What is it
For years, mountain bike shocks on longer travel trail/all-mountain bikes came with inherent compromise. Opt for a coil and relish the frictionless off-the-top feel and zero-fade performance, but suffer the weight and climbing platform penalty, and deal with lessened versatility. Or choose air to weigh less (often pay less) and gain adjustability, but accept sometimes sticky initial sensitivity and performance fade on long, rough descents. More and more, though, the current generation of piggyback air shocks are closing the gap to their coil brethren.
Among this next gen group is the DVO Topaz T3 Air, which weighs a reasonable 393 grams when configured for our 135mm rear travel Santa Cruz Hightower test bike with 200×51 shock size. It has buttery smooth initial stroke performance, is supportive in the mid stroke, and delivers near bottomless end stroke performance.
Elevator pitch highlights of the Topaz T3 Air include significant (and easy to do trailside) tunability thanks to snap-on positive and negative air volume spacers for a more progressive or linear feel, heat managing cooling fins that help decrease fade, durable Trelleborg seals and Igus bushings, and an oversized three-position on-the-fly compression adjustment lever (climb, traverse, descend). The shock’s exterior body is beautifully machined, yielding a durable and attractive aesthetic.
Yet another notable feature is the shock’s bladder pressure adjustment (from 170-200 psi), which changes the entire stroke behavior. If you feel like your bike is pushing through the travel too quickly, bump up the psi. But if you want the shock to go through more travel because you’re not getting full travel, let some air out. In essence, you are shifting the entire spring curve up or down, not changing that curve’s shape. That, of course, happens when you add or subtract the volume spacers.
This ability to tune air volume in the positive and negative allows you to match the air spring of the shock with your frame’s design and/or your personal preferences. So say you have a Specialized Stumpjumper with its highly linear design, you can make the Topaz T3 Air more progressive to enhance end stroke support. (You can even take things a step further and customize the shim stack, but best get on the phone with DVO first.)
Currently the Topaz T3 Air comes in five sizes (216×63.5, 216×57.5, 200×57, 200×51, 190×50), and they make Specialized Stumpjumper and Enduro-compatible versions for all the Big Red S devotees out there. Price is $500 and if you have questions reach out directly to DVO, which has a reputation for some of the best customer support in the cycling industry.
- Air volume easily tunable with included spacers
- Volume spacers can be installed without tools or shock removal
- Superb initial sensitivity
- Very low breakaway force enhances traction
- Discernable mid-stroke stability
- Near bottomless at end of stroke
- Three-position on-fly compression damping adjuster
- Large compression damping lever is easy to manipulate
- Bladder pressure adjustment changes entire stroke behavior
- Reasonable weight for high-performance piggy back shock
- Cooling fins in oil reservoir reduce shock fade
- Coil-like performance on long descents
- Stable pedaling platform in pedal mode
- On-fly rebound damping knob
- High quality seals and bearings
- Five total stroke length options
- Specialized Stumpjumper and Enduro-compatible versions
- Attractive and durable CNC forged exterior
- Superb customer service
- Subtle rebound knob detents
- Pedal mode is not full lock-out
- No external high speed or low speed compression adjustment
- Compression adjustment lever has low spring tension
- No SAG percentage indicator lines
- Occasional knee contact with dust cap
- $500 not chump change
Crested Butte’s Green Lake trail is one of my go-to test laps. Leaving right from the heart of the Colorado mountain town, it essentially heads straight up for about 4.5 miles and 1700 vertical feet, topping out one the area’s most stunning high alpine lakes, elevation 10,627 feet. The arduous ascent is a mix of smooth, spinable singletrack, and about a half dozen nasty/chunky/rooty/steep sections that require 100% star alignment for a dab-free climb. (That’s never happened for me.)
The trip down, not surprisingly, is shred’tastic, all those tricky uphill bits transforming into a playground of rowdy and raucous fun. It’s “enduro-style” riding at its finest — and a great locale for evaluating suspension performance.
To cut to the chase, DVO’s Topaz T3 Air passed the Green Lake test (along with numerous other shakedown rides) with Strava KoM-killing colors. In climb mode, sag is roughly cut in half, helping keep bike and rider in a comfortable and efficient upright pedaling position. It’s not a total lock-out, though, which is just fine. I prefer maintaining traction over maximizing power output. And frankly with the Hightower’s effective VPP suspension, there isn’t much pedal-induced movement anyway.
But it’s that grin inducing, adrenaline (and arm) pumping Green Lake decent (about 16 minutes with a touch of pedaling in the middle) where the Topaz T3 Air earns its stripes. From initial stroke to big hit performance, this shock is buttery smooth and highly controlled. (I also appreciated the middle compression setting, which is great for pedally descents or when you’re looking to pick and play rather than straight line charge.)
Tinkerers will love the shock’s tunability. The included air volume spacers for the negative and positive can be added without tools or even taking the shock off the bike. Just release air pressure, remove the o-ring, slide back the can, snap on a spacer or two, re-inflate, and off you go. Most riders will make this adjustment at home. But you can do it trailside, too, which is great for getting initial set-up dialed. If you nail your sag number but are still blowing through full travel, add a spacer to the positive chamber. Or snap a spacer into the negative chamber to better preserve initial squish. Here’s a DVO tutorial video that illustrates just how easy it is.
Of course nothing in the world is perfect. Uber tinkerers may balk at the absence of external high speed or low speed compression adjustment, and the rebound adjuster knob’s detents are subtle so you need to pay closer attention when turning. Also the compression adjustment lever’s fairly low spring tension makes it possible to inadvertently “adjust” on the fly, and I’ve managed to knock the air cap with my right knee a few times. Finally, it would be great to have sag percentage indicator lines.
But none of these gripes are by any means deal breaking. Instead, I can enthusiastically say this one of the best piggyback shocks I’ve ridden. And while I have no issues with Fox or RockShox, it’s good to have more competent players in the mountain bike suspension game. Healthy competition is good for everyone — especially us riders.
Rating: 4 out of 5
More Info: www.dvosuspension.com