Looking for the best mountain bike suspension fork? You’ve come to the right place. Buying a new suspension fork for your mountain bike is one of the priciest – and potentially most effective – upgrades you can make to your bike. Even when buying a complete bike, the fork it comes with is a serious consideration.
Either way, you’ll want a suspension fork that irons out the harshest of trail feedback, allowing your hands to last longer on the roughest tracks.
- Best mountain bike 2019: how to choose the right one for you
- How to set up your mountain bike suspension: video guides to help you get the most from your bike
You’ll want the fork to sit smoothly into the first part of its travel to keep your front wheel stuck to the ground. At the same time, it must offer enough support later in the travel to keep the bike from pitching and diving too easily.
You’ll also want enough stiffness to provide accurate and predictable steering, and enough adjustability to fine-tune the fork to your needs, but not so much that it’s a nightmare to setup. You probably want it to be as light as possible too, and hopefully not cost the earth!
We’ve tested forks to suit a broad range of budgets, making sure to include some top-shelf options because these are what people tend to buy as an upgrade to their bike.
We tested ten trail/enduro forks; all had 160mm travel, 29in spacing and 51mm offset to keep the comparison fair. Of course, all of these forks are available with a range of other wheel-size, travel and offset options.
How we tested
We tested all ten forks on the same bike, using identical tyre pressures and then measured sag and tested how much travel we could use by pushing down on the fork as hard as we could to get the forks setup in the same ball park.
Then we rode each fork on a mix of terrain, tweaking air pressure, volume spacers and damping settings until we were satisfied the forks were working at their best for the terrain and rider in question.
Next, we hammered them down a few choice test tracks, quickly swapping forks between runs to get the best possible idea of how they compare.
You can find out more about that process, and how all ten forks compared in this video.
The best mountain bike suspension forks of 2021
- RockShox Lyrik RC2 (2019): £989 / $999
- Fox 36 Factory GRIP2: £1,139
- Manitou Mezzer Pro (2020): £899.99 / $999.99 / €1,050
- Marzocchi Bomber Z1: £749
- RockShox Yari RC Debonair: £695 / AU$1,200
- DT Swiss F 535 ONE: £925
RockShox Lyrik RC2 (2019)
- Price: £989 / $999
- Wheel size/travel options: 27.5in and 29in (tested), both with 150mm, 160mm (tested), 170mm and 180mm travel
- Weight: 2,019g (29in x 160mm)
This is our top pick for enduro and trail riding. The Lyrik offers the best off-the-top sensitivity in class, and that translates into a more settled, stuck down feel and more traction when initiating a turn or pattering over stutter bumps.
It’s also got a highly usable range of damping adjustment, with the most open settings providing a super-supple and comfortable ride, even on the longest, roughest tracks.
The spring still holds the fork up high in its travel under heavy braking, so there’s predictable and dependable support.
Setup isn’t entirely straightforward though. We’d recommend taking out one or both volume spacers supplied with the 160mm-travel fork, and adding considerably more pressure than RockShox recommends.
The only fork that came close to matching the Lyrik’s performance was the Fox 36 GRIP2, which was slightly more controlled in some rare situations, though not as supple over small bumps. On balance, we slightly preferred the Lyrik’s performance and it’s considerably cheaper too.
We’ve also ridden the 2020 Lyrik Ultimate, which offers even more comfort and puts the Lyrik further ahead of the pack.
Fox 36 Factory GRIP2
- Price: £1,139
- Wheel size / travel options: 27.5in with 160, 170, 180mm; 29in with 160 (tested), 170mm
- Weight: 2,091g (29in x 160mm)
The all-singing Fox 36 GRIP2 Factory is the most expensive fork we’ve tested. Fortunately, it’s got performance to match.
It’s four-way adjustable damper has high-and low-speed adjustment for both compression and rebound damping. Fortunately, Fox nailed the setup guide, so it’s one of the easiest forks to get in the right ballpark despite the vast range of adjustments.
It’s also one of the best performers, particularly over big holes and choppy unpredictable ground, where the independent high-speed rebound adjustment seems to make it more controlled and calm when returning from deep in the stroke if, like us, you’re running a lot of pressure in the spring.
