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Magura Press Camp USA:  Elect or Not?- by Grannygear

Sedona, AZ, was the location of the Magura USA Press Camp for 2014.  On the docket were showings of the new line of brakes, the revised forks, and the Elect system of wireless, automatic compression lockout for nearly all Magura forks and now, rear shocks too.  c_g did a great job of listing the details of the new Magura MT Next brakes here so I will not repeat all that, but I will give my ride impressions on a set of MT7 stoppers.  My main task as assigned by c_g, was to report on the Elect system.  Task accepted.

As well, we had a peek at a new tire from Vredestein for 29″er and 650b sized wheels…pity the 26″ folks…[Whoops! I was in error.  They are in all three wheel sizes.  gg] and some new wares from Uvex and SKS.  My ride for the week was a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR with a 140mm travel TS8 fork and a set of MT7 dual piston brakes.  Nice.

Elect:  Magic little electrical stuff.

We first saw the Magura Elect system last year at the 2013 Press Camp.  Since then, the Elect system has added a rear shock option, mostly for OE applications, that brings the automatic or manual wireless compression damping to both ends.  The rear shock is slaved to the front fork so whatever state the front fork is…open or closed…the rear shock is as well.  Simple enough, but I did not get trail time on the matched system as there was only one bike there with the Elect rear shock installed on it, it was not my size, and it was not working up to par, being a non-production demo bike.

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The control for the Front/Rear Elect system.

But I did get a few hours of trail time on a Elect equipped fork and that was enough to give me a strong impression of how the system works, whether it does work as Magura says it does, and whether that is a good thing or not.  When I first heard about the Elect system, I was skeptical.  Likely I rolled my eyes and groaned like some petulant teenager.  I thought, “Do we really need another step towards the Electronic-i-zation of our bicycles”?  Soon, if my batteries are dead, I will not be able to shift OR adjust my suspension.  What next?

But after riding it, playing with the settings, and basically beating on it trying to trip it up, it won me over.  Would I like Elect on a bike I ride, front and rear?  Yes.  Yes I would (with some reservations) and here is why.  But first, some details.

The Elect cartridge replaces the existing mechanical version with simple hand tools.  It does need to be oriented correctly into the fork but it is a very simple install.  If you are already running a remote lock out for your Magura fork, the loss of the cable/housing and lever offsets the slightly heavier Elect cartridge and ends up as a net loss of 15 grams.  If you are adding the Elect on a fork that is not currently a remote equipped it will be a gain, but hardly anything significant.

A full charge (3 hrs from a fully low battery) gives you 40-60 hours of riding time.  If the battery fails, the system goes to open mode.  If the bike is left to sit for five minutes, the Elect system goes to sleep and then wakes up in 5 seconds with a memory of the state it was last in.  The unit blinks to let you know the battery is getting low.  The charger is micro USB and there is a ‘charge from battery’ option.  This is a standard +5V USB set-up so anything with a reasonable current capacity should be able to charge the Elect cartridge.  It is ANT+ and pairs with the handlebar mounted wireless remote.

It also has a slightly more aggressive ‘XC’ tune to the shim stack, owing to its XC racing intentions.  But this is on a 140mm fork on a trail bike.  How will that work?  The rear Elect shock adds a three button remote to run the front and rear independently or slave them in full auto mode.

How much does all this cost?  A lot, actually.  The Elect fork cartridge is either $600.00 or $650.00 depending on who I asked, but let’s say it is $600.00 for the cartridge, remote, charger, and installation tool.  The rear shock, if you were to upgrade to it, is a $1400.00 step-in.  However, I suspect this will not happen too often as getting an off-the-rack shock that matches your suspension’s demands would be pretty iffy.  For the manufacturers though, who could work with Magura to get the shock’s tune just ‘so’ for a new bike…that makes more sense but it will drive up the bike’s cost.  It better be worth it.  Is it?  Maybe.

