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Shartacular Spectacular
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Background:

I found a brand new 2018 Santa Cruz V10 at a great price last November from NH shop and opted not to wait for the new model to come out. I then proceeded to count the days until the parks opened up so I could take it for a spin.

I live on on the east coast and typically ride Blue Mountain Bike Park in PA every weekend with trips to Mountain Creek if Blue is having some race or event. The terrain is typically chunky and techy as is typical of the east coast, but I ride the flow stuff as well. I am ~215 geared up with a hydration pack, 6'0 tall, and ride an XL Santa Cruz V10.6.

The bike came with a Fox DHX2. Granted it was just the performance series, but despite exhaustive spring and click combinations, I always felt like I was making huge sacrifices:

  • DHX2 + 550 lb spring required me to jack up compression damping and speed up rebound to keep from bottoming out on bigger hits or packing up deep in rock gardens on successive hits. I could keep the compression lower for better tracking and traction, but drops and bigger hits were jarring (to put it lightly). In order to handle the drops and bigger hits I ended up having to add compression to the extent that the became the shock harsh in the tech and rock gardens to the point of making it hard to keep my feet on the pedals even after playing with rebound at the higher compression settings.

  • DHX2 + 600 lb spring: the shock resisted bottoming, but was really harsh the further I got into the travel and seemed to skip and deflect off of techy stuff at speed. I dialed out compression and it got springy so I played with the rebound, but couldn't find a balance where it wouldn't either pack up or get all "deflecty" and lose grip in the chunk. Furthermore, I just couldn't get the timing right getting it to compress and unload in and out of corners.

The bottom line was that I had to choose between grip in chunk at speed with reliable grip cornering or support on big hits/ drops at the cost of grip. I understand there are inherent sacrifices in tuning suspension, but I couldn't find anything resembling a solid middle ground- I was giving up a ton on either end to find something rideable in one type of terrain or the other.

Finding a Solution:

I decided something needed to be done so I did a bunch of research and decided a custom tune seemed like the quickest route to the performance I was looking for: I contacted Avalanche Suspension via email about adding high speed compression / rebound adjusters and giving it the full internals / custom tune treatment. I got an email back asking if I could be persuaded against this course of action and suggested for about the same price I could buy a marazocchi bomber coil and have it tuned and I'd be happier about the result. I gave them a call and Craig explained at length and in great detail why the van rc and marazocchi were better options for tuning (piston diameter, shimming, inferiority of the poppet valve design, restrictive damper flow, etc). I did some further research so as not to be a blind kool-aid drinker (and because I was curious about something I knew wayy less about than I thought) and was further convinced by some papers I read on moto suspension design that tuning my DHX2 might not be my absolute best option if I'm headed the custom tune route.

To this end I perused the Avalanche site, read some old reviews on here, and really liked what the Woodie had to offer vs a retuned bomber cr/van rc. I called Craig to discuss the Woodie / my riding / preferred settings and placed my order the next day. For the record, Craig didn't at any point bring up the Woodie or try to upsell it. He could have taken my money, tuned the dhx2, and that would have been that.

Initial impressions: I've got a Woodie for the Woodie...

I feel a lot of reviews I read are generally sensationalized and a cocktail of confirmation bias with a dash of placebo effect and a heavy pour of "my conscience trying to justify my purchase." I've got two weekends of riding park on this shock and I would like to preface this by saying, that if this shock didn't work out the way I wanted it to I was fully prepared to go another route without blinking an eye- I just wanted results, cost be damned.

This shock has transformed my bike and the way I can ride it. Nothing less. This isn't an exaggeration or any type of confirmation of this or that. I put this shock on my bike, took it to my bike park, and rode it like I never have before. I am BLOWN AWAY by the amount of grip and support through the uber chunky tech trails at speed, the feel entering and exiting corners, hitting drops, eating up everything from chatter to big chunk without flinching, and the performance as a whole. It gives and compresses where you need it to while remaining supportive and just feels insanely planted no matter how rough/chunky/chattery things get.

