Trust Performance’s The Message suspension fork came outta left field, launching a new way of thinking about mountain bike forks. More specifically, a new way of controlling the steering response by maintaining a constant trail figure no matter where the fork is in the travel. Compared to traditional forks, the trailing link design allows them to change the axle path in two dimensions.

Rather than just going straight up and down, the axle moves rearward as you hit a bump, keeping trail the same. In theory, this maintains consistent handling characteristics. But, how does that 130mm of shaped travel really work out on the trail?

The Message actual weights & box contents

what is included in the box with the trust message linkage suspension fork

There’s nothing about The Message that isn’t extremely well thought out. The packaging is premium, as are the included accessories, instruction manual and more. It comes with its own shock pump that has an extended nozzle (you’ll see why in a minute), torque wrench, volume spacers (called Huck Pucks), expanding steerer cap, and a pop-out sheet of extras.

What’s cool about the extras is that they’re not even all for The Message…there are bits and pieces you can use on other parts of your bike to better manage cables and hoses and other tidbits. It’s a nice addition that shows they’re really thinking about the entire ride experience.

trust message actual weight

The fork with uncut steerer comes in at 2kg (4.41lb). That’s on the heavier side of traditional forks in the same travel range, but there’s a lot more going on here. In addition to the whole linkage structure, it houses two air springs…one in each leg. And those legs are huge, providing a very stiff structure to keep everything moving up and down smoothly.

Tech specs & design features

trust message linkage fork review

The whole fork is carbon fiber, with metal pivot axles and bearings, plus pins to keep everything in place.

trust message linkage fork review

On the right leg are an air spring valve (top) and two compression damping knobs (bottom). All setting points come with stickers to highlight the areas where you’ll need to adjust something.

Airing (or maybe erring) up

trust message linkage fork review

The left leg has the other air spring, and a sag meter. What’s really cool about the sag meter is that it stays in position at the deepest compression. During setup, this helps you set sag with out a friend (just push it down once you’re in position). On the trail, it makes it really clear how much travel you’re getting, so you know if you need to adjust anything.

Trust suggests starting with air pressure that matches your body weight in psi, but their PR rep suggested that we could run it up to 10% lower than that. And that’s where it gets tricky to form impressions, because that difference in pressure creates two very different riding impressions.

I weigh 187lb before kitting up, but I ran 170psi (on each side, you have to run the same pressure in both air springs) and still didn’t get through all of the travel even on some rough, rocky trails that easily could have outgunned this fork. The majority of this test, and 100% of my video review, is based on that setup.

But, I wanted to also test it at the manufacturer’s suggested setting, so I pumped it up to 190psi (me plus shoes, clothing, etc.) and headed back out on the trail. Keep reading to see how it went…but first, a bit more about the fork’s features.

trust message linkage fork review

trust message linkage fork review

The air spring caps are tooled, required a hex wrench to remove them since you can’t get your fingers in there. The medium and high speed compression settings allow you to set the compression rate to your liking for two of the settings offered by the switch on the top of that leg. This is another nice touch not found on other forks…at least not with this level of range.

The third option on the top switch is firm, essentially a lockout with a bit of give.

trust message linkage fork review

The fork will worth with 15×110 axles using the bolt-on clips shown here. Remove them to run Rockshox Torque Cap front hubs.

trust message linkage fork review

Below the air springs are bottom out bumpers, and the rebound knob is on the left side.

How does The Message compare to regular forks?

normal telescoping mountain bike fork
Composite image with Trust Message ghosted over the Fox 34. Both photos are of the complete bike, which shows how similar the starting position is for both forks.

If you look at the side profile of my bike in the top image of this post, it just looks like the fork sticks way, waaaay out in front. So I was really surprised to see that it puts the front axle in virtually the same exact starting point as the 130mm Fox 34 that comes on the Niner JET9 RDO. Watch the video below to see them overlaid in all positions.

how does the trust message compare to a fox or rockshox fork

how does the trust message compare to a fox or rockshox fork

They also end up a similar position when fully compressed, shown above on a 135mm tall block of wood, and flat on the ground, both full compressed to bottom out. Measurements with each fork were:

Fox 34 Message
Wheelbase 1190mm 1190mm
Axle-to-Crown 537mm 535mm
Ground-to-Headset* 832mm 830mm

*vertical measurement from the ground to the rear of the lower headset cup

The similarities would suggest the bike should handle the same with each fork, but that would be comparing apples to apples. That’s where The Message strikes off on its own to change the way fork travel affects steering response…

Trust Message Ride Review

For the most technical parts of our review, check this video for slow motion action, ride footage, visual comparison between the Trust Message and a standard telescoping fork, caster angle analysis, and more. Just keep in mind that this video was made before I pumped the fork’s air spring up to body-weight-matching psi.

