First Ride: Öhlins Downhill Race Fork

Jul 6, 2018
by Paul Aston  


Öhlins released their DH38 Downhill Race fork last week and you can read all about it in the 'First Look' article. More importantly, I managed to bust out a number of laps on the new fork during Crankworx in Les Gets, France, and rode with the Öhlins engineers to give you some early impressions. For those of you who missed it, the fork is available for 27.5" or 29" wheels, and with four different offset options from the crowns.

Travel can be adjusted by switching air assembly shafts (€20 each) from 160 - 200mm, there's a three-chamber air spring and TTX18 twin-tube damper inside of it. The price is $1,600 USD / €1,392, plus $350 USD / €305 for the offset crowns of your choice.



Öhlins DH Race Fork Details:

Intended use: downhill
Travel: 160 - 200mm
Wheel size: 27.5" or 29"
Offset: 46 / 50 / 54 / 58mm
Spring: three-chamber air
Adjusment: independent HSC, LSC and LSR
Weight: 2,825g (27.5" with uncut steerer tube and all hardware claimed.)
Pricing:
fork: $1,600 USD / €1,392
crowns: $350 USD / €305
More info: ohlins.com



Test Fork Setup

We mounted the Öhlins on to my trusty Commencal Supreme V29 (review coming very soon) as it's the downhill bike I have put the most hours on recently. It was previously equipped with a Fox 49 and DHX2 coil rear shock.

Thanks to the offset crown options, I was able to try the shortest 46mm option. I did plan to also test the longest 58mm option to double check the extremes of the handling, but was more than happy with the short crowns.

Settings:

Rider Weight: 75kg
Main chamber: 110psi
Ramp up chamber: 212psi
Negative chamber volume: standard
Shim Stack: C40 R25
LSC: -8/15
HSC: -3/4
Rebound: -7/14
Offset: 46mm
A2C: 610mm




We started with the recommended stock settings on the fork for my weight, which happened to give exactly the correct suggested sag of 15% without having to adjust the ride height of the front of the bike from the previous Fox 49. The shim stack was the standard C40 / R25 which is the base setting stack. The C40 compression stack is right in the middle of the range, and the R25 rebound stack is the second lightest out of six options.


Ohlins Rebound graph
Ohlins Compression graph
The Ohlins Settings Bank is a result of years of testing and data collection. This chart shows the different shim stack options, but professionals can still customize these further with the correct knowledge.


The damping range of adjustment is narrow on both the compression and rebound. We left the LSC and rebound halfway out, and the HSC was left -3/4 out. Öhlins talk about a 'usable range' of compression and rebound settings which seems narrow compared to other brands of suspension. In saying "usable range," they mean that riders should be able to use most of the clicks and fine-tune settings rather than having a broad range that will work for every rider.

For example, many forks barely return if the rebound is completely closed or feel locked out with all the clicks of LSC dialed in when set for my 75kg weight.




If you are outside of the usable range, you will need to change the shim stack, but by providing your weight and riding information, you should get the correct stack from the start from an Öhlins expert. The good thing about starting with the correct stack is that it's difficult to set up completely wrong - I tried with everything both fully open and fully closed and it was completely rideable in both scenarios, albeit harsh when closed.



Riding Impressions

Until now, in the MTB world, Öhlins have generally made fairly heavily damped suspension that some riders either loved or hated – a feeling that full-speed racers and bigger riders get on well with but some lighter riders can be out of the usable range, and people who tackle long alpine descents or people that hit one-minute bike park trails will want a different feel. This is a huge generalization as Öhlins (like many other brands) have a vast range of tuning possibilities if you have the units tuned for you when buying from an authorized suspension expert or direct from Öhlins.

However, if you're a 70kg rider who bought an off the shelf Specialized complete bike in XL size, you might be out of range and need a new shim stack.


There are tonnes of clearance around this 29" x 2.35" E-Thirteen LG1+ tire.


The world of offset needs plenty of exploring and is a tough project to find a definitive answer with so many variables, and I am not going to say that putting the shortest offset on the biggest fork is the perfect solution, but I had no interest in trying out the longer option after trying the shortest. There are three completely unscientific tests that I use: the gripped wobble, the handsfree wobble, and the flat corner push. The 'gripped wobble' can be done rolling fast down a road, seated, and take off one hand a wiggle the handlebar with the other, the longer offset seems to upset the bike more and is slower to stabilize and continue riding straight. The second is a similar test but done no-handed and by wobbling your hips to upset the bike - in this test, the headtube of the bike moving less side to side and the fork rotating more in the headset and stabilizing and returning to straight faster.






