FOX's new 36 lineup is, without a doubt, one of the most pivotal in the history of the company. In the last few years we've seen mid-travel suspension go from being nothing to write home about to offering next-level amounts of control and friction-free performance. It's no secret that the Pike has been leading that charge, and, having been available for about a full year now, it's firmly entrenched in many riders' minds as the
fork to have on the front of their their all-mountain or trail bike. With all that in mind, the new 36 range has to not just work well, they all have to blow riders' expectations out of the water if FOX hopes to reclaim the crown that many would say was once theirs. FOX certainly isn't shying away from that challenge, though, and to prove it they invited us to spend part of the first day in Moab on whatever fork we brought with us that we'd like to compare the new 36 to. With an invitation like that, It should come as no surprise that the majority of our small group showed up with Pikes attached to the front of their bikes. Game on.
Same Name, New ForkOptions Galore
Don't be mistaken by the similar appearance and familiar name, FOX went back to the drawing board when designing many of the new fork's features, as well as taking some of their already proven layouts and tweaking them to fit the 36's requirements. The chassis features new lowers that are said to be lighter and move back to using a traditional pinch-bolt setup, as well as being compatible with both 15mm and 20mm thru-axles by way of interchangeable inserts, and the crown sports a lower profile to drop the axle-to-crown hight. Even the Kashima stanchions see a revised treatment that FOX claims makes them slipperier than before. Internally, the FIT RC2 damper has its valving changed to better reflect both the support and suppleness that today's riders are looking for, as well as updated sealing that should further aid the latter. FOX's new hydraulic TALAS 5 travel adjust system has been dropped inside on select models. Much of those changes came about as a result of FOX's Racing Application Development program (RAD for short
) that I was able to sample last November
. I spent two days in Moab, Utah, riding the 27.5'' compatible Float 160 FIT RC2 model - the air-sprung, non-TALAS version - on the front of my 2015 Knolly Warden, and you can read what I make of it lower down on the page. For now, let's jump deep into the tech.36 Float 27.5 160 FIT RC2
• Intended use: trail / all-mountain
• Travel: 160mm / 6.3''
• Adjustments: rebound, high-speed compression, low-speed compression
• Volume adjustment
• Travel adjustable down to 130mm in 10mm steps
• Spring: air
• Thru-axle: 15mm or 20mm convertible
• New lowers, crown, revised Kashima coating
• Weight: 4.24lb (claimed
• MSRP: $1,050 USD
The tenth year of the 36 sees it become an entirely new animal, although that's only half of the story here, and it should be mentioned that FOX is giving the consumer a myriad of options when it comes to finding a 36 that suits their needs and the bike they'll be fitting it to. There's the aforementioned convertible 15mm or 20mm axle system, but there are also models to work with 26", 650B, and 29" wheels, and stock travel variations that range from 110mm to 180mm depending on the model and if it makes use of the travel adjust TALAS system or the new Float air spring. Let's not forget that stroke can be adjusted by a further 50mm on Float models as well. Want a 110mm travel 36? That might be a bit extreme, but you can do it. There are also a handful of straight 1 1/8'' steerer tube options to fit older frames should you have a bike that you'd rather not part with just yet, and even a 180mm travel, coil sprung fork with the FIT RC2 damper. There are thirteen different 36s in total, but they all have one thing in common: they're all 'Factory' level FOX forks, meaning that they all sport Kashima coated legs and sit at the top of price range. That will likely change in the future, but for now you'll have to spring for the high-end offering if you want a taste of the new 36. You can check out the 36 landing page
to see the entire lineup.
