Cannondale's mind-blowing Simon electronic suspension system hands-on

If you're a bicyclist or just a tech-minded person with a hankerin' for cool suspension technology, you've got to check out the videos after the break. One is a short demonstration to whet your appetite, the other a rather longer explanation from Cannondale engineer Stanley Song of just how the thing works. What is this thing? It's Simon, a fully electronic and nearly-instantly adjustable suspension system that does away with all the complex mechanical internals of a traditional high-end suspension system (shims, springs, valves, needles, knobs...) and replaces it with an electro-mechanical device that can near infinitely vary not only suspension strength but also ride height instantly based on road conditions. It even has an LCD on the bars. Interest piqued? Click through to see it in action.

The genesis of the idea here seemed to be that, as bike suspension got more advanced, so too did the knowledge of the person tuning that suspension have to be to get it right. If you don't know how to properly tweak fast versus slow damping, rebound, preload, and other like parameters you could easily create a machine about as much fun to ride as a wet noodle. Cannondale's Simon takes care of that, automatically providing an initial configuration based on your weight (which you can override, if you wish) -- but that's just the beginning.

There are multiple modes that can be applied via a four-way controller near the left grip. One is set for general all-road riding, giving the bike more or less traditional handling. Another mode is for climbing, which shortens the fork quite a bit to ensure the rider doesn't flip over backward and maintains even balance. There's also a mode that provides a responsive, rigid-like feel, like riding a bike with no suspension at all, except for one major change: when the bike detects a bump through the Analog Devices accelerometers embedded in the fork it instantly and momentarily softens. That means get all the feel of a rigid but none of the risks and, in theory, a lot less back pain too.


The bike can also detect when the rider goes over a jump, prepping itself for landing and setting itself into "bottomless" mode where the damping resistance increases exponentially the further it progresses along its travel, preventing it from ever bottoming out. Running out of travel can be a bad thing when you're flying down a logging road and don't feel like getting launched into the trees.

It's pretty amazing technology that, proud father Stanley Song said, is nearly ready for prime-time -- but there's one problem: he's not sure exactly who would buy it. A natural application right now would be for racers, but the resulting 430mm fork weighs 4.5lbs, almost twice what Cannondale's racing forks weigh and weight is everything on a race bike. Things are a little less critical in that department for consumer applications, but likely only the geekiest of suspension nerds would be lining up to pay whatever the premium this kind of system would cost. But, Stanley said, expect this technology to show up on his company's bikes in one shape or another before too long, possibly simplified and streamlined a bit, but assuredly still quite impressive -- and easier on the wallet.