The third test is more difficult to replicate and involves pushing hard into flat and loose corners. The longer offset seems planted then pushes and breaks away (understeers) in a more abrupt and less predictable way. The shorter offset seems to be more predictable and does not break away abruptly or as far, then is easier to micro-manage the grip on the front wheel. In theory, a longer offset increases stability as it lengthens the wheelbase, but on the Commencal (longest mainstream DH bike in the world) I haven't had any issue with stability and I prefer the more subtle feeling of the steering. The other thing a longer offset should do is speed up the steering, but I think this makes it more twitchy and unstable at anything over walking pace - proven by the wobble test.

The Öhlins DH38 seems to do everything you could ask from a fork. With my setup, it was not heavily damped, was responsive to small trail inputs, rode high in the travel, and midstroke through repetitive impacts, and ramped up for big hits when I needed it. The chassis is definitely not overly stiff and can be felt tracking and twisting through angled roots and rocks.




Because of the Öhlins name and it's heritage, part of me expects to shout "it's the best forking thing in the world" from the rooftops, and it is exceptionally good, but so is the modern competition. The DH Race fork's main strength is the performance and usability from the start, followed by the potential to go in deep with the settings if you have the time, knowledge, and experience to benefit from it. If not, you're likely to gain little except a lighter wallet and attention in the car park.

I would say it easily outperforms the old BoXXer and beats the Fox 40 RC2 in terms of suppleness and controlled damping. But, I have a new 2019 BoXXer and a 2019 Fox 49 with a Grip2 damper on other test bikes, and both of those have been fantastic from the start, although much more testing is needed on all three to provide a definitive answer.

Is it better than those two main contenders? Well, it's surprisingly close regarding pricing, around €2,060, with a 2019 BoXXer World Cup retailing around €1,980 and a Fox 40 Grip2 around €2,400. It is very difficult to say who's best as they are all unbelievably good forks and they are all so new that commenting on durability is not possible at this point.


70 Comments

  • + 28
 what is better than...? I like the fact the Öhlins is in the game and obviously with a lower pricing than this ridiculous boxxer and 40.

Come on guys, through the last years of steady progression in terms of suspension we are there, it is all good products.

Look at moto. When you buy a 2012 mx machine or whatever would you immedialtely switch fork, brakes, shox and rims? No because it works, needs a service sometimes and when you really wanna dive in deep theres a lot of individual tuning or addons in the market.

We are there Wink
  • + 1
 I'm still surprised that Öhlins did not continued their inverted mtb fork but that fork has found it's way to CAKE E-MX bikes with heavier valving.
  • + 19
 Oh yes- Suspension isnt that much better than nearly 10 years ago.
Look at the open bath Mazocchis (888 RC3 Evo) absolutely bomb proof and would run 1-2 Sessions without a service.

Bring back open baths!
  • + 11
 Ummm, it's cheaper than the Fox but not the Boxxer... just saying
  • + 1
 @NotNamed: some might say from a reliability standpoint / service internals needed suspension is worse than 10 years ago.
  • + 7
 @NotNamed: seriously. i think my 66 was the best feeling fork i ever had.
  • + 5
 @demoflight: my 66 stood up to years of bike park abuse without issue but my last Float 34 needed to be serviced each year after light trail riding in town and in the mountains. My new pike is already feeling wonky too and it's only 2 months old.
  • + 8
 @NotNamed: just get an Avalanche damper. mine absolutely shits on the charger damper and any fox I've ridden. Seriously dont get there isn't more love on here for Avalanche...
  • + 2
 @mustbike: good point. i always forget that they exist. i'm getting back in to riding frequently again. i think when i need to upgrade my fork, i'll order whichever chassis i want then build it with the guts i prefer. i think the price for a damper is a little steep compared to the cost of a service, especially when you can do it yourself. but i suppose that also depends on how frequently you need one.
  • - 2
 @mustbike: "absolutely shits on the charger damper"...heh.

Disagree - never understood the keyboard warrior/weekend warrior affinity for Craig and Avy dampers. Sure RS doesn't have much adjustability if you aren't into messing with shims, but the 40, especially the new one, takes a diarrhetic dump on the avy I used in my old WC boxxer...and knowing Craig, he thought he had the best damping back then and probably hasn't changed much if anything.

