New Fork Chassis
FOX made a giant leap forward last year with their new 36, a fork that has arguably put them back on everybody's radar when talking about high-end suspension on a mid-travel bike that's going to be ridden hard. In fact, the new 36 was so impressive that we named it our Suspension Product of the Year when there were some impressive offerings from their competition. FOX is looking to set the bar high once again, but this time with a lighter weight package that could be just the ticket for a trail rider who doesn't need the burliness of the 36 but could still benefit from an advanced damper.
The 2016 Factory Series Float 34 that's reviewed below weighs in at under 4lb and can run anywhere between 110mm and 160mm (in 10mm increments
) of travel depending on wheel size. FOX has developed a completely new Float air spring for the 34 that's both lighter and simpler, and clip-on volume spacers can be used to tune its progression. More importantly, though, there's an all-new FIT4 damper that replace the not so loved CTD unit that has been in use for a few years now. The final product is a fork that's a decent chunk lighter than a 36 (the previous 34 didn't weigh that much less
), which makes for a clearer separation between it and its larger legged big brother. The question, though, is if it can offer similar air spring and damper performance, a feat that would make the Factory Series Float 34 a real contender for the front of a lot of mid-travel bikes. FOX Factory Series Float 34 Details
• Intended use: trail / all-mountain
• Travel: 110mm - 160mm depending on model and setting
• New Float air spring
• New FIT4 damper
• Three-position compression adjuster
• Optional handlebar mounted remote
• Low-speed compression tuneable in Open mode
• Volume adjust via clip-on spacers
• Thru-axle: 15QR
• Weight: 1,769g / 3.9lb (29er, 140mm
• MSRP: $875 USD
The 2016 FOX 34 looks a lot like the 34s that came before it, especially when you stand a few feet back, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Not only are the internals completely new, the 34's entire chassis, including the lowers, crown, stanchions, and even the steerer tube have been re-worked with weight savings in mind. The claimed weight savings for each individual item is modest, but the numbers add up to a decent amount that any gram counter is going to appreciate: 34g out of the steerer tube, 31g out of the crown, 53g removed from the upper tubes, 49g out of the lowers, and a whopping 130g cleaved with the new Float air spring. All told, the 2016 34 29er with 140mm of travel is said to weigh 1,769g / 3.9lb, which is 297g / .65lb lighter than the comparable model from 2015. The 160mm travel, 27.5'' fork comes in at 1,746g / 3.85lb, which is 219g / .48lb lighter.
For comparison's sake, and just because that might not be enough numbers for you, the 2015 36 Float 27.5 160 FIT RC2 weighs 1,923g / 4.24lb (claimed
), which is 177g / .39lb heavier than the 2016 34 Float in the same travel and wheel size. While that's less than half a pound difference, those who are aiming to build up a competitively light do-everything bike should take notice, especially given that the 34's new damper and Float air spring offer 36-like performance (more on that below
) in a package that might be better suited to how a lot of us ride.
It's interesting that, aside from some obviously different shaping to the arch and on the crown, a lot of riders might not be able to tell the difference between a 2016 34 Float and a model from previous years, especially when you consider that the fork reviewed here is a completely new animal inside and out. FOX has certainly continued as per normal when it comes to appearances, but they are also planning on offering a version with a sort of neutral grey coloured lowers that will set it apart from its predecessor. New Float Air Spring
FOX debuted a revised Float air spring system last year on their burlier 36, but, surprisingly, they haven't used that system inside the 34. Instead, they designed a completely new Float air spring assembly that actually takes cues from their Float rear shock. ''On the 36, the transfer port was on the shaft, allowing travel changes with spacers and by repositioning the shaft height,
'' Mark Jordan, FOX's Global Marketing Manager, explained when questioned about the difference. ''On the 34, we’ve removed the shaft and need for a seal to make it lighter, and now the transfer port is on the upper tube, just like with our Float shocks.
'' Two birds with one stone, as the saying goes, by using a system that should offer less friction due to depending on one less air seal, but also one that's a remarkable 130 grams lighter when talking about the 140mm travel 29er fork's air spring.
New FIT4 Damper
Lighter and simpler should always be the goal, but it's also worth mentioning that riders who want to change the travel of their 2016 34 will find that it takes a different technique compared to what the Float air spring in the 36 requires. Now, rather than repositioning the shaft height and swapping out negative spring plate spacers as on the 36, you'll need to change the entire rod and spring plate assembly on the 34. The job is super simple - we actually did it while at the trail head of one of my local mountains - and it requires a similar amount of disassembly. The different approach is required because the Float's air transfer port is now on the stanchion tube, just like on FOX's Float shocks, rather than on the air shaft. There's also a new and very easy way to tweak the 34's progression, with a set of simple clip-on volume spacers that snap into place and that each account for 10 CCs of volume. The first one slides onto the underside of the fork cap, while each one clips onto the one above it. They're also shaped to not rattle against the inside of the stanchion tube, with small fins of sorts that extend out to keep them from moving around.
