THROWBACK THURSDAY: FOES FAB LTS (1994)
Who had the most? Foes does!
Every couple of months there is a new bike that is the “most”—most expensive, most bizarre, most ballyhooed, most complex or, in the case of the Foes Fab, the bike with the most suspension travel. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who’s got the most of what, but all these mosts serve a purpose—they set standards for other builders to shoot for. They make whatever we paid seem reasonable. They make what currently exists seem unacceptable, and they gradually raise our expectations. The Foes Fab is a bike that works on our psyches in a lot of ways: (1) It pushes the rear suspension barrier above and beyond anything that the off-road rider has ever seen. (2) The stamped monocoque construction technique, while not new, gets a boost in the consumer’s eyes every time it is done well. (3) It looks like a downhill bike but hopes to blur the distinction between gravity benders and cross-country racers. (4) Unlike earlier designers who have had to “go it alone,” the Foes Fab rides on the coattails of bikes as diverse as the Mountain Cycle Aftershock, Cannondale Super V, Rad-1, Kestrel MX-Z, Mantis Flying V and Crosstrac Sonoma.
It’s a bike based on the personal experience of its designer, Brent Foes. Most of the avant garde mountain bike designers, such as Bob Girvin (ProFlex), Horst Leitner (AMP, Mongoose, Rocky Mountain, Specialized), Doug Bradbury (Manitou), Paul Turner (Rock Shox), Robert Reisinger (Mountain Cycle) and Keith Bontrager (Kestrel, Bontrager) came from a motorcycle heritage. Brent Foes worked on the Baja-busting, high-tech, Nissan off-road trucks of the Mears brothers. If you are wondering what off-road trucks have to do with suspension, wonder no more. Off-road trucks have the most suspension travel of any vehicle on earth. That is Foes’ stomping ground.
Here are the questions that the MBA test crew was asked by every rider who saw the Foes Fab LTS in action.
QUESTION 1: WHAT’S IT MADE OF?
That’s easy. The frame is your basic 6061 T-6 aluminum. Okay, maybe the aluminum is the same basic alloy that is the bread and butter of aluminum bicycles, but Foes knows from his background in auto racing that aluminum is best used as a structure instead of in tube form. It was only logical for Brent to build his aluminum frame in the form of a monocoque. Monocoques have been around mountain biking in one form or another for years. Almost all the molded carbon fiber frames are monocoques, as are frames like the aluminum Rad-1, Mantis Flying V and Mountain Cycle Aftershock. A well-done monocoque frame can take the same amount of alloy used in a tube frame and use it to build a super-rigid chassis.
QUESTION 2: HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Foes’ aluminum frame is stamped just like a car fender. A flat sheet of aluminum is pressed over a mold to form the distinctive Foes wedge. The two stampings (left and right) do need the extra support of a three-dimensional shape on their flat planes. If the stampings were totally flat, they would be susceptible to dents and dings (sort of like a car door). The indentations in the side of the Foes monocoque give it form, strength and resistance to denting.
Once the two halves have been stamped out, the rough edges and flashing of the aluminum are trimmed off. The two stampings are placed together like a clamshell (with the seat tube, bottom bracket and head tube in place) and hand-welded together.
The swingarm is made the same way, except that the clamshells are welded to CNC-machined ends (pivot and dropout). Once the frame and swingarm are welded into complete structures, they are sent out for heat-treating.
QUESTION 3 WHAT ABOUT THAT SHOCK?
Foes Fab equipped our test LTS with a 2-inch-stroke Fox air shock. Fox was one of the founding fathers of long-travel motocross suspension back in the ’70s and made its name in MX with air shocks. An air shock does not use a coil spring to hold the bike up but relies on air pressure to provide the springing force. Since mountain bikes are in the formative stages of long-travel suspension, Fox has dusted off its air shock technology, which is no longer used in motocross, and revived it for mountain bikes. The benefits of air shocks are their light weight, infinitely adjustable spring rates and simplicity. “Good choice,” you say. Well, not exactly.
Air shocks are only an interim fix in the world of mountain biking (just as they were in motocross), because their benefits are outweighed by several major negatives: (1) To use the Fox Shox on the Foes Fab LTS, the rider has to pressurize the shock beyond the limits of conventional pumps or compressors. We were forced to use either a special CO2 filler or go to our friendly local motorcycle dealer and get a charge of nitrogen. Attempting to reach over 150 psi with a standard pump failed, and even using a Risse or Marzocchi air shock hand pump would not give satisfactory results. This is a bummer for on-trail, off-trail or in-the-garage fine-tuning. (2) Because the spring rate of an air shock is progressive, it’s hard to get a stiff-enough spring rate without a corresponding high degree of static lockout. Air shocks are hard to keep from bottoming on one end and difficult to get in motion on the other—not the hot setup.
If we had our druthers, and we do, we would opt to use a coil-spring shock, like the aftermarket Noleen unit.
QUESTION 4: HOW MUCH TRAVEL DOES IT HAVE?
Hold onto your hat! By using a 3:1 leverage ratio on the cantilever-beam swingarm, the Foes Fab turns the Fox Shox’s 2 inches of shaft stroke into 6 inches of rear-wheel travel. That’s twice the rear-wheel travel of the most highly regarded full-suspension off-road bicycles and 2 inches more than the only other mega-travel bike (the Crosstrac).
