Thursday, December 27, 2018

Trust Message fork review.

Back in October, as the Outside bike test was winding down, we received one of the new Trust "Message" forks to ride.

Warning: The review below is verbose, opinionated, and nitpicky.  If you don't live and breathe bicycle minutia, skip this one.

+ + + + +

I'm no stranger to outside the norm suspension, and am always game to see what any new design brings to the table.  Through the years I've owned and ridden all sorts of standard telescoping forks -- Pike, Lyrik, Stage, 34, 36, Reba, Rev, Mattoc, etc... -- but I've also spent lots of time on Lefty, Maverick SC and DUC, USE SUB, Lauf, Rock Shox RS1, a few custom Action Tec's, and several generations of single and dual crown Dorado.

Granted, most of those are still telescoping forks, but in their heyday many were as controversial as the Trust fork is today.  You had to be willing to swim against the grain a bit to own and ride one.

I share the above simply to point out that I'm not afraid to drink the kool-aid, because there's usually a benefit to doing so.

When the Trust fork arrived the bike testing crew debated which chassis to install it on, ultimately giving the nod to the Ibis Ripmo.  I measured and found that the stock 36 that came on the Ripmo was about an inch taller (axle to crown) than the Trust fork, so I cut the steerer 1" longer to be able to keep the bar height at least as high as stock.  Note 40mm of spacers below stem -- this will become important later.


I did some fine tuning of pressures and damper settings by plowing through curbs and off small loading docks out back of my shop, such that while I never felt it was "dialed" by any stretch, I figured it was close enough to ride real trail with minimal need to stop and fiddle.

The next morning I brought the bike to the chosen test loop and rode with the group.  Although it is my backyard and the route chosen is one that I enjoy, I wasn't able to find much of a rhythm on that ~hourlong test loop, largely because the Trust fork had lowered the front end of the Ripmo over an inch, steepening the HTA and dropping the (already kinda low) BB substantially.  I sort of adapted to the steering change but I kept plowing (not grazing) my feet into trailside rocks, which didn't instill confidence nor a desire to ride faster.

Bike geo aside, the fork felt harsh pretty much everywhere.  It tracked undulations in the trail really well but anything square edged downright *hurt* both hands and wrists.  I stopped once to fiddle with damping -- basically to open it up more because it felt so overdamped -- and found that it was already almost completely open.  I backed the adjusters out completely, wanting the fork to move more and hurt less.  After another ~mile of trail with the fork still feeling really harsh on anything square edged, I stopped again and dropped the pressure.  Trust recommends putting your body weight into each chamber in PSI.  I weigh 190# so that's where I'd started, but the harsh feel was terrible, so I dropped it to 160# on each side.

And that felt a little better.  Slightly less harsh on square stuff.  I wondered about sag and whether I was blowing through all the travel by running it so low, but a quick glance at the travel indicator revealed that I hadn't yet used more than 80% of the stroke.

Curiously, running lower air pressure meant that now the rebound damping felt too slow.  I noted this largely in situations where I like to preload the front end to facilitate a quick manual over or through some obstacle.  Now the fork wouldn't rebound fast enough to take advantage of this technique.  So I stopped again and attempted to make the rebound faster, but it was already at minimum damping/maximum speed.  Huh.

When we closed that loop and got back to the trailhead many of the testers were interested in what I thought, and wanted to head out on it next.  I responded with some version of "I'm not sure what to think, but it might not be quite right", and then removed my pedals so the next tester in line could spin his on and take it for a lap.

Ultimately 5 others rode the Trust fork that day.  They took the time to set the fork up per Trust's recommended specs -- starting with body weight in both air chambers -- and then fine-tuned damping a bit before heading out.  

