For 2023, RockShox has completely revamped their line of mountain bike forks and shocks in a massive way. They’ve pared down the range of travel that each fork accommodates, allowing them to be better suited for a specific use and lighter across the line. They dived into the internals of the forks and shocks, creating an entirely new damper that is positioned to revolutionize how the end user tunes their suspension, making the entire process significantly easier and more meaningful. They have also added other clever features and improvements across the board.
As for visual changes, you’ll notice the sharp, angular styling of the ZEB carry through across the line into both the Lyrik and the Pike. Although the previous generation of forks certainly didn’t look bad, the new models have a mean, aggressive stance to them that adds to their visual appeal.
With all the forks serving a more specific travel range than before, RockShox was able to shorten the portion of the stanchions that extends into the lowers, since they don’t have to accommodate such a wide range of travel. This allows every fork in the line to be lighter and more dedicated to its intended purpose.
The fork lowers, which the stanchions extend into, all have new, longer bushings inside them to better hold those stanchions in place, keeping the forks stiff. These bushings have channels in them that allow oil to move through, keeping everything well lubricated.
Speaking of lube, RockShox has worked with Maxima Racing Oils to develop a new Plush Dynamic suspension lubricant that is a few steps up from the old 0w30 that they’ve used for ages. That comes stock in all the forks, and is backwards compatible with previous generation forks; meaning the oil won’t degrade the seals on last year’s forks. This is the only update that will be backwards compatible with the Lyrik and the Pike, so if you don’t intend on buying a new fork, make sure your shop uses the new Maxima Plush oil next time they rebuild your fork to get those benefits.
Like you’ll find on Fox’s new forks, RockShox has added pressure relief valves, allowing you to easily expel air pressure that might build up in the lower legs after ascending a few thousand feet. This feature mostly comes into play on long, all day rides with a lot of elevation change, or days at the bike park, but for a top of the line fork like the Ultimate models, it is a welcome addition that has no downsides.
A lovely ease-of-use feature new to these forks are little guides on their dropouts to make it easier to use wheels and hubs that don’t have torque caps. Now your hub sits exactly where it should, instead of floating around until you have the axle in.
Another handy feature is a new injection molded fender that matches the look of the forks and will keep mud out of your eyes without rubbing the paint off your fork.
The first and most important change to the fork internals is an entirely re-designed damper. Called the Charger 3 damper, this shares nothing with the previous generation Charger 2.1 damper, which does unfortunately mean it is only backwards compatible on the ZEB, not the Lyrik or Pike.
If you get your hands on one, the first thing you’ll notice is that RockShox has re-envisioned how we make adjustments to our damping. Instead of starting our compression and rebound adjustments at fully closed and counting out some hard-to-remember number of clicks from there, Rockshox has set up their compression circuits so that the middle setting, easily identifiable as the thickest line on the knob, is “neutral.”
This is where everyone, whether you’re 120 lbs or 220 lbs, should start, which works because it is the air spring side that actually supports your weight. From there, depending on what you’re riding and how hard you ride it, you’ll adjust right or left, for more or less damping.
In my mind this is going to result in a massive improvement in usability for these knobs. I know so many people who avoid adjusting their suspension because it’s confusing and somewhat overwhelming. I think this will go a long way in making it so that people are comfortable making changes to improve their riding experience.
That might be the most visible change, but like we said, this damper is completely new. Gone is the expanding bladder from the Charger 2.1, which has been replaced with an internal floating piston (IFP) that lives in the compression assembly. Inside that, the RockShox is running what they claim are two totally independent compression circuits, one for high speed hits and one for slower forces.
That means that if you decide your fork is compressing too easily in rollers, you can add low speed compression damping without making the fork feel harsher the next time you front-wheel-case a jump, and vice versa. Essentially, RockShox claims that in other dampers, changing one setting affects the other, and that the way they’ve done it negates that.
The more tech savvy of you will probably notice an immediate similarity with the new Charger 3 design to RockShox’s main competitor, Fox, and their GRIP2 damper. That design also dropped the expanding bladder of their previous RC2 damper and moved to a spring-backed IFP. As such, the Charger 3 has all the same advantages of that design, including reduced friction in the system, the ability to purge excess oil, and greater reliability in general.
Is the Charger 3 better than the GRIP2? Well, I’m not knowledgeable enough to be able to tell by taking it apart, but I am looking forward to getting out on trail and trying it out. One thing that I do already love about this damper, aside from the very clever arrangement of the dials, is that this thing can be completely taken apart and serviced without any special tools, and that RockShox is completely supporting it with service parts. That’s a big improvement in and of itself, and one I’m really glad for.
Moving lower on the damper shaft is the rebound assembly, which is still adjusted with one knob. Fox makes a big deal about their Variable Valve Control (read more about that here) High Speed Rebound adjustment, which can definitely be very useful, but I know many folks find it to be quite confusing, and don’t mind just having one rebound adjustment that controls the majority of rebound speeds.
One interesting and appreciated thing that RockShox did with the rebound damping is to design something they call “The Silencer,” which as I understand it, decreases turbulence as the oil flows through the rebound piston assembly. That means a quieter, less distracting fork. A small change, but a nice one.
