Friday, January 9, 2015

Baby shocks

When this bike came out I was really, truly happy for about fifteen minutes. When I was looking this bike over, I thought it was the answer to all my problems. I thought it was the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought it was salvation from a world of mediocrity. Let me explain.

There's a wide gap between the needs of advanced riders and intermediate riders, or as I like to call them "the people who actually ride bikes" versus "the people who design them." With the exception of maybe Duncan Riffle, Lars Sternberg, and Ben Walker, the people who work to design bikes and bike parts in the industry do not destroy bikes. They are bike riders, they may even get rad from time to time, but they don't destroy rims when they look at trails, they don't crack frames like they're cracking open beers. What I'm trying to say is they're kinda slow. Typically, a lot slow.

And if engineers or bike designers leave something to be desired in terms of speed and rowdiness, they still look like Sam Hill compared to the average consumer. Uhhh, I got sick a little in my mouth just thinking about the average consumer.

In 2015, this is your average consumer looking to upgrade to a Reign Advanced. "Yeah, I heard the 65 degree head angle and 27.5" wheels are really going to help me at more downhill-type trail spots, like Sandy Ridge, or the Tamarancho flow trail."

Engineers and bike design people are slow, and subsequently they design bikes for slow people. If you don't think this is true, it's probably because you yourself are either an engineer, a designer, and(or) slow.

But the disparity is real, and because of this disparity in ability and speed there's a constant tension in the design process at all mountain bike companies, and it goes something like this:

Athlete: "We need a 65 head angle. I'm dying out there on this 67 or 68 head angle, this is horse shit. Trust me, this is where the market is going anyway."

Engineer: "We can't do a 65 head angle. That's impossible. No one has a 65 degree head angle, and plus we will lose soooooooo much low speed handling. Consumers cannot ride that, and I personally feel plenty fast on my local Strava loop on our current bike with the current head angle. According to my calculations, in theory, in a vaccum, barring all other external factors, a 68 degree head angle shouldn't affect your COG or FEA or blah, blah, blah more engineer stuff that doesn't reflect reality..."

Marketing: "We don't actually care about our athlete's input. He should just win races on whatever bikes we, the big boys, design for him. Dance monkey, dance."

Athlete: "We need a longer top tube. I'm 6'3" and I'm dying out there on this 420mm reach, this is horse shit. How is this an XL? Trust me, this is where the market is going anyway."

Engineer: "We can't do a 460mm reach. That's impossible. No one has a 460mm reach length, and plus we will lose soooooooo much low speed handling. And the wheelbase length, think of the wheelbase length! Consumers cannot ride that, and I personally feel plenty fast on my local Strava loop on our current bike with the current top tube. According to my calculations, in theory, in a vaccum, barring all other external factors, a 420mm reach shouldn't affect your COG or FEA or blah, blah, blah more engineer stuff that doesn't reflect reality..."

Marketing: "Okay, so maybe the athlete was right about the head angle thing, but this time he's way out in left field. It seems like a big risk, and the engineer sounds sooooooo smart when he cites theories he learned sophomore year of engineering school in between four day Modern Warfare III binges. We're going with the engineer again." 

Athlete: "We need a lower bottom bracket. I'm dying out there on this 14" BB, this is horse shit. Trust me, this is where the market is going anyway."

Engineer: "We can't do a 13.2" BB. It would be impossible to pedal a bike with a BB that low. No one has a 13.2" BB height, and plus we will lose soooooooo much low speed handling. Consumers cannot ride that, and I personally feel plenty fast on my local Strava loop on our current bike with the current BB height. According to my calculations, in theory, in a vaccum, barring all other external factors, a 14" BB shouldn't affect your COG or FEA or blah, blah, blah more engineer stuff that doesn't reflect reality..."

Marketing: "Okay, okay, so the athlete is two for two now, but man, that engineer is going to be a huge pain in the ass to deal with if I vote with the athlete on this one. Plus engineer guy uses lots of big smart words I don't understand and graphs I can't argue with, and besides, I have to work with this guy day to day. I'll just tell the athlete that I went to bat for him and got shot down, that way he'll still think I'm his buddy even though I didn't back him up at all and totally let his idea die."

The perennial message to athlete's from marketing: "Sorry bro, maybe next year."

So in 2015, bikes are pretty good. We've sorted out a lot of details in regards to head angle, bar width, stem length, top tube length, chainstay length, and wheelbase. The modern 2015 geometry chart makes the bikes from four years ago look unrideable by comparison.

