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Pisgah Born: Development Story and Technical Deep Dive on Cane Creek’s new Tigon Air-Charged Coil Shock

Pisgah Born: Development Story and Technical Deep Dive on Cane Creek’s new Tigon Air-Charged Coil Shock



Tigon is the world’s first twin tube Air-Charged Coil shock that combines the ground-tracking sensitivity of coil with the tunable mid-stroke and bottom out support of an air spring – all in favor of encouraging your most creative and playful riding yet. Tigon allows you to have traction when it’s needed – on steep, rocky, natural trails – while also giving the rider the ability to add the necessary support for trying larger drops, or riding hard-packed, more manicured flow trails and jump lines. Backcountry enduro epic one day, bike park the next –Tigon is the best shock for both situations.

In this deep dive article, we will take a behind the scenes look at the people, inspiration, and development process that went into creating the first twin tube Air-Charged Coil Shock, as well as cover some of the more technical aspects of the shock’s performance.

Coil Sensitivity meets Air Support
“The first thing riders experience when they ride Tigon is… Wow! This is something that you really feel. There is a very noticeable difference between zero and 30 psi. It has such a broad range of how it can be set up – it can cover so many styles and types of riders. That’s the idea of Tigon.”
Brandon Blakely, Design Engineer at Cane Creek Cycling Components


Cane Creek is an employee-owned company headquartered in the mountains of Western North Carolina – designing components aimed at being the premium alternative to widely produced products that are served to the mainstream. To us, ‘Alternative’ means thinking outside the box – often subverting the status quo – and striving to create something that supports your ride like nothing else on the market. This design approach is present in everything we invest our time and effort into – from offering the world’s first Threadless Headset, to welded Titanium cranks, and now the first twin tube Air-Charged Coil Shock.

Sam Anderson (OEM Sales Manager) and Alex Dawson muse about their love of the Pisgah National Forest
Charles McDowell (Shock Production Lead) fills and vacuums shock dampers
Tim Boyer (Machinist) monitors the progress on the milling of prototype valve bodies
Jenna Toney (Marketing Leader) and Dorene O'Malley (Director of Advocacy and Outreach) strategize upcoming incentives

Inspiration That Drives Us:

Cane Creek is a company that produces bike products, but we take heavy inspiration from other interests that lie outside the immediate world of bicycles. Brandon Blakely, lead design engineer on the Tigon project, grew up racing BMX & motocross. In a recent debriefing we held with Blakely, he told the story of how he got his start on two wheels. His dad made him race BMX before he could graduate to racing moto, and those two disciplines dominated much of his youth. Blakely only picked up mountain biking once he was in college. Blakely’s other interests include metal fabrication and building suspension systems for rock crawlers – it’s safe to say that he’s an engineer inside and outside of work. He lives it. “Solving problems and building things” is something that Blakely would be doing, regardless of whether he was on the clock or not.

It’s clear that Blakely takes plenty of inspiration from the motorized off-road world. Blakely’s passion for getting rowdy on two wheels is most exemplified by the 3 acre motocross track that he has built in his front yard.

“I guess the kid in me just wanted a moto track… so I built one” – Brandon Blakely”

Blakely at Waldo MX, FL - Photo by: Sean Leader

“The world of mountain bike product development moves fast these days – I suspect partly due to the fact that mountain biking is such a young sport. Bikes have evolved SO much in the last 15-20 years and we’re certainly still figuring out how to make mountain bikes better. We’re lucky to have someone on our team that takes interest and inspiration from some other, more established sports and there’s a level of trust I have in a guy building shocks that can dust a 100 foot jump on a dirt bike. He knows what suspension needs to do to keep you in control”

—Will Hart, Product Marketing Manager at Cane Creek Cycling Components

Blakely rips his Kawasaki KX450F in front yard motocross track

The Mission:

3D print (center) of early iteration of air shock with more conventional layout

From the beginning, the Tigon project was all about compatibility. ‘Compatible’ in terms of being able to physically fit a wider variety of bike frames, but also ‘compatible’ in terms of being adaptable and well suited to take on many different kinds of riders. Tigon actually began its life with a completely different name as a more traditional shock project – with both a coil and an air option initially conceived. Primarily, the goal was to build a twin tube air shock that housed the valve body and air can on the same end, so as to be able to fit a wider variety of frames.

