Specialized’s Future Shock system is a unique approach to road bike suspension that focuses on the headset rather than the frame or fork.
Crank Boutique explores the technology and how it works.
Technology in Short
Specialized came at the road bike suspension conundrum very differently from other manufacturers – they teamed up with a Formula 1 manufacturer and ended up sticking a big spring in the headset.
- Manufacturer: Specialized
- Technology Type: Suspension, Compliance
- Availability: Proprietary – Specialized bikes only
- Models: Diverge, Roubaix
- Cost: N/A.
Specialized recently issued a recall for certain bike models with Future Shock installed due to issues with the headset. Please read the following sections for more information.
As part of the 2020 Roubaix line, Specialized have created an updated Future Shock cartridge, dubbed Future Shock 2.0. As well as addressing the issues that caused the recall in January 19, they’ve added new functionality in the form of an adjustable hydraulic damper that allows for more rider control over suspension speed. Broadly the functionality of the system remains unchanged, but it’s only the higher end models that get the new cartridge – lower end models get the “1.5” system which only addressed the mechanical faults exposed in the recall.
This is part of a raft of changes to the Roubaix which has seen it become more aero and additional compliance added at the rear end in the form of a new d shaped carbon seatpost and clamp which has been rolled out across all models for 2020.
What is Specialized Future Shock?
We’ve already covered another piece of road bike suspension in Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler, but the Future Shock is quite a different way of approaching the same problem. The Future Shock is a spring coil cartridge that sits in the headtube of the bike and provide additional compliance and comfort. The major difference between the Future Shock system is that the suspension element is not between wheel-fork-frame but frame-handlebar – the 20mm of coil suspension on offer does not impact the motion of the wheel or fork in any way.
The key reason for this is efficiency.
In mountain bikes the suspension fork (or fork and shock) have both a human and mechanical element. While modern carbon forks aren’t fragile compared to their forebears, they couldn’t cope with the mechanical stress of constant big hits that mountain biking entails. Similarly the rider of the bike would suffer severe strain from the force transferring to their limbs – as it is even with the best technology, many mountain bikers will experience the dreaded arm pump. The pay off for a not having a broken bike or body is a reduction in lateral efficiency and forward momentum as the fork/rear shock reacts to the impact.
A road bike doesn’t need to deal with the mechanical stress of mountain bikes, and with bikes generally rolling on bigger tyres these days – 25-28mm is fairly standard in 2019 – bikes have more in the way of cushioning than they ever have. Even on notoriously rough routes like the Roubaix, a modern 700c bike can deal with quite a lot, the human riding the bike is the weak point in the system. Anyone who had ridden pave, gravel or just plain terrible roads will tell you that it is exhausting – road bike “suspension” which has chiefly centred around building compliance or flex into the fork – is designed to keep people going for longer.
While the effect of these systems isn’t as extreme as in a mountain bike the effect is the same – loss of efficiency resulting in loss of speed.
The clever thing about Future Shock is that it provides 20mm of “suspension” that addresses the human system and not the machine. Housing the cartridge in the headset means that rough roads are smoothed out for the rider and all the work Specialized have done to make a fast machine isn’t compromised. Specialized did partner with McLaren to make this tech after all – seems like a bit much for a PR stunt!
While it might seem that the system may be soft and overly reactive, we’ve found that it actually takes a fair amount of force to depress the coil when you’re not riding even when the coil remains very active it smoothing out chatter. The Future Shock comes with three different springs for riders of all shapes and preferences however.
The unit is available on Diverge, Roubaix, Ruby and Sirrus bikes.
Does Future Shock Work & How Has It Reviewed?
While friends of Crank Boutique swear by their Roubaix, the team have only had a limited test drive on a Diverge. Press reviews have been very favourable.
2018 Specialized Roubaix Comp Review
The Roubaix has been built to protect you, and because it suspends the biggest weight in this moving mass (you), it also protects itself from those heavy forces enacting upon it when you hit an obstacle. The overall feeling is a bike with a magically smooth ride.
2018 Specialized Diverge Comp Review
As with the Roubaix and Ruby, the Specialized Diverge Comp includes Future Shock technology, although with a slightly different spring set up. However, it will still give you 20mm of travel.
The spring is progressive, meaning it doesn’t have the same spring rate throughout. It changes from around 150lb to 230lb, meaning it gets stiffer the further into the compression the spring goes, not only helping it from bottoming out on heavier impacts but helping you control the bike better too.
2020 Specialized Diverge Expert Review
Over bumpy terrain, the Future Shock is quite active and feels progressive. I never bottomed out, even coming down a few stairs or on small drops. Since the movement is vertically in line with the steering axis, there was no change to the bike geometry—the front end merely moves up towards you as your bar stays in place over a bump less than 20mm.
At least that’s the theory, though in reality your hands and arms will still feel the bumps, but they are muted. The Future Shock has some damping, and it never felt like the rebound amplified any of the bumpiness.
2020 Specialized Roubaix Pro Review
The comfort of the 2020 Roubaix is noticeably more balanced compared to its predecessor. The adjustability of the Future Shock 2.0 damping system is finely graded, allowing you to set it up precisely according to personal preferences. We usually rode with the damping system closed by two thirds, which gave us enough feedback from the ground. The Pavé seat post helps balance the feeling of comfort at the rear with the front, allowing you to take on even the roughest cobblestone roads as comfortably as possible.
We especially liked the minimal lateral compliance of the seat post. Thanks to that, the rear end doesn’t feel like an undefined cushion, but more like controlled suspension. Chapeau!
Are There Any Known Issues With Specialized Future Shock?
The Future Shock system has reviewed well, however out conversation mining has uncovered a few general issues and concerns. Additionally some models with Future Shock are currently under recall globally with an estimated 4,500 bikes affected.
Future Shock January 2019 Recall
On January 9th 2019, Specialized issues a global recall notices for certain models with the Future Shock cartridge installed. The specific reason provided by Specialized is as follows:
“Based upon reports from the field, the steerer tube collar on select Roubaix, Ruby, Diverge, and Sirrus bicycles may be susceptible to stress corrosion cracking. When that happens, it may result in a sudden loss of steering control while riding.
We are voluntary recalling the steerer tube collars on these bicycles and are replacing them with a new, improved collar which, together with an adjustment to the torque setting, will significantly improve the collar’s resistance to stress corrosion cracking.”
Specialized is asking any riders with models impacted to take their bike into authorised dealers. A full list of the models impacted and the statement from Specialized can be found here:
Please note that these issues appear to have been remedied in the latest models (dubbed 2.0) in MY20 bikes.
Future Shock Noise Issues
Some users have reported consistent impact related noises or squeaking from the headset cartridge. Fixes for these issues have been variable although his may be addressed with the replacement cartridge issued as part of the recall.