As a mountain biker, does grabbing a big handful of front brake as you race down a steep, gnarly descent make you nervous? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could descend at higher speeds and know that when you reach for your front brake lever you’ll have plenty of stopping power, and it won’t eat up a large chunk of your fork’s travel, or send you flying over the handle bars?
It’s 2019, and yet, if we want to decrease brake dive we still end up decreasing bump compliance.
Telescoping front forks have been around a long time and have come a long way over the years, but performance improvements have been incremental, and the design remains fundamentally the same. Sure, designers can keep trying to rework the same old design, but for real performance improvements, simple evolution might not be enough.
This only leaves revolution and to many this may seem out of reach, but there are designers out there thinking outside the box. One of them, Structure Cycleworks, is leading the charge right here in Canada.
The revolution begins
After years of planning, prototypes and design tweaks, Structure Cycleworks is ready to take orders for its first mountain bike, the SCW 1. The SCW 1 uses a radical new linkage design rather than a traditional telescoping fork and with it, the company is hoping to change the way people think about front suspension.
WTF, no telescoping fork?
One look at the SCW 1 will leave most mountain bikers who are familiar with traditional telescoping fork suspension scratching their heads. Dubbed WTF (Without Telescoping Fork), the patented linkage system found on the front of the SCW 1 is certainly unorthodox. But, according to Hull, this new design comes with some radical improvements in compliance and stability. These improvements should translate into improved performance and comfort for riders.
As Hull explains, one of the WTF’s major performance improvements over telescoping front forks stems from a decrease in potential brake dive while descending. Using a linkage system on the front of the bike has resulted in a possible reduction of between 17% and 41% in brake dive vs. telescoping forks.
Fully adjustable front suspension
The system is easily rider-adjustable and boasts four settings which can reduce dive in increments of 17, 22, 33 and 41 percent vs. telescoping forks. In theory, this reduction means that riders will be able to carry more speed through a descent because they will be able to apply more braking power, if needed.
Riders will need to find the setting that matches their personal preferences for terrain and riding style. This is because as the brake dive is reduced, so is bump compliance, resulting in a rougher ride. “Personally, I like the 22% reduction myself,” says Hull, and “17% is going to feel the most normal to someone who is used to a telescoping fork.”
Another performance improvement comes in the form of improved small to medium bump compliance: “It has to be experienced to be believed,” describes Hull. This increased compliance has the potential to reduce fatigue and strain on riders who are putting in long days in the saddle.
That’s so enduro
To me, at least on paper, reducing brake dive while increasing bump compliance should make the SCW 1 a standout on the enduro scene. Hull agrees, “In enduro, specifically, I think it’s a game changer,” he admits.
“Our goal as a company is to give riders the best possible experience on the mountain.”-Loni Hull
The geometry of the bike lends itself to enduro use as well. With a head tube angle of 66 degrees, 150mm of travel front and rear, and 27.5 wheels, it lines up well with enduro offerings from other manufacturers. And, in case you’re wondering about racing in sanctioned events, Hull says the SCW 1 has been ISO 4210 tested to enduro standards.
Enduro isn’t the only area where the SCW 1 has the potential to impress. Hull also believes “It’s a great park bike,” and that in the end “Our goal as a company is to give riders the best possible experience on the mountain.”
For technical specifications and more in-depth discussion of the WTF’s design elements see the Structure Cycleworks website.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
While the front end of the bike is a radical departure from the status quo, the rest of the bike is not. Coming in at around 32 pounds, the SCW 1 will include a full carbon frame and be comparable in weight to other enduro bikes currently on the market. It also uses a tried and true Horst linkage system for the rear suspension. This means it should climb and perform similarly to other bikes on the market in that regard. The axle configuration is standard boost 15 x 110 on the front and 12 x 148 on the rear.
The SCW 1 will employ components found throughout the mountain bike industry including a SRAM drivetrain and Magura brakes. It will come in two different specs, the ‘Foundation Edition’ spec and the ‘Janus’ spec. The Foundation Edition will be limited to 100 units and will be delivered standard with upgraded components over the Janus. It will also include some other add-ons as early buyer incentives.
What if I break it?
As far as maintenance and warranty go, the drivetrain, brakes and other components are per the manufacturer’s specifications. The front and rear shocks are identical and manufactured by DVO. They recommend service at 150-hour intervals. The frame and bearings come with a lifetime warranty for the original owner. “If we’re going to do something different, I think we should really support it,” says Hull.
