Today sees RockShox launch the next generation of their suspension range, and it’s more than just new colours and a few cursory tweaks. The new range is all about performance and one headline item is a ‘from-the-ground-up’ brand new damper – the Charger 3.
You can read more about the new range, the tech, and development in our news story. We’ve had a new Zeb Ultimate and Super Deluxe Ultimate bolted on to a RAAW Madonna for the past couple of weeks so read on to see what we think.
The Fork: Zeb Ultimate
This product was selected for our Editors’ Choice Awards 2022, as published in Singletrack Magazine Issue 146
Ross: “Your choice of fork, especially on hard-hitting bikes, can make or break a ride (and your confidence, teeth, etc.). On a longer travel bike, chances are you’re going to be carrying more speed in rougher terrain and the first thing to smash into the rocks and roots is the front end of the bike so you want to be able to rely on your fork to take it all in its stride. That’s the new RockShox ZEB Ultimate. There are plenty of other really good, long-travel fork options on the market, but for me the ZEB is top of the tree. It’s simple to set up and offers amazing performance on both low level repeated trail chatter and big hits alike. The new damper has a more usable range for mere mortals than the previous version. Also, each click of a dial has a definite and notable effect on performance that allows you to change the ride characteristics as and when required.”
From the outside, the new Zeb Ultimate looks very much the same as its predecessor. With the Zeb being a relatively new addition to the RockShox range, the new model shares the same general architecture and angular looks as the original, which has also now been adopted across the fork range.
Available in 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes, and travel ranging from 160mm up to 190mm, new the Zeb comes in either grey or shiny black and we’ve had a 170mm 29er on test. While at first glance it might look the same on the outside, look a bit closer and you’ll start to see the differences.
On the back of each leg you’ll now find pressure relief valves to help remove any unwanted air build-up in the lowers. On top of the right hand leg you’ll still find both high and low speed compression adjusters, but more importantly, they sit on top of the brand new Charger 3 damper. The damper is a completely new design from the previous and features a brand new IFP that forgoes the use of a rubber bladder and is designed to reduce rider fatigue and increase control, along with being silent in use.
RockShox was aware that a majority of riders ran the compression adjusters pretty much wide open on the previous damper, so one of the main aims of the new one was to make all the settings usable, and have a consistent and noticeable effect on the performance. Another of the key points when developing the new damper was to ensure that both LSC and HSC could be adjusted independently of each, ensuring that making adjustments to one, wouldn’t have an impact on the other.
With the new damper, RockShox suggest starting with both LSC and HSC in the middle of their range and then fine tuning from there, with each click having a definite impact on the performance of the fork. There are 5 positions for high speed damping, and 15 clicks of low speed on offer.
The new Charger 3 damper is utilised across the range of forks – Zeb, Lyrik and Pike – but sized to suit the stanchions. Each fork also has a redesigned DebonAir+ air spring with tuned positive and negative air volumes that is designed to be specific for it’s application yet to also give a consistent feel across the range. At the bottom of both the damper and air spring (the parts that are fixed to the lowers), on Ultimate level forks, is what RockShox call Buttercups. These are essentially small elastomer dampers that are designed maximise high frequency absorption and dampen trail vibration.
The bushings have also had an overhaul to maximise overlap and reduce friction. The lower bushing on Ultimate level is a claimed 53% longer than the previous model to further reduce friction and keep things running smoothly, This is further enhanced with a change from own brand fluid to Maxima Dynamic Plush Suspension Lube across the range.
The Shock: Super Deluxe Ultimate
The upgrades aren’t only reserved for the fork range though, with the shocks benefiting from a pretty big redesign too. Top of the list is the new RC2T damper that is seen on the Ultimate level Super Deluxe Shock – both air and coil.
The new damper offer plenty of options of getting things dialled with rebound, LSC and HSC adjustment, along with a pedal platform (R = rebound, C = compression x 2, T = threshold). Like the HSC on the forks, both the LSC and HSC on the RC2T damper offer 5 clicks of adjustment, in effect, giving you two more or two less than their base setting.
As with the Charger 3 damper, the adjustments on the RC2T are designed to have a tangible effect on how the shock performs and the bike rides, letting you get things dialled in and making it easy and simple to make adjustments.
The new Super Deluxe Ultimate is available with two different air cans – one linear, and one progressive – to suit different bikes with different leverage curves, and to help get the most from your particular ride.
To further enhance this, the new Debonair+ rear shocks now utilise not only Bottomless Tokens to tune the ride, but also Negative Tokens to help fine tune the initial part of the travel and end stroke ramp. The shock we’ve had on test is a linear air can and has zero Negative Tokens and two Bottomless Tokens
The fork and shock have been bolted on to a RAAW Madonna V2.2 for the duration of the yestGetting the fork setup is pretty straight forward. And as with all their forks, RockShox have a suggested air pressure guide stuck on the fork which gives a good idea and then just fine tune from there. I weigh around 86 – 87kg in riding kit and started with around 73psi, which I then dropped a couple of psi from. This gave me around 20% sag. As suggested by RockShox I also started with all dials in the middle and adjusted rebound to suit.
