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Liked a comment on the item Tested: Five Ten Kestrel Clipless Shoe 3/3/2015 5:06 PM

Ed Masters shreds in crocs. They might be onto something…

Updated bike check 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad 2/28/2015 10:38 PM
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Updated bike check 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad 2/28/2015 10:38 PM
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Added a comment about product review 2015 Test Sessions: Santa Cruz Nomad Carbon X01 2/27/2015 2:29 AM
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That Verdone guy excluded, finding a bad review or test ride experience of a Nomad is like trying to find a photo of Gwin bottoming out his fork and shock at the same time. I mean it's possible, but technically so are unicorns.

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Added a comment about feature First Look: 2015 ENVE Mountain Stem 2/26/2015 10:27 PM
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Updated bike check 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad 2/26/2015 9:29 PM
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Added a comment about video Vital RAW - Eddie Masters // Reece Potter // Skyline MTB Park Madness 2/26/2015 5:57 PM
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This is what all those free-ride-flickers think (wish) they look like ripping corners

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Added bike check 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad 2/24/2015 7:13 PM
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Added reply in a thread 2015 Racing Rumours - MTB Musical Chairs 2/24/2015 12:05 AM

Additionally, the thickness of the nylon spacer likely accounts for difference in height compared to the stock steal spring.

Added a comment about product review Tested: SR Suntour Aion RC Fork 2/18/2015 7:04 AM
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Try here maybe?: http://emarket.srsuntourna.com/collections/auron-service-parts

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Added a product review for SR Suntour Aion Fork 2/12/2015 5:38 AM
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Tested: SR Suntour Aion RC Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

The 160mm fork market has certainly been heating up over the last few years, and there is an array of impressive top-of-the-line options available from all of the major suspension players. SR Suntour has also made serious progress during this time, its flagship Auron fork a prime example. The Aion is a mid-market offering aimed at riders looking for a complete package at a lower price point, and curious to see how this would compare to the current cream of the crop, we set out to find out.

SR Suntour Aion RC Highlights

  • Travel: 150 or 160mm (ships in 160mm setting)
  • Wheel size: 27.5 and 29-inch only
  • Adjustments: Low speed compression, rebound, air pressure, internal air volume adjustment
  • 34mm stanchion tubes
  • Forged aluminum crown, magnesium lowers
  • Tapered steerer tube only
  • 15mm Q LOC 2 thru axle
  • Weight: 2,011 grams / 4.43-pounds (27.5)
  • MSRP: $550 USD

Initial Impressions

SR Suntour has done a fantastic job dressing the Aion up to look the part, rather than skimping on finishing details and graphics as is so common in the mid-priced market. The matte black powder coated lowers and crown, along with simple white lettering, give the fork a sleek, modern style that should look great on just about any frame.

It should be noted that there are no stickers (aside from the usual warning labels), so if you fancy that murdered out look you'll be out of luck with the painted-on graphics of the Aion.

After installing the fork, which went as expected, the first fiddle with the adjustments revealed knobs that were easy to turn with a positive click that could be easily felt through gloved fingers. Looks and good behavior can only take a fork so far if it can't stand up to a good old fashioned flogging out on the trail though, so it was high time to get the Aion dirty.

On The Trail

Straight away I noticed how stiff the Aion chassis felt, certainly more so than the last 34mm fork I used from a different brand, which went a long way to providing a consistent feel on my rockiest local trails. Even with full power on a 200mm rotor the front wheel stayed on track with little of the twisting or bushing flex that sometimes accompanies skinnier all mountain forks. For reference, I weigh under 160-pounds all geared up. With its solid crown and straight-gauge stanchions (compared to the Auron's hollow crown and butted stanchions) the Aion tips the scales at about 4.4-pounds, about 0.33-pounds heavier than the Auron. This is quite a bit heavier than the market leaders, but without doing a true back-to-back comparison I'd be hard pressed to say I really felt any difference on the trail. While stiffness and weight certainly matter, it's the ride quality of the air spring and the damper that will make or break any design.

Off the top the Aion is not quite as supple as some of the latest high-end offerings, though I'd argue it feels equal or better than just about every fork produced up until about two years ago at any price point. I tend to run my low-speed compression on the fairly firm side and my rebound a touch slower than your average rider, so I've been told. I had no problem tuning the compression to my liking and never really felt myself wanting for the addition of a high-speed adjustment like the one found on the Auron.

Once set, the rebound stayed consistent throughout the course of testing, though when tuned to the heavier side it did seem to have a slight effect on the compression circuit as well. I'm not sure if this is a result of my personal preferences or simply being used to a different fork that is just a touch more sensitive in the first place.

