Cascade Components linkages have been making waves in mountain bike paradise recently. We've been seeing the uptick in press releases from the brand based in Everett, Washington, as they've been growing their collection of suspension linkage upgrades for trail and enduro bikes. Invariably, the response from readers is overwhelmingly positive with calls of, "Make one for my bike!" Vital wanted to take a look at what Cascade was putting out there, but with so many different options, we wanted more than one link on a single bike. We also wanted to get two different types of testers to see if the Kool Aid quenched equally for varying riders. Are Cascade Links the real Purplesaurus Rex, or just some watered-down grape drink?
Jason Schroeder - Mr. Working Racer himself has been involved in the mountain bike industry for years, giving him true insight to keep marketing and objective performance in their respective places. Jason is also a top-tier rider and has raced in the elite categories of our sport's gravity disciplines. When it comes to pushing a bike to the brink, he carries all the credentials.
John Armbruster - John has spent enough time mountain biking to witness the technical evolution of our sport and its bikes. Fads have come and gone but the fun never dies. He won't say no to a new trail or another lap, and when the bikes are clapped, John has the mechanical experience to revive his rigs from the ground up. Once resuscitated, he's back on the trail, clocking the miles, vert, and shenanigans.
Cascade Link Test Bikes
Jason's personal bike is a 2019 Transition Sentinel carbon. If he isn't testing a bike for Vital, the Sentinel is Jason's go-to rig. John rides a Kona Process 153 CR/DL 29 as his daily driver. Both bikes use a walking beam linkage and have somewhat similar stock suspension curves. They do differ in that the Sentinel uses a Horst linkage and the Kona is a linkage-driven single pivot.
Initial Impressions of the Cascade Link
Jason: Right out of the box the machining and details on the Cascade link was extremely impressive – clean, smooth lines with a minimalist approach and quality Enduro bearings at all pivot points. During my racing career I had access to custom, one-off parts on a few occasions, and this link brought back that special feeling of being on equipment that was purpose-built and unique. I intentionally choose the anodized silver colorway to give me the notion that this was a custom link and hopefully snap some necks at trail heads along the way. There is no doubt the heavy contrast of a raw aluminum link on a full carbon frame was a big eye-turner and guaranteed a few conversations each ride. What was interesting is how many people did find the larger-than-stock, metal link more of an eyesore than I had personally found during my box-opening bliss. The favorite comparison was to that of an older Kona and Ellsworth frame. Obviously, the purpose of the Cascade Link is increased suspension performance and not looks, so don’t let those jealous haters spoil your stoke.
Cascade V1 Sentinel LT Link
Cascade Link for Kona Process
John: The moment I opened the box and lifted the Cascade Components Process 153 link out of it’s cardboard nest, I was struck by three immediate impressions: It was a gorgeous block of CNC’d aluminum, black was the right choice for my Purple Prism Kona Process, and it was not light (499 grams)! After getting the stock link off I set it on the scale (259 grams). My initial impression was correct — I was about to add 240 grams to an already big-boned machine.
Cascade Link Installation for Transition Sentinel and Kona Process
Jason: Installation of the link was straightforward and trouble-free, taking me just under 30 minutes; including wiping down linkage spacers and cleaning hardware. Taking similar steps as I would when taking apart pivots for normal service and maintenance, the most difficult step of installation was just lining up spacers on both sides of bearings to slide hardware through. Pivot points lined up nicely and there was no binding at pivot points.
Cascade did provide a QR code within the box that took me to the “Installation & Assembly Instructions” page of their website. However, there were no specific instructions or videos for the Sentinel link swap. This was not an issue for me personally, as I was comfortable swapping the link myself. Someone who is mechanically hesitant may be able to find helpful points in the other videos Cascade provides. I followed the product setup link on Cascade's website and made sure my sag was at the recommended 30%, or 17mm measured at the shock, which came out to 185 PSI in my Fox Float DPX2. Overall, installation was easier than I expected and left me with no bloody knuckles or holes in the wall when I was finished – success!