"Any fox i've ridden" - so do you own one? Had those that you rode been properly serviced? I think anyone serious knows that fox forks require love to keep them performing.
  • + 2
 @mustbike:

yep the most inexpensive way to have the best fork, set up exactly to your weight and riding style, is simply buy a Marzocchi 380 or 888 (get the most basic valving you can find) then buy an Avalanche cartridge and install it, it's SUPER easy to do...
JensonUSA has been selling them in the $300 range......
for like $800 plus you are hooked up !!!!!
  • + 2
 @NotNamed: Yea I've got one still on my 26" dh bike - best fork I've have.
  • + 0
 @NotNamed: Depends how good a rider you are I was chatting with a DHWC rider who said they just couldn't get enough dampening in the Marzocchis so they were running super heavy weight oils to try to compensate for it. Even with the heavy oils they were still having major issues with the forks acting as pogo sticks at speed and costing time
  • + 18
 While youre doing comparisons, can you pretty please throw the DVO onyx in the mix? Thanks
  • + 0
 Cant wait for the new emerald...
  • + 8
 That tire profile is flatter than Axl Rose trying to hit the high notes in 2018.

@paulaston all due respect, how can you even try test #3 when that profile looks horrible for breakaway in flat loose corners? Lean it over and stand on the outside all you want, all I see is a washout lurking over those side knobs.
  • + 4
 Yes. I am not a fan of the tire profile on hard terrain, but I have them as control tires on 5x 29” DH bikes I have been testing over the last few weeks.

The square profile actually makes it easier to test the breakaway point, as you mentioned it will breakaway faster than a rounder profile
  • + 8
 Sure longer offset would increase stability in theory, but only if you don’t understand the theory... Short offset creates a bigger distance between the steering axis and the contact patch (trail) and that bigger distance will be more stable than a short one.
  • + 6
 Glad I'm not the only one who caught that. Don't think the author understands the offset/trail relationship and effect.

That said, kudos on the wobble tests! You can get 95% of a bike's kinematics (anti squat, anti rise, progressivity) just from simple street/garage tests. I for one value these wobble tests for offset testing. Hadn't thought of these myself.
  • - 2
 I think he means all else equal, long offset = longer wheelbase = more stable in a straight line. Trail/contact patch impacts steering. Please let me know if I am wrong as I am still learning this stuff.
  • + 5
 @gramboh: all else equal, Short offset means longer trail, = more stability
  • + 3
 I agree, it's kinda crazy that the person reviewing fork offset doesn't know how it works.
  • + 11
 Boring because not upside down fork
  • + 6
 And because no coil.
  • + 4
 And because no conclusion , it’s like it was written by a Labour MP
  • + 8
 Is it better than a boxxer team coil? Cause a boxxer coil is better than a 2019 boxxer air. Being an air fork I doubt it is.
  • + 7
 Also anyone complaining that the boxxer coil doesn't ramp up enough and that's why air is better, race only springs makes a dual rate boxxer spring.
  • + 5
 @Kitejumping: That you for the spring details. I have a 2015 Boxxer Team coil I really like, but a bit of ramp up will be perfect!
  • + 7
 @Kitejumping: Thanks for the shout out!
  • + 4
 @RaceOnlySprings: Is there any chance we'll see progressive rear shock springs from you guys, I think there's some coin in it for you guys... and a spring in it for me
  • + 8
 Screw the offset and the crowns ,,, I just purchased the forks only and saved $350. Bike is going to look sick!
  • + 4
 As long as it looks good...
  • + 4
 As they're 38mm stanchions, Will they fit my 888's or 380's crowns??? Big Grin
  • + 7
 @Fulgacian: pretty sure these are really 27.99, since they have found it's a tonne moar lighter and faster, so no.
  • + 7
 My Manitou Dorado still works flawless in my 26" Aurum - frequently B.C proven : -) so no need to rob the piggy bank for me.
  • + 4
 I don't get why all DH forks have bigger offsets, do riders preffer it like that or.... does it have to do with wheelbase and weight distribution? I too have found that the shorter offsets corner much better and don't tuck the wheel under you, but what is longer offset better for?
  • + 4
 Forks are so good and tuneable these days it's very hard to say one is better than the other, a better fork setup badly will be worse than a cheap fork setup well, proper setup will get you much further than anything else.

