What is it?
As soon as riders were sold on the benefits of bike suspension, engineers started looking in to automatic suspension. Bike suspension is often a compromise between pedaling efficiency, cornering performance and rough, bump-eating prowess.
Adjustment knobs, lockout knobs, remote levers are all attempts to find that balance that gives us the best setting that are ideal for our ride.
To this day, no automatic system has really answered the call and proven a racing advantage or an obvious benefit to the enthusiast rider.
Is electronics the answer? It has certainly delivered dividends in vehicles both for racing and the high-end consumer. Live Valve is Fox’s attempt to bring electronics into bicycle suspension.
Has this been done before?
On bikes, this has been attempted many times before. Systems like the K2 Bike fork suspension, Fox Terralogix and the Lapierre system are some of the attempts we remember that attempt to automatically swap from wide open to firm mode automatically.
Fox’s Terralogix fork introduced in 2004 and Specialized’s Brain rear shock (developed with Fox) uses a brass weight Invertia Valve to lock out when in smooth terrain and automatically switch to open mode when a significant bump force produces enough energy to move the brass weight out of the way of the oil valve.
Is this technology proven in motorsports?
The good news is we’re no longer in the dark here attempting to invent new suspension technology. This has been proven by Fox now in motorsports and is not only used in racing but in full production vehicles.
The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor features class-exclusive FOX 3.0 Internal Bypass shocks with Live Valve technology. The Polaris Dynamix UTVs come equipped with Live Valve technology as well. And their effectiveness is clearly demonstrated in these applications on the road or on test courses.
The heart – Live Valve
Often, what prevents these types from succeeding is their complexity and setup and use outweighs their performance and usability benefits. Live Valve attempts to shift this balance by engineering this complex system to a point where it’s easy to use.
• 480 times per hour (720 times per 1.5hr XC race)
• Sensors – 1000 times per second (1kHz)
• Mode change – 3 milliseconds (100 times faster than blink of an eye).
Live Valve senses a bump at the front wheel and opens the fork before the rider feels it. To accomplish this, a proprietary latching solenoid is at the heart of the Live Valve opening and closing the fluid flow path.
The latching characteristic of the solenoid means that it doesn’t require power to be either open or closed. It only requires a 25msec pulse from the battery to toggle it between open and closed delivering speed and power efficiency.
The brains aka Controller
Using the sensor in the Controller, Live Valve knows if the bike is going uphill, downhill, or on flat ground. The Live Valve intelligence is optimized for these three states.
The controller is the black box that is attached to the bike frame. It contains:
• microprocessor and the firmware code
• Battery mount
• 3-axis accelerometer (Controller sensor)
Powering the system
• 2-Cell Lithium Ion, 7.4V, 800 mAh
• Charging circuitry on-board: all that is needed to charge is a micro-USB cord (included) and a USB power source
• The settings selector button allows the rider to select between 5 Controller settings
The system in use
• When the rider first presses the power button, 1 of 5 green LEDs light up as a battery level indicator
• Pressing the power button again opens the suspension and then turns off the controller. The red off LED will flash. If the rider wants regular passive suspension, just turn off the Controller and it functions perfectly well like existing suspension.
• The other button is the settings selector button which allows the rider to select between 5 Controller settings.
• After 1.5 hours of no bumps detected by the controller, the system assumes that the bike has been put away for storage. The controller opens the suspension and then shuts down for battery life. The rider must turn the system on for the next ride.
What does Live Valve know?
• Pitch detection (Controller sensor) – If the bike is going uphill, downhill, flat/traversing
• If the bike is jumping or free falling (Controller sensor)
• If the terrain is bumpy or smooth (wheel sensors)
With all this data is collected into the algorithm, optimal suspension settings are determined. (all this happens at 1000 times per second)
Some examples in use
Simplified algorithm description:
• Smooth terrain à Suspension is in Firm Mode
• Front sensor detects a bump of a certain magnitude ànd opens front and rear suspension (Open Mode) and starts a timer
• Timer expires and no more bumps à Closes suspension (Firm Mode)
• Front sensor detects another bump before timer expires à Resets timer
• Example number one: Rider goes over a tree root:
• Suspension opens, bike goes over root, suspension closes and waits for
the next bump
• Example number two: Rider goes down a rough 2-minute descent
• The suspension opens at the first bump. Because the bumps are coming
quickly, the timer constantly resets keeping the suspension open the whole way. At the bottom, when the terrain smooths out, the suspension closes.
Yes, the state of the art has a price reflective of the materials, production and all the R&D involved with a system this ambitious and advanced. $3k is the basic price with variations based on the size of the fork involved.
Given that a fork and rear shock are priced at about $1400 baseline, we estimate that you’re paying about $1600 for the Live Valve system.
Complete Live Valve Aftermarket Systems (fork, shock, controller w/ sensors)
• 32 Step-Cast – $3000
• 34 Step-Cast -$3125
• 36 -$3250
For more information, visit https://www.ridefox.com/.