Friday, April 15, 2016

Soma Upgrade Fork Deal & Dissertation on Forky Characteristics

Soma makes a lot of forks. Like a lot a lot. You probably had no idea. They're all (mostly) Tange Steel and mostly (all) lugged, but some are chome and some are other colors. Some have lots of braze-ons. Some are curvy. Anyway, the point is we have a lot to choose from.

Most people don't think too hard about their fork purchase. If it's the right length and the right color that's good enough. But being that we're pretty nerdy about this kind of stuff, I wanted to take some time to break it down a bit more.

Firstly, what makes one fork better than another? Well it all depends on what you want it to do. If you're a track racer you probably want somthing as stiff as possible, because you're going to hammer the crap out of it. If you're going on a cross country tour you want somthing that fits really big tires and has mounts for pannier racks. If you're a super serious randonneuse type you want lots of fender clearance and springier fork blades to ease the bumps on mile 248 or whatever.

Depending one what kind of brakes you want to use you have a few more things to consider. Rim brakes like Cantilevers and V-brakes usually use a standard mounting boss. Caliper brakes bolt to the fork crown and come in a huge variety of lengths, widths and styles. Depending on what size wheels you want to run you may be able to choose a different brake caliper to change it up. Cantilevers generally only work for one rim size, but of course there are some tricks for getting around that too. Disc brakes are fun because in most cases you can swap out the whole wheel without doing much of anything to the brake.

For each of our frames there are at least a couple different forks available to customize the ride quality to your liking. Now some of our frames are sold as sets, mostly because the forks are kind of weird in one way or another, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to use the one that it came with.

The fork blades probably have the most effect on the forks ride quality. A shorter, less offset fork blade will tend to be stiffer, while a longer curvier blade will tend to be springier. Straight blade forks tend to be stiffer than curved blades, but the shape of the tubing itself also plays a role in it. The Soma MTB forks use sturdy "D" shaped blades, which allow more tire clearance without adding much weight. Most of our lugged forks use traditional oval blades, because that's what fits in the crown lug. We use Tange Infinity or Prestige tubing fo all of our forks. Some custom builders are using super light, tapered steel tubing to build custom forks these days. Since our forks are mass produced we favor slightly heavier tubing to comply with the strict European safety standards. If you've got the money to spend, a custom builder can probably make a lighter fork for you, but we try to keep our products economical, which means making stuff that anybody can use without fearing for their dental health.

Ok, you knew it was coming, fork offset. Yes, it's a controversial topic. And convoluted to boot. What's better: more or less? Well that depends on a number of things. Bicycles rely on centrifugal force to stay upright, and the more variables you add to that equation the more foggy the story becomes. Road bikes usually have a steeper headtube angle, and a less offset. Touring bikes often have a slacker headtube angle and more offset. Mountain bikes come with almost any combination thereof, however the current trend for hardtails is more travel and slacker headtube angles, while xc race bikes usually have steeper headtubes and short travel or rigid forks. Track bikes have extremely low rake, while road oriented fixed gears usually have more. And then there's geometric trail. Not to be confused with pnumatic trail. And that's all I'm going to say on the subject. If you're not in over your head already you can probably find more opinions about what's good and what's not elsewhere on the interwebs. Comments are turned off, so deal with it.

Now given all that mumbo jumbo, what if you want to try a different fork on your beloved Soma road warrior? "Can I just use whatever?" you might wonder. No. Definitely not. Here's a few good rules of thumb.
1. You can usually have more offset. It will decrease the mechanical trail (aka the distance between the steering column and where the tire touches the ground). Depending on whether or not you plan to use a front rack of some kind this might be helpful. It might make your bike feel really "weird/scary". You can always email us or talk it over with your friendly bicycle mechanic (the ones with really serious facial hair probably know more about this stuff*).

*Just kidding! That's totally sexist! Sorry Kathleen!
2. You might be able to get away with less rake. It really depends on how big your feet are. Seriously. If you've got some big old clompers you might want to think twice about it. The same goes for people who want to run the widest possible tires, or super authentico toe clips. If the back of your wheel overlaps with the pedals you're probably going to have a bad time. That's not to say that toe overlap is the worst possible scenario. Lots of perfectly ride-able bikes have a little, but it's somthing you want to be super aware of so you don't eat pavement and die. Just saying.
3. You can probably run a fork that is slightly longer or slightly shorter than what your frame is designed for. But if you deviate significantly it's going to get interesting. A longer fork is going to jack up the front of the bike, reducing the headtube angle (slower steering) and raising the bottom bracket (less stable, better for doing sweet wheelies). A shorter fork will have the opposite effect. Keep in mind the brakes still need to be in the right place for whatever size wheel you want to use.
4. No your brakes don't have to match. That said, they do need to work with your levers. If you want to use a V-brake fork and a caliper brake frame that's totally your call. But keep in mind that most v-brakes and caliper brakes use different amounts of cable pull, so you would either need an adapter or a different lever to mix and match. The same goes for mechanical disc brakes.

