Cane Creek Suspension Upgrade
Helm Fork and DBair CS Shock
Words & Photos Chili Dog
Most bikes are pretty capable from the factory these days, but even on a top of the line build, suspension upgrades can still yield some pretty impressive gains. Our test mule, a Santa Cruz Bronson, has been through the ringer and though the factory spec suspension was decent, it was tired and we figured there was room for improvement.
Cane Creek sent over their latest HELM Air fork and DBAir CS rear shock for us to try. While we used a Santa Cruz, this suspension upgrade review will ring true for anyone looking to up the performance of their ride with top of the line Cane Creek goodies. Few bolt on installs will yield the ride change that a suspension swap will. While Cane Creek may not have the marketing budget or status that Fox and Rock Shox do, we’ve always been impressed with their product’s tunability and performance.
According to Andrew Slowey, from Cane Creek’s marketing team, the HELM was born from “five years of development, which lead to the investment of an entirely new R&D lab, several new testing machines, including a 300 foot-per-second dyno, new material sourcing, quality control, and a meticulous hand assembly processes.”
The 4.43lb fork is built around 35mm stanchions, with travel ranging from 100-170mm. That travel is internally adjustable in 10mm increments. Slowey went on to say, “Cane Creek invested a lot of time and energy into the HELM’s Chassis. Countless hours spent in the Pisgah Forest and the lab allowed us to offer a fork that we are very proud of. We’re confident it will improve the trackability of any bike you bolt it to.”
Part of that delicate balance between compliance and stiffness was achieved using their proprietary D-LOC axle system. Aside from holding the wheel in place, it provides additional structural support by preventing rotational and torsional loads from being translated to the upper bushings in high compressions or g’d out corners. While some brands try to complicate axle systems, Cane Creek’s D-LOC is familiar and easy to use while also providing a structural role in the chassis.
The fork comes in either air or coil sprung versions. We opted for the air sprung model due to its flexibility in handling various test rider’s weights with ease. A monotube damper with high/low speed compression and rebound adjustments control the fork’s movements. Setting the fork apart from the competition is a manually adjustable negative air spring that lets riders set individual pressures for the positive and negative air chambers. This allows the user to dial in small bump sensitivity. Slowey explained, “The HELM’s air spring is constructed almost entirely of hard anodized metal and features a large manual negative air charging system that decreases the initiating force required to actuate the fork. HELM Air’s manual negative air adjustment doesn’t require the piston to pass over a dimple to charge the negative air spring. This means bike shops can stock 1x HELM Air 27.5, which can be adjusted and fitted within 15 minutes to a large range of trail and enduro bikes that may walk through the door.” Slowey further explained “It’s a simple solution too, if you ever plan to change bike frames and want to keep your expensive fork. In addition, the progressivity of the fork can be controlled internally by sliding the volume-reducing piston up or down. If a completely linear feel is desired, the piston can be removed entirely.
DBAir CS Shock
While this shock isn’t new, its tunability and performance continue to make it one of our favorite options on the market. The twin tube damper offers adjustability of the low/high speed rebound and compression circuits. It also has a Climb Switch that works on the low-speed circuits.
The benefit of a single tube damper is that it allows independent damping for both compression and rebound strokes. The design moves oil through externally adjustable valving instead of the main piston, offering better adjustment and eliminating internal valving. Cane Creek offers the shock in several lengths and with differing base tunes to maximize performance with the suspension kinematics on different bikes.
Interestingly, most shocks come from Cane Creek with their neutral base tune, and they encourage customers to tinker with the settings themselves. Accoring to Slowey, “Cane Creek also provides the resources and tools to the rider so they have the confidence and knowledge to make adjustments to improve their ride. Some of those resources and tools include; Our Certified Service Centers, Customer Service Team, the DIALED app, a Cane Creek Influencer, and our Tuning Field Guide.” Don’t be scared though. In a few minutes time and without any manuals we had our rear shock feeling better than anything from the factory.