I’ve been privileged to throw my leg around many fine bicycles, and two years ago, when I got to review a Moots Womble, I fell in love. It’s incredibly light and capable, but, most importantly, it pedals pleasantly whether you’re climbing or descending. It’s the bike I ride the most here in Santa Fe, and while it often gets in over its head, so to speak, I find it capable enough for a proper all-mountain experience. I’ve climbed with it from town to our towers (12,500′) and took it right back down the guts of the Rocky Mountains on a long, 15-mile singletrack descent. It’s taken me across the Uncompahgre Plateau and all over Northern New Mexico. While it only has a 140mm travel fork, it’s honed my riding skills to where I feel like I’ve mastered this titanium chassis. Yet, I’m not opposed to upgrades or using this trusty bike as a lab rat for product tests.
Over the past few months, I’ve been giving two new products a proper thrashin’ from New Mexico to Montana, so let’s see what I think about the Chris King FusionFiber Wheels and the new RockShox Pike Ultimate below.
First of all, let me just say, if you’re looking for a Womble review, this ain’t it. Go check out our archives for that! I’ve also posted about it loaded up for a hut-to-hut trip last year. In this post, I’m reviewing two new products I’ve had the chance to give a proper test…
Chris King FusionFiber Wheels
The cycling industry has a problem it’s not addressing: its use of carbon fiber. I’ve tried regulating this myself over the past few years, limiting the amount of carbon on my bikes and opting for aluminum or titanium when possible. For me, it’s not about the process of producing the material as much as its long-term sustainability. Will all these carbon frames and wheels still be around in 30 years like steel bikes and aluminum rims are currently? In my opinion, no. Will the ones that are around be safe to ride? Again… it’s doubtful. This, of course, is ATMO, so take it with a grain.
Now, wheels are a tricky point for me. I cannot ride aluminum wheels on my mountain bikes. I’ve yet to find a tire/rim combination that holds up to the abuse I dish out, especially on my hardtails! It sucks, too, because I like the flex aluminum wheels offer but having to replace a rim every six months isn’t something I care to deal with.
A few years back, there was an announcement about a new material called FusionFiber, developed by CSS Composites. It’s essentially recyclable carbon fiber made from Nylon instead of Epoxy. This material currently comes in the form of rims and has been adopted by brands like Revel Bikes for their in-house wheels, as well as Chris King. Did I mention FusionFiber rims are made in the USA too?
Once Revel took the leap and announced its production of FusionFiber wheels, I bought a set for my gravel bike and was immediately sold on its improved ride quality. They aren’t stiff like other carbon wheels are and offer a bit of “ankle compliance” like those fancy Zipp 3Zero wheels I reviewed last year. There’s no *donk* when you land from a jump or stiff hands at the end of bone-chattering descents. But what about FusionFiber on a MTB? As I started looking at another set for my Womble, Chris King reached out and asked if I wanted to try their new FusionFiber wheels.
I have a longstanding relationship with Chris King. I admire their product and story, which should be evident from the numerous articles about Chris King on The Radavist. Making products in the USA is very important to me, and these wheels attracted me like a springtime trout to a wooly bugger fly. Made in the USA hubs, made in the USA FusionFiber rims. Lifetime warranty? Sign. Me. Up!
Over the past few months (sorry it took me so long to write about these, Bob!), I’ve been giving these wheels a proper thrashing, mostly on our steep and rocky trails here in Santa Fe. I like testing new products on familiar terrain, vis a vis a familiar bike. I know my Womble quite well. It’s like an extension of my body at this point. So changing things like wheels makes a huge difference in the overall experience of each ride.
A metaphor best sums up my initial impression: other carbon wheels feel like stiff hiking boots, while the FusionFiber rims feel like proper trail running shoes. We all know most thru-hikers like wearing trail running shoes over hiking boots…
My criteria for reviewing wheels are pretty basic and include the following questions:
How well do the wheels set up tubeless? Easy as, mate. You can even do it with a floor pump.
External or internal nipples? External nipples. I’m a big fan of external nipples on bikes you could potentially take on a tour. Imagine having to replace an internal nipple on a bike tour, trailside. Yikes.
Does the width match the tire size? With an external width of 36mm and an internal width of 29mm, the FusionFiber rims are designed for 2.3″ through 2.6″ tires. These Teravail Kessel 29×2.6″ tires are a perfect fit. They don’t feel like they’ll roll off the rim hook or get squishy in off-camber corners.
How durable are they? i.e., did they require retruing or spoke maintenance? In the past four months of riding, I’ve yet to have to do a single thing to these wheels, save for cleaning them for this review.
Are they wrist-shattering stiff, or do they flex? This is by far the highest-selling factor for me. Traditional carbon is made with resin, which produces a very stiff wheel. Sometimes too stiff, in my opinion. Since FusionFiber rims are recyclable, they don’t use resin but rather a proprietary bit of wizardry involving bonding nylon fiber that makes the wheels more plush, supple, even. I was surprised at how similar they ride to the Zipp 3Zero wheels I had on this bike before. Josh is now riding those wheels on his Sklar.
Does the retail price reflect the product’s production? 100% so. These wheels are made in the USA, where the workers are paid a living wage, and both CSS and Chris King produce in a facility with many environmental, health, and safety regulations. When you make things in the USA, they’re going to cost more, but the upside to that is; hopefully, you’re not replacing that product for some time!
