|Professional Tweaks, Tips & Reviews By "AJ" Picarello
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Rear shock technology has improved leaps and bounds over the past few years. So much has evolved that I felt compelled to test a few of the new designs. Three shocks were tested and to my surprise all work very well at propelling us downhillers even faster down mountains. All were tested on my latest and greatest downhill ride, the Orange 223.
Tested are two more recognized brand names: Avalanche DHS, Progressive’s 5th Element and the black sheep, underground company, Push Industries. New on the scene, Push is doing in the US what the Euros been doing for years, tossing out the internals of your FOX RC and replacing them with new technology. Riders now have the option of upgrading rear shock performance without having to buy an entire new rear shock. Push offers an upgrade to install FOX “Pro Pedal” or go for the gusto and install their totally revamped “Race Internals” (tested here).
I have found that all three shocks tested have certain qualities that may appeal to certain riders. One is not necessarily better than the rest, just different. Because of this, I’ve decided to review each shock separately rather than test them head to head. The reader will have to decide what shock is best for their specific needs keeping in mind there are other rear shocks not tested that may better suit your style. Starting off this 3 part “Tech Tip” is a review of the Avalanche DHS.
The Avalanche shocks utilize “motorcycle style” technology. The 5th Element incorporates SPV or “stable platform valve” with tuning handled by the customer via five external adjustments. Push designs the race internals to ride similar to FOX shocks answer to SPV: “Pro Pedal” (a non adjustable platform factory built into the shock). Both the Push and Avalanche are custom tuned for rider style, weight and type of bike. Progressive shocks offer the rider five external adjustments that help fine tune every aspect of performance. Beneficial to some, the complexity of almost infinite adjustability is perplexing to most.
Avalanche tip toed onto the DH scene in year 2000, blowing minds with gigantic, sophisticated shocks and forks. The major difference from other brands at that time: Avalanche shocks had incorporated a high speed internal valve for rebound and compression. With high speed valves custom tuned for you and your bike, one could finally fly straight through gnarly terrain without a hint of hydraulic “spiking”. Eric at Wold tool engineering, also a downhiller, deserves credit for the flawless machine work and reliable coatings that stand out in a crowd of cast aluminum, pot metal OEM suspension. Riders fed up with unreliable suspension began building frames to fit the then huge 3.5” stroke shock. Thankfully, Avalanche designed a smaller version of their original MTN-3.0 and 3.5, the down sized DHS.
So what are the negatives? For one, they are expensive. Secondly, your bike may not accept an Avalanche shock. In some cases, the heavy, oversized coil spring (same size and interchangeable with a Romic) interferes with suspension links and frame designs. Check Avalanche Downhill Racings web site (www.avalanchedownhillracing.com) for fit applications. Lastly, do not expect to see them at every major race with a huge service rig and flamboyant race squad. A titanium spring is available as a $200 option. Offered are both a remote compression reservoir and two styles of piggyback reservoirs.
I’ve owned bikes with the amazing “MTN-3.0 and 3.5” Avalanche rear shocks in the past. I assumed the “DHS” shock would be less impressive do to its much smaller size. Custom valved shocks are able to resist bottoming and still retain small bump compliance. With out an SPV you would expect the dreaded “pedal induced bob”. The DHS, like its big brother, rides high in its travel and remains fully active with hardly a hint of “bob”. The rear suspension stays glued regardless how nasty the terrain. Acceleration is the key to winning races as long as the power gets to the ground. SPV technology seems a band aide on a problem. Craig at Avalanche found a way to isolate pedal feedback with properly tuned valves and Nitrogen gas (much less affected by heat build up). SPV relies on the user applying air pressure with a hand pump (that needs to be checked frequently) to add pressure to reduce feed back. This pressure is effective on reducing bob, but reduces the bikes small bump compliance.
The Avalanche shock has three external adjustments, low speed rebound, compression and preload. I’m not sure if I would consider “preload” an adjustment. Rear suspension experts all recommend the least amount of preload possible, just enough to keep the spring in place (3 full turns in should do the trick). Avalanche recommends slightly more than that for titanium springs (six full turns). Rear shocks are not designed to handle any type of “top out”. With too much preload, your shock could rebound back violently, destroying the internals. In extreme cases, too much preload could cause coil bind and eventually tear the shock in two (see past Tech Tip on suspension set up). A blown shock caused by “top out” is not covered under warranty.
Wow, only two adjustments, is that enough? Apparently it is. The Avalanche shocks adjustments are subtle yet effective. The rebound can be adjusted slightly faster than the 5th Element. Avalanche with its Motocross roots is very into racing. Their shocks and forks are designed to keep your bike glued to the ground. “Brake jack” is also less of an annoyance when riding this shock. I blame most brake jack sensations on the lack of or lack of knowledge of high speed compression valving. Tested on a single pivot with no floater, braking is controllable.
The DHS Avalanche rear shock surpasses any of my expectations. The Review of this shock alone killed the ideas I had for a shock “shoot out”. I’ve always hated “shoot out” tests. They seem biased and are never worth reading. Sometimes a certain product works well for some and not for others. I’m not going to say the Avalanche shock is the best shock for you. The reader should determine what shock seems best for their particular needs. The DHS will stay on my bike and probably any bike I own in the future. If all this hype seems too good to be true, it gets even better. I nicknamed my DHS “Ol Faithful”. A 40 lb DH bike will put a scare into a rider on occasion. My bike never once deflected off a rock or nosed off a jump. A predictable bike inspires confidence in any level rider. Do you like to ride fast? Are you looking for simplicity? Are you sick of your bikes unpredictable ride? The DHS may be for you.
Is Avalanche going to become the next Rock Shox? The small Connecticut based company has no desire to take over the world of mountain bike suspension. They could never spec shocks for the OEM market since every shock is custom made. A shock by Progressive with factory standard internals and many fine tuning external adjustments is a much better OEM spec. A custom tuned Avalanche is for riders who are looking for a high end shock built and tuned specifically for whatever your needs may be. All the top Professionals rely on modified suspension. You may see the big brand names stickered on the outside of their Professionals shocks, but what’s going on inside is not what you buy off the showroom floor. Spoil yourself with personal tuning and step up your level of riding!
DOWN Cycles is a dealer for Avalanche suspension. Depending on the season, these shocks can take 1 week to 1 month to receive after placing an order. They have a 1 year warranty against defects. The DHS reviewed in this article retails for $575.00 with a steel spring. The lighter than steel, titanium spring is a $200.00 option. Despite what you may have read about titanium springs, they do not improve shock performance. Buy a rear shock from us and the install is free!
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