I have ridden Marin County’s classic Tamarancho Loop approximately 847 gazillion times. I have ridden it on full suspension trail bikes with 150mm of travel. I have ridden it on downhill-oriented super slack hardtail monsters. I have ridden it on steel frame 27.5-plus hardtails. I have ridden it on a rigid bike. And now, I’ve ridden it a 170mm enduro rig, bristling with electronics and technology beamed to my house from decades in the future.
Or, wait, that’s not right. The enduro bike was dropped off at my house by a giant team SRAM truck. The truck was coated in dirt and probably blood from a long tour of the West Coast touting RockShox’s newest game changing suspension system, called Flight Attendant. I can only assume that bike was beamed to RockShox factory from the future, because the suspension reads and reacts to the trail and rider input with enough speed to alter suspension characteristics before you even realize they need altering. ‘Flight Attendant’ is a meh name. Shoulda called it ‘PreCog.’
If it sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of Fox’s Live Valve system, which is also an electronically controlled suspension adjustment system, or even the Specialized Brain, the mechanical version that’s been around for a while and is designed to tailor the suspension to the real-time demands of the trail. I’d love to compare all of them for you, but I can’t, because I’ve only ever ridden the Specialized Brain before, and, frankly, couldn’t tell it was there until I was told about it later. And not only have I never ridden a Fox Live Valve system, I’ve never even seen one in person. It might work great, I have no idea, but it looks bulky and unfinished in photos. The RockShox version is streamlined and thoroughly integrated, as though it was designed to be fit to the bikes that feature it. And that’s because it was.
Anyway, back to the trail. Tamo is a XC rider’s dream, roughly 10 miles, depending on entry and exit point, with lots of climbing—some of it technical, a bermy flow trail, lots of climbing, fast flowy twists and turns through redwoods and manzanitas, lots of climbing, one minor huck to flat, and, right, lots of climbing. I think it’s probably best and most comfortably ridden on a short-travel full suspension rig, or a hardtail with plenty of squish. I would not normally ride a Specialized Enduro with a massive 170mm ZEB fork on a trail system like Tamo, because pedaling that kind of bike for that long would well and truly suck. Usually.
It did not suck at all with the new Flight Attendant system. It was far, far from suckage. So far from suckage, I sheepishly asked about the possibility of purchasing the testing bike after my ride. Sadly, it is also far, far from affordable. More on that later.
Flight Attendant’s chip uses an algorithm to decide on proper suspension settings instantaneously, and, here’s the crazy part, predictively, at least kinda. There are modules on the fork (I rode a ZEB, but it will be available as well on Lyrik and Pike forks), the shock (a RS Super Deluxe Ultimate on my tester), and a sensor in the cranks. The system is measuring what you just rode through the instant you rode through it, and rider input is measured through the crank arms to tell the computer how you’re pedaling, and the system reads the trail, and the bike’s relative position on it, to make precise changes to firm or soften suspension. All done wirelessly through SRAM’s AXS system.
For all the complexity, Flight Attendant is easy to boil down: It makes riding easier. It really is that simple. I’m already far from a suspension nerd. I set my sag once, set the PSI in my fork, and off I go, pretty much for the life of the bike. I know I should concern myself with the vagaries of proper rebound settings, and be mindful of what the hell’s going on in my fork, but I have a family, and other interests, and like, maybe one hour to ride each weekday, tops, so I just wanna get out there and get riding, thank you.
Somehow, Flight Attendant is even simpler than that. On bike delivery day, you spend about 5-10 minutes—at the most—setting your sag, adjusting fork psi, tilting the bike sideways for a moment (for reasons I didn’t quite understand) to calibrate everything properly, and that’s literally all you ever have to do again, other than charge the electronics that run the bike. You can get way into the weeds with the app and micro adjustments and memorized settings, or you can set it and forget it.
Ha, but that’s what I already said I do with my bikes anyway, the careful reader points out.
Yeah, that’s true, but while I rarely ever adjust my suspension again, Flight Attendant adjusts the suspension for me, so I can ride like someone who is fanatically obsessed with dialing in their suspension, except Flight Attendant does it every 5 milliseconds.
It takes a big, burly bike like the Specialized Enduro, and turns it into something that pedals uphill like a light-footed short-travel bike. It makes everything more predictable and easy. Traction is better, rough landings are better, it’s just a better riding experience.