John: The link came ready to install with larger Enduro bearings where the link mounts to the trunnion shock. The friendly folks at Cascade also provided QR code that links directly to an installation video. The video showed me how to install a totally different link onto a Santa Cruz Hightower LT. Maybe they will put a Kona Process video up soon? Seeing as how the video wasn’t much help I decided to just dive in.
The installation was pretty straightforward. Removing the stock carbon fiber link was simple. I had to make sure to remove the 3mm retaining bolts that are embedded in all five pivot bolts. My retaining bolts were all surprisingly loose, but my pivots hadn’t worked themselves loose yet. I probably caught them just in time. Thanks Cascade Components! There are specialty spacers on both sides of the trunnion mount so make sure you catch those. Both of these washers are identical and symmetrical, so reinstalling is a no-brainer. There are also two specialty washers on each seat stay pivot, and those little bastards are going to fall out, so be ready and watch where they roll. I also made note of which washers were inboard versus outboard and which direction the washers themselves were oriented. This saved me a lot of guessing during the install. On the plus side, it was not necessary to unbolt the lower shock mount and remove the RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate entirely.
Initial Ride Impressions
Jason: My first ride began with a long fire road climb where I was quickly relieved my Sentinel was maintaining the superb pedaling efficiency I had come to expect. I played around with having the climbing switch on and off and had a hard time telling much of a difference. Closed or open, the Sentinel is just a great pedaling machine with limited pedal forces affecting efficiency. Once descending, I rode a mixture of high speed, smooth trail with sections of chunky rock and flatter rolling terrain where carrying speed and pumping the trail are crucial to maintain flow.
Most of this first ride was spent in the mid-stroke of the shock where I did notice improved support providing a great base to pump the bike. I used my body weight to load up the suspension and pop out of compressions without bogging down. On the handful of full bottom-out compressions, I was excited to feel increased progression through the stroke of the shock which aided in taking the edge off of those big hits. I finished my first ride and had a difficult time finding any negatives from my experiences, which definitely put a smile on my face and had me excited to get on some rowdier trails to push things.
John: I checked the sag and it was still reading right around 30%, so I headed to my local trail system for some testing. I did not notice any penalty on the climb, even with the added weight. With the shock in the open position the rear wheel still conformed to the terrain nicely, performing just as well as the stock link on square edges and the loose and chunky parts.
Long Term Impressions
Jason: During my time testing the Cascade link I was able to ride a variety of terrain, including some lift-accessed bike park flow trails and a few long, backcountry pedals. The goal of the Cascade link is to provide more progression and support from middle to end stroke, so I focused my energy on how the descending characteristics of my Sentinel changed with the addition of the link. As one would hope, that is exactly what I experienced, which greatly benefited my ride experience in a few ways. First was when riding bike park flow trails with long, high-speed berms where you decide your cornering radius and ride a constant arc through the turn. I found my Sentinel staying higher in the travel and allowing my bike to maintain consistent traction without diving through travel at one apex point. Typically, large bermed corners have their fair share of braking bumps, and I was impressed with how much more composed my bike was with the Cascade link. Second, on large bottom-out compressions, my knees and ankles rejoiced at the dulled harshness thanks to the increased progression the link provided. I still bottomed my bike out a good amount because it remains a 146mm travel bike, but the progression to this bottom-out was much more controlled and gradual. A big takeaway was also the lack of impact the link had on pedal efficiency. It was a thoughtless decision to leave the link on my bike, even for long days in the saddle.
The only negative sensation I felt while riding with the Cascade link was in small to medium bump sections of trail. The added progression of the shock did create a few stinkbug moments where the shock would recover from a compression faster than I expected. To counter this, Cascade recommends opening compression before lowering any air pressure because the link allows the suspension curve to compensate for bottom out resistance, thus you can run less compression damping to aid in small bump sensitivity. I found my preferred compression setting (that allowed for appropriate support and bottom-out resistance) was still too firm to compensate for trail chatter in certain situations.
