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Manitou Black Comp - After Two Rides
by Lester Lin

Model: Manitou Black Comp fork: Featuring Rapid Travel Adjustment from 80mm to 100mm, rebound dampening through the Free Flow hydraulic dampening system, and a really heavy steel steerer tube. This is the fork that is available only to OEM's that will spec this on their bicyles brand new, unless of course you live in Taiwan! The more expensive equivalent model will be the Manitou Black which features an aluminum steerer, a TPC dampening cartridge with both Rebound and Compression dampening, and all other features the same.

Taking it out of the box, I was quite impressed with the fresh and unusual looks of the Black. The reverse arch is the first thing that makes your eyes feel strange. Manitou claims that with this position, you achieve the same stifness of the QR20 axle wihout needing to use it. It defnitely looks like it would do some mud shielding in it's rearward position as well. TheThe "mini boots" to keep the major crap away from your seals, aluminum (not plastic) preload knob, the ultra functional quick rebound adjust lever, (180 degrees from full rebound dampening to no rebound), and the ultra cool rapid height adjust from 100 to 80mm. As the last feature was the one that had my utmost curiosity, it was of course the first new feature that I wanted to play with. Either I hae an unusually defective Rapid Travel Adjustment, or Manitou and their customers are going to have nightmares with this feature. The instructions just say to move the lever from the 100 to 80, and visa versa, and that compressing the fork "a little bit" is necessary. LITTLE BIT????? HOLY COW!! I jumped on it, I bounced on it, and tried a precarious balancing act of trying to move the rebound lever at the same time, and just wasn't able to get the lever to move from 100 to 80mm!! I finally rigged up an A frame ladder flat on the floor, stuck the fork in between and had my co-worker press down on the fork with all the leverage of the ladder while I tried to move it from 100mm to the 80mm position. Finally CLICK, and there it was, at 80mm travel!! Rapid Travel Adjust??? Maybe we should more aptly call it Mission Impossible.

Going from 80mm to 100mm was a bit easier. A click of the lever, and a small CPR style compression on the fork, and pop goes the weasel. Back to the 100mm travel position.

After the same antics to get it compressed down to 80mm, the second time around the lever got stuck at 80mm. I couldn't get it back to the 100mm position. Bouncing the shock, or compressing it in the ladder, nothing would work to get the lever to release it back to 100mm. That led me to my second discovery. Manitou's Rapid Adjust System seems to compress the spring , and just lock the fork in a down position. The spring action at 80mm is STIFF AND HARD! It would only cushion the harshest of bumps at this travel adjustment. By no means will it handle like a standard 80mm fork with normal settings. In my mind, this Rapid Travel Adjustment is basically a farse. I it would be harder to lock in the down position than a Marzocchi Z1 with the ECC, and much harsher than a Psylo U Turn in the 80mm position.

I got the fork installed on my Specialized FSR Comp. This bike has been collecting dust living in the shadow of my M4 FSR XC Ned bike. The lighter weight of this bike along with the much more supple action of the SID XC fork and the superior dampening compared to the Judy T2, the FRS Comp had seen it's better days. I have been contemplating selling this rig for quite some time, but just couldn't bring myself to do it.

As the Black Comp weighs in at a hefty 4.2 lbs, it just didn't seem right to put it on my Ned bike. By default, it went on my only other Full Suspension bike. After installing it, the first task was to try to get the suspension back up to 10mm. I just couldn't imagine riding it at the harsh 80mm setting. After bouncing and heaving on the lever, the efforts of two people finally got the lever to click back to 100mm. I haven't touched this adjustment since then out of plain fear of having it stuck at 80mm again much less the extreme physical effort needed to get it into the down position.

All these nightmares seem to become a fuzzy memory somewhere in the back of your head after you hit the trail. The silky smooth 100mm of travel, and the most excellent rebound adjustment and the superb stiffness of the fork are a real pleasure on the trail. I had virtually no pre-load set on this fork because I value small bump compliance and an ultra plush ride. And it is just those characteristics that the BLACK delivers with flying colors.

Of course when comparing with a SID fork, almost anything would feel stiff. And stiff the Black is. It is at least on par with any of the Psylo's or Z1 (that come on the Giant AC) in this department. The 25 mm disparity when compared with a Psylo XC would be hard to feel if you were riding blindfolded, but the biggest air that I normally catch is limited to about 2 ft., and the highest jump that I have ever done is about 4 ft. I don't do wicked jumps or sick hucks. That should put my opinion into perspective.

The spring rate on a PSYLO feels progressive, ramping up quickly as you reach pass the 80mm mark on the way to 125mm, whereas the Manitou Black that I tested feels very linear. It feels straight line, right down to the bottom of the travel. This is also to my liking.

The rebound dampening, at it's maximum setting is not as powerful as a PSYLO SL, but more powerful than a PSYLO XC. I would never use the PSYLO at it's maximum rebound dampening adjustment anyway as it would likely make the fork ratchet down on anything that resembles stutter bumps.

My test trail was the local gas plant trail on Jung Shan (mt). On the best of days, this trail challenges my mettle every time I ride it. I still regularly go over the handlebars, or end up crashing to the side of the trail on the technically difficult steep descents, or on the root farms.

The appetite for eating big bumps on the BLACK was voracious. The Black has a tendency to swallow then hole without so much as a chew. The stiffness keeps you from wrestling with the "twist and shout" characteristics of SID and keeps you plowing forward on the root farms when you would otherwise be eating humble pie.

On my second ride on the Black, after setting up my bike to more complement the characteristics of the fork, I did the most controlled and easiest descents on all the hills of the gas plant compared to almost any other bike that I have ridden on this trail. My lowly FSR was now performing on par with some of my all time favorites such as the San Andreas Mt. Cycle, and the Giant AC-1. (And that achievment done with only some very skinny 1.9 inch Michellin Wildgripper Comp tires on the front)