With their superb performance and reliability, Cane Creek’s original Double Barrel coil shock and the later DB Air are considered the gold standard by riders who understand that saving weight isn’t the only way to go faster.
But the DB Air is an undeniably hefty unit for an air shock – not to mention costly – and tends to be found on bikes at the burlier end of the spectrum.
So it was with some (OK quite a lot of) excitement that I read last year about the company’s new – much lighter – inline air shock. Especially when I noticed it would be comparable in price to a Fox air can.
Very positive early reviews encouraged me further and shortly after they arrived in the UK I found myself on the TF Tuned website typing in my card details, my weight and my bike spec.
A cut above
First impressions were great, the shock looked like a high-quality item and appeared to be a cut above the rival offerings from Fox and Rock Shox in terms of finish.
TF had set the shock up for my rather obscure bike – a Hammerhead Thumper 29er which has an FSR-style four-bar linkage – and I have to hand it to them, it was perfect right away.
The shock made the bike feel responsive and taut, but utterly composed at the same time – even when whizzing over stuttery bumps that would cause lesser units to skip about and kick back through the pedals.
After a single hit such as a small drop, the feeling of the damping kicking in and keeping the bike level was surprisingly pleasant – a bit like the sensation of closing the door on a luxury car.
I’ve tended to be a bit sceptical in the past when people have claimed that their air shock feels “like a coil”, but that’s exactly how it felt – except better, it felt like a Cane Creek Double Barrel coil.
Early rides included Helvellyn’s notoriously brutal Dollywaggon descent – which is basically a great long set of stone steps winding down a mountain – and it didn’t falter for a moment.
It was similarly impressive on the Castle Crag descent near Honister, which is a balls-out fast rock fest.
Apparently the shock’s climb switch works slightly differently to other platform-lever shocks, adjusting both compression and rebound circuits rather than just the former. Whatever the technical magic behind it, it works incredibly well – stiffening up the rear but still providing excellent traction.
I’ve also found it useful for flatter terrain and even less lumpy downhill sections, having notched up quicker segment times on Strava when I’ve accidentally left it on. I don’t know if it’s intended to be used like this, but it works anyway.
However I’m afraid it wasn’t simply a case of living happily ever after with my dearly beloved shock, because over time the performance began to deteriorate.
At first I attributed the skittery feeling over rocks to the fact that I was riding faster and the bike only had 130mm travel at the rear – mismatched with a 150mm fork. However after a few months it worsened still further, to the point where I found it hard to hold a line on trails that I know well and ride frequently.
Assuming it needed a service – since I’d had it maybe 10 months by that point – I sent it off to TF Tuned before a long-planned trip to the North West Highlands, where I would need all the damping I could get.
However they discovered that the unit was actually faulty and the little nitrogen bladder inside had leaked, causing the drop-off in performance.
Happy ending (so far)
Happily (because I didn’t have much work at the time) I was told there would be no charge for the service or repair – and I now have a fully working shock which is back to its best.
Suddenly being able to steam down rocky trails again without fighting the bike was a real eye-opener as to how far it had deteriorated previously.
You may already have noticed that I’m not the only owner to have experienced problems with the Inline – and it has developed a bit of a poor reputation for reliability.
I’ve seen it suggested that the high failure rate was down to an issue which has now been rectified in repaired models and new shocks. I’m really hoping that the fault won’t re-emerge in future, and I’m willing to give the shock another chance because it gives such a sublime ride for such a small weight penalty over the alternatives.
A note from Cane Creek
Holly from Cane Creek was kind enough to leave a comment on this review so I dropped her a line asking if she’d like to add anything regarding the DBinline’s poor reputation for reliability.
She said: “Yes we have identified the issues and corrected them in production. Candidly, we learned a lot and even learned the type of manufacturer we don’t want to be. When we released the DBinline, we simply moved too quickly into production.
“Our reputation stands on the reliability of our products. We let our riders down and had to step back, take a hard look and rebuild. We are working hard putting new systems and people in place to ensure that we are providing a better product. It is our responsibility.”