Mountain Bike Suspension Data

Give me more data!!

There’s a lot out there about dialing in your bike. Road bikes have power meters, which is a truly recent development as it used to be available only in certain training facilities in certain places in the US and Europe. It wasn’t a machine you wanted to be hooked up to. Heart rate and pedal cadence weren’t enough.

On the mountain bike front not only was power a curiosity, suspension became an obsession and I don’t really know how to reconcile it. A few companies made a cycling app for smartphones that could sense movement through its built-in accelerometers, record that data, and deliver feedback to the rider. A Vancouver, BC based company named Bike-Setup is an example. Not sure it was super successful…

Now, the huge division of SRAM, Quarq, has released a little unit called ShockWiz. While I’m going to use this in the shop to help people figure out their mountain bike suspension, it seems a little silly to consider having one of these as a permanent fixture on your bike.

Quarq Shockwiz
You’re about to see this on all the bikes. It’s about $400 and pairs with a smartphone to deliver a heap of data that should be useful

This little tool isn’t obtrusive at all. Part of why I don’t like remote lockout units for my rear shock (super useful) is the gaudy extra cable making a rats-nest out of the front of my bike. So… This does a bit more than that. It records and analyzes everything about your suspension. But still.

How much data do you need?

Let’s jump back a few years, like 14. Back in 2003 the most advanced thing on a bike was Specialized’s brain. The brain is a simple concept that wasn’t new at the time. While the patent moved around a little bit in kind of a controversial way, it was a pretty smart method to get the rear end to lock-out, on its own, based on trail feedback. It was a mechanical-hydraulic system that Specialized has continued to refine and implement. No extra cable at the front end. Just an extra tube connected to the rear shock. It didn’t deliver any data. And it still doesn’t. It has a job, to make you ride faster and win races. Others probably don’t agree but this bike has a lot of podiums..

Specialized Brain on the Epic
Brain cutaway, reveals the inertia valve. Truly uncomplicated and delivers immediate results

Riding a bike used to be a feeling. This bike was something of a unique feeling. I could adjust it to my preference. I didn’t have a computer telling me the bike was vibrating me off the pedals. For some reason, and I’m unsure how I was able to tell with out my phone informing me, I could remain stable in motion while the bike took a beating.

I’m not a Luddite. I’m not a being from one of Kurt Vonnegut’s many planets. I love data. But when it comes to riding my bike I don’t get to do it enough. Bikes these days ride so well. I simply ride my bike and enjoy myself in the times that I can afford to go. My GPS shows me where I rode. It’s cool. But unnecessary. In fact, I’m unsure why I use it.

This is all that damn GPS does for me…. But I feel lost without it.

I wasn’t sure if I could ride with out knowing ride time, absolute global location, or vertical mapping. One day I forgot to bring my GPS unit and nearly had a heart attack. So I carefully mounted my bike and started turning the pedals over. All of a sudden I was riding and enjoying it and reveling in the fact that I could ride without the ball-and-chain of data acquisition! I could ride without it!

 

CyclingWeekly put out this article, I enjoyed it. It’s about data. Just like this post. I agree with them that if you’re trying to achieve some kind of speed or fitness goal, win a world cup down hill time, then yes, you’re a professional that needs this career changing data. Most of us? Most of us should go back to why we love this sport, our roots so to speak, and start simply enjoying our rides.

But….

ShockWiz shows all sorts of stuff

ShockWiz is actively collecting pretty relevant data about your mountain bike suspension. It reports metrics based on your riding preferences selected in the tech. It interacts with you by making suggestions on using volume reducing tokens, air preload, ramp, rebound and compression settings. Hell, you may find yourself wanting a better fork or shock based on what it tells you.

It seems that even still, the data that you need is coming from your heart. Are you having a good time? Is your bike broken? That’s good data.

Data is useful though it doesn’t pedal for you

So you’re telling me that your FTP is 400? That’s great. FTP is functional threshold power or the highest average power you put into the pedals for an hour while cycling. When a guy comes in and wants to talk FTP I try to get away from him. Unless he’s gaunt and 138 at 5’9″, he’s no contender for anything. When Jan Ullrich won gold at the 2000 Olympics he simply won. He was the fastest man of the day. What was his heart rate? Possibly recorded. What was his power at the finish line? Doesn’t matter. He won. He beat the other guys. He was faster. No one needs data acquisition to know it. When it got close he just pedaled harder.

But if someone needs data like their job depends on it, it’s a cat like that. As for this ShockWiz thing, it’s gaining traction and I’ll be putting on bikes for tuning purposes. As I’m unsure how folks ride their bikes, this will help me to not be blind while configuring air pressures and valving shim compression.

For everyday riding? I’m not going to stop anyone from decorating their bike with these bits of tech. There is a growing mountain bike market and people need to know how their machines are working under all conditions, every time, always and forever. The new breed of cyclist has arrived and I’m unsure if they’ve made the same startling discovery that I have, that I can go ride and still have a good time without data.

Let Us Speak of the Electronic Tonic (part 1)

Unless you’re living in the bushes in a desert alcove you’ve prolly heard about electronic shifting, first introduced by Shimano, then wireless-electronic shifting offered from Sram and the EPS groups from Italy that no one was ever too sure about. Shimano also brought us the first electronically controlled mountain drivetrain system.

XT Stuff (Shimano.com)
And who the hell is still using a front derailleur? Shimano offers this expensive tech for that one guy… but I guess if you’re on a road bike then sure, why not.

Now there are fully integrated E-bikes. These sometimes don’t use electronic shifting but they’re using a pedal-assisted electric drive, giving the rider uncanny range and extra pedal power.

Something Trek built; note the large bottom bracket and battery. Who wants a water bottle?
Two places that electronic definitely doesn’t fit, bike packing and bike touring. Both of these involve traveling long distances with as little electronic gear as possible. While it could be done, having to charge your drivetrain with a solar panel while you should be moving down the road seems a little off-putting. Do what you want, though. The charge on this stuff apparently lasts a long time. I don’t see a reason to add this tedious task to packing or touring.




Where it does belong: on a bike whose owner has a track record of bad shifting. The electronic stuff shifts precisely and completely; there won’t be any of this half shifting where the chain ends up on a bite on the next cog up the range, causing weirdness. If you don’t know how to shift and you blow through drivetrains, get electronic.

You don’t have to be a purist to want a standard, cable operated drivetrain. In fact, Pinkbike.com is doing a poll right now showing that most of us truly want a non-electronic bike. As for battery powered, pedal assisted mountain bikes we have a different beast on our hands. “In Europe, this is all the rage.” -Industry guy I know who’d just come to the US from an extensive eBike test in Europe.

I see the appeal. I also spoke with a guy on the trail who, with his rootbeer belly hanging over his shorts bragged about how his Specialized Levo made it so he could pass his super fit and lean son on the trail, and have to actually wait for him. Sweat was still dripping off his brow. “Congratulations bro, your battery powered biomechanical extension allowed you to win the group ride.” Good for you. And now, go away.

Bicycles are all about the conservation of energy. Since the inception in 1812 this has been true. Now it seems that it’s even more about conserving your own bio-energy and expending that of electricity, which, by the way, isn’t expelling turds and farts as bi-product, largely it’s expelling burnt coal and diesel fumes, dead fish and nuclear waste. That my friends is not the conservation of energy. Not to mention the lithium-ion batteries that are used to carried the energy supply on the bike.



If you can’t stick it in your mouth or up your butt safely, it’s prolly not a great source of fuel.