The Fox 38 is one of the heaviest and priciest single-crown forks you can buy, but its big-terrain performance is second to none.
Fox launched the 38 in April 2020 as a burlier alternative to the long-standing 36, which is now confined to 150 and 160mm travel, while the 38 takes over from 160 to 180mm.
Fox claims the 38 is 31 per cent stiffer laterally, 17 per cent stiffer fore/aft and 38 per cent torsionally stiffer than the 2021 Fox 36.
Like the 2021 36, the 38 has a range of features designed to optimise performance, such as air bleeders on the lowers that allow air pressure to be released to maintain off-the-top sensitivity. This is only likely to make a noticeable difference if you’re climbing thousands of metres, though, but it’s nice to have.
The real reason the 38 shines on the trail is its very linear (coil-like) air spring. It offers a very soft beginning-stroke, which allows this burly fork to track over small bumps and rooty cambers with reassuring sensitivity and finesse.
Yet when deeper in the travel, the support builds predictably and consistently, so there’s plenty to push against in the middle of the travel.
This helps keep handling consistent through big steps and under heavy braking. And yet, it’s possible to use all the travel on the biggest impacts, without it lacking support in the middle of its travel.
I weigh 85kg, and used 97 to 105 psi depending on the terrain, which tallies with Fox’s setup chart. I found one volume spacer allowed me to use all the travel without experiencing any harsh bottom-outs.
I ran the low-speed rebound much faster than recommended – nearly fully open – while keeping the high-speed in the middle of the range to prevent excessive springiness. The soft beginning stroke makes this fast rebound (which improves tracking) possible, without topping out.
Like the 2021 36, the compression damping isn’t very firm, even when fully closed. But because the spring has plenty of mid-stroke support, it doesn’t need much damping to hold it up. I think fully closed compression damping is usable for short, steep tracks, but it never lacks support, even when fully open. In fact, some testers have found it works best fully open, though it’s never harsh or fatiguing.
In fact, long-run hand-buzz over high-frequency chatter is among the best on test. The stiff chassis doesn’t result in more hand pain or harshness even when compared to the equally impressive Fox 36.
The 38 really shines when smashing through big rocks and holes, or when loaded up into rough berms, where it remains composed, smooth and predictable.
The bars remain a little more level over big square-edge bumps than with flexier forks because the 38 swallows them up with impressive predictability.
RockShox’ Zeb excels here too, but the 38 pips it in terms of off-the-top sensitivity and ground-hugging traction, while offering more consistent, predictable support under braking.
When slamming into a high-load turn, it feels like the extra stiffness of the 38 (or the Zeb) makes for a more precise and direct cornering feel when compared to a Lyrik or Fox 36, but this could just be placebo.
I’ve put a lot of time on the 38 since I took delivery of it in April 2020 and I’ve had no reliability concerns, and performance degradation between services is quite slow. This could be due to the high volumes of oil in the lower legs (40ml and 20ml, respectively).
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 36 Factory GRIP2: £1,159 / $1,139
- Intend Ebonite: €1,428 (exc VAT and delivery) – £1,236 approx
- Marzocchi Z1 coil: £789 / $779
- RockShox Lyrik Ultimate (2021): £929 / $949 / AU$1,430 / €1,039
- RockShox Zeb Ultimate: £969 / $999 / AU$1505 / €1,089
- SR Suntour Durolux36 EQ R2C2: £640
|Price||GBP £1229.00USD $1249.00|
|Weight||2,363g (170mm Travel, 29" wheel)|
|Features||Adjustments: low- and high-speed compression, low- and high-speed rebound, air spring pressure and volume spacers
Travel: 160, 170, 180mm (27.5” and 29”), travel change requires separate air shaft
Offset: 37, 44mm (27.5”) / 44, 51mm (29”)