The air spring is fairly plush off the top thanks to the help of a coil negative-spring, but tends to settle a bit farther into the mid-stroke before ramping up abruptly for the last inch of travel. Adding a touch more pressure helped maintain a better ride height but at the expense of some small bump compliance and an even more abrupt ramp-up at the end.

Though not advertised, the Aion does come with a rudimentary volume adjustment in the form of a foam spacer that sits under the air cap. To increase the volume (and thus decrease the strong ramp-up at the bottom of the stroke) simply remove the spacer altogether or trim it down to suit your own preference. The latter is definitely a measure-twice-cut-once situation, as there is no way to add material after it has been lopped off.

All told, I was impressed with this fork, even after replacing what is widely considered to be the current gold-standard in 160mm suspension on my personal bike. At almost half the price, the Aion delivers much more than half the performance. If pushed to describe it in terms of other forks, I'd say it was about as supple and well sprung as any fork you could buy, at any price up until the introduction of the most recent crop of all-mountain forks about two years ago. It also offers more usable adjustment than the on/off style dampers that can still be found on many 34mm forks priced several $100s higher. So while it may not take the crown, the Aion certainly punches a few classes above its weight.

Things That Could Be Improved

The Q-LOC 2 system works well and is certainly quick, but it takes a bit of getting used to when it's new, and a bit of finesse to work once it's dirty. If your hub has a continuous 15mm width for the length of the axle, then it'll work a treat every time. But if your hubs are 15mm only at the caps and a larger diameter internally you have to be careful to make sure the Q-LOC is twisted just right so it doesn't open up and get stuck halfway inside the hub. I never had it fail on me but it did take a few tries on some occasions to get the axle out smoothly.

The air volume adjustment, while it works effectively, is poorly executed. What good is an adjustment system that works only in one direction and only one time? Including several spacers of different lengths or smaller spacers that can be attached together would allow riders to make changes more easily and as often as needed. That's small money for a big leap in usable adjustment.

Long Term Durability

We haven't had enough time on the Aion to properly test long term seal and bushing durability, but I experienced nothing of concern for the eight week duration of this test. Aside from a little light oiling of the dust seals to keep things running smooth I didn't do any maintenance. At the end of the test I popped the dust seals up to check underneath, and everything was still clean and well greased. This, and the fact that the Aion utilizes the same sealing system as SR Suntour's high-end forks, leads me to believe premature wear should not be a concern. The weakest link is potentially the Q-LOC system, but with occasional cleaning and light lubrication it too should stand the test of time. SR Suntour cut cost by forgoing fancy butted tubes and hollow crowns, not by skimping on parts vital to the Aion's performance and longevity.

What's The Bottom Line?

$550 is still a good chunk of change, but in the modern suspension market it almost counts as downright cheap. Especially when what you are getting is essentially a slightly heavier, equally attractive looking fork, with only an incremental loss in performance to Suntour's top-of-the-line Auron. Whether it is a true diamond-in-the-rough will depend a bit on your own suspension preferences and how much fine tuning you require. As is, the Aion is a solidly built and consistently good performer across a wide range of terrain. While it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the highest-end forks on the market, it comes respectably close despite costing half as much.

For more information, head on over to www.srsuntour-cycling.com.


About The Reviewer

Lee Trumpore has been riding bikes for more than 20 years on just about every material and technology the bike industry has come up with. In more than a decade of professional DH racing, Lee won a Collegiate National Championship and was a mainstay at major North American races as well as occasionally snagging a last page result in the World Cup series. Testing prototype components and suspension setups was common during his racing days. He has a smooth, light style on the bike even while holding it wide open. An East Coast native, his favorite trails are fast and flowing technical descents with as many corners as possible and just enough moisture to keep things interesting. Nowadays, rather than racing the clock, he'd rather enjoy a rad descent after a hard pedal to the top. A closet nerd with a Master's degree in education policy Lee currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan where he splits his time teaching mathematics to the next generation of computer geniuses and behind the lens as a photo mercenary for Vital MTB and other industry clients.

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Added a comment about slideshow 2015 Andes-Pacifico, The Adventure in Chile Begins 2/12/2015 1:25 AM
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Yeah Fred!!!

