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The Inner Workings of the Next Generation: Chris Chance and his Latest Shock-a-Billy

Since we are celebrating our 25th anniversary we thought it would be fun to dig through our archives and share some of the articles and news we published on MORE’s first printed newsletter, “Trailhead.” Over the next few weeks we’ll “Throw back Thursday” and share some of these with you.

The item below appeared in MORE’s March/April 1997 issue shortly before we raffled off the Shock-a-Billy frame generously donated to the club by Chris Chance of FAT City Cycles. Then President Dan Hudson put together this article with details about the frame and the raffle.. Enjoy!

In my new duties as “Head Honcho of Raffle Operations,” I’ve been sharing a lot of time with the Fat City Shock-a-Billy. Spend even a few moments looking at its details, especially in the form of the rear-end, and it is obvious Chris Chance put a whole heap of thought into this thing before wheeling out FAT’s second generation full suspension steed. But there are many other highly regarded sprung rides out there which attempt to solve the problems inherent in suspending a bicycle in completely different ways. How did Chris arrive at what he thinks is the ultimate form of mountain bike suspension? Through the magic of e-mail and the INTERNET, I got to ask him…


MORE: Describe the Shock-a-Billy in one sentence.

FAT: More than just a good giggle on rough downhills!

MORE: MTB suspension has grown in fits-and-starts. The first design which gained widespread acceptance was the original “Amp”: low pivot at the bottom bracket, shock inline with the seatstays, and extra pivots by the rear dropouts. Many full suspension bikes, including the first-generation Shock-a-Billy, borrowed these concepts. While it provided the first practical cross-country suspended ride, there was still much room for improvement. The long stays were flexible. The shock was asked to handle lateral as well as compressive loads, leading to a lot of maintenance headaches. The extra pivots also added to maintenance. And brake performance for traditional cantilevers on the rear was compromised as there was no way to pull from the center as required. In an effort to correct these problems, designs have again diverged. Trek went for a “unified rear” on their Y bikes, GT uses a “four bar linkage” technique on the LTS series, and Cannondale continues to refine the old “cantilever beam” approach. The new Shock-a-Billy uses yet another approach, a variation on the original “Amp” where the shock is isolated by a rocker_ Why did you go this route instead of one of those chosen by Trek or GT or…?

FAT: There’s a lot that we liked about the AMP design and a lot that needed improvement. We went to a rocker design on the seatstays to remove the shock from part of the structure of the frame, to provide better control of the rear wheel and better braking. We moved the main pivot to midway between the large and middle chain rings to minimize the adverse effects of chain tension through the range of gears in those two chain rings. When in the small ring, there is a slight tendency to pull the rear wheel down, thus aiding in traction in steep climbs. The swingarm and pivots have all been beefed up to further minimize flex, thus providing more control over the wheels, All of the pivots have been thoroughly sealed, in an effort to minimize water and soil intrusion which contributes to bearing wear. I think we’ve done a really good job with our custom designed seals and oil ports in the main pivots.

MORE: All suspension frames tend to be “busy”. After all, placing a hinge in the middle of a bike frame is going to require a little bit of extra material! As a result, many full suspension frames are made from aluminum to save weight. Even diehard steel fans like Ibis have used aluminum in their full suspension rides. Yet FAT continues with steel for the Shock-a-Billy. Why?

FAT: We’ve built our Shock-a-Billy with chromemoly because we’re able to get the material to do what we want. Our expertise with chromemoly is unsurpassed and our goal is first to refine the frame design, pivots and seals; and second, to focus on weight reduction, where appropriate_ We’ve built and sold several hundred original Shock-a-Billys and have learned the pluses and minuses of working with an aluminum rear end. As a result, we chose to build our new full suspension rear end using chrome-moly, as it was the most versatile given the frame design. Where you have space constraints between the chainrings and the tire, we can maximize clearance and stiffness with chrome-moly because of its greater stiffness.

MORE: I have heard rumors of a linkage retrofit for the Shock-a-Billy which will boost its travel. What is the latest?

FAT: Our Shock-a-Billys have been designed as cross-country bikes, not downhill-specific bikes. We are more committed to this aspect of the sport and have concentrated our efforts accordingly. We have no plans to design any retrofittable increased travel rockers at this time.

MORE: A more general question… Is full suspension the direction mountain biking is heading? In the past, we’ve had members of MORE dabble in it to come back to their hardtails. How does the Shock-a-Billy fit into the scheme of things at FAT?

FAT: Full suspension is here to stay. All off-road vehicles have full suspension and there will be customers who favor increased comfort and ease of mobility in rough situations, for whom the Shock a Billy will be a joy to ride. However, there will also always be people favoring a lower tech approach and, perhaps, less aggressive terrain, where a hardtail paired with a suspension fork will deliver the performance they’re after. Note, too, that we are seeing an increase in demand for our Big One Inch forks (Fat’s premium rigid fork) which leads us to recognize that there may also be a long-term demand from a smaller segment of the market who prefer a rigid setup as a function of their particular riding styles and/or terrain. Cost, weight and maintenance are factors to consider when evaluating whether to go fully suspended or stick with a hardtail. We dig all of the combinations and try provide a wide enough range of frame designs to meet the needs of all of our customers.

Chris also asked me to forward the news that he is again his own boss. In 1995, FAT City got caught up in the swirl of buyouts and consolidation that struck the cycling  industry and for the last two years has been part of Serotta. Unfortunately, the move to upstate New York did not work out as everyone had planned. As of March 1st, Chris Chance became owner, for the second time, of Fat City Cycles.

So that is the word from the man himself. But how does it ride you ask? Well, club member Peter Webb got to have an extended six-week trial on the ‘Billy late last year. Comparisons are made to Peter’s personal steed, a FAT City Yo Eddy equipped with a Rockshox Judy. In general, “to compare it to my Yo would be very easy, (the Shock-a-Billy) handles just as good in tight singletrack as well as being great at high speed descents. The only real difference is at the end of a long ride, my body was not aching all over. Peter comments that he didn’t notice the additional weight, just enhanced performance due to the suspended rear.

The Shock-a-Billy tested came in at approx. 26 lb. versus Peter’s Yo which is a svelte 23 lb. Also, he made no mention of the unwanted “flex” or “‘wag” in the rear-end that plagues so many other suspended rides. I think the most telling comment on the Shock-a-Billy’s performance are Peter’s parting words_ “I liked it so much I’ve ordered one!”

I’ll conclude with just one paragraph of shameless groveling. If you have been on another planet for the past six months, you might not be aware that MORE is raffling off a Shock-a-Billy frame to benefit our trail projects, in particular Fountainhead. And it is not one of those lame-o deals where some company dumps last year’s model in some unsellable size and color on a desperate organization. The winner of our raffle gets a shiny new Shock-a-Billy built and painted to order!

Tickets are $10 each and the drawing is June 8th at the “24 Hours of Canaan.” You need not be present to win. If you’d like to purchase, or better yet, sell some tickets, contact Dan Hudson at (301) 345 5214 or see me at any MORE membership meeting. Every ticket sold is another tool, waterbar, or sign, making the trails better for all users in the region.

We thank FAT City for stepping up and doing its part. We thank our members who have or will rise to the challenge as well.