Orange Mountain Bikes have scored themselves a bit of a coup by getting exclusive access to the new Manitou Swinger shocks. If you want a Swinger anytime in the next few months, the only way is to get it on an Orange. So do you want one? Well, it's perhaps a little early to say but after a short but varied spin on a Swinger-equipped Sub 5 we'd have to say that you very possibly do.
The Swinger, for those not familiar with it, is Manitou's take on the Curnutt anti-bob valve technology also found in the 5th Element rear shock. Progressive Suspension haven't quite finished the air version of the 5th yet, but Manitou are there now, with production shocks available on the aforementioned Orange bikes. And they're doing coil shocks too.
Progressive are aiming to make their air shock the lightest air shock out there, with or without funky anti-bob valving - they're promising a sub-200g weight. Manitou aren't quite so bothered, although the Swinger Air 3-Way shock is a not-too-shabby 275g (depending on length).
Manitou are calling the technology SPV for Stable Platform Valve. As well as the air that forms the spring, there's a second air chamber in the shock. Adding air here pressurises the damping oil. A valve on the shock shaft controls compression, and requires a certain pressure difference between the oil in front and the oil behind to open. Until it opens, the shock won't move. The idea is to set the air pressure so that the relatively gentle forces from pedalling won't move the shock but the spikier ones from hitting bumps will.
It's not like the BRAIN shock on Specialized's Epic - that uses a weighted inertia valve which is inherently slower to react and isn't adjustable. The BRAIN is also pretty much locked or unlocked, while SPV will vary the amount of compression damping according to how hard you hit it.
The shock we rode was the Air 4-Way, featuring a main air spring, adjustable SPV pressure, rebound damping and also a volume adjuster on the SPV air chamber. Making this smaller causes compression damping to ramp up more towards the end of the stroke if you like that sort of thing. The 4-Way has a piggyback reservoir and so won't fit all bikes - the 3-Way does without the reservoir but doesn't have the volume adjuster.
A neat touch on the shock is the sag indicator - two lines on the piggyback reservoir show where 25% and 35% of the shock travel is, so you can set your pressure, push the travel indicator O-ring back, sit on the bike, get off and see if your sag's right without getting a ruler out.
Manitou recommend taking your bodyweight in pounds and putting between 50 and 70% of that number of psi into the SPV chamber. Aiming for somewhere between those two figures yielded immediately good results. Steady-state pedalling along Tarmac gave no shock movement at all, but it'd react to ripples and small potholes. Give it some gibbonesque pedalling action and there's some movement there, but it's kept in check because the shock won't over-travel - once it's compressed a little way the pressures inside equalise and the valve closes again.
Climbing an increasingly bumpy and rocky climb we continued to be impressed. The shock was impressively still on the smooth bits and we couldn't complain about its suppleness over the rocks. Turning on to a slightly downhill singletrack, the rippled surface of old hoofprints vanished underwheel. Sub 5s are pretty sprightly under power anyway, but the Swinger flattered our big-ring efforts. As the trail got faster and rockier, things just got better. To be honest, we weren't expecting the SPV to be much of a big hitter, but by the time we got to the bottom the tell-tale O-ring showed that we'd had pretty much all of the travel and it remained composed throughout.
To be fair, we'd be pretty well disposed towards anything we were riding on the fells above Ullswater on a sunny spring day, but we reckon Manitou are on to a winner here. The shock is what bikes like the Sub 5 have been waiting for, making long-travel trail bikes with reasonable light weight that spin happily along the smooth stuff and swallow the big a reality. And all without flicking any levers…
Even better, there's no great weight penalty and Orange reckon you'll be looking at about an £80 upcharge for an SPV shock which looks well worth it. And you can get a Swinger-equipped Orange right now.
The test bike was also equipped with a 130mm travel Minute Two fork. These aren't going to be available for at least a couple of months yet and this particular example was definitely still in the prototype camp. First impressions are good, though. The claimed weight is an impressive 3.6lb, they also have SPV damping to counter bob (there's no lockout, though, so serious bar honking will move them), they feel extremely smooth and look great. They'll be available in a 100mm travel version too, and there'll be a two-position 100/130mm Minute Three and coil sprung Minute One in the range too. More on those nearer the time…