Blakely (left) In the Cane Creek R&D lab
Tuning Tigon with Pinkbike Tech Editor Matt Beer
Clearing a tricky double at Tigon Test Camp

As many know, Cane Creek built the first twin tube mountain bike shock – all the way back in 2005 with the original Double Barrel Coil. Since then, the main selling point has been a high level of external adjustability. All of this is great, but as with anything in life – you can’t get anything for free and there is always a tradeoff somewhere. The twin tube design resulted in bulky valve bodies and in the case of our air shocks – an air can at the ‘bottom’ of the shock, where the smaller diameter damper tube resides on other contemporary options.

In this deep dive article, we will take a behind the scenes look at the people, inspiration, and development process that went into creating the first twin tube Air-Charged Coil Shock, as well as cover some of the more technical aspects of the shock’s performance.

Heritage Progressive Spring
The DB Coil Heritage Edition - Produced for a limited run in 2020 - modeled after the original Cane Creek DB Coil to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of Double Barrel Technology

Generation 1 Air IL & Coil IL shocks dimensions and orientation resulted in difficult fitment (& no fit) on some frames

The Tigon project’s revised damper layout, with the shaft moved to the middle of the shock and the damper tube at the end meant that there was suddenly a large void under the valve body. On many other modern air shocks this space is naturally occupied by the positive air spring chamber. However, if this new design was to offer a coil sprung version as well, the engineering team was having a hard time finding a way to securely mount the spring to the valve body. Furthermore – it created a puzzling aesthetic and seemed like an opportunity to pack something additional into the shock.

Tigon with spring and RAMP Tube removed - showing repositioning of damper shaft and "inverted" damper design, compared to traditional coil shocks

Blakely recalls asking the question in a COVID-era zoom meeting: “What could we do that with that space? It seems like an opportunity to add something…”

It then occurred to him, in what he describes as a plain and obvious manner, that an air chamber could be added to control the coil’s spring rate – Could that be done?

If so, it would address the main shortcoming of a coil shock (inherently less adjustability and progressive support)e.

Once the realization was made that both spring types could be packaged together, it became hard to justify continuing down the path of building just a dedicated air shock and a dedicated coil shock. A new name was picked for the project – one that looked to nature for something that represents the combination of two powerful beasts – and highlighted the combining of two different (and up until this point, mutually exclusive) sets of benefits.

A Tiger… A Lion… Get it?

Development & Testing: Pisgah Born:

Early Tigon valve bodies - much bulkier due to the presence of the additional high-speed adjuster

Rapid prototyping is something that we have invested a lot into in recent years and as a small company we’re proud of the fact that we can do 100% of our own development and testing in house. We have a fully equipped test lab, as well as an in-house machine shop where ideas are iterated and prototypes are made.

When we asked Blakely what the hardest part of the project was – the crux design hurdle to overcome:

Everything. It was a completely new design concept that didn’t have a blueprint we could follow. Pretty much every aspect was challenging.

—Brandon Blakely, Design Engineer at Cane Creek Cycling Components

Strength and reliability were a big focus of the Tigon project and plenty of in-house testing was conducted to be sure a new shock could offer improvement in this area. Dummy shafts of different materials and dimensions were created – and subsequently destroyed. It became obvious that for a coil shock to use this new ‘mid-shaft’ layout, we could offer all of the sensitivity benefit but in a package that is stronger than the traditional coil layout.

