Best suspension forks of 2011

Six of the year's highest rated

Continuing our look back at the last 12 months, we take a look at the suspension forks which hit the heights for our testers this year.

From the outstanding precision and control of the Fox F34 29 Talas and the outstanding all-round performance of the RockShox Revelation RLT to the supple Marzocchi 55 RC3, these are six top-notch forks that stick it to the rest. While the prices and specifications vary considerably, they all have one thing in common - a top rating.

Fox F34 29 TALAS

Decent geometry, tyre choice and frame design developments on 29ers are letting them push further into aggressive trail use. Up until now one of the major limiting factors has been finding a suitable fork. Thanks to Fox’s new 34 that’s not true anymore.

The new architecture is based on a 34mm stanchion size – 2mm larger in diameter than Fox’s usual 26 and 29in trail forks. It’s not just a scale-up of the existing structure – the brace is lower, squarer and deeper, with large recessed sections on the front to create an I-beam cross section.

To maximise stiffness Fox are only producing it in a 1.125-1.5in tapered steerer and QR15 screw-through axle version. You do get to choose between a fixed-travel 140mm version or the quick-release 110-140mm TALAS version here. At 2,099g with a steerer cut to the same length it’s 246g heavier than the 32 TALAS 29 we took off. It also costs £110 more. The fixed-travel Float version saves you £60 and 100g though.

Click here for the full review of the Fox F34 29 TALAS

Bos Deville

Bos have always created superb forks, and their recent price drop means they're now more affordable. At just over 2kg, the air-sprung Deville is among the lightest 160mm-travel (6.3in) forks available, but it still feels stiff and accurate on the trail.

Unlike most larger stanchion air forks, initial movement is very plush and sensitive for extra traction at the front end on loose or chattery surfaces. The damping system is the most controlled we’ve ever used too. Its compression and rebound is adjustable but the exceptional overall control of ride height and all bump size/speed/frequency consistency is what really sets it apart from the rest.

Its surefooted and trustworthy mid-stroke support is particularly noticeable when you’re pushing through corners. The Bos TRC (Twin Rate Curve) system alters the spring rate to give a tighter-feeling 110 or 130mm stroke without affecting ride height, so it’s no easier to get round switchback uphill corners, but you get less bob when out of the saddle.

Click here for the full review of the Bos Deville

RockShox Revelation RLT

It may have a new name and compatibility with more axle standards, but it still has the same outstanding performance, and that keeps RockShox’s trail all-rounder king of the hill. The noticeable structural change for this year is that the Revelation now comes in a 15mm axle version as well as the previous 20mm Maxle Lite and quick-release versions.

The 15mm option feels slightly flexier but still stiffer than most opposition and makes it compatible with a whole range of lighter wheels than the 20mm is, which will give an overall bike weight saving. The RLT Ti has the same titanium negative spring BlackBox damping as last year for faultless control right through the impact size and frequency range.

Variants stretch from basic quick-release axle Motion Control sets to remote hydraulic lockout semi-carbon XX versions, with the remote control switches being particularly neat. Reliability on the numerous Revelations we’ve ridden has been excellent too and given the benchmark performance the fact it’s significantly cheaper than most competitors seals its all-round trail fork victory.

Click here for the full review of the RockShox Revelation RLT

Manitou Tower Pro 29

Manitou tower pro 29: manitou tower pro 29
Manitou tower pro 29: manitou tower pro 29

Our sample was heavier than the claimed weight of 1697g, but it’s reasonably light for its price.

The Manitou Tower offers 80, 100 or 120mm of travel, with a quick release or 20mm screw-thru axle. The spring medium is the well-regarded MARS Air. Offset is 48mm and Absolute Plus compression damping offers external low-speed adjustments plus internal high-speed adjustments. We wanted rebound damping set to maximum to tame an over-bouncy feel but performance was otherwise spot-on for all sorts of terrain. A progressive lockout lever sits on top of the right leg. It’s good value too.

Click here for the full review of the Manitou Tower Pro 29

Marzocchi 55 RC3

Marzocchi’s big trail fork is the plushest high-traction fork around. The titanium springs keep weight competitive and, combined with slotted bushings, make the 55 so supple you’ll feel as though you’ve got 10psi in your front tyre.

Marzocchi 55 rc3 ti fork: marzocchi 55 rc3 ti fork
Marzocchi 55 rc3 ti fork: marzocchi 55 rc3 ti fork

It melts most head-on square-edge hits and the RC3 damping cartridge keeps it up in its travel on multiple hit sections despite the soft spring. The 2011 adjustment dials are easy to use. Apart from an oil leak on our 2010 set, reliability feedback is excellent. There’s three-year warranty backup too. Air preload causes spiking and notchiness though, so swap to a heavier spring rather than adding pressure if you find the stock coil too soft.

Click here for the full review of the Marzocchi 55 RC3

Fox F120 FIT RLC QR15

The best 120mm forks are as light as a race fork but as trail capable as a 150mm unit. A prime example is Fox’s outstanding F120 family. The F120 is based on the open brace F100 architecture rather than the webbed brace F32 structure, which means it’s only 70g heavier than the 100mm fork and lighter than many dedicated race units.

The angle adjustable 15QR screw-thru axle (70g extra) is easy to use and keeps fork tip and overall stiffness to reasonably accurate levels. The gold Kashima coating is only available on aftermarket forks not those you get on complete bikes and the difference in smoothness and small bump control is well worth paying to upgrade to.

Fox f120 fit rlc qr15 : fox f120 fit rlc qr15
Fox f120 fit rlc qr15 : fox f120 fit rlc qr15

Compression damping is also reduced for a more open, fluid feel while the FIT cartridge stops multiple-hit indigestion on long, lairy sections. The F120 will happily take trail trauma that would trip up many longer travel forks in its stride. While it’s loaded with tuning potential, including low-speed compression, lockout and lockout threshold, it rides great straight from the box and reliability has been similarly fit and forget on the several sets we’ve tested.

Click here for the full review of the Fox F120 FIT RLC QR15

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