Trumps any other fork in terms of smoothness and calming fatigue by ironing out stutter bumps and high-frequency chatter
The air-sprung Helm Air has been around for a couple of seasons and with this new (heavier) Cane Creek Helm Coil version, the US brand is one of the few now offering a coil-sprung fork.
Cane Creek Helm Coil fork review
If you’re curious why adding extra weight to an already sorted damper and chassis design is a good idea; the major benefit in best summed up in one word -‘grip’. Pure, stuck-to-the-floor, cornering-speed-boosting grip.
Another bonus is coil springs reduce moving parts and air seal count inside, so should be simpler and more reliable internally than air forks. They also do away with mechanical manipulations needed to overcome breakaway friction in sealed air springs, which in turn amplifies off-the-top traction and sensitivity to rarefied levels air forks struggle to match.
On the trail, this should allow the Helm to trace every tiny ripple and bump and keep the front tyre stable and glued down, and, sure enough, over everything from wet rocks to small root webs to slippery mud, it delivers supreme grip and comfort.
Linear coil springs also alter a fork’s spring curve, which can be both a positive and a drawback. Typically, there’s a more supportive mid-stroke, but then less ramp up deeper in the stroke, and there’s also less ability to tune progression by balancing volume spacers and air pressure. Coils also obviously require swapping metal springs to tune exact spring rate, and lack the exact precision and ease of one-size-fits-all shock pump adjustment, which is a big reason they aren’t stock on many complete bikes.
Cane Creek’s Helm chassis (like the air fork) uses 35mm stanchions and a D-shaped axle with locking mechanism to deliver a stiff and solid unit, but you need to keep an eye on axle cleanliness over time to prevent grouchiness. External dials adjust spring preload and damping adjusters tune both high and low speed compression and low speed rebound, and control is excellent on both circuits. One caveat to this is, even fully open, the compression might be too firm for lighter, less aggressive riders, just like on the Helm air fork.
So with silky smooth damping, excellent grip and hand comfort, is this the best fork out there? Well almost, but there are some flies in the Helm’s ointment.
It’s a tad heavy, but more significantly, the full 160mm travel was unattainable, in part due to a compromise to overcome the fork’s tendency to top out on extension. Small, stacked, top-out spacers eliminate the associated annoying rattle, and, together with a chunky rubber bottom out bumper, eat into useable travel. I managed just over 150mm, earned on the heaviest uphill landing overshooting a big jump and presumably squishing the rubber bumper hard.
That said, this Helm Coil trumps any other fork I’ve used in terms of smoothness and calming fatigue by ironing out stutter bumps and high-frequency chatter. It clearly has supreme traction when leant right over on tyre edge blocks on off-cambers or super-slippery terrain, which means the Helm is a riot on a muddy day and really allows you to really take the mickey pushing the limits of traction. This is a massive benefit that will always rule over some of small negatives here for a certain breed of riders too.