Though Tigon primarily functions like a coil shock – it provides a strength level closer to that of an air shock. Pictured above, we can see how and where coil shocks can fail if exposed to extreme stress. The significantly larger damper tube that’s connected to the lower shock eye on Tigon makes these types of failures far less likely. In the photo above, the lower shock eye on the black damper tube (far right) is still slightly deformed – but has not critically failed like the others.

Looking inside the shock, an oversized, 12.7mm damper shaft is secured into the valve body with threads that are stepped up in diameter from the shaft. A simple solution that actually adds a ton of strength.

Early Tigon test mules - long before the valve body design was finalized.

The early shocks that were built and tested tried to maintain the 4-way external adjustability found in the other Double Barrel-equipped shocks. These prototypes were visually bulky and couldn’t provide adequately high levels of HSR damping with an external, HSR adjuster. Read more below in the Q&A section as to why the decision was made to move HSR damping to a fully internal arrangement, managed by a shim stack on the damper piston.

Here we see an exploded Tigon, displaying the shim stack on the main piston that damper oil is forced past in order to manage the high-speed rebound damping. Damper shims can be thought of as small, spring-loaded ‘trap doors’ that can be tuned to require either more or less force for oil to pass through them.

Pictured above is the integral part of the low-speed rebound adjuster. When the adjuster is turned, this small, parabolic needle is inserted gradually into a small orifice (valve opening). As the opening is restricted more and more by the tip of the needle, the oil being forced through meets more resistance which, in turn, makes the shock to extend more slowly after compressions.

Tech Overview:

RAMP Tube – Want more support? Just add air!
Tigon’s RAMP Tube is a secondary air spring that works in conjunction with Tigon’s main coil spring to control the shock’s progression. With this added feature, a rider will still rely on the main coil to support their body weight while setting sag – but can easily add up to 35% progression relative to a traditional coil shock using a basic shock pump.

Multiple iterations of RAMP Tube

Inside the RAMP Tube, a physical negative spring counteracts the positive spring of the small air chamber. This spring is working to pull the shock together through the first 18mm of stroke and makes Tigon a true zero-force-off-the-top shock. The force required to get the shock moving is actually smaller than that of a standard coil shock. *For this reason, it is important for the rider to pay attention to the required minimum amount of spring preload.

Tigon’s physical negative spring, installed on the damper shaft assembly, balances the air pressure in RAMP Tube and increases sensitivity

Want more sensitivity? TIGON DELIVERS.
The supreme sensitivity of coil is always present, providing the most active suspension possible – no matter the air pressure. If desired, riders can remove air from the RAMP Tube to turn Tigon into a more linear, traditional coil shock to amplify its ground-tracking ability. Encountering steep, technical, and slippery trails? Simply remove the air from the RAMP Tube for a shock setup that stays more planted to the ground.

Tigon sticks to the steepest of slabs. (Matt Beer, Pisgah Nat'l Forest)

Strength and Reliability
Tigon’s unique design expands the usable market for coil by providing a more resilient solution for clevis and trunnion mount frames. These shock mounting configurations have come about as a real estate solution for frame designers – but at the expense of shocks that are then asked to withstand far higher stress loads. Clevis and Trunnion mounting represent a far more rigid way to bolt a shock to a frame. When the system is loaded sharply, in a hard corner, or harsh compression, all of that energy has to go somewhere. In the case of these less-than-ideal mounting scenarios, coupled with bike frames that have become increasingly stiff, it’s often directed straight into the seals and bushings inside the shock. This leads to accelerated wear and decreased reliability.

On Tigon, the oversized 12.7mm damper shaft has been relocated to the middle of the shock (similar to an air shock layout & opposite to traditional coil shocks). This mid-position damper shaft, along with the bracing provided by the RAMP Tube and the outer damper tube, give Tigon its incredible lateral strength.

'The Drop' on Bennett Gap Trail. A true Huck to Flat. | Rider: Alex Dawson

Tigon Q&A
with Will Hart – Cane Creek’s Product Marketing Manager

How does Tigon’s RAMP Tube compare to Cane Creek’s VALT Progressive springs?

