When it comes to suspension performance, it doesn’t get much better than Swedish shock sorcerer Ohlins.
In the world of motorbike racing, they don’t even bother sponsoring riders. In fact, it’s company policy that they’ll never give product away to teams. Despite that you’ll see that most of the top MotoGP riders still have the distinctive yellow and blue brand fitted to their bikes. That means that when they release a new product destined for the world of mountain biking, it's definitely time to sit up and take notice.
Though best known for their motorsport equipment, Ohlins does have plenty of mountain biking experience but it until now it was limited to rear shocks, having helped design the Cane Creek Double Barrel and more recently providing both coil and air shocks for top end Specialized models. They've never attempted a mountain bike fork however, so this could be the start of something big.
Made in collaboration with Specialized, the RXF 34 fork is designed for use on their Camber, Stumpjumper and Enduro models, coming in 120mm, 140mm and 160mm versions. Before you cast your current forks into the sea and begin booking the operation to have your other kidney taken out in order to afford one of these, there’s some bad news. Yes, the RXF is only coming in a 29er version, though it looks like you could probably squeeze a 27 Plus tyre in there. We’ll temper that with the fact that you can keep you internal organs where they are - early reports are that the cost (and weight) will be comparable with other top end forks from the likes of Fox or RockShox. You’ll be able to buy one through normal Specialized retailers too.
Now we’ve whet your appetite, here’s the juicy tech details. As the name suggests, it’s got a 34mm diameter chassis but Ohlins claim that, thanks to a clever one-piece forged crown and steerer assembly, stiffness is greater than 35mm forks and more comparable to 36mm units. They’re talking about the RockShox Pike and the Fox 36 respectively, if you hadn’t got the subtlety. The clever crown also has a cartridge bearing race designed into it, designed to work with any 40mm ID/45º lower bearing. If that's not your bike, tough luck. We imagine chassis stiffness is also helped by the fact that the 15x100mm axle (no Boost here) is secured by a single pinch bolt, rather than a quick release mechanism.
The sealed cartridge damper is where the real magic happens and unlike any other fork on the market, it’s a twin-tube design, which separates out rebound and compression damping oil flow to reduce internal pressures. Ohlins claim this ensures initial smoothness and also allows you to ride high in the travel while maintaining bump absorption, traction and stability. Sounds good to us. You get externally adjustable high and low speed compression as well as rebound damping adjustment, with compression dials on the top of the crown and rebound on the bottom of the leg.
The air spring is also a pretty special affair. It’s also a sealed unit and it’s winning in the numbers game too. Normal forks have two air chambers, with a positive one that takes resists compression and a smaller negative one that alters how much force it takes to get the fork moving. Ohlins goes one better by adding in a second positive air spring that allows you to tune the spring rate, so you can balance a super supple initial stroke with a resistance to bottoming out.
It’s safe to say we’re keen to get our hands on one. We’ll give you a full ride report when we do!