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Old 07-26-10, 09:33 PM   #1
driveblind
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Suspension vs. Carbon fork

I have a Specialized Crossroads that I've recently started to ride a couple of days a week as a commuter. My commute is about 13 miles each way with a few decent hills and inclines. 95% of the ride is on paved roads. When I bought my bike 6 years ago I was really excited by the fork and seatpost suspensions, as well as the disc brakes. I didn't really know anything about bikes then, but I think that I got a pretty good deal for a first real bike.

I still do like this bike, but I've started to wonder if I really need the suspension fork. I feel like when I'm really pumping up some of these hills I'm losing some of my energy in the fork as it's bouncing up and down. Of course, it's also pretty heavy. Now, I just saw a carbon fiber cyclocross fork with disc brake mounts at Nashbar on sale for about $110. I'm intrigued with the idea of replacing my fork with something rigid, lighter, and a little more smooth. What do you think? Who wants to talk me into or out of this?

Here's a picture of the fork I have on my hybrid now.
IMG_1078..jpg
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Old 07-26-10, 10:00 PM   #2
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My Fuji has a CF fork and I can't really tell that it is there. So if it does much of anything for me I guess it is that it is lighter. I'm not sure what the attraction of a CF fork is supposed to be. Suspension? I'd say the aluminum fork and fat tires on my Dahon folder give me more in the way of front suspension. On the other hand I have nothing against it, I doubt an aluminum fork would give me any more in the way of suspension. Fatter, lower pressure tires would fit either kind of fork. In your case a rigid fork of any kind would be lighter and somewhat more aerodynamic in addition to stopping the pogo stick energy loss (does your present fork not have a lockout?) so it could be a good change for you. I have some concern about CF forks. You really do not want your fork breaking or shattering on you, guaranteed instant header! My LBS owner is a little concerned about CF in general. He says the entire industry is starting to see a much higher failure rate in CF components as they age and he wonders if it could turn into a major issue for the industry. I think he now favors titanium. So if it were me I would prefer aluminum, titanium, or steel for a fork material. I think CF is a safe enough choice for both of us though if that is what you really want since the life limit on CF components should be well established by the time ours start to approach it so we should be able to change them out before we are likely to have a failure. And it could be that the CF concerns are overblown, I'm just telling you what I have heard at the LBS.

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Old 07-26-10, 10:06 PM   #3
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I have a hybrid with a similar setup as yours, minus the disc brakes. When I bought it (before joining BF) I too thought that a suspension fork and seatpost was the way to go; at the time I guess that I was focusing on comfort vs. performance. After I got used to riding again (it had been at least 10 years since I'd been on a bike) I quickly realized that I should have bought a more performance-oriented bike. I have since dumped the web-sprung saddle for something narrower, switched my 38 mm dual-purpose tires (max 60 PSI) for some 35 mm slicks (max 90 PSI), and dialed the seatpost suspension as firm as it would go. The improvement has been noticeable but, like you, I really notice my suspension fork soaking up energy in an up and down motion that would be better served propelling me forward, especially when climbing hills. My plan is to switch to a cromo fork, but I think a carbon fork would be awesome!

In a related story... while shopping for my latest acquisition, a Norco Ceres, I test rode the MEC Hold Steady. It has an aluminum frame and a carbon fork & seatpost. The ride was just as smooth as the all-steel Ceres. Last year I test rode the all-aluminum Giant Seek and I felt like my fillings were going to shake loose, so IMHO the carbon fork makes a world of difference. My reasons for choosing the Ceres over the Hold Steady were many, but the riding comfort of both bikes was identical - leading me to believe that carbon forks and aluminum frames should go together like PB&J.

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Old 07-27-10, 03:06 AM   #4
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A suspension fork is nice to do rough riding through fields or forests ... but: you have to be able to lock it out for doing roads!
I can't tell by that picture you posted if your fork has a lockout, but it doesn't look that way.
You have two options:
If you never drive off-road: get a rigid fork
If you do drive offroad: get a suspension fork with remote lock-out
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Old 07-27-10, 04:51 AM   #5
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As far as I can tell, my fork doesn't have a lock-out. If it did, that would be perfect for what I need. Hmm...that new fork is looking mighty appealing.
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Old 07-27-10, 05:29 AM   #6
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Carbon forks are wonderful for dampening high speed road vibration. At slow speeds I don't think that there is any benefit (besides weight).

See if you can get a chance to try a top of the line road bike. On it you will notice that as you stomp on the pedals, it feels like all the energy gets transferred into forward motion. On our hybrids, a bit of energy goes into bending the fork, a bit into bending the seat post, a bit into squeezing the fat tires, a bit into the sloppy drive train, so on so forth.