Simply put, RAMP Tube can offer a lot more progression. A Valt Progressive spring offers about 18% change in spring rate, regardless of which one you choose. This change in spring rate is what we call progression – it gets stiffer as it compresses, essentially. RAMP Tube can offer 20% – 35% increase in spring rate depending on which coil spring you’re using. It varies a bit, with lighter spring rates having the ability to really increase their progression by a higher margin. For heavier spring rates, you can still get more progression out of Tigon than you can out of Kitsuma or IL with a progressive spring.

Also – the beauty of any air spring is that it’s tunable! A mechanical, progressive rate spring is a ‘best guess,’ and you’re stuck with that particular rate of change. With the air component on Tigon, the amount of progression can be whatever you want it to be.

What if I put more then 30psi in the RAMP Tube?

To make the shock ultra-sensitive off the top, and also to accomplish all the engineering demands of building a baby air can inside a coil shock, we decided to use a mechanical negative spring to counteract the positive air spring in RAMP Tube. This mechanical negative spring actually makes Tigon our most sensitive shock – with the least amount of force required to get it moving – pretty cool! Anyhow, the spring force that’s generated at 30psi is what is required to fully compress this mechanical negative spring. If you put more that 30psi in RAMP Tube, it will cause the shock to start topping out, as the rebound force overwhelms the negative spring at full shock extension.

That said, with proper coil spring selection, and compression settings – we’re confident that there really shouldn’t be much reason or legitimate need to be able to add more air. We hit some real-deal jumps in testing and feel confident about the setup we’ve recommended. —– Progression is like salt. More is good, until More ruins your soup.

How does Tigon’s RAMP Tube compare to Hydraulic Bottom Out control systems?

HBO control is velocity dependent, comes into play much later in the shock stroke, and truthfully, isn’t really a direct comparison because RAMP Tube is much more than just a simple bottom out control. To elaborate: with HBO, you can generally only tune it to provide the support you want at a certain shaft speed. Hit a bump at 8mph and it will feel very different from hitting the same bump at 30mph. Conversely, the support an air spring provides is position, or displacement dependent. This means no matter how fast you get there, reaching 45% travel on your air shock will always yield the same sensation. With hydraulic controls, hit something faster & deeper than expected, and you suddenly feel like you’re hitting a wall. This sensation is something that tends to have a ‘deadening’ effect that we thought might not be ideal in every situation. To summarize, RAMP Tube is a bit more consistent in the type of support it offers. It also gives energy back to the rider in a more lively way. RAMP Tube also takes effect much earlier in the travel than HBO can. With 30psi in the Ramp Tube, it’s actually helping partially suspend the rider and provide that additional support starting at the sag point! For this reason, we like to think of the benefits of RAMP Tube as extending far beyond that of a simple bottom out control. RAMP Tube gives you a way to tune the overall spring rate – from sag, onwards – in a way that no other coil shock can offer.

Lastly, since they’re merely composed of hydraulic valving components, HBO controls don’t offer the added, auxiliary benefit of making the shock stronger, from a lateral stress perspective. RAMP Tube provides a level of shock bracing that we’re pretty stoked about.

What happened to the external High-Speed Rebound adjuster?

That’s a good one. The HSR functionality on Tigon was moved internally to be able to offer more consistently controlled HSR damping, to better manage the added return spring force of the RAMP Tube. HSR is being managed by a shim stack on the main piston. This allows us to get a more linear and more powerful damping force out of it, than the typically digressive nature of a poppet-valve system – which is what’s used on our shocks that adjust HSR externally. A heavier HSR tune generally suits a jump-heavy ride style and we thought this setup would work well for the rider who chooses Tigon.

We love 4-way, independent adjustment, and don’t plan on changing that aspect of our other DB shocks any time soon – but we’re also aware that some riders will probably appreciate that there’s one less adjuster to worry about with Tigon. It also dramatically reduced the external size of the valve body by removing one of the two poppet valves.

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