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Proper suspension setup is key to reaping all the benefits and making the most of each ride and trail feature. Some models are more adjustable than others and higher end models feature the ability to upgrade parts. Fellow rider, Philip Maynard, gives a detailed description of his experience with his Charger2.1 damper upgrade kit. Read on!
The Charger damper family has been incrementally revised over its life, and the latest and greatest iteration is the Charger 2.1 RC2. The 2.1 revision makes the damping curve more digressive, which means high-speed compression damping is decreased relative to the low-speed damping. The goal here is to provide a firm platform for pumping and jumping and weighting the bike into corners while blowing off quickly and remaining supple over trail chatter. The RC2 version has separate control of high-speed and low-speed compression, allowing for even more control of the damping curve. Forks equipped with the RC2 damper from the factory are typically labeled with the “Ultimate” moniker.
My suspension experience comes from motorcycles and cars, where re-valves are the name of the game. I’ve re-built shim stacks on moto forks and shocks to suit my riding, and am familiar with how damper valving can be manipulated to change the ride characteristics.
Most people purchasing this damper will likely be upgrading from a Motion Control damper, which comes in most mid-level RockShox forks. The MoCo damper works pretty well for how incredibly cheap it is, but it tends to be harsh and rather progressive. On a short-travel fork which tends to rely largely on the air spring for travel control, MoCo can be acceptable for fairly hard riding. On a longer-travel fork like a Revelation or Yari, MoCo users will typically find they need to run a huge amount of sag in order to utilize most of the travel because the damper slows the fork down too much over big hits. I have certainly found that to be the case with my Yari.
RockShox's approach of spec-ing their mid-level forks with the same chassis and air spring as the high-end models, but with the Motion Control damper, means it's easy to buy a bike with a Reba/Revelation/Yari, and then upgrade it to a SID/Pike/Lyrik with the damper swap. This is especially useful if you want to buy an inexpensive complete bike, but value high-quality suspension. I certainly will take a top-notch damper over a better shifter or crankset any day, it's a much bigger impact on my ride enjoyment.
Switching from MoCo to the Charger 2.1 RC2 on the Yari was a radical improvement. Typically, I don’t like a change in suspension equipment at first, because a poor fork set up perfectly for my riding will be better than a great fork with the settings all wrong. This was not the case with the Charger - even with all the knobs sets to the middle, it was an improvement over the MoCo damper.
Harshness over repeated hits was greatly reduced, and the fork finally started to use all of the mid-stroke on rock gardens and root sections. I needed to increase the air spring pressure by about 10psi since I was using so much more travel on big hits. Once I did that and adjusted the clickers to my liking, it’s as good a fork as I’ve ever used.
I have not ridden the same fork on the same bike back to back with various iterations of the Charger damper. I have ridden different forks on different bikes with all versions. In general, they are all fairly similar, but I think compared to the older Chargers, the 2.1 lends itself to lighter riders and those who favor traction over big-hit control. For 200lb+ riders and/or those who are sending huge drops and jumps, the advantages of the 2.1 over the Charger 1 or 2 are likely smaller, but that's a guess on my part. The primary advantage of the 2.1 revision is, for me, in the much softer high-speed damping. This shows up as traction. If I had a bike with a Charger 1 (usually called the "Charger RC"), I'm not sure if I'd upgrade to the 2.1 RC2. But I would absolutely upgrade the MoCo again.
To summarize, if you have a Motion Control damper, you should absolutely consider upgrading to a Charger of some type. It’s a very easy swap, saves some weight, and will provide quite a bit more front-end traction and control in all conditions. Going all the way to the pricey 2.1 RC2 version is a much smaller improvement vs the other Charger dampers, but worth doing as long as you're buying a new damper anyway, especially if you’re a lighter rider and/or are more concerned about traction than bottom-out control from the damper. Also bear in mind that the RCT3, while not quite as good of a damper in the open position, offers a climbing lockout missing on the RC2. If XC racing is something on your mind, or if you ever lock your fork out for long, smooth climbs, the RCT3 would be worth considering.