And you really don’t notice it’s happening. Well, that’s not entirely true. You can hear little motors occasionally manipulating the fork’s suspension settings, and there are lights on the module that sits on the fork to tell you whether you’re in open, firm, or pedal modes, but other than that, you just get on and pedal, and the bike will be in the best possible suspension setting at all times.
At one point, I pondered turning the system off before a small three-foot or so drop because I didn’t want the suspension being lulled into the firm setting by the smooth trail leading to the drop. The RockShox experts with me said, nah, leave it on, check out what happens. Sure enough, I was in firm mode on the way to the drop and as soon as I was over the edge and the computers felt my wheels spinning in open air, the suspension instantly gave me full travel and I landed softly and in total control.
I did turn if off shortly later, and instantly it felt like I was pedaling on two flat tires. The size and burl of the Enduro immediately became apparent, as did all the travel I was bobbing through. After a mile or so of that nonsense, I flipped the system back on and the efficiency skyrocketed.
I should also point out that you can also outsmart the system, or, out dumb, it, rather. If you set your fork up with crazy psi, or have the rebound set disastrously wrong, Flight Attendant can only operate within those physical parameters you’ve set.
Now, you may not like the idea of this at all. There is an argument to be made that, similar to, say, traction control in a car, it’s dumbing down the experience of riding. And, okay, if that’s your jam, I get it. Of course, it’s impossible to make constant minute adjustments to your suspension by hand, but still, I can certainly see why someone would prefer not to have electric gizmos whirring away on your bike, and an algorithm making bike handling decisions for you.
That’s fine, because I don’t either. You could spend a whole bunch of money on a system that is constantly adjusting your suspension, or you could also just leave it open and pedal bob a little bit. You’re not gonna die at the extra work, is my feeling. But damn, this feels like the future.
It would also make it very easy and super tempting to pony up for a bigger travel bike than you’d normally consider. Perhaps just in case you wanna hit a bike park for shuttle laps some time, and you also want to pedal your way into and out of big hits and sketchy drops out in the middle of nowhere, but you don’t want to deal with the climbing penalty. That, to me, is the promise of Flight Attendant (or, potentially, Live Valve). All things being equal, a suspension system like this would make it silly to own a burly enduro bruiser, and a short-travel trail bike. Just get the bruiser and the Flight Attendant system will turn it into a short-travel rig for you.
It was smart to have me test the system on a bike like the Enduro. While it pedals better than you might think without the system turned on, you immediately feel when a bike with this much travel is smartly locking the suspension. Far more than you would on a more nimble, shorter-traveled machine.
Anyway, yeah, it’s expensive, and you knew that part was coming. The bike I rode—are you sitting down—would run you $12,500. L-O-L. Granted, it was an S-Works Enduro, already a very pricy super bike. RockShox will, however, be releasing the Flight Attendant system in six total bikes from Specialized, Canyon (the Spectral and the Neuron), Trek (Slash), and YT (the Jeffsy and the Capra), and as of the time of this writing, I don’t know the pricing for those bikes. Obviously, we can assume bikes from DTC brands like Canyon and YT are gonna be way cheaper than the S-Works version of the Enduro I rode. But we don’t know how much cheaper just quite yet.
This is a whole bike kinda package, by the way. The particular geometries of the bikes have to be taken into account to calibrate the Flight Attendant brain, so you can’t just slap the system on any old bike. The module on the shock is kinda big too, larger than a piggyback, so frame space is gonna be tight, so for now, those will be the only bikes in town, though the plan is to make it available on more frames, eventually.
For what it’s worth, the ride that day on Tamo was smooth sailing, and other than the extreme length of the Enduro, it was a cupcake. The next day, I rode a slightly more tech trail on my 27.5-plus bike, and was pitched over the handlebars twice, once right into a tree. Would that have happened on the future bike? I don’t know. I do know that even though it tried to hurt me, I’ll always prefer my steel frame and fewer, if any, pieces of electronic gadgetry on my bikes, to one that looks a little like Lobot from the Cloud City of Bespin.
But if you’re the sort of rider who demands the very best, or is serious enough about racing that a smart suspension system will benefit, you will absolutely love Flight Attendant. Feels like the future.