A Brief History Of Suspension Forks Part 2

A Brief History Of Suspension Forks Part 2

01/04/2015
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01/04/2015

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Last time in our “Brief History Of Suspension Forks Part 1”  we visited Bike-Beat in Florence, Italy, to have at a look at a special collection of old suspension forks. We looked at how three different brands approached the suspension market as it started off. This time we take a look at a few pieces of engineering marvels and a few other surprises.

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The UK and Italy made forks like this, two marvels of engineering, the Pace RC35 and the Race Factory Sledge Hammer.

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Answer Manitou progressed, It took them a while, with arguably one of the most beautiful forks ever made being one of their achievements.

Pace RC35
Pace from the  UK was focused on technology and design. Back then in the early 1990’s it seemed they lived in fear of things breaking. So they over engineered everything, and still managed a 1.4 kilo fork. With 60-70mm of travel, oil and springs,  one of the smoothest rebound adjustment knobs we have every touched, a double brace, carbon legs and an incredible machined crown, it was a marvel. It was available also with a single brace and elastomers. Details on the exact year of production are sketchy but  this example appears to be from around 1994. It still works, but is well used.

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Looks unimpressive but works like a dream.

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The stantions are in perfect condition, with no wear marks.

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The crown is an incredible piece of engineering, carved by CNC from a solid piece of metal.

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Antonio actually purchased this fork from its original owner.

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An overview of the fork.

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The wheel attachment points again CNC’d, fit into the legs made of carbon kevlar.

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A double fork brace, machined, beautiful, precise.

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Threaded steerer tube.

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Every part on the fork can be replaced.

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Only 1.4 kilos.

Race Factory Fork

Meanwhile in Italy in a small workshop in Follonica, Tuscany, Race Factory, a company owned by two passionate Italian brothers who were precision engineers, Pablo and Vittorio Fiorilli, started making these forks. It was the late 90’s and things had moved on a bit. With air only and no oil or spring they made the Sledge Hammer. They created a fork with an action that was so smooth, it felt better than the smoothest forks available today.  The market for these forks was high end only with a large number of them finishing in Germany. The Fiorilli brothers were definitely unusual and had their own ideas about forks. Which you will discover more below.

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Italian suspension art, custom made, in house machining on every part.

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The crown has been machined and slimmed down to save weight.

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Disc brake mounts show this was a high end fork.

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The brace was machined and ridged just enough to make the fork perform as it needed. Note Four over sized bolts that appear to be titanium.

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The steerer tube is actually turned, not drawn, that does not happen today.

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Bonded attachment points in to the CNC machined legs.

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The turning marks show each and every leg was made to a precise size, which the brothers became famous for.

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This is where it gets interesting. Race Factory built this fork for DH without a brace, apparently Pablo didn’t like the look of the brace, the front wheel moved a bit and racers always told him it was wrong, but he didn’t care, it was about how it looked, all 185mm travel of it. Antonio said the front wheels really flexed a lot between the lowers.

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The tubes at about 30 mm wide have a surface treatment

Spring

Leaving the incredible engineering behind, companies like Spring started to try and make things for the mass market. Their VLS fork was aimed at DH with 28mm stantions and was forged, not a CNC’d fork, it had a few little tricks up it’s sleeve.

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Spring with their DH fork for the mass market.

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This idea for adjusting wheel base was a little trick Spring tried to allow riders a choice of how their bikes performed.

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A CNC brace, with only V-brake post mounts.

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A forged crown, light weight, no CNC.

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Unfortunately, this can happen, when the material is not of good enough quality, CNC parts can avoid this, as material is reduced from a larger chunk, and thus imperfections less likely.

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A 1″1/4 steerer tube. unusual today.

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The VLS, as a selling point? Well maybe.

Answer Manitou 2
Once upon a time Answer Manitou were the gods of suspension, “Made in The USA,” meant quality and unbelievable design.  Version 2 below was the start, the elastomer suspension design was light weight, 60 mm of travel no rebound control, a straight down fork, with a straight crown. Geometry was dictated by the bike, but Answer decided to put the forks with offset dropouts to try and correct it. These forks though have not survived time well, the elastomer material used as springs has broken down and become like slime, blocking the forks.

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Answer Manitou 2, light weight design from the USA.

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The fork stands up on it’s own.

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Machined and with a matte finish. 28 mm stantions.

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In order to correct for geometry they built the drop outs forward.

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Steel stantions, and look at the precise join.

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Answer Manitou 4
When this fork came out in 1994-95 it was probably the best looking fork that had been made at the time. Arguably today when holding it in your hands it still looks amazing. It’s one of those classic designs that probably puts it up there as one of the greatest looking forks of all time. Just every single part on it is made with an attention to detail. The use of titanium bolts and CNC machining that just makes you quiver when you look at how well it is put together.  The elastomer travel is around 70mm but unfortunately doesn’t move any more, the elastomer springs have broken down into a slime and then jammed up the forks. Version 4 has all the details of version 2 but more development and fine tuning.

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A quick glance and it appears that something is clear, Made in the USA.

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One of the most beautiful forks ever made. Industrial in design and precision made with great graphics.

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The drop outs look amazing.

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The bolts are recessed perfectly and are in perfect condition.

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The Stantions give 70 mm of travel with a brace that looks amazing, note the pre-load adjusters on the top of the fork.

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Elastomer preload, gave some adjustment, unfortunately the springs are gone and the fork blocked.

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The stantions have a anodised finish to enable a smooth movement.

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Looking at the details the brace precisely fits into the lowers, the brake mounts are perfect, and all in light weight aluminium.

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Other Bits Of History

After all the forks we thought that would be it, then Antonio pulls out a few other special pieces of bike bits.

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A Yeti racing top original from 1992, note the sponsors from yesteryear, some of them still exist today, and some still have the same logos. The cost of this was around 100 Euros back in the day, for really plastically material, nipple burn here we come.

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Modern yet historic, a number board from the very first Enduro World Series in Punta Ala.

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The Grundig race plate 242, is from 1992, when big sponsors were interested in mountain biking.

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Is it a light? No it’s a downhill wheel, circa late 90’s. the rim is twice the thickness compared to a modern day rim, almost a fat bike, before fat bikes existed.

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Nervous about how big your handle bar is, then check out Antonio’s 1990’s downhill bar. the height of width and speed.

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Antonio apparently has this bike hidden somewhere and is going to pull it out for use to try.

Great stuff, thanks to Bike beat for their time and we will be always on the look out for old gear that’s interesting. maybe we even do a few tests on historic stuff?

www.bike-beat.it