2012 Manitou Tower Pro 29er: Steppin’ Up The Game- by Grannygear

There are two main players in the suspension fork biz (regardless of who actually builds them, etc)…Fox and RockShox.  Everyone else, at least here in North America, gets to slice up what’s left of the pie.  However, that does not mean that a fork from a smaller enterprise like White Brothers, the Manitou line from the Hayes folks, or the RST forks we just received are not solid items to get down the trail on.  I have been riding an example of a Manitou Tower Pro in an 80mm guise for nearly a year now on the OS Blackbuck single speed and I have quite a few hours on a 2012 Manitou Tower Pro 100mm version of that fork with the latest goodies like a tapered steerer and a 15mm quick release through axle.

In the next two posts we will talk about how they size up and how they have performed and then we will give you an insight into the engineering of the fork from their chief engineer.  He will further explain what is new and how the forks can be owner tuned and tweaked to perfection.  Here goes!

Tale of the tape:  the 100mm Tower Pro 15mm quick release through axle,tapered version, weighed in at 4lbs/1.8kgs without the axle and 4lbs 3oz/1.89kgs with it (uncut steerer).  That is pretty good but with a Fox 32 Float 29 tapered/15QR at 3.43 lb / 1.56 kg (claimed) and a Rock Shox Revelation RL with tapered steerer and 9mm lowers (15mm through axle would add some weight) shown as 3.98lbs/1.8kg, it seems that the 2012 Tower Pro is in the fight in this class.  The price though is very favorable as typically Manitou forks are screaming deals for something that looks good and works well as we shall see.  The axle to crown height is a bit tall, at least compared to the Fox forks as the Tower Pro is 510mm at 100mm travel.  Travel is not user adjustable…not yet anyway.

Since it is the new product here, I will be talking about the newer 100mm 2012 Tower Pro 29″er fork more than the slightly older 80mm version, but I want to include impressions of the 80mm version as a bit of a buttress to what I have experienced on the bigger brother as well as to compare it across two slightly different configurations.  The 80mm Tower Pro has the same internals, but lacks the new lowers casting, is a 9mm dropout, and is a straight 1 1/8″ steerer.  Tower pros get aluminum steerers, butted aluminum stanchions, the MARS air spring and the TPC damper.  Comparing the looks of the older 80mm to the newer 100mm fork, the graphics are much more tolerable now and the casting of the arch section is cooler looking…reminds me of a Klingon Bird of Prey (obscure Star Trek reference).  It took a long time for Manitou to get up to speed with tapered steerers and 15mm through axle options, but they are in the game now and the 15mm through axle is a bit unique.  Called the “QR15Hex Lock”, it pays homage to the sweet 20mm hex shaped through axle that Manitou used on the 20mm forks.  Although the bolts were hardly convenient to deal with if you removed your front wheel a lot, the hex shaped 20mm axle locked the fork legs together in such a way as to reduce independent fork leg twist.  The Hex Lock QR15 seeks to do the same thing.  The video below shows the Hex Lock QR15 axle in use and the pics I shot show the close up detail.

Manitou QR15 HexLock Thru-Axle from Thirsty Boy on Vimeo.

 

Ride Impressions: I began with the 100mm Tower Pro on the Specialized Carve Pro single speed where it replaced a 2010 vintage Fox F29. The gain in AC height was offset by stem adjustments so I kept the handlebar height relatively the same.  Manitou builds in more offset than most others at a 48mm spec.  Not drastic compared to a more common 43-44mm, but not to be overlooked either.  Still, not “G2 extreme”.  I also began with the MILO remote lockout installed, a cable operated lockout that mounts near the grip and gives you two settings…open and closed, although how open and how closed varies as we will discuss.

On the older 80mm Tower Pro I had come to appreciate the smooth travel and quick response of the fork.  It felt like more than 80mm’s of travel, and it even felt like more than the 100mm F29 Fox (notorious for not giving you all the travel advertised).  However, the 80mm version came with a medium spring and so I was always running the fork at the high end of the air spring pressure rating.  I really needed a heavy spring in it, and that was a common complaint on internet boards, that Manitous should come with a heavier spring.  Well, for 2012 they do, at least in the Tower Pro 29″ers.  I was able to get the same excellent response out of the 100mm 2012 fork with less air pressure settings with the Firm spring in there.

