When 29erOnline was just getting started, one of the first things we bought was 3 forks. One was a Manitou Minute 29. Manitou was very proactive in the 29er world from early on. I remember seeing a Manitou fork in Wes Williams’ shop (see Willits Bikes) in Crested Butte, Colorado in late 2000. Admittedly, it was rumored to be terrible. However, you have to give them credit for putting it out there so early in the game. Years later, our first experience with Manitou as 29erOnline was less than stellar. I felt it was too linear and bottomed out too harshly. Still, I saw a lot of potential, and wanted to revisit Manitou as soon as I saw significant changes. In addition, I like companies that compete with Fox and Rock Shox, as neither of the two big companies give great customer service. Manitou, on the other hand, seems pretty up close and personal. History and customer service aside, does the fork perform? While too early to give a full opinion, I can state that its suppleness is excellent.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let's look at some of the Manitou Tower Pro's features.
The Tower is what Manitou calls an XC to All Mountain fork. This covers a broad range of use. The Tower can be ridden aggressively but requires the user to use common sense. Remember that it is still a 32 mm chassis. It is also fairly light as well at 4 pound 4 ounces with the 15 mm axle included. How much can it take ? depends on the rider and too many other factors. It is rated to be ridden "All Mountain" so think fast aggressive trail riding .
The Manitou Tower comes in an Expert version and a Pro version. The expert has an MSRP of $399.99 and the Pro version we are testing has an MSRP of $549.99. The expert model only comes in a 1 1/8 inch steer tube with open 9mm drop out version. Future options may become available. If you have a particular set up you are looking for, talk to your favorite bike shop and leave a comment in our comments section. I promise you Manitou is watching. The Pro version also comes in 1 1/8 inch steer tube with open drops or 15 qr and retails for about $50.00 less than the version we have on test. By today's aftermarket fork prices, this is a steal. For our test purposes, it will be treated as a high performance suspension fork and rated in comparison to our experiences with other high performance forks.
Our test model has a 1.5 tapered steer tube and the new QR15 Hexlock system that Manitou has developed. I really like this system. It is very easy to use compared to other setups. Granted, none are particularly hard and, besides Rock Shox Maxle, which we don't care for, we don't have a hard time with the other systems out there. Still, Manitou deserves credit for making this a simple system with a very solid hold on your front wheel. We opted for the 120 mm travel version. It also comes in either 80/100/120 and a 140 mm version. The travel is set at whatever you buy it at, so pick a team and stick with it.
Manitou tells the world it has redesigned the reverse arch, lowers and crown. We believe them. It's a pretty streamlined deal with many fewer holes in the arch compared to those from other companies. This means fewer nooks and crannies to hold mud, a plus in our area. The reverse arch claims to add significant stiffness. Because of its orientation, Manitou claims to achieve equal stiffness, while using less material. This makes a lighter fork that is as strong as its competitors. My initial rides on this fork indicate that, forward to back under braking loads, it feels about the same as other high end forks. However, so far, I notice that there is less twisting at the legs and it suffers less from the fork winding up or deflecting off objects.
The spring system is their Mars system. This is a combination of a small coil spring in series with an air spring. Manitou claims that it will offer the correct spring rate based on rider weight without losing small bump compliance due to the coil springs. It is too early to be conclusive, but, so far, the Tower Pro required no break in to be supple. If it has any shortcomings, suppleness is not among them. A note to add if you exceed the 200 pound mark you may want to upgrade your Mars coil spring to a heavier model. These can be bought through your Manitou dealer.
The blue dial on the lower drive side leg is used to adjust the rebound. The red knob on the top of the drive side leg is called ABS+. This is used to control compression damping via a tapered needle. The tapered needle controls low speed damping .Internally there is a shim stack used for controlling high speed damping and platform force. When we are talking about high and low speed compression we are talking about the forks velocity not the speed at which the rider is traveling. Sometimes they are not related. These characteristics can be changed internally with the help of Manitou's Absolute+ tuning kit. A fairly competent mechanic can do this. If you are not comfortable a good shop should be able to do this for you. Significant changes in performance can be achieved by changing just a couple of shims. Owners should take advantage of this unique opportunity to maximize their forks performance.
I will say right now that I will not be riding it in the open setting much. I really like a plush fork, but, in that setting, this fork just goes through its travel too fast for how I ride. Look for future articles that will go through tuning options and internal changes to achieve the ride I want. For future reference we will be referring to firmest setting as the zero setting. I have ran it fully open, about half way and also at one click from the zero setting. It seems the further towards zero you go I want the rebound to get faster(blue dial lower drive side leg)
Spring rate can be changed by changing the weight of the Mars coil spring. This will allow you or your local bike store to tune the fork to your liking. More on the process of changing the coil and another trick that will be covered later after the test crew and I get some more time on the stock fork. I have the kit and plan on using it (thanks Ed, from Manitou!)
The suspension settings give recommendations for air preload. For 200 pounds, the online manual and table on the fork leg say 70 to 100 psi. I am a little over 200 pounds and was at 110 psi. I opted to put more air in the fork. You can exceed 110 PSI but due to the internals of the fork this may cause other performance problems. So proceed slowly and change in small increments. If you cannot achieve the right feel for you, start by upgrading the coil spring. Still no ? Then keep following the review here as we will be covering this at a later date.
As we get more time on this fork, we will be better able to evaluate performance. My goal will be to see how rider weight affects performance and the spring curve. If you want more updates, check out our FaceBook page as we will be posting updates more frequently there and give you a heads up when introductions and final reviews are on the website.
Manitou Tower Pro 29