There's been a lot of focus on bigger, burlier forks for enduro and e-bikes over the past two years, and it seems like every couple of months another option emerges that's supposed to be even stiffer and stronger than anything else. Given all the hubbub surrounding the quest for stanchion superiority, it's easy to overlook a shorter travel fork like the Fox 34, which quietly received several updates at the beginning of this season.
Those updates include revised lowers, a new air spring, and an updated crown shape. It still sits firmly in the downcountry / trail bike category, and is available with either 130 or 140mm of travel, with other travel options attainable by swapping out the air spring. Fox also offers the Stepcast 34, a lighter, more XC-oriented option that has less tire clearance, a maximum rotor size of 180mm, and comes in 100 or 120mm options.
Fox 34 Details
• 130, 140mm travel (shorter air springs are available)
• 34mm stanchions
• GRIP 2 damper
• Air sprung
• Wheel size: 29"
• Externally adjustable low-speed rebound, high-speed rebound, low-speed compression, high-speed compression
• 15 x 110mm spacing
• Max rotor size: 203mm
• Offset: 44 or 51mm
• Weight: 1820 grams (actual)
• MSRP: $969 USD
The 34's lowers are the most immediately noticeable difference between the new version and the previous iteration. The arch lost its edges, and it now tips forward slightly in order to ensure there's enough room to clear larger diameter head tubes at full bottom out. Channels have also been added at the back of the lowers in order to increase the amount of lower leg air volume. That extra volume is said to reduce the amount of unwanted end-stroke ramp up, and make it easier to use all the travel when warranted. Volume spacers are still used to adjusted the air volume in the positive chamber.
The leg channels also provide a way for the lower leg bath oil to reach the foam rings and bushings in order to keep everything moving smoothly. The 36 and 38 both have valves installed on the lower legs to let out any trapped air, but the 34 forgoes that feature in order to save some weight.
Inside, the 34 retains the familiar GRIP 2 damper
, which provides externally adjustable high- and low-speed compression and rebound adjustment. The 34 has 8 clicks of high-speed compression and high-speed rebound, and 16 clicks each of low-speed compression and low-speed rebound. In typical fashion, the compression is adjusted by the two dials at the top, and the two rebound dials are accessed by unthreading the aluminum cap on the bottom of the right leg.
On the air spring side of the fork, the negative volume has increased yet again, a step that was done to increase the amount of mid-stroke support. With a larger negative chamber, the spring curve of the fork becomes more linear, with a more consistent ramp up as it goes through its travel. It's worth noting that if you're planning to do any air spring swaps on this fork, you'll need to make sure to purchase the 2022 version – prior models won't work. Setup
I started out with the 34 set at 140mm, and installed it on a Specialized Stumpjumper. After a month or so with that setup, I installed a 120mm air spring and moved it over to a Transition Spur, where it currently resides.
Fox's setup guide providing a good place to start, although the air pressures were a little on the soft side for me – I ended up around 7 psi over the suggested settings. I'm 160 lb, and I ran 87 psi. Counting clicks from closed, my other settings were: HSC: 5, LSC: 12, LSR: 8, and HSR: 5. Performance
The overall feel of the 34 is closer to what you'd expect on something with more travel – this isn't just an XC fork with more adjustments. It does an excellent job of managing its relatively short amount of travel, with a nice smooth, predictable ramp up. In the 120mm configuration, I ran 3 volume spacers out of a possible 6, and was able to use full travel when necessary, while still having plenty of support to keep from sitting too close to the bottom of the stroke.
It's the way the 34 responds to impacts, particularly smaller bumps that really makes it stand out. The Grip2 damper combined with the revised air spring creates a fork with a sensitive beginning portion of the travel, and an uncanny ability to melt away bigger hits without blowing through the travel. There's a suppleness to it that's not always found on forks in this travel bracket - more XC-oriented forks tend to feel a little firmer off the top in order to appease the efficiency-is-everything crowd. For riders who do want that extra beginning stroke support, the StepCast version of this fork does allow some negative air spring tuning that should make that possible.
What about stiffness? For its intended purpose, I'd say the 34 is right on the mark. I didn't experience any distracting flexing or twisting, and I took this fork on plenty of rugged trails. Yes, a 36 is noticeably stiffer, but it's also heavier by nearly .75 lb, a significant weight penalty, especially when you're trying to choose a fork for a lighter, shorter travel bike. How Does it Compare?
The regular Fox 34 sits in its own little niche when compared to what RockShox has to offer, slotting in between the SID and the Pike. The SID is lighter, at 1537 grams, but it also doesn't have nearly the same range of adjustments as the 34 – it has rebound, an on / off lockout lever, and that's it. Realistically, the 34 SC is the SID's direct competitor, and in that match-up the weights are much closer, with a 40 gram difference in the 34's favor between the two.
The standard Fox 34 is approximately 40 grams lighter than a Pike Ultimate, although it also costs $70 more. On the trail, I can't detect a noticeable stiffness difference – the 1mm variation in stanchion size isn't enough to drastically affect the handling, at least not in my case. As far as adjustments go, high speed rebound is the only adjustment the 34 has that the Pike doesn't. Personally, that wouldn't be enough reason for me to choose one over the other, but it's a point worth mentioning.
On the trail, the Pike seems to sit a little higher in its travel initially, while the 34 settles a little further into the mid-stroke – I think it'd be fair to call the Pike 'sporty', and the 34 more 'supple'. Which one would I pick if I was building up a 120mm downcountry machine? It'd be easy to sit on the fence for this one, since I'm able to find a very usable setup for both forks, but if forced to choose I'd go with the 34. It smooths out the faster, rougher hits a touch better than the Pike, and that makes a difference when you're doing long days on a little bike.
Extremely smooth and silent operation+
Very usable range of adjustments
More expensive than closest competition-
27.5" fans will need to look elsewhere