44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

Growing up, part and parcel of my childhood and early teen’s was heading over to “The Hog Pen” to see my Dad’s best friend Marshall. Marshall had refurbished an attached portion of a large family barn which actually had been a hog pen into his home. It was quite the transformation! Between the Hog Pen and the barn was Marshall’s large studio and wood shop where anything and everything was created. To say this space had an outsized impact on my youth is an understatement. Marshall always had a project going whether it was a massive spiral staircase for a client, a side project such as a boat or an ongoing sculpture, you name it… he had it going on in that shop. And Marshall had the outsized personality to match that space with each trip sure to not only learn something new but hear a new wild story. It seemed he had an endless supply and a wonderful ability to paint a vivid picture as he held court. One such story is where my full suspension platform draws its name: The Snakedriver.

The story goes something like this: Marshall and a character named Frank, ran a business together called “Snakedrivers Property Cleanup”. They would essentially get a call from a client regarding an estate that needed to be cleaned of it’s “accumulated treasures”. So Marshall and Frank would arrive, assess the property and haul, scrap and recycle anything they could. However, given the name of the business, they seemed to be getting occasional calls for rodent control. They’d happily explain that “no”, they were not indeed going to take care of that bear trapped in the basement or pack of wild raccoons terrorizing your neck of the neighborhood. Well, one afternoon with no job lined up, they got the “Can you come over and get rid of a black rat snake in my woodpile?” call. So they figured “Why not?” Well, the ensuing chaos that followed is the stuff of legends and tall tales. Needless to say, that story stuck with me all these years for it’s spirit of throwing caution to the wind, stepping into the unknown, and taking on new challenges in the path that lies ahead with a fun spirit from which this bike shares its namesake.

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

With the backstory of the name out in the open, let’s dig into this new platform. Yes, it’s a steel full suspension bike. Yes, I’m known for building hardtails. No, this is not its final form. “Wait, all that work and it’s not what will be available?”

Let me give you some more backstory: 1998. I’m working at a bike shop in Quakertown, Pa fresh out of Penn State without a plan moving forward. Well, I knew I wanted to check out a design school and explore what Industrial Design was all about, but till that trip later in the fall was scheduled, I had some time on my hands. I had gotten a job at this bicycle shop, Full Cycle (it’s home base being in Allentown – Quakertown was the sister shop), and was helping with wrenching and repairs in the back as well as sales out front. It was a formative time. But part of working at a shop was I got access to our demo fleet and we were allowed to take bikes out on our mornings off. So I rode as many of the full suspension bikes as I could. In a word, they were terrible. But the itch had been scratched. Upon returning to school for my Industrial Design degree and a degree project that changed mid-semester because I learned I didn’t have a clue about geometry, handling or suspension kinematics. Fast forward to 2012 when I hung my shingle out starting 44 Bikes, I became solely focused on honing geometry and understanding fit. However, the itch was still present: I wanted to build a full suspension bike but I knew I wasn’t ready. Which brings us to the right here and now. Slowly, with hundreds of client builds and dozens of prototypes under my belt, I finally felt like I had a grip on geometry and handling. I wanted a new challenge. So in the Spring of 2019, I started acquainting myself with a platform I had largely ignored up to this point in time.

Snakedriver // Fox Float X2'd

So December of 2019 and January to February of 2020 was spent acquainting myself with all the concepts and different suspension platforms so I was up to my eyeballs and knee caps in virtual pivot points, anti-rise and anti-squat, instantaneous center migrations, instant centers… you name it, I was learning about it. From that I had a concept roughed out but I knew rather than get too ahead of myself, I needed an intermediary design to help myself understand basic principles, confirm geometry choices, and test handling characteristics I had in mind but also basic enough so when I was out on the trail, it was straight forward enough to understand what it was I was feeling in ride quality. Another facet of keeping things fairly simple was this would be the first bicycle that was basically two halves joined by links. I knew there were a few hurdles I needed to overcome just from an assembly and manufacturing standpoint so I also didn’t want the bike to be too complicated either just for those reasons. So I chose a fairly traditional shock placement and single pivot format. The bike itself I wanted to keep close to the form of a previous hardtail I had been building since 2007: Kid Dangerous. This had a pretty iconic profile and I purposefully stopped building it because although it had a few shortcomings as a hardtail, limited space for water bottles and a bit time consuming to build, the lines and form of that frame really suited itself more to a full suspension design. So the design challenge for me was to keep true to the format of the Kid but bring it forward into the 21st century as a full suspension bike. Here they both are for reference sake. I think I did a pretty good job visually of bringing the older frame forward while retaining specific design cues.

This is the Mountain Bike I always wanted to build...

