Shock Talk: RockShox and Fox Racing Shox Dual Interview 16

Justin Frey and Jon Cancellier are in the trenches for all things
mountain bike suspension. Justin works for Fox Racing Shox, Jon works
for RockShox. They're both on the World Cup circuit working with the
World's best riders. They're both in the shops working on product
development. They're both on the trails testing the performance and even
though they're in competition with each other, Justin and Jon have a
mutual respect for what the other does. Vital MTB went to the front
lines and conducted a dual interview with these snipers of suspension.
They haven't seen the answers until now and there are some really
interesting similarities in their answers. Read, enjoy, then go
turn some knobs on your shocks.

Introduce yourself to the Vital MTB audience, so they know you have some pedigree and aren't just marketing guys who like to talk about "dampening."
-Name: Justin Frey, a.k.a. J-Frey, Frey-loc, Freynomite, Frey-o-lator
-Age: 31
-Number of years with your suspension employer: 5.5 years with FOX.
-Number of shims in your rear shock: At least 3, I think, let me double check, yep at least 3.
-Favorite riding location or trail: Tough one, I’m lucky and have ridden so many places that are all amazing, but if I could only ride one trail for the rest of my life it would probably be one that sits above the Pemberton valley and starts with a T and is an absolute riot, those who know will get it.

-Name: Jon Cancellier
-Age: 35
-Number of years with your suspension employer: 8 years
-Number of shims in your rear shock: Lots
-Favorite riding location or trail: That’s WAY too hard a question to answer! One of the benefits of my job is that with all the traveling I do, I have the opportunity to ride my bike all over the world. I’ve had the chance to ride some awesome trails in places with amazing scenery and I’m very grateful for that. If I had to choose some highlights from the past year I would say: Lake Garda and Finale Ligure, Italy; Rotorua and Queenstown, New Zealand; Moab, Utah; and all my home trails in Colorado!

How'd you get into mountain bikes and what made you interested suspension?
JF: My dad and my good friend Kain Leonard were probably the two biggest influences in the beginning. I had a fully rigid Schwinn that was way too big for me, but I couldn’t stay off that thing. I pedaled it from Breckenridge to the top of Boreas Pass when I was 11 years old and got all Kamikaze on the way back down. My poor mom should have known right then what she was going to be in for over the next 20 years…sorry mom! I went to school in Gunnison, Colorado and rode everyday possible with the Gunni Goats, that’s where it really started for me. I raced Mountain States Cups for a couple seasons and then I moved to Whistler and lived with Kenny Smith and shredded as hard as I could everyday for two years.  I moved to Santa Cruz to keep chasing summer when winter came to Whistler and ended up with the job at Fox. Pretty lucky really. I’ve always been extremely picky about my bike set up and therefore suspension has always been something I’ve put a lot of thought into as it can make or break your ride and experience on any given day, trail, or bike.

My Dad was into cycling and I think my first experience mountain biking was “borrowing” his way-too big for me bike and hitting the local trails in So Cal where I grew up. I got the bug right away and I’ve been riding bikes ever since, over 22 years now. When I started riding, bikes were fully rigid. As suspension started to become available, it wasn’t very good or reliable. I started tinkering with my own forks and then soon my buddies’ forks trying to get them working better. That interest in suspension grew into working with the fastest racers in the world like I do now.
Justin (far right) working with Nico Vouilloz, Sam Blenkinsop and Lapierre in 2010.Break down your personal trail bike and downhill bike setups.
JF: My DH bike is a balanced, smooth operator, dialed (I can’t stand if something isn't working the way it should), and QUIET. Anybody that knows me knows how particular I am about this, it’s a straight up fact that a quiet bike is faster and WAY more fun to ride! My trail bike is balanced, quiet and set up to rally the downhills even if it means suffering a bit more on the climbs. One ring up front, full chain guide (thanks Gamut), dropper post, 50 or 55mm stem and at least 711mm wide bars.

