Trust Performance Message first-ride review: Shredding the suspension rulebook
Back in 2015, I sent a random email to Dave Weagle, the prolific suspension designer behind dw-link, Split Pivot, the recently announced Orion system, and the DELTA linkage on Evil Bicycles (a company Weagle co-founded). For whatever reason at the time, it struck me as unusual that someone so involved in mountain bike suspension had thus far limited himself to one end of the equation. And so I asked him if he’d ever considered doing a fork.
As it turns out, Weagle was already working on one. And today, five years after he started, he can finally let the cat out of the bag.
- What it is: A carbon fiber mountain bike suspension fork with an innovative trailing linkage design
- Key features: Constant mechanical trail, anti-dive linkage geometry, carbon fiber construction, dual air springs, thru-shaft dual-piston oil damper with three-position compression adjuster
- Weight: 1,980g (claimed)
- Price: US$2,700 (international pricing TBC)
“Why the hell is your rear suspension always better than your front suspension?”
That’s something Weagle had been asking himself for years, and it was one that long perplexed him.
“Every motorcycle, every motocross bike, every mountain bike, the rear [suspension] is better than the front,” he says. “The rider in me has always realized that, but the suspension dynamicist in me was always like, there’s no good reason. The rear has a chain, a bunch more load on it, more complex loading — it absolutely should be worse on a two-wheeled driven vehicle.”
It’s a fair question, coming from the man behind many of the best rear suspension systems on the market. All of those designs incorporate a variety of carefully engineered linkages and leverage ratios so as to perfectly tune the performance of the design to the intended application. And almost without fail, all of the suspension pivots rotate on low-friction cartridge bearings that don’t bind up when you hit a bump.
Contrast that with conventional suspension forks.
Even the most expensive models are still built around the same basic telescoping configuration whereby a set of lower legs slides axially over a set of upper legs. And aside from Cannondale models (which slide on a network of steel needle bearings), all of those fork legs also slide on solid bushings that do their best to keep things moving freely.
But even as far as mountain bike forks have come, the best ones are still prone to binding when hitting bumps; the fork legs want to move almost straight up and down, but a big component of the incoming bump is trying to push the fork backward, subjecting those bushings to enormous loads and generating heaps of friction.
And whereas rear suspension designers have all sorts of leeway in tuning leverage ratios to provide the desired feel — basically how much the wheel moves for a given amount of shock shaft movement — forks are inherently limited to 1:1.
Linkage forks, on the other hand, use mechanical pivots that aren’t nearly as prone to binding when hitting bumps. The idea is nothing new; Girvin/Noleen forks date back several decades, as do ones from AMP Research, Look, and Whyte. Boutique brand German Answer still makes linkage forks today.
But according to Weagle, linkage fork designers have always been chasing the wrong objectives.
“Everyone was chasing braking performance almost exclusively,” Weagle says. “But here’s the secret: braking performance doesn’t matter. It’s literally the last thing on the list. Linkage designs are also inherently lighter than telescoping designs, but everyone was still chasing weight. They were throwing everything they knew about maintenance in the toilet, using crappy bushings to save 50g.”
Instead, Weagle concentrated on how front suspension affected a mountain bike’s handling stability, especially when approaching corners.
“On every telescopic fork, when you come into a corner, you want stability. But what happens is that you weight the front of the bike, the fork dives, you get less mechanical trail, and the bike gets less stable. We humans have learned, over 120 years of riding telescopic forks, to just deal with it. The brain is good at just making it work.
“But I wanted to know what happens if you make it more stable? Is it worse? Does it not make any difference at all? Or is it super better? So I designed a device to answer that question. It was this crazy-ass test mule, a big Terminator-looking thing that weighed 7 1/2 pounds (3.4kg). I built it up, bolted it up, and went for a ride in the middle of January 2014. I got two corners into it and was like, this is way better.”
The new Trust Performance Message is a far cry from that early block of crudeness. Today, it’s a radical carbon fiber suspension fork with an ingenious trailing linkage design, carbon fiber construction, and a claimed weight of 1,980g (4.37lb). Large-diameter cartridge bearings and aluminum axles are fitted to every pivot, and the whole thing comes across as outrageously overbuilt — in a good way.
In terms of how it works, the Message is sort of like Weagle’s dw-link rear suspension design adapted for use up front.
Many rear suspension designs rely on the rear shock to improve pedaling performance, typically with heavy-handed damper valving that lessens rear-end bob under power, but also negatively impacts how well the rear end can move when you hit a bump. Like a few other multi-pivot designs, though, dw-link uses kinematics — basically the geometry defined by the pivot locations and linkage lengths — to filter out that unwanted motion, leaving the shock to move more freely so as to react more readily to the terrain.
The result is suspension that tracks the ground and improves rider comfort, but without sapping a lot of rider energy in the process.
On the Message fork, Weagle has tuned the kinematics so that the fork provides a nearly-constant amount of mechanical trail as the fork moves through its travel, thus maintaining a predictable handling characteristic that doesn’t require the rider to make any mental adjustments based on the terrain at hand. Almost as a side benefit, the fork also doesn’t dive much under braking, which not only further enhances the handling stability, but also leaves more useable travel available for when you actually hit something.
