After testing a plethora of bikes over the past few years, I’ve come to identify two unassailable truths.
First, rapid advancements in technology rarely fail in the long run, even if they roll out with early flaws.
Second, and somewhat counter to the first truth, the primary goal of next-gen bike tech is to remove complexity, not add to it. Improvements should bring you closer to the trail, not complicate the whole riding thing.
Fortunately, these are the guiding principles of Flight Attendant, the new automatic front and rear suspension system from RockShox. Less thinking about your suspension and in turn, more fun on the bike. Instead of stopping to adjust your suspension manually, Flight Attendant does it for you, and much faster than you could adjust it, too.
Flight Attendant is a battery-powered system with three sensor groups — one in the rear shock, one in the fork, and one in the crank — two electronic actuators and a clever algorithm that adjusts the travel in your suspension, real-time. Because most trails have sections of rolling, varied terrain, Flight Attendant is useful for just about anyone. The system works fast, analyzing both the trail and your riding to adjust in just 5 milliseconds. Without any input from you, you are pedaling more easily, riding more efficiently and having more fun.
How It Works
Flight Attendant automatically selects one of three modes — open, pedal and firm — to fit the terrain you’re riding. It makes the suspension firm for climbs and opens it up for descents and rough trails, doing so more often than any rider could manage manually. Switching modes isn’t instantaneous, but it’s damn close, often less than one pedal rotation. The secret sauce to Flight Attendant is the complex calculations that go into these adjustments, which RockShox says took thousands of hours to develop. It does not change the damping and spring rate of the fork and shock, just the travel.
What We Like
Setting up Flight Attendant was much easier than expected. You set sag and damping like you would any other bike, do a quick two-step calibration through the AXS app, and then go hit the trails. It kicks in automatically when it senses movement and will turn off after a few minutes of sitting still.
When riding, Flight Attendant is incredibly intuitive. After a ride or two, I almost forgot it was there (other than the constant buzz, which I’ll discuss below). It's especially useful for beginner and intermediate riders, who are still getting the hang of medium and long travel bikes. Flight Attendant uses the same batteries as the RockShox/SRAM dropper post and derailleur and adds only two-thirds of a pound to the overall weight, including fork, shock, pedal sensors, and batteries — a small weight penalty for such advanced technology.
If the batteries do run out, the bike will default to the open mode. RockShox claims the fork will last from 20 to 30 hours, the Shock from 30 to 40, and the pedal sensor for 200 hours. We suggest bringing a spare battery, just in case one of the four on the bike goes dead. Riders can switch Flight Attendant off and toggle modes manually via handlebar controls or buttons on the fork. Further personalization can be dialed in through the AXS app.
Watch Out For
For the initial rollout, Flight Attendant is only available in full-suspension bikes with specific RockShox forks (Pike, Lyrik and ZEB). Furthermore, you can only get Flight Attendant by buying a bike already equipped with the system. Currently, there are just six bikes from four brands available — Canyon, Specialized, Trek and YT — and the cheapest price for any of these bikes is a whopping $9,500.
The small silver lining to the steep price tag is that you don’t need mounting hardware or specific knowledge to install the system. There are no current plans to offer upgrade kits for existing RockShox suspensions, though this may change. RockShox didn’t release specific prices for Flight Attendant, saying that’s the discretion of the brands themselves. However, comparing the analog version of the bikes to the new Flight Attendant models, it looks to be $2,000 or more.
It may sound petty, but the buzzing sound of the adjustments was a big annoyance while testing the bike, especially when riding solo. It’s the same sound as an AXS derailleur, but much closer to your ears and therefore much more audible. It's especially noticeable on rolling terrain, when the bike is adjusting frequently. On a semi-related note, I found it pretty easy to remember to charge the batteries (mostly because there are four of them, so how could you not?), but I do wish that there was just one charger — or some sort of wireless charging — for all four.
Is It Unique?
Yes and no. Two years ago, Fox released Live Valve, the first automatic suspension system. Flight Attendant is the response to Live Valve, taking that idea and building on it. Live Valve is wired; Flight Attendant is wireless. Live Valve has two modes; Flight Attendant has three. Live Valve requires brands to custom-design frames around sensors; Flight Attendant does not require any customization. So Flight Attendant should be able to roll out on many more bikes, eventually.
Compared to its predecessor, Flight Attendant is a clear step forward, taking in data from the rider which makes it predictive, not just reactive. When Flight Attendant senses rough terrain, the system will allow the fork and shock full travel and when it senses a smooth trail or climb, it’ll tighten it up for efficiency. It’s smart enough to adjust for the small stuff too, like shifting weight, a tilt in the bike, and the pressure you put on the pedals. And if the battery-powered system runs out of juice, the fact that it defaults to open means you'll never have to navigate some terrifyingly steep descent with the equivalent of no suspension.
For those with deep pocket books, it’s a no-brainer. The system is refined out of the gate, the difference is immediately noticeable, and it will help any rider be more efficient. With the system on, the bike is impressively responsive to the type of terrain, helping you focus on the trail. Presumably, this integration will only get better, as RockShox claims the system will learn about your style after hours in the saddle, feeding this info back into the database. All that said, it would be a stretch to call Flight Attendant absolutely necessary for all riders — and even if it was, it’ll be years before the masses can get a bike with it. So if you've already got a bike you love, it is safe and appropriate to say... stay tuned.