Electronically controlled suspension is still very much in its infancy but is already proving its use case in mountain biking. Being able to automatically control suspension performance-based terrain has a lot of potential. While the systems currently available already work pretty well, there is massive scope for innovation still.
Currently, both of the big players have an electronic system on the market. RockShox recently released its Flight Attendant system while Fox is currently on V1.5 of its Live Valve system which we've ridden on Giant's Anthem Advanced Pro.
However, in a patent titled 'Connected component platform' Fox share some exciting innovations that could be coming to a future iteration of Live Valve and make the best full-suspension mountain bikes even better.
We will get to the mechanics of the system later, but Fox looks to make its electronic suspension system considerably more involved when it comes to set up and control of how your mountain bike will ride. They are calling this 'Fox connected component platform' (FCCP) and the system is said to collect a broad range of "static data, dynamic data, and real-time sensor derived data" and then "further evaluates the data in view of user specific, vehicle specific, and/or component specific features and characteristics and generates user evaluation data."
While that's intentionally broad patent language, it goes on to specify how this would be applied to a bike with suspension.
Simply put, Fox is using the FCCP to offer ride telemetry and suspension tuning. This would be based on in-depth ride data harvested from sensors on your bike but could also integrate bike specifications/features, with location information and other rider settings.
Not only that, but Fox proposes the FCCP system could act as a “personalized riding coach” to offer riding tips and performance-enhancing suggestions. Evaluating a rider's personal performance alongside the actual performance of other connected components. Not only could the system potentially maximize performance from a component, but it may also be able to advise if a component needs maintenance or if it is time for preventative maintenance, replacement, etc.
Finally, and rather worrying for tech writers like myself, Fox says FCCP could also suggest replacement components tailored to your riding, bike setup, and budget. "Thus, the rider would not simply be provided with a purchase offer, but the rider would be provided with a customized, individualized, and specific component(s) guide that is matched to the rider's individual riding style, body type, skill level, etc. Thus, instead of selecting in the dark, using online forums, bike shops, or the like; the rider would be provided with a number of specifications (or actual brand components) that would meet the rider's personal criteria."
Seriously, that's a quote directly from the patent. While we're excited to see where Fox goes with all this tech, we aren't too worried about being replaced by a ChatGPT-equipped Fox Float DPX2 any time soon.
Move aside Live Valve, Active Valve is coming
A lot of the features mentioned in this patent revolve around a rider's user experience with future electronic suspension systems, however, Fox mentions some frankly mad ideas that if developed could revolutionize mountain bike suspension.
If you think suspension tuning is complicated at the moment, prepare to have your brain melted. Fox has dubbed the new system 'Active Valve' in said patents and it appears to be considerably more intricate than the existing Live Valve system. While Live Valve is essentially an on/off system, Active Valve proposes to be able to independently control suspension dampening circuits while riding using the three cylinders that feed into the Active Valve reservoir. That could mean automatic active control of high- and low-speed compression and rebound circuits while you ride.
Presumably, this would all be streamlined for consumer-friendly fettling with presets. Considering that Fox's Live Valve App already has an unpopulated 'download more tunes', giving riders increased control over how their electronic suspension behaves is something Fox looking to implement.
Active Valve is more than a complex damper arrangement. The 'Fox connected component platform' adds sensors to other components including "forks, wheels, rear shocks, front shocks, handlebars, seat posts, pedals, cranks, and the like" which could all feed real-time data into Active Valve in order to provide the previously mentioned telemetry and suspension tuning.
While all the above sensors sound pretty obvious, the patent takes a sci-fi turn. Fox suggest measurement-type sensors such as radar, 2D and 3D imagers, ultrasonic sensor, photoelectric sensors, and Lidar (light detection and ranging) could be used to measure for various distance measurements, including suspension compression, air-time, and even object detection. This all seems a little far-fetched, except Fox goes as far as stating which models of sensors they could use and their specific tasks.
There are no specifics on whether the Active Valve system will go wireless, however, the system will partner closely with a mobile or desktop app and will use these tertiary devices to handle the majority of the processing requirements to generate tunes and manage data. That means the battery mounted to the bike should be smaller, lighter, and last longer.
Currently, Live Valve uses air-sprung suspension, but the patent appears to show and mentions a helical spring (coil) shock. The patent goes on to say, "although a coil sprung damping assembly is shown in FIG. 3, this is provided as one embodiment and for purposes of clarity. In one embodiment, the active valve damper 38 could be a different type such as, but not limited to, an air-sprung fluid damper assembly, a stand-alone fluid damper assembly, and the like."
There is also imagery that suggests Fox will bring Active Valve to gravel bikes too, as if suspension on gravel bikes wasn't contentious enough.
While Fox and RockShox are currently leading the arms race when it comes to consumer electronic suspension control, we expect other brands will release their own systems in the future. Notably, SR Suntour has their own system which was used on Pidcock's Olympic Gold-winning BMC Fourstroke and there's evidence to suggest that Shimano is working on a unique new way to control MTB suspension too.
Whether they can compete with Fox's proposed new system will be another matter and we will bring you updates as soon as more details are available.