The trail bike I am currently riding, is actually the winner of the Vital MTB Shreddy Award for the 2011 Mountain Bike of the Year; the Specialized S-Works Stumpy. I have the EVO link on there for the slacker geometry and longer travel. As far as parts go, I am running a full X0 1x10 group with a 36t ring and an X0 chain guide. Fork is a Revelation World Cup Dual Position Air, rear shock is a Monarch Plus. I run 740 Truvativ Boobars on all my bikes and I like short stems, 60mm Truvativ Stylo in this case. Brakes are AVID Elixir 9’s with 180F/160R rotors. I also have a Reverb on it, a must-have on any trail bike for me these days. Wheels are the new SRAM Rise 60’s. I run Specialized tires, Butcher up front Ground Control in back. I also have a Specialized Enduro, Specialized Stumpy EVO 29 and a Santa Cruz Blur TRc at the ready.
     For my DH bike, well I actually have two going at the moment. I’m lucky enough to own one of each of the bikes that won a Men’s DH World Championship this year: The Giant Glory and the Specialized Demo 8. They are both setup identically. Again, I run a full X0 group with our new X0 DH cranks and rear derailleur. Brakes are the custom BlackBox DH brakes I made this season using Code calipers, 200F/180R rotors. Fork is a BlackBox BoXXer. I have our new Kage rear shock on both bikes currently. Truvativ Boobars in 740 and a Holzfeller DM stem. Wheels are DT Swiss 1750’s with Specialized Butchers 2.5F/2.3R.

How many bikes do you actually have set up at home and around the office for testing?
JF: 2- DH, soon to be 3, 1- 180mm mini DH rig, 1- 160mm trail-slaying machine. If I could only have one bike it would definitely be this one, my Yeti SB-66. It's one impressive bike. Ride it all day and smash down hills with a grip of confidence.  It’s so much fun to ride that I was actually laughing the first time I rode it! 1- 120mm death march XC bike, 1- DJ bike (thanks T to the C!), 0- 29er fully rigid single speed.

JC: I currently have 4 trail bikes and 2 DH bikes that I use for testing. One of the trail bikes lives in Europe so I don’t always have to fly with a bike when I’m going back and forth over there.
Jon and Doug Hatfield of Santa Cruz look at one of the early Vivid Air prototypes in 2009.How often are you changing out suspension parts on your bike?
JF: Always. If possible I will always verify a setting whether it be internal or external on my own bike before ever putting one of our riders on it. I am also involved with some of the field testing at the factory and will readily ride anything any of our engineers need ridden, which means there’s always something that needs to be shredded. I will, however, only change one thing at a time to keep a constant to base my feedback and criticism on. Pay attention kids, that’s a pro tip right there. I also keep close track of my favorite “shred” settings so that I always have a set up that I can do damage on with out any hesitation.

JC: It really depends on the time of year and where we are at in our development cycle.  If we are testing something and making iterations, I could easily take a fork or shock on and off my bike 6-10 times in a day. Luckily we have a local park less than 10 minutes away where we can ride and do test loops to determine if something is working or not.

What with camera phones and all, do you have to be careful about spy shots of new products on your bikes being leaked from lurkers in the bushes?
JF: “Sneaky f*$&ing Russians.” For real though, it’s become really hard to do anything in “the field” without somebody noticing and wanting to be the cool guy and post it everywhere possible.  Typically, if we’re confident enough to let a product out of the building, then we’re not trying to hide much so it’s not that big of a deal.  Plus, no matter what you see on the outside you can never tell what’s on the inside.

JC: Mostly when I ride with Sven. Ha! Honestly it is a bit tough these days. When I’m at an event or even just out riding locally, people know what I do for SRAM and are always looking out for what new parts I may be testing. I test a lot of new product and it needs to get ridden so sometimes it can be hard to do that when your bike is always under scrutiny.

If you weren't in product development, do you think you would figure out the suspension settings for your bikes and just leave them alone, once you were dialed?
JF: No, I’m always tinkering, always have and always will.  You don’t know unless you try something. Plus, now I’m old and slow and all washed up so I need any advantage I can get out there! Good thing our engineers are on point and putting out some unbelievably good product.

JC: I have always been a tinkerer and I’m rarely satisfied. I think if I wasn’t involved in developing new product, I’d still be messing with my own bike trying to make it work better than the day before.

You both work with the world's best athletes. Do you find the riders at the top of box have similar suspension preferences?
JF: There are usually some similarities among a few of them depending on the track and conditions but we try to be very interactive with our riders and very personalized, so there are definitely some distinct differences out there as well.

