Nice profile shot of the fork leg - definitely smoother without the boot
I should start by stating that I have been on the Cannondale Lefty fork now since early 2010. First off with a 26 manual lockout version, then the remote lockout 29er version. Just in case you have been living under a rock the benefits that the Lefty fork has over other forks are lightness and stiffness. Straight up, that is what you will gain. Looks aside, the fork works, and it works extremely well. From a looks point of view, the rubber accordion boot has gone, and the lower stanchion is now a round shape, from my perspective it looks a lot smoother.
One leg is plenty - as stiff as a 7" dual crown DH fork yet lighter than any other XC fork
When the new team bike arrived 2 weeks ago, I ripped it out of the box and put it up on the stand. It pretty much stayed that way for the next week. I was only home for 2 days before heading off to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under. However, having planned the trip to return on the Wednesday evening so I could race on Thursday, meant that the heat was on to get the bike stripped and rebuilt so I could roll out Thursday afternoon.
Front on, the fork looks awesome
My review of the lefty is mainly from a real life perspective and from a riding point of view. For the technical overview, you can check out these fine sites that strip it down in that sort of detail.
Definitely getting the full travel here
I actually did read the owners manual and put the recommended air pressure in for my weight. I also backed off the rebound so that it was superfast. I tend to like riding the bike like this for a couple of reasons. I find that when I pump the bike through corners or if I am bunnyhopping or jumping - then the fork responds really well in order to lift the bike off the ground. Also, I like to ride fast and the trails tend to be pretty bumpy - so I like the fork to get back up to be ready for each successive bump.
When I rolled down the street I did the obligatory driveway ramp jump with a cross up thrown in for good measure. When I landed it I was really stoked with the feel of the fork. Apart from it being Thursday and I was off for a 3 hour MTB ride in the afternoon, the fork was solid. The 2012 lefty was also solid, but this one has a really different feel.
The new round stanchion also has kick-ass dust seals - check out what it has kept out!
I use the term 'feel' a fair bit with regards to riding. I find that because I have ridden a bunch of different parts, bikes and clothing, that after a while you can feel what is good and what is so-so. The solid feel that I mentioned before is mainly down to the Hybrid Bearing design that has stiffened the fork up in a lateral sense. So, when I landed the jump, my motion dictated that the forces through the fork be thrown forward and down via the travel and movement of the fork. The fork's new design however, said 'no - you can still roll forward , however, the fork is going to feel more rigid' when going down through the travel and it won't 'move' forward - OK, I'm paraphrasing here, because I said something along the lines of 'holy sh..' because I was expecting something else that wasn't this plush yet superbly stiff.
New round stanchion
The ride over to Stromlo from my house is about 20kms. I took the bikepath, and as usual, threw in a fair bit of urban singletrack, bunnyhops, extra obstacles and bits here and there to get the feel of the fork. One thing I noticed right away was that when I had the remote lockout set in the soft position (ie not locked out), the fork didn't dive. This was a really subtle thing that the old lefty had when you set the pressure at the recommended number. Of course, you could mitigate this with a little extra pressure, but obviously, you then lost a bit of small bump sensitivity. Diving occurs under hard front braking, if you are descending steep stuff under brakes, and it can also occur in micro-dives under power - we'll just call this bobbing!
Where the magic happens - top of fork - heading off to remote lockout
When I got to Stromlo, the crit laid out was the standard one that has been raced on a million times. To say that I know it reasonably well, would be an understatement. I probably know each and every corner, pebble and bump around the short course. One good thing was that it was bone dry, therefore making bike setup and handling skills really important (unlike when it has recently rained and there is 'hero grip'). This would rely on the bike setup as well as the tyres and rider input to be fast around the course.
The fork - attached to the rest of the bike
As I usually do, I do about 10 laps or so just slowly increasing the speed and seeing what the course has for the day and also what I have for the day in the skills bag. In essence, the course is as follows;
- Flat Fireroad leading into a corner that has a massive hole made by mud and drainage.
- Off camber left hand turn, then leading into a off camber right hand turn;
- Through an uphill section that contains lots of small bumps from erosion and natural terrain.
- 180 degree turn to descent
- triple jump
- slightly false flat fire road
- 180 degree bermed corner
- slight downhill run on singletrack into a 90 degree right hand berm
- twisting bumpy singletrack
- 4 massive rollers
- uphill run to a 90 degree left hand corner
- downhill staring with a 2 foot drop off, then superfast off camber left hander
Whilst the course is relatively sterile, it does a good job of testing out your higher end skills whilst racing at a really high VO2 level. if you want to see how good a bike can look after you, then this is the environment to do it in!
The thing that stood out to me was how much I was leaving the fork in the un-locked position via the remote lockout. I personally love the remote lockout and will give it a workout as much as the rear shifter gets in order to keep the bike efficient as possible under power. The new 2013 Lefty definitely feels as though the compression circuits have been re-shimmed or re-valved - and for the better. Whilst hitting up the 'twisty bumpy singletrack' the forks ability to ride high and stable were really evident. Even though the seals probably haven't even been worked/bedded in yet, I could feel the fork go up and down whilst leaning the bike under power giving me a lot of confidence with the wheel all but assured of staying grounded.
Even though the fork held itself up high and didn't dive under braking or bob under power surges, its ability to react at just the right amount to annoying small stuff like grass tufts, erosion channels, or dried out muddy tire tracks is just unreal. There is definitely a good mix being made with the compression circuits here.
In practise I also hit up the triple jump. A couple of reasons. It is a little bit of fun and it also gives the fork a good 'bigger' hit on the landing - the stiffness can be felt when you land the jump (same as the drop off) - you just point and shoot. The compression circuits allowed for the fork to get a lot of travel, however, it is so controlled and doesn't make the bike do anything weird. The rebound allowed the fork to get back to full height after a big, fast hit and the added stiffness allowed the bike to be leaned just after landing to hit the right hander that comes up about a metre after you land without any stress.
From a twisting sense - the fork felt the same as the old one. To be honest, I didn't hit up anything too technical - like steep descent under brakes harsh cornering that feels like it will rip the wheel in half. Side to side, the bearings plus whatever else has been done, has made the fork feel super tight - it is really rigid in its ability to hold the wheel and therefore the tread on the bottom of the tire interacting with the ground.
So... bottom line - what is better in the 2013 Lefty?
- The compression circuitry being rejigged -- less reliance on the remote lockout (being set to rigid constantly) -- feels better over smaller annoying bumps, but can handle the big stuff without blowing through the travel too quickly. No bobbing under power (ie hard pedalling) whilst the fork is in the unlocked setting
- Stiffness - side to side, back to front - it's a small amount, but you can definitely notice it - from a feelometer point of view, I'd put it at about 5% stiffer -- ultimately it just delivers a fair bit of extra confidence when negotiating stuff on the trail --- ie the ability to 'point and shoot'
Will it make you faster? Maybe.... it allowed me to get on with riding, rather than think about how the bike was going to react in a given circumstance. When I was racing, all I was thinking of was keeping things pegged at a super high rate. I didn't even worry about the bike. That in itself is a good thing. I am really happy with what has been done with the 2013 Lefty. As well as being engineered to be better, it just 'feels' better. Half the time, that is what you have to go on, but even though the feel is good, it is definitely not just a placebo effect --- ultimately, it just rides better.