For a first effort, Cane Creek has totally nailed this fork
The Cane Creek Helm Air has taken five years to develop and is made entirely in the USA. With beefy 35mm stanchions and a chunky wheel arch. It looks a lot like other forks that go up to 170mm travel, but does things a little differently inside.
Travel is adjustable in 10mm increments between 100 and 170mm, and the air spring has a nifty adjustable seal on a wing nut, which can be set by hand across 8 positions to increase ramp up (rather than using plastic spacers).
The Helm also has the ability to fine-tune the influence of the negative and positive air chambers. The pair are self-balancing and settle on the sweet spot for most riders, but for a more active feel off the top and bigger ‘push’ into the travel, it’s easy to release air from the upper positive spring and increase the negative’s influence.
Clamping the lower legs, a ‘D-Lock’ QR 15mm axle slots into a locking retainer tab and is also keyed to resist twisting under any torsional loads while riding hard. The Helm’s fork offset (or rake) is 2mm less than most at 44mm too, which increases trail and offers a more stable steering feel.
Different from the circulating twin tube design Cane Creek is famous for, the Helm uses a sealed cartridge with an expandable bladder to compensate for fluid displacement under compression (like most rival forks). There’s externally adjustable high and low-speed compression and low-speed rebound, with a fine-tuning range across the zone you actually use. To maximise damping performance, there’s no low speed compression ‘platform’ lever for climbing, but this isn’t something I missed.
All this adjustability is sweet, but the Helm just gets the job done from the first ride, so the extra level of tweak is more bonus than necessity, and you don’t need a PhD in suspension to make it sing. The fork wriggles hyperactively across even really small ripples with brilliant fluidity and control across rough root webs or repeated baby head rocks. The hydraulic action is super smooth and rounded and the Helm feels comfortable on hands and stable however hard you smash downhill.
One of its most impressive traits is how on big jump landings there’s a calmness to both the compression and rebound with no twitching or upsetting rider balance; something that had me landing on the front wheel just for giggles at how composed the bike felt. Whilst the Helm keeps the tyre glued to the ground for grip, it never feels ‘dead’ and is dynamic and supportive enough to push against for pump and lift off across rock gardens or exiting berms.
Two factors that might make Cane Creek’s deal slightly less compelling are how the ‘D Lock axle has become increasing sticky and difficult to install as crud has worked into the mechanism, and it’s also undeniable that it’s easier to get forks like the excellent RockShox Lyrik with similar RRPs for significantly less cash online.
For a first effort, Cane Creek has totally nailed this fork; it’s mega adjustable if you need it to be, but also performs superbly for all riders, not just tweakers or hard chargers. It’s still running smoothly after a UK winter with zero maintenance too.