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.

Broken Bike Chain?

Yes, broken bike chain is a syndrome and no one is immune. It can happen to you with haste. And sometimes there is no explanation other than shoddy craftsmanship. Most of the time it’s a result of poor care.

With chains doing so much of the work, ie, taking you forward up hills and across the land, they get all of the brunt and no thanks. No one gets off their bike and says, “I am so happy about that chain! It’s allowed me to pedal my bike up to this ridge line. Damn it’s gorgeous up here!”

Usually it goes something more like this: “This is a damn fine bike.” They take a look around and move along with a high level of stoke. Life is good. The chain goes unthanked.

What about when the chain breaks? My breaks have been in places that are exclusively isolated and inconvenient. I have to say that at the moment I was not excited about my relationship with my chain.

Why they break:

You’re asking why this happens. So am I. But I know why. Let’s take a look:

  1. chain needed replacing a long time ago and is structurally unsound to operate
  2. really bad shifting (under load)
  3. Installed by an idiot (someone unqualified)
  4. Manufacturer Defect

1. Chain’s need to be replaced as they are a serious wear item. The chain is an assembly of small parts where metal on metal movement is part of life. As the chain twists and bends laterally and rolls over thousands of rpm’s per ride, it’s exposed to dirt and grime and bad shifts. The plates wear at their carrier pins and develop flex. At a certain point this starts to be measured as “chain stretch.” It’s because now the fittings of plates against pins is super sloppy.

broken chain example 1 & 2
fractured chain plates

Then one day under load you shift and then a plate fractures or peels away from the pin and you have a broken chain. End.

broken chain
example 3 & 4

2. When chains shift from cog to cog or chainring to chainring, the chain flexes in an abrupt way, much like when you’re about to miss an exit on the highway at 80 mph and you go for it. Something that is otherwise straight takes on a temporary sharp bend to go to the next gear. When this action happens under load or hard, fast pedaling (like we see done on e-bikes) the chain wears the pins at an accelerated rate. Now concepts from rule 1 apply.

breaking chain
example 5 – chain plate peeling away; chain are quite strong and for a bit this will actually feel like something is going on with shifting until one makes a solid chain inspection

3. When a chain is installed using a formerly pressed out pin, or if a new pin is improperly installed:

improperly installed chain pin
improperly installed chain pin leads to nearly immediate breakage – repaired by simply replacing the link with a master-link

Sometimes the pin installation isn’t right but seems so close that it requires a trained eye. But generally, using a previously pressed pin is the culprit here.

Each chain pin as little flanges at the end that essentially hold the outer chain plates in place. Once a pin is pressed back out it knocks this flange off one side and once pressed back in there is nothing to retain the outer plate on that side of the pin. Do yourself a favor and replace it with either a masterlink or a new chain pin, depending on what chain you have.

shimano chain pin
shimano chain pins, each for a different speed chain.
sram power link
SRAM master link or power link (black is for 10 speed)

4. Sometimes you’re the victim of poor manufacture. Get to your local shop and talk with them about it. Here’s one:

SRAM XX1 Eagle chain that appears to have had a defective pin, notice how the pin is broken in the middle and the ends are still within the outer plates?


Get a new chain. Sometimes you need new chainrings and cogs as well, depending on how worn things are.

Fat Bike Packing Day 2 of 3

I looked at the clock, 7:23 AM. It was early enough. It was late enough. I hadn’t rested much, heart rate still somewhat elevated I felt better in motion than trying to lay there. This day would start off a little dry, water-wise. The last stop I made for water was far enough back down the road that I drank about half my stash. After making dinner and trying to re-hydrate I didn’t have a lot to ride with to the next water stop. It definitely meant I couldn’t make coffee or oatmeal. I reversed my lunch and breakfast meal plan, which mean’t I could cook oatmeal for lunch.

About 8:20 AM I was back on the road following the undulations of FR309. I would experience some of the highest points of my ride on that ridgeline, riding spans of road over 10,000 feet. I descended quickly to the road junction, the intersection that would become a road back to Heber through Lake Creek or the other direction that would take me further out. This was FR054. Once on this road I quickly found West Fork’s headwaters.

This was the spot where I would have liked to have been camped. There was running water. Either way, I hadn’t made it that far the night before. So I enjoyed a coffee and water break there. It was my personal creekside cafe; I had some snacks and hit the road again.

My break was possibly too enjoyable. I had a long way to go. From the ridge top I’d ridden moments before I could see the major peaks of the Uintah mountains that congregated around the Mirror Lake highway. They seemed so far away and I was trying to get within 10 miles of them that day. As I broke my rest and started back up 054 and on to 091 I could see a better view. I tried taking pictures but it was so far away. I couldn’t capture the grandeur of what I was trying to do that day.

Up onto Lightning Ridge I rode and finally enjoyed some quiet from the backcountry traffic that had pestered my route. The views were spectacular and I was in the highest country around. The pines had set in all around me and the scent of old pine sap and oxidizing pine needles filled my nostrils with nostalgic rumination of all the places I’d known with that lovely smell. The dirt road had become less traveled and less maintained. My bike was content. I was content. The experience was peaceful.

The bike I’d chosen for this trip was a Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 fat bike. I’m not a believer that their sole use should be for winter. I ride it all the time in the summer. In fact, this is my only bike. I have a RockShox Bluto on there. And it’s pretty sweet. For this bike packing thing, it was perfect for carrying the load while maintaining some kind of smooth ride. The tires could deal with the rocks and ruts below while comfortably suspending my body and gear above the bike.

Needless to say, there were plenty of comments from the backcountry peanut gallery. The “backcountry”, as it were, was loaded with bow hunters and folks in side-by-sides, RV’s, campers, trucks, four-wheelers, etc. I was never quite alone. There were sections of my ride that I experienced highway level traffic, but not trucks and cars; atv’s of all sorts were buzzing like they had business to do. There were villages of campers, the RV type, not the tent type, everywhere.

I buzzed quietly by, the sound of my DT Swiss ratchet-drive the only signal of my passing through. The whir of my huge tires didn’t manifest since the road had become so dusty. My only emissions for the day would be some expelled gas from my gut. I was really the only small polluter out there.

Riding along the ridge I pitched down toward Wolf Creek Pass and Campground. This was where I had planned to make a water stop. Well, I made a stop, started cooking my lunch and nearly out of water headed for the spigot. Dry.

Don’t Crash into Rabbits

This is a friend of mine. I have several friends. But not as many as the rest of you. A lot of them ride bikes. And two of these guys have had issues with animals on the road.

In a 140 mile event buddy no. 1 saw something fly onto the road. Much like the creature from Aliens that flies across the road to latch onto your face, this creature was only recognized after the accident. At 40 miles per hour this rabbit jumped into the front wheel, an 18 bladed spoked wheel. The animal died. Friend went to the ER.

Bike, well take a look:

The front and rear triangles were being held fast by the internal cables connecting the rear brake and derailleur. Once I snipped those the frame fell apart. There was blood all over. And it wasn’t buddy no. 1.

Don’t hit bunnies.