With the introduction of the Fox 38, the 36 is no longer available with 170mm travel as stock, but 150mm or 160mm of travel instead. Don’t think it’s any less capable though, with Fox claiming the new 36 is stiffer than its predecessor, and that the performance of the air spring is hugely improved.
However, a 170mm spring is available aftermarket (£52.95), which I used to compare the Fox 36 head-to-head with the other 170mm travel forks I had on test.
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For 2021, Fox has updated the chassis, added a floating axle to reduce friction, and air bleeders on the rear of the lowers to stop air pressure building up (which can otherwise reduce off-the-top sensitivity).
But the most significant update is the larger negative air spring volume. This makes the spring curve more linear, like a coil spring, so the fork is softer in the early travel but, by allowing higher air pressures, firmer in the mid-stroke.
I removed all volume spacers when testing at 170mm and settled on 95psi, which tallies with Fox’s air spring setup guide printed on the leg.
The suggested rebound settings were too slow for me, though, and I preferred the low-speed rebound set to almost fully open, with the high-speed rebound somewhere in the middle of the range.
There’s a narrow range of compression adjustment and even with both adjusters fully closed it isn’t overly firm. Few riders will need it firmer, though, because the spring offers ample support.
In fact, I often set the low-speed compression fully open, with the high-speed somewhere between fully open and halfway closed, depending on terrain.
The beginning-stroke sensitivity is superb, so the 36 tracks the ground like a coil fork and stays settled in its travel when rattling over rocks off the brakes, feeling more stuck to the ground than the RockShox Lyrik, in particular.
Friction is very low too, so it moves freely and irons-out small bumps brilliantly. This saves your hands on long runs and contributes to surefooted traction on rooty terrain.
On steep stuff, the support builds consistently through the travel, so there’s plenty to lean on when braking hard or pushing into a turn, even with the compression fully open. And as with the Fox 38, the 36 is one of the few air sprung forks that allow full-travel to be accessed when needed, without lacking support and diving too much under braking.
When smacking into shoebox-sized rocks, the RockShox Zeb and Fox 38 are a little smoother and more predictable. This is unsurprising given I’m testing the 36 at its travel limit, and the 36 is a little lighter than both. Whether the 36 or the 38 is for you depends on how much you prioritise lightness over this slight edge in big terrain.
The 36 certainly has the edge over its main rival, the 2021 RockShox Lyrik, because its air spring makes for a smoother, more predictable and more ground-hugging ride.
However, the Lyrik is considerably less expensive, and the difference is something you’ll only notice in certain situations, but performance-wise the 36 is the better fork.
How we tested
We tested seven burly enduro forks, and to make it a fair test, all forks had 170mm travel, around 42mm offset and were fitted to a 29in wheel. The same bike was used (a Privateer 161), with an identical setup and tyre pressures throughout.
We worked hard to optimise the setup of each fork by experimenting back and forth with all the available adjustments. Then they were tested back-to-back on the same familiar trails and in the same conditions, using an uplift to minimise the time between runs so the previous fork’s performance was fresh in our minds. Only when testing like this do the differences between forks stand out.
The standard of forks on test was considerably higher than 2020, and some new or upgraded models have seen firm favourites tumbling down the rankings.
Also on test:
- Fox 38 Factory GRIP2
- Intend Ebonite
- Marzocchi Z1 coil
- RockShox Lyrik Ultimate (2021)
- RockShox Zeb Ultimate
- SR Suntour Durolux36 EQ R2C2
|Price||GBP £1159.00USD $1139.00|
|Features||Adjustments: low- and high-speed compression, low- and high-speed rebound, air spring pressure and volume spacers
Travel: 150, 160mm * (27.5” and 29”), travel change requires separate air shaft (*170mm spring available aftermarket)
Offset: 37, 44mm (27.5”) / 44, 51mm (29”)