Because there are no solid bushings that can bind under load, the Message is also more sensitive to bump inputs and more consistent in how it reacts to different forces. And perhaps best of all, the recommended service interval is a whopping 250 hours, or roughly a year for most average riders — five times the recommendation from most of the mainstream competition.
That carbon fiber construction doesn’t just save weight, either; both the main structure and the secondary links are as big and burly as they appear, and Trust claims that the Message offers a very substantial improvement in steering precision, too, even as compared to heavier-duty telescoping suspension forks like the Fox 36 and RockShox Lyrik.
The Message’s unique configuration offers some packaging advantages, too. Instead of that typical 1:1 leverage ratio, the Message’s more compact layout leaves room inside the carbon fiber legs for two symmetrical air springs instead of the usual one, which makes the fork more likely to keep the front wheel in-plane as it moves through its travel.
And since the damper shaft moves less relative to forks of similar travel, there’s also less seal stress generated.
Riding the Message
Several weeks prior to launch, Trust Performance flew me out to Park City, Utah, for a one-on-one test session. There, two Pivot Switchblade test bikes (which, conveniently, is also what I ride at home) were prepared, one with a Message fork, the other with a seemingly well-prepped RockShox Pike; the two bikes were otherwise completely identical in setup and component spec.
Over the course of several hours, we repeatedly rode the same section of trail, alternating bikes and tweaking settings throughout, so that I could get a feel for what the Message potentially had to offer.
Without a doubt, the Message performs like no other fork I’ve ridden, especially in two areas of performance: traction and steering precision.
The traction component was most evident when approaching tight switchbacked corners. Park City is chock-full of outstanding trails, but much of it consists of either a mixture of deep moon dust or marbles over hardpack, neither of which is particularly conducive to secure footing at high speed. Conveniently, though, the latter is also what I regularly contend with in Colorado.
In those sorts of conditions, you approach a corner, scrub as much speed as possible, and try to stay light on the brakes through the turn itself. Otherwise, there’s a very real chance you can lose traction in the middle of a turn, which either sends you off-line or down into the ground. It’s also commonplace that you’re constantly readjusting your braking pressure to accommodate changes in traction: hard on the brakes one second, letting up the next second when the wheel locks up a bit, then clamping down hard yet again.
Throughout it all, the head tube angle steepens up (especially on downhill corners), and you’re forced to adjust to the quicker steering that results. It’s a perpetual mental exercise.
But on the Message, there’s none of that — or at least, a whole lot less of it. Not only could I brake much harder approaching the corner than usual without losing traction, but I could also maintain that brake pressure throughout the turn without sliding out or eating up a bunch of the available travel. Combined with the consistent handling geometry provided by the Message’s carefully engineering linkage geometry, it took barely one or two runs before I found myself tearing through corners far faster than I first thought safe.
The Message’s enhanced steering precision also forced a mental reset. I’ve spent years on enduro-focused forks from Fox, RockShox, and Manitou, but the chassis rigidity of all of those still pales in comparison to the Message’s massive carbon fiber structure. Directional changes are immediate, and there’s a general sense of solidity with the Message that’s somewhat lacking in those other forks.
Somewhat paradoxically, there’s minimal bob when sprinting or climbing out of the saddle, either. Trust equips the Message with a three-position switch atop the right leg that allows riders to choose between three levels of firmness on the fly, but I never felt the need to use it, instead leaving the damper in its most supple mode throughout.
Overall, I simply found myself going faster than I expected, especially through corners and on loose terrain, and with far more confidence to boot.
Couldn’t that just have been me getting used to the trail, though? That’s certainly possible, but after switching to the conventional telescoping fork minutes later and blowing through those same corners a few times, it seemed clear to me that there really was something to what has been created here (Weagle and his company co-founders call it the “Trust Effect”).
Later in the day, we did a longer point-to-point trail where I simply stayed on the Message-equipped Switchblade throughout. Truth be told, I didn’t want to get off of it.
Still a tough sell
As groundbreaking as the Message clearly is, my guess is that Trust may still have a tough time getting people to buy into the idea. For one, it may offer some genuinely tangible performance benefits but it also comes with an outrageous price tag of US$2,700. That obviously leaves an awful lot of room to expand downmarket with a less-expensive version, but for now, it’s only deep-pocketed buyers who will even consider this.
The suspension feel of the Message isn’t going to be to everyone’s liking, either. Riders who are already on dw-link-equipped full-suspension bikes probably won’t complain much, as the tune is quite similar. It’s rather firm, but also extremely planted and controlled. Those seeking a pillowy-soft ride won’t find it here — at least not with how Trust has tuned things currently — and what you feel in your hands doesn’t always jive with how your front wheel is interacting with the ground, or how the fork apparently behaves in the lab.
“My theory is that the drastically reduced hysteresis tricks the brain into thinking that there’s more damping even though the damper is more reactive than normal, and it’s more controlled at the same time,” Weagle explained. “I feel like we are so used to having uncontrolled suspension for large parts of the time we’re riding that the brain tries to understand what it’s feeling and fills in the gaps to paint a picture using what it has learned.
