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.


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.

Headset Assembly (part 2)

A while back, and by that I mean back 5 years, I had the unfortunate task of working on a bike that couldn’t be built. This guy rolled in with a Time frame and wanted a build. After ordering some parts for the initial assembly, fork to frame (headset), we found a problem.

Calling Time we found that the frame had been a warranty concern and was supposed to have been field destroyed. The defect had something to do with the fork and frame interface. The weird proprietary headset interface had lost its tolerances and therefore couldn’t be preloaded to safety specifications.

I had the conversation with the idiot who brought me this frame. He stated that his “friend who owned a shop” gave him the frame saying there was nothing wrong… Not all shops have equal prowess in working on bikes. Just like not all mechanics are created equal.. The bike couldn’t be built. The “owner” of this auto-destructed frame wouldn’t understand it. He got a wrench to the face.

If you own a shop and want to give your dumb friends broken shit, at least tell them so they don’t look so ignorant when they show up at a real shop to get service.

As for Time, Here’s the proverbial wrench to the face. For you and your $5000 frame that only suckers buy, the CAD sketch Time emailed me (No, I am not making this up):

I draw shit every day. Mine looks like a 4th grader did it. Because I didn’t get past the 4th grade. CAD images look like (which is what I expected):

If you spend $5000 on a frame feel free to contact me before doing so. If you are going to spend that much money at least get a frame that any low-level mechanic can service. Oh, and get a frame that’s supported by at least some level of non-joker.

As a manner of a note: I’m calling out the industry here. If you ended up with one of these you just did it wrong. Benignly. You may have even been tricked.

To the Industry, stop making weird shit. Headsets need to simple.

Ridin’ the Train

Get your wrenches ready – to throw at people

At a point in time when there was great poverty and starvation, calamity and horror, the Draisienne was invented. Somehow, the folks in the United States misspelled this so badly it wasn’t even relate-able. It didn’t have pedals. It was around 1812. (Bicycling Science, MIT Press, 18)

Since that time there have been folks like me fixing the offspring of the Draisienne, what has become today’s bicycle. In Europe this is still a respected trade as cycling is very much a part of daily life and critical to getting around. Here in the United States, cycling is primarily a recreational diversion. Although, folks will use them to get around the cities, you won’t see so many of them in use on the country-side. Of course as you drive along the country road you’ll see a few of these machines and their owners dead in the ditches on the shoulder as they’re continually targeted by terrible humans driving automobiles. Some call this “roadkill” when it’s a deer.

So the machine abounds. The bicycle is used worldwide for getting from place to place quicker than walking. It’s a workhorse. To fuel it you need to eat potatoes. But like all machines they break down and cause heartache. This is where we, the mechanics of bicycles, come in. We save the day. We’ve been charged with the safe riding of all cyclists, except those who choose to buy their velo from a department store.

In the US more and more folks are riding bikes as entertainment and means of fitness. It means I’ll always have work. But as long as I work on these machines I will never have a retirement plan, a pension, insurance, or really anything other than a bike and place to lay my head.

“Well you chose that career!” People say. Their rationale is that it’s a high-schoolers job. Have you seen what happens when a high-schooler repairs a bike? Have you seen one of these species fix anything after 2006? I’m having problems with my high-school employees sweeping and staying awake; their brains generally resemble soft oats and their ability to express their thoughts is about as lackluster as the wind tipping an over-flowing garbage can. I do what I do because I’m exceptional at it. I am sought out. Good mechanics fix actual problems. When I go away and pursue a “real job” your bike stops functioning the way it should.

If your bike stops working because your shop’s high-school mechanics can’t fix it you’ll go to the next shop and find other high-school mechanics. You’ll pay real money and come away with more problems. You’ll get over it and repeat the process. And then you’ll mutter, “My old mechanic was an asshole but he sure could fix a bike.” Then you’ll move onto other sports, like curling or something equally inert.