John: The Cascade Link really shines on all aspects of the downhill. I noticed right away that my Process had much more pop. I was able to send it like madman over some doubles that I usually had to pull up on. More pop is more fun, so we were already winning. The Cascade Link increased the progressive feel of the bike over the stock link. This was very evident on the downhill sections of my local trail network that pack multiple hard hits and drops in short succession. The stock link tends to pack up and get harsh in this kind of situation, whereas the Cascade Link remained active. The extra 7mm of travel doesn’t hurt either. After riding the link for several weeks, my overall impression is quite positive. Increasing the progressivity and adding 7mm of a travel is a win-win. The bike feels better and will allow me to take an extra lap on the shuttle rides. The extra pop boosts confidence for larger jumps and is smile-inducing. The Cascade Components link does impose a weight penalty, but it is one that I am willing to live with in order to send it like I stole it.
Jason: This link is a great option for riders who would like to take their ‘do everything’ Transition Sentinel and expand its descending capabilities into the realm of a modest enduro bike without negatively affecting pedal efficiency. I see myself riding with the stock link through winter and early spring when only our lower, flatter foothill trails are accessible. Then I'll use the Cascade link all summer long to ride a mix of lift-accessed bike park trails and all day backcountry adventures. The advantages the link provides are not completely night and day over the stock link, but they do go a long way to transforming the Sentinel into a more confidence-inspiring and supported machine when pushing it down rowdy trails outside of its original intended use.
John: More pop is more fun. The Cascade Link gave my Kona Process a noticeably more progressive stroke and helped me clear those gaps with ease. An increase in progressivity plus an extra 7mm of travel equals a bottomless feel that stays active over the more gnarly bits of trail. Who is the Cascade Link for? Riders looking to add a little more pop to their long-travel 29er while maintaining composure in the rough stuff. It's also for the person that is looking to add an eye-catching anodized upgrade that actually increases performance.
From Cascade Components: How Their Links Work
First things first, how exactly can bottom out resistance be quantified from a graph like this? Bottom out resistance due to the spring is equal to the area under the shock force curve. Often times people look at just the force at the bottom of travel. It’s important to remember that an impact is an energy input as opposed to a force input. The most simplified version of this is a drop to flat, where the total amount of energy absorbed is equal to your total mass times the drop height times gravity (mgh).
This shock force graph is an illustration of the difference between using volume spacers for bottom out resistance and using one of our links. The two set ups shown yield roughly the same bottom out resistance while having roughly the same amount of sag as well. With the stock link a lower shock pressure and larger volume spacer are used. With our link a higher shock pressure and small volume spacer is used. The end result is that the stock link set up with a lower shock pressure and larger volume spacer experiences a less gradual and larger ramp in shock force across its travel compared to our link with a higher shock pressure and volume spacer. In fact, if you look at the last 2/3rds of travel, the shock force with the stock link increases very rapidly. This is the wall people talk about feeling like they are hitting when using lots of volume spacers. So how does this translate to ride quality? Shock force is what drives rebound speed. For a given rebound setting, there will be a larger variation in rebound speed across the stroke of the shock if there’s a larger differential in shock force. This means with the stock link, a lower shock pressure, and a larger volume spacer there will be a bigger difference in rebound speed between top and bottom of travel compared to our link, a higher shock pressure, and a smaller volume spacer. More consistent rebound speed means less packing up near the top of travel and less harsh of a feeling at bottom of travel. If you have a shock set up with a ton of ramp in shock force, you essentially have to choose between good rebound speed at top of travel and fast rebound at bottom of travel or slow rebound at top of travel and good rebound at bottom of travel. This also is something that can’t be addressed through tuning high and low speed rebound. Whether or not you are in the high or low speed rebound range depends more on whether or not your wheel is supported against something while rebounding or not. For example, in a g-out you are likely in the low speed rebound region and going over a bunch of roots you will be in high speed.
Long story short, rebound speed is all too frequently overlooked when it comes to how a shock will track. Yes you can add volume spacers to increase your bottom out resistance, but it can negatively impact how your shock performs in rougher terrain.
To learn more about Cascade Components and if they have a link for your bike, head to CascadeComponents.bike
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