“I know that it’s hard to imagine this from ride experience, but on bump, our chassis is actually delivering similar to slightly less force than telescopic forks (Pike and 36 specifically) at the bars.”
There’s also the issue of compatibility, although not in the way you’d think.
The 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in tapered steerer tube is as normal as can be, as are the 15x110mm front hub spacing and post-mount brake tabs. But whereas every other fork is offered in multiple travel lengths, Trust is pushing the unusual idea that the Message’s single 130mm-travel configuration is ideal for nearly everyone. Specifically, Trust says the same Message fork will work just as well with conventional 29in and Plus-flavored 27.5in bikes designed around 110-150mm of fork travel, or standard 27.5in bikes meant for 130-150mm of travel.
“The Trust Effect lessens the importance of head angle, axle-to-crown height, and fixed offsets on ride feel and bike geometry,” reads Trust’s detailed tech document. “Instead, the linkage takes over the important duties of pedaling support, stability control, and bump absorption.
“Remember that, in the past, axle-to-crown heights were primarily important to deal with the wallow of telescopic forks, but with the Trust Effect, axle-to-crown heights have less impact. The axle-to-crown height on Trust suspension doesn’t change as dramatically as telescopic front suspensions. This allows Trust’s suspension to work on a wide range of telescopic axle-to-crown heights.”
That Pivot Switchblade I rode in Park City is designed around a 150mm-travel fork that has a 557mm axle-to-crown height (which is also what I use on my personal bike). In contrast, the axle-to-crown height on the 130mm-travel Trust Performance Message is just 535mm — a substantial difference of 22mm. That Pivot can conveniently be fitted with a 17mm-taller lower headset cup to mostly even up the static dimension, though, so at least in my case, I noticed the firmness — and quality — of the Trust fork’s travel more than the 20mm of missing travel. Even so, this is something that most riders will have a hard time wrapping their heads around, and not every frame will be so accommodating in this respect.
And finally, there’s the very legitimate question of long-term durability and reliability.
Weagle and Trust Performance co-founders Jason Schiers and Hap Seliga all have long histories in the cycling industry. Schiers, in particular, has heaps of experience as one of the original founders of Enve Composites, but the reality is that none of them have any direct experience manufacturing suspension components.
Even Weagle, who arguably has been involved with more rear suspension projects than anyone else in the industry, still relies on the expertise of major brands like Fox and RockShox when it comes to the production of the rear shocks themselves. Even big labels like Specialized and Cane Creek have had high-profiles failures of made-in-house suspension components.
Needless to say, the trio has a lot riding on this, and despite the fact that this will be their first time building and manufacturing suspension products, there’s little room for error.
“Building the springs and dampers, for sure, that’s something I’ve never done,” Weagle admitted. “But having so many friends and these existing relationships with companies, I have incredible respect and appreciation for how hard it is, and how amazing a job those companies have done building quality product. And I’ve seen firsthand how it’s almost destroyed their businesses by not having engineered-in quality and not focusing on that side of it.
“We hired a full quality control staff. We have to manufacture in Taiwan — that’s just the realities of the bicycle industry. It’s the best place in the world from a high-precision manufacturing standpoint for parts that people who can’t buy Learjets can afford. We put together a full metrology lab, a lot of process control in terms of engineering documentation, computer systems to handle quality-driven design and manufacturing, a staff of people that are there to help develop suppliers, and a very regimented system in place in terms of how we deal with quality.
“There are a lot of steps. For example, every single drawing has multiple levels of tolerancing, multiple dimensions that may be more important than others and have their own inspection levels, we have procedures for inspection levels for every single part — all two hundred pieces. It’s a massive, massive undertaking from a documentation and a quality-checking standpoint. It was truly one of the most daunting parts of this endeavor.”
The fact that Weagle, Schiers, and Seliga understand the importance of getting it right is encouraging, but perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that they’ve been taking their sweet time with this overall.
“It wasn’t until after that first couple of years that I made the decision [to move forward],” Weagle said. “We probably could have come out one year earlier if we had done things a little looser, a little faster, and without focusing on all the quality side.”
And now we wait
Now that the Message has been officially launched, it’s time to wait and see how the market will react. The mountain bike crowd has always been far more willing to adopt new technology than the drop-bar segment, but they also tend to be more price-conscious so it’ll be interesting to see how big a barrier the Message’s price is in reality. There are also questions surrounding Trust’s unusual one-size-fits-all approach.
Having ridden the Message myself, I can confidently say that there’s very real potential for Trust to legitimately change the game here. But the question remains: how many people will be willing to play?
Interested parties won’t have to wait long, as the Message is already in production and available to order through the company web site, TrustPerformance.com. I’ve got a long-term sample inbound, too, so stay tuned for a more detailed report on how the Message performs on more familiar trails.
“I’ve made enough mistakes in my career to fill a book,” Weagle admitted. “I’m certain we’re going to make more mistakes. But for us, staying true to the path of trying to make people’s lives better, and being really true to that, that makes you not want to rush into it. Just try to do it the right way. It’s a long play for us. We want this to be here forever, to outlive us.”