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Riding Impressions

Riding the Structure Cycle Works SCW 1

Words Cam McRae
Photos Dave O'Dowd (unless noted)
Date Jul 24, 2020

I first saw this bike at Crankworx, back in 2019 when that was a thing we were able to do. My first impulse was not to rip it from the owner's grasp and get it on the nearest trail; my shortsighted knee-jerk reactions were that this was unlikely be worthy of my attention and that it looked like someone vomited acid all over the front of a bike leaving only holes and spindles where fork and frame were meant to be. Having seen more than a few meritless over-complicated ideas, I had become a little jaded. And condescending. And arrogant.

Mostly stupid.

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Loni Hull with an early 3D printed, non-rideable prototype of the SCW 1 frame/fork.

Having become slightly less of most of those things recently, I was somewhat eager when the opportunity arrived to jump on one of these beautiful monstrosities on my local Mt. Fromme trails. Dave O'Dowd, an old friend who used to produce videos for the North Shore Ripper and run Whistler Action Video, has been doing some marketing for Structure and he gave me a call. He told me, among other things, that Loni Hull, the man behind Structure, helped design the first Isle of Mann-winning electric moto, in just six months. The team he worked with then won the event three more times. Clearly this was someone who knew volumes more about suspension design than I do. That got my attention as did some of the ideas behind the design.

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The Bradbury/Manitou full suspension frame from 1991 was essentially made with a telescoping fork on each end.

As Dave related it, when Loni first rode a mountain bike, he didn't appreciate how the bike's geometry changed, in particular how the head angle steepened, as the fork moved into its travel. In fact he went over the bars, which can focus your attention to a degree. This experience, and his recovery from a concussion and broken collar bone, made him believe there was a solution to front suspension that performed better than traditional telescoping designs. A linkage fork can be designed to affect geometry differently, and Hull claims his bike's head angle actually becomes less steep during compression. Beyond that the idea was to isolate steering, suspension and braking forces.

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This move is made tricky by the corner at the bottom, but is otherwise straightforward.

Clearly there are good reasons why telescoping designs failed to thrive for rear suspension configurations, but one of the earliest modern full suspension designs involved forks at both ends. The 1991 Bradbury/Manitou full suspension bike had what looked like a Manitou elastomer fork replacing the seat stays, and while it worked, there were limitations in terms of bump absorption, braking and pedaling, which some engineering types believe are important. I remember the bike quite well because one passed me during a Roach XC race on Fromme in the early 90s. The idea of the bike made my inner purist so angry at the time that I rode like a demon, passed him and stayed ahead on my full rigid Ritchey Timberline*. Or maybe he bonked. Who's to know?

*to a triumphant and highly celebrated 5th place (or something) in the novice men's cat.

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Like most unusual bikes, the Structure is less difficult to look at in person, but some angles are less flattering than others. The protruding upper strut only handles steering duties. Photos - Cam McRae

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A DVO rear shock mounted within the front linkage provides damping. The comparatively conventional Horst Link rear suspension configuration didn't shine. Certainly that was at least partially due to a hasty set up. Apparently that is one of the focuses for Loni's efforts moving forward.

Less angry and more open-minded me has succumbed to and begun to embrace the inevitability of progress. The final gasps of my inner Luddite coincided nicely with the opportunity to ride the Structure. To be honest, I wasn't certain I was going to ride the Structure much, because Dave just asked me to go for a ride. I thought I might spend a little time on the bike or just talk about it but Dave's uncommunicated idea was to ride whatever I'd brought. Had I known this, rather than my Yeti SB 150, my favourite bike ever,* which I never lend to anyone, I would have brought a test bike. That would have been a better plan it turns out.

*I've had many favourites, and it's often been the most recent

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On smooth corners I didn't notice much difference between the SCW 1 and a conventional mountain bike, but there are very few of these on the trails we rode.

We did a little set up. taking a air out of both ends, and then pedalled up to Ladies Only. Since we were only doing a short ride, I figured we should tackle something with adequate variety and difficulty. The bike climbed like a regular bike without telling me anything about how it would go down, but I mustered some false bravado and charged (for me) as soon as we tipped into Ladies.

