Behind The Shock: An Interview with MLink Designer Luke Beale
Look closely at any four brands of mountain bikes, and you’ll probably notice something conspicuously different— the rear suspension. That’s because ever since the first full squish bikes debuted in the 90’s, mountain bikers have been on a quest to find the perfect solution to what seems like an intractable problem: how do you make the entire rear of a bike move without sacrificing pedaling efficiency, comfort and drivetrain performance?
Well, the folks at Fuji and Breezer think they’ve found the answer. It’s called MLink, and is found on all their new full suspension mountain bikes, like the Auric, Rakan, Supercell and Repack. MLink is short for Mid Link Length. Basically, it’s a suspension system that uses a four-bar, mid-length linkage—a sort of middle ground design between the usual short length and long length you’re used to seeing. But like 27.5” wheels, this middle ground design yielded some unexpected performance improvements. Far from a compromise, the MLink system might be the biggest improvement in suspension design in years.
But why exactly? Well, to answer that you would have to ask a mechanical engineer. Lucky for you, we found one.
Luke Beale, of Level One Engineering, is the designer of MLink, and he was kind enough to take some time to answer our questions about his suspension design.
6 Questions with Luke Beale
1. In simple terms, what is MLink?
MLink is a four bar, mid link length suspension system. Four bars means that there are four components to the system (the front triangle is considered ‘ground’, the first link element is the forward chain stay link connected to the main pivot on the front triangle, the second link element is the rear triangle, and the third link element is the upper link connected to the rear triangle and the front triangle). The mid link length distinguishes MLink from long link four bar systems like Horst Link systems and short link systems like VPP systems.
2. What makes MLink unique?
MLink is unique in having suspension characteristics more in common with short link systems like quick changes in performance variables (chainstay lengthening, pedaling anti-squat, and shock rate are examples of performance variables) while having lower loaded pivots similar to long link systems (the links rotate slower, so there is less impact loading on the bearings). The rear triangle is also triangulated with the upright on the left side to make it much stiffer than a long link system.
3. What benefits will the rider get from MLink?
MLink pedals really well and is plush - those are the goals for any bike - MLink is just a system that allows for the exact characteristics that make it achievable: high levels of chainstay lengthening in the portion of the travel where you spend most of the time pedaling with a quick drop off to low chainstay lengthening deep into the travel to handle big impacts.
4. What was the inspiration for MLink?
MLink was really the result of looking for ways to achieve suspension performance goals without being constrained by starting with pivot locations. MLink ended up being pretty simple and unique, but that was a side benefit of trying to make the best system possible.
5. What kind of rider is going to benefit from MLink?
Honestly, any rider would benefit from MLink. I guess if I had to pick any particular type of rider, I’d say the riders that enjoy technical climbing and then fast technical descents. The bikes make challenging climbs a lot more fun.
6. What are the benefits of a progressive vs. a linear suspension system?
Progressive suspension kinematics require more shock travel relative to wheel travel as the suspension compresses. Linear suspension kinematics require the same shock travel relative to wheel travel as the suspension compress, and repressive suspension kinematics require more wheel travel relative to shock travel as the suspension compresses. Generally, the shock rate of a system works with other performance variables to achieve the overall ride quality that is desired, and shouldn’t be looked at completely independently - that said, linear to moderately progressive kinematics typically work best with the widest variety of shock springs and dampers.
So there you have it. But of course, reading all about something is no substitute for riding it. So if you’re sold on the advantages of MLink and in the market for a new full suspension mountain bike, we’d definitely suggest you go ahead and take a good look at the Fuji Rakan and Auric, or the Breezer Repack and Supercell.
Thanks for reading, and as always, if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section below.