Review and Photos by Michael Lindsay
Wandering the pits at a Supercross race can reveal some pretty trick parts on the top team’s bikes. Earlier this year, I spotted a unique set of triple clamps on Ryan Dungey’s KTM. Instead of standard solid bar mounts, they’d been replacedwith little air shocks! My first thought was about how cool an idea this was, but it was quickly followed by, “There is no way you can buy these.” Well, I was wrong. These clamps are built by a French company known as Neken, and they’re for sale to the public. So we snagged a set of their SFS (Smooth Feeling System)clamps and put them to a long-term test.
Neken SFS Triple Clamp Features:
- Built in adjustable shock absorber bar mounts.
- Available as top clamp only, or as a complete set.
- Currently available in blue, red, and orange for most major motocross models.
- MSRP $739.95 top clamp/ $929.95 complete set.
Trick, trick, and trick. This is the first thing that popped into my mind as I unboxed these gorgeous clamps. I felt like I’d stolen these straight from a factory team’s race shop! Since we decided to test a top/bottom clamp set, our box included a top SFS clamp and bottom clamp with steering stem. Installation for these clamps took a tad bit longer than usual, mostly because the lower clamps didn’t come with a bearing pre-pressed on. The majority of clamp sets sold nowadays, come with a bearing already pressed onto the stem. This meant I had to order an OEM one separately (Update: The next production batch of lower clamps will include a bearing pressed on). Beyond that, it goes fairly quickly. Especially since the top clamp has the bar-mount shocks already installed. Because of the design of the bar-mount, you must use an open-end wrench to tighten the steering stem nut. The lower bar-mount has a cross piece that blocks any access to the nut with a socket.
Once the clamps are installed, the torque settings are located above each grouping of bolts (a nice touch). Then you can set the air pressure on the bar mounts. There is only one Schrader valve, which feeds both shocks evenly. Neken recommended we used an air pump with a finer adjustment than the average pump offers (because of the low overall volume). Even most shock pumps that you would use to adjust a set of air forks seemed inadequate (I tried), as they don’t bleed slowly enough to set the pressure accurately.
On the Track
To start things out, I tested the clamps with 120 PSI in the shocks. This was equivalent to using a solid bar mount, and gave me a base feeling as which to judge the capabilities of these clamps. After getting some solid time in with them (literally solid!), I started dropping the pressure five PSI at a time. Once it dove below 100 PSI, you could start to feel the way these clamps worked, and the difference they made.
I’ll be honest, going into this I was fairly certain I’d feel an odd sensation when the bars would drop away as the shocks compressed. I’m usually extremely sensitive to bar movement, but that wasn’t the case with the SFS. Could I feel them moving? Yes, but the consistency and the way they moved was different than I expected. I imagined the bars dropping away, but when you think about it, they’re compressing as the bike comes towards them (such as when the bike hits a bump). So even though the bar mounts move, you don’t get the sensation that the bars are moving. Especially because the shocks move together so seamlessly, and the tolerances are so tight, that you don’t feel any rocking in the bars or bar-mount themselves. This leaves you feeling like you’re in complete control, actually improving your connection to the bike. But all the while, the shocks are compressing as the bike comes towards you, which takes the edge off of impacts.
This was at its best when I found my personal sweet spot, which was at about 60 PSI. At this point, I still had enough damping force, but without the shocks blowing through the stroke. If I went below this (about 50 PSI or less), I could actually feel the bar mounts bottom out with a thud into the clamps. For the most part, 60-70 PSI was the best range to stay in. On a few tracks, which mostly consisted of large jumps and harsher landings, I could get the occasional bottoming feeling at 60. In response, I would bump the shocks up 5 PSI at a time until it no longer occurred.
The advantages of these clamps became more obvious as the tracks became rougher, especially on a choppy, hard-packed track. In these situations, I could put the front end where I wanted without as much effort, mostly because the clamps took that extra harshness out of impacts. This was most apparent when the front end was diving under the forces of heavy braking. At this point when the front end is deeper into the stroke, and more weight is transferred there, braking chop can feel more vicious. This can make the task of entering a rut even more difficult. But the secondary suspension these clamps provide takes away from that abrupt feel of each bump. This allowed me to keep my control over the front of the bike, without it jittering around, and throwing me off balance.
The SFS shocks have kept a consistent feel, even with around four months of solid use. Also I couldn’t detect an loss in performance during long motos. I actually expected a bit of fade, but this never occurred. Neken also claims that the shocks never need to be serviced.
The Last Word
First, the minuses. The clamps are definitely on the pricey side, and the bar mounts have no fore/aft adjustment. For me personally, this was fine, as it’s set more to the rear of the clamp, which was about where my normal setup would be. But lankier riders who prefer their bar mounts forward in the clamps may have a problem.
The pluses are obvious, these things work! What may look like a gimmick is actually a great advantage. Especially for riders suffering from arm pump or hand numbness, this could be the solution for you. Especially on choppy, hard-packed tracks. If you’re looking to improve your connection to the front of the bike, while keeping your arms from turning into bricks, the SFS triple clamps from Neken is a top-of-the-line option. Even though the performance is spot on, we do mark it down a bit for its price, lack of bar position options and lower bearing, thus the 4 star rating.
Vital MX Rating
Check out Neken.EU for more information on available models and where to purchase.