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Oh - you're going to ride my bike Dave? I guess that's okay...

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As long as you don't lay it down and use it as a sled.

I didn't notice much about the SCW 1 at first.. I didn't feel sketchy at all, the bike seemed easy to steer, and it worked a lot like a regular bike. But with a lot of composure. It used to be that the only way I could tell you much about how a suspension component performed, was by the success I was able to muster on the bike. I'm a little better than that now, but the first thing I noticed about the Structure was the level of moves I was confident riding without much consideration.

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Dave (shown here) and I had better luck on our second attempts off this. Photo - Cam McRae

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Lower Ladies is one of the most challenging trails on Fromme and it was a little slick the day we rode it. This gives you a better idea of what Dave was dealing with in the second photo above. The line for this move begins to viewer's left of the tree that is above my front wheel in this photo. Dave and I both slipped out here but managed to avoid tumbling down the mountain.

There's a pair of parallel moves a short way down the trail where we decided to take a few photos. The first one is a fairly steep down coaster (at least that's what I call it) and the other is a roll or launch off a massive chunk of granite onto a cedar wedge. The coaster I've ridden enough times to do on auto-pilot, but the other is much newer, tricky to get on, quite blind, and a little precarious as you teeter on top before committing to the just-revealed path to safety. It's enough of a move for me that I wasn't sure I'd do it on a strange bike on the first ride, but it felt natural and the maneuver was easy to do multiple times.

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This combination is a little tricky because of the entrance, the exposure, and because the runout is blind until the last moment.

The next significant obstacle is Bart's bridge. It's a combo I've been riding since I had that rigid Ritchey, but it never seems to get much easier. You come down off a bridge with a bike length and a half to negotiate a tight right hander before a steep and tricky double drop. There are times when, while recovering from an injury, I've gone a year or more without attempting it. Like every move, it's easy for some, but this one has very rarely been easy for me.

The bike was working well enough that I pushed on and rode Bart's before I spent much time thinking about how it would go. I over-steered a little and found myself in an awkward spot on the precipice. I was clearly going to miss part of the down ramp but I felt hopeful enough to thrust my hips and see how it went. Everything worked out just fine despite my sub-optimal alignment.

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I misjudged the effort needed to keep the front wheel up in my first attempt here and found myself landing front heavy.

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Here I landed even more awkwardly on my front wheel. This isn't something I normally do and it likely has something to do with the effort required to preload the front wheel of the SCW 1 compared to a conventional fork.

I noticed early on that mall bump composure felt particularly good, and I later learned that one of the claims of Structure is extremely low stiction under small impacts. Otherwise most of what I noticed was how composed the bike felt. Beyond the small bump performance, I didn't feel the bike did much better at reacting to larger bumps than the Zeb I've been riding. It felt fine, but it was the steering and attitude of the bike under compression that felt different. I later learned that the fork was oversprung for my weight by about 20lbs. It never felt that way to me which leads me to believe that a proper spring rate would have improved the fork's ability to deal with larger impacts.

It seemed to make sense to ride Lower Ladies after Upper had gone so well. The tires and brakes sketched me out a little on the first few sections, but I only failed to ride what is for me the hardest line. I came close to getting, but the front tire slipped out midway through. It's a low percentage move for me. I probably ride it less than 25% of the time, depending on weather, bike, and rider condition and almost making it on a bike I'd never ridden before felt like a minor win.

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On my second attempt at this move I added some enthusiasm and matched my wheels up well.

A couple of times, jumping off ladder bridge on Big Stupid and into the Crater at the end of Lower Ladies, I hung up my rear wheel enough to tighten my sphincter. Off the Crater I landed entirely on my front wheel, completely unexpectedly. A testament to the design was the ease with which I rode out this error. My miscues seemed to have something to do with the feel of pre-loading the fork before launching. I'm sure this would be something I'd eventually compensate for, but it felt unnerving on the first ride.