Testing with my preferred, lower PSI setting

trust message linkage fork review

From a pure suspension performance standpoint, The Message seemed to absorb bumps incredibly well. From the smaller stuff around our local trails (pictures) to the rock gardens and more aggressive stuff in Dupont State Forest (video), it didn’t feel harsh. It’s performs especially well at speed, too, coasting through repetitive hits when you’re going fast. The level of adjustability makes me think most riders will be able to find a happy place between support and cushioning.

trust message linkage fork review

I left the fork in its Open setting most of the time, which is how I run all of my suspension most of the time. Because I like suspension. The Message felt supportive during climbing and hard pedaling, with just a bit of motion under standing efforts…but less than with traditional telescoping forks. It also seemed supportive when landing jumps, but gets out of the way quickly when hitting something big.

trust message linkage fork review

From a construction standpoint, it seems well built, though those are a lot of linkage points to wear out. We haven’t had it long enough to test how well it’ll hold up to years of riding. The only maintenance concern I have is that there’s a constant bit of oil coating the lower section. There was more immediately after the first ride, which Trust’s rep told us was normal. But even after wiping that off, there’s a slight sheen that seems to renew itself.

To be fair, if you hang a traditional fork upside down, it, too, will allow oil to seep through the seals and start to coat the crown…it’s just gravity at work. But still not something you want to see. Fortunately, it’s confined to the drive side, away from the front brake.

Here’s where things get weird

trust message linkage fork review

The real question is, how does it affect handling. If the suspension action is on par with other top-end forks, that’s what’s going to separate The Message from its competition. And, yes, it’s definitely different.

Because the wheel moves backward upon impact, it’s effectively shortening the wheelbase as you ride. So, while trail theoretically stays the same, the wheelbase is changing…as is your fore-aft weight balance. Which, to me, means there are competing forces at play. On the one hand, a consistently longer trail means the bike should remain stable. On the other, the shorter wheelbase means the bike will turn quicker. The effect is, well, different.

With this psi and set up, it changes how you drive the bike into fast corners, and it changed the handling in ways I didn’t care for. In a straight line and on rough stuff, I’d take it all day long. But decades of muscle memory driving regular forks around the turns made this one feel a little awkward.

It’s like a whole new fork

how much air pressure should I use in the Trust Message linkage fork

Up until this point, I’d intentionally ignored any other review or 3rd party opinions on the fork. I wanted my opinion to be solely based on my own observations, however, Zach had heard that other riders were having a very different experience than mine…that the fork was harsh, but handled really well. Could this really be a Jekyll & Hyde scenario?

how to get the right air pressure setting for the trust message suspension fork
With more air pressure in the fork, I was hard pressed to get more than 70% of the travel out of a normal ride…and that’s after reducing compression damping in both Open & Medium settings.

Well, yes.

The fork’s character changed dramatically. Handling was far better in every situation. From berms and high speed corners to the tighter slow speed stuff, the fork and entire bike was more predictable. Which would make sense if it’s not moving as deep into its travel, because (at least according my theory posited above), the wheelbase wouldn’t be changing as much. And it’s not moving through its travel as much. During a similar ride as earlier testing, I was hard pressed to get through 70% of the travel, despite landing jumps and trying to hit every root and rock at speed while firmly planted on the saddle and weighting the handlebars.

The downside to the better handling was, yep, a harsher ride. Which, at least according to Trust’s team, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Their design is focused on improving “stability, traction, and control”, and it does this by reducing fore-aft flex during impact, and reducing lateral flex during cornering. And, of course, by keeping that trail figure constant.

how much sag does the trust message linkage fork need
With the recommended PSI setting, I was only getting about 9% sag.