I travelled to Moab to sample the new 36, but FOX also had other news to share that will affect their entire range of production forks:
|We've always had a hand dyno at the end of the production line, and a person would run through the fork to make sure the knobs felt right and to do a compression test. Now we have a full dyno that we've implemented in the last year that does all that, but also a friction test. It's calibrated for every single fork model, and it has a range. If it doesn't spit out numbers that fit into that range, the fork gets rejected. It's allowed us to really increase our consistency and really quantify things - it's not a guy giving the fork a feel and going 'oh, this one's bad'. We still do use a hand dyno because there's no substitute for someone feeling each knob, but having real numbers to look at has helped us make things really consistent. That's one of the hardest things... you can make a pretty rad product, but can you do it ten thousand times? - Mark Jordan, Global Marketing Manager|
The 36 sees a revised Kashima coating applied to its stanctions, an updated crown and steerer unit that helps to keep fork length as low as possible, and totally new lowers that FOX says are lighter than the previous version. That last point is aided by the move away from a quick release thru-axle system and all of the hardware that comes along with it, but there's also a much more aggressive approach to removing as much unneeded magnesium as possible - there are actually five different taper zones on each side of the fork lowers. ''The 36 hadn't gone through the full chassis revision that our other forks saw in 2013,'' Mark Jordan, FOX's Global Marketing Manager, told Pinkbike. ''There's three things that we look at when we're doing chassis design, and they all go together: there's torsional flex, independent wheel movement (trans-shear) and also fore-aft flex. It's how those work together, combined with the damper, that gives you the ride quality. This fork actually takes notes from the 40 with how we've actually tuned its flex into the design.'' Bushing overlap is said to be another major factor, with FOX telling us that the new 36 has the most of any of their single crown forks. The 36's new thru-axle setup allows for either 15 or 20mm axles to be used by way of aluminum adapters at the axle clamp. The adapters are pushed into place, and a shim extends down into the gap in the clamp that the pinch bolts are run through. There is no quick release thru-axle option, but FOX says that this new compression-less design allows the fork's lower legs to stay in better alignment. ''We're including both axles with the fork,'' Jordan said when asked about consumer availability. ''And you'll get four volume spacers, with one installed in the fork already. We wanted to make it so that when someone buys an aftermarket fork, they'll have everything that they need. And if you look at the wheel size and steerer tube options, there's everything that anyone could ask for.''
While the fork's new crown and steerer unit might not be as glamorous as a fresh lower leg design, the new CSU used on the 36 might actually have a bigger impact on those who are sensitive about handlebar heights. In the past, a 160mm travel 36 was taller than a 160mm travel 34, but Jordan says that's no longer the case: ''The new 36's crown architecture is a lot lower than a 34, which is a result of all the testing and the bigger tubes,'' he explained. But why is that noteworthy? ''What that does is reduce the axle-to-crown length a little bit, and now every 26" and 27.5" 36 fork is comparable to a 34 of the same travel in length, and the new 26" 36 is about 9mm shorter than the older 36. Some of our racers are actually able to run more travel because of this.''Revised FIT RC2 Damper
FOX has been using their RC2 damper cartridge since 2005, and while it's evolved over that time, the same basic principles still apply in 2015. That means that it's still a sealed design that depends on an expanding bladder to compensate for displacement, and also still offers external low-speed compression, high-speed compression, and low-speed rebound adjustments. ''The RC2 damper uses the same sealed layout that we've had since 2005 when the 40 came out, and it's the most consistent and best way to control damping,'' Jordan says of the design. ''We've used the bladder system, which allows for more sensitivity, for a long time now, and it's basically an improved version.''. There's little doubt that FOX wants everyone to be aware that their sealed cartridge and bladder layout was in use nine years before a similarly executed system showed up in the Pike, but they're also hoping that those improvements allow the new 36 to compete with that very fork. One of the most important updates, according to FOX, is a new longer seal head that greatly reduces friction, something that has come from the race-focused RAD 34 fork.
|We're talking about stiffness and the new chassis, but the number one goal with this project, I think, was to make a fork that feels really smooth. It felt like we had a lot of stick-slip in our older forks, and the big difference that consumers were noticing was that some of our competition had a lot better feel to it as far as friction and sensitivity goes. That was the biggest goal with this project, to come up with something that offers an amazingly supple and smooth feel, but still offers support when you need it. - Ariel Lindsley, FOX Fork Expert Engineering Technician|
The cartridge's damping has been altered as well, with a revised compression tune to increase sensitivity that is said to not sacrifice support. ''The re-valve of the RC2 damper added a lot of sensitivity to the fork,'' Ariel Lindsley, FOX Fork Expert Engineering Technician, said of of the changes. ''We started looking at our notes from the race department and test riders and saw that most people were running it really far open for a lot of their settings, and that told us that this thing was way over damped. We changed our low-speed circuit, we changed the orifice size, and we changed other things in there to get a more sensitive off-the-top feel for the fork while still being able to use that low-speed adjuster in situations where you need it.'' There's also been a change to a new, lower viscosity 5wt fork oil in the damper, as well as new 20wt Gold lubrication oil that has been treated with a tackifier that helps to keep it where it's needed most, which is on dynamic surfaces instead of running down and pooling low in the fork. New Float Air Spring
While the fork's RC2 damper has seen some important updates, its air spring system has received a total overhaul. The old coil negative spring has gotten the boot, with a new air negative spring in its place. FOX cites the new system's consistency rather than the 94 gram weight loss that accompanies it, with the self-equalizing design meaning that the fork will always be at the same resting length regardless of air pressure. This wasn't the case with the older coil negative spring, with it compressing further when the rider ran higher spring pressures, which would then slightly change the fork's axle-to-crown length. The new self-equalizing design automatically fills the negative air chamber to the correct pressure by way of a bypass port on the inside the shaft, a very similar setup to what you'll find on many air sprung shocks on the market. The 36 is currently the only fork in FOX's lineup to make use of the new Float layout, but we expect it to show up on other models in the future.