One of the things I have noticed over the last few years is that all of the riders I work with have a similar base setting. Air pressures in the fork are pretty close, within 5-10psi. Compression and rebound settings are also fairly similar, with each rider having a personal preference as to how they want their bike to feel. A lot of this comes down to the fact that all these riders are hitting virtually identical speeds when coming down the race course and they need their suspension to be able to cope with the terrain they are encountering at those speeds. This results in fork settings that are pretty similar, based more on speed than rider size. The rear shock is not as close obviously as each bike has a different leverage ratio and kinematic.

Out of the top riders you work with, who is the most particular and in-tune with their suspension set up?
JF: That’s proprietary information sir…but I can tell you he wins a lot. Additionally, Tracy Moseley always surprises me during testing and at the races, as she is very analytical and can feel the slightest change in her settings. She has, time and again, been able to tell me what was different after we made a change that was blind to her.

JC: Greg Minnaar is easily the rider who is most dialed in to what his suspension is doing. Working with Greg is always a challenge as he expects a lot from his suspension, but it’s very satisfying to nail the feel he is looking for.
Out of the riders you work with, who could care the least about their suspension set up?
JF: I can honestly say that at the top level, all of our athletes are very committed to giving it their all. They participate in test sessions with us before the season so we know they’re on the best set up possible for them, their bike and their style. It means they'll have the confidence they need to do their jobs and smash the competitions’ dreams! With that in mind there are definitely a few riders that can just run it and adapt to track conditions like a chameleon and just get the job done, no hesitations or questions asked, which is impressive!

JC: None of the riders I work with have that approach to their suspension. At this level of racing, every detail makes a difference. I will say though that some riders are better at picking up on small changes than others. Other riders like to get a baseline setting figured out at the beginning of the season and then just ride their bike and adapt to changing condition and tracks.

Have you ever told a rider that you've tweaked their suspension, but actually didn't tweak anything at all? If so, could they tell?
JF: I’ve never done that. I have, however, tricked a few riders into a better setting by telling them I did what they thought needed to be done but really made a change that I knew would benefit them more, which every time was verified after the next run. It’s also good to understand and know how to use the power of psychology to get them through a rough morning or a bad run.

JC: I won’t say this hasn’t ever happened, but really it all comes down to have a great working relationship with a rider. If you can have mutual respect and trust, then there is no need to try to fool them.

How would you set up a rear shock for a rider going to Rampage?
JF: Very similar to Gee’s from 2010, ready to handle business. It held up and did its job perfectly when other parts of his ride got taxed beyond belief. Some specifics would be, a higher spring rate, more bottom out, and the rest is secret. You’ll just have to watch next fall to see how wells it works.

JC: A lot of our guys ride the Vivid Air at Rampage, so we have a very tunable shock to start with. We typically set the shocks up firmer in air pressure than normal to deal with the big air and heavy landings. We also slow the rebound down a bit, especially the end stroke rebound, to help them stick the landings.

Are either of you working on any suspension stem innovations? Seems like that idea is due for a return...
JF: Damn it Vital! How’d you know? That’s top secret info! And yes by all means, that is most definitely the future, guaranteed, just wait for it.

JC: It’s not on my plate at the moment, but as soon as we have something, you will be my chief test rider Spomer.

Who's winning BoXXer World Champs in 2012?
JF: I can’t say for sure because the competition is tough and it’s a prestigious title and a no-holds-barred battle, but whoever it's going to be better be training. I think a changing of the guard is in order...might want to watch your back Evan [Warner]!

JC: I see a repeat coming! I think current BoXXer World Champ, Evan Warner, will take the title again. Now he knows what it takes to win!

Are there difficulties in working with so many different suspension platforms on the circuit?
JF: I think the word “challenges” is more fitting, and no not really. We work closely with the riders to get them the feel they want from the bike and we’re always down to try out as many options as we need to make a rider happy and confident in their ride.  Here comes the geek in me, but I think it’s pretty cool knowing what each rider is on and watching them come down different tracks at 'mach stupid' and being able to analyze their ride as they blaze by.

