17 Apr 2018

Riding the new Specialized Stumpjumper, improvements in the feel of the suspension compared to the previous model immediately stand out. Keen to clear up some queries, we sat down with Specialized’s Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro, for a chat.

Collaboration between the suspension team and frame engineers right from the concept stages of the new Stumpjumper was aimed at prioritising the overall performance not just for Joe Average, but for all types of riders on all sized frames. So with that in mind, what makes the women’s tune different?

“I’ve ridden some pretty poor tunes in the past, and was sceptical at best about how this one would translate to the trails. But the welcome difference was noticeable immediately – even more so when swapping between man-specced and girl-specced bikes over the three days of the launch.” Kath Bicknell.

In fact, what even IS a women’s tune? Is it something radically different to a dude-tune, or is it a case of coming up with a well-developed starting point that allows effective rider-specific customisation? (Spoiler alert, it’s the latter.)

One of the highlights of the Stumpjumper launch for me was getting to ask these questions in person. While every bike brand has their own way of developing and marketing their own take on suspension, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how someone like Chance, who works as part of the suspension team at the Specialized HQ in the USA, views their in-house development processes.

Specialized’s Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro.

As Chance says, it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. But a little bit of information can go a long way to getting even more enjoyment out of your bike.

The women’s-specced Stumpjumpers come with this magical thing called a ‘women’s tune’, but people aren’t really sure what that means. Can you explain what it actually is?

With the women’s tune, it really is just a little bit of fine-tuning. There’s no black magic behind it really. The key part of the RX tune – it stands for ‘Recommended Experience’, which is us mating a shock to the bike…That’s the real meat of it [he clarifies] creating a shock that works best with our bike, not so much tuned for the individual.

And you’ve done that across the range?

Yes, so every bike has that. We take it one step further with the female rider. We worked with our simulation engineers, who have done a lot of studies on limb weights, body distribution and things like that. We came up with a slightly softer spring tune. We already have lighter damping tunes across the board on this bike already through our RX tune programme. So we really just made the spring curve slightly less progressive. It’s something that’s reversible, even at a shop level, it’s really nothing too crazy.

Wait, just to slow it down just a second for people who haven’t learned much about suspension before…To make it less progressive [easier to push through the travel], what are you changing to do that?

Say in RockShox, they call them their tokens. So in a fork, it would be removing a token. In the shock, it’s removing a token. A volume spacer is all it is really. But they make a big difference. People tune with them all the time, even aftermarket. We’ve come up with our key RX tune, and we’ve just dialled it back a little bit for the women’s tune.

How does the difference of a volume spacer translate to the trails? What does it mean in terms of how it feels to push through the travel, especially for the rider who is using lower pressures?

It really affects the mid and end-stroke. Basically, it takes less force to utilise full travel. It’s not that you couldn’t get on a men’s bike and ride it well and have a good experience. But oftentimes you’re not going to really utilise it to its fullest. That can be true for anybody too. It’s really just tuned better for lighter weight riders in the stature that we’ve come up with through our simulations.

So basically, that means the action of the suspension still initiates in the same way but in get that mid area you get more…reactivity?

Yeh, it takes a little bit less force to use the same amount of travel as the men’s tune. Say you’re hitting a certain bump or a jump landing and it takes 2000 newtons to bottom it out, it might take you 1500 newtons.

Right. In my own riding life I’ve never got full travel out of most of the suspension that I’ve used with a standard, out-of-the-box tune. So this would allow most riders, who are that lighter weight, riding a 150mm travel bike to actually get 150mm of travel?

Exactly. And again, it is tuneable. It’s not to say that a really lightweight male rider couldn’t benefit from this as well.

How hard is it to tune the suspension in this way? Say a female or a lighter weight male bought one of the bikes in the range that doesn’t have the women’s tune. How hard is it to change it?

It’s definitely easily done at a shop level or by a savvy person in their home shop. In the fork it’s really simple, it’s just the top cap: let the air out, unthread the top cap and there are two or three little plastic spacers depending on the travel. We have different tunes depending on whether it’s the short or long travel Stumpjumper. You just add or remove one or two of those spacers.

We will have more tuning guide information coming along. Through our simulation engineers, we’re coming up with a tuning app which is going to be on the Specialized website. [The app is available now.] That’s going to give recommended pressures for you. So you put in your weight and height and it will give you your recommended pressures. And there’ll be an advanced side to it where we’ll help you through any issues. If you’re having a bottoming out issue then we’ll give you a recommendation – in that case you’d probably add a volume spacer. Or again if you’re still not using full travel, you might reduce your air pressure or you might take a volume spacer out.

Does it give a guide on how to set your rebound for different pressures? Or is that a bit more terrain specific?

We think that’s mostly spring specific. We’re going to recommend a spring rate for you, which is your air pressure. And then we’ll also recommend your rebound. Basically, your rebound should be mostly dependant on whatever spring rate you’re running. With a really stiff spring rate, when you compress it you have a lot of energy and it’s going to return quicker. With a lower spring rate, you’re going to need less damping to get that same return rate.

How do you see these things developing in the future?

That’s a good question! It’s hard to say. That’s the fun part of the job, figuring out what we can do next and how to elevate the game.

What would you like to see happen?

I just want to make suspension work better for everyone I guess.

Easier for people to individualise it if they don’t know what to do?

Yeh, definitely. I think that one of the biggest things that I’d like to put my mark on is helping people with set up and understanding it. A lot of it is simple to some people but it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. It makes a huge difference. Without an RX tune you could be lost but even with an RX tune but the wrong set up, you could be way off. I think that’s really important for us to help our consumers get the right experience.

Given the people we see out on the trails I think that could make a huge difference.

We even see it in house. There are some guys that are pretty knowledgeable, but I can make a few tweaks and help them out with a few things and it makes a huge difference for their ride which is pretty satisfying.