by Jeff Brines
Earlier this year, an air shock equipped Commencal took the win at what some are calling the gnarliest track on the UCI World Cup circuit. Suffice it to say, downhill specific air shocks are here to stay. Additionally, Enduro racing is placing even more emphasis on shocks that strike a balance between light weight and descending prowess. With this in mind, we took a look at the new and improved 2014 RockShox Vivid Air R2C to see how it stacks up.
RockShox Vivid Air R2C Highlights
- WEIGHT: 530g (for a 216x63mm without hardware)
- DAMPING: External beginning stroke rebound, ending stroke rebound, low speed compression
- CONFIGURATIONS: 200mm x 57mm, 216mm x 63mm, 222mm x 70mm, 240mm x 76mm
- SPRING: Twin Tube Solo Air
- SPRING ADJUST: Air pressure via single Schrader valve
- SHAFT MATERIAL: 7075 Aluminum
- BODY MATERIAL: Aluminum
- BODY FINISH: Hard Anodized
- OPTIONS: Optional Decal Colors: White, Black
- MSRP:USD $674
Initial Impressions and Observations
For 2014 the Vivid Air features much of the same technology found on previous Vivid Air shocks, including dual adjust beginning and end stroke rebound, low speed compression adjust, and spring rate curve adjustment via volume spacers. New for 2014 is a lighter end stroke rebound tune (dubbed “Rapid Recovery”), and a new negative air spring called “Counter Measure” which brings the shock's breakaway force to virtually zero. The objective of these technologies is to keep the shock from packing up through successive hits, maximizing available wheel travel and promoting better ground tracking in addition to a more supple and stiction free shock break-away.
The Vivid was installed on an Ibis Cycles Mojo HD built for Enduro use. Although not a full downhill steed, the shock was put to the test over a multitude of sustained 3,000+ vertical foot downhill laps, Enduro races, general trail riding and just about everything in between. Most of the riding was done in the Jackson, Wyoming area.
A few words on the frame before we get into the review. The HD’s leverage ratio curve was designed around that of an air spring. In general, most air springs become increasingly progressive through the stroke whereas their coilover counterparts remain linear. This provides superb bottom out resistance but often causes certain more progressive frame designs to be unable to take advantage of the entire shock stroke as the spring rate simply ramps up too much at the end.
The HD was tuned with this air-sprung progressiveness in mind and actually relies on the shock to keep the suspension from bottoming out excessively. As a result, we felt the HD would be a great test pony for this shock.
As a constant tinkerer, I’ve always looked for ways to eek as much performance out of the frame as possible. This has lead me to trying nearly every 8.5x2.5 stroke shock on the market on this particular frame, including a previous generation Vivid Air. I find this worth mentioning for three reasons. First, I know this frame, and I know how it should feel and perform. Second, after testing a multitude of shocks, I’m well aware of how this frame can feel depending on setup, damper quality, overall tune, etc. Third, I’ve had a previous generation Vivid Air on this exact frame which enables me to comment on how noticeable the changes made to the new shock really are.
When it comes to setup, the Vivid Air is one of the easiest on the market. Setting the correct air pressure is a cinch thanks to the sag gradients on the shock's piggyback. Damping tuning is also extremely easy since Rockshox offers the shock in 3 different baseline compression and rebound tunes from the factory. This makes for a shock that is much closer to being setup for your specific frame and riding style right out of the box leaving the adjustment knobs to deal with more subtle fine tuning.
On The Trail
Hitting the trail, the first thing that was notable was just how supple the shock really is. The new negative air spring works well and has the shock as “stiction free” as I’ve ever felt an air shock. It was a notable improvement when compared to the previous generation Vivid Air. I actually stopped to see if I was losing tire pressure on more than one occasion through smaller trail chatter, while on larger hits the bike felt like it had more travel available.
As speeds pick up the damper offers good mid-stroke support without feeling harsh or overdamped. Controlled but supple. As a side note, this shock was tested in the medium compression and rebound tune. Setup as such on the 2.52:1 leverage ratio DW Link Mojo HD the damper feels oriented toward the racers or more aggressive riders out there. Smaller riders, or those who don't like as much compression damping, may find a lighter tune would better fit their style. Put another way, the shock was tuned to reward fast and aggressive riding, which isn't always the same as being Cadillac-like plush (usually the opposite!).
