Launched today is the Trust Performance Message, a pivoting fork that will change the look of front suspension, and improve your ride. We’re one of just three publications to get an early look at and ride on this brand new fork from three of the bike industry’s biggest innovators. Berne Broudy takes up the story…
Mountain bike suspension has improved exponentially in the past decade. Rear shocks are dialed, but front suspension hasn’t caught up. But perhaps this new fork will change that.
“When a telescopic forks compresses, the steering is less stable,” explains Dave Weagle, one of the best known modern mountain bike innovators—he’s responsible for the DW Link used by Pivot, Ibis and others, and cofounded E13 Components and Evil Bikes. Many pivoting fork prototypes have focused on making front suspension lighter, or eliminating fork dive when a rider brakes. Telescopic forks have so much stiction – which is the resistance to a rider initiating fork travel – that designers have to engineer flex into them so that a rider can engage the suspension, which typically takes around 50 pounds of pressure. Adding flex to a stanchion fork reduces initiation force. But it also increases instability, which makes it harder for a rider to ream corners and to pop over larger obstacles. “On modern bikes, larger wheels, bigger tyres, and slacker head angles reduce that instability, but you can still feel it,” said Weagle. “And in order for a front suspension fork to absorb shock in both small and large bumps can require pHd level tuning skills, and even then you’re not always able to achieve perfection.”
Weagle and business partners Hap Seliga, co-founder of Competitive Cyclist, and Jason Schiers, co-founder of Enve Composites, formed Trust Performance to offer a solution. Today, they’re releasing The Message, a carbon fork with pivots not stanchions, that moves on bearings the company designed and is producing. Unlike past pivoting fork designs, The Message’s mission is better cornering, easier setup, and improved performance in all terrain, including small and large bumps and corners.
“We started with feel we wanted and engineered backwards,” said Weagle. The Message delivers 130mm of contour travel through a twin-tube thru-shaft damper with a four-bar linkage design that Trust Performance says provides incredible stability, control and traction across a wide range of trail conditions. With a full-carbon chassis, steerer and links, The Message is competitively lightweight and stiff compared to other high end forks on the market. It’s easy to set up, comes with a lifetime bearing warranty, and boasts a 250-hour service interval. And, it bolts on to any standard mountain bike headset, no modifications required. The single SKU The Message fits on mountain bikes with a traditional tapered head tube, and it runs a 110 x 15mm Boost front axle with a standard 180mm – 203mm post-style brake mount. The Message is suitable for a wider range of axle-to-crown lengths and travel – one model will replace 29” and 27.5”+ telescopic forks with 110mm to 140mm of travel and 27.5” telescopic forks with 130 to 150mm of travel.
How it works.
In the beginning of travel, The Message’s links are oriented vertically, so it’s good at taking bumps from the front and supporting load from underneath, which gives it stability, bump reaction, and pedaling support. The fork selectively decreases offset, so that the trail measurement – the tyre patch “trailing” behind the steering axis – is always consistent from the contact patch to the steering axis.
As the pivots are engaged, the fork becomes slacker without changing the offset, increasing stability as the pivots compress.
“The Message allows the front of the bike to reap the benefits that rear suspension designs have enjoyed for years,” says Weagle. “Supple performance early in the stroke, supported with a progressive mid-stroke and more bottom-out resistance at the end of the travel. Like well-designed rear suspension, The Message’s linkage absorbs impacts and eliminates wallowing, so the rider doesn’t blow through travel during a heavy pedal.”
Modern mountain bikes use slack head angles and shorter fork offsets to increase caster measurements (mechanical trail) as a way to improve high-speed handling. Longer front centers increase stability, while shorter offsets pull the front axle back, at the same time increasing caster and steering confidence. Due to the unique design and axle path of The Message linkage, a front wheel on The Message now behaves like a caster. This provides a self-aligning dynamic in which the rider experiences greater control in a slide and more predictable steering input in most conditions.
Because of the linkage design and performance, typical measurements of head angle, axle to crown (AC) height, and fixed offsets on ride feel and bike geometry are less important. In the past AC heights were primarily important to deal with the wallow of telescopic forks. With The Message, AC height doesn’t change as dramatically as in telescoping front suspension, allowing it to perform on a wide range of telescopic AC heights. Said differently: on a telescopic fork, you can’t change the offset as the bike moves through a range of trail conditions, and the steering angle always becomes steeper as you compress the suspension, reducing the fork’s stability. Enter a corner with your weight over the bars, and that’s when your fork is least stable. A linkage instead of stanchions moves the axle back, which reduces offset and increases stability.
The Message also solves the ‘diving when braking’ conundrum. The Message’s links are low and trailing. On a telescopic fork, braking forces put all the rider’s weight on the fork, so it compresses. On The Message, hit a rock or bump in the first part of compression and the wheel doesn’t dive or extend. On a telescopic fork, a rider would have to run more low speed compression damping for g-outs, but then the damper isn’t smart enough to know if you’re braking or not, so it’s still in play on small bumps. The Message is more supple in small bumps because the linkage is isolated from the fork leg. Push against a bump, and the bike feels supple. Ram into a square edge rock, and the bike rolls over it.
A telescoping fork is constantly ramping up stiction as you further engage the suspension. And it can take 25-200 lbs to engage telescoping suspension. The Message takes 2-4 lbs of pressure to engage suspension. A telescopic fork is always compressing, so it has no leverage ratio, whereas The Message has a progressive leverage ratio that’s highly tunable. The damper and spring have more leverage over wheel later in travel, which gives the spring and damper more mechanical advantage over wheel. Trust air springs are tunable like a standard air spring, but feel like a coil spring because of their leverage ratio and super low stiction. They also have what Weagle calls “a real bottom out bumper instead of a foofy o-ring.” It’s an efficient design, similar to that that of a downhill form that takes the edge off huge impacts.
