Cascade Components Forbidden Druid-Nought Link
What do you get when some of the employees of a precision machining company (producing diving equipment!) become infatuated with mountain biking on the Pacific North West? You get exciting products that increase the capabilities of modern mountain bikes! Jimmy Davis of Cascade Components set out to improve suspension kinematics in the heart of the offroad bicycle.
*Note - I think it goes without saying that every single linkage Cascade Components make will probably void or affect your frame warranty offered by the manufacturer.
Some manufacturers started including this tidbit in their FAQ pages. We wanted to find out if this risk was worth the effort when we reached out to Cascade for links for the bikes we are testing.
A bright orange link worthy of a mountain biker’s engagement proposal showed up at my door. Black, silver and orange were my options and the orange made sense for the sake of photographs. Not that you can actually see the links in a Forbidden Druid frame at first glance but nice to see the orange glow that is the heart of the bike on closer inspection.
A 5-axis Haas CNC Mill equipped with a 40 tool array spits these links out in no time. Deriving the specifications of the links is the time-consuming part. Do they get to ride each link in the frame they are designed for? Perhaps not. But numbers tell a story, and for engineers, numbers even draw pictures.
After looking at different graphs and pie charts and venn diagrams, I made sense of the engineering behind each cascade components link. It’s not that your favourite bike company can’t design suspension like these guys do. I think the idea is that when you are designing a complete bike that will please riders across a very wide spectrum (for the entire world in fact), kinematic compromises are inevitable. What may work for a rider in Idaho may not be ideal for a Squamish shredder. And yet they are both on the same bike.
The Cascade guys are not from the MTB suburbs. Based on Everett Washington, they live near some of the best trails in the world. Trails are steep and rain is abundant. While everywhere else the trails are turning lighter shades of blue, in the North West, we deal with dramatic daily changes to our trails as they turn darker and darker shades of black.
Jimmy came up with the idea for the Cascade Components Link while waiting for a warranty link for his Santa Cruz Nomad. The process took long enough that he whipped up a link with slightly different kinematics overnight. We’ll never know if the effects of the new link were all intentional from the get go, but he has since figured out how to optimize the stock links on many frames to suit the Cascade ethos; making bikes ride better on challenging trails.
The 130mm-travel Forbidden Druid has been an excellent performer on the North Shore and beyond; stable, low and all kinds of fun when trails get rough and steep. Earlier in my setup process, I swapped the 0.4" grey volume spacer for the 0.6" Light Blue one to decrease bottom outs with this little shock on a rowdy riding bike. While I wouldn't call top of the travel plush, it had a planted ride erasing most of the bumps on the trail.
My 155 lb rider weight settled in on a nice 32-35% sag at 150psi with fully open compression circuits. It was a predictable setup that served me well for a long time. I didn't deviate much from these settings even when I was equipped with camera gear as I wanted an even more planted ride at 40% sag riding the gnarlies. Photographing on the North Shore double blacks means riding down those double blacks
The problem with 35-40% sag is that on a 130mm shock, there is not much left in the tank to fight the terrain at speed. I briefly tried a Rockshox Super Deluxe Coil on the Druid and the experiment was helpful. The Druid is a perfect vessel to coil and the Super Deluxe has a fantastic feel without having too many adjustments to screw up.
A 400 lb spring resulted in a 25% sag which wasn’t ideal. At 55mm stroke however, RS did not make a 350 spring for me to try. Sprindex was not an option either at the time with extremely limited availability. The linear nature of coil shocks is appreciated for building up mid-stroke support earlier than a high volume air spring. Increased sensitivity is also appreciated, but the Druid had, dare I say, too much support with the 400 lb spring to calm the tail end down and there was a tendency to bounce at slower speeds. So the coil shock came off and the stock DPX2 went back on.
When the Cascade link arrived, I was quite excited for the seemingly “made just for me” feel. The fit and the finish were as beautiful as a fresh picked orange from Spain and Enduro Max bearings pre-pressed in. It found good company amongst the spring flowers my girlfriend picked and arranged for the photos. I rolled up my sleeves for a swap.
Some frame designs are easier than others when it comes to open heart surgeries. The Druid does not require a 5 year residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and it's a process that gets easier with frequent practice, and practice you get with the conditions we ride in here. A beer and a Jehovah’s witness monologue at the door later, I had a successful link transplant and a freshened up Druid ready to be put in the testing rotation again. If only I could have convinced the Jehovah’s feller to give me a hand with the work.
