France has a long a rich history of going fast on a bicycle, from the road to the mountains. Nestled up against the Atlantic in the northwest part of the country, the Brittany region (“Bretagne” in French) does not have any real mountains to speak of, and thus does not come up all too often in conversation when mountain biking is being discussed. Human passion and ingenuity know nothing of borders and geography however, which is why a little family business dedicated to making high-performance mountain bike suspension can be found among the rolling hills around the tiny town of Plestan. We went to pay them a visit to get the back story AND test ride their latest and greatest – including a yet-to-be released fork for an exclusive first look.
Fabien Glâtre was born in 1979, and he rode motocross from the age of 6 to 14. Suspension set-up was always a priority for Fabien, because of his slight build and low body weight, and that laid the foundation for what was to become his main drive later in life. Fabien discovered mountain biking in 1993 and won the final event of the French trials championships in 1994 in his category. Around that time, Sunn was racing the Radical + platform which saw much success in the downhill world, and Fabien and his father decided they would build their own full suspension mountain bike to race on. Fabien enrolled in a micro-mechanics vocational school in 1995 where he found support for the project with his teachers and in 1995, his first self-made frame saw the light. A year later Fabien made the V2, which dropped about 1.5 kgs from the hefty frame weight while still delivering all of 140 mm of rear travel (which was quite a lot at the time). Fabien went on to score a few good results with it in the junior national DH category as well as several Brittany championship titles in both DH and trials. He had his hands in the suspension components during that time as well, mostly because of the poor reliability and substandard performance on offer from the commercially available products back then.
In 2007, Fabien launched Fast Suspension, originally to provide suspension tuning and maintenance services. In 2009, they bought two CNC machines to start making parts, which quickly led to their first own rear shock being developed as well. Fast found early success in the autocross world where they collected several French championship titles, while on the MTB side they released the Holy Grail DH shock in 2015. That shock would eventually go on to win the 2019 overall World Cup DH title with Tracey Hannah on Polygon. In 2019, Fast launched the Fenix enduro shock, which Kevin Miquel rode to third place overall in that year’s Enduro World Series. A first OEM project took place in 2022, when Nukeproof asked Fast to be one of three suspension suppliers selected for a limited edition run of frames (the other two were Push and EXT).
Since 2017, Fast subcontracts the production of the bulk of their parts, but the products are still assembled and tuned in France. Fast has a growing network of retail points and service centers around the world, some of which are also capable of doing the final tuning of a pre-assembled product before shipping it out to a customer, which allows Fast to provide their habitual custom tuning service anywhere their products are sold. The catalog continues to grow and evolve, with the launch in 2023 of the all-new Ride E and Ride D coil shocks as well as a coil enduro fork for 2024!
Fabien has always been driven to seek out comfort and performance from his suspension products. Obsessed with the small details and understanding how a suspension system affects the ride, Fast has invested in telemetry and an in-house dyno to be able to get the desired reactions out of a damper. The dyno is an electro-magnetic beast, capable of generating very high shaft speeds – to the point that it makes the lights flicker when you crank it up. In the images below, we put the very shock we had been riding the day before through its paces, the smoothness of the curves corresponding neatly to how smooth the shock felt on the trail…more on that later.
Looking for those smooth transitions between the damping circuits and a way to control the movements of the bike without a comfort penalty led Fabien to develop his own, unique, 3-way compression damping system. Originally inspired by what WP is doing in the moto world, the key to this approach is the mid-speed compression valve, which sits between the low- and high-speed compression circuits. It allows Fast to really dial in the amount of support a shock or a fork can offer, without introducing unwanted harshness in the overall system. On the high-end Fenix Evo and the new Ride D (D=downhill) shocks, the mid-speed valve is externally adjustable, while on the new Ride E (E=enduro) shock and SC5 fork cartridge it is set internally from the factory according to the bike characteristics and the rider requirements. Wondering how good that mid-speed circuit is? When we tested the original Fenix damper back in 2021, we ran it on a fairly linear bike and it still performed at a very high level, despite this damper not featuring a hydraulic bottom out system.
Controlling bottom-out events can be done in several ways, but what Fabien was looking for was once again something a bit different. A traditional rubber bumper has a particular characteristic: it will return the energy absorbed back into the damper body and thus by extension, back into the bike. This creates a very fast and violent rebound event when the shock returns from a deep compression, which can be difficult to control. Once again seeking inspiration in the moto world, this time from Kayaba, Fabien has now developed a hydraulic bottom-out system that allows the energy to dissipate by displacing hydraulic fluid. Thanks to a shim stack on the HBO piston, it can be tuned and adjusted to match the rider and the bike. The HBO piston concept seems fairly simple, but there are some inherent issues with the approach that Fabien worked diligently to overcome. The piston itself floats on its mounting spot on the shaft, to allow it to align itself perfectly with the HBO cup. It can also move up and down a bit on the shaft, to allow it to release oil during the rebound phase without creating a vacuum behind it which could lead to a “sticky” feeling in the shock when it returns from a deep compression. The HBO is standard on the new Ride family of shocks (and available as an option on the Fenix Evo).
Diving deep into the guts of the dampers, we were often struck by the smart little tricks employed by Fast to arrive at the desired goals. For example, the 3-mode compression circuit on the new Ride E shock uses a combination of orifices and shim stacks to control the oil flow. The whole mode selector assembly is very small, yet it provides multiple paths that the oil can take during different types of compression events depending on the mode it is set to (Open, Flow, and Climb). On this shock, high-speed compression damping in open mode is actually provided by the flow mode shim stack, another example of clever architecture and layout work. The base settings for the new shock were chosen after plenty of testing, both with in-house athletes as well as external riders. There are several base tunes to choose from to make sure the shock will match the bike characteristics. The goal with the Ride shock range is to provide a more affordable shock than the Fenix Evo, while making it easier to set up and use, without sacrificing the comfort and performance. At around 750 EUR including the spring, the Ride is not cheap but that’s 200 EUR less than the Fenix Evo, and you still get basically the same damper tech wrapped in a more cost-effective package (simple is not always easy, BTW…).
