Air or Spring | enzo’s Ross Maeda

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Last week, we had a chat with enzo racing’s Ross Maeda about the reintroduction of spring forks on several 2018 models. As one of the most knowledgeable guys out there when it comes to suspension, and as someone who has worked alongside manufacturers to develop new components, he had plenty to say on the subject. While we’ve been critical of air forks in the past, we wanted to get to the bottom of things and have a better understanding of air and spring forks. Maeda’s answer did not disappoint.

The 2018 bikes are coming out, and a lot of them are coming back with not only spring forks, but A-kit spring forks. What are your thoughts on suspension development going into 2018, and beyond, and the air fork versus spring fork debate that continues to flip back and forth?
The whole thing with the air fork revolution was a sensitive matter for a while, but now it's not that big of a deal. It actually came about because the motocross industry, as far as the Japanese companies go, was trying to reduce the cost of the bikes. The manufacturers actually came to KYB [Kayaba] and Showa, the suspension providers, and said, 'We want something new, and the performance has to be at least as good or better than current, and it has to be cheaper.' That was a really big challenge, so KYB's answer to that was to go with the air spring system because you're eliminating the spring and trying to modify the damping systems to reduce costs. They actually achieved it, because the performance in many ways was better. It was, in fact, cheaper and lighter. They did achieve what they were asked to do, but what happened was that when it was introduced to the public, they weren't ready to accept the extra maintenance and complexity of setting it up properly. Within two years, the public went from wanting something new and exciting to wanting something simpler that they could just get on and ride and not have to mess with. Eventually, with Yamaha not going to air and getting much better evaluations, they finally just decided not to fight it and just go back to what the people want. They basically went back to spring systems and in order to say that they didn't go back to what they had before, they added some advancements to the spring design. That's now considered A-kit features, but it's more just the configuration of the reintroduced spring system.

WP is still using their 48 mm AER fork, which has been well-received compared to some of the other systems, do you ever see air forks coming back again?
Well, the thing that I recommended to KYB was to continue development on the air suspension. As I said, there are some advantages to it and it is lighter. As far as production development, I think we should just go back to the spring systems. The thing I always say is, the public always seems to want what they can't have. If we continue to develop air suspension on the factory bikes, it's a matter of time before they want it. There's a chance it will come back. I think it's going to take a while.

You mentioned the performance of both, do you feel like an air fork suits certain riders better than a spring fork or vice versa?
An air spring versus a coil spring has definite differences. We've found that some riders like it and some, no matter what you do, don't like it. It's something that will always exist. I think that an advantage to the WP system is the fact that in practice even, I've heard and understood that they don't need as much maintenance and constant check of pressures that the Japanese systems did. I really don't know why that is, but that seems to be a big factor in the customer satisfaction.