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Interview: Eric Carter and Suntour Suspension

MTB - Pinkbike Interview

  • Eric Carter, Photo: Dan Severson
  • Carter's prototype 650B wheeled Hyper
  • Eric Carter, Photo: Dan Severson
Eric Carter might be most associated with Hyper as of late, but the Californian has a racing history that spans thirty years and includes World Cup downhills, four-cross and dual slalom, as well as plenty of time spent winning behind the bars of a BMX race bike. Over the years he earned a reputation as one of the guys most in-tune with not only exactly how his bike was performing under him, but also how to alter and develop it to best suit his style and the course, a skill that he will now be putting to use at Suntour as the brand once known for their entry level offerings looks to expand into the high performance market. Suntour's work with Carter certainly makes sense given the recent release of their 200mm travel RUX downhill fork and the 160mm travel Auron, two products that Carter is helping to get the most out of. We caught up with him between test sessions to talk suspension, development work, and the future.

The official announcement that you'll be doing development for Suntour has just been released, but you've been on their suspension for awhile now, correct?
Yes, that is true. I have been doing development work and overall testing with Suntour for some time now. I started out on Marzocchi last year, but after the meltdown over there I contacted Suntour and asked about being a part of the family. Darren Salsbury at Suntour and I worked together at Mongoose on a number of projects in the past, so it was a no brainer for myself and just a matter of them having room for me.

You were known for providing very detailed feedback on the equipment that you were using during your racing career, often helping to develop bikes for the both the race team and consumers. Is it fair to say that this likely played a role in your signing at Suntour?
I imagine so. I call it my curse, haha! When I started getting good support back in the GT days when Steve Peat was on the team, I was always trying to get my setup 100% perfect instead of getting really close and then getting used to it. This approach worked out sometimes, but it also sometimes backfired when it came time to the race run. But like I said, I worked on a number of projects with Darren in the past, so he knows my sensitivity to what a bike is doing and my ability to communicate that, and I know that was part of the value that I bring to Suntour. After all, there are many factors to testing, but if you can’t communicate what you are feeling it is really difficult for the engineers to make changes.

It must be a very cool feeling to see your feedback used to advance the products that you're working on. Is there any specific development work that you're especially proud of?
Well, there have been a number of products that I have been involved with. I used to work on some of the BlackBox stuff, and we tested the air-sprung BoXXer back in 1999, a number of years before it hit the market. They also had a really trick four-way adjustable shock, as well as the Flood Gate stuff that had U-turn travel adjustment on it. I always used the U-turn function to dial in my steering via the head angle with the suspension so that my bike would always turn neutral - just one radius per turn instead of multiple corrections. Those were good times, and those guys really taught me how to test and how to provide feedback. Through all that test time I developed my own system that helps me isolate specific things that the bike is doing on various parts of a trail. The Kenda tires, which are part of my Legends series, has been very fulfilling, done really well, and been well received by consumers. And now, with Hyper actually developing bicycles from the ground up... Honestly, this was the deep end for me, but the learning curve has been vertical. I had no idea there was so much behind the scenes that happens before a rider ever gets to touch a piece of equipment. I am really looking forward to taking all of this knowledge and applying it to the Suntour product line to help them become a player on the performance side.

We've been impressed with the Suntour products that we've spent time on, including the new 160mm travel Auron, but do you think that they can bring the heat to FOX and RockShox when it comes to high-end suspension?
I think whatever Suntour focuses on, they can do it. Suntour is the largest producer of suspension forks in the world, and while a lot of those are lower-end models, that adds up to is a lot of financial horsepower. So if Suntour really wanted to jump in and take a market share at the World Cup level, I think they could. But the truth is that Suntour is a very conservative company when it comes to development, so I don’t see them purchasing big rigs team trucks on every continent and trying to take over that part of the suspension world.

As far as testing goes, will you be spending most of your time on mid and long-travel products like the Auron and RUX downhill fork?
I will ride anything that Suntour wants tested. But yes, as far as products that the public already knows about, I will be focused on the RUX for downhill and the new Auron 650B fork. The Hyper bikes will utilize 650B wheels, so it's a perfect fit for our bikes and the product line that Suntour is developing.

While not widely known, Suntour's performance forks feature serviceable cartridges that use a proven piston and shim arrangement. When testing, will you be trying different damper setups? What are some of the things that you're looking for?
This goes back to the goals of Suntour to provide user friendly products, with their Quick Service Product (QSP) philosophy being a perfect example of this - the QSP cartridge system is very serviceable, as well as being designed to be easily swapped out if there is an issue. First, I will be working to get the suspension to feel how I like it to feel for me personally, as well as endurance testing the system during that process. Yes, I can have a number of shim setups to easily swap out and compare, as well as the usual altering of oil heights and viscosity to see how performance is affected. If needed I can work on overall tunes that have the suspension coming out of the box to the consumer with descent performance in the middle of the clicker ranges, thereby giving consumers room to work with the suspension to optimize a personalized feeling.

You signed with Hyper in 2011, and we were able to see new prototypes at this year's Sea Otter that you helped develop. Will we see you racing on this bike, complete with Suntour suspension?
I have already been racing Hyper's 150mm travel, 650B all-mountain "fun bike" at the enduro series that I promote in Southern California. It's been fitted with the Auron fork and the Durolux shock, and I've also done a fair bit of riding on the RUX and Durolux forks. I also plan to race some Oregon enduro stuff, and when we get the new Hyper DH bike I will do some downhill races on that with the RUX, maybe even some of those Red Bull 12 Hour DH races. And then a couple trips up to Whistler to shake things out, of course.

A lot of riders are happy to see that Suntour's RUX downhill fork is now heading into production. What do you think it can offer over other options on the market?
It hits all of Suntour's targets when it comes to offering high performance, being user friendly in terms of tuning and service, and won't break the bank to do it all. The sooner that people get over the "Suntour makes cheap forks" idea, the sooner they will open themselves up to getting a fork that performs at a high level and can be serviced for sometimes hundreds less than what people are used it. The product is solid and feels good when you're riding, and you don’t have to be a member of the Mensa Society to set it up.
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Related Photos

  • Eric Carter, Photo: Dan Severson
  • Carter's prototype 650B wheeled Hyper
  • Eric Carter, Photo: Dan Severson

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