5. Headsets come in a dizzying variety of "standards" these days. Most Soma frames use a conventional external cup headset in either 1 1/8" with a threadless fork or 1" with a threaded fork. 1 1/8" is pretty easy, because most of our forks come with long sensual steerer tubes. You cut off as much as you want and use spaces to take up the extra room. A threaded fork needs to be about the right length (combine the length of the headtube with the stack height of the headset and anything you want to clamp on top like a centerpull cable hanger). We also make 1" threadless forks, which fit 1" frames, but use a clampy stem like most modern bikes. You can use shims and adapters to make 1" stuff fit 1 1/8" frames and stems, but you can't fit a 1 1/8" fork into a 1" frame (at least not without seriously voiding the warranty). Just to mess with you we started using those newfangled tapered head tubes on our mountain bike frames the last coupe years. But wait, there's more! They also fit regular 1 1/8" forks too! That is possible because the lower cup can either be a "zero stack" internal thingy or an external 1.5" lower cup. Whew!

6. Braze ons. Oh yeah, the fun part. Strictly speaking a lot of fork eyelets are welded rather than brazed, but weld-on sounds weird so we'll stick with the established vernacular. Now you don't have to have an eyelet to attach somthing to your fork, but in most cases it's cleaner and stronger if you can use one. Almost all of our forks have fender eyelets on the back of the dropouts. For the ones that don't you can still use p-clamps (ugly )-: ) or some fancy Tanaka adapters. That said, most of the forks that don't have eyelets also don't have much fender clearance. There are several different kinds of rack mounting styles. The most common is called a "mid-blade" eyelet, and is drilled into the side of the fork blade. Some forks have a cylinder that goes all the way through, but we don't do that because we don't really like drilling a lot of holes in our forks. These can be used for mounting low rider racks and some adjustable mini racks like the Nitto M-18. The second most common is called a dropout eyelet. It's basically the same as the fender eyelet, but it goes in front. You can use them to mount small lightweight racks like the Soma Alloy Mini, big porteur racks like the Soma or Gamoh, and some special low riders like the Nitto Campee or the Velo Orange Chamwow. Some racks like the Nitto M-12 or the Campees also use the canti brake bosses. Finally we have a few specialty mounts that are used for particular racks. In the last couple years we've begun including "hourglass eyelets" which are attached to the front of the fork blades and can be used for mounting mini racks like the Nitto Campee 32f or the Champs Elysees. VO mini racks don't fit these. Who knows why, they probably messed up. They can also be used in lieu of the Canti mounts for some larger racks like the Campee 27f and the Soma Porteur Deluxe.
Ok, I mentioned a special deal. For a limited time we're going to sell you a new fork for 99 bucks. You have to own a Soma, and we're going to ask you to prove it by sending us a serial number. Don't try to cheat. I don't know how long we're going to do this, but hopefully if you've been thinking about switching it up this will make it a little easier for you. The password is bacon.

TLDR: If you want a new fork, just pick one of these ones already. Jeebus!

Smoothie = Lugged Steel Black (23133, 23135) Classic Curve Chrome (23220) Soma Carbon (23184)

ES = Lugged Steel Blue (23101, 23102) Classic Curve Chrome (23223) IRD Carbon (23110, 23111, 23112, 23114)

Double Cross = Lugged Steel Black (23154) Classic Curve Chrome (23251)  Classic Curve Black (23151)

Double Cross Disc = Lugged Steel Black (22999) Straight Blade Black (22993) Tange Prestige Chrome (23245) Tange Carbon (23255)

San Marcos = Classic Curve Chrome 650b (23269, 23268) Classic Curve Chrome 700c (23267, 23266, 23265)

Buena Vista = Classic Curve Chrome (23223)

Wolverine = Lugged Tange Prestige Chrome (23245) Straight Blade Black (22993) Tange Carbon (23255)

Saga Canti 700c = Lugged Steel Black (23154) Classic Curve Chrome (23251)  Classic Curve Black (23151)

Saga Disc 700c = Lugged Steel Black (22999) Straight Blade Black (22993) Tange Prestige Chrome (23245)

Rush = Straight Blade Lugged Chrome (23137)  Lugged Chrome (23053) Classic Curve (23228)

Juice = Straight Blade Steel Black (23182)

B-Side = Straight Blade Steel Black (231901)

Analog/Groove/415 = Unicrown Steel Canti Black (23073) Unicrown Steel Disc Black (23011)

Yes there are other versions of some of these forks, and yes there are older versions as well. If you need help, and you didn't read the article, just email us and we'll hold your hand. I mean really, what else would I be doing? You know I love you guys.

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