Here's the geometry chart for that 2015 Giant Reign:

In short, totally dialed. There's not a thing I would change on there, and anything you might want to change is basically down to personal preference, ie lower BB height vs. clipping pedals, shorter chainstay length vs. high speed stability, etc. What's even better, these numbers are fairly commonplace now. The Giant Reign is a great example of geometry done well, but it's not crazy or unique for 2015. It's the new standard. There are lots of bikes available in 2015 with numbers like this, and in 2016 almost every bike company will have a bike very similar to the Reign. More than ever, bikes are designed for people who want to go fast. Everything is great, right?

No. Everything is not great. Remember the final scene in "Carlito's Way," when Al Pacino is finally getting on the train to head out of town? He's done with his mob dealings, he's leaving behind a life of crime forever, he's done his last favor and he's finally square, and just when it looks like the coast is clear that one punk kid he'd forgotten about shows up right at the last possible moment and ends the whole dream.

That's what it's like.

"Remember me? I'm from engineering and I want to put a 57mm stroke shock on this 160mm near downhill bike."

That's right, the 2015 Giant Reign Advanced features a 57mm shock. There are lots of reasons that engineering might give for this, "oh, the shorter shock gave us extra freedom to design the linkage and frame tubes," or "oh, the shorter shock saves so much weight." Invariably the short shock justifications ramble on and on until they land on the single, critical piece of BS that the whole problem pivots on:

"We believe the shorter shock shouldn't negatively affect handling."

No one in engineering is going to claim that the shorter shock is better. No one.  No one is going to claim there is any handling benefit to the short shock itself. By even uttering the words "shouldn't negatively affect handling" they guarantee that, yes, clearly, a longer shock will be better. With the same sentence they concede that it's clearly not better, but then they hope we won't realize it's also worse. There's really no argument here: the Reign should have a 63mm shock.

And this isn't about heat. Any online forum dork warrior armchair engineer is going to claim that the shorter shock will heat up faster, leading to an inevitable "decrease dampening performance." I don't care about heat at all.

That's too strong. I guess I care a little bit about heat in the damper. Let me revise that statement to, "I almost completely don't care about heat in the damper, only because it's never been a major problem in my experience, and there are much more prescient problems that the short little baby shock create." The above heat map image has nothing to do with bike dampers, either, I just needed an image of a heat map for my argument.

What is a problem for me is that I already have to run 255, 260, or sometimes up to 285 psi in my shocks to get the sag I want. And that's with a Fox shock that runs lower pressure than a Monarch Debonair. You have to run a lot more pressure with a Debonair can. I'm just ballparking here, but if I were to set up a 2015 Giant Reign for my weight and riding style, I'd probably be running 400 psi in the rear shock.


Here's my current bike, a prototype Felt Compulsion. It's sweet, duh, but see if you can spot the low speed compression adjuster on my Fox Float X shock. Oh wait no, trick question, it doesn't exist. I can sort of tune my low speed compression setting with the "trail" knob, but that's not exactly ideal, and Fox would tell you not to do that. It's even worse if you have a Monarch Plus Debonair, because you don't even have three "trail" settings. You have one, and it's waaaaaaay more damped than the Fox "trail" settings.

The other big problem is shock tune. First of all, stock shock tunes are always designed around the lowest common denominator, aka not me. I'm bigger, I like to run less sag and a stiffer bike, and I'm an advanced rider. That's three strikes against me, so bikes with stock shock tunes always feel like underdamped trampolines. Second, you can't adjust your compression setting on a Monarch, or a Fox, or any of the air shocks I'd run on a trail bike. Cane Creek's are unrideable, so please don't bring that up. So if I got a 2015 Reign or Canfield Balance that gets 160mm travel out of a 57mm shock, I'd either have to get the shock custom tuned out of the box, or accept the fact that my bike bounces up and down like a trampoline.

400 PSI + base shock tune for beginners and engineers = effectively no damping. And no matter what any engineer says, the bike would be better with a 63mm stroke shock. It just would be.

So when I saw the Giant Reign I was happy. I was really, truly happy for about fifteen minutes and then I saw the shock length and realized that the engineer will always have his way. He'll always jump out at the last second and shoot me in the guts and ruin my dreams. Always.


Anonymous said...

Why are Cane Creeks unrideable? Just curious on your take, I have not ridden one yet.

splooge said...

You should probably upgrade to elastomer.

Anonymous said...

