Boston,--"If I only had a brain," sang the Scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ. Maybe he could borrow one from the Smart Shock, billed as the "first bicycle shock with a brain." The mountain bike shock, designed and patented by K2, automatically interprets terrain and adjusts the damping to optimize performance.
The "brain" samples the ground 1,000 times/sec by sensing piston speed and position. Damping instructions are sent to a piezoelectric valve that automatically opens or closes to adjust oil flow. This increases tire-to-ground contact, eliminating the set-up problem traditionally encountered by mountain bikes: if too stiff, the bike performs poorly in rough terrain; if too soft, the bike won't handle at high speeds.
Continuum engineers worked closely with K2 to design and place the shock's controller. Requirements included easy replacement of the 9V battery with gloved hands and ready access to the shock switches and LED indicators. The result: a shape that allows the user simply to flip open a top-hinged compartment door. Because of the rugged environment that mountain bikes cover, designers created a completely sealed system using rubber gaskets and room-temperature vulcanizing material.
The entire Smart Shock(TM) assembly mounts directly on the bike frame as one unit. Originally, K2 designers wanted the controller, mounted on the frame and the shock wired off to the side. The engineers reconsidered keeping the two segregated because of cable length and wire placement. After three iterations, the controller became an integral part of the shock. "The ultimate design, which integrates the box and shock into one unit, not only emphasizes the breakthrough nature of the design," says Matthew J. Miller, marketing services manager for K2.
K2 expects a prototype of the Smart Shock mountain bike series by this September. "We had an extremely aggressive schedule," in order to meet the company's three-month design goal, says Joe Geringer, senior industrial designer for Continum. Weekly meetings with K2 as well as the 3D modeling and project data management capabilities of Pro\Engineer from Parametric Technology Corp. (Waltham, MA), helped make this a realistic target.