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RockShox Pike RCT3

Kevin Bazar reviews the SRAM Pike RTC3 150mm, Blister Gear Review

SRAM Pike RTC3

Component: RockShox Pike RCT3 Fork

Features:

  • 150mm travel
  • Adjustments: External rebound, low speed compression, 3-position compression (Open/Pedal/Lock)
  • Available Springs: Dual Position Air, Solo Air

Stated Weight (for 26” wheels): 1835 grams / 4.05 lbs.

Blister’s Measured Weight: 4.05 lbs.

MSRP: $1,005 (other models: $980 – $1085 USD)

Tested on: 2012 Turner 5 spot

Duration of Test: 3 months

By this point you’ve probably heard quite a lot about the new Pike forks from RockShox, unless you’ve been living under a rock on Mars, frozen in CO2, with earplugs, with a do not disturb sign at your cave entrance.

I’m little late with this review due to a few injuries and some misguided attempts at screwing around with the fork to make it into the dual air model. With all the different configurations between wheel size, air springs, and travel amounts, RockShox has a good number of these things to assemble; it’s been very tempting looking at the parts that make them up and find out what can be mixed and matched. But I’ll get to that later.

First let’s just address the fork that RockShox sent us. The Dual Position air versions weren’t available at the time, so we got a 150mm solo air version for 26” wheels.

Weight

The first thing I noticed when taking the fork out of the box was that it felt like it weighed almost nothing, so I threw it on a postal scale and got a number. Then I went to the RockShox website to see what they claimed its weight was and was amazed to see exactly the same number I got: 4.05lbs.

That’s insane.

This was literally the first time I’ve measured a weight that is exactly the same as those published by the manufacturer. Whatever is going on at RockShox, even with the little bit of lube oil sitting in the lowers, they’ve obviously gotten to a point of awesome production consistency that’s rarely seen in cases like this where somewhat subjective fluid volumes are in play. So you can trust their published numbers on the Pike. It really is that light. To be honest, I was kind of nervous it might break. I hadn’t ridden a fork this light in a long time. And even when I had, they weren’t 150mm-travel forks.

Design

The mandatory tapered steerer tubes on all models and 35mm stanchions make these forks look and perform much tougher than you’d think judging by the weight alone. Our test fork is as burly as any Fox 36 or RockShox Lyric I’ve ridden. And considering the ‘trailbike’ category it fits into, it’s much much stiffer than any Fox 34 chassis.

The Pike comes with a newer 15mm maxle design that’s pretty trick. There’s a spring-loaded skewer mounted inside the main maxle body that spins the whole thing. It acts like a solid unit until it’s time to flip the lever. No matter how tight you get the maxle itself in the fork lowers, the amount of effort it takes to flip the lever to lock it in place never changes. (See the video below for an more in depth look at the maxle.) Riding in the approaching winter with cold, painful fingers, removing the wheel was never an issue, which is not something that can be said of most ‘quick release’ style axle bolts.

The only damper option across all models is their RCT3 charger damper. This is a closed cartridge system with an expansion bladder to take up the oil displaced as the damper compresses. The bladder setup is similar to some forks that Fox has made. The damper has a 3-position knob on the top that allows three different quick adjust options for low speed damping: Open, Pedal, and Lock. These setting work similarly to the CTD system that Fox uses, with the one glaring difference: when the threshold gets breached on the Pike, the fork doesn’t drop out from underneath you. Even in Lock mode, there’s a smooth transition into the travel, even if it is much more damped and harsh than on the Open setting. It works.

The charger damper also has a separate low speed compression adjustment meant to fine tune the Open setting. To be honest it works so well, I haven’t seen much need for the other two quick adjust settings.

The first glaring performance characteristic of the Pike is how ungodly smooth and frictionless the fork moves through its travel. I don’t know if RockShox has a team of interns on bumpy treadmills breaking these things in, but I’ve never felt any fork—coil or air—that felt this smooth right out of the box. I’ve rebuilt forks for years that have never felt this smooth.