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Added a product review for Leatt 3DF AirFlex Knee Guard 2/9/2015 6:05 AM
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Tested: Leatt 3D Airflex Knee Guard

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Lee Trumpore // Photos by Lee Trumpore and Emily Scott

Once upon a time armoring up for a mountain bike ride meant either dressing up as a ninja-turtle or just wearing long sleeves. If you're either too young or too new to the sport to remember those days, trust me, you aren't missing much. It's a good time to be a mountainbiker. In addition to several wheel sizes and a half dozen axle standards there are multiple options for just about everything, from the gear you keep in the garage to the gear you hang in your closet (and if you're anything like me, the gear you scatter around the house somewhere in between). To the point, 'body-armor' doesn't have to be armor-like anymore and with the unstoppable boom in aggressive all-mountain/trail riding and the advancement of enduro/racing bikes the less-is-more approach has been a welcome change. Leatt's new 3DF Airflex knee guards certainly look to be pushing this new theme to the limit, which for some riders might beg the question 'when is less simply too little?'

Leatt 3D Airflex Highlights

  • Super slim 6mm CE impact certified
  • Weight: 105-grams per pad
  • Armorgel ultra slim impact absorbing gel
  • MoistureCool wicking fabric
  • Silicone lamination to keep protector in place
  • CE certified for impact protection EN1621-1
  • 3D design, meant to increase comfort
  • MSRP: $100 USD

Initial Impressions

The ultra light weight of the Airflex pads was apparent the minute the empty feeling box landed on my doorstep. At 105-grams each these pads probably weigh less than the cardboard they came in.

In terms of craftsmanship and general appearance the Airflex knee guards are well constructed and and thoughtfully executed. The seams are soft and high-contact, high-movement areas are lined with a smooth nylon trim that should help to ward off chaffing and rubbing on longer rides. From the choice of materials it's apparent Leatt wasn't just going for light weight but maximum ventilation as well, with perforated fabric used liberally throughout.

The individual pads are clearly marked 'left-side' and 'right-side' though as far as I can tell they are both entirely symmetrical. With legs and knees being funny shapes my best guess is the labels ensure you end up wearing the same pad on the same leg each time for a more consistent fit over time. When it comes to much of my gear I'm a big fan of simple color schemes, and Leatt's choice of black and understated grey graphics is a winner in my books. Time then to get these pads dirty.

On The Trail

Even after using some of the lightest pads on the market for the past year, the Airflex knee pads left my knees feeling almost naked; almost akin to a pair of knee warmers I might wear on my roadie. Ventilation is top notch and with winter days here in Taiwan still topping out in the 80's this was certainly welcome on some of my longer days in the saddle. 

However, what they gain in weight and venting the Airflex pads give up a bit in overall comfort. Due to their extreme minimalist design there is no internal relief or knee-cup which means the front of the pad is in constant contact with your kneecap and will give a slight sensation of tightening with each pedal stroke.

Obviously this isn't exactly unique to the Leatt design but is worth mentioning, if nothing else because the rest of the material felt like it was barely there. The 2 rubberized elastic cuffs also had a habit of working their way out of place and towards my kneecap, though it should be noted that the actual padded part always stayed put. Again, this wasn't a huge bother or necessarily a design flaw but likely the result of using thinner and thinner materials that don't have as much rigid support on their own. On the flip side, of course, this is a pair of ultra-light, incredibly breathable knee pads that most of the time barely feel like they are there at all.

As I eluded to at the beginning, there will come a point where less becomes too little. While for some riders this starts with anything that doesn't include a plastic shell there are plenty of others who are happy to give up a bit in terms of maximum impact protection in the name of comfort, weight, and portability. I'm most definitely in the latter group, but I have to admit I was initially skeptical of just how far Leatt had pushed the minimal concept with the Airflex pads. 6mm of padding is exceptionally thin. And while the Armorgel used over the knee does harden noticeably on impact, its lack of overall surface area means that more of the impact can be felt directly on the knee rather than being spread out across it. 

The few times I did crash on my knees I definitely 'felt' more of the impact though I can't report any increase in cuts or bruising as a result. I'd feel confident wearing the Airflex pads for most rides and the vast majority of crashes that I encounter, but for rowdier days or trails with lots of sharp pointy rocks I'd probably reach for something with just a little more coverage.

Things That Could Be Improved

While I found the fit and ventilation to be top-notch for the most part it was a bit annoying to readjust the upper cuff as it worked its way down a couple of times each ride. Perhaps designing a crease into the padding across the top of the kneecap would facilitate it bending a bit more, and having a bit of a 'hinge' might prevent the cuff from being pulled down while pedaling. It would be nice if the padding was designed to flex around the kneecap rather than across it.

