The Avalanche Chubie was installed on my primary ride, a 2010 Santa Cruz Nomad Mk II Aluminum bike. The bike is built up with a 1×10 drivetrain, aggressive tires, coil suspension, and a short stem.
Two other BLISTER reviewers have tested the Santa Cruz Nomad Mk II (see Rob Dickinson’s Nomad review, and Joe Hanrahan’s Nomad review), and a ton of people out there are familiar with it. Consistent among the reports is some amount of dissatisfaction about the bike’s pedaling performance.
My Nomad came stock with a Rockshox Monarch 3.3 on it, and I immediately came to the same realization as Joe and Rob; I needed to do something to address the pedal performance of the Nomad / Monarch pairing.
After a month or two I had some durability issues with the Monarch 3.3, and it was replaced under warranty with a Monarch 4.2. The 4.2 is a bit more sophisticated than the 3.3, and performance improved some, but mostly because the mid-range could be supported by the lock-out with a low blow-off setting. Bump sensitivity suffered as a result. I wasn’t satisfied, and began to think of replacing it.
The Decision Process (Contenders, Prices, and Weights)
At the time of my search for a shock with more / adjustable low speed compression, the most advanced air shocks available were the Fox DHX Air 5.0 shock and the Rockshox Vivid Air, but neither of these seemed to fit.
I had tried the Fox DHX Aire on a friend’s Nomad, and its position sensitive damping design did not wow me. The Vivid Air was a new shock on the market with unknown reliability, and the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air didn’t exist yet. This left me looking at the heavier option: coil shocks.
I appreciate light wheels and tires, but find that adding weight to the rest of a bike does not bother me as much, so I was not worried about the increased weight of a coil shock over an air shock.
In my time riding a variety of different coil shocks on a few different frames, I found the Cane Creek Double Barrel and Avalanche rear shocks to be the most reliable, and to provide the smoothest, most controlled rides.
Weights and prices (USD) of the various shocks I was looking at are as follows:
- Rock Shox Monarch 4.2 shock: ~330g / $309
- Fox DHX Air: ~435g / ~$320
- Fox DHX RC4 shock body: ~440g / $595
- Cane Creek Double Barrel shock body: ~460g / $620
- Avalanche Chubie shock body: ~510g / $599
- 450lb spring: 420g
The most notable difference between the Avalanche and Cane Creek shocks at my time of purchase was that Avalanche provided their shocks custom tuned to the bike and rider, while Cane Creek provided their shocks with a simple base tune and a very large adjustment range so that users can dial the ride to their individual preferences. (Cane Creek now does provide specific recommended base tunes for most bikes, but not the Nomad).
I am pretty confident in my suspension-tuning ability, but the thought of having a shock tuned by an expert to my personal needs was extremely appealing. So after much internal debate, I placed an order with Avalanche.
The next morning I received a call from Craig Seekins, who is the owner of Avalanche and the engineer behind their products.
We talked for a long time about the type of riding I like to do, as well as other suspension setups I have liked in the past. By the end of the conversation, I had learned a great deal more about suspension, and Craig said he knew exactly how my shock should be set up.
Avalanche Chubie: Build
The fit and finish of the Chubie are refined—the shapes are clean, and the machining leaves a smooth surface finish. All of the features are purposeful, not slapped on simply for appearance’s sake.
The finish is a hard anodized grey that may not look as snazzy as a bright color, but is more wear and scratch resistant. A bonus point is that the internal components are all anodized where possible. Raw aluminum parts can foul oil, which reduces the service interval.
Most of the internal parts are machined instead of cast. This gives closer tolerances and better performance.
Honestly, the only spot where I would knock the shock would be … the decals. They are vinyl stickers, not anodized on, so they look okay but not great, and have some tendency to peel.
The DU bushings used are standard and easily replaced. All of the adjustment knobs allow for adjustment using a flathead screwdriver or crescent wrench. It would be more convenient if they were adjustable without a tool, but this works.
After a couple weeks, I received the shock. It came with a sheet specifying the oil weight and type, the shim stack set up, the positions of all the external adjusters (see below for a list of the available adjustments), and a bag of extra shims. Most users will send their shock back to Avalanche for service, but providing the parts you’d need to work on it yourself or have a local shop work on it is a nice touch.
Once unpacked, I bolted it onto my bike, and immediately went for a ride.
The bike was transformed.
I hope that the shock would be great on the downhill and would improve pedaling performance on flat, bumpy trails, but I also expected the smooth stroke to hinder climbing performance in some way.
I could not have been more wrong.
Probably the most noticeable change was how well the bike pedaled. It no longer sagged deeper into the suspension with each pedal stroke, but was now absolutely perky. All of a sudden I had a bike I liked sprinting on.
The performance on bumps actually didn’t feel all that special … until I looked down. I hadn’t realized the size of some of the roots I was riding over. I’d done a lot to tune suspension on my bikes before, but this felt different. It was almost like it was not there. I have never had a more forgettable part on my bike, and I mean that in the best possible way.
I used to spend lots of time thinking about how to make my rear shocks perform better. With the Chubie, I just never noticed what I was riding over. Traction was great, and the rear of the bike always felt composed. It felt oddly similar to riding a hardtail on a beautifully smooth dirt singletrack, only the rear wheel was going over terrain that was anything but smooth.
Taking it into larger and rougher rock gardens built my confidence in its capabilities. The Chubie enables my Nomad to handle rock gardens almost as well as a downhill bike.
With the same sag setting as used with the Monarch shocks, the Chubie used its stroke more judiciously. The Monarch shocks tended to blow through their stroke on relatively small impacts, and then would take time to rebound back to full extension, creating a hung-up sensation that felt like it sapped momentum.
In comparison, the Chubie would use the minimum travel necessary to absorb the impact, and moved only a small amount from pedaling forces, thus retaining valuable efficiency.