The amount of support throughout the entirety of the stroke is otherworldly-I didn't know it was possible to have a shock eat up everything from small chatter to big chunk like this thing does while not blowing through travel / losing the midstroke or packing up. Support and grip all day and I'm running a back tire that's definitely already overdue for a one way ticket to the trash (I keep saying I'm going to swap it out for the fresh one I've had on hand, but then just don't). Drops and big hits, bring it, a-l-l day. It's no exaggeration to state that I am faster on this shock and I feel like I can push so much harder in all of the terrain I ride. I don't really have anything bad to say. I have the downhill racing tune. If you want something super poppy and playful choose the freeride tune or tell him what combo of tunes you're looking for and I have no doubt he'll be able to dial that it in for you.

It's easy to get caught up in the hype-train of each year's new releases and the associated catchphrase marketing and I'm not going to say that they are or aren't gimmicky, because I don't know and I haven't ridden a lot of them. What I can say is that I didn't know a shock existed that made so few compromises as a custom tuned Avalanche Woodie. This is by far the closest I've ever come to having my cake and eating it too, and for that I must thank the suspension Maestro, Craig Seekins (and Wendy too), over at Avalanche Suspension. I am honestly a little surprised and baffled why I don't see more of these around or talked about on the forums. There are a few at my local park, but being as good as they are I'm surprised not to see more. If you ride DH (as that is what I use it for, though I am told Craig's doing a lot more tuning and shocks for enduro these days) do yourself a favor and consider sending your shock to Avalanche for a tune or just buy one of their own models, the man/engineer knows shocks and knows his stuff. It's truly a ride-changing confidence-inspiring upgrade to your bike. If I decide to upgrade my trail bike rear shock, I'll definitely be talking to Avalanche.

Disclaimer: I am not paid by them, did not receive anything free from them and was not in anyway influenced to write this review by anything other than supreme satisfaction with the final product thus far.
 

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For a loooong while, Craig hadn't updated his prices. Back in the day, his DHS shock and DHF fork were so expensive, that a lot of people laughed, but the people that did own the swore by them. Fast forward a number of years, and you had Fox shocks that were as expensive as the Avalanche shocks and still inferior in all ways. Even now, his current prices are still competitive. I guess it's marketing, or lack of it?? Avalanche relies on word of mouth I suppose more than anything else. I love my Woodie shock on my big bike and would consider getting a Chubie for my trail bike.
 

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Elitest thrill junkie
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Yep, the frustrating part is that year after year some new shock/fork damper is released and touted to finally solve all the problems and be the "best thing" out there, but it always falls flat on it's face compared to a good custom tuned damper, like Avalanche. Fox and RS are caught in the jam of having to make OEM stuff for such a wide range of riders and bikes that everyone gets a mediocre damper, rather than a few getting a great damper and most being terrible, but once you ride a real good damper, everything else does feel pretty terrible. The best thing about these custom tunes is the harder you push them through rough terrain, the better they feel and work. They aren't the best for slower riders that aren't riding aggressively...at least my tune isn't, but the harder I push it against the bumps and terrain at mach 5, the better it works and keeps up. That's the opposite of most OEM stuff that either diverges from this faster or simply feels worse the faster and harder you ride it.
 

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Shartacular Spectacular
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443 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
For a loooong while, Craig hadn't updated his prices. Back in the day, his DHS shock and DHF fork were so expensive, that a lot of people laughed, but the people that did own the swore by them. Fast forward a number of years, and you had Fox shocks that were as expensive as the Avalanche shocks and still inferior in all ways. Even now, his current prices are still competitive. I guess it's marketing, or lack of it?? Avalanche relies on word of mouth I suppose more than anything else. I love my Woodie shock on my big bike and would consider getting a Chubie for my trail bike.
Yep, the frustrating part is that year after year some new shock/fork damper is released and touted to finally solve all the problems and be the "best thing" out there, but it always falls flat on it's face compared to a good custom tuned damper, like Avalanche. Fox and RS are caught in the jam of having to make OEM stuff for such a wide range of riders and bikes that everyone gets a mediocre damper, rather than a few getting a great damper and most being terrible, but once you ride a real good damper, everything else does feel pretty terrible. The best thing about these custom tunes is the harder you push them through rough terrain, the better they feel and work. They aren't the best for slower riders that aren't riding aggressively...at least my tune isn't, but the harder I push it against the bumps and terrain at mach 5, the better it works and keeps up. That's the opposite of most OEM stuff that either diverges from this faster or simply feels worse the faster and harder you ride it.
I completely agree with both of you on all counts. I could be wrong, but I get the vibe it's a two person operation and also have to wonder if he doesn't just have more than enough on his hands answering questions, servicing and retuning the shocks and forks he's put into circulation over the years and performing endless custom tunes on all the stuff put out by the big manufacturers. On top of that he's still developing new stuff! I'm very intrigued by his new hybrid air / coil spring damper cartridge system and will likely be placing an order in the near future to time it's arrival for when I service my 40's lowers next.