JC: No, not really. Part of my job is being an expert on all the things we make so I’ve already done my homework well before the season even starts.

What do you feel is the most important aspect of suspension set up for average riders?
JF: Balance! I don’t care if you like a soft Cadillac feel or a firm aggressive racer-guy feel, fast rebound like my buddy Tigger or slow as can be, that’s all up to you (maybe it shouldn’t be but it is, so let's move on). If you’re ride isn’t balanced and behaving similarly in the front and the rear you might as well stay home or buy a fully rigid single speed and save yourself before it’s too late, your choice!

JC: Starting with the correct spring rate for the rider. Play with air pressures and/or coil spring rates until you have it right. Then don’t be afraid to experiment with the range of damping adjustments that your suspension has. Find a section of trail you know and make adjustments throughout the whole range so you understand what each one does. The more familiar you are with your suspension and how it reacts, the better you will be able to tune it.

What do you feel is the least understood aspect of suspension set up for average riders?
JF: I think the least-understood aspect of suspension is basic set up and maintenance.  Whenever I hear a complaint from a rider about something 'not working,' I can assure myself that they most likely have no idea what they’ve spent their money on, how to properly set it up or what all the features that they paid for can actually do for their ride.
     The maintenance part of it is important as well. You’re buying a high-end, expensive product because it’s designed to work well and give you an advantage. That sir, comes with responsibility to the owner to maintain and take care of it.  If you by a new truck do you not change the oil in it because it’s new and you’ve only driven it for a year? Doubtful. Riders who claim they “blew up their fork” should realize that oil coming out of your wiper seal doesn’t mean your fork is “blown up.” It just means you need MAINTENANCE.  Gee’s fork didn’t “blow up” when he did this (see video below) and I’m guessing you’ve got nothing on what he’s doing here. And one more things kids, its damping not dampening and it’s a fork not a forks.

JC: Damping, plain and simple.

Double-click to edit

Do you feel that too much tunability on a shock can negatively effect a rider's experience?

JF: That’s a tough one, especially with aftermarket product and general consumers, as we have to offer a wide range of adjustment to suit many different riders and bikes. I guess the short answer would be YES. Due of the broad range of adjustment our products have, you can easily “tune” yourself right out of contention just by running some goofy settings if you don’t know what you’re doing or why.

JC: I do think people sometimes get overwhelmed with the level of tunability available in today’s suspension. It doesn’t have to be that way though. As I said above, if you take the time to understand what each adjustment does and how that effects the way your bike behaves on the trail, it’s not as daunting as it seems.

Are DH air shocks the future?
JF: The future? Maybe for “average” riders and demo programs, but their track record at the World Cup level definitely doesn’t indicate that they will be winning any major titles any time soon. Potential? Most certainly, the idea of infinite adjustability is great but there are so many variables with running an air shock on a DH bike.  If an air shock was built specifically for the kinematic of a certain frame then it will likely ride well, but to just slap an aftermarket air shock on your DH rig and expect top-level performance is still a bit far fetched in my opinion.

JC: I like to think of them as a tool in a toolbox. For us, having both the Vivid and Vivid Air available to our riders means that we have the ability to chose the shock that is most appropriate for the course and conditions. That being said, riders like Mick Hannah and Cedric Gracia race the Vivid Air 100% of the time because they love the feel of it vs. the standard Vivid.

Can you believe that full-rigid carbon mountain bikes exist in 2012?
JF: I wish I didn’t because it’s kind of like a bad nightmare that won’t go away. At that point, isn’t that just a road bike with knobby tires and straight bars? I really think that XC race venues need to make their tracks more technical and challenging so that racers actually feel that riding a bike with 100mm or 120mm of travel is an advantage. After all it is MOUNTAIN BIKING not fire road biking.

JC: I guess everything has its place, but they are not for me or the trails that I like to ride.
Tell us some 2013 product secrets. They'll stay between us...promise.
JF: You already guessed the stem, so I’m not sure I can let any more cats out of the bag. All I can say is expect good things.

JC: For 2013, you’re going to see...

Give us the suspension buzz word for 2012.
JF: For us at Fox, the word is going to be: WINNING! Oh, and don’t forget “bump dump.” 

JC: Damping not Dampening.

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