It’s not quite as sensitive off the top of the stroke as its arch rival, the RockShox Lyrik, though, so there isn’t quite as much traction in low-load situations.
While very active and supple over small bumps, it’s a little stingy with its travel over bigger impacts, even with the compression damping fully open. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we would have liked the ability to run the high-speed compression a little more open for long-run comfort.
There were situations where the 36 was the best fork we’ve ever used, but on balance we preferred the Lyrik because it offers better traction and sensitivity. It’s also costs less.
Manitou Mezzer Pro (2020)
- Price: £899.99 / $999.99 / €1,050
- Wheelsize/travel options: 27.5in and 29in (tested), both adjustable between 140 and 180mm in 10mm increments. 160mm tested
- Weight: 2,093g (29in x 160mm)
The Mezzer’s a surprise performer, offering an excellent balance between small bump sensitivity and bottom-out resistance. It’s particularly capable no matter how deep into its travel or how hard you’re pushing it.
The chassis also hits the perfect balance of control, accuracy and compliance, feeling stiff when it needs to – such as under corner – but didn’t cause our front wheel to bounce or judder offline, also helping to reduce hand fatigue.
The MC2 damper’s high-speed compression is light enough to absorb fast impacts and proved to be incredibly supple. Its low-speed damping gives plenty of support through turns and compressions, adding to the capabilities of the impressive air spring.
Although the air spring is quite hard to set up – and you need to follow the supplied guide exactly – once you get it right, the performance that’s unlocked is virtually unparalleled on the trail.
If you’re looking to upgrade your fork and were considering a RockShox Lyrik or Fox 36 GRIP2 then the Mezzer has to be on your shortlist as well.
The Manitou Mezzer wasn’t tested as a part of this fork group test, and doesn’t feature in the video, but was tested and rated to the same criteria, and performed exceptionally well.
Marzocchi Bomber Z1
- Price: £749
- Wheel size / travel options: 27.5in with 130, 140, 150, 160, 170mm; 29in with 150, 160 (tested), 170, 180mm
- Weight: 2,249g (29in x 160mm)
Marzocchi is now a sister-brand of Fox, and the Z1 shares a lot of features with the Fox 36 but is designed to hit a lower price point.
Because it uses a lower-grade aluminium in the upper tubes, it’s one of the heaviest enduro forks around at 2,249g, but the extra weight is not realistically noticeable on the trail.
The Z1 isn’t as soft at the very start of its travel as the Fox 36, or the Yari and Lyrik, so it needs a lower air pressure to get it to sag properly, along with a healthy stack of volume spacers to stop it using all of its travel too easily.
It still canters through the middle of its travel a bit more easily than those other forks too, making it feel a little less predictable and refined. But the flipside is that it swallows kerb-sized rocks like a champ, which means good long-run comfort.
The key comparison is to the RockShox Yari (below). The Z1 is more willing to swallow large impacts, making it more forgiving in those big-hit scenarios, but the Yari is more supple at the start of the stroke, offers more traction and more predictable support. It’s a touch lighter and cheaper too.
On balance, the Yari just edges it for us. But if big hit capability is your priority, and you can’t stretch to the RockShox Lyrik or Fox 36, the Z1 is a good option.
RockShox Yari RC Debonair
- Prize: £695 / AU$1,200
- Wheel size / travel options: 150mm, 160mm (tested), 170mm and 180mm travel for 27.5in and 29in wheels
- Weight: 2,129g (29in x 160mm)
RockShox’ Yari uses the same stiff 35mm chassis as its pricier sibling, the Lyrik. It now gets the same super-supple and class-leading Debonair spring too.
The difference is in the damper. The Yari’s more simple Motion Control unit doesn’t provide the same digressive damping – blending low-speed support with high-speed suppleness – that you get from the Lyrik’s Charger damper.
As a result, it doesn’t feel quite as settled and supportive when braking, and occasionally spikes (feels harsh and fails to use much travel) when slapping down to earth with a thud.
Realistically, though, it’s rare that the less refined damper lets the side down, and this is compared to the best of the best.
