Cane Creek Helm Air 29 Review
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
What it is: A 35mm stanchion air fork that provides an enormous amount of support with very little stiction and a number of adjustments.
In my best effort to avoid rehashing what everyone else has said about this fork, I'll just offer a brief overview rather than go into a ton of detail on the history, design, and features of the fork.
In summary, the Helm is Cane Creek's latest offering into the enduro fork market. It comes in air or coil form, has a number of useful adjustments (HSC, LSC, LSR, air volume), and is very smooth and supportive.
I ran the fork at two travel settings (140, 160) on two bikes (Smuggler, Sentinel) and found the performance to be very consistent on both bikes. On the shorter travel trailbike, it was responsive, stood up to it's travel well, and I felt was a very good match for the riding style that the Smuggler required. On the Sentinel, with the fork set at 160, I found it to perform very similarly, continuing to be smooth, free of stiction, supportive, and stiff. The tire clearance is very good (although not as good as some other offerings) and I found the fork aesthetically appealing.
The setup for the fork is not that difficult compared to other forks, especially for average riders, because the damper settings (HSC/LSC) are very supportive even in the open settings, so going out and not spending a ton of time dialing the damper in won't result in a fork that dives or feels terrible, but the adjustments are there.
Ultimately, I think considering this fork will come down to the feel that riders want out of it. Personally, I lean more towards a supportive fork and deal with the consequences of having a firm fork, because dive on the front can have really negative consequences. That said, I know some want a more compliant ride and a fork that is a bit more forgiving off the top, I think that's where the Helm suffers compared to some other options.
I've read some complaints that it's 'over damped', but that is subjective and I'm not sure that I agree. If you want a very compliant ride and a fork that rides lower, then the Helm is probably not the best option, however if you are looking for a fork that will provide a lot of support with a wide range of adjustments and consistently smooth performance, it is one of the best options I've ridden on the market so far. If you are looking for a more compliant fork, then it may be a challenge to get that with the current damper tune, even with the adjusters entirely open.
Aside from a few nitpicks, I personally really liked the way the fork felt. Diving was a non-issue, the fork remained high in the travel and didn't wallow around in the midstroke. It was responsive when it's pushed into and it provides predictable performance. The chassis is stiff and free of flex.
I'll add that Cane Creek has provided consistently good service for me and they are great to deal with. The fork has also been very reliable for me, I've performed very little maintenance on it in the 6 months I've had it and it remained smooth and performed consistently. That said, it is a little frustrating that there is no ability for the end user to do rebuilds and they have to go back to a service center. So who would I recommend this to?
For aggressive riding, the Helm is a great option. The fork is supportive throughout the stroke, provides a number of meaningful adjustments, is very smooth and free of stiction. The fork is firmly damped, which provides heavier and/or more aggressive riders a supportive platform. The issues I've had with other forks lacking sufficient damping and support are definitely not an issue with the Helm.
If you are a lighter rider, the fork may feel over damped and harsh. I'm on the heavier end, around 215 geared up, so I can't speak to that, however I do wish the HSC adjuster had a bit more useful range, it seems almost everyone is running it wide open. If I'm on the heavier side, riding in WNC and leaving it mostly open, I can imagine it'd be overdamped for lighter riders.
So if you are a heavier rider and/or someone riding aggressively, the Helm is one of the best forks I've tried. If you are lighter, you may want to try and get some time on one to ensure that it is not overdamped.
vs MRP Ribbon Air 29: I found these forks really similar, however the Ribbon had major stiction issues for me that the Helm doesn't have. I also much prefer the air volume system of the Helm, which provides more consistent ramp than Ramp Control does. In my experience, the Helm was stiffer, more supportive, and considerably smoother than the Ribbon, but if you took the stiction out of the Ribbon, I think they'd feel pretty close.
vs DVO Sapphire 34 D1: A more 'trail' oriented fork than the Helm, but I rode them back to back, so worth comparing. The Sapphire was a bit less damped and seems to track a little better, but tended to blow through the travel a bit quicker and was not as supportive. I had to run the fork at around 15% sag to keep it riding high, whereas the Helm seems to work better at a more appropriate 20%. If you are lighter or riding smoother terrain, the Sapphire might be a better option, but the Helm provides more support, a stiffer chassis, and slightly less stiction.
vs Fox 36 Performance Elite GRIP2: These two forks feel really similarly, however I should admit that my time on the GRIP2 is a bit more limited. They both stand up to their travel well, both are fairly firmly damped, and both offer similar adjustments. The GRIP2 has a slight edge since you can adjust the HSR, whereas it's preset on the Helm. I did feel like the Helm would choke a little more on the rebound stroke of repeat, large impacts, but it was subtle and not a huge factor. Both forks are really similar and riding the GRIP2, even with the adjusters fairly open, felt really similar to the time I spent on the Helm.
vs Manitou Mezzer Pro: The Mezzer leans a bit more on the side of being compliant than the Helm. The Mezzer tracks better and is more compliant, along with running on a stiffer chassis, but can lack the support of the Helm if it's setup wrong. The Helm seems to keep it's composure even if something is setup incorrectly, but the Mezzer can get a bit divey if something is configured wrong. You can set the Mezzer up for the same feel as the Helm, however the Helm's base tune is much firmer and I couldn't get the same compliant feel out of it as I could the Mezzer.
Extremely smooth, very little stiction even after sitting for a period of time
Plenty of adjustments (HSC/LSC/LSR/volume/+/ some - adjustment)
Innovative axle system with the option to install a threaded axle
Wide range of travel adjustments
Supportive and composed
Air spring starts fairly linear and can be adjusted to be very progressive
Air ramp adjustment piston means keeping tokens around isn't required
Air spring cap has plenty of material, so use of a standard socket is viable (vs Fox, which requires a chamferless socket)
HSC may be a bit overdamped for lighter riders, giving the impression of harshness
No user service or rebuild available
Negative equalization valve can be a bit sticky when attempting to equalize
Compression adjustment knobs are a bit 'sharp' and start to hurt the harder you have to turn them, which becomes more of an issue with the HSC adjuster later in the adjustments