Therefore i think price, durability, weight and if you're vain, looks/brand come into play more than damper performance.
  • + 2
 True that. My FAST tuned Boxxer and my friends custom tuned Boxxer have blown everyone away who tried them. It's all in the setup details now and no manufacturer will suddenly find the holy grail of suspension design,despite what they wanna make us believe. Not when other industries (moto) have been funneling insane amounts of money into development compared to the bicycle industry and still use rather simple designs. This Öhlins fork looks like a great contende, but i doubt there will be a huge shakeup in the upper echelons of downhill forks. They are all simply too good a base to work with.
  • + 1
 Adding specific tuning to a fork or shock also means that most likely a user will keep that piece of equipment longer due to its custom feel rather than buying or upgrading to new each year or two. This, to me, saves money in the long run.
  • + 4
 So, you can get the damper on its own to fit a boxxer at 160-200 travel. Does this mean it would fit a Lyrik?
  • + 2
 Damper could be too long to fit inside upper leg.
  • + 1
 @mustbike
True that brother... Craig is a genius tuner, i have been using his shocks and forks since he first started and before that he used to C-Cycle valve my moto/enduro suspenders. I will not even buy a bike these days unless I can fit an Avalanche on it. The stuff is beyond durable, always feels bottomless and support in the best.
Not a huge amount of love because people cry about a few grams vs. This or that shock or fork. But when ypu see all the components hand machined vs everyone elses stamped or "composite" parts....proof is in the pudding... I still ride a DHF 8 Ti on my Brooklyn racelink with Avalanche DHS rear and i have yet to be on anything better feeling or more confidence inspiring. Could i save 3 lbs with a new boxxer and dhx air or whatever they are being called...maybe... would i ride faster, longer, harder, bigger, safer with kess tear downs.... not a chance. Avalanche for life!
However, having had ohlins on several trusty motorized 2 wheelers over the years... i would feel confident trying this fork if it had a coil option.
  • + 1
 Well written with plenty of useful information on set up and tuning.
No silly phrases describing the performance.
I wonder if Fox and Boxxee forks that are "older" do not Fell as good because the rapidly loose performance as the fork is used?
As in constant rebuilds?
The price you pay to keep the fork light weight?
  • + 1
 VERDICT: you’ll never own these. They’ll never be in your garage as part that perfect build you keep fantasizing about. Stop reading this. Put the news on or go for a walk. Pretend they don’t exist. Out of reach doesn’t begin to cover it. Next.
  • + 2
 Honestly the offset options are the biggest selling point for me. Shorter offset has always felt better. It seems like long offsets are an attempt to correct shitty numbers on a bike...
  • + 1
 @paulaston: You mention A2C length, but not the travel your fork is set at l; what is the travel?
What is the A2C in the lowest travel setting?
Please lower this to 160-170mm of travel and test on your Geometron 16! I’m thinking about running this on mine.

I’d love to hear if the Formula Nero R can have ya travel reduced. Although I’d like less than 50mm offset on it.
  • + 2
 Sorry, it’s 200mm. What else would you run on a truck like this!
  • + 1
 @paulaston: 190mm. I believe Session 29 does that.

Listed A2C range on these forks seems high for dual crowns. Surprised tbh.

Looks like I finally have my reduced offset 29er fork sorted now.

Thanks for the reply. Get this on your G16! \m/
  • + 5
 But Öhlins is the only DH fork which is offered with such a short offset.
  • + 1
 Good looking fork but is it really that much better then a new boxxer or 40? I’d be more interested in knowing what their customer service is like and how easy it is to source parts if something breaks or what their warranty is like?
  • + 4
 What a square tire
  • + 2
 I dont see anything good about this fork other then the name that seperates it from the rest... ill stick with my 40
  • + 1
 To me, it depends if you get custom compression/rebound shim stack for your weight/riding when you buy the fork new for free or not. If you don't have to pay for that tune, there is some value there.
  • + 1
 @gramboh: my 40s are custom tuned for me and it only cost me $100 aud and they feel mint!!
  • + 1
 those dyno charts. why does the damping rate look progressive? are most people running progressive damping curves? am i missing something?
  • + 4
 Looks like a tripple 8
  • + 1
 It's 38 after all Big Grin
  • + 1
 Best unscientific tests regarding rake yet. It's a shame so many of these short articles fade into archived oblivion after forty hours.
  • + 1
 No super boost? No bottle mount? No gear box? What’s the world coming to?
  • + 1
 Meh, hopefully the tunes and internals are better than the single crowns...
  • + 2
 Tonnes of clearance huh ?
  • + 1
 My sprung 888 still the best!
  • + 1
 $350!! oh that's just for the crowns.....
  • + 0
 Fox 49?! This is the official Pinkbike rumor start.
  • + 1
 Fox 49 has been known since last year on WCDH, it's just the 29er version of the 40 (new lowers).
  • + 1
 @gramboh: I realized that right after I hit submit. Foot meet mouth.
  • + 1
 Wheres the GOLD??
  • + 3
 In Sweden...
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