With the shock I settled at 170 psi which gave me the 30% sag I was looking for. I again started with the LSC and HSC in the middle of their settings and then set the rebound to suit.
After a few initial runs to start dialling things in, I settled on five clicks from fully open of LSC and one from fully open on HSC for the fork, and fully open on both HSC and LSC on the shock.
The Ride – Zeb Ultimate
From the first bounce on the new Zeb Ultimate you can feel how sensitive and plush the fork is off the top. I was a fan of the original Zeb, which used Charger 2.1, but the new damper certainly feels like a step above.
Any fork of this nature is going to have to be pedalled to, and around the trails, and the Zeb Ultimate does it without any fuss. If you mash the pedals, or are out of the saddle cranking, you can get it moving, but it does a great job of tracking the ground and just gets on with it.
Get things moving though and the Zeb Ultimate is genuinely impressive. Whether you’re dropping into a steep hand cut rut, or smashing through a chunky rock garden, the Zeb stays composed and confident.
It does a properly good job of ironing out the trail, letting you get off the brakes and ride what’s in front of you. It floats across carpets of roots, soaking them up and smoothing things out impressively, adding grip and letting you look ahead. Small trail chatter disappears under the front wheel, with no undue feedback through the bars, and that suppleness adds grip across cambers and roots. The new damper and Buttercups certainly seem to what they claim, removing high frequency trail chatter and vibration.
As things get rougher the Zeb just keeps on ploughing. Big hits, fast hits, they’re all taken in its stride, without getting flustered or knocked off line. The damper does a great job of soaking things up without ever feeling harsh. It rides nice and high in its travel, keeping you in an aggressive position and offering loads of support for properly rough tracks, and for hitting steep turns.
And it’s not afraid to use it’s travel, but it does in a controlled way, never blowing through it but using it when it’s needed. Whether it’s a catch at the bottom of a vertical chute, a shady flat landing, or a flat out boulder fest, the Zeb gets you through without any harsh bottom outs, and always feels like there’s something left in reserve.
Chassis stiffness is as you’d expect from a 38mm fork, and I’m sure it does flex, but it’s certainly not something I’ve noticed. But while it is definitely stiff, that doesn’t translate into a stiff or jarring ride, and the fork holds a line impressively through choppy ground without getting deflected or offering too much feedback.
Clicking dials on the new damper definitely has a noticeable effect on the performance of the fork. While I settled on 5 from open on the LSC, I could easily run a click either way depending on exactly what terrain I was riding, and if it was just super steep then a couple of extra clicks of LSC has a noticeable effect on keeping the front up.
The Ride – Super Deluxe Ultimate
The Super Deluxe Ultimate was replacing an Öhlins TTX2Air, a shock that I really rate and so far it’s not disappointed. After experimenting with the various compression settings I settled on running everything fully open to get the most small bump compliance, and keep a supple and more playful feel to the bike.
As with the fork, the shock was fitted to a bike that needs to be pedalled and it does that just fine. There’s no major pedal bob, and if you want to use the pedal platform, it does a good job of firmiing things up. I never felt the need to flip the switch though and only ever tried it to see how it felt.
Once things start pointing back down and speeds increase it does a great job of dealing with low level trail chatter, hovering across sections of rough trails and carpets of roots, while maintaining speed, and keeping enough in reserve for loading things up and gapping over sections.
On big, fast, repeated hits it remains focussed, and composed, soaking things up without bucking or bottoming harshly, keeping the rear wheel tracking the ground and on line. It handles square edge hits well, getting the rear end out of the way without hanging up or stalling, and doesn’t get phased by overzealous flat landings.
Like the fork, it seems to run nicely in the middle of it’s travel, offering plenty of grip and support for off cambers or hitting berms. You can really push the back end into turns and there’s loads of support for a bit of slip and grip and springing back out. Occasionally I’ve added a click of HSC if the trails I’m riding are purely fast, rocky, big hit after big hit, just to add some extra support. But for general riding I’ve left it fully open.
While I’ve only had the New Zeb Ultimate and Super Deluxe Ultimate fitted for a short amount of time, it’s been long enough to form an impression, and I’m impressed. The new dampers – in both the fork and shock – are an improvement over previous iterations and offer genuinely useful and usable adjustments.
When things get rough they both work amazingly to keep things in check and get you through any section.
If I had to pick one, I’d probably say that the fork has impressed me most, but, they offer a balanced feel to the bike without either particularly outshining the other. The performance is properly top drawer, and while the price has increased , they’re still at the lower end of other manufacturers top flight bouncers.
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|Zeb Ultimate & Super Deluxe Ultimate
|Fork £1,119 / Shock £578
|by Ross for 2 weeks