The solo air system is pretty simple. It’s just rod mounted to the lowers that hold a piston in place up inside one of the stanchions. As the fork compresses, so does the air chamber on top of that piston. RockShox makes available some ‘volume reducer tokens’ that thread into the air spring top cap to make the fork more progressive. They also thread into each other so you can stack them. What people have done for years dropping fork oil into air chambers, RockShox achieves with a ready-made modular system.

Charger compression damper on the SRAM Pike RTC3

Volume reducer tokens on the SRAM Pike RTC3

RockShox has a chart of rider weights and spring pressures on a sticker on one of the fork legs, and while I’ve grown to despise bike components with directions printed on them, at least it’s a sticker. I’d pull it off and stick it on your shock pump. But the recommendations are pretty spot on. I ended up within about 3 psi of the recommended pressure for my weight.

Kevin Bazar reviews the SRAM Pike RTC3 150mm, Blister Gear Review

Rider weight / air pressure adjustment chart on the Pike RTC3.

On Trail Performance

My first few rides on the Pike were done on some trails behind my house that I know extremely well. The charger damper and volume tokens are the truly unique aspects of this fork, so I did a lot of single laps, changing things between them. The first three or so were all air spring runs with the compression damper settings wide open.

The solo air spring isn’t magic. It’s still an air spring. While the Pike is insanely smooth off the top without the characteristic initial firmness, it still has a bit of fall off in the middle of the stroke. At a pressure that maintained a good riding sag point for me, I was getting full travel and, even though I tried, I couldn’t get a hard bottom out.

The manual that came with the shock stated that the forks come with one spacer token installed. I was surprised to open it up and find none. I thought we’d just go the other way then, so I put one in. Some of the midstroke dropoff was reduced, but there was a solid ¾” of travel I wasn’t getting now with the same air pressure. Dropping the air pressure just screwed up the sag point, so I ended up removing the one token and just ran the spring ‘empty’.

11 Comments

  1. DM April 29, 2014 Reply

    Nice review. It offers support to how good people are saying this fork is. I especially appreciate the recount of the fiddling you’ve done since some readers would contemplate similar measures. It’s a bit of a shame Rockshox has made it such that you can’t just drop in a Dual Position Air spring. Do you know if you could use a Solo Air spring with the dimpled uppers?

    I was wondering if you had any insight as to how the RC version differs, which comes OEM on a few bikes. Does it use the same Charger damper but with different adjustment settings, or is the action entirely different?

  2. Andres April 30, 2014 Reply

    Hey Kevin,
    Have you thought about cutting the volume spacers in half to tune the air spring ramp up?

    Great review ,
    Dre

  3. Verskis May 8, 2014 Reply

    I’m really surprised you didn’t use any ‘bottomles tokens’. I have the same fork as you (26″ 150mm solo air) and I was getting really harsh and loud bottom outs on an abrupt G out with even a single token. Now I have two tokens in and have yet to bottom out the fork. I think I might cut a token in half and try running 1.5 tokens to see if that would be the magical mix of using full travel without harsh bottom out.
    By the way, what is your weight and the pressure on the fork? I’m about 75kg/165lbs and run 75 psi in the fork, resulting in slightly over 20% of sag.

  4. Marcel March 8, 2015 Reply

    Hi kevin

    Have you had a chance to ride the solo and dual on the same bike? There is a lot of hearsay on the web regarding the solo being a better fork, and some people having issues to reach full travel on the dual, there are some custom tokens made for the dual that people say they help but no experience. 30mm doesn’t seem a lot but, if we are talking technical rocky climbs it makes a big difference on a slack bike, my rides are usually 2500 to 3500 ft climbs and a big part of that is through motorcycle trails so very steep and technical and I’d love a lower fork, but don’t want that if the price is a not so great fork going down!

