This is the 2005 Manitou Nixon fork. 2005? Er, yes. Welcome to the crazy world of the bike industry calendar. Thing is, “2005” bikes will be in the shops towards the end of 2004, which means that the people in charge of designing and speccing them are hard at work right now deciding what to fit. Which in turn means that all of the component manufacturers are falling over one another to show the product managers what they’ve got in the hope of landing those big, juicy original equipment orders.
But never mind all that, what’s special about the Nixon? Well, it represents what Manitou reckon is the bike of the future – long travel and lightweight. The SPV platform damping that debuted for 2003 has already proved its ability to make it much easier to build bikes that combine downhill travel with XC efficiency, and the Nixon (and a revised line of Swinger rear shocks) is the next step.
The chassis looks a bit like the existing Sherman line, but it’s actually all-new. Stanchions are 32mm aluminium, while the lower legs continue with Manitou’s distinctive (and effective) Reverse Arch system. The crown is hollow, saving a bunch of weight. It all adds up to a remarkable 145mm of travel (just a hair under 6in) from a 1.85kg (4.1lb) fork. Interestingly, Nixon has a 1-1/8in steerer, with the 1.5in steerer reserved for burlier, freeridey forks.
The really clever stuff, though, is inside. The new SPV Evolve damping is claimed to have improved small-bump performance and a lower initial bump threshold. It’s fully adjustable, so if you want a higher threshold you can. The promise is of minimal bob and no wallowing under power but all the travel you can eat over the bumps. And that’s just the left leg. The right leg is super-smart…
Manitou already has a couple of travel-adjust features in its forks. Either flick a lever and bounce the fork to shorten (and stiffen) it, or a knob that you wind to set the travel anywhere you like. Marzocchi had the first lock-down lever, and when we first tried that we thought it was pretty neat, but commented that what would be really neat was a multi-position lockdown – press a lever, compress the fork to where you want it to be and you’re done. We’ve been waiting for something that combines the infinite adjustability and consistent spring rate of RockShox’s U-Turn (or Manitou’s Wind-Down) with the ease of use of ETA (or Manitou’s Rapid Travel Adjust). And the Nixon has it, in the shape of Infinite Travel Adjust, or IT.
Press the bar-mounted lever (that looks a bit like a saxophone spare), bounce the fork and wherever it bounces to becomes the new fully-extended position. It remains to be seen how easy it is to hit a suitable length out on the trail, and you have to unweight the front wheel to get the fork to fully re-extend, but we can see this being a massive boon. On long-travel forks we often find ourselves wanting a slightly lower front up climbs, just not as much lower as ETA usually gives us and not wanting it badly enough to try and twiddle a fork-mounted dial. But with this, dropping the front two inches is going to be as easy as changing gear. The fork’s air-sprung, with the IT system using a valve between two air chambers. Clever stuff.
The main drawback we can see with this fork is finding a suitable bike to put it on – it’s going to be most at home on a similarly lightweight, six-inch travel chassis. There are a few out there, though, and of course one of the obstacles in the way of people planning to make them is finding a fork to put on them. Chickens and eggs, anyone? There’s already the Maverick fork, but that’s available in limited quantities and it’s a twin-crown fork which doesn’t suit everyone. Expect to see more of this sort of stuff in 2005, which makes Whyte’s 46 look distinctly ahead of the curve…