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RockShox Introduces Flight Attendant Electronically-Controlled Suspension

Don't knock it 'til you try it

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Even if you hadn’t seen the spy photos or heard the rumors, you probably knew this was coming. RockShox wasn’t just gonna let Live Valve (Fox’s electronically-controlled damping) go unanswered. But RockShox is quick to point out that Flight Attendant is something very different, and not just because it’s wireless. One pretty big clue about exactly why it’s different is in exactly which models feature Flight Attendant. Or rather, in which model doesn’t. The cross-country-race-focused Sid fork and shock are nowhere to be found, leaving just the Pike, Lyrik and Zeb up front and the Super Deluxe out back. At least for now, Flight Attendant is focused only on trail and enduro. To see why that may be, let’s take a deep dive into what makes Flight Attendant tick.

But first, let’s take a shallow dive into what Flight Attendant does. So shallow that I think I can do it in one sentence: Flight Attendant uses information from sensors in the fork, shock and crank to decide whether, in a given moment, your front suspension, rear suspension or both should be in either Open, Pedal or Lock mode. That might sound similar to what Fox Live does, but the two are remarkably different. For one thing, Fox Live only switches between two settings; Open and Firm. But the way I see it, it’s Flight Attendant’s crank sensor that may be what someday converts the haters.

Here’s the thing: Unless that sensor tells the system that you are pedaling, your suspension will want to remain Open. For lack of a better term, Open is Flight Attendant’s “default” mode. Charging down a steep rocky section into a smooth, swoopy berm? Flight Attendant won’t suddenly switch personalities on you. When you are descending, elbows out and cranks level, your suspension remains constant until you start to pedal again. And when that does happen, sensors in the fork and shock are reading the size of the impacts and the slope of the trail to decide which mode is optimal for the particular section you are pedaling through. Those “decisions” happen incredibly quickly. Because blinks-of-an-eye are the currency we measure these sorts of things in, RockShox is boasting that Flight Attendant’s sensors can react in 1/80th of the time it takes to blink, though they won’t say how long it takes to actually open or close the damper. The other part of those decisions involves something we’re a bit more familiar with; algorithms!

Flight Attendant doesn’t work as simply as “bump = Open Mode, pedaling = Lock Mode, bump + pedaling = Pedal Mode.” It chooses the optimal mode based on real-world data acquired by testers throughout Flight Attendant’s development. The algorithm inside Flight Attendant’s program reacts to patterns and makes predictive decisions. Creepy, yes, but you have to admit it’s kinda cool.

Of course, you’re not handing all control over to Skynet. You do have the ability to direct the show to some extent. Rebound damping, which isn’t controlled electronically, is of course up to you. But in yet another benefit over Live Valve, Flight Attendant allows you to fine tune the low-speed compression damping of the Open mode. You get ten “clicks” of adjustment, front and rear. There’s also the “Bias” adjustment, which allows you to tell the system if you want it to favor Open mode or Lock mode, and to what extent. For example, if you wanted your bike to be more eager to go into the Pedal and Lock modes, you’d choose the Lock +1 or Lock +2 setting. And if at any moment, you want to take complete control, there is Manual Mode and Override Mode. Manual Mode essentially disables Flight Attendant, and allows you to toggle fork and shock manually between Open, Pedal and Lock. Just like the old days, just with black buttons instead of blue levers. Override mode switches both the fork and shock to presets that you choose ahead of time.

Exactly how you do all this is also up to you. The most futuristic-feeling is a smartphone app that allows you to customize and switch between modes. It’s similar to the way SRAM AXS users make changes to how their droppers and derailleurs behave. Or if that’s not your thing, on the fork is the main Control Module, which has color-coded lights and a few buttons that allow you to make any changes you’d need to make on the trail. Or, for more on-the-fly changes, there’s the new two-button left-side controller that takes the place of the one-button controller that most AXS users assign exclusively to their dropper posts. Like the app, though, using that controller is completely optional. But if you want Flight Attendant, you’re gonna get one, at least for now.

For the foreseeable future, Flight Attendant is only available on select complete bikes from Trek, Specialized, YT and Canyon. It’s likely that there will be an aftermarket option eventually, but for reasons including potential clearance issues stemming from the slightly bulkier hardware, RockShox is starting out with models from these four brands. Also, call me cynical, but all of those models are full AXS. That means, for every Flight Attendant system SRAM sells, they also sell an AXS drivetrain and an AXS dropper. It’s similar to when AXS was first launched, and if you wanted an AXS derailleur, controller, battery and charger, you also had to buy a crank, chainring and chain. Don’t get me wrong, AXS drivetrains and droppers are a phenomenal way to spec a bike, and it makes perfect sense you’d want an AXS kit. 

After all, the shock and fork use the exact same battery as the AXS dropper and derailleur. In the event of a dead battery, you can swap power from the least important components to the most. The batteries in the crank sensor are AAAs, and the controllers use CR2032s, both are claimed to last for 200 hours of riding. But the batteries in the suspension that do most of the heavy lifting should be expected to last just 20 to 30 hours, so you’ll be charging them every few rides. You can check them just like AXS batteries by pressing the function button on the device, and you’ll see flashing red, solid red or green. If the Flight Attendant batteries do die, the system will stay in Open mode

Believe it or not, all this technology isn’t the only thing RockShox is launching. The Pike, Lyrik and Zeb forks got all new chassis and a couple neat internal updates. The air spring and damper assemblies now feature what RockShox is calling “Butter Cups,” which introduce small rubber wafers at the base of the fork internals that absorb the very first bit of an before it goes through the rest of the fork. We can probably expect these to make their way to analog RockShox forks, but for now, they’re only on Flight Attendant models. Same goes for the Pressure Relief Valves, which we’ve seen on Fox 36 and 38 forks. These release pressure in the lowers that result from changes in elevation and can disrupt the fork’s function. The new chassis also features something we’ve wanted for a while. RockShox has always cared a lot about lateral stiffness in their fork legs. It’s one reason they held onto the 20mm front axle standard for so long. But after 15mm won over, they eventually introduced what they call Torque Caps, which are hub end caps with larger diameters to get a stiffer connection between the fork legs. But not all hubs are available with Torque Caps, so some riders had to carefully line up the front hub to get the axle through. The new forks feature clever little inserts that, should you not be willing or able to use Torque Caps, you can use to stop your front hub right where it needs to be. RockShox is calling them “Stiffness Reducers…” Cheeky.

So, what’s Flight Attendant gonna cost ya? Well, for one thing, about 300 grams. But if you meant money, again, we only have complete-bike prices to go on, but it looks like the delta is somewhere near $2,000. Is that worth it? We’re hoping to have product in our hands soon, but we expect that to be a long-term test. In the meantime, Mike Kazimer at Pinkbike has spent nearly a full month on it, and you can find his review here.