  5. Author
    KB March 12, 2015 Reply

    Hi Marcel. I’ve been riding a dual air that I converted from this solo version for the last year. Here’s a response I gave to a friend of mine asking about the differences:

    The weight difference is like 100 grams according to BTI.
    I have a 95 cent rubber stopper in my DPA to act as a volume reducer/token.
    http://image.made-in-china.com/2f0j00YeraGUTRUfoH/Rubber-Stoppers.jpg
    If you’re riding a bike with a 65-67 degree headangle, I think the DPA is totally worth it if you find yourself even thinking about it. Just dropping the front end that little bit, helps with uphill steering, rear wheel traction……which let’s be honest, really does go to shit on a bike that slack when you’re trying to pedal it uphill, especially where traction sucks.
    I rode a solo air for most of a summer, and then converted it to a dual position. I even switched it back to a solo air while I had the DPA assembly out, trying to figure out how to do some volume reducers. The biggest difference I noticed between two different bikes has nothing to do with friction or weight, but the fact that you can’t get token equivalents for the dual. Both systems are a little divey in the midstroke, the DPA slightly less than the solo with no tokens. That’s just typical air spring stuff. You can easily get away from it with the solo and some tokens, or get creative with some things in the dual. If you’re not comfortable with that, just be aware it’s going to be a limitation. Maverick suspension sells some dpa tokens but they’re like 70 bucks for something that’s probably mind bogglingly simple. Or you can pay avalanche suspension way too much money to deal with it through damping with a stronger midvalve system.

    But that to me is about the only real performace difference I’ve noticed. This newer system RS is using has pretty much made performance differences between the two essentially a moot point IMO. The only thing rubbing in the DPA that the solo version doesn’t have is a concentric pair of tubes that are about 7mm in diameter and lubed up. It’s really not much.

    • Ollie April 12, 2015 Reply

      Hi Kevin, very pleased to have come across your post. I have the dpa pike on my reign and have been trying to find a cheep alternative to the adapted tokens. How many rubber stoppers did you fit and was it an easy process? Cheers, Ollie

  6. Chris M March 31, 2015 Reply

    Hey Kevin,

    I have a 2015 Dual Air Pike that came on a 2015 Giant Reign Advanced 2 as well as an aftermarket 2014 Pike RTC3 160mm fork. Both 27.5″ versions. The Reign came spec’d with the 46mm offset CSU, Dual Air Pike which I want to mate with the 160mm Solo Air Spring for weight reduction and ease of use of volume reducer tokens.

    I am going to put the 160mm Solo Air Spring in my 2015 Dual Air Pike chassis. Do you think the ‘dimple’ referenced above will create any performance issues for me short or longterm? Do you feel this change will have any affect on the negative air pressure if the travel adjust is not being used? Any other reasons to not run this configuration you can think of?

    Thanks a bunch. Your article and comments on this have been very helpful.

    – Chris

    • Author
      KB April 4, 2015 Reply

      The negative airsprings reset themselves differently in each system. Don’t bother with switching the air springs. Just switch the lowers between the two forks and use the solo air. Then you still have two completely useable non-cobbled together systems. You get the offset you want and the proper springs in the proper stanchions.

  7. Chris M April 13, 2015 Reply

    Is the offset in the CSU or the Lowers?

    Thanks Kevin

  8. Fabian December 18, 2015 Reply

    Hello, what do you think about some reliability issues that are found in some forums like mtbr, which aim to a bad charger damper quality… Do you know if those comments are widespread or representative respect this fork? or are them isolated cases?
    I mean, I want to buy this fork, have saved money in order to switch from my current Sektor RL, but that’s a worrying topic for me http://forums.mtbr.com/shocks-suspension/long-term-report-rockshox-pike-charger-damper-961615.html

    Thanks.

  9. Author
    KB December 18, 2015 Reply

    Fabian: I don’t really see that as a ‘reliability issue’ more of a reminder that with bike parts, shit happens. I’ve had three charger damper forks and I as well as the majority of users haven’t had that problem. That doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee that it won’t happen to you, just that your odds are likely pretty low. And one of the best things about Sram/Rockshox is that they’ve got one of the best warranty practices of anyone. If you have a problem on a new fork, they’ll fix it. If you buy a used one, you know what to look for now. I’ve had all the dampers out of the three forks I’ve owned several times and never seen anything like that. I certainly wouldn’t use what’s in that mtbr thread as any kind of deterrent from buying one. I can’t think of a single bike product that’s ever been made in the history of mountain bikes that was always 100% flawless, all of the time, every time. It just doesn’t happen. And dorks on mtbr will always pretend a small percentage of issues is somehow representative of the whole lot. It’s what people do these days.

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