But what does it mean?

I spoke with their marketing manager, Ben Craner, to see what their intent was with The Message. He said frame manufacturers were asking Dave Weagle (Trust’s lead suspension engineer and co-founder) to design frames with lower BB’s and slacker head angles in order to make a bike handle better, and be more stable. And he could have done that, but at some point, the bike becomes unrideable. So he started looking at other ways to skin that cat. So, as Craner put it: “Do you want the cushy ride of a Buick? Or do you want the razor-sharp, track-inspired handling of a Porsche?” I’d be hard pressed to put it better than that.

They say people who want to ride really hard will like it. It’s tuned for that type of riding. And I’d agree. The harder I pushed it, the smoother it felt. It does seem to stay pretty well glued to the ground. There’s no noticeable flex during hard cornering. But, personally, I like a softer ride. Fatigue is a big detriment to long-distance performance, and the harder hits would wear out my hands, wrists and arms more quickly.

Which means, maybe this fork is right for you. Maybe it’s not. It kinda depends on what you’re going for. The technology story here is cool. It’s different, and whether that difference justifies the $2k price is up to you.

Should you try it? Absolutely. Because you’re different than me, and they offer a 30 day guarantee so you can try it risk free on your own bike and your own trails. Or check out their dealer locator to find a bike shop near you that has one to demo.

TrustPerformance.com

20 COMMENTS

  1. Dating myself, but, these strike me as a modern update to the late 90s – Offroad/K2 forks. they also had a J travel pattern that shortened up the wheelbase as they got deeper into the travel…. which led to some very interesting crashes when you were on a steep, just behind the fulcrum of buck-me-off and then magically in front of the fulcrum. Welcome to terra firma.

  2. So… According to Trust smooth isn’t fast? I know that they’re challenging conventional wisdom in all sorts of ways but I’m having trouble understanding how Porsche style track inspired suspension (very firm for minimal excess movement on smooth surfaces) is desirable on the trail.

    Steering geometry aside, do you feel like the fork’s damper as tested compromises traction and control or improves them?

    • When I took this fork out for over 40 miles, I notice that it is faster than I expected. It stays glued to the ground like you would expect a track inspired Porsche to. Because of that, I experienced more feedback to my hands than I would have otherwise experienced. I compare this fork to the Fox Step-Cast 34 120mm. In corners, I felt like I held more speed through the corner with the Trust fork. I definitely took lines that I didn’t feel like I would have held traction with the SC34. The bike I installed the fork on has 120 mm rear travel. I feel like any more travel and the bike would out-gun the fork.

  3. The wheelbase change due to this fork’s axle path must be minimally different to a conventional fork. All bikes will shorten wheelbase under fork compression, even more so now with the trend for slack head tubes. I can’t imagine the extra 5mm or whatever it is having a significant impact to your weight transfer. If it is, move your saddle back 5mm, and try a shorter stem.
    I’m assuming Trust built in some anti-dive to combat the axle path’s pro-dive nature?

  4. I’ve had some time on this fork and it really is hard to describe. It is not as plush as a telescoping fork no mater the air setting, but it doesn’t feel harsh at all. That is the hardest part to describe: how it still does a good job without being as plush. The Porsche/Cadillac analogy is on the right track but not quite perfect. There are some other standout qualities though. The first is that axle path. It really is noticeable on the first inch or so of travel how it moves out of the way of the obstacle – which I really appreciate on slow technical climbing. The second is that it really doesn’t seem to dive as much as a telescopic fork which is always nice and a huge deal for me on steep techy downhill sections with rock steps. Also, The fork is incredibly stiff and it steers with amazing precision which is fantastic but actually takes some time to get used to as it doesn’t deflect as much. I paired it with a Giant Trance 29er (115mm travel) which is my everyday trail bike and the fork is a great match for it. Not sure I’d pair this with a bike with more than 130mm of travel, but anything under that probably is fine.

  5. I wanted to love these forks but…. If you land flat they don’t work at all, which for me is madness. A fork at this price should be perfect in every scenario not a compromise.