I was going to say, I got waay too far into that article before you started shitting on the bike. Hah. Probably has to do with CS length, maestro links force longer CSs. That's why giant embraced 27.5 with a hard on. Their 29ers have CS as long as top tubs on other bikes.

Anonymous said...

PS I'd still like to see steeper SAs. Having to run the seat nearly all the way forward (using an offset post, and cleats back, granted) is f'ing stupid.

Derp said...

totally agree Mr. Robot. This is bang on

Anonymous said...

Your insight and humor are 96.4% elite. I will have to take your word for it regarding your riding. I will say I always found it to be curious why I don't see more Pro's on CCDBs.

Cory Y said...

What about the Vivid Air or BOS air shock? They have adjustable damping.

Anonymous said...

Because everyone is sponsored by a fork company who also makes a shock. The general complaint is a soft midstroke...Gets the job done for me, eats rocks and feels allot better than the rp23 it replaced.

Anonymous said...

There it is, the limit of Team Robot's engineering knowledge was just displayed when you diverged into incorrect "analysis".

Cory Y said...

On a tangent, if you haven't had a chance, check out Giant's pricing on for Canada vs US. Taking into account exchange rates, they are pretty much raping the American consumer. If someone can explain this price difference, I'm all ears.

The bike pictured above is $6,343 in today's US dollars if purchased in Canada. A bike shop here will charge you $8,250 for the same bike. A 30% premium!

Ian said...

While I always advocate lower leverage and agree that designers often come up short on stroke : travel ratio, and giant is notorious for fitting into this category(Glory used 2.5" stroke when standard was 3")....although humorous, I think this is a bit of a stretch.

3mm less stroke length than the average shock in this category probably won't make THAT much difference(you won't need 400 psi)... To throw some leverage ratio numbers out there :

Nomad - 2.6 : 1 with a 2.5" stroke
Trek Slash - 2.65 : 1 with a 2.375" stroke
Giant Reign - 2.81 : 1 with 2.24" stroke

Not that drastically different. We're not talking Karpiel gong show 4:1 numbers here.

That said, I just started riding a new reign a couple days ago and I'll be fiddling with the shock a 185 lbs and pretty rowdy on a bike, it feels about right at 250 PSI in the shock...I will dabble with the volume reducers a bit to fine tune the rate some, but long story short - I enjoyed your jab at engineers, but you should probably ride the bike, not dismiss it because it's shock has 3mm less stroke which may (or very well may not) result in slightly less air volume in it's rear shock.

splooge said...

Ian-- it kinda seems like the problems Charlie is complaining about are pretty common for anyone racing (like, actually racing) on a stock tuned trail bike, regardless of linkage or shock. Basically, the tune feels too light, you're always oversprung or overdampENed to create some semblance of LSC dampENing, and the midstroke support sucks. Stuffing the can is mandatory on a lot of the bikes that ramp their leverage at the endstroke. But Nomads, for example, feel like an old couch in the midstroke no matter what you do to their Monarch.

Is it just unavoidable that you should send every shock in for custom tuning, rather than investing some weird space shuttle cockpit shock like a CCDB?

Not designed for the parking lot test said...

Splooge, all of those issues can easily be fixed with an engineer that knows what they are doing.

splooge said...

you would think...

Ian said...

completely agree with both of you guys....mid stroke sucks on most's even worse on DH bikes and don't even get me started on DH forks...

however, while I agree that there's always something that the limp dick enginerds fuck up, my point is that it isn't quite as bad as he says and isn't a total dealbreaker for that bike...Giant's DH bike in year's past was 3.3 : 1 while this is 2.8 : 1 ....not all that bad....

As for having to get special tunes for racing - no one tries to race on a stock CRF 450....the FIRST thing any non-novice moto rider does is buy new suspension, or have their's reworked. consumer products are made for the average CONSUMER. not the big dude that smashes...if big companies valved DH bikes, heavy duty trail bikes, and motos for that matter to suit the expert/pro rider that weighs 200 pounds and said fuck the other 95% of our customer base, they would obviously lose an absurd amount of money and credibility....

Not designed for the parking lot test said...

There's a difference between engineers and marketeers. The engineers are few and far between in the bike industry, where it is common to "innovate" by coming up with a new way to patent a slightly different mechanical layout that offers no actual performance advantage. Or, design a 5 bar linkage to do the job of a 4 bar linkage because the designer doesn't understand basic engineering.

Dr Fuckmouth said...

Do you guys remember all those championship f1 teams who let the drivers design the car? Yeah, me neither

Schleybletop said...