The Cascade guys suggested a 10% increase in spring rate to achieve the same sag as before. I settled in on a nice 170psi in the DPX2 with the same volume spacer. I was reminded that I may need to remove the bigger spacer for a smaller one to be able to use full travel, but I did not find that to be the case.
How It Rides
The first greasy root in the first ride illuminated the idea behind the product. Relieved I didn’t have to do extended testing, I started writing the review in my head as I climbed up the trail.
Apart from increasing my rear wheel travel to 142mm from 130mm. The link allowed for incredible sensitivity off the top. The small chatter just melted away like a dairy rich frozen treat and I found myself sitting planted right in the midstroke. Say about 60 to 70 mm of wheel travel in. The bump up in the leverage ratio in the early to mid part of the travel meant that I could use higher shock pressures to combat bottom outs without affecting the suppleness and traction. This could also be done to a degree with volume spacers. But there will be a compromise in the supple or the supportive side of the spectrum, and I already had the largest spacer in my DPX2.
Cascade Components cater to the aggressive, lighter weight riders that have reached the limit of tuning in their shocks.
Climbing manners weren't affected as much but bigger features on the descent didn't have the same violent impact as before. I was sold right then and there… All I had to do was to put the over-sprung Rockshox coil on the bike as soon as I got home and proceed to school all the 13-year olds that are somehow faster than me on my trails. Then I came home to my mailbox blowing up….
Cascade had sent out an ill composed e-mail where they CC'ed about 25 people who just purchased the link, where they probably should have just BCC'ed. Honest mistake. The email said there were unforeseen clearance issues with using coil shock on the link creating a mechanical interference at the top of the travel. All the armchair engineers in the mailing list went on to “reply all” to state their opinions.
I quickly realized this was actually a rolling field test as many of these people had different shocks on their bikes that could confirm fitment. EXTs, CaneCreeks, Fox, RS, DVO… you name it, people had them. Slightly disappointed with the impossibility of the Super Deluxe working on my bike, I hung up the review and went on to enjoy the shit out of the link with the stock shock. Boy I loved what the bike had become. I lovingly named it the Druid Nought as my over-forked bike now had more travel than stock but less travel than the beastly Dreadnought.
I liked to play on the bike, not race, so this link provided that opportunity in bucket loads. It was easier to load up the suspension to clear sneaky doubles and the little Druid wasn't even unfazed by the features on Dirt Merchant. I borrowed a Ziggy Link from my friend Tom to push the possibilities even further. This option from Forbidden allows you to run a 27.5" rear wheel without any geometry changes.
I loved the mullet setup on the Druid. Fast, steep trails became child's play and the bike liked to change direction when I suggested it. The 27.5 wheel I was borrowing from another test bike meant the mullet setup had an expiry date. Thankfully I didn’t miss the smaller rear wheel as much as I thought I would. The boost in suspension performance and the 29er wheel was a great combination to ride anywhere, anytime. When the trails flattened out and when traversing the usual rough stuff, the dual 29er setup made it much easier to keep moving.
A few months later the same e-mail chain had a brief pulse again with the announcement of the slightly updated link from the Cascade guys. Tested to work with Fox coils... Again, no dice for me. So I considered whether this review needed to be written. Heck Yea, I shook my fist at myself. It is still a great tuning tool!
What a sweet time to be alive, when aftermarket engineering is not just purple anodized brake boosters but actual performance enhancing components. Sure a 300 USD piece of metal may not be the right solution to a pedal smasher in rolling hills, but if you are trying to increase your margin of error on the steepest side of the moon, I think this is a worthy investment. And please Cascade Components, just make a purple version!
Cascade Components caters to aggressive, lighter to mid weight riders that have reached the limit of tuning in their shocks. You may have to explain a couple of things to your bike shop if things don’t go according to plan. Exercising warranty these days? I don’t even wish it upon my worst enemy.
Go ahead though, get yourself a fresh orange from the tree and try a Cascade link. I think these guys are doing some smart things. Being able to machine parts in house, the R&D process is rapid for these guys. There are some interesting recent additions to their line up of shiny aluminium as well. Improved calipers for SRAM Code brakes and a variety of chain retention units that seem to work well. Manufacturing is coming back home to North America and it is very exciting to see.