As a result of the lighter high-speed rebound tune I found certain hits to cause my rear end to kick slightly more wildly than I would like, pitching the bike forward. Although a bit scary early in the test, one extra click each of end- and beginning-stroke rebound damping seemed to negate this uncontrolled feeling. At that point, the fast rebound made the shock seem very active and easy to load and unload without feeling out of control. Lively some might say.
The spring rate curve is perhaps the most important part of determining if the Vivid Air is for you. Although the Vivid Air is more linear than most air shocks on the market, it still retains a bit of the air shock bottom out resistance. Just look through the pits at Red Bull Rampage and this big-hit progressiveness should be obvious. Mounted on the HD's regressive frame, the shock makes excellent use of available wheel travel without excessive bottoming out or wallowing. I’m a racer at heart and the more the bike can use its travel effectively the happier I’m going to be. In this specific application, the shock worked beautifully. Dare I say it's the best shock I've had on the bike, and I've tested six different offerings.
When descents turned to north of the seven minute mark, a bit of fade could be detected. But here is the thing, I can detect fade in any shock once things heat up to this point. It’s a matter of how much the damping characteristics fade. In the case of this shock, it was minimal and very manageable. RockShox says damping performance changes by just 6% during a sustained descent, which is on par with the best coil-overs out there, let alone air shocks. This could be a result of the leverage ratio of the HD being in the mid to lower range, or it could be that the shock manages heat well. In any case, I wouldn’t hesitate to put this shock on any bike no matter what the length of the descent is.
Finally, the DW-link driven HD pedals extremely well no matter what shock is on the bike. On such efficient frames, any sort of pedaling platform or compression adjustment seem redundant at best. Being this shock is oriented toward the DH side of things, I applaud Rockshox for keeping descending prowess in the crosshairs and leaving pedaling platforms or similar to the Monarch side.
Perhaps the worst part about this boinger is it often left the front of my bike feeling overwhelmed as there aren’t many trail forks out there that can match the performance of this damper.
Things That Could Be Improved
Despite the shock's solid performance there are a few improvements that would be welcome. Because it's an air shock, air spring/seal service should be performed 1-2 times a year to keep the Vivid Air as smooth as possible, depending on your usage. Unfortunately this process is a bit more of a labor intensive job than on most air shocks in the market and requires proprietary tools. It would be great if this shock was easier to pull apart. At the same time, we commend RockShox for offering all tools and fluids to the consumer for basic rebuild-ability in your own garage, although it’s a fairly comprehensive undertaking!
Second, despite how stiction-free the Vivid may be, especially when compared to other air shocks on the market, there remain a few coil-over offerings that still offer superior small bump performance and overall sensitivity. The shock has no "trail" features and is fully marketed to the DH segment, so a comparison to the status quo is warranted. Further improving the sensitivity could elevate it to a true coil-like feel with weight savings to boot.
Thirdly, offering a wider tuning range would be an advantage. Although the shock offers a fairly comprehensive amount of tuning adjustment, it is just that - tuning. Changing the baseline tune requires tearing the shock apart, while certain competing offerings offer a wider range of tuning capabilities right out of the box. The lack of high-speed compression tuning isn't that big of a deal, but it's certainly something we'd like to see added.
Long Term Durability
The Vivid Air proved to be a reliable performer. The shock endured 300k+ feet of vertical without any issues.
What's The Bottom Line?
The new and improved RockShox Vivid Air performs exactly as advertised: DH level damping performance in a lighter weight air sprung package. However, we would advise those considering the damper to make the choice over the coil-sprung counterpart based on frame design and intended use, not just weight. Put another way, if you are looking for a bit more progressiveness and/or find yourself excessively bottoming out - be it from hucking or frame design - the Vivid Air may be just the ticket.
For more details, visit www.rockshox.com.
About The Reviewer
Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races Enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k feet of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.