I vote for the carbon fork. The seat post suspension is not doing you any favors. Whatever it may be doing, is not worth the hassle of having your geometry thrown out every time you hit a pot hole.
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Old 07-27-10, 05:53 AM   #7
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My bike has a carbon fork (7.5 fx) and it does a fine job of being a fork. I have a suspension fork on my mountain bike and definately know that it is working and cancelling out some of the bumps when I am on the trail, but on the road it doesn't help much at all. For road riding and commuting I would definately want a rigid fork and would prefer one with eyelets for mounting a small front rack, which the FX doesn't have. Carbon seems to be the in-thing right now but I don't really feel a ride difference between the FX and my Aurora which is a steel fork.

Quite honestly, I have often thought that I would benefit from a steel fork with eyelets on the FX because of the need for front rack during the commute. I am not sold on carbon aftermarket forks and would probably get myself a good steel one if I was going to pay the money to replace the stock one on my bike. IMHO, the suspension fork is doing you no real advantage if your commute is 95% road riding.
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Old 07-27-10, 07:47 AM   #8
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I think there is something else you need to consider. Correct me if I am wrong but suspension forks are taller than normal forks because of the suspension travel range and I believe if you just put a normal fork on in place of a suspension fork you drop the front of your bike. You might not be happy with that. There are rigid forks available that are specifically intended to replace suspension forks and I think you need to be careful to get one of those. It will limit your choices.

Specialized currently lists several Crossroads models. You say you have the comp which is the top of the line and that model currently has a lockout fork. I also checked the base model and it has a pogo stick fork with no lockout. Unless lockouts were just uncommon in 2003 I would suspect that your top of the line model does have a lockout fork. Is the brand and model number printed on it anywhere or do you have the Specialized spec sheet for your bike from 2003? If your fork truly does not have a lockout then you might be better off replacing it with a suspension fork that has a lockout.

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Old 07-27-10, 09:41 AM   #9
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From what I can tell in Specialized's archives on their website, they didn't have lockouts on the Crossroads suspension forks until '05. The specs on my bike are here: http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bc/...d=03Crossroads. There's no brand name on my fork; it only says 50 mm travel, which oddly doesn't match up with the 40 mm on the spec sheet.

I'll have to look into the potential difference in length, although lowering the front end of my bike might not be horrible, depending on how far it is. The Nashbar fork is 398 mm, crown to axle. I'll have to measure the fork length of my current bike.
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Old 07-27-10, 09:56 AM   #10
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Get the Carbon Fork is my vote. Have one on the Coda Elite and like it a lot. Suspension forks are needed for MTB, but nothing else IMHO.
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Old 07-27-10, 12:54 PM   #11
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A rigid fork would probably be a better choice, but not because your suspension fork is bobbing up and down when you're climbing. Bobbing is an indication of poor technique and you can thank your suspension fork for revealing it to you. If you had a rigid fork, you might never know. OK, now learn how to ride smoothly so that only irregularities on the road surface under the front wheel cause the the fork to compress. Rider input should not cause the fork to go up and down! Use the feedback that the suspension fork provides to improve your riding skill before you replace it. Lockout is not necessary for a good rider.

The only real disadvantage of a suspension fork is that it adds a significant amount of weight to your bike. This is reason enough to replace it.
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Old 07-27-10, 02:24 PM   #12
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A rigid fork would probably be a better choice, but not because your suspension fork is bobbing up and down when you're climbing. Bobbing is an indication of poor technique and you can thank your suspension fork for revealing it to you. If you had a rigid fork, you might never know. OK, now learn how to ride smoothly so that only irregularities on the road surface under the front wheel cause the the fork to compress. Rider input should not cause the fork to go up and down! Use the feedback that the suspension fork provides to improve your riding skill before you replace it. Lockout is not necessary for a good rider.

The only real disadvantage of a suspension fork is that it adds a significant amount of weight to your bike. This is reason enough to replace it.
Really? The only time I notice my fork compressing is during a climb - at that time I'm out of the saddle and leaning forward over my bars. What would you suggest is the proper technique that would result in less compression?
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Old 07-27-10, 02:43 PM   #13
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Avoid violent changes to the weight you apply to the handlebars even while riding out of the saddle. The fork will tell you if you are smooth or not. From your description, I think you might be leaning too far forward and putting too much weight on your handlebars.

It would be dangerous for Mark Cavandish to contest a sprint with a suspension fork on his bike. At that extreme of riding, violent changes to the weight applied to his bars are probably unavoidable but for most riders, most of the time, a smooth pedal stroke and quiet body is achievable and preferred.

If you can't get up the hill without straining on the bars, you are probably over geared. Downshift. On long climbs, alternate between riding seated and standing. When standing, allow the bars to rock side to side, do not try to hold them steady but do not add to the natural motion and rock excessively. NO pulling up and down on the handlebars. That's a no no, unless you are contesting a sprint, in which case you probably have a rigid fork.

Hmm, well actually I sprinted to the line once, on a bike with front suspension, for thirteenth place in an amateur MTB comp. My adversary went on a diagonal, cutting off my line! Who cuts someone off for 13th place in the sport vet division of a small race!?? That was weird. Maybe he just didn't want to be dead last, but I think there were a few stragglers behind us.