There's something too that I heard on a Vital podcast interview with Spomer interviewing Darren from Push that I also find to be somewhat representative of the attitude of a lot of people out there have including some I've encountered. I believe it was when Spomer was asking Darren how he felt things compared to the shocks back in the day like an "old avalanche" or something like that. Similarly, I told a younger guy (I'm early 30's) I ride with that I had ordered a Woodie to replace my DHX2 and he said something like "why would you want something so old." After I explained, he was intrigued and has been asking me a lot about it since. I think the reality is the industry has created this mirage of constant game-changing innovation to sell more stuff each year, when in reality they are just trying to come up with ways to make a generic tune feel a little less generic via methods that are inherently compromised packaged as revolutionary advances. Economically, I understand why the big brands have to do what they do, but the reality is the end product is still way behind a solid platform optimized for custom tuned internals developed a few years ago.

Finally, I see a lot of comments from people complaining that their site looks old, and does it? It's got some patina, but it also contains a metric f*ck ton more useful information on the technical features and mechanics of the product than any other suspension site out there and I'll take that all day-real information rather than marketing BS and gimmicks.

I like to think Avalanche is what its owner wants it to be -a product supported and spoken for by its performance-and those that ride his stuff seem to stick with it. I just hope people don't overlook the opportunity to ride it based on a webpage theme/layout.

Price-wise, in today's suspension market, these suckers are fair if not a bit of a steal considering performance and more robust seals and parts.
 

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I do think a new website is in order though...maybe back in the day that website worked but with the current generation, you need something a little more polished to get their attention. I agree with the amount of info they have; it's nice to read about what is done when you send a shock in for custom tuning. Other tuners have never fully included the details.

On top of that, while Craig already suggests buying the cheapest shock out there to get tuned to save money, he'll also tell you if he can or can't tune a shock for you based on the suspension design. Whereas other tuners will happily take your money and give you something with a lot of compromises.

That hybrid system looks good, although for someone like me that has an older gen of the Fox 36 cartridge that uses the top cap of the RC2 compression adjuster, I'd have to get all kinds of new parts to make it compatible.
 

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I do think a new website is in order though...maybe back in the day that website worked but with the current generation, you need something a little more polished to get their attention. I agree with the amount of info they have; it's nice to read about what is done when you send a shock in for custom tuning. Other tuners have never fully included the details.

On top of that, while Craig already suggests buying the cheapest shock out there to get tuned to save money, he'll also tell you if he can or can't tune a shock for you based on the suspension design. Whereas other tuners will happily take your money and give you something with a lot of compromises.

That hybrid system looks good, although for someone like me that has an older gen of the Fox 36 cartridge that uses the top cap of the RC2 compression adjuster, I'd have to get all kinds of new parts to make it compatible.
I agree Craig wants to do what he thinks will provide the best most realistic option. I had talked with about doing a coil for my RFX and he said he could but it would be best to just retune the Monarch I already had.
 

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Elitest thrill junkie
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I have both for my RFX. The coil is waaaay better. The monarch pedals well and is supportive (tuned), but I made the mistake of running it in an Enduro a month back and while it pedaled nice for the ups and worked well on the flow trails, there is one nasty rooty trail where it’s not sensitive enough to stick to the off-camber roots, so I crashed on that section, but I’ve done it many times before and after with coil, just no comparison, coil is way better in those situations and you can’t make up for crashing in a race like that.
 

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Shartacular Spectacular
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Talked to Craig tonight about the hybrid Coil/Air for my Fox 40 tonight and placed my order shortly thereafter, I’m very excited to give it a try as it really does sound like it could potentially offer the best of both worlds.

@Christopher Robin: that is a bummer with the compatibility with the old 36. I suppose it’s something to look forward to when it comes time to upgrade though!
 
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