Lately, Fox has taken a bit of a beating when it comes to its longer travel trail forks. This all-new version of the much loved, long travel 36 series puts paid to that, with a super stiff chassis, a more adjustable damper and a supportive air spring that will have more aggressive, long travel riders rejoicing.
Fox’s previous 160mm mid-wheel offering was the slimmer legged 34, adapted from what was originally just meant to be a long travel 29er fork. The linear, less supportive air spring and easy to understand but less adjustable CTD (Climb Trail Descend) damper also left aggressive riders wanting. The release of the superb RockShox Pike, which was more supportive, lighter and cheaper was another blow.
It’s been obvious that Fox needed to come up with a solution – and this 36 is it. An all-new chassis means that in the air-sprung Float version we tested it’s actually 140g lighter than the equivalent 650b Float 34 at 1960g, though still heftier than the Pike. It also shares the same axle-to-crown length, so it’s a straight replacement. The revised Float air spring is beautifully supportive and the low friction Kashima coating means that seal friction isn’t an issue. You can also add volume spacers to make the spring rate more progressive.
On the 160mm model we tested, travel can be reduced in 10mm increments, while the 170mm version can be extended to 180mm. There isn’t a quick release axle system but you can use either 20 or 15mm hubs thanks to removable dropout inserts.
It’ll be available in all three wheel sizes, with a completely specific chassis for each, getting rid of the extended, flexy dropout castings of the 650b 34 fork. All this, taken in combination with the 36mm legs, means the steering is surgically precise. We had no idea the 34 – or even the Pike – flexed as much until we rode this across choppy, crossgrained terrain with pinpoint control.
The RC2 damper offers high and low speed compression along with rebound damping control, and is frankly superb. If you’re a seasoned tweaker it’s possible to dial it in perfectly for almost any conditions, though if you’re not, initial setup might get confusing. There’s no switchable climbing mode or similar, but we didn’t miss it.
What you do get is incredible rough terrain composure. While the Pike’s Charger damper feels supportive but active, the Fox feels more restrained, with a supportive, smooth action that ekes out traction in a way that almost makes you feel like you’re riding more slowly – though quite the opposite is true.
So all in all, it's a very return to form for Fox. If you’re a hard rider the stiffness, adjustability and damping control is difficult to beat. Justifying the price/performance step over a Pike depends on how healthy your bank account is.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.