The final piece that can’t be ignored on the Charger 3 damper is the little gold piece down at the bottom. Aside from the color, it’s not much to look at, but it’s what’s inside it (and its sibling at the bottom of the air spring) that are worth noting. Housed in the gold container is a chunk of vibration damping rubber, which sits between the the damper/air spring and the fork lowers that they attach to, and serve to deaden the high frequency vibrations that would otherwise head straight to your hands. Called Butter Cups, this might be the cherry on top of these new forks. A simple piece of technology, one that’s been used in power tools for ages and ages (think of the rubber grommets that sit between a gasoline engine and it’s chassis on everything from lawn equipment to power tools), and has finally made its way to mountain bikes.
On that other side of the fork leg, there is a new Debonair+ air spring. Aside from the Buttercup at the bottom, RockShox has refined the air spring for each fork; something they were able to do because each model now has a smaller range of travel lengths to accommodate. By catering to more specific uses and travels, each spring was designed to be better for its intended purpose.
Rear Shocks - The New Super Deluxe Ultimate, Air and Coil
Speaking of catering to specific uses, that was RockShox’s modus operandi in their renovated Super Deluxe Ultimate shocks. Like the forks, these have been redesigned from the ground up, and have a lot of improvements and new features.
RockShox has again run with the idea of easy and precise tunability, which you’ll see in the new damper and its adjustments. It’s called the RC2T damper, which stands for: rebound, two compression adjustments (high and low speed), and Threshold, which is what RockShox is calling the pedaling platform.
That single rebound adjustment has moved down to the bottom of the shaft, as opposed to the large adjuster on the top of the previous shock. Some frames are set up in a way that having the knob down there can make it really hard to adjust, but RockShox has thoughtfully added little holes to the knob itself that will fit an allen, so you can reach in there and change it without much trouble.
The two compression adjustments, as with the Charger 3 damper, are alleged to have very little overlap. Again, that means that changing your high speed compression damping will have a minimal effect on low speed compressions, and vice versa. They’re also set up in that same handy way where the middle of the five settings is neutral (that’s where everyone should start) and you get two adjustments in either direction to tune the shock exactly to your liking.
The low speed compression, a setting that you’re likely to adjust more frequently, is tool-less, while the high speed compression is tooled, but both have the same 5 settings that start at center “neutral.”
Lastly is Threshold, RockShox’s new name for their climb switch. That lever sits on the side opposite the low speed compression adjustment and gives the user a comfortably dampened “platform” to pedal on, while still allowing the rear wheel to absorb larger bumps.
The new coil and air shocks use almost the exact same damper, except for one new addition that functions a little differently between the two; that’s the hydraulic bottom-out, something I’m very excited about. Technically it is simply another compression damping circuit that doesn’t come into play at all until the last 20% of your travel, at which point a pin starts to close off an orifice that oil is trying to get through. For the end user, this means that you don’t have to change the dynamics of the entire travel to reduce the harshness of a bottom out. While it’s true that we’ve been able to do this with volume reducers, this is simply one more way to avoid the awful sensation of smashing through the entirety of your travel.
The hydraulic bottom out is not adjustable on the air shock because it doesn’t need to be; the innate progressivity of an air can works with the hydraulic bottom out to maintain control through that bottom bit of stroke. The coil shock, on the other hand, does benefit from being able to tune that bottom out, because the linear nature of a metal spring can let you get through your travel a little more easily depending on the spring weight you choose to run. This hydraulic circuit will still work in conjunction with the physical bottom out bumper to keep you from smashing bottom.
The way the hydraulic bottom out works does mean that you can’t take one of these shocks and cut out the plastic travel reducers inside to increase your travel; doing that will result in an internal impact and a broken shock. If you need to change your travel, you can give us a holler and we can help you out.
With this new release, RockShox has redoubled their efforts to work with frame manufacturers to get the perfect damper tune for a given bike, so that that “center” setting on the compression adjustments is correct for a given bike. Along with that, they’ve developed two different air cans to further tune your feel: a linear air can and a progressive air can.
Most people and most bikes will get along better with the linear can, but for certain bikes and for certain riders, a progressive can may work better. It uses a larger negative air chamber much like the MegNeg, so relative to the negative chamber, the positive air chamber is smaller. This creates increased progressivity and more support in the middle of the stroke. You can also of course tune your air can with tokens, which are available for both the positive and negative springs.
Aftermarket availability for both of these shocks is going to be quite good, so if this is something you may want to upgrade to, get in touch with us and we’ll be able to help you out. If you’re thinking of running the coil version of the shock, it is worth noting these coil shocks will work with any bike with a yolk, including the new Stumpjumper EVO; exciting stuff.
A Revolution in Mountain Bike Suspension?
Earlier I mentioned that I felt RockShox’s approach to tuning this new line of suspension is revolutionary. Go on YouTube and search “How To Tune Your Bike Suspension,” and you’ll see a hundred different videos (including one of ours), because it’s pretty dang confusing. I think what really makes this update special is that RockShox has made it infinitely more intuitive and simple for the average person to change how their suspension feels. That is something worth celebrating, and something that should really improve the quality of people’s ride, innate performance increases aside.
If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us; we’re more than happy to help you figure it out.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the ride - Dan Perl
Photos by Doug Jambor
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