I never had any complaints of flexy steering on the 80mm version, even with just a 9mm dropout, but then it is only an 80mm fork on a steel single speed.  So I was not surprised to find the tapered/15mm through axle version to be quite stiff and well behaved on trail.  However, it is not the stiffest fork I have seen in one area, that being fore-aft flex in the fork under braking.  I can see the front wheel pull back more than I do on an equivalent Fox (or the new RST I am on).  Do I notice this on trail?  Cannot say I do, but I do see it when I am just noodling around.

On the Carve Pro single speed, I found I enjoyed the more plush feel of the fork over the older Fox, but I never dialed in the steering to my satisfaction.  The MILO is a mixed bag.  It does not have enough cable pull to get you from completely open to completely locked out, at least not with the damper it came with.  It will not sweep 100% of the compression damping allowed by the old manual knob’s ‘clicks’….say maybe 70% is what you get.  You need to pre-clock the MILO control to get the 70% range in the sweet spot to fit your needs.  Now on the single speed Carve, I did not have an issue with that as the range gave me enough suppleness in the fork to balance the hard tail out while still being able to get me to a 98% lockout…’locked out’ still had some movement there, which is what I like for the sake of my wrists, but it was an issue when I swapped the fork onto the next bike.  In my opinion, the taller axle to crown on the Tower Pro and the increased travel (also affecting the axle to crown height) was not a great match for the Carve, seeing as how the frame was designed around an 80mm RockShox fork (that actually is not too far off from the 100mm Fox axle to crown height-wise).  In rough sections it was sweet, but it just never sang to me so off it went and back on went the old Fox fork.

Next was the project Go-’Fish build, a Salsa Spearfish frame set built for endurance racing and long XC rides.  The promised fork for that build, a carbon wonder fork, never materialized.  So, I grabbed the Tower Pro and popped it on there, seeing as how it looked like it was designed for the bike graphics wise.  That has been a very, very good combo.  I have a guess that the faster steering 48mm offset is a plus on the slightly staid Salsa handling (although I have not run any other fork to compare) but it feels very dialed on there.  But, not until I removed the MILO.  What was ok on the single speed was very unsatisfactory on the Spearfish.  I could not get the fork to feel balanced to the rear end when everything was in open mode.  The fork never was supple enough to match the back end.  However, when the rear shock was in ProPedal mode, the fork balanced perfectly.  Suspecting the MILO was not letting the compression damper open up enough from full lock, I swapped in a standard manual knob with multi-detents.  AHA!  All better.  Now the fork could be balanced with the feel of the back end both in ProPedal AND open modes and I could easily set the compression damping between the two extremes at will by just reaching down and fiddling.  Now THIS was the supple feel I had come to appreciate on the 80mm version.

Thoughts And Conclusions: Now, the saga continues in that Hayes sent me a couple of different needle seat combos that allow for a full range of compression damping from closed to open in less of a dial sweep.  That plays well with the MILO with it’s 70% range but where I really want a remote lockout is on a single speed where you are up and down so much and really honking on the bars.  The new needle seat/MILO combo was a good match on the 80mm Tower Pro/OS Blackbuck and it is very acceptable now, but I will not run it on the Spearfish…no real need to.  I have not come to feel that I gain much on a trail/XC bike paired with a manual lockout.  Just my take on it…I have yet to try the CTD three position approach on the new Forks forks, so maybe that will win me over. The MILO control also was a bit difficult to get to clamp a set of carbon bars well enough to not move under use.  I used some carbon paste under the thin clamp with that teeny set screw and that helped.  On an aluminum bar on the Blackbuck, it held fine.

For the cost versus performance versus looks the Manitou Tower Pro is a player.  This model should list for $550.00.  Add in the tunability of shim stacks and the new Hex Lock 15mm through axle/tapered offerings and you get a modern fork that can be tweaked and peaked or just left alone.  The heavier springs as stock is a real plus as most 29″er folks tend to be bigger people but obviously this can be changed as well.

Stay tuned for our interview with engineer Ed Kwaterski where we delve into details of how to set up the fork and why it does what it does for 2012.

Note: Hayes/Manitou sent the Tower Pro forks for test and review at no charge. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review. We will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.