The concept behind Cane Creek's new DBair shock, unveiled earlier this week, is simple; take the coil-sprung Double Barrel's damper and fit an air spring. In reality however, the shock took over two years to engineer, prototype and test before it became ready for production.
Cane Creek list a weight of 500g for the new shock and say the DBair is roughly 200g lighter than a similarly sized Double Barrel coil shock, but that's not the whole story. "Weight wasn't the only factor, weight wasn't even the driving factor for the Double Barrel air," Cane Creek's R&D director Josh Coaplen told BikeRadar. "We wanted to bring the Double Barrel damping technology downstream – meaning for bikes with less [suspension] travel."
The DBair sports an adjustable air spring and volume (via different can size), along with high- and low-speed adjustments for both compression and rebound circuits. It'll be offered in eight different lengths and strokes, from 190 x 50mm (7.5 x 2in) to 267 x 90mm (10.5 x 3.5in). Coaplen told us it's suitable for bikes with down to 140mm of travel – "it allows that bike class to have a damper that performs like the Double Barrel [coil]".
Another issue driving Cane Creek's decision to go air is that some bikes just plain don't work well with the linear nature of a coil-sprung damper, namely those with a rising leverage rate. Tuning an air spring is infinitely easier than tuning a coil spring's rate, and some riders simply fall in between a coil spring's conventional 50lb increments
Coaplen said the biggest challenge in making the DBair was establishing what the air spring should feel like. "I wrote a program that analyzes air spring curves," he said. "So we took every shock on the market and analyzed their air spring curves analytically. Then on a machine we measured stroke versus displacement to validate our models. With that model, we could see what everyone else was doing, ride those shocks, see where we felt they excelled and where they lacked, and that gave us a general idea of where we wanted the air spring. We started getting into the prototype levels at that point."
Once the air spring is properly tuned for bike and rider, the volume of the air-can can still be varied. Cane Creek say this makes the DBair the most tunable damper in the industry despite the fact that it isn't custom-tuned for a specific bike, in the traditional sense. "We've gotten the feedback, saying 'if you're turning knobs, you're not custom-tuning the shock'," said Coaplen. "But we argue that you're doing the same exact thing someone would do when they modify a shim stack, it's just much easier. We've put the time in at the design level so that every rider who rides a Double Barrel rides a custom-tuned shock."
For 2012, Double Barrel shocks, both coil and air, will appear on a lot more complete bikes as OEM equipment. Cane Creek will offer baseline tunes for each of the bikes the shocks are sold on, essentially tuning the dampers to best work with the bike design, through a specific knob setting.
Made in the US
While not every single intricate part of the DBair is made in the US, the vast majority are. Components are sourced and machined in shops from Montana to right down the street from Cane Creek's headquarters in Fletcher, North Carolina before they come together in possibly the most tunable air-sprung damper available today.
"All of the Double Barrels are made here [in the US]," said Coaplen. "We engineer our own components and then we prototype those components in-house, for the most part. We go through the entire process of taking an idea, to a prototype, to a product, and then we produce what we can. It allows us to be pretty flexible. We make some parts right here, in-house, for the shock, some parts are made domestically and some are made internationally."
Upward of 60 percent of the parts within the shock are made domestically but Cane Creek have a hard time sourcing the more process-intensive parts in the US. The pieces that require advanced types of forging or multiple processes to finish are more easily, and economically, sourced from Asia's manufacturing centers.
"As the processes add up, it becomes really hard for us to make those parts in the US," said Coaplen. "Taiwan is dense, so if you have eight processes to make a part, those processes might all be within a mile radius, whereas in the US you'd be shipping those parts across the country to find someone that specializes in that process you need.
"We build, from parts, every piece [shock] at Cane Creek, but not every part is made at Cane Creek. It wouldn't make any sense for us to make washers or shims. The idea of vertical integration breaks down. We're searching for additional parts to bring in-house and we've also done some sourcing from other bike companies; for example, Industry Nine are part of a larger [machining] company and they make some of the valving parts."
Testing, one, two
Cane Creek have spent the past year testing the DBair on all kinds of bikes – dual linkage bikes, single pivots of all types and FSR designs. "When we built our test fleet we looked at all of the bikes," said Coaplen. "We need it to work as well in the aftermarket as in the OE market, so we wanted something that complements as many different suspension designs as possible.
"It's been awesome doing the testing with all of these different bikes, and the testers are always impressed when their bike needs this [or that], and all we have to do is turn a knob. I don't show up with eight different damper tunes. Ohlins pioneered that twin tube technology so that you can show up to a race track and all you need are the shocks on your car; you don't need 16 other shocks depending on what the conditions are."
Coaplen said the challenge was making the air shock as versatile as Ohlins intended and the coil-sprung Double Barrel has proved. Cane Creek admit the new shock gives up sensitivity and durability compared to the original Double Barrel. It'll also be more expensive, due to its complexity and the greater number of parts in the package.
"There are more things that can go wrong so there'll be a higher level of maintenance and a lower level of durability," said Coaplen. "But that can be said of any air shock. Having said that, one of our design criteria for the DBair was that it should be serviceable without opening the damper, meaning you can service all of the air seals without opening the damper ,and we accomplished that." The DBair will be available from 1 January 2012. Its price has yet to be set.