‘Does that take 160mm forks?’ ‘Is that 160mm travel?’ ‘Can I fit 160mm forks?’ These are questions that we hear/read at BTR almost daily, and you know what? No; no it doesn’t/no it isn’t/no you can’t.
Let me expand. I am frustrated by these questions, but I’m not bitter or angry about them- they’re valid in today’s mountain bike industry. Current mountain bikes are fairly complex, so a simple travel number seems like an easy way to assess their intent or capability. Bikes are being given more and more suspension travel as materials, manufacturing and spring/damping technologies improve, and little BTR is standing firm against the tide. I want to explain why, not so much for my own gain, but for the good of any mountain bike consumers who actually read this…
If we were asked these questions about the Belter or the Pinner, the answers would be yes, no but it’s compatible, yes.
But these travel-related questions are most often asked about our Ranger frame… Other bikes aimed at ‘enduro’ riding are most often given ~160mm travel nowadays, so we get asked if the Ranger fits in the same mold. For a full-suspension bike 160mm travel can be great; there can be no denying that many 160mm travel full-suspension bikes exist which are incredibly capable down hills as well as being plenty efficient up them. Brilliant! Several hardtail ‘enduro’ frames exist which can accept 160mm forks; some are even designed around this value, but all are a compromise.
The Ranger uses 120mm travel forks primarily for stability. Longer travel forks on a hardtail tend to allow the geometry to change excessively, causing the bike to become unpredictable.
These 120mm forks also keep the bike responsive, efficient and nimble. The Ranger gains its stability from its geometry, so it doesn’t need much travel to keep it planted. Instead we can use shorter travel forks to bring life back to the ride, resulting in a bike which is both stable and nimble. Nope, that’s not a contradiction of terms!
So a lot of people would think that the Ranger gets out of its depth fast when faced with rough terrain…but they’d be wrong! You just need to set up the forks the right way. In order to deal with aggressive riding, ‘short travel’ forks need to be more progressive than their 160mm/long travel brothers. This is generally as simple as installing a couple of extra ‘bottomless tokens’ in your Pike, or adding some suspension fluid to the positive air chamber on forks without a transfer port, or changing to a firmer spring on a coil fork. Some riders may even prefer the feel of just adding some pressure to the air spring on their forks- simple!
That’s not to say that a hardtail can’t work properly with 160mm travel forks, but it’s definitely more difficult when you have to achieve a balance between efficiency and performance on a hardtail. Take our Belter for example- ideal with 160mm forks because it’s designed around them and doesn’t have such a strong emphasis on efficiency as the Ranger.
So what happens if you put 160mm forks on a Ranger? Well it probably won’t break, but we’re not going to guarantee that. The geometry gets very upset; overly slack head angle, unnecessarily high BB, tall stack, shorter reach, slacker seat angle, etc. All of this adds up to a bike which is hard work up hills and no better down them. It’s not rubbish, it’s just worse than it could be and that sucks.
The Ranger is best with 120mm forks. Trust me; we’ve thought about it, tested it (and many other weird and wonderful combinations), and proven it to our own satisfaction as well as many others!
[EDIT 24/05/2017 – Updated for 29er Ranger fork travel moving from 100mm to 120mm]