Over the past ten years, numerous innovations have changed how bikes handle, such as wider handlebars, bigger wheels, shorter stems, and of course, frame geometry as a whole. However, one part of the equation that has yet to be successfully optimized is steering input from the rider. Steering dampers have attempted to control front wheel tracking and steering forces. However, none have garnered mainstream success. With a potential gap in handling innovation ready for the taking, Syntace has introduced a new solution to stabilize the front wheel, minus the damper aspect. We traveled to Nice, France, to better understand how the K.I.S. integrated technology works and see what benefits caught the eye of early adaptors Canyon and Liteville.
- Featured only on select Canyon Spectral models (at this time)
- Fully integrated within the head tube
- Composite cam with kevlar band construction
- Primary focus on enduro with possible T.T. and Motorcycle applications
- 110g on Canyon models // 70g on Liteville models
- Expected availability: January 2023 for Europe // May 2023 for the U.S.
K.I.S. or 'Keep It Stable' is an innovation from Syntace and Liteville that Canyon has adopted to combat some of the inherent handling characteristics of slacker head tube angles and help control input from the rider. The technology differs from a steering damper in that a steering damper slows steering in one or both directions by damping the force put into the handlebar. K.I.S. aims to level out forces counteracting the balance between stability and wheel flop by counteracting forces from rider input. With roughly 80% of a rider's body weight centered over the rear of a bike, the front becomes very light. K.I.S. strives to match front and rear wheel traction. As the handlebars turn, spring tension increases, creating the handling sensation that the front and rear are connected.
The design uses a spring, band, and cam system. The springs and bands attach to the cam, which the steerer tube routes through, and a pinch bolt accessed from the side of the headtube tightens the cam around the steerer tube. The headset compression wedge slides the cam down the steer tube to ensure everything is lined up. At the front of the head tube is a removable bump stop that limits the handlebars from rotating 360 degrees.
In the event of a crash or the system coming out of center, the resistance in the system centers the cam side to side when the pinch bolt is loose. The bars can also be turned to overcome the light torque of the pinch bolt to recenter the system if a hex key isn't readily available. While the design came from Syntace and Liteville, each brand manufactures its own system and can change the shape of the cam to achieve different handling characteristics. Our Canyon Spectral had a top tube mounted indicator held in place by a 4mm set screw that allows for external tension adjustment of the system.
With all the details of the K.I.S. system laid out before us, our biggest question was: what will happen when we make our first turn?
- Interesting seeing the bars snap straight when lifting the front wheel from the spring tension on the system
- Installation is surprisingly simple, even with the components being integrated into the frame
- Carving turns in the parking lot didn't feel much different
To answer that question, we headed to the trails surrounding Nice, France, with 1001 Sentiers Guide Company. With a massive network of trails only a local could memorize, Nice offered a mix of fast-paced steep sections, large boulders, and slabs with some excellent dirt. The region boasts around 50 world titles from riders like Nico Vouilloz, Fabien Barel, and Loic Bruni, and it is easy to see why with such challenging, loose and rocky terrain.
As bikes have continued trending towards slacker geometry year after year, wheel flop while climbing has grown ever prevalent. One of the primary benefits of the K.I.S. system is having a force to counteract wheel flop at low speeds. We enjoyed the sensation most in slow-moving, technical sections where we had to spend less energy or thought keeping our front wheel on line. We even pedaled up some moderately steep sections of trail with no hands, relying solely on the system to keep our bars straight.
Canyon set the tension in the middle and advised us to ride for at least 40 minutes before changing anything. The initial descent was narrow and rocky, with lots of quick maneuvers where we instantly noticed something was different. The first handful of turns proved more difficult than anticipated as we continually ran wide in corners. Understanding how the system worked reminded us to turn the bars slightly more than usual while pitching the bike over. The lower section of the trail was steeper and faster than the top, which required less change in riding style, and the system felt great.
After our initial lap, we went to a much rougher trail with consistently high speeds. We immediately noticed the increased steering stability provided by the system, which further solidified our confidence through harsh, demanding terrain. Our Canyon Spectral test bike fitted with a FOX 36 felt more like it had a dual crown fork diving into deep rock holes. Further down the trail, however, the transition from high to low-speed switchbacks again had us running wide again through turns. We experienced the same problem in high-speed turns with decreasing radiuses.
Our second day of riding was on much more technical trails with lower average speeds and tight switchbacks littered with rocks. We again noticed the additional effort required to make tricky, tight turns, but we also understood this was part of learning how a bike corners with the K.I.S. system. Luckily, we had a revelation: the system required us to turn the handlebars more than usual rather than simply leaning the bike over further to initiate a turn. When turning the bars further in switchbacks, we noticed the bike held itself up more, allowing for a more upright posture in very tight 180-degree switchbacks.
The middle of the day saw some slightly more open trails with jumps and berms, which was an absolute blast after plenty of technical riding in the morning. In the open sections, we noticed the strangest feeling the system caused: throwing whips became very strange due to the front wheel pulling the rear wheel along the same path, causing a sensation that the bike was falling over. This attribute likely becomes less drastic with familiarity, but it was initially alarming. At the end of the day, we backed the tension off to 1/4 of its range and instantly noticed the bike felt less settled in rock gardens. We quickly reverted back to max tension, which allowed us to pick lines that would otherwise leave the front wheel pinballing, especially when less momentum was involved.
What's The Bottom Line?
The K.I.S. system offers unique handling characteristics that could open the door for bikes to become even slacker in the future. We enjoyed the increased steering stability on exceptionally rough descents and see the system being most beneficial for riders with highly technical terrain. While we may have concluded that K.I.S. provided noteworthy performance gains after only a few days of testing, Canyon did advise that more time is needed to adapt fully. Years of riding habits make up our finest impulse reactions, and that is what takes the longest to change. We still prefer the handling characteristics of a bike without the K.I.S., but we see that changing as we spend more time on the system. Luckily for those interested, Canyon's efforts to bring K.I.S. to the masses will give many the option to decide if they can benefit from extra steering stability.
For more information, please visit www.canyon.com
About The Reviewer
Jonathon Simonetti - Age: 28 // Years Riding: 19 // Height: 6'4" (1.93m) // Weight: 225-pounds (102kg)
Jonny started mountain biking in 2003 after taking a trip to Northstar and discovering how much more could be ridden than on a BMX bike. He began racing at age 12 and raced for 12 years until ultimately deciding to have fun on a bike was more important. After working in the industry for a few years and developing a deeper understanding of bikes inside and out, Jonny has an aptitude for pairing his riding ability with the analysis of bikes and breaking down what makes them work well. He rides for fun and enjoys going fast with friends the most.