In a sense, mountain biking is like any other hobby or sport that involves a necessary tool as an intermediary between enthusiast and activity. Said tool is relentlessly and endlessly refined by a sprawling, nebulous framework of engineers, athletes, marketeers and everyday consumers. On the surface it can appear to be a slow process of small component refinements and subtle geometry tweaks, such as tire inserts and steeper seat angles. But every so often there are breakthroughs that force us to re-evaluate things front to back, all the way down to how we actually ride a mountain bike. Spanning relatively recent history disc brakes, increased wheel sizes and dropper seatposts have served as some of the bigger catalysts for change…
Not too long ago, Trust Performance launched the first modern linkage fork that’s actually worth a serious look. Dubbed “The Message”, it casts aside telescoping “tubes in tubes” and their inherent purely linear axle path in favor of a “trailing multi-link” design which allows the front wheel to move on a contoured axle path, much like rear suspension. Trust founder Dave Weagle set out on this endeavor with the broader initial goal of “improving dynamic cornering stability and bump performance”, but his realization of a linkage fork incidentally offered a host of other benefits. It took just one high speed speed slam into a curb to see that Trust was truly on to something, and after only about 30 seconds down our local trail we began to pondering whether linkage forks could very well become the new norm. Compared to other paradigm-shift-worthy ideas in the MTB world, which are often crude at their inception, the Message is remarkably refined for a Freshman effort. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll try to keep it concise. It’s also worth noting that this has been a relatively short term review.
- Trailing multi-link front suspension
- 130mm contour travel
- 1980 grams (1927 grams on our scale with cut steerer)
- Full carbon chassis, steerer tube and linkages
- Three-way mode adjust – Firm, Medium, Open
- Trust engineered twin-tube, thru-shaft damper
- Fits both 29/27.5″+ (110-140mm) and 27.5″ (130-140mm) trail bikes
- Max tire widths up to 29 x 2.6” (762 x 66mm) or 27.5 x 2.8″ (744 x 78mm)
- Easy setup with air pressure equal to rider weight
- 535mm axle-to-crown
- Fits existing mountain bikes with tapered head tube
- Boost 15x110mm thru axle (or with torque caps)
- Direct mount 180mm rotor (203mm max)
- 250 hours between service intervals
- 30 day ride guarantee
- $1,975 USD
The entire exoskeletal structure of The Message is carbon fiber – from the one piece leg/crown/steerer assembly to the linkage parts. By moving away from a traditional design and housing the spring and damper assemblies inside of the fork’s structure, Trust was able to isolate those moving parts from chassis flex, thus eliminating stiction compared to traditional forks, which have an inherent binding at the stanchion/bushing interface(s) as they flex fore/aft as well as torsionally.
Right – from top, down: The Message features a 3-way adjuster with Open, Medium and Firm modes. The air spring valves are accessible through ports in the legs. The valve caps require a 4mm allen key for installation and removal. In similar fashion, you can access the Open and Medium mode compression adjustments and fine tune them with a 3mm allen key.
Clockwise from top left: the rebound adjustment is tool free and externally accessible via the driveside, where the twin tube, thru shaft damping assembly lives. The lower eyelets rotate on cartridge bearings while the upper eyelets, which see a lesser degree of rotation, pivot on bushings. Trust includes a kit full of spacers, cable separators and beyond. They use this insert as a way of securing the brake hose as it runs down the fork’s leg. Lastly, there is a handy built-in sag indicator on the non-drive side.
The Message uses a post mount 180mm rotor and fortunately, Trust opted against a quick release and instead use a bolt-on axle driven by a 6 mm allen key. These days, now that multi tools can be stored on water bottle cages, if you’re not carrying one with you, it’s your own fault.
The linkage hardware is actually aluminum, which saves quite a bit of weight. Also shown are also fixing pins which act as a safety measures should any of the linkage hardware come loose.
Clockwise from top left: The non-driveside view of the linkage. Inside of the leg assembly, a tough plastic decal protects under the crown. There are some subtle, aesthetic details on the fork’s linkage and a view of the fixing pin installed. Finally, you can see the lower spring/damper eyelets peeking through gaps in the linkage.