A little video showing the SCW 1's front end working

Everything seemed to happen a little more slowly on the front of the Structure, as though I had more time to make decisions. I can't say I was blown away, after one ride with a sub-optimal setup, but I learned enough to realize the merit of the philosophy and execution of the design. The Structure is legit. I'm optimistic about the future of the platform and interested to spend more time on this version and future iterations.

For more, check out the Structure Cycle Works Site...

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae

Age - 54

Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)

Weight - 165lbs/75kg

Ape Index - 0.986

Inseam - 33"/84cm

Trail I've been stoked on lately - Fifth Horseman

Bar Width - 770mm

Preferred Reach - 475-490mm

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Comments

Jotegir
+1 lewis collins
Lu Kz  - July 24, 2020, 8:44 a.m.

The prototype looks straight out of sci-fi horror

Reply

Pnwpedal
0 4Runner1 Dan V
Pnwpedal  - July 24, 2020, 9:15 a.m.

I mean, it's great to see attempts at progress for bike technology... But linkage forks were attempted and abandoned decades ago on motorcycles, and the very minor downsides to telescopic forks can be overcome with proper setup and geometry. If the Suspension Lord Himself DW can't manage to get the industry on linkage front suspension, I don't see many other attempts working out either. Maybe I'll be proven wrong and a suspension breakthrough will bring us a bike that handles better and costs the same or less than our current telescopic suspension fork bolted onto a carbon suspension frame... But I'm not holding my breath, and I'm 100% happy staying on my current bikes with their "conventional" suspension technology.

Reply

minotaur
0
minotaur  - July 24, 2020, 9:48 a.m.

This suspension increases front center AND decreases head angle as it compresses. None of the other MTB linkage forks can do that, and correct me if I'm wrong, even motorcycle linkage forks never did this?

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Pnwpedal
0
Pnwpedal  - July 24, 2020, 11:12 a.m.

Not sure, I haven't dug into the geometry of each fork, but many appeared to at least keep the head angle and front center the same with a vertical-ish wheelpath. And even still, with millions of dollars of R&D budget and well-staffed teams of engineers, telescopic forks continue to reign supreme in all two-wheeled performance machines. The technology and designs are out in the wild, yet I don't think we've ever seen it seriously tested on a WC DH bike or EWS bike, or a pro Motocross/Supercross bike in the last 30+ years.

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chris-killer
0
Chris Killer  - July 27, 2020, 7:42 p.m.

The Motion Ride does this.

Reply

morgan-heater
+1 Peter Adamkovics
Morgan Heater  - July 24, 2020, 9:55 a.m.

BMWs use linkage forks.

Reply

Pnwpedal
0
Pnwpedal  - July 24, 2020, 11:04 a.m.

None of their performance oriented bikes do, only a couple cruisers and a scooter as far as I can tell.

Reply

ohio
0
Marc Fenigstein  - July 27, 2020, 11:53 a.m.

Those manufacturers inherent conservativism,and the national/world level racing cadence virtually ensure that outside of bursts like the early 80s all innovation is incremental and evolutionary. However, James Parker has been fighting this fight for decades and his work on road-racing machines continues to show promise - If he can find someone willing to risk a race season on finding out: https://www.motorcyclistonline.com/gsx-radd-p3-raddical-future-motor-cycling/

That's not motocross or supercross, but If we only ever followed their lead, we wouldn't have 4-bar rear suspension.

Reply

craw
+2 Morgan Heater DCLee
Cr4w  - July 24, 2020, 10:12 a.m.

Welllll that's not entirely true. Before DW could really nail his design his fledgling company got folded by COVID. We'll never really know how that would have gone with enough runway. The initial forks definitely polarized people but I bet he could have found the sweet spot within a few generations. Imagine judging the long term worthiness of telescoping forks by a 1993 Judy.

Reply

Pnwpedal
+2 Timer Jerry Willows
Pnwpedal  - July 24, 2020, 11:05 a.m.

The company was on its way down before this year IIRC...

Reply

Tremeer023
0
Tremeer023  - July 29, 2020, 8:13 a.m.