The Yari offers better long-run comfort and small-bump traction than almost anything else on the market, including forks costing several hundred pounds more.
If the slightly unrefined damper bothers you, you can always upgrade it to a Lyrik spec further down the road.
DT Swiss F 535 ONE
- Price: £925
- Wheel size / travel options: 27.5in with 130, 140, 150, 160mm; 29in with 130, 140, 150, 160mm (tested)
- Weight: 2,160g (29in x 160mm)
DT Swiss has been making suspension forks for years, but the F 535 One marks a big step up in performance for the brand.
It takes an innovative approach to spring and damping technology and is one of the few forks we’ve tested that comes close to matching Fox and RockShox in performance terms.
The damper gets firmer the further it gets into its travel, boosting mid-stroke support while keeping it very supple at the very start. Meanwhile, a small coil spring sits on the end of the air spring, which is claimed to help speed up changes of direction for even more sensitivity.
On the trail, this does seem to work to an extent. DT’s setup website is easy to use and before long we had a good balance with impressive small-bump sensitivity and great traction.
On steep technical tracks the damper holds the fork up nicely too. In certain situations, with high-frequency chatter, it’s among the best performers.
However, it can get out of its depth when slamming into kerb-sized bumps or when it’s loaded up hard into hardpack turns, it isn’t nearly as smooth or predictable as its rivals. To be fair, DT says this fork is aimed more at the trail market, but it’s heavier than most enduro forks.
But if you’re not fussed about weight or smashing through choppy terrain, it’s well worth considering.
Here you can find reviews to the rest of the forks we’ve tested, but which weren’t up to matching the performance of the very best.
DVO Diamond D1
Cane Creek Helm Air
X Fusion Trace 36 HLR
Öhlins RXF 36 Evo
MRP Ribbon Air
- Price: £850
- MRP Ribbon Air review
To help you get the most out of the above reviews, here are some handy definitions of terms often used to describe forks.
This is the frame of the fork, made up of the upper tubes (or stanchions), the lower legs, crown, steerer tube and thru-axle. It determines how stiff the fork is, as well as how much tyre clearance it offers.
The thru-axle clamps the fork onto the hub axle. Most are 15mm diameter these days, though downhill forks use 20mm axles. Although some may be stiffer than others, the main difference is how easy they are to use. Quick release axles make it easier to remove the wheel but can be heavier and are more prone to catch on vegetation than those which require an Allen key to install.
The fork’s spring sits inside one of the legs. It stores and returns energy from the tail or the rider. Coil springs resemble an over-sized biro spring, and provide a consistent, linear spring rate, but are a hassle to change to suit your tastes. Air springs are more popular because they are lighter, easily adjustable down to minute changes, and the firmness of the end-stroke can be adjusted independently of the early travel.
Air springs are made up of a positive and a negative air chamber. While the positive air spring holds the fork up, the negative spring (which can be a coil or air spring) pushes it down at the start of the travel, making it softer in the beginning-stroke.
Self-equalising forks feature a transfer port which allows air to flow between the positive and negative air chambers, so the pressure automatically balances. This makes it easy to set the fork up because there is just one valve to adjust air pressure in both the positive and negative chambers.
A progressive spring is one where the spring rate (the amount by which the spring force increases per unit increase in travel) increases towards the end of the travel. A progressive spring “ramps up” in force towards the end, whereas a linear spring builds force at the same rate all the way through the travel.
Most air forks use plastic inserts to reduce the volume of the positive air chamber, thereby making the fork more progressive (firmer towards the end of the travel). Some forks use an extra air chamber to control the progressiveness instead.
Low-speed compression damping
The restriction of oil flow when the fork moves slowly into its travel. This stops the fork diving too quickly, but too much can make it feel harsh over small bumps.
High-speed compression damping
Restriction of oil flow when the fork moves quickly into its travel. This controls how much travel is used when hitting larger impacts or landings. Again, too much can feel harsh.
Harshness through the bars caused by too much high-speed compression damping. This occurs when oil flow is restricted, preventing the fork from compressing quickly enough to absorb a hard impact.