Here's the news that many riders have been waiting to hear: FOX has ditched their CTD system in favour of their new FIT4 damper. The new damper still uses a three-position adjuster, but the Climb, Trail and Descend nomenclature has been replaced with more traditional Open, Medium, and Firm modes that function very differently. ''The FIT4 damper uses architecture from the RC2 damper found in the 36 and 40, featuring a 10mm shaft design that increases oil flow to the base valve,
'' explained Jordan. ''We improved the flow path design in the base valve for the three compression damping positions to provide more adjustment, sensitivity and control. We also increased flow through the rebound circuit for faster recovery from deep stroke hits.
'' The new three-position FIT4 damper is said to have a wider damping range than the old CTD system, and FOX also listened to many riders who were asking for a more traditional low-speed compression adjuster dial that would allow them to have more control over how the fork performs - there's now an anodized black dial to adjust LSC when the fork is set to the Open mode, with twenty two clicks that go from nearly overlapping the Medium mode to offering extremely light damping.
Air Spring -
Riding The Factory Series Float 34
Sensitivity - FOX made massive strides with the 36 in this department last year and it's very clear that they've put the same sort of effort towards the new 34. In fact, the two feel nearly identical in this regard, although there were times when my test fork actually felt like it trumped its bigger brother - I can't imagine anyone wishing it to be more supple and active than it already is. The smallest of edges are dealt with extremely easily, which surely must help in the traction department, especially in wet or loose conditions. The improvement in sensitivity at the top of the stroke over the previous generation 34 is large enough that I'd be surprised if any rider didn't nail which was which in a blind test, and the difference is night and day in these times when companies often tout the most minuscule of gains as being life changing. The general lack of friction in the fork is also appreciable past the sag point and deeper into the stroke where the fork would spend most of its time, not just something that you'll notice on the showroom floor.
Having a fork be extremely supple and smooth not only feels great when it comes to smaller impacts, it can also make for a wider setup window that doesn't force a rider to sacrifice small bump compliance when running a stiffer spring rate, either for more support or better pedalling performance. I ran the fork with as much as 90 PSI in it at one point during testing (I settled on 75 PSI when running 120mm of travel, by the way) and there was next to no loss in small bump compliance at an air pressure setting that was very clearly too high for my 170LB weight. The fork was more supportive and 'sporty' feeling, but still took in the small edges from rocks and roots extremely well. FOX says that this is down to a combination of the updates to the chassis and stanchion tube finish, their 20 wt Gold lubrication oil, the new Float air spring, the low-friction seal head in the FIT 4 damper, and especially the refined low-speed compression damping characteristics, all things that are carried over from the development of the latest 36.
A large part of the new 34's great performance has to be put down to the fork's reworked air spring design that has more in common with the company's Float rear shock than the Float air spring layout in the 36. The change means that the air transfer port is now on the stanchion tube, and that there's one less air seal in the system, and it feels like FOX got a lot of things spot-on here. It's smoother than what they've offered in years past, but it also transmits less harsh spiking through to the handlebar when you're already well into the travel and come up onto a high-speed impact. Yes, the damper plays a role in those type of events as well, but the 34's air spring is very un-air spring-like in a lot of ways. That's saying something when you consider how far air sprung suspension has come, and that steel coils are now an odd thing to have inside of any competitive mid-travel fork.
The 34's new Float air spring also uses an equally new volume adjustment system, with clip-on spacers that account for 10 CCs of volume per unit. They're super easy to use, so long as you have the tool to remove the top cap and a shock pump, and adding or removing a single one makes a noticeable difference to the fork's stroke from about the mid-point on. I shuffled between four and six spacers while tinkering with things and depending on whether I was running the fork with 130mm or 120mm of travel, but I ended up settling on six for either travel setting. FOX says that this is the maximum amount of spacers for both of those travel settings (four is the max at 160mm
), which puts me at the outer range of the adjustment scale. However, I certainly don't need the fork to be more progressive than it is with six spacers in it, and I do admit to riding a short-travel bike a bit like a more-travel bike, which isn't really what the majority of riders might be asking of their cross-country or trail machines. Also, there's a good chance that a larger rider than me would step up to the 36, or at least be running the 34 at 140 or 150mm of travel.Torsional Rigidity -
Torsional rigidity has to be my least favourite thing to make a call on. I could ramble on for hours about damper and spring settings, or anything else for that matter, but one man's perfect can be another's not enough when talking about a fork's flex. My disclaimer is always this: given all the possible variables - basically everything on the front of your bike - this is always a tough one to gauge. Simply using a different front wheel, a tire with a stiffer or more forgiving casing, or even changing tire pressure, can alter your perception of a fork's torsional rigidity. I know that some of the European media is all about putting forks and frames on testing jigs to measure this and that, with them basing a lot of their reviews on what machines tell them, but a lab is not the real world and flex can be a good thing.
