Words by: Liam Woods
For model year 2020, Rockshox made some pretty big changes to their lineup including the addition of the Ultimate and Select series for SID, Pike, Lyrik, and Boxxer. For model year 2021, the line stays the same with the main focus this time on the DebonAir air spring. At the request of the riders and racers, for 2021 the DebonAir air spring gets improvements that help the fork ride higher in the travel and provide more initial support without losing any of the smooth RockShox feeling that we know and love. As a whole, the forks have not changed much. The chassis of each fork remains the same, however they now receive the new DebonAir air spring. The Lyrik and Pike being the premier models as well as the Yari and Revelation will have the same chassis as they did for MY20 but with the updated DebonAir air spring for MY21.
As mentioned above, the fork chassis has not changed at all, the big change is the DebonAir air spring. When you look close, it doesn’t look like much has changed. A small tweak on where the piston sits in the fork tube, but sometimes small tweaks can have a massive ride improvement. By moving the air spring piston up in the fork tubes to sit higher, RockShox was able to have the piston sit into the equalizing dimple in the fork. Did I lose you? Basically, the air piston has a positive air chamber as well as a negative air chamber. When you pump air into your fork now, you are filling the positive, and once cycled, the piston moves over the dimple pushing some of the positive air into the negative chamber. Previously, that dimple was placed about 10-15% into the travel, meaning that when the fork sat at what was supposed to be full travel, the dimple was actually above the main piston. By moving where the air piston sits in the fork, this has helped create a full top out, meaning you get all of travel you were expecting as well as a higher ride height when sag is set properly.
The MY21 DebonAir shaft has the red lower foot-nut that also has the larger lower seal head in the left of both photos, compared to the MY20 DebonAir shaft with the silver foot-nut and smaller lower seal head
Some of the previous issues were that when set at proper sag for rider weight, the fork actually sat slightly lower in the travel than what the air shaft had measured. Meaning, if you had a 150mm air shaft in your RockShox Pike, once the fork is set to pressure, equalized, and sag is correct, you might actually see a physical number of 146mm of travel or so. Sometimes this is referred to as negative suck, or sucked down in the travel. To correct this, RockShox has moved the piston up making the actual air shaft longer with the foot-nut, (as seen in red in the photos at the bottom of the shaft), as well as creating a new lower seal head that is actually hollow, following in the footsteps of the bigger brother Boxxer fork. This increases the air volume in the lower legs since the positive air has been slightly decreased from the airshaft piston sitting higher into the fork, not affecting the air curve much at all for bottom out.
The New MY21 DebonAir shaft sits at the 150mm travel as seen in the photo
Sag and air pressures have changed a little bit, depending on your fork model they might have changed quite a bit. The air pressure chart is, of course, a recommended starting point and is typically a pretty good place to start for your weight. For the Pike, RockShox and our riders at Worldwide Cyclery found that to achieve the feel they wanted, they had to go slightly less than what the chart recommended, yet with the fork sitting a bit into the travel, we would actually go a little above the chart’s recommendation. Not as ideal as you would imagine. So with the new DebonAir update, RockShox has actually changed the Pike’s pressure chart and reduced it per weight by about 5psi. With the new airshaft sitting higher in the fork, the top out of the fork is higher. Reducing the air pressure gets you the same great Pike feel with the initial suppleness, mid-stroke support and end ramp you have come to love.
The pressures in the Rockshox Lyrik haven’t changed as the Lyrik is meant for more aggressive riding. The new DebonAir air spring helps the fork stay up in the travel at sag and when charging steep terrain, helping you maintain control and keeping those bars in a comfortable spot. The new air spring addressed the small issues we had seen and heard about. No more saggy forks or over-pressuring to get proper sag, that also helps to use full travel as the new airshaft will be sitting higher, meaning less pressure in the fork. Of course, you can always add volume tokens to increase ramp up as well if you are using too much of that travel as well.
The new DebonAir air spring is completely backward compatible with previous Pike and Revelation forks as well as Lyrik and Yari forks. If you already have a MY20 fork or MY20 DebonAir spring you can actually just buy a new foot-nut and lower seal head as well instead of buying a complete DebonAir air shaft if you want to have less waste and reuse a few parts. In order to do that you can purchase the RockShox Seal Head Upgrade Kit, comes with the seal head and foot-nut. There are two models of the new DebonAir air shaft, one to work with the Pike/Revelation chassis and the other for the Lyrik/Yari chassis.
RockShox was able to get us a new Pike Ultimate equipped with the new updated DebonAir air spring. We threw it on Jeff’s Unno Dash and both Jeff and I were able to get a solid ride each on the new fork. Setup was simple, more simple with the piston sitting in the forks dimple, and we went off the forks pressure chart. Luckily, Jeff and I are within a few pounds of each other and not only ride but prefer the same feeling suspension front and rear. We set the pressure to 76 psi for our weight of 155lbs, used the stock volume spacers to start and set a neutral rebound.
Worldwide Cyclery's founder Jeff Cayley getting a ride on the new Rockshox Pike
Before we even hit the trail, we could tell that the fork sat at the full top out as described. The fork also had a bit more initial support off the top, just as described by RockShox. That doesn't mean it's more harsh off the top, just that you don't “fall” into the travel so quickly. I found this to not only feel good but created a more “on top” feel while pedaling to the trail. Once you dropped in, the fork felt much like a Pike with just a touch more support throughout the travel. There was less diving in the travel under braking or going into a steep section. While our local test trail doesn’t have a lot of that, there is enough to get an idea for how it will perform in super steep sections. It's always nice to have that comfortable feeling of your fork sitting higher in the travel yet not being harsh when you get into the rough stuff. RockShox forks have always been amazingly smooth and supple, and with this new improvement, we found that it also matches the support of the other brands and eliminates any diving you might have felt on a RockShox in the past.
There was not much change at all in the ramp-up of the fork, we were able to use full travel or close to it on our local trails, meaning that when we got out to the more fun trails we would need a little bit of adjustment to suit our riding style. Adding a volume spacer and a click of HSC would fix right up and get it feeling exactly how we want it to.
The riders talked and RockShox listened, bringing us a fully optimized DebonAir air spring for 2021. With the chassis of the forks staying the same, you will be surprised by how this small change can make for a significant improvement on ride feel. Riding higher in the travel allows you to get all of those precious mm you want out of your fork. It also provides more initial support, mid-stroke support, and no change in the air ramp curve. By moving the air piston into the equalizing dimple of the fork, you reap the benefits of easier setup, as well as a higher ride height. RockShox is always looking to make the best products even better, and that is exactly what they did for model year 2021.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.