Every now and then a company comes along and challenges accepted wisdom. Over the last few years, enduro forks have got stiffer and air springs have got more linear, meaning a softer beginning-stroke, more sag and a firmer mid-stroke. But Bright Racing Shocks, a boutique Italian suspension brand, think that's the wrong way to go. They have three products, designed for XC, trail and enduro; I've been testing the Enduro version, the F929 Next.
All Bright's forks are inverted - a design which is often associated with poorer torsional stiffness, but Bright claim their design has ample steering precision. Even more unusually, Bright believes you don't want a fork to be soft off the top. They say the faster you ride, the less static sag you need, and as their forks are aimed at racers and passionate riders, they think you don't need much sag at all.
Bright Racing Shocks F929 