Some interesting details regarding the internals, clockwise from top left: QR codes everywhere! A closer look at the low/medium compression mode adjuster, which sits at the bridge point between the damper and air spring. Lastly, in the lower frame, you can see a plastic rod keyed into a set of plastic cogs. That rod connects to the external lever which toggles between the 3 compression modes.
Yes it’s burly, and – although not pictured, yes you can still fit a fender.
Tailoring the fork to your preferences is only slightly more arduous than the average fork when setting sag and adjusting compression, although the indicator dial is handy. For sag you need to inflate (evenly side to side) the air spring in each leg, and the compression settings are externally adjustable, but they do require an allen key. That part is easy, but unfortunately, tuning the air spring curve requires sending the fork into the service center.
I started out exactly at the recommended settings, and aside from volume reducers, everything was pretty spot on. It’s convenient that the baseline pressure is your body weight in PSI, making it nearly impossible to forget, even if you’ve rattled your head a few times over the years. The setup guide suggests 2 “huck pucks” per side for “aggressive” riders. I found this to be a bit off – at 180 pounds, after a substantially harsh bottom out on my first ride, I eventually arrived at 4 per side (out of a maximum possible of 6), which provided the ideal progression curve I was looking for.
Deciphering the Message
There are a host of defining attributes, but I’ll focus on five key, highlighted factors. Starting with the chassis stiffness – the manufacturing marvel that is the giant carbon fiber one piece steerer/leg assembly greatly improves the rigidity both fore and aft (read: under braking) and torsionally (read: under twisting loads, think: corners, rough off cambers). The large linkage parts, oversized bearings and burly hardware help the fork move freely through its travel under load, uninhibited by flex or the binding typically felt in telescopic forks at the bushings.
A factor that one might not initially credit for the precision handling is the contoured axle path; a critical element in the Message’s ride dynamic, as it pertains to its otherworldly steering accuracy. A major benefit to the Message’s axle path is how it allows for the trail to be “normalized” and kept relatively consistent throughout the travel, thus improving stability. Conversely, trail on a telescoping fork is constantly reducing as it compresses, which has a destabilizing effect. This “normalized trail”, as Trust calls it, provides a start to finish consistency in handling that no telescopic fork will ever achieve.
Another unique characteristic which makes the Message unlike anything else on the market (and arguably better) is its penchant for impact absorption. The linkage frees the fork from the conventional, straight up and down axle path that’s inherently relegated to moving parallel to the head angle. As mentioned prior, that allowed designer Dave Weagle to finely tune a contoured axle path that allows the wheel to move back slightly, and away from impacts as it moves up through the travel. We’re talking about a few millimeters, but on trail that equates to remarkable prowess in carrying speed over harsh impacts, particularly in succession. There’s even more to the picture when you consider that the linkage also allowed Weagle to tune the suspension on a curve, much like the rear suspension kinematic layouts which the best brands in the world contract him to map out.
The last two factors which are improved on by utilizing this well designed linkage are brake dive and pedal bob. These obstacles were initially less of a priority on the list things that Trust initially sought to remedy, but implementing a linkage paved the way for mitigated influence by these less than ideal setbacks that are just part and parcel to a telescoping fork. Alright, now let’s see how all of this stacked up on trail.
On the trail
Getting down to brass tacks, the Message was like nothing I’ve ridden. First – the stiffness and handling blows every telescoping fork away, it isn’t even up for debate. The parts of trails where compliance and steering precision are most critical is the corners – particularly those littered with jarring impacts like roots, rocks, and braking bumps. This is where the fork shines brightest. The ultra rigid chassis results in steering that’s best described as clairvoyant – before you even think it, it has already done it.
The Message strongly resists diving, particularly from mass transfer, i.e. weighting the front end, and thus it rides high and saves precious travel for the impacts mid-corner. The most surreal takeaway feeling was how unfazed the fork was by bumps and chatter deep in the turns. As the old adage goes “races are won and lost in the corners” and that is precisely where you really feel the advantages of the contoured axle path. You know those violent, unavoidable, wrist jarring, braking bumps which you dread because they just kill your speed? On the Message, they all but vanish beneath you, incredibly. It’s something that you need to feel for yourself to believe, hence the name “Trust”.