Currently, the SCW 1 is available for pre-order in three sizes: small, medium and large. Structure Cycleworks is taking orders now for delivery in late summer/early fall of 2019. Bikes can be reserved either on their website or by contacting the company directly. Also, look for them at select dealers.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
The SCW 1’s promised performance improvements may sound too good to be true, but you don’t just have to take Hull’s word for it. The bike has a growing list of accomplishments that include podiums at the Sea Otter Classic in California and the Marin Wildside Enduro event in Kamloops, British Columbia.
According to Hull, in both of these cases the racers were very new to the bike but they were still able to perform extremely well. “If that says anything, it’s not just that the bike is great at the limits, it’s that the bike is accessible,” he notes.
What does the average rider think?
In May, I had the opportunity to take the SCW 1 for a short test ride on the Paskapoo Slopes in Calgary. I found that the bike handled well on the descents and that there was a noticeable decrease in brake dive. What caught my attention was that despite the radical front-end design, the bike felt quite familiar. As a result, the ride quality itself was easy to get used to.
Climbing on the SCW 1 was about what you would expect for an enduro bike. Any pedalling power lost through the rear suspension seemed minimal, and the shock can be fully locked out for long climbs. While it doesn’t exactly feel like a cross country bike, the reasonable weight and geometry mean that it should get you up the hill with enough energy to make the most of the descent.
In the beginning…
Hull can date the genesis of the SCW 1 and the WTF system back to a day at the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, in Golden, British Columbia in 2010. As he was descending a run on his mountain bike, his chainstay snapped. Hull went over the bars, broke his collarbone and sustained a significant concussion.
Later, while shopping for a replacement bike, he concluded that, “What was in the bike shops was just…too much of the same thing.” With that in mind he set out to try and build something different. A bike with improved safety and stability.
Prior to moving to Calgary, Hull had gained design and fabrication experience in the automotive and motorcycle industries in Portland, Oregon. Little was happening in those fields in Calgary. So he turned to his other passion, mountain biking, and was able to put that design and fabrication experience to work on a new front suspension design for mountain bikes.
Things start to get serious
In 2012, Hull began drawing up a new design with serious intent. And the development cycle of the SCW 1 began. He started with the questions: “How do we distinguish performance for the future? Is the future of suspension relegated to being just an evolution…or can we really do something different?”
Hull began to look at how to separate braking from both suspension and steering. To him, this was the path to creating a safer, more stable platform. With a traditional telescoping fork, according to Hull, braking interferes with both suspension and steering. This means that if braking can be removed from the equation, the suspension is left to move freely on its own.
“I want full linkage to be the look of the best performing bikes in the world, and I think that’s now possible.”-Loni Hull
By 2014, and after hundreds of hours of design and computer modelling, Hull was able to come up with a working design and produce a prototype. Since then it has gone through numerous design tweaks and modifications resulting in a version that is now ready for production, the SCW 1.
The revolution begins in Calgary!
From its humble beginnings, Structure Cycleworks has grown and now consists of three full-time employees, and numerous subcontractors. The company has made Calgary its permanent home base. “Calgary is a fantastic place to develop product,” notes Hull and describes the SCW 1 as designed and tested in Canada. Final quality control, warehousing and special-order completion will all be done in Calgary. Manufacturing will take place in Asia.
Where do we go from here?
Going forward, Hull hopes to expand the range of bikes using the WTF linkage system both within Structure Cycleworks itself and throughout the industry. He can see the possibility of adding a cross country model to the lineup and believes the WTF system lends itself well to a fat-tire design.
And that’s not all, Hull is full of optimism for the future. “Five years from now, or ten, I want full linkage to be the look of the best performing bikes in the world, and I think that’s now possible,” he says. “Right now we have a lot to prove, but so far so good.”
Get out there and see it for yourself!
Look for Structure Cycleworks and their SCW 1 demo models as they tour British Columbia and Alberta this summer. They will be visiting dealers and showing up at events. Check out the website for locations and timing. If you live in Calgary, you may have already seen the SCW 1 being demo’d at Bow Cycle.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably read countless articles on new bikes. And the bikes always sound great on paper, or on a screen. But there’s only really one way to know for sure if this bike lives up to the hype, and that’s to get out there and try one for yourself!
After all, wouldn’t you rather be riding than reading? I know I would be!
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