Very much a serious contender as an all-mountain bump smasher
Available in both air and coil versions, Cane Creek Helm Air MK2 has been significantly updated with the primary goal of lower friction.
This V2 is improved in almost every major department, with a newly-designed damper, air spring and D-Lock bolt-thru axle. The new graphics and finish also look way slicker to our eyes too.
The sealed, expanding bladder damper has a slippier SKF oil seal head, fresh compression and mid-valve circuits and runs on thinner, 2.5-weight, Motorex oil. This will flow more readily for greater suppleness, and the lower viscosity oil should deliver a lighter touch than the older Helm’s very supportive ride that best suited aggressive riders. The new casting also uses new (blue) SKF wiper seals to reduce friction between lowers and the 35mm stanchions.
The MK 2’s air spring is bigger volume too, so runs lower pressures and uses a new piston design to slide more freely. There’s also an easier-to-adjust seal head that uses clip on spacers to change travel (between 130 and 160mm travel on this 29er version). The air spring needs to be balanced manually, which is done by a bleed valve at the foot of the lowers, and you can slightly ‘load’ the negative for a more ‘sucked-down’ ground-tracing feel, at the expense of overall travel if you want. Positive air volume is tuned by dialling a piston inside with a wing-nut, rather than adding or subtracting tokens – this alters the progression and spring curve.
Cane Creek’s new damper really impresses straightaway. It’s very composed and responsive over repeated hard hits and floats across rock gardens and horrible roots on blown-out downhill tracks with assurance. The damping range is fully useable and it’s easy to set the fork up ‘light’ if you’re after a really fluid, active feel.
In terms of handling high-speed hits, such as landing big jumps or slamming into roots at speed (even with rider weight accidentally pitched forwards), there’s a smoothness in the way it absorbs energy that matches the best dampers here, such as Fox’s Grip2.
Stock grip and suppleness is good, and the negative spring does well with off-the-top sensitivity, but there’s still marginally less of a ‘hovercraft’ feel over finer, vibration, washboard terrain than super sensitive forks like the DT Swiss F535 One. Harder chargers will reduce the positive air spring volume for more support deeper in the travel, but that’s easy with the Helm’s design. One minor niggle is the rebound circuit is a bit wheezy, and noisier than other forks on test.
The Cane Creek Helm Air MK2 does everything Cane Creek claims, making it a serious contender as an all-mountain bump smasher. We prefer the new axle design, and it looks and performs better than its predecessor. It’s easy to set up and achieve a high level of performance without jumping through hoops, and for a boutique product with such sophisticated damping control it can be bought for a very reasonable price.