  6. Rode one at Sea Otter, on the trails and slalom track (wished i raced it), Frickin Fast!! Corners like a dream, climbs well, and soaks up head on stuff super well. maybe the cushyness can be tuned in. Definitely different, but darn cool I’ll admit.

  7. “But decades of muscle memory driving regular forks around the turns made this one feel a little awkward.”

    That MIGHT be the whole issue, right there.

    Also, Tyler, you might have missed the sentence about actually increasing pressure in the ride review portion (or I need more coffee).

    Great to see new approaches. Not sure this is the ne plus ultra.

  8. Your impressions are pretty different to those of Mike Levy at Pinkbike. There could be lots of reasons for this, but I’ll provide my unprompted speculations as to why (this is the comments section afterall). The trails in your photos look much flatter than the trails here in coastal BC. Maybe this fork excels on less steep trails? Your bike looks to have pretty “old school” geo (wow that rear center is short!) which will have an effect on the feeling the fork in relation to the bike. A longer slacker bike would likely respond a bit differently, whether good or bad- I don’t know. The suspension system of a MTB is pretty complicated with a head spinning number of variables present on the just the bike alone.

    I haven’t ridden a linkage fork yet, but I’m going to get the chance to put a Motion linkage fork on my modern geo trail bike in a couple weeks. I have no idea how it’ll go, but I’m excited to try it out!

    I think what would really need to happen for a linkage fork to work well would be for someone to design a bike from the ground up with a proprietary linkage fork as part of the suspension design so the front and rear suspension characteristics match and are tuned to work together cohesively. This would require a lot of testing and prototyping ($$$).

    • There is such a bike- check out Structure Cycle Works’ full suspension bike. Its linkage fork goes a step further than either the Trust fork or the Motion one- as the fork compresses, the head angle actually slackens quite a bit, so the bike gets stabler as the fork compresses.

  9. Interesting you bring up the wheelbase changing. I would think that the wheelbase change would be less on the linkage, not more as on a telescoping fork, especially in cases where head angles are super slack. have you measured c-c of the hubs with both forks at full extension and full compression to verify the claim? both forks will have a rearward component to their movement, I just anticipate the linkage units to have less of one over all.

    • I always thought the RS1 was junk; it looked like it was created for no other reason than to make the frame blend more smoothly into the fork. It was a design that came with no meaningful advantages. They even used a giant 27mm axle- then sabotaged the improvement that would have brought by using a 15mm one that went inside it. Heavy, torsionally flexy, twice the price of a conventional fork… Ugh.

  10. I wonder if the seals required to support the PSI in body weight (as they were designed for originally) would have significantly more stiction that those in a telescoping fork. Not only that, but this fork uses air springs in both sides -vs- one side for a regular fork. The damper (thru-shaft) also has extra seals, which may contribute to the harshness.

    The main key to good handling seems to be how high it rides in the travel. It’s difficult to see how they can retain that without ending up with an oversprung and overdamped fork.

    • I doubt that the added air spring and a thru-shaft damper would add so much stiction that the fork would end up having more overall stiction than a traditional fork, with its flexy legs and bushings instead of bearings. But I could be wrong.
      Also, one reason this fork rides high in its travel may be because it has a j-shaped axle path- the initial movement of the axle is backwards and not vertical, so your weight sitting on it will not cause as much sag. Of course, less sag is also a problem in itself- negative travel helps the fork stay glued to the ground, too.

      • So, go ahead and suggest a reason why most testers find it to be SO harsh. There has to be a reason, even if you SOMEHOW don’t think that heavier seals IN MULTIPLES won’t cause extra harshness.

        Do you have an interest in this product, financially? are you sponsored, or do you work for this company?

        • Sheesh, dude. I didn’t say the testers didn’t find it harsh. I did agree with you that multiple seals would create stiction/ harshness, but that the fact that the fork uses links instead of flexy telescoping tubes means there will be overall less stiction, in spite of the issue of multiple seals. And no, I don’t have this fork, don’t want to buy one, have no sponsorship from them, etc.

          • I’m speculating that the harshness is from the damper/valving design. They may have been really limited for space in the fork. The valving may have suffered. If you can’t move a lot of fluid fast, you’re going to have harshness. I doubt that it has more stiction than a telescoping fork. Even with more seals. Telescoping forks have a LOT of stiction.

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