Over the past 5 years, mountain bike suspension designs have evolved from a few designs (essentially Horst and single-pivot) to a myriad of high-performance suspension designs (VPP, DW-Link, CVA, Maestro, ABP, I-Drive, ICT, ETS and the like). All the while, Specialized has become cornered–pinned in by the very patent that they’ve held so dear all these years. Their way is a great way, but is it the BEST way?
In no way am I discounting the Horst-link suspension design, but at this point, I could take it or leave it. Five years ago, that wasn’t the case though because it was the most reliable and efficient suspension design available. Now, there are several designs vying for the “best” suspension design on the market. While the topic of “Best Suspension Design” will be quite subjective, it’s still an interesting debate.
This year alone, I’ve ridden the following suspension designs:
- DW-link (Iron Horse MKIII, Iron Horse 6Point6, Pivot Mach 5 and Ibis Mojo)
- Horst-link (Norco Fluid LT and Ellsworth Evolve)
- ICT (Ellsworth Evolve)
- CVA (Niner RIP 9, Niner Jet 9)
- Maestro (Giant Reign 1)
- VPP (Santa Cruz Blur LT)
- Single-pivot (Ventana El Terremoto, Rocky Mountain Slayer, Kona Hei Hei 2-9 and Salsa Big Mama)
- ETS (Rocky Mountain Altitude)
My Thoughts on Modern Suspension Design
At this point, every manufacturer will tell you that their suspension design is the best. Of course they believe it and of course you should look at those claims with some degree of scrutiny. Those claims are just marketing hooey until rubber meets dirt and bumps are met with squishy travel in all it’s glorious varieties.
Quite honestly, every suspension design I’ve ridden in recent years has been good and sometimes they have been outstanding, but no single modern suspension design is inherently bad. There can be bad renditions, but each suspension design on the market has merit and can be stellar when properly executed with the right implementation.
Yes, you can easily tell the difference between each design and some are better suited to climbing while others are more well-suited to descending. Some are built for simplicity while others end up being flush with complexity. Again, the marketing engine will try to pit one design against another–claiming superiority.
Single-pivot designs are typically the most picked-on design these days, but when one is properly executed, you’ll have a hard time differentiating it from a Horst-link. On the other end, the VPP, DW-Link and their copycats are often written off as too complex or prone to breakdown.
The performance of virtual pivot designs is proof that the simplest solution is not always the best.
Is the Horst-link Becoming Irrelevant?
Horst-link suspension designs have been the ideal for a long time and suspension designers have been held back because of their reluctance to push the limits of the Specialized-owned patent. For 2009, Rocky Mountain is splitting hairs between the Horst and their own ETSX patent on the new Altitude platform. The untrained eye will never notice the subtle differences and even the most experienced rider will likely not be able to tell the difference in ride quality. Though only a few millimeters differentiate this from the Horst-link, you won’t find the Big S knocking on Rocky’s door because they know it’s clearly out of their patent, yet still offers all the good of the fabled Horst.
Trek is also pushing the Horst-link into its corner with the introduction of their Active Braking Pivot or ABP design, which puts both the axle and rearward pivot at the same location. Braking, suspension and pedaling forces are isolated with a stellar ride quality.
All the virtual pivot designs share enough similarities that I’ll lump them together. Each one does ride slightly different, but they are all awesome alternatives and sometimes superior alternatives to the traditional Horst-link. Pedaling and braking forces are canceled out and isolated from the suspension action.
Single-pivot designs can be simple (swingarm and shock) or more complex (four bar), but in the end the pivoting chainstay produces a simple arced wheel path. I dare you to ride a Rocky Mountain Slayer, Ventana El Terremoto or a Kona Hei Hei 2-9 and tell me that single-pivot designs have poor ride qualities. When done well, they offer outstanding performance.
So, I throw it out there to you… do you think the Horst-link (Specialized-owned suspension design) is becoming irrelevant in today’s mountain bike suspension world? Chime in below.