Manitou Skareb Super £425

From: Raw Experience - 0131 440 2010

Even Manitou will admit to serious problems with their current Mars forks in any but the perfect Californian conditions they were born. We’ve had several sets we’ve ridden locking solid after only a couple of rides, with only frenzied grease injection restoring some kind of grudging movement. Manitou have promised us this has all been solved for 2003. So is it?

Test Logbook

We’ve been riding a pre production prototype of the Skareb since (and including) the Red Bull 24hr race this June, and we’ve been comparing notes with riders on another couple of sets for about the same period. We’ve given it several damn good beatings on day long off road epics on seasonally hard and rocky terrain, as well as regular thrashings on the local rooty steppy flat out singletrack. In terms of weather, it’s seen just about everything and we’ve dropped it into vile acidic North Yorkshire peat mires right up to it’s crown more than once. Pretty much a typical summer then.

What Manitou have gone back to the drawing board with a completely new fork structure using the low, broad, rear mounted "Reverse Arch" technology of their Black forks, which they claim gives significantly increased steering stiffness. We’re waiting till we get some more 2003 forks before we go and rig up our twist and twang torture rig in Barry’s truck garage but so far they seem slightly stiffer than the Marzocchi, Rock Shox or Pace competition in the lightweight class. The rest of the architecture is typical racer fork minimalism, with 28.6mm legs, and a hollow forged crown in either polished or black anodised finish. The lower legs also come in a Hayes-disc-and-V brake compatible or sleek looking Hayes disc only version. The good news for riders in this country is that rather than trying to solve the problems entirely in-house, they’ve gone to a dedicated suspension seal company for their new "Evil Genius" seals. These have totally revamped seal heads and housing, with separated wiper seals and a foam ‘wetting’ ring behind them. ‘Loose’ lubricating oil is also pumped round the leg at full compression, filling the ‘wetter’ with fresh oil and providing an extra dose of bottom out damping.

The spring duties on the fork are handled by a mix of air cartridge and positive coil spring which provides bottom out and (depending on how high you run the air pressure) initial spring assistance. There’s also a negative coil spring to keep things supple around the top out. The metal ‘dustbin lid’ air valve cap is a nice quality touch, though we can see weight weenies swapping it out for something lighter to tease the weight below 3lb.

Damping is handled by Manitou’s proven TPC + cartridge which uses a floating cartridge to stop spiking under big hits and provide increased compression nearing full travel. A usefully wide range of rebound damping is provided by the knob under the right leg, while the top of the leg gets a lock out lever that can also tweak compression damping. Low speed compression damping can be adjusted internally. Before you ask there’s no remote lock out lever option yet and travel is set at 80mm.

Does it work?

The really good news is that while we wouldn’t have expected 2002 Mars forks to have managed more than a couple of laps of the Red Bull before they demanded a grease injection, the new Skareb’s are still working fine. We were warned that our pre-production samples probably wouldn’t re-wet their oil baths as intended and a couple of times the fork did stiffen up on full-day epics. By inverting the fork for a moment (like when someone else opens a gate) any stiction has been eradicated swiftly though. Given that this should happen automatically by the time they’re on sale, the new seals are looking like a stroke of Good rather than Evil Genius. The fork is also less pressure sensitive than the Mars forks - mainly due to the lack of seal stiction – which means you can run them fairly supple for little stuff without slamming them to their stops too often. Obviously the TPC+ cartridge helps here too, and we’ve had no problems at all with fade or inconsistency on long descents or any signs of leaking oil. With riding a s dry and rocky as it is round here at the moment a touch less initial and mid stroke compresson damping would make big hits less disturbing. Steering stiffness is good too, with reliable line selection and hold, rather than a sort of vague approximation, although you will pick up some twist and twang through hard driven corners, multi camber rock sections. That said it takes a lot to deliberately skip the wheel with the front brake.

Should I buy it?

Forks like the original Bombers, Psylos and more recently Foxes, Dukes and Manitous own Blacks have seen a lot of people moving away from the pure lightweight ethic of race forks to something heavier but smoother and more accurate. The good news is that forks like the Skareb are bringing more of that smooth terrain tracking and greater steering accuracy to those racers and riders who like to keep their bikes light. It’s over half a pound lighter than the lightest Dukes, which are the closest match on structural responses and feels considerably stiffer than the 3lb options from Rock Shox, Marzocchi or Pace. Crucially they also seemed to have solved their sealing problem, making them a viable UK option. The only possible downsides are no travel adjustment or remote lock out lever. Whether that rules them out or sounds like a positive relief from yet more potentially problematic complexities obviously depends on you. Price for the Super we tested is a par for the top line race fork course £425, while the slightly lighter Elite loses the lockout at £350 and the plush coil sprung, 3.2lb Skareb Comp fork is a real performance bargain for £265. All in all the Skareb is a more versatile all-rounder than most race forks we’ve ridden and comes particularly recommended for more aggressive or technically minded weight watchers.

Stop Press: We've just got some of the proper wiper seal oil wetting rings in the post so we'll let you know how they go once they're fitted.