There were two interesting side effects of the Message’s cornering behavior. First, since I no longer felt the diving that I innately anticipate in turns, I ended up running my handlebar height 5-10mm lower than usual. Second, I had to re-think my approach in how I cornered. Typically as I enter a turn, I’m looking for an apex to punch toward and bear down into. As the front end didn’t dive, I found myself not having to muscle the bike as much as I no longer calculated wallowing into the equation. Rather, I went into turns off the brakes, trusting that I could ride lighter and more relaxed…Which saves energy.
Touching on the less exciting stuff, I found that the fork was more a bit more settled on the long, grinding fire road climbs than a run of the mill fork. The 3-way adjuster is quite cool actually – two compression clickers dictate low speed compression in the Open and Medium modes. I mostly left the fork in Open, but occasionally used its firmest setting on smooth grinds – by the way, the Firm setting features a high speed blow off, should you forget it’s engaged and start bombing down rugged terrain. More technical climbs revealed a sleeper advantage that I didn’t anticipate – perhaps because I don’t spend much timing fantasizing about climbing. Somehow, even mashing and lurching your way up awkward sections of trail is easier on the Message. Bomb holes and baby heads that can make you or break you on a steep climb are less of an impediment. I found myself less hung up by square edge obstacles, making it easier to carry momentum through difficult climbs.
Head on charging at speed also left me floored. You can come nuking into catastrophic sections of trails and the fork holds a line, keeping momentum better than anything in its category. The tracking and bump absorption are FAR beyond what you’d expect from just 130mm of travel.
With all of this heaping praise, downsides are inevitable, right? Yes, there are a few obvious points – the fork is a touch heavy, quite expensive, and unfortunately it needs to go in to service for tuning the air spring curve. That said, I do feel like that the air spring curve is more of a set it and forget it type of thing. Anyhow, there are a couple of other potential setbacks which depend more on the rider’s individual preference and ability level.
With the fork set so that it wouldn’t bottom violently on bigger impacts, it did transmit a fair amount of feedback to my hands. It’s difficult to describe, but also unfair to characterize it as being “harsh”, because that’s usually synonymous with suspension that’s too firm, rides rough or skips around due to a loss of traction. This was absolutely NOT the case…quite the contrary in fact as it’s the most planted ride I’ve ever felt on the front of a bike. One part of the reason for this feeling is the the Message’s ultra low levels of hysteresis, which was a major aim of the damper’s design. Achieving this goal can make suspension seem like it has a lot of damping, but that isn’t necessarily what you’re feeling. It’s a bit difficult to conceptualize, but you can read more about that here, direct from Trust, under “Lag Performance”.
My 2 cents is that in addition to low hysteresis, the stout chassis and the fact that I was pushing the bike substantially harder are also factors in things feeling a bit “racier”. In any case, I’d put the Message on the front of my personal bike in a heartbeat.
So, who is this for, and how does it stack up value wise? For rider’s who want gush and cush, don’t care about a bit of wallow and aren’t yearning for the highest degree of steering precision, this may not be the fork for you. If you’re a gram counter or a penny pincher, it’s also obviously not for you. If you’re a reasonably skilled, or better rider who places handling above all else, then the Message could very well be the upgrade that completely transforms your ride and your riding. As the actual suspension guts are stashed away inside of its monstrous exoskeleton, it’s easy to forget how brilliant they are as well as the fact that they’re less prone to degradation. This brings us to another point – when factoring value, it’s worth considering that at 250 hours, the service interval is way longer than the average fork, which saves money over the life of the product.
One last thing to consider…I can’t help but ponder on how this concept could be scaled upward. If 130mm of travel feels this unstoppable, I could only imagine what a longer travel version could do on an Enduro bike, or taking even it further, what a dual crown option could do for World Cup downhill racing. My mind goes straight to Amaury Pierron’s breakout reign of terror last year on his high pivot Commencal. Bringing that same kind of advantage to how the front wheel carries momentum could yield some exciting results in the coming years. For certain, this is just the beginning…