Can anyone think of any way designing an F1 car is related to sizing and speccing a mountain bike? Yeah, me neither.

Anonymous said...

Medium with a 24.4" top tube? How is that fun anywhere other than pointing straight down a rock garden at speed? That is over an inch longer than a "traditional" medium TT.

I agree on many points here - especially the head angles getting better. But the extra long TT? Do you think your bias has anything to do with the fact that you are 7 feet tall?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

@ Cory from earlier; check out the US exchange rate. Then check out where it was a year ago / a few years ago, etc. US $ is ridiculously strong currently.

eBikeADV said...

As an engineer, I promise to design for the racers until I get fired by the managers for not listening to the marketers.

But first I need a job at a bike company.

Anyone hiring?

Bar hump Billy said...

re: top tube length:

fast = fun
going fast through rocks = more fun

The "regular" medium top tubes you speak of are stupid. Ride a mans bike and see for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Marketing guy nailed this one!

Anonymous said...

bar hump billy,

it sounds like you don't corner too often?

Anonymous said...

^^ All my buddies ride a medium Demo, which is the "correct" size for them. Last season we switched bikes and everyone of the three guys riding my large Tues absolutely loved the grip and handling the bike provided. Especially in tight corners and berms. "Grip for days" was their comment.

Bottom line: They think they should upgrade to a large bike. And I think I need an XL.

Bar Hump Billy said...

Tight switchbacks all day bro.
Business up front party in the back. see article on chainstay length

Lewis & Clark? Who the fuck cares? said...

I can't wait for the new Felt that's designed by an engineer getting feed back from their pro Charlie Sponsel. It will obviously be the best handling bike money can buy. The engineering department won't even have to worry about the marketing dept overriding any of their designs because they don't have a marketing department. Wait do they even have engineers? Is the person who selects the frames out of the asian "bike catalog" considered the engineer?

probablyanengineer said...

So, you're right, but let's be realistic many racers buy (like, with rrreal $) a bike? Not many, if any.

Of those that do, how many pay sticker price? Zero.

Bike companies are there to make money, not satisfy a tiny fraction of the market that doesn't pay them anything.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with most of this , but if you believe that any marketing guy, at least one who has any say in anything, has any idea about frame design than you are a dumb robot

Unknown said...

Wow, even though I think Team Robots suck and should kill themselves, to me this was one of the best MTB tech related articles one may find on internet and in printed magazines. Speaking from my long and qualitative experience full of awards and newspaper mentions in indisputably elite profession of nothing else than architecture, I can say that you hit the nail on the head Sir. Engineers are usually educated to look at one thing at a time to make it perfect, which is more than favorable for sales dept. because in such way people keep on buying in order to shave one seconds of their Strava rides in fetus stance. I'd say the biggest blame lies in product managers office as it is him that should take all the input from engineers, filter it through the hype pipe to marketing and then give feedback. Problem is: customers really are better off with steeper head anles and they already bitch on low BB of that Giant because pedal timing is too much to ask when someone spends 5k+. Same goes to being dynamic on lowering the pedal to generate pressure in the corner. First they heard that they should drop the outside pedal while cornering, they barely got that, now Giant asks them to ride it leveled and drop only at times... unrideable! As soon as people hear low BB they qualify it as a park bike for machine dug trails. But with head angle it is not that easy, because people do want that, same as long chainstays, for sone simple reason - they rarely feel sketchy in corners, people want to be kings of straight line in rockgardens, and they want the bike to do the shit on steeps.

To sum up, I think the issue is, that a bike that you consider rideable is not for customers, because 99% of people that could utilize it, who as you say, ride fast enough, are people like you or better, who don't actually pay for bikes, at least not for prices even close to MSRP.

Cheers Man! great stuff! I... I think... some part of my heart tells me that you deserve my respect :D Be cocky or grab a cock in your mouth is the way

Anonymous said...

I see the 2016 Felt Compulsions came out with exactly the same frame they had last year. Way to innovate Team Robot!!! Or sorry, they did a "custom" tune on their rear monarchs... truly inspiring work. I can't believe it, a bike company getting a shock manufacturer to do a custom tune for them. What a concept... I bet all the other bike manufacturers will be SO jealous when they find out the great lengths Felt will go to satisfy their customer base with new innovations developed by Team Robot...

Anonymous said...

How engineers view you: "I'm going to make my bike stiff as fuck because I NEED that since I'm hardcore".

Honestly I've found people don't as high end of shit as they think they do. But maybe they do to keep them from bitching and who is to say that's not important.