Whether it is Brent Foes’ experience with Roger Mears and the Nissan off-road truck racing team (where they use 18 inches of wheel travel) or just a personal interest in pushing the limits of suspension travel, the Foes Fab’s 6 inches of rear-wheel travel make the bike incredibly plush to ride. For gobbling up bumps, hitting potholes, wheelie-ing across ditches or grabbing air, more travel is almost always better. What’s wrong with the Foes long-travel crusade is that it’s only halfhearted.
QUESTION 5: WHAT’S THE OTHER HALF?
The forks are a major part of the equation, but not one that Brent Foes considers to be of equal importance. Our test bike came with 2.5-inch long-travel RockShox SLs. Why doesn’t the Foes Fab have 6 inches of front travel to go with the rear? Brent believes that rear suspension is more important than the front; we don’t!
The fact that the rear end can survive a full-on impact with its ample 1/2-foot of travel ignores the fact that if the front end doesn’t get over the bump, the rear end doesn’t even get a chance to hit it. In Brent’s defense, he is not in the fork business and, with the exception of Crosstrac’s 4-inch-travel forks, there is nothing available that would offer anything comparable to the long-travel rear end.
Foes is currently testing a bike with a 3-inch-travel ProForx.
QUESTION 6: DOES IT SCRAPE THE GROUND?
If you have been doing your math, you have probably begun to calculate what would happen to the pedals should you compress the rear wheel the full 6 inches. No fear! When the suspension is bottomed out (front and rear), there are still 2 inches of clearance under the pedal. How did Foes achieve this? The bottom bracket is a skyscraper-like 13.5 inches off the ground.
QUESTION 7: WHAT ARE THE FRAME NUMBERS?
One of the latest trends, brought on by the complexity of building suspension bikes, is the movement towards making bikes in large and small sizes (instead of in 1-inch increments). The Foes Fab LTS is available in two frame sizes—16 inches and 18 inches.
Before you get too confused about the differences between the big and small frames, there is only one geometry difference: the size of the monocoque wedge. The small frame measures 16 inches from the bottom bracket to the top of the top tube and the 18—well, you get the idea. All the other numbers (save weight) are the same.
Head angle: 71°
Seat angle: 72.5°
Top tube: 23”
Bottom bracket: 13.5”
Frame weight (18”): 7 lb., 4 oz.
Total weight: 26 lb.
QUESTION 8: WHAT DOES IT COST?
Suggested retail (frame and Fox rear shock) is $1825.
QUESTION 9: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO RIDE?
The first thing you notice when you climb on board is that no matter how soft you turn the damping adjuster on the Rock Shox, the rear end surpasses it in suppleness. This means that the rear suspension is totally dialed into the bike. The Fox shock is very well set up, and no matter how dated we think the concept of air shocks may be, the Fox boys have managed to make it work on the Foes. For this type of high-pivot, cantilever-beam bike, the air shock concept seems to be right on the money. The tiny amount of static lockout indigenous with air shocks (we ran the shock between 150 and 180—close to the rider’s weight) allows the rear end to be set up with sag. The sag drops the bike down about an inch into the travel, which lowers the bottom bracket and reduces the skyscraper feeling that a rider gets when he first climbs on board.
The first surprise was that climbing did not give you the dead-leg feel that comes with a lot of high-pivot suspension bikes. It wasn’t a great climber, but it wasn’t as bad as most test riders thought it would be. The bike was light, and with the proper amount of air pressure in the shock, the rear stayed put. The rear was stiff and wiggle was minimal. The Foes had a short front center, and while it measured out as a 23-inch top tube, the bike delivered a much shorter feel because of a high, short stem. Brent Foes says that the rear suspension is more important than the front suspension (probably because his bike has three times as much rear-wheel travel), but his choice of a 10-degree-rise stem pushes the rider up and back on the bike. This centers the rider’s weight over the rear suspension, and thus the back of the bike is forced to handle a disproportionate amount of the shock-absorbing duties. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Where the Foes Fab was really fun was on high-speed turns. Test riders could blast into turns at maximum speed, only to find out that they could have done the turn at an even higher velocity. It refused to break traction and literally carved elliptical arcs.
Riders who are used to pulling back on the bars and standing up to take the bite out of bumps were shocked to discover that they could sit through the worst debris without feeling anything. That’s the plus of mega-travel.
Not even logs could stop the Foes from its appointed rounds. On the downhills, the bike lets you go flat-out, although the brakes were a major limiting factor in the rider’s ability to go fast with reckless abandon—not because the brakes didn’t work, but because the multitude of brake linkages refused to give the rider any feedback. We would be willing to accept a less mechanical advantage on the rear brake to get more feel.
QUESTION 10: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
Don’t buy this bike if you are a conservative, tiptoe-through-the-tulips rider who wants a quiet ride. This is a loud bicycle. The monocoque rings, and every gear change, bearing whine or trail obstacle plays back in stereo. You won’t sneak up on anybody riding a bike that sounds like a New Year’s Eve party noisemaker. Additionally, the shape of the bike is really not correct. This is a tall bicycle, but there have not been enough concessions made for standover height. One advantage of a monocoque is that the shape can be fine-tuned to fit the rider better. Foes didn’t make these adjustments. It’s big for an 18-inch bike. There is a 16-inch frame available, but fit is a problem and something that should be weighed heavily in a rider’s deliberations.
All in all, the Foes Fab is an awesome first bike for a builder fresh to the world of two wheels.