FOX has also built-in both volume and travel adjustments into the Float fork's spring leg, with a wide enough range on both to satisfy pretty much anyone's setup requirements. The key point to remember here is that they have created a massively wide range of volume adjustment that is intended to be taken advantage of if you feel the need to run your 36 with less travel than it came stock with. Remember, the less travel you have, the more the spring rate might need to ramp up if you are pushing your riding hard. It's for this reason that four volume spacers - either 7.6cc or 10.8cc each - can be installed in the fork. Jordan explained that it would be very, very rare for any rider, no matter how large, to require all of the spacers if they're running the fork at full travel, and that most riders will only need one or maybe two at most. Drop the travel down by 50mm - the maximum amount - and you could require all four, though. And speaking of travel, it can be set to five different positions in 10mm increments by adding aluminum spacers of that size to the underside of the negative spring plate (shown at right). The job looks pretty simple, although you'll also have to make a quick adjustment to match the height of the negative air chamber bypass hole to your new travel setting. The 180mm Float can be taken all the way down to 130mm, and the 160mm travel fork can be lowered to 110mm, meaning that we could see some interesting setups out there. Want a super burly dirt jump or cross-country fork?36 TALAS
While previous versions of TALAS utilized an air transfer system to raise and lower the fork in its travel, FOX moved to a hydraulic system in 2014 that allows the fork's stroke to be tweaked in 5mm increments and 30mm of overall change, and this is exactly what you'll find in the 2013 36 TALAS forks. The revised layout uses just one dynamic seal as opposed to the older system's three, and it's also decoupled from the fork's air spring, giving FOX more flexibility when it comes to tuning the spring curve. The design works by transferring oil from one chamber to another by way of check balls that block the oil's passage. When in long travel mode, the TALAS unit sits at full extension at the top of the cartridge, with the majority of the oil in the TALAS unit itself. Turning the lever to the left allows the check balls to move, opening up ports that let the oil flow from the larger TALAS chamber to a zone between the cartridge wall and the outer wall of the TALAS unit, thereby pulling the TALAS element down into the cartridge and effectively shortening its overall length. The 36's air spring is still adjusted via a schrader valve in the center of the TALAS dial, with a long tube running down through the center of the unit and into the air spring chamber.
The latest TALAS system has also given FOX a simple and quick way to adjust the fork's travel when in its shorter travel setting, with clip-on spacers that snap over the outer tube of the TALAS unit. These 5mm spacers adjust the position of the shorter travel setting by limiting the movement of the hydraulic travel adjuster. If you're looking to tune how much travel the fork has when dropped down, simply unthread the spring-side top cap and clip on one or more of the 5mm spacers that restrict the total movement of the TALAS unit.
It isn't often that I fly into a product launch with my own test bike, a 2015 Knolly Warden, and am encouraged by my host to spend the initial ride not
making use of their new offering. That is exactly what went down during my recent trip to Moab, Utah, to evaluate FOX's new 36 Float 27.5 160 FIT RC2 fork, though, with the first lap of our test loop being ridden with the bike's stock Pike on the front of it. FOX wasn't shying away from a straight comparison, you see, but rather inviting a head-to-head, back-to-back, cage match of sorts, with maximum ride time and minimal propaganda. Brave, but refreshing. The plan for the first day was to smash out three laps, the first on the stock Warden, and then roll by the FOX pits to swap in the new 36 before doing two more longer laps. The second day consisted of even more saddle time, all with the 36 under me, and plenty of the rocky, rough, and unforgiving terrain that Moab has become famous for - it's the kind of place where every inch of ground looks like it has teeth, and where knee pads feel as mandatory as a helmet.