Let's get this thing done

And built up:

Mean Machine

Snakedriver // Fox Float X2'd

Geometry wise, here’s the basics (the bike pictured is approximately a large for reference sake):

65° HT Angle
76° Effective Seat Tube Angle
838mm Front Center
435mm Chainstay Length
1276mm Wheelbase
150mm Front / 130mm Rear Travel
25mm BB Drop
29” Wheels
83mm BB shell width / 157mm Superboost Rear Hub Spacing
2.6:1 Leverage Ratio / 210x50mm Shock

The build kit pictured is as follows:

Fox Factory 36 Grip2 150mm Boost Fork
Fox Float X2 / Metric 210x50mm
Fox Factory Transfer 175mm Dropper
White Industries Headset and bottom bracket
XTR M9120 drivetrain w/ 10-45t cassette
M9000 Levers with M9120 calipers (I like the look and feel of the previous style Shimano lever…) Wolftooth Dropstop 30t chainring and Remote Light Dropper
Race Face Turbine Cinch Cranks
Paul components 35mm Boxcar Stem
King Cage Ti Bottle Cage
Engin Cycles Seat Collar
ENVE M6 Bars
NOX Farlow Carbon Rims Laced to Industry 9 Torch Boost Front / Superboost Rear hubs Selle Italia SLR Ti Saddle (if the shoe fits…)
YETI ODI Lock-on grips (I’ve tried other grips, these are “just so”)
WTB Vigilante 2.5 Front / Trail Boss 2.4 Rear Tires
And that Syncros Fender they don’t make anymore!

So how does it ride? Well, for starters like a single pivot should: Smooth linear travel. Thanks to the X2 shock (I’ll expand on that below), you can really fine tune all parameters including the addition of progression at the end of the stroke. I’m running the maximum volume reducers the X2 allows so that’s all 3 donuts. It did take a bit of time to set up the shock and fork (Grip2 is very similar to the X2 where it has full control of Hi/Lo Compression and Hi/Lo Rebound controls). Initially, I had set air pressure and sag in accordance to what I thought was my weight: 185lbs… Well, I was close on the fork but the shock? Something wasn’t quite right. It felt a bit harsh at times. That’s when I thought “Maybe I should actually weigh myself!” With the pandemic closing our local gym, and using our bare bones home gym throughout the summer and offsetting that with more time in the saddle, I had actually LOST 10 pounds! I reset air pressure of both the fork and shock and removed a token in the fork (I had 2) and instantly within 1 more ride of fine tuning the settings, the front and rear of the bike were completely tuned and in harmony with one another. Let me tell you something: When the tune is right, boy.. the bike sings. We have a local down hill named “Sayers” I was doing circuits on to dial in settings and the night I dialed things in, it had been freshly groomed. Now there’s something about line choice that stands out between a hardtail and a full suspension bike. On a hardtail, you’re often looking for the smoothest line. But on an FS? It’s about the fastest line. Sure it’s also about being smooth, but there’s something about absolutely ripping your local line you know by heart but at a completely different level of speed. Which I was carrying a heck of a lot more! So much more I was constantly blowing turns because I wasn’t used to that kind of speed. Once more acquainted and starting to really get the feel for how hard you can push and lean a bike like this into turns, I was more on my line as the rides progressed. Basically the fun meter was pinned at 11 every ride.

I had invested in 3 of Fox’s shock platforms: The Float DPX2, Float X2 and DHX2. The reason for this is I wanted a good slice of a range of shocks that were designed around a fork from the same family of product that I could compare and contrast to get a sense for what I liked but also how each one performed in the same terrain so for future customers I could help guide them through the process and make recommendations accordingly.

Survey Says: X2

I started the first week of testing with the DPX2 which is a great shock. What stands out about the DPX2 for me is if you are a set an forget type rider and want pretty basic setup parameters, the DPX2 is a great shock. Matched with Fox’s Fit4 damper, and you have a lot of performance right at your finger tips. The Open, Medium and Firm lever is a nice touch. I found myself in the Medium setting for just about every situation except when the bike was pointed down. I had the second to largest volume reducer installed. Earlier in the summer I had swapped my damper on a Fox 34 fork from Fit4 to Grip2 and it completely changed how that bike handled. So I was incredibly curious about the added layer of adjustablity of the X2 the entire time I was riding this shock since my 36 had a Grip2 damper. And that’s coming from someone who is a set and forget rider!

Modular Shock Mount

Snakedriver Proto No. 1

After about 2 weeks of riding and tuning, I installed the Float X2. I couldn’t wait any longer and it was immediate how much more I liked this shock. Yes it is a bit more complicated and time consuming to set up, but I had some base info from the DPX2 I could transfer over initially. I’d describe the X2 as utterly plush. The biggest nuance I noticed when compared to the DHX2 coil (and I’ll get to that shock next) was the added layer of sensitivity to small bumps and chatter. This shock has an uncanny knack of eating it all up and just smoothing everything out in gobs of plush travel.