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After Mike from Magura installed my Elect cartridge into the loaner Stumpy FSR’s 140mm TS8 fork and gave me the quick run down on how to set it up, I was off on trail for a quick impression before the next day’s ride.  To begin with, you calibrate the Elect by placing the bike on a level surface and depressing the top button for three seconds, then releasing it.  It blinks a few times and uses that setting as ‘zero’.  If your front wheel gets higher than that (measured by the tilt of the system) it will lock in approx 1.8 seconds.  The delay is to keep the system from being hyper aware of quick changes as you ride, something that would tax the system and lower battery life.  Makes sense.  If your front wheel gets lower than the setting point, it will open the damping and let the fork do its job.  It also has an accelerometer so if your front wheel drops into free air, like from a wheelie or a jump, the fork opens in something like a quarter of a second, plenty fast enough to deal with the situation.  It also knows that you are not just leaning the bike over, so that does not fool the system.

At first I ran it in manual mode, but only to see if it worked.  When you calibrate the Elect cartridge, it is in auto mode.  When you press the handlebar remote button, it goes into manual mode.  Manual worked just like a cable or hydraulic one does.  Push it once, open.  Push it again, closed.  It is kind of hard to feel the button click with gloves on and there is no way I saw to know what state you are in…open or closed.  But no one is going to spend this kind of cash for a wireless, manual remote.  It is the auto feature that will make or break this deal, so I stopped, pressed the fork mounted Elect cartridge button till it glowed red, and never took it out of auto again for the duration.

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It works.  It really does exactly what they claim it does.  Over the 3 hours I rode it, I might have ‘surprised’ the Elect a couple of times, but that was about it.  On any climb or ascent, the fork would close down with a blow-off for harder raps and I could hammer along.  By the time I was descending at all, and Sedona is chock full of quick ups and downs, ledges, rocks, drops, and whatever…the Elect system would have the fork open and ready for duty.  I tried riding uphill with the fork locked and then popping a wheelie, slamming the front wheel down to test the ‘free fall’ sensitivity.  Every time the fork was open by the time the wheel touched down then it would close up again.  I also stopped and recalibrated the system by placing the bike on a slight up-slope and depressing the Elect button till it relearned a new ‘zero’ setting.  That kept the fork open on slight uphill grades and did not affect the down slope performance at all.  I did go back to a level calibration, but it shows that you can ‘pre-clock’ the system to tune it to your preference.  Of course you could go too far but then why have it at all?

I expected to be at odds with the closed down fork performance on all the ledgy climbs at Sedona, especially on a full suspension trail bike like the Stumpy FSR.  Yes and no.  Surprisingly, I barely even cared and it only affected me in a couple of moments that I recall where the wheel would deflect off an uphill rock step assault.  Some of that balance came from the Mini Brain on the FSR’s rear suspension, so the bike had a platform feeling on the rear shock as well.  On a different bike this might have been a bit less so.

In the end, I came away with this:

  • There needs to be a ‘Trail’ level Elect cartridge version that never goes into “lockout” mode, but just does what a Fox CTD fork/shock does in Trail Mode.  That would have been a better app for the FSR in my opinion.  Would I have wanted the rear shock on the FSR to ‘lock out’ like the fork was?  No.  That would have been too much and would have been a detriment on the techy climbs in Sedona.
  • But….I would love it just as is on my single speed.  That would absolutely rock for out of the saddle climbs.  Throw that lockout lever away.  SO there needs to be two versions of this…XC and Trail.
  • After a very short time on trail, I just forgot about it and rode the bike.  It just flat out did what it was supposed to.  That is a great compliment to any bike part.
  • Would I love this in the rear shock too?  Oh yes please (with the reservations noted above).  Basically I would love to have the TwinLoc system of the Scott FS bikes with no lever or cables.
  • Do I want to pay $2k extra for it to have it on my bike?  Not likely.  That lever and cable look pretty good in that sense.

I am slowly embracing high tech on my bike, but only when it brings real improvements in my ride.  This is a real improvement if you are the kind of person who  uses your forks/shocks low speed compression controls to firm up things as you ride.  If you are always open, this may be not for you.  But someday this type of system will be wide reaching and cheaper to get into and then it will just be normal.  Don’t be surprised if you end up with one more thing to charge and one less cable to replace in the near future.

Next up will be my impressions on the revised forks, brakes, and a peek at the rest of the goodies we saw.