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Old 07-27-10, 03:02 PM   #14
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Check out Pan Tour hubs, they feature an elastomer within the Hub ..
http://www.pantourhub.com/products.html
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Old 07-27-10, 05:19 PM   #15
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I hate cheap suspension forks. Replacing yours with a rigid fork should give you better handling. You don't need carbon fibre - a steel fork will be a little heavier but cheaper and more damage resistant (a scratch on a CF fork can cause sudden eventual failure) and CF's supposed buzz-killing properties don't matter if you ride with reasonably wide tyres like yours.
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Old 07-27-10, 09:28 PM   #16
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@qmsdc15 - while I hardly purport to ride like Mr. Cavendish or any of his peers I have often marveled at the side-to-side motion of professional riders as they struggle through their climbs. I have even tried to mimic the motion myself on an occasion or two. Is this an exaggeration of the body's natural sway when standing and climbing on a bike, or are the riders doing it purposely to increase their efficiency?
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Old 07-28-10, 03:47 AM   #17
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Ofcourse it increases efficiency, otherwise sprinters or timetrailers wouldn't use it.
For long climbs it is not usable, since it will tire me out too fast, but for short steep climbs it is perfect ... I use it all the time.
I'm pretty sure it works this way:
if one pushes his pedal down with one's foot while at the same time pulling one's crank up with one's arms by shifting the position of the whole bike, one is able to use both his legpower AND his armpower to put power on the drivetrain, thus resulting in a higher total poweroutput.
If one uses clickpedals or straps and is able to even use his other foot to put upwards power at that same time, one will be able to put even more power

But ... as qmsdc15 pointed out ... this does not mean that the fork should move ... the swaying of the bike should be left to right and not up and down, as this will decrease efficiency.
I'm still trying to improve on this technique myself and thus a lockable fork still makes sence for anyone that hasn't mastered perfect riding technique yet.
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Old 07-28-10, 05:47 AM   #18
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@qmsdc15 - while I hardly purport to ride like Mr. Cavendish or any of his peers I have often marveled at the side-to-side motion of professional riders as they struggle through their climbs. I have even tried to mimic the motion myself on an occasion or two. Is this an exaggeration of the body's natural sway when standing and climbing on a bike, or are the riders doing it purposely to increase their efficiency?
I'm not a cycling coach and I've only consulted a coach once and it was about seat position with regards to knee pain I was experiencing. So the advice I have given is just stuff I read somewhere. I'm no authority on these matters.

There are many great climbers who don't have great technique. As I tried to say, there should be no effort used to hold the bike steady and likewise there should be no effort used to push it side to side. Climbing out of the saddle, the bike will rock back and forth naturally to keep you balanced. To reduce or increase this will require some extra effort and therefore is less efficient. I believe most of the riders you watched are not exaggerating the natural sway.

Adelaar, don't try to use your arms to power the drivetrain. That is extremely inefficient. Don't pull up on the rising pedal either if efficiency is your goal.

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Old 07-28-10, 08:10 AM   #19
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In the long run it doesn't help because you can't maintain it for long ... but surely pulling up on the pedals and pulling with the arms does increase power-output for short steep climbs, right?
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Old 07-28-10, 09:02 AM   #20
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In the long run it doesn't help because you can't maintain it for long ... but surely pulling up on the pedals and pulling with the arms does increase power-output for short steep climbs, right?
No. With conventional cranks an upwards pull will only add power if it is stronger than the downwards push happening at the same time at the other foot. Which it definitely shouldn't be! Pull-up power is an old cycling superstition - like "toeing" - that has been disproved by powermeters.

Quote:
http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/art...l-battle-27049

When climbing, it can be particularly tempting to try to pull on the return stroke, but this is a mistake according to cycling coach Dr Auriel Forrester of Scientific Coaching: “Pulling up on the pedals decreases power output as it interferes with the all-important downstroke on the other side – specifically, you can’t pull up against gravity at the same rate or same force as you can push down with gravity!”

As you push down on the pedal – the power stroke – you engage your glutes, quads and calves. The upward – or return stroke – switches the stress to the hamstrings, ankle dorsiflexor and the hip flexors. Since your quads are a lot stronger than your hamstrings, try to concentrate on not doing anything that could detract from the downward power stroke.

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Old 07-28-10, 12:21 PM   #21
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Such tactics are generally the result of being over geared. Sure, it will help you get up the hill without losing most or all of your speed if you are in too big of a gear, but when I resort to pulling up with my arms though, it doesn't involve just the arms. I feel the strain in my lower back. Since you've had back problems in the past, I'd suggest you be careful to avoid climbing in big gears. Select a gear that allows you to maintain a fast cadence when climbing.

The style of the best climbers is often described as "dancing on the pedals".
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