Cannondale has unveiled the results of a five-year project to develop a fork with electronically-controlled damping. Called the Cannondale Simon, the fork – which is built into the familiar Lefty chassis – uses an accelerometer at the bottom of the single leg to measure “terrain input” and motorised valving that can adjust oil flow every two milliseconds.
With damping controlled by computer rather than shim stacks, the system can behave in all sorts of ways. Cannondale has programmed the controller with a series of “maps” that determine what it does under different conditions, with four different settings including a “Travel Management” lockdown mode.
Despite the name, the Cannondale Simon isn’t operated by pressing illuminated coloured buttons in the correct sequence. The interface does have something in common with the popular late-70s MB electronic game, however. The bike computer-sized display features four indicators around the edge for the different modes, plus one for lockout in the middle. Choosing between them involves the use of a tiny joystick-style controller on the bars, which sounds ridiculous but doesn’t require all that much dexterity – it’s only a matter of clicking it up, down, left or right, making it more of a two-axis toggle switch than a joystick. It’s not entirely clear why Simon needs a big LCD status display – you can’t help thinking that simple LED indicators on the controller itself would do just as well.
This isn’t Cannondale’s first foray into fork electronics – a few years back it had an electrically-actuated lockout button, the ELO. Simon is a considerably more ambitious project, although again the idea of electronically-controlled damping isn’t unprecedented in the bike industry – K2 put out a range of bikes with battery-operated piezo-electric blow-off valves in the fork damper about ten years ago. It didn’t take off back then, but clearly Cannondale’s system does rather more.
Whether it’ll actually add anything in real-world conditions beyond what can be done by conventional means is open for debate, but it’s certainly an interesting approach. We’ll have to wait a while to find out, though – while Cannondale anticipates Simon reaching production, it’ll only say that “it’s some way off”.