What do they weigh? Chris King reports these wheels to weigh 1746g for the pair. That includes hubs, 2x 28h spokes, valves, and rims. When I received these wheels, they weighed 1750g for me. Maybe that’s due to the rim tape?
Bonus! FusionFiber rims are built with:
ZERO waste or scrap
ZERO carbon dust
They use 1/3 electricity per part compared to traditional composite parts.
50% increase in damping properties
Bonus, bonus, bonus! These Chris King valve caps were a nice surprise! They double as valve core removers/tighteners.
Chris King MT30 Wheels retail for $2550 and come backed with a lifetime warranty. Read more at Chris King.
Rock Shox Pike Ultimate
“What could they possibly do to improve upon the Pike?” I said while reading the press release for the new Pike and Lyrik forks from RockShox a few days after a few boxes arrived. The Pike has been a game changer for me on hardtails, and it felt right at home on the Womble when I first got it in for a review. Little did I know then that this bike would become the most used bike in my collection.
I’m only emphasizing the time I spend on this bike to re-instate my belief that changes, no matter how small, stick out for me when riding it. I had the Chris King wheels on the Womble for three months before putting the new Pike on the bike and had already acclimated to the riding experience of the wheels. So when the new Pike Ultimate got mounted up, I was shocked at how well it rode compared to the old Pike Ultimate.
The most noticeable difference was the incorporation of what Rock Shox calls the “ButterCups” that absorb 20% of trail chatter, thus making the initial impacts along the trail less intense. With 35mm stanchions, the Pike is a very stiff fork on a hardtail, so any amount of chunder-smoothing tech is noticeable. Now, had Rock Shox just left the updates to the ButterCups, I would have been perfectly content with the new Pike’s feel. Yet, they didn’t stop there.
I’m a “set it and forget it” kind of rider. Perhaps that’s why I like a hardtail so much. It’s easy to set 20% sag on these bikes with no rear shock. Yet, with this new Pike Ultimate, I tinkered with it more and more. For every ride, I mess with either the HSC (high-speed compression – for descents) or the LSC (low-speed compression – for climbs), and depending on the terrain; I will click the rebound around to find the perfect feel. For those unfamiliar, the rebound is how open or closed the adjustment needle is on the fork. Closed (turtle) means it’ll be slower to respond to the trail, while open (rabbit) responds faster. There are 20 clicks of adjustability in the new Pike Ultimate. At 200lbs trail weight (with all my riding gear), I’ve found that seven clicks from closed is where the sweet spot is for rebound.
This trifecta of trail adjustability is thanks to the Charger 3 damper, which isolates the HSC and the LSC, eliminating the overlap in adjustment. Think of it like a hi-fi receiver on your turntable that allows you to adjust bass and treble independently to dial in the sound. Typically, when you dial in HSC or LSC, it will adversely affect the other. This new Charger 3 allows for independent adjustment between HSC and LSC, offering unprecedented control between the two. This is perhaps why I felt like my adjustments were making incremental improvements in ride quality before. Neat.
This Charger 3 design relies on what Rock Shox calls an Internal Floating Piston (IFP). The coil spring opposite the piston keeps the travel consistent and responsive, offering complete control when the trail gets rough. Combining this new damper with SKF seals and a new lubricant called Maxima Plush Dynamic Suspension Lube, the new Pike is the smoothest feeling fork I’ve ever ridden.
Another interesting design feature is these bleed ports. If you live at lower elevations and travel to high elevations to ride, air pressure can build up in the upper chamber of the fork, adversely altering the ride quality. You can either pull the caps off and purge these valves or just press them through the rubber cap. Just about every ride, I make sure they’re purged. Now, here’s where I had the only issue with the new Pike.
I let a friend ride this bike, and they must have purged some air from the fork without using a shock pump. In doing so, air rushes out and gets stuck in the upper chamber, on the air port side. I noticed the fork diving weirdly to one side before I realized what had happened. Once I purged the air and re-set the air pressure to my weight, it solved the problem.
So why did this happen? Well, to paraphrase: The lower leg fork casting ramp is a separate chamber from what’s happening with the Charger 3 damper. Remember, the left side of the fork is where the air spring is. Rock Shox changed the dimple position in this new Pike, or where the negative and positive spring equalize. They are now autonomous (hence the increased control over HSC/LSC). In the old Pike design, these inhabited the same space. In the previous forks, you didn’t have to push the fork up and down – or actuate it – to get these dimple positions to equalize. For the new forks, you must actuate the fork near the top out during setup so these two positive or negative springs equalize. In short, pump the fork up and down when you’re adding or taking away air!
When someone lets air out without a shock pump, the air won’t equalize in the positive and negative chambers.
Always use a shock pump when dialing in your PSI!
So TL;DR, if you have an old Pike and want an increase in adjustability or plusher ride quality, you can’t go wrong with the new Pike Ultimate. Yet, I will say, I was perfectly content with the old Pike Ultimate on this bike and wouldn’t have been any wiser unless I’d ridden the new fork. Across the board, the Pike is my favorite fork for a hardtail, yet this is the one time I will say the incremental gains are worth the upgrade.
The most supple hardtail just got even more supple.
The New Pike Ultimate retails for $1054, and the Old Pike Ultimate retails for $917. Read more at Rock Shox.
Many thanks to SRAM, Rock Shox, Chris King, and Moots for being solid supporters of both The Radavist and me. Thanks to Josh Weinberg for the action photos and the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society for keeping our trails rough and rocky. We don’t need no stinkin’ flow trails!