Anyways, is the 34 torsionally stiff enough? Yes, and I didn't feel anything in the way of winding up or imprecise steering feedback. At 170 lb and with some fairly rowdy local trails to test on, I don't think the 34 needs to be one iota stiffer in this regard. Keep in mind that my 34 was set at both 130 and 120mm of travel for testing, not 150 or 160mm. The 36 and Pike are likely going to be more rigid at those numbers, but there's also a weight gain there, so it all comes down to what sort of balance you're looking to strike. For me and how I ride, I'm more than happy with what the 34 offers. Damping -
The CTD damper in the previous generation 34 took a lot of heat, much of it justified, and while FOX did eventually sort out most the CTD system's issues, they were aiming to take a larger step forward than what sticking to that layout would allow. They've managed to do exactly that with the new FIT4 damper, and the performance on tap shouldn't really come a surprise when you consider that the architecture of the 34's FIT4 damper is very similar to the RC2 unit tucked up inside the 36 and 40. The 34 feels very much like a pint-sized 36 when talking about damper performance, with ample low-speed compression support that avoids that wallowy feeling that, while being forgiving, can lead to a vague handling bike at the best of times, and a downright sketchy one at the worst of times. The fork stays high in its stroke without having to depend on an excessively stiff spring rate to do so, but it also allows the front wheel to move up and out of the way of impacts in speedy manner. The more time I spent on the new 34, the less air pressure I ran and the less low-speed compression damping I felt I needed, going from fourteen to eleven clicks out of a possible twenty two as I began to trust the fork's damper to do its job. Bracketing (starting at the extremes and working towards a happy medium
) showed that the black LSC dial that adjusts low-speed compression in only the Open mode is very effective, and running it either all the way out or all the way in provides a drastically different sort of performance that should be enough for pretty much any type of rider or terrain.
The difference between the older CTD damper and the new FIT4 unit is most noticeable when you compare the middle settings of either. Yes, the most recent CTD damper could be adjusted to offer more than adequate support if you were looking for something to push against and a more responsive ride, but it wasn't until I began to put time on this new 34 that I realized just how unforgiving that 'Trail' setting really is. Flipping the blue compression lever on the FIT4 damper provides a similar level of support, but it manages to do so without passing nearly as much chatter through to the rider - it's simply far more forgiving. I suspect that some of that is down to a much more refined air spring as well, but regardless, the Medium damper setting on the latest 34 is a revelation compared to what I admittedly already thought was pretty decent performance from the most recent version of its predecessor. Will anyone miss the three-position Trail setting of the old CTD damper? I very much doubt it, especially when you consider that you can use the Open mode's LSC dial to tune in a firm ride that feels nearly as supportive as the damper's Medium setting. The Firm setting does offer some bleed-through, but it's more than stiff enough to please any cross-country whippet out there that's looking to set a new KOM up their local gravel grind.
Moving between the three damper settings while on the go is an easy task - just reach down to toggle on the blue 'fin' on the dial - and the throw between each isn't excessive or short enough as to be confusing. Anodizing on the dial does make it clear which way to turn it, and there is a nice, firm index to each one, but there are no clocking marks that make it clear which of the three settings the fork is currently in. That's a pretty minor quibble, but I did find myself reaching down to down check that I was in the desired mode every now and then during the first handful of rides. Pinkbike's Take:
|The 36 and 40 have received the lion's share of FOX's attention over the last few years, so it was high time that they took the 34 back to the drawing board. What they came back with is impressive. If you skipped all the tech talk and riding impressions typed out above, all you really need to know is this: the new Factory Series Float 34 offers damping performance on par with FOX's much heralded 36 RC2 forks and RockShox's Pike, but in a sub-4lb package. I'd also argue that, as good as it is, the 36 is overkill for many riders, and that's where the 34 should come in - its FIT4 damper is a thing of beauty in action, and it's an overall lighter weight package that just makes sense. - Mike Levy|
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About the ReviewerStats: Age: 34 • Height: 5'10” • Inseam: 33" • Weight: 165lb • Industry affiliations / sponsors: None Mike Levy spent most of the 90s and early 2000s racing downhill bikes and building ill-considered jumps in the woods of British Columbia before realizing that bikes could also be pedalled for hours on end to get to some pretty cool places. These days he spends most of his time doing exactly that, preferring to ride test bikes way out in the local hills rather than any bike park. Over ten years as a professional mechanic before making the move to Pinkbike means that his enthusiasm for two wheels extends beyond simply riding on them, and his appreciation for all things technical is an attribute that meshes nicely with his role of Technical Editor at Pinkbike.