Fast recently also released a new hydraulic cartridge upgrade for RockShox, Fox, and Marzocchi forks. The SC5 cartridge builds on the SC4, but with simplified external controls. Mid- and high-speed compression are set from the factory according to the rider’s needs, while low-speed compression and rebound are externally adjustable. Just like the new Ride shocks, the SC5 is a mono-tube damper that uses an IFP to compensate for oil displacement (while the Fenix Evo sports a bladder).
With a new cartridge available, it wasn’t a huge leap for Fast to want to make its own fork. Seeking to provide a product that will be competitively priced (to make a good companion for the new Ride shock), using a readily available chassis (based on the X-Fusion Trace 36) made the most sense. All Fast had to do then was drop in a coil spring and the SC5 cartridge, and the job was essentially done. The new fork does not have a name yet, but you can expect it to become available in the first part of 2024. We were lucky enough to get to ride one of the very first prototypes ever put together – jump to the next section for our ride impressions!
On The Trail
As stated in the intro section, the Brittany region is not known for its tall mountains. However, that does not mean that there is nowhere to ride; Fabien took us out to his local spot, a couple of hills littered with trails of all sorts, which made for a good day of testing. We had the Ride E shock and the new fork proto mounted up on the latest Cannondale Habit LT, an all-mountain bike sporting 140 mm of rear travel and a 150 mm fork. This generation of Habit offers an excellent blend of shred-ability and trail bike speed carrying capabilities, with sorted geometry and a linkage that is just about progressive enough to deal with a coil shock.
Our shock and fork were fitted with coil springs that were on the firmer side of the recommended range for the weight of this rider (the author of this article). We still found plenty of comfort on offer, and it soon became obvious that these new Fast products really work well. On the way up, this frame exhibits a little bit of bobbing, something that the “Flow” position on the shock immediately took care of. Flow is meant to be used wherever you need a more dynamic response out of your bike, on climbs and on flatter trails. We found it did such a good job of limiting bobbing that we never saw a need to reach for the “Climb” position on the shock. Flow mode will hold you up a little higher in the travel, and will slow down any weight-induced movements in the suspension. Incidentally, the mode selection lever of the Ride shock is among the best we’ve ever used, it’s easy to grip even with gloves on and the three positions are very easy to feel – Fast uses TWO little locking spring/ball thingies under the dial to ensure positive engagement at each stop. The prototype fork had a much smaller low speed compression dial, which we were thankfully able to pretty much set and forget (it was not very comfortable for the fingers). There is a large adjustment range on offer in the fork, which should mean you'll be able to dial in just the amount of support you want - once again, without adding much harshness to the overall ride quality.
On the way back down, our test bike was very easy to ride. It remained comfortable and controlled, without showing any signs of harshness. With Flow mode engaged on the shock for the descents, the bike rides a tiny bit higher in its rear travel, and will react a bit more to rider input, but once again, without adding much if any harshness. In open mode, you get all the benefits of that coil feel, still without the bike turning into a slouch – it remained poppy and fun to ride. We found the rebound damping tune quite focused on control as opposed to liveliness, but we didn’t have the time to play around with the settings properly to really dig into that aspect. The HBO is one of our favorite features on this new shock BTW, the way it lets you sink into the last part of travel in a very controlled way is really confidence-inspiring.
The fork performed at an equally high level, providing lots of grip in fairly tricky conditions. We regularly used about 2/3rds of the travel, with the exception of a couple of hucks to flat where we were able to use it all, both front and back. At no point did the fork feel wallowy or unsure of itself, and we found that the mid- and high-speed base tune selected by Fast provided pretty much the perfect mix of comfort and support – we would need more testing to confirm, but at no point did we find ourselves wishing there were more knobs to turn on the fork. If you’re considering a fork upgrade in your future, you might want to hold out for this one…especially because Fast is aiming for a fairly competitive price point as well.
What’s The Bottom Line?
An aftermarket coil shock is a popular upgrade these days, with plenty of options to choose from. It depends on what you are after of course, but most likely you’ll be shopping for something with quite a few specific features and advantages, otherwise your stock shock might do the job just as well. Fast has developed and/or refined several key technologies that really bring a plus to your ride in our opinion, and the fact that they’ve managed to package it all up in a more affordable product now is really cool. The Ride E and D shocks leverage the performance benefits of Fast's mid-speed valve to create a shock that’s easy to set up but offers a sophisticated feel – Fast even did some testing with placebo compression adjusters and they found overwhelming preference for the tunes now used in the new shocks among the test riders. Simple is not easy, but Fast has pulled it off remarkably well with the Ride shocks. We also came away from this quick visit with a very positive impression of their new fork, which once again builds on Fast’s extensive experience and testing to create a package that should respond to the needs of the majority of riders out there (and a full custom tune is always available from Fast as well). We’re looking forward to doing some more in-depth testing on our home trails in the future, but for now, we have no reservations about recommending you trust these fast Frenchies with your next suspension upgrade.
More information at: www.fast-suspension.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord - Age: 50 // Years Riding MTB: 18 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)
Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.
Photos by Johan Hjord and Fabien Glâtre