Vorsprung TLA Compression System Reviewed
The rise and fall of the fork brands is almost worthy of a soap opera. For many years the Fox range were the top of the list for many riders. Then something happened in 2012. Fox introduced their new CTD dampers and almost immediately the love affair with Fox was gone.
I ended up with a 2013 Fox 34 CTD on my Santa Cruz Tallboy LTC. I rode it as stock for a year, unhappy with its performance, but making do. The issue with the 2013 edition of the CTD damper in the 34 was that the compression damping was too light, making the Descend mode completely useless. In use it made the fork dive hard into its travel, particularly on steep sections of trail when on the brakes. I worked around it by running the fork in Trail mode and running a higher pressure but that robbed me of suppleness.
In early 2014 I upgraded the damper to the newer CTD that Fox offered to answer the criticism. To some extent it worked, but by that point I’d ridden a Rock Shox Pike and so my eyes had been opened to a well damped fork. The 34 got relegated to my hardtail (as that bike is all about punishment) and a Pike found its way onto my Tallboy.
Roll forward to the start of this year and Steve at Vorsrpung and I started exchanging emails about his replacement damper for CTD forks, blessed with another 3-letter acronym; the TLA Compression System. TLA stands for Twin Low-Speed Adjust, which is a two position mode switch. Those modes flick between a soft and a firm mode and those modes are custom tuned to your preferences. We did a preview of the damper system back in May last year and for all the geeky details you can go back to that article.
My finger had been very close to pulling the trigger on a new fork for my hardtail, looking for that Pike-like performance, but the opportunity to take my 34 and upgrade it felt like a better solution.
Working with Steve is pretty straight forward. I answered three questions;
1. How much do you weigh?
2. How would you rate the aggression of your riding, on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being a beginner, 5 being the average rider, and 10 being a world cup level racer?
3. How steep is the terrain you typically ride on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being gentle rolling terrain and 10 being the steepest stuff in Whistler or on the North Shore?
My answers were 185lbs, 7.5 and 8 respectively. I don’t shy away from any lines on my hardtail and it gets ridden hard. I didn’t want to be left wanting in the fork any more. Steve took that information and went away to set up my custom damper. After a service and the damper swap my upgraded 34 was ready to ride. 6 months on and I’m no longer lusting over a new fork.
Everything I’d been told about the TLA damper suggested I should be able to drop the pressure in my fork, so I started by dropping 5 psi. I ended dropping a little more (I’d estimate 7 to 8psi, but the accuracy of my shock pump isn’t to be trusted). The result is suppleness right at the start of stroke, allowing the front tire to track the terrain more closely. This translates into more grip at the front of the bike, which on a hardtail is a very good thing. You are battling the rear end of the bike so much that you need all the help that you can get.
Thankfully the TLA damper has that balance of suppleness at the start of the stroke and the support from the mid-stroke to end of stroke that allows you to pitch the bike into steep sections of trail without blowing through the travel. The front end of the bike rides higher in the travel even when your weight is pitched forward, avoiding that diving sensation that can leave your heart racing on technical sections. Without having rear suspension to compress and balance the fork compressing, the head angle on a hardtail just gets steeper and steeper.
I typically leave the fork in the softer of my two settings, only flicking the lever to the firmer on smoother pump style trails. The TLA damper allows me to ride the fork much more aggressively and avoid the fizzing in my palms at the end of a long rough descent. Having a Pike on my other bike, and having enjoyed the latest Fox 36 RC2, the Vorsprung TLA offers a level of performance that is on par if not better.
Is it worth the $330 for the upgrade? If you are stuck with a ’13 or ’14 model year Fox 34 CTD absolutely. The Fox 34 isn’t a bad chassis for an aggressive trail bike and, given the way that we like to ride those bikes in the Pacific Northwest, that fork with a more aggressively tuned damper is a must. That $330 doesn’t just get you a new damper but also a full fork rebuild including new lower friction seals. Compared to buying a new fork it’s very good value.
For more info check out Vorsprung on the web.
Could a custom damper stop your new fork lusting?