There are a few points of comparison that we'll be talking about below, but the most important, at least in my mind, has to be how the 36 compares to the Pike when talking about its ability to support the rider by staying high in its travel without feeling harsh. This sort of thing is all about finding the correct amount low-speed compression damping - too much and the fork will ride harsh, too little and it will dive deep into its stroke when you're on the brakes - all while creating the most supple action as possible. And that's one of the other things that FOX must hit out of the park: sensitivity. The 36 has to absorb the smallest of trail chatter like a sponge absorbs water. Effective damper adjustments, just the right amount of progression to its stroke, and chassis rigidity can't be forgotten about, either. Sensitivity -
It feels like FOX has matched the Pike in this regard, with the 36 offering up friction-free travel straight out of the box. This is a big step up for FOX, as their older forks never seemed to be the most active on the market. That issue looks like it has been solved, though, and I'd say that the 36 is as supple throughout its travel as its main competitor. The one caveat that I should mention is that the fork I put time on in Moab isn't actually straight off the production line, but rather assembled with 2015 production parts in an area where the FOX factory gears up for assembling consumer forks. However, I was told that it didn't see any sort of special treatment (no bushing re-sizing or special lube ect
), which means that there's no reason that a production 36 shouldn't be equally supple. Air Spring -
The 36 felt to have more than enough ramp-up in its stroke to keep me from hitting bottom harder than Toronto mayor Rob Ford, and its volume adjustment system looks like it could be tuned to keep even the square shaped, crack smoking Canadian politician from blowing through all the travel. I kicked off testing with the fork pumped up to 77psi, and while I admit to expecting to have to give it a few more pumps of air, I actually ended up dropping it down to 70psi and feeling pretty good about it. Granted, this is also surely a function of the fork's well sorted damping, but I'd say that FOX looks to have got the 36's spring curve to behave in a very useable way. Looking back now, I likely started a touch high due to how sensitive the fork's stroke is, a trait that had me nervous about it going through its travel too fast, and ended up preferring the more forgiving ride that the lower air pressure offered. Of course, this wouldn't be possible if the new 36 didn't have adequate compression damping, but I'll touch on that later on. Torsional Rigidity -
Given all the possible variables - basically everything on the front of your bike - this is always a tough one to gauge, especially when you're talking about riding an unfamiliar fork on even more unfamiliar terrain. 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. That said, with the 15mm thru-axle conversion kit installed, the new 36 felt every bit as flex-free as the Pike or X-Fusion's Vengeance platform. Situations where this sort of evenly matched comparison is evident would be moments when you're forced to corner hard at the bottom of a steep slope or compression, or even landing on uneven ground. The pinball-like sections found on Moab's LPS trail were also a good proving ground, and the 36 seemed to have no trouble in any of it, as we'd expect given its size.
Damping - And now I get to the deal breaker. FOX is well aware that if they stumble on this, the most important aspect of any high-performance fork, the 36 would be panned and that respect from aggressive riders who know what works and what doesn't might not ever return. Yes, the 36's FIT RC2 damper is an entirely different animal to the CTD cartridges used elsewhere in their fork range, but they simply can't have a repeat of 2013's underdamped offerings, can they? FOX obviously knew that as well, because the new 36 is very, very impressive when talking about balancing low-speed compression, high-speed control, and offering an effective adjustment range. How good is it? Good enough that, after two days of hard riding in Moab, I'd say that it at least equals the Pike in those areas. The big one for me is the amount of low-speed compression control on tap, with it able to strike the hard to find balance that offers good support without verging on harshness,
something that RockShox might have beaten FOX to by a year but that the 36 now matches. Again, I actually ended up dialling out the fork's LSC dial from thirteen clicks to ten, and experimenting at the extreme ends of the range showed that there's a wide enough span to make the setup process a cinch. This low-speed control, paired with the excellent spring rate, added up to what I like to call "invisible suspension". What am I talking about? It's a reference to when something simply works so well that you no longer register it during the ride, a sign that you've got a dialled setup going.
The issue of reliability aside - two days time obviously told me nothing on that front - my only real complaint is the amount of noise that the damper makes as it works to control the fork. It's actually loud enough to hear when bombing down a rough 4x4 road at a good pace, and while I'm sure it has little to no effect on performance, I did find it a bit annoying at times. It's definitely louder than the Pike, the Vengeance, and Manitou's new Mattoc, and sounds similar to SR Suntour's damper when it's working hard.
www.ridefox.comPhotos by Colin Meagher
|Two days of riding, however rough and challenging, certainly isn't enough for me to comment on reliability, or even on any sort of longterm impressions. But, given the terrain and my familiarity with the fork that FOX is trying to out-perform, it is enough for me to make some strong calls. How do I see it? The new 36 equals the Pike on all fronts, at least in my mind, and while the basic layout of their FIT cartridge and appearance of the fork remains the same, they've obviously made huge strides in the execution of both. For those who are looking at numbers, its retail price is extremely close and fork weight is within grams of the Pike. It might sound like I'm taking a bit of a soft stance by saying that the new 36 seems to be equal to the Pike rather than better or worse, but two days time on it isn't really enough to make such a definitive call. What I am sure of, however, is that FOX has made up ground on their competition, and that is good news for anyone who likes to ride their mid-travel bike hard. - Mike Levy|