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

Snakedriver // Fox Float X2'd

The vast majority of my initial riding was done on the X2 and when the DHX2 arrived, I was reluctant to change out the X2 because I had been enjoying it that much. But I did want to experience a coil shock and be able to compare it with the rest of the group. With a 500 pound spring in hand, out came the X2 and in went the DHX2. The most immediate feature I noticed was how consistent the smoothness of the travel was from this shock (and subsequently a steel spring). The travel of a single pivot is already pretty linear, so maybe that was some of my bias with the ability to add some progression with the X2 but one of the DHX2’s points I wasn’t excited about was it’s lack of sensitivity that the air spring of the X2 provided. Now, keep in mind that’s really nuanced. The travel and feel of the DHX2 is incredibly smooth, (and that’s how I’d describe it, SMOOTH). But if I had to pick one shock, the X2 wins but the DHX2 is a very close second. The ability to fine tune both Hi/Lo Compression and Hi/Lo Rebound controls on both the X2 and DHX2 is incredible. You do have to roll the dice when picking the spring weight of the DHX2, although I found Fox’s spring rate calculator pretty accurate.

DHX2

Coil'd

With the fork and shock tuning out of the way, I was able to just get out and enjoy the bike and focus more on specifics which I then can use when making any changes to the next prototype. One thing I noticed was on some of our steeper climbs, I was spending more time slid forward in the saddle to weight the front end a bit more than I’d like. So I’ll be steepening the seat tube angle a touch. At first I was thinking I’d be slackening the head tube to 64° but after a solid 2 months of R&D trail time, I’m really digging 65°, so it may be that I build two front triangles and test 64 and 65° with the next prototype. We shall see. But I’m really happy with bottom bracket drop and the overall handling of the bike so far. It climbs well, descends well and is well balanced on the ground and when it’s airborne. The long wheel base did not feel slow. It feels incredibly stable at speed and you can really rail turns. It’s as playful as I’d wish it to be. There’s a rock wall I’ve had my eyes on that I know I can jump. You come out of a field with a head of steam on a short down hill section into a pair of gradual bends that set up the rock wall crossing to be jumped. So you can get a head of steam and then push down on the suspension to load the bike up before you get up and over that rock wall. This bike gave me the confidence to go for it. When I got that first head of steam coming out of that field I was committed and before I knew it, I was completely airborne in a full tuck. Man. What a feeling when you finally go for something you’ve had your eye on for some time. Mind you, this is my kind of riding. Nothing huge. Just fun jumps, jibs, rocks, turns you can lean into and rail. You know the drill: Mountain biking!

Snakedriver Proto No. 1

The biggest change will be the suspension linkage and the overall platform. I wanted a known platform so the bike does resemble a bunch of other brands work. The overall form and lines of the bike is in line with the bike I had been building, and I was very conscious and mindful not to directly copy any other brands work but the next version will be what I’ve had in mind all along: Single pivot linkage driven design. This will enable me to get more progression at the end of the bikes travel. The shock will be mounted low and bisect the seat tube to get weight a bit more centered and low inside the bike. This also can open up the front triangle a bit more to be able to fit a large water bottle on the down tube. I’ll also be refining the modular shock mount so I can offer an option to change the rear travel from 130 to 140mm. The rear swing arm will be quite different. Basically the concept is to have halves that are joined by a CNC’d “spline”. That’s all I’m saying. It should be pretty trick (and stiff!).

Snakedriver // Fox Float X2'd

Moving forward, the first priority is to dial in the 2nd prototype and get time out on the trail. Thinking broadly, the plan is to offer a made in the USA full suspension bike from my shop here in NH. I’ll look to do small batch runs of small, medium and large frames. If I get enough requests, I’ll also add an X-Large size to the lineup that will be produced in batches when I have commitments from enough riders. But this will be a stock frame set initially offered as a steel front triangle with steel rear triangle. I’ll most likely have 2-3 stock powder coat colors for the front triangles with black Cerakoted rear triangles (this is due to the construction technique I’m intended to use for mating parts). For those who don’t want a stock color, I’ll have an upcharge for custom colors. Eventually, there will be a titanium front triangle hop-up option but that’s down the road once the platform is ironed out. The Snakedriver will be available as a frame only, frame and shock kit, frame, fork and shock kit or any combination of components on up to a complete. I want maximum flexibility for customers but know this will be a stock frame offering. It will not have custom geometry or fitting available. But I’ll definitely do my homework on the Small, Medium and Large frames to fit the widest swath of riders out there and leverage my experience in the custom market with fit and handling to maximize how these bikes perform through their range of sizes so it’s a consistent experience. That’s really where my Industrial Design background will come into play and what really sets me apart from just about every single builder out there: I consider ever single detail and weigh its importance to the whole but from a design background. If it’s not important or integral to the design, it’s not necessary. Making something as simple as possible is the tough part. But that’s what I’m up for and pride myself with each bike I produce. Rest assured, the Snakedriver will be exceptional in this case.

Here’s some details of the build:

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

And a few parting shots of the build:

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

44 Bikes // Snakedriver FS Prototype

This winter I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date on progress and sneak in some spy shots of progress. I’ll be sure to share here on the 44HQ Blog as well as my Instagram account @44bikes. So till then, I hope everyones getting out for rides and staying safe! Keep the shred and the stoke high!

PS: For those interested, here’s the complete build set from start to finish via Flickr.