After a couple years and a ton of miles on my Winwood Muddy Cross fork, and after my recent swap to a Whisky No. 7 fork, I’m starting to get some impressions of the Whisky.
First, a brief history of forks on the Vaya:
Stock Vayas, in sizes 50-57cm have a fork that is 398mm axle to crown, with 50mm of rake. 58 and 60cm have a 45mm rake fork. My Vaya, as a 55cm frame, should have a 50mm rake fork. When the good gents at NCC built it up, I really wanted to use a carbon fork in lieu of the stock, somewhat unappealing steel fork that Salsa offered. At that time, it was before UCI had allowed disc brakes in cross, and there were really not a lot of options for a 700c disc brake friendly fork with reasonable tire clearance. Like, none. There were some steel options…you could drop megabucks on a custom ti fork…or you could?!?!? There was a mythical Nashbar fork (if you could bring yourself to use a Nashbar fork), and there were a few other forks that allegedly were in the world, but were impossible to find. I came across the Winwood Muddy Cross, and it seemed to check all boxes, except for rake. The Winwood was a 45mm rake fork. That said, it was used on tandems and in pretty extreme service, and was everything else I as looking for. I couldn’t find a new one on the shelf anywhere…but got lucky and found a ‘new in the box’ one on Evil-bay that I picked up for a song. It has served admirably through some pretty severe conditions.
The Whisky is also a 45mm fork. What exactly does that mean? Here’s a pic that I’m borrowing from this informative site:
Look at the two parallel lines running down from the headtube. The aft line, that runs from headtube to ground, is the theoretical center of the steering axis. The forward line (which is much shorter) is the parallel line through the center of the wheel. Rake is the measurement, forward and aft, of the distance between those two lines. More rake = more distance. A 50mm rake fork has an extra 5mm of distance between the back line (steering center) and front line (wheel center). Note that rake is measured perpendicular to the steering axis, and not parallel to the ground.
The other relevant measurement is trail…which is essentially the distance between the tire’s contact patch on the ground and the extended line through the steering axis. On the above picture, trail is the distance between where the tire hits the road and the line extended from the headtube to the road. Decreasing the rake (making the fork straighter) increases trail. Let me explain: look at the picture above, and assume you had a fork with 0mm rake (the fork was straight, and the center of the tire was directly centered on the line from headtube to ground). That would move the tire backwards. That would increase the distance from the tire’s contact point to the extended line from the headtube–and that measurement is the trail.
Here’s another, simpler photo from Wikipedia:
So assuming you have a constant headtube angle, decreasing rake increases trail. Increasing rake decreases trail. (As an aside, if you’re not confused yet…decreasing rake also decreases wheelbase, and vice-versa).
Practical impact on bike handling? Decreased rake = increased trail = more stability, but slower steering. Increased rake = decreased trail = less stability, but quicker steering.
So this part of the post relates to both the Winwood and Whisky forks…as both are 45mm rake. 45mm rake is less than the 50mm rake that Salsa specs. That means increased trail, more stability and slower steering. There is a palpable difference in the handling of a Vaya with a stock fork and the Vaytanium–5mm of rake is enough to notice, all else being equal. I have no complaints about the 45mm of rake. For the varied riding I do, the extra bit of stability is appreciated, and the slightly slower steering is not an impairment on loose gravel. If I could choose between 45mm and 50mm of rake, I’d go 45. Note that I get a slightly shorter wheelbase, which theoretically should impair stability…but the impact on stability/handling/steering from rake and trail is far greater than the impact from the wheelbase change. So even with a shorter effective wheelbase, the 45mm fork results in a more stable bike.
Some criticize the Vaya for being slow handling with a 50mm fork. Those people would probably criticize it even more if they rode a 45mm fork. Personally, I’m very happy with it. The Vaya is incredibly versatile with it.
That geometry discussion aside, how is the Whisky fork? I cannot comment on durability yet, obviously. There is no palpable change in handling under normal conditions–the geometry of the Winwood and Whisky seem identical, as they should be. The Whisky is about 50 grams lighter, but that isn’t noticed in normal riding. The one advantage is that the Whisky does seem to be just a smidge more effective at dampening rough gravel vibration…which is much appreciated. I need to get some more miles in it, but I do feel, thus far, that there is a palpable difference in that point (vibration dampening). On big hits (e.g. potholes, curb jumps), the Whisky is plenty sturdy/stable. Note that on the straight steerer 1-1/8 fork I have, it is an alloy steerer and carbon fork (just like the Winwood).
From a purely aesthetic perspective, I like the flat black finish on the Whisky better, as well.
So far, it’s all benefit and no detriment with this change. Slight weight drop, better vibration control, better appearance, same handling.