have so many more inherent issues with their frame. If only it was that simple, some bikes have incredible geometry but an imbalance holds them back. Take the Mondraker Foxy for example, at 160/140mm travel the bike charges off at a great pace, the big 160 forks taking the punches only to be let down by a rear end that cannot live with the front.
We are told that most bikes have shocks custom–tuned for the particular design. This is a massively unreliable idea as it depends on both the riding skill of the person calling the shots or the knowledge of the frame designer. Seldom do we have parity. Whilst there are gems like the Trek Remedy or YT Capra for example, a big percentage of bikes we test have incorrect shock tunes. End of.
Where’s this going? Bespoke tuning has a major part to play in the current obsession of year on year change of bikes and dampers. When you pair good suspension to geometry and frame sensitivity, what you can achieve from a tune is significant. It takes a good bike and turns it into a great bike, at the first stroke it transforms grip and as a result steering, but importantly it will give support, which allows charging. Everything moves in an upward spiral affecting confidence, speed and enjoyment. Damping matters, it’s an issue of huge importance. But remember the spiral moves in both directions.
When we got a call from Italian suspension specialist Franco Fratton who offered something better, it wasn’t long before we were winging our way to Vicenza. So what do they really have to offer? Over to Franco, the main man behind these new units which will be available mid March.Dirt: What are you offering?
Franco: We offer a new monotube damper, the Storia (Enduro) and Arma (DH). They are three way adjustable, run with no cavitation and with very low pressure – 35psi, which is as low as a twin tube damper. It will have low hysteresis (damping lag), low friction, with a very short bump stop rubber, very sensitive to adjustment for fine–tuning. In practice this means very sensitive smooth riding, fantastic traction, good support during cornering and straight line control, high dynamic response, good bottom out control without the stupid high pressure reservoir bottom out system!Why is it different?
We have applied the same technology we use in F1/GT Le Mans for dampers in cars we have manufactured for Ferrari/Williams and also for the Citroen World Rally car – 8 WRC championship wins in 8 years. The valve design, materials, surface finish, coating treatment and sizes are unique in the MTB/DH world.Will it be better than a stock shock from the other players?
Yes! The technology we have introduced will deliver better tuning capability and much better damping quality.Will it be better than a stock shock that’s had some love? If so why?
Yes, will definitely be better. You can produce a good damper that will give you a good level of damping that with professional care can be improved, however you will always be dependant on its original ‘genetic’. We have made a dedicated design that will deliver the optimum damping level, will improve riding performance, that means a faster and safer ride.How will it affect/improve my riding?
A damper that offers high dynamic response with low hysteresis will improve the contact patch load to the rear which in turn will improve traction, comfort, safety; it will also improve a very important area that is the dynamic support during ride in cornering and better straight line control with less bottoming out. All of this is because of low hysteresis, low frequency dependence, hence very high valve dynamic.>>