I previously tested Marzocchi’s air-sprung Z1 and while it performed well, it lacked beginning-stroke sensitivity and mid-stroke support compared to the best forks. The coil version, however, lets you have your cake and eat it, with a super-supple beginning stroke and masses of support to lean on after sag.
You can see why, despite huge improvements in air springs, coil keeps coming back.
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Unusually, the spring has a sealed air piston that compresses the (unpressurised) air trapped inside the lower legs. This is done to add some progression towards the end of the travel to resist bottom-out. It’s worth noting that this extra ramp-up in force towards the end of the travel is not adjustable, so will affect lighter riders more than heavier ones.
In theory, the sliding seal required to compress the air might add friction compared to most air springs, but, in the field, the Z1 is far from sticky. In fact, the performance is super supple.
It bobs readily during seated pedalling and hoovers up traction as it sags generously and reacts even to thumb-width roots.
In the middle of the travel the support is unparalleled, with loads to lean on when braking, so the ride height is more consistent and the handling more predictable. This makes it that bit more reassuring to ride steep, rooty steps because the fork always holds you up well.
It doesn’t swallow up mid-sized bumps as readily as the air forks I had on test, even with the compression damping fully open (which is where I left it), which could be due to the stiffer middle third of the travel.
The extra-firm spring Marzocchi recommended for me at 85kg was simply a little too hard for my tastes, transmitting more feedback on medium/large bumps and making it near impossible to use full-travel.
And here lies the rub. There are only four spring rate options, designed to suit everyone from 54 to 113kg – so the gaps between them are big. In fact, each spring is around 20 per cent stiffer than the last. Some may find themselves between spring rates (which is the case for me), and it’s of course impossible to fine-tune the spring stiffness.
But if one of the spring rates works for you, the performance is top-notch and very simple to set up. I left the compression and preload wide open because there’s more than enough support from the spring.
I set the rebound to nine clicks from closed and the linear spring curve makes it easy to get it set right as it naturally recovers faster from the mid-travel without topping out. This increases the tuning window between the fork packing down and the tyre springing off the ground.
At 2,525g with the stiffest spring, it was the heaviest fork I had on test – not that the extra weight is noticeable while riding. It’s only the lack of spring options that hold it back in my view.
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
- Fox 38 Factory GRIP2
- Intend Ebonite
- RockShox Zeb Ultimate
- RockShox Lyrik Ultimate (2021)
- Suntour Durolux36 EQ R2C2
|Price||GBP £789.00USD $779.00|
|Features||Adjustments: low-speed compression, low-speed rebound, four coil-spring rate options, spring preload
Travel: 170, 180mm (27.5") / 160, 170mm (29"), internally adjustable
Offset: 44mm (29” and 27.5”)
|Damper adjustments||GRIP (compression + rebound)|