Fox's 34 series is their jack of (nearly) all trades chassis, with it seeing action on everything from cross-country race bikes to light duty all-mountain machines. That sort of versatility is great, but the 2019 model year sees Fox add a lighter, more focused version to their catalog: the 34 Step-Cast.
The main talking points include the all-new Step-Cast chassis that, much like the even lighter 32, sees less material used but, according to Fox, a gain in rigidity. While the 32 Step-Cast chassis is narrower than the standard 32, so much so that its Step-Cast lowers needed to be re-engineered to clear the front wheel's spokes and brake rotor, the 34 Step-Cast chassis is less out there.
The width is the same as the normal 34, so Fox didn't need the extra clearance at the inside of the lowers, but they did pare down the outside of the lowers where they meet the 15mm thru-axle dropouts.
34 Step-Cast Details
• Intended use: cross-country / trail
• Wheel size: 27.5'' or 29''
• Travel: 120mm (non-adjustable)
• Updated EVOL air spring
• New, lighter Step-Cast chassis
• Dedicated air spring
• FIT4 damper
• Three-position compression, low-speed compression (in Open mode), low-speed rebound
• 27.5'' chassis fits 2.8” tire / 29'' chassis fits 2.6'' tire
• Weight: 3.5lb (27.5'', w/ Kabolt)
• MSRP: $943 USD (FIT4 w/o remote), $1,024 USD (FIT4 w/ remote), $789 USD (GRIP)
Fox says that a 27.5'' 34 Step-Cast with a Kabolt axle comes in a 3.5lb, a number that's half a pound less than a standard 34 with 140mm of travel. More compelling is that Fox claims that it's also a third of a pound lighter than a 120mm-travel 32 while also being 15-percent stiffer.
So many numbers, including this one: 120mm, which is the only travel setting that you can get a 32 Step-Cast in due to the stanchions and lowers being optimized for that stroke.
The 34 Step-Cast comes in three flavours but, interestingly, not one of them uses the new, four-way adjustable GRIP2 damper
. Instead, the two Factory options both employ the FIT4 system, with one coming with a remote ($1,024 USD) and the other without ($943 USD). The least expensive of the three is the Performance model that features Fox's less adjustable, and therefore less expensive, original GRIP damper for $789 USD.
See how the lowers taper down near the thru-axle? That's how you spot a Step-Cast 34.
The fork's EVOL air spring also gets tweaked, with fewer dynamic seals for less friction, and a slightly more linear rate through the first quarter of the fork's travel for better sensitivity. Fox has also employed their FIT4 damper that offers 22-clicks of low-speed compression adjustment (in the Open setting), and a three-mode compression dial for on-the-fly adjustments. There's also a new, lower friction seal head and an update to the damper tune.
Think of the Step-Cast chassis is an all-new home for internal updates that Fox has made for 2019, and the whole thing is a lighter weight, 120mm-travel package.
The updated Float EVOL air spring requires less dynamic seals, which should mean less friction.
The 27.5'' fork has room for a monster-sized 2.8'' tire, while the 29'' fork will fit a 2.6'' wide tire.
If the damper dials and air spring cap look familiar, it's because Fox has dropped in updated versions of their proven FIT4 damper and Float EVOL air spring.
I've spent time on a bunch of 34s over the years, from the top of the range Factory forks to the less expensive GRIP offerings, and being the kind of guy who likes relatively light bikes with medium amounts of travel, it's a fork that I've always gelled with. Those 34s have impressed me, and it's no surprise to me that the new 34 Step-Cast does the same.
I've had the 34 Step-Cast on the front of Santa Cruz's new Blur for awhile now, and it's seen everything from grueling cross-country stage racing to the rowdy rock slabs of Squamish. After all that, I'd say that it feels pretty much identical to me as Fox's previous top-tier 34 offering, which isn't exactly a bad thing.
Santa Cruz's new Blur with the 120mm-travel 34 Step-Cast and full stage race-mode regalia.
To my 160lb body, it didn't come across as less or more torsionally rigid than other 34s I've used, but it does make a 32 feel a bit spindly... no surprise there, of course. As for the updated damper and Float air spring, the same applies; I wouldn't try to convince anyone that I noted a difference, but I also have exactly zero things to complain about.
The Step-Cast being fixed at 120mm means that it's going to have a smaller audience than an adjustable or longer travel fork of similar intention, but those riders who don't need more stroke will have the option of a lighter weight package, should they want it.