Manitou R-Seven MRD Absolute£450.00

Manitou's best-ever cross-country fork

BikeRadar score4/5

Manitou’s successful R-Seven cross-country fork is back for 2008 and is better than ever – but with the new RockShox SID due later this spring, does the R-Seven have the performance to dominate the podium and find a place on your bike?

The new 2008 Manitou R-Seven MRD Absolute is one of the best-looking suspension forks on the market. It’s also the best-performing cross-country fork to emerge from Manitou, which has been working hard recently to restore its reputation.

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Manitou’s image had been hit hard when former owner Answer Products turned out some poor damping technologies and patchy quality control. Riders, racers and retailers had begun switching to other fork brands when Hayes, the hydraulic brake company, bought Manitou. Hayes quickly chopped out the chaff from the sprawling product line and kept the good stuff: the Manitou Racing Development (MRD) products.

Key to today’s MRD line is the R-Seven cross-country fork, which has success in its genes. Many pro cross-country racers in the late ’90s sported the Manitou cross-country fork. Back then it was called Mars, with a front-facing brace. It was renamed R-Seven in 2003, and continued to perform well in the heat of competition, helping riders such as Jose Hermida and Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja gather numerous World Championship titles.

The Absolute truth

Wisely, Hayes has left the 2008 R-Seven relatively untouched. The only real crease in the previous R-Seven that needed ironing out was the rather linear compression rate – the fork typically blew through its travel at the first sign of a serious impact.

Our MRD Absolute model has three external adjuster points of interest. The first is the Schrader air valve, which allows you to fill both the positive and negative air chambers at the same time. Simply keep adding air until the spring rate of the fork is as firm or supple as you require. Next, on the bottom of the right-hand leg, is the blue rebound adjuster – again, simply dial in the amount you require.

Last but not least is the Absolute Damping switch on top of the right-hand leg. The dial can be used to toggle between five pre-set damping options. The first, fully open position provides the most supple fork action. Switch to position two for a firmer ‘platform’ feel – still giving up full travel, but requiring more bump force to get there.

However, we found that positions three and four felt like position five, which is fully locked out with a blow-off facility. Despite this, the three discernible settings we experienced are all you’d really need: fully open for general off-roading, platform for hard climbing, and locked-out for road and smooth climbs.

All the external adjusters were easy to use, even while wearing gloves. They’re positioned on the top leg of the fork (rather than offering remote activation), but we didn’t find their location a problem.

Living with the R-Seven MRD Absolute has been very pleasant. It’s stiffer than any previous Manitou cross-country race fork, and consequently it tracks well and handles hard braking without getting into a flutter. That said, we’re expecting the new RockShox SID chassis will prove to be stiffer again and – we think – more finely tunable. We’ve already ridden and raced the new SID, but not tested it head-to-head with the R-Seven, so a complete evaluation isn’t possible yet.

We’ve had no need to delve inside our R-Seven, and neither should you for the first year of ownership. It’s possible to service the fork yourself, or you can return it to a Manitou dealer for work.

Another string in the R-Seven’s bow is its low weight – at 2.8lb (1134g) it’s seriously lacking in mass. If you’re an cross-country racer looking to fit a reliable fork that has a plush ride and the option of a firmer platform ‘race’ setting, then this is the best cross-country race fork you can get. At least until the new SID arrives.

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