Maintenance and Set Up.
Beyond performance benefits, The Message has maintenance benefits. The fork needs significantly less servicing than a telescoping fork. The damper is sealed and inside the fork leg, away from the elements. The air spring and damper are totally separated, so at no point can air get into the damper – a problem for telescoping forks. Linkages and bearings are ridiculously overbuilt, and the linkages have rubber dust shields. There are no pivot spacers, and the loads in the pivots are low, which minimises wear and tear. So Trust Performance recommends maintenance every 250 hours of riding instead of every 100 hours.
The Message is also easy to set up and operate. High speed compression and rebound adjusters are on the fork leg. Set air springs operate at the same PSI as a rider’s body weight – rider weight in pounds is equal to the air spring pressure in PSI. Damper settings are controlled with three external settings – open, medium and locked. Rebound and open mode compression use the same settings and are set up by body weight. Turning clickers all the way clockwise sets the fork for a 300 lb. rider. Every counterclockwise click out on the rebound and open mode compression screws is equal to reducing rider weight by 10. Medium mode compression is similar, with fewer clicks. Each click is equal to 40 lbs rider weight.
Trust performance has achieved less than half a percent of variation in high speed compression and rebound and blow off across different dampers, which makes the fork predictable. Stamped steel dampers are consistent and accurate, so there isn’t variation from fork to fork. Huck pucks in the damper, like tokens in other forks, can be used to change air volume. The fork ships with its spring force set up for an aggressive rider. A three position load adjuster provides trail and ‘lockout’ modes, though even with the fork locked out, it still manages bumps if you slam into something.
And there are design benefits too…. When brands decide to spec this fork on their bikes, that brand’s engineers can design damper, spring, kinematics, and how the frame interacts with all of the above. Trust Performance can also control the stiffness and shape of the legs and as well as the stiffness of the links.
How it rides.
We tested this fork, in Deer Valley, Utah for a single afternoon. We rode size M Pivot Switchblades with 27.5 wheels back to back, one with a Rock Shox Pike and one with The Message. We lapped the same trail multiple times on each, then took the bike with The Message for a longer run, followed by a big descent from near the top of Park City’s Guardsman’s Pass down to Midway.
The Message was superior in at least three scenarios: riding down a stretch of chunky gravel from the end of the single track to the base of the ski lift, its ability to absorb chatter and vibration better than a telescoping fork was noticeable. Hitting rocks, roots and ruts was less jarring than on a telescoping fork. And the corners rode differently in a good way, though it’s hard to describe exactly what we were feeling with such a short time on board. What we can say: we liked the fork enough we didn’t want to give it back at the end, and we are eagerly anticipating more time on it on our home trails.
Why we think this fork could influence the future of front suspension.
The Trust Performance team are experienced and well respected bicycle industry veterans. Hap Seliga was a co-founder of Competitive Cyclist, Jason Schiers founded Enve Composites, and Dave Weagle designed the DW-link as well as a host of other bike industry firsts. By the time you read this story, Trust Performance’s Asian factory will be producing forks, and the first 50 production forks will be off the line and available through the Park City, Utah-based team’s website.
In the initial stages, Trust Performance is only direct to consumer. All three principles agree that they want to focus on quality, be nimble in working out any kinks once The Message has been introduced, without being locked into contracts, deadlines and details like color matching with OEMs yet. And they’ve raised enough money to move forward with this business strategy.
As an aftermarket or as an OEM product, The Message has an interesting efficiency. One model can be used across multiple wheel sizes, tyre sizes and travel. A single SKU will fit 27.5 wheel bikes with up to 150mm travel as well as 100-140mm suspension 29ers and plus tyre bikes.
But the fork’s relevance extends beyond high end mountain bikes. The team expects deep penetration in bike and moto that they’re not willing to address in detail at this time, though they reiterate that this fork could impact a broad spectrum of two wheeled pursuits. They also acknowledge that though they’re all industry veterans, they “have a lot to prove to be competitors to SRAM and FOX,” according to Weagle, who continued, “We believe we’ll provide benefits outside the usage window of current product, or we wouldn’t be doing this. When product managers are no longer chained to offset and head angle, it will make their lives so much easier. They’ll no longer have to choose between a bike being more stable and steering like a tractor, or being twitchy and unstable. All they have to do is decide where they want the rider’s hands, and the fork will let those things work. Steering angle and headtube will be the last thing determined by a bike designer.”
Though Trust Performance is keeping its cards close to its chest as to where this project is headed, all three partners confirm that their goal is not to make a pinnacle product for racers and elite cyclists, but “to touch as many riders as possible and to make as many riders lives better as possible.”
Design: Trailing multi-link front suspension
Construction: Full carbon chassis, steerer tube and linkages with aluminum pivots
Travel: 130mm contour travel
Wheel Size: Fits 29” / 27.5”+ / and 27.5” wheel sizes
Tyre Clearance: 29”x 2.6” (762 x 66) max or 27.5” x 2.8” (744 x 78) max
Rotor Size: Direct mount 180mm rotor (with adapter: 203mm)
Suggested Bikes: 29” / 27.5”+ bikes designed around 110mm to 150mm of travel; 27.5” bikes designed around 130mm to 150mm of travel
Weight: 1980 grams
Damper Technology: Trust engineered twin-tube, thru-shaft damper
Adjustments: External rebound; three-position compression adjust (open, medium, firm)
Hub Spacing: “Boost” 15x110mm thru axle standard, or with “torque caps”
Axle to Crown: 535mm
Steer Tube Diameter: Tapered (1⅛ – 1½ inch)