I understand that knee protection is going to be different for everyone, but I consider the bones on the sides of my knees to be just as important as those at the center. The Leatt Airflex pads come up short in this department, providing no protection at all to the side of the joint. I'd love to see the padding wrap around the sides bit more even if it means adding a few grams to the weight.

What's The Bottom Line?

There will always be compromises, and we generally face a basic choice between heavy and bulky or light and well-ventilated at the expense of overall protection. The Leatt 3DF Airflex kneepads toe the latter line about as close as possible while still being able to provide legitimate protection from impacts. While for some riders these might be just the pads they have been waiting for, others (like me) might consider them a worthy addition to their gear bag for certain kids of riding, and for a few they're probably not quite enough. But like I said at the start it's good to have options, and right now the options are good!

For more information, head on over to www.leatt.com.


About The Reviewer

Lee Trumpore has been riding bikes for more than 20 years on just about every material and technology the bike industry has come up with. In more than a decade of professional DH racing, Lee won a Collegiate National Championship and was a mainstay at major North American races as well as occasionally snagging a last page result in the World Cup series. Testing prototype components and suspension setups was common during his racing days. He has a smooth, light style on the bike even while holding it wide open. An East Coast native, his favorite trails are fast and flowing technical descents with as many corners as possible and just enough moisture to keep things interesting. Nowadays, rather than racing the clock, he'd rather enjoy a rad descent after a hard pedal to the top. A closet nerd with a Master's degree in education policy Lee currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan where he splits his time teaching mathematics to the next generation of computer geniuses and behind the lens as a photo mercenary for Vital MTB and other industry clients.

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Liked a comment on the item DOWNHILL VS ENDURO - Race Report from the RockShox Enduro Challenge 2/2/2015 7:06 PM

Due to the nature of photographing Enduro, you can really only chase the top men. If you hang around to wait for the women, then you would probably only get two goes at each and miss the finish. I would have loved to get more women's stuff. The very little I did get gets...more

Added a comment about news blog Jared Graves Wins the RockShox Enduro Challenge at Mt. Buller 2/1/2015 9:44 PM
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Going to assume it's some sort of Mavic deal specifically for the enduro races? Unless Mavic has a new DH tire/rim system in development. He was running his usual Royal/Schwalbe combo at the most recent DH race

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Added a comment about slideshow The Jerome Clementz Interview 1/30/2015 10:12 PM
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You can't be a fan of MTB racing and not be a fan of Jerome. Such a rad guy, always with a great attitude. Even when he was injured this past summer he still came out the EWS rounds and was genuinely pumped to be there.... though he did disappear occasionally for some secret training rides before afternoon beer time. Enduro racing definitely benefits from guys like him and Graves being the face of the sport right now.

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Liked a comment on the item Modern Mountain Bike Geometry Defined - Transition Explains Effective Top Tube Versus Reach 1/16/2015 8:08 AM

I'm so with you General. Being 6'7", I've been making my own fames to fit me for years and the first number that I'll design a whole frame around is the down tube length. Exactly as you said, it the quickest and easiest way to know how a bike will feel...more

Added a comment about feature Modern Mountain Bike Geometry Defined - Transition Explains Effective Top Tube Versus Reach 1/16/2015 8:02 AM
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The point is not to compare the # across all bikes. I would never size an xc bike based off the geometry of a dh bike anyway, but i will compare several comparable bikes of the same class (dh to dh, 160mm trail bike to 160mm trail bike etc), and if i'm replacing just my frame gives an indication on how a new frame will fit relative to the old one with the same parts. I love the reach # as much as the next guy, and it's finally catching on, but have you ever tried to measure it yourself on an actual bike? Fastest way to compare 2 frames with similar geometry built for the same purpose is a quick measure of the DT, again the only measurement related to fit that can be taken on the bike as opposed to determining the intersection of 2 invisible lines in space. I would disagree that it is left off to avoid confusion, but rather because bikes are still sized and sold based on how they fit while seated or how long their seat tube is. Good on Transition for trying to change that conversation a bit.

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Added a comment about feature Modern Mountain Bike Geometry Defined - Transition Explains Effective Top Tube Versus Reach 1/16/2015 2:39 AM
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Yes, anyone who passed grade school math can do that. But I shouldn't have to rely on Pythagoras when the manufacturers can just provide the measurement. And many still don't post reach/stack or use conflicting axel/crown measures. Downtube length doesn't rely on any other variable. It's not the sole basis for comparison but it's a constant that anyone can find on their own bike in seconds. It's also the only tube (along w/ head tube height and angle) that determines the fit when standing. Would love to hear a reason why it's not useful to know?

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