MRP might be better known for components such as chainguides, but for the past two years, the company has been quietly developing its Stage forks, which are aimed at enduro riders and racers.
The chassis is built around 34mm stanchions and comes with 180mm disc mounts, and two models are available, one for 27.5in wheels and one for 29ers. Both come with travel adjust spacers, giving the 27.5in fork a range of 140 to 170mm travel, and the 29er, a 120 to 150mm range of travel. Claimed weights are 1.99kg (4.4lb) for the 27.5in fork and 2.04kg (4.5lb) for the 29er.
The forks are assembled at MRP’s facility in the US. Each one comes come with a simple quick-start guide that includes a quality control signature from the person who actually put it together – each fork is dyno tested to ensure it falls within performance parameters. The fork has metal components and runs more oil than many of its competitors, and MRP's aim is that it will be super reliable – the full service interval is an impressive 200 hours.
The Stage offers three ranges of adjustment – low-speed compression, rebound and ‘ramp control’.
Low-speed compression is controlled through the top of the fork by an eight-point dial, from fully opened to almost closed. Adjusting the dial regulates oil flow through ports in the compression damper, while a magnetic blow-off helps prevent spikes on sudden impacts and offers a blow-off when the compression dial is fully closed. Even when closed, some oil will bleed through the ports, letting the fork sag a little into its travel.
Compression dial adjusts the slow-speed compression from open to almost closed, with a magnetic blow-off valve
Ramp control is basically a way of controlling dive. It’s an air spring, which keeps the fork bottoming out on high-speed big hits – the adjustment in there is, in essence, a high-speed compression and bottom-out control. Adjusting the ramp control effectively creates a bottleneck in the air flow during big fast hits, which stops the fork blowing through its travel too fast.
The majority of riders run 15mm axles, so MRP have developed their own Q-tapeR through-axle. The end of the axle has a conical tapered washer, and there’s also tapering at the female threaded dropout. The idea is that this helps prevent lower leg twist, which can bind with the uppers. It's similar to the bolted dropouts we saw recently on the new 2015 Fox 36, but MRP’s axle is quick-release.
It's difficult to fully evaluate the Stage fork's performance on short downhill runs on a wet, muddy day, and we'll be riding it a lot more over the next few months in order to bring you a full review. In the meantime, here are our first impressions.
The suppleness of the fork's initial stroke stood out. It easily took care of small, high-speed hits, and should help reduce fatigue. In part, this is thanks to the (apparently) relatively large negative air spring. When you set the fork up, you pump into the negative spring from the bottom of the fork, and the system automatically matches the pressure in the positive spring. By having a large negative spring, the fork gives up its initial stroke readily.
In berms, with the ramp control set roughly in the middle, the fork’s mid-stroke compression was firm, and we didn’t find the fork tucked under or dove through its travel. Instead, it stayed nicely controlled. The fork also seemed stiff, but again, conditions weren’t ideal for really pushing it to its max.
On bigger hits the Stage seemed a little reluctant to give up all of its travel, despite being set up reasonably soft, which is something we’ll be trying to tune out over the coming weeks.
MRP's Q-TapeR axle – neat, but not the easiest to use
If we had any complaints, it would be that the clicks on the adjustments could be more pronounced. If you’re anal about your settings, and want to change them on the fly, having a more definite feel to the adjustment would be useful. Also, while the Q-tapeR axle is neat, we found the non-lever side tightening system a little stiff, especially with gloves on – it may just need a bit of grease though.
MRP might be relatively new to the suspension game (they do also have the shorter travel Loop models), but they’ve definitely produced a fork that could compete with the big boys, Fox and RockShox.
The Stage is available now for £750, check out MRP’s website for more details.