Ultimately all 5 other riders concluded that:
-The fork felt very, very harsh on square edged hits.  So harsh that we all agreed there must be something wrong with the compression damping circuit.  So harsh that no one was willing nor able to ride the test loops at full speed -- it was simply painful on the hands and wrists to do so.
-The fork never got more than 80% of it's travel, even on drops with harsh landings (Free Lunch trail).  Several of the testers were perplexed by this, ultimately removing all air from the fork and bouncing on it until a hard bottom could be felt.  Still the travel indicator would not move past 80%.
-Although we all started with recommended PSI, all 5 riders ultimately wanted to run far less than recommended pressures as a means for softening the overdamped compression stroke.  An informal poll revealed that we all ultimately ran it at least 30psi softer than recommended, and some as much as 60psi under.  And still everyone agreed it was way too harsh on square edged hits.

When the riding ended that day I wondered aloud if maybe the fork was simply overmatched by the rear suspension on the Ibis?  There were a few grunts and grumbles but everyone was tired -- tired from a week of riding hard, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and eating strange food, then riding hard again -- and we didn't really come to any solid conclusions.

The testing ended that night and the test crew dispersed.  Most of the bikes were left at my shop for me to box back up and ship home.  A quick glance over the remaining pile revealed a few other options where the Trust fork might make more sense: Shorter travel bikes with more of an XC bent, basically.  I removed the Trust fork from the Ripmo and installed it on an Intense Sniper.  Note 50+mm stack of spacers under the stem -- this will come up again later.


I'd ridden the Sniper a handful of times during the test, and liked it for what it was: Light, quick, and nimble.  It was not -- is not -- "plush" -- nor was it designed to be so.  It rewards a rider that is hard on the gas all the time on the flats and ups, and skilled enough to slalom around or loft the bike through the chunkiest bits.  Trying to plow straight through anything would reveal the limits of suspension and chassis stiffness lickety split.  I didn't think it was a great bike for the chunkiest local trails, but when ridden fast on the medium and mellower stuff it seemed to do really well.  So once I installed the Trust fork on it, that's the sort of terrain I sought out -- the mellower stuff.

And honestly it didn't really make much difference.  The fork felt every bit as harsh -- overdamped -- as it had on the Ripmo.  I fiddled with it every way I could think of -- leaving pressure stock but closing the dampers down more, opening dampers and dropping pressures, then reversing all of the above to some middle ground.  Differences were felt but basically it went from awful to terrible, and at best back to awful.  I figured something had to be wrong with the dampers, so I said as much.  The guy that organizes the Outside bike test agreed with me, and set up a conference call with Trust to tell them what we'd found on our first rides.

I didn't record the call although I wish I had.  So much was said and shared, on both sides.  The gist of the conversation was that they thought we had improperly set it up, and as such weren't getting the "Trust effect".  They never, ever used these words, but if I had to sum it up in my own words it sounded like they were saying, "You guys aren't smart enough to do this on your own.  We should have come there and set it up for you."

Given that I've been riding, racing professionally, and wrenching on my own bikes for over 30 years, as well as working as a professional wrench for most of that time, it was hard not to feel a bit chapped at being talked to that way.  The flip side is that the adjustments on this fork are few and rudimentary, and no matter what combination 6 different riders had used, they'd all agreed that the fork felt terrible.  

In the end Trust agreed to take the fork back, check it over, and let us know what they found.  Curiously, before I'd even shipped the fork back to them they sent an email with these quotes:

"Damping: 100% certainty that what you have is right. All of our products are individually dyno tested by our amazing damper testing robot before shipment, so we know there's nothing wrong with them. And the one that we sent you was validated by our staff in-house in Utah. Possibly you are picking up on what it feels like to have a front suspension with almost no damper hysteresis. The telescopics have our brains trained to equate "good" with "no damping", so it's new feeling to ride something so dialed in.

RE: not getting full travel, I'm not fully sure. If we are talking parking lot test, I can see that. It's going to feel stiff as all getout in a parking lot test if you are trying to make it feel like a telescopic. But get it onto the trail and start trusting that front tire and it will feel ridiculously supple. That's the "Trust Effect" at work.

Curious if you read any of the info we put together about trust effect on our site or the setup guide that came with it. We tried so hard to explain that Trust Effect. It's a tricky one to explain to somebody, kinda like explaining what a new flavor tastes like. It's a whole new sensation that your brain really wants to try to piece together with what it already knows."