I've been riding a Trust Message for a few months now and would have to agree that as an overall package, it isn't really as good as the best conventional forks out there.  However, it is better at certain things (cornering stability) and DW's concept does work.  If someone could combine this with the comfort of a plush telescopic fork then they would have the holy grail of forks imo.

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StructureDesign
+2 ZigaK Tremeer023
StructureDesign  - July 29, 2020, 1:39 p.m.

I think we have the bike for you, sir. Check out our blog outlining 5 reasons why linkage outperforms telescoping forks: https://structure.bike/blogs/press/reasons

Reply

StructureDesign
+2 Pete Roggeman ZigaK
StructureDesign  - July 26, 2020, 9:06 a.m.

Here's the truth: No brand has ever done linkage as well as it can now be done, thanks to vastly improved carbon manufacture, close tolerances, durable bearings, and computer kinematic analysis. The limitations of telescoping forks are not trivial from an engineering standpoint, and even pro riders have an off day and go OTB. A bike that limits front dive and increases support deep in the travel is a game-changer. We really hope you'll come for a ride with us and tell us what you think.

Reply

andrewbikeguide
+6 minotaur IslandLife Jerry Willows Pete Roggeman Luix Andy Eunson
AndrewR  - July 24, 2020, 9:41 a.m.

There is probably no doubt that the linkage has the potential to be better than a conventional fork but then the entire frame is a system with the only after market sales "upgrades" being rear shocks that may or may not have to have a very specific tune in order to work with the system.

The major players, that have millions invested in the production and sale of conventional forks, are never going to get on this wagon as generally they do not produce complete bikes anyway, most of them are also powerful OE shock suppliers (which can influence the major frame/ bike brand trying to make their own linkage frame), and they don't want a revision of the bike industry that sees their very lucrative (and working very well for 90% of riders) telescoping fork sales going away.

That said almost everyone said that Pole did not know what they were on when they introduced seriously long, low and slack five years ago, others thought Mondraker were whack for making bikes based around 30-35mm stems, and now almost every manufacturer has a frame that matches or comes close to those geo figures.

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cam@nsmb.com
+1 IslandLife
Cam McRae  - July 24, 2020, 9:49 a.m.

Good points Andrew.

Reply

craw
+5 IslandLife Endur-Bro twk fartymarty ChocolateThunder
Cr4w  - July 24, 2020, 10:13 a.m.

*Geometron

Reply

Pnwpedal
+1 Endur-Bro
Pnwpedal  - July 24, 2020, 11:37 a.m.

This is a valid point... Bike and suspension makers are sales companies at the end of the day, with the goal to produce bikes and suspension that can be sold for a profit. So they have little to no incentive to disrupt their own markets for something that may or may not even make a profit.

Reply

Timer
-1 Chris Killer
Timer  - July 26, 2020, 2:48 p.m.

Even theoretically, linkage forks are not a clear upgrade over telescopic. Each have their pros and cons. For instance, telescopic forks have inherent advantages which linkage cannot feasibly match: A guaranteed perfectly linear suspension “curve” combined with lots of space in the stancions allows for much better spring and damper performance than any linkage forks can achieve. [Edit:] Maybe "suspension curve" is not the right term, what i mean is, there is a one to one ratio of spring, damper and axle movement, which is very advantageous for designing dampers and springs.

Reply

ohio
+3 Chris Killer ZigaK DCLee
Marc Fenigstein  - July 27, 2020, 11:58 a.m.

Perfectly liner suspension curves are not an advantage - manufacturers work very hard to make sure that both front and rear are progressive. The linear nature of a telescopic force becomes a thing that MFGs have to work around with air assist, bottom out valves, etc. And a standard shock has no challenge on valve area or oil volume, since It can grow to the diameter It needs to be. Telescopic forks are limited to the cartridge diameter AND have to deal with/compensate for bending forces on the damper shaft.

The only Inherent advantage of the telescopic system is clearance and packaging for long travel, rider habits/muscle memory built around the natural dive characteristics, and the refinement that comes from decades of evolution.

