by Andrew Yee
Calfee Design was showing off its new Manta micro suspension platform for cyclocross, road and adventure bikes at Outdoor Demo and Interbike, and we grabbed a preview of their road bike to see what cyclocrossers can expect in the next few months.
The full carbon framesets will offer lightweight pivotless suspension in the form of a elastomer balls inside the carbon wishbone. The company is still fine-tuning the design, but current frames are tipping the scales just over 2.5 pounds, and accommodate tapered steerers and Look Cycle’s proprietary bottom bracket and crankset.
Pivotless suspension is not a new concept, as well-established companies like Moots Cycles and Cannondale offer their YBBeat and Scalpel suspension options, respectively. While Cannondale offers more travel and has a shock to dampen the bumps, Calfee Design takes a minimalist approach to Moots’ elastomer design, with a small carbon wishbone and elastomer damper. Should you gain or lose weight, or know you’ll be riding on a glass-smooth surface, you can remove two bolts and pop out the entire seatstay unit and replace the elastomer with a plug to make a hardtail.
What’s the big deal with suspension for road, gravel or cyclocross? It’s not just about comfort, but speed, handling and endurance. Calfee’s Michael Moore says gains in traction should be noticeable, as the “bumper” will be set at 40% sag, meaning for sketchy roads, cobbles or your local rutted cyclocross course, your rear tire should be in contact with the ground longer, reducing wheel slip and improving cornering and handling on sketchy surfaces. It’s also arguable that if the suspension is sensitive enough, riders might be able to corner faster because they can get by with a few more psi in their tires to avoid tire squirm in hard cornering. Balancing speed on the straights with handling in the corners is always a compromise, which is why companies like Dugast have their “Flying Doctor” tubulars, which actually feature a less supple sidewall for better cornering.
While less relevant to cyclocross, Calfee also expects the frame to offer an advantage to racers because of reduced vibration sent to the rider and being fought by the cyclists’ muscles, especially over the course of a multi-hour road race, gran fondo or gravel race. Calfee has been attempting to quantify such potential gains, and hopes to be able to show that a more compliant ride can actually be more efficient physiologically for the non-Cavendish racers and riders.
Since Sea Otter 2013, when we saw early prototypes of the yet-to-be-named Manta suspension road bike, the company has refined the design and added some unique stainless steel-covered carbon fiber “tubes” that form trusses to support the rear chainstays. These little tubes provide equal stiffness to massive carbon fiber chainstays commonly seen on bikes from Cervelo, but can be removed if the owner decides to convert the Manta back to a hardtail (to allow for a bit more plushness without the elastomer), or theoretically, could be swapped for stiffer or more flexible units to micro-tune the pivotless suspension ride.
Calfee Design makes all of their frames to order, and so custom geometry options are available in addition to the stock geometry. The company will use the same technology as used with its top-of-the-line Dragonfly carbon fiber frames, which involves high-pressure molded carbon lugs which are then carved, polished and bonded to carbon fiber tubes custom made for Calfee by ENVE Composites.
For their new suspension platform, the company made an entirely new set of molds for lugs for the frames, and between all the various combinations of seat and head angles and various sizing, most geometry needs can be accommodated. And if your needs don’t fit within the hundreds of possibilities? They are able to use tube-to-tube construction to create something for you. Check out our feature on Calfee in Issue 20 of Cyclocross Magazine in the Considering Custom series.
While the bamboo Calfee cyclocross bike we’ve been riding has been perhaps the go-to choice for off-season mixed terrain riding, we can’t help but get excited to test the new Calfee design and see if we notice suspension-related benefits in cyclocross racing. UCI racers may have to think twice, since we’re guessing that the suspension violates UCI regulations and the frame isn’t (yet) UCI approved (not that we’ve seen any regular inspection for UCI stickers the races).