After reading (and re-reading) and thinking about the above I concluded that they had drank their own kool aid, potentially overdosed on it, and had arrived at a place where they weren't really open to outside opinions.  If they could hear them at all.  Their prerogative to do so.  

As I was preparing to pull the fork off the bike and send it in, I had the idea to get an opinion from an outside, uninvested source.  I flung an email out to a good friend and local riding partner whom used to be a card-carrying pro DH racer.  He currently owns a local bike shop.  He's super sharp with understanding, explaining, and tuning suspension, and even more pernickety than I am when it comes to getting his setups dialed just so.  I knew that he'd be able to better put words to whatever he felt than I had, and was relieved when he quickly responded "I'd love to ride it -- when?"

He picked it up the next morning, still installed on the Sniper.  I gave him Trust's quick setup guide so that he'd be able to set it up to his liking, then off he went.

When he brought it back he summed up his experience with, "I'm not really sure what to do with that thing.  It's so overdamped on compression that you can't go fast on anything other than buttery smooth dirt.  Add in rocks or ledges and especially square edges and it just jackhammers your hands and wrists.  You have to slow way, way down to be able to maintain control of the bike.  Something is broken in that damping system -- it's just not working."

With that I thanked him for his time, pulled the fork off the bike, and sent it back to Trust to inspect and hopefully repair.  Problems happen with first-batch production all the time -- It seemed like we must have just gotten a bad one despite their admonitions to the contrary.

It took a few weeks to hear back from Trust.

Here is their response:

I wanted to get back in touch to let you know where the team is at. After taking a closer look at the unit, they could not find any issue with product quality. Related to the concerns brought up, here's what they discovered:  
  • The product gets full travel without abnormal activity.
  • The travel indicator functions properly.
  • The damper passed and passes EOL testing; the damper does not develop “too much high speed compression”.
Several issues stemmed from use:
  • Steerer tube was cut almost unusably short – almost definitely put bar position too low and CG too far forward.
  • Damper settings far off target, all the way open. 100lb rider settings being used.

After discussing next steps, the team reiterated that they should have been there with you from the start to set up the suspension - to get it dialed pre and during the ride. With this in mind, they'd love to meet up in person at some point in the early spring to ride together.
This was shared with me by the Outside bike test coordinator.  We conversed by phone and agreed that Trust had done a great job with communication throughout.  We applauded them for their willingness to bring the fork back and help us get set up on it -- how many companies would offer that?

Given what we'd already felt, and combined with their conclusion that it was performing as intended, we also agreed that we had zero interest in riding it any further. 

+ + + + +

I was psyched to be able to get to ride a new, unique, and highly-hyped product on my backyard trails.  In the end being able to do that saved me a whole lot of money and long-term frustration.

Don't hesitate with questions.

And comments?  Say whatever you like in the space below -- good or bad matters not to me.  However, I'm done publishing comments from people that don't/won't sign their name to it.  Anything that arrives for moderation with 'unknown' or 'anonymous' attached to it gets deleted, regardless.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the honest review. Looks like I'll be avoiding this fork.

    I'm curious if anyone at Trust actually rode the fork that was returned. Maybe their test setup has an issue.

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  2. Unusably short steer tube.... and you had a 40mm/50mm of spacers under it? What bike are they using as a test bench? An XXL tall boy with a 8” head tube? $2,700 and they have to “be there” to set it up? No offense but DW must have swung for the fence and missed the beach ball intirely.

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  3. Great multi-user-tested, candid review. Don't see that often nowadays.....good on ya.

    Giving the benefit of the doubt to Trust, I still must agree w/the above comments. Hopefully they listen, pursue the questionable issues analytically and openly, and benefit from some "non-Kool-Aid" constructive criticism.

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  4. The Trust Effect....
    I'm sensing a meme in the works.

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  5. I love for you to have them come out and set it up and see what you think again and if still garbage what their response is.

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  6. Oh well you tried. The Kool Aid side of the Force can be seductive and sticky like industrial velcro.

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  7. Have you ridden the White Brothers Ribbon Mike? Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

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