North Carolina is known for its excellent manufacturing companies and technical products. Indeed, it’s home to manufacturers like Industry Nine, with its multicolored-spoke wheels, and Cane Creek, the supplier of both top-quality headsets and the Double Barrel shock, which has been a favorite of gravity bikers for many years. Speaking of that shock, it was offered for a long time in a Coil version before we had a chance to test-ride the Air version. But, it still had the separated oil reservoir and dimensions that made it impossible to fit it into non-gravity framesets. Then came the Double Barrel inline shock, making Cane Creek a viable source for any and every kind of rear suspension. Nevertheless, we were still missing something. What was it? A Cane Creek fork! Not anymore, so let’s check out the Helm.
Tech info: The Helm Air fork, which is also available in a Coil version, is designed for everything from aggressive trail riding to enduro racing thanks to the fork’s robust construction and 35mm stanchion tubes. Its standard travel is 160mm, but it can be extended to 170mm or reduced to 100mm with 10mm internal spacers. Two such spacers, along with one O-ring per side, are included with the fork. If you want to perform travel adjustments on your own, check out the helpful video in the “Support” section on Cane Creek’s website ( www.canecreek.com ). The Helm Air weighs 2070 grams (the Helm Coil comes in at 2260 grams) and offers separated positive and negative chambers, contrary to what is standard. This is so there is no hole or groove on the inside, reducing the wear in the main O-ring seal. Pressure is equalized instead via a button at the base of the left slider. Do you need spacers in the positive air chamber to customize the compression curve? No, because Cane Creek opted to use an eight-position air-volume plate integrated into the left top cap instead. On top of the right stanchion, you find adjustment knobs for the high- and lowspeed (they are separated) compression rebound. High-speed is finely adjusted with 10 clicks, while slow-speed has 20 clicks. Rebound is controlled via 15 clicks of the knob at the bottom of the right slider. Among other distinguishing features of the Helm fork, there is a square-section thru-axle, with its turn-and-lock flange on the right side and its preloading flange under the lever on the left side. The standard color is black, but you may have seen the Limited Edition Blue that distinguished the very first samples. The rake is 44mm. The retail price for the Helm is $1100 for both the Air and Coil versions. Four different-colored sticker kits are available for $25 each.
On the trail: We encountered no problem with installation and tuning, but it’s worth noting that the Helm offers some extra features that require one to invest a certain amount of time studying the owner’s manual. Both the manual and the information available online are helpful and clearly written. What’s more, you don’t need any particular tools to perform tuning adjustments. Installation of the fork does require specific tools for the headset’s crown race (if not split open, as with the Hope) and an inner expander, along with a saw guide to cut the steerer tube to the right length. (This is assuming you don’t use a tube cutter—and we suggest you don’t, because it may deform the end of the steerer tube.) There is an O-ring to help you measure sag. Cane Creek suggests a range of 15 to 25 percent and starting with an air pressure equal to half of your weight in psi.
Negative-spring air-pressure tuning requires you to first unscrew the protective cap under the left slider and then the gold nut that locks the rod of the equalizing system. You simply have to press it and then lock it again. It’s very similar to a Presta valve. Every time you change air pressure in the positive chamber, you may want to adjust pressure in the negative chamber as well. While not strictly necessary, it is another fine-tuning option. When we hit the trail, it was our first time ever on a Cane Creek fork, so we tested every possible setting, trying to exploit all of its possibilities. We immediately discovered that the fork is very sensitive to adjustments, but we appreciated that the Helm was still always very much in control. This was very fortunate, given how unhelpful some of our tuning choices were. Thankfully, we were able to find the best setting quickly, and no break-in time was required to extract top performance from the system. The Helm offers a very smooth feeling in all conditions—from chatter bumps to big ruts and rocky edges that require all of its travel. In more technical terrain, we were initially afraid of pinching the tire or breaking the rim and losing control, but nothing of the sort ever happened. The Helm is exceptionally capable. It also stays high in its travel and doesn’t dive much in hard braking, providing a stiff platform that would make any bike handle more precisely. In the end, even the paint and stanchion tube anodization had to be admired for their resistance to wear. Honestly, we didn’t have any doubts about the quality of the product, knowing Cane Creek, but the Helm surpassed our expectations. It’s one of the best forks we’ve ever ridden.