Reply

minotaur
+2 Cam McRae chachmonkey
minotaur  - July 24, 2020, 9:48 a.m.

With the Tantrum missing link rear suspension this would be perfect (and even uglier)

Reply

morgan-heater
+1 Pete Roggeman
Morgan Heater  - July 24, 2020, 9:57 a.m.

I probably wouldn't buy it, because I'm cheap, but I'd love to test ride it. Looks fun.

Reply

JVP
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
JVP  - July 24, 2020, 10:10 a.m.

I love stuff like this! I'm too frugal to consider buying one, but some folks love being early adopters and spending their money on fun/weird/interesting things. We need both companies like SCW and riders who try new gadgets to push the industry forward. Good luck to them, would be super cool if they carve out a little niche in the market.

Reply

Poz
+1 Pete Roggeman
Poz  - July 24, 2020, 9:23 p.m.

They have a couple of these for rent at silver star. Was looking at them, and couldn’t help the standard “fork” push down. Drew lots of attention that’s for sure. 

Would be tempted to try one out of curiosity but it’s a big ask to go full into something this bespoke and with soooo many pivots. Trust was interesting but if you have one now your after sales support is gone

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StructureDesign
+2 Pete Roggeman ZigaK
StructureDesign  - July 26, 2020, 9 a.m.

Hi Poz,

We offer lifetime warranty on frame and bearings (which are bike standard part numbers). Though it may seem like a lot of bearings up front, taken as a system it has a 250-hour bearing inspection interval. Our bikes have been going far beyond that without requiring service, which any shop can do quickly, as our front is as easy to work on as any Horst rear. Bear in mind that telescoping fork service is no picnic 😉

Reply

Vikb
+1 Poz
Vik Banerjee  - July 25, 2020, 7:39 a.m.

I love the inventiveness and passion it takes to get something like this from your brain to paper/CAD to a prototype and a production product. It's a truly amazing feat. But, paying top dollar to get a proprietary product from a small company is a big risk and the pay off has to be significant vs. the more mainstream product options.

I'd rather ride the 70% - 80% solution, but pay half as much and be able to walk into any LBS on a road trip with a bike needing service and most times walking out with a bike that's fixed.

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StructureDesign
+1 ZigaK
StructureDesign  - July 26, 2020, 8:50 a.m.

In that case you definitely want the Structure if you are shopping top enduro bikes. All of our bearings are bike industry-standard part numbers and carried in just about any MTB shop, we privide lifetime warranty on frame and bearings, and you'll never wait in line (sometimes for a month or more) for a fork seal and bushing service again.

Reply

kavurider
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
KavuRider  - July 25, 2020, 9:36 a.m.

I really dig this bike. I love wacky out of the box designs.  If I had the money I would grab one no question. 

Regarding Trust...I have a Shout, 2 actually. Picked them up right when they went under. There is a company that does servicing in UT still. But if you damage one, you're SOL. Figure with 2 I can cannabilize one to keep the other working. 

That said, I really like the Shout. Definitely a whole different feel from my regular forks. I wouldn't say better overall, but it does excel in some areas. You can monster truck straight through gnar with it. And it tracks very well through turns. Hard to get it to pop like a regular fork, so bunnyhopping and lofting the front wheel take extra effort. 

I would imagine this would be similar in some ways.  I think, like the Trust forks, it would require way more fiddling to get it set up right than a more traditional frame/fork.

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Poz
+1 Pete Roggeman
Poz  - July 26, 2020, 7:19 a.m.

I believe ion2 suspension in Invermere also Service Trust is you are north of the border.

Reply

StructureDesign
+3 Poz Pete Roggeman ZigaK
StructureDesign  - July 26, 2020, 8:54 a.m.

Thanks for the kind words! We'd love to swap bikes back and forth with you for a day and compare notes.

Because we use off-the-shelf DVO Topaz T3AIR shocks (with their race tune, which is optimal for our ~2.5:1 leverage ratio), it takes just a few minutes to dial in a rider. No special springs or dampers in our system, and flat-landing compliance has to be felt to be believed.

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