Electronics are creeping into cycling, from GPS devices that are veritable bar-mounted PCs to lights built directly into bike frames to electronic shifting systems like Shimano Di2.
Mountain biking has been slightly behind the curve, though there’s talk that Shimano has a mountain electronic shifting system in the works and SRAM just filed patents that hint at the possibility of an electronic mountain bike drivetrain. Meanwhile, Lapierre and Rockshox brought their electronic suspension system to market this season (look for an upcoming review of the Lapiere XR929), and Fox has prototypes on test in the field.
And last fall, German component manufacturer Magura rolled out the TS8 fork, which uses an electronic damper. Earlier this month, the company showed off its matching TS rear shock.
Dubbed eLect, the system uses an accelerometer in the fork to automatically lock and unlock a bike’s suspension. Activation is based on the incline angle of the fork, which the rider chooses and programs by placing the bike at the given angle for desired lockout engagement (on a step, for instance) and holding the button on the fork’s right stanchion for five seconds.
Once set, when the bike tips past that angle (on a climb, for example), the fork locks out. When the bike goes back to flat or starts descending, the accelerometer adjusts accordingly and opens the fork.
On bikes equipped with the TS shock, the fork communicates with the rear end by ANT+ wireless protocol, and the rear shock locks and unlocks accordingly. There’s also a bar-mount remote that lets a rider override the auto function and turn the lockout on and off at will.
The remote that’s currently being sold with the fork is a simple on-and-off toggle. The one that will come with the fork/shock combo is a tidy, three-button device with controls to activate the fork alone, the shock alone, or the two together.
Magura’s advantage over other systems is its simplicity. All units—including the fork, shock, and remote—are wireless and operate on ANT+. That means the processor (two nickel-metal hydride batteries) and the accelerometer in the fork are self-contained within each unit.
On the fork, it all fits neatly inside the compression damper, which can be quickly screwed in and out of the fork. Best of all, the outer form and hardware on the fork is identical to past models, meaning Magura forks dating back to 2010 can be retrofit with the new eLect system—simply screw out the old damper and insert the new one.
Battery life is said to be about 40 hours in auto mode (which switches back and forth more frequently than the average user), and 60 hours in manual mode. If the batteries die in the field, the system reverts to full open mode so it won’t impede performance.
Charge up by way of a micro-USB port on the fork stanchion. Magura says the batteries will last for 1,000 charge cycles, meaning the system should produce roughly five years of continuous use. When (or if) the batteries drain fully, riders can send the damper unit back to Magura for a swap. A standard CR2032 watch battery powers the bar-mount remote.
At the Sedona launch, Magura had a range of bikes equipped with its new gear, including a Giant Anthem X with both an eLect fork and shock. There was also a fleet of Specialized Stumpjumpers fitted with non-eLect TS8 forks, which allowed riders to see just how easy the switch to the eLect cartridge is and then compare the performance both with and without the auto feature.
In both cases, riders immediately noticed how lightweight and simple the system is. The bikes look and feel just like any other mountain bike. In fact, Magura claims eLect is lighter than most other analogue systems on the market because of the lack of cables.
On the bikes, the system worked surprisingly well, locking and unlocking the fork and shocks depending on the terrain. Even in Sedona, where the trails are constantly rolling, the eLect cartridge kept up.
There is a small delay (about two seconds) built into the accelerometer, which worried me at first. However, the delay is actually a boon because, at least on the quick up and down terrain of Sedona, if the sensor changed more rapidly, you’d end up with a rigid bike on descents following short rises. As it is, the suspension stayed open except on sustained climbs—just where you want it to lock up. There’s also a free-fall sensor that opens the suspension immediately in case of a big drop.
At first I thought I would want to manually change the settings back and forth with the remote. But after just a short time on the trails, I realized that the auto sensor is much more effective and I left the transitions to the fork sensor.
Riding the standard fork without the eLect, I mostly left it in open mode, if only for the simplicity of not having to think about it. So the eLect simply augments the ride with stiffness when you need it. Practically speaking, it functions a lot like the Specialized Brain, only with electronics.
If the slow adoption of Di2 and other electronics is any indication, many luddites will initially dismiss electronics in suspension as too complicated and unnecessary. All I’d say is don’t write it off ‘till you’ve tried it. Though I’ve logged only a short time on eLect, so far it’s a straightforward and ingenious system that works admirably.
Magura’s eLect forks are for sale now in 100mm and 120mm lengths and retail for $1,400. The company is working on longer-travel models. Consumers can also purchase eLect damper cartridge upgrade for $650 to retrofit older Magura forks.
The fork/shock combo eLect system won’t be sold after market given the customization needed to work on the wide range of bike frames. But Norco is planning to build a new race model, the Revolver Full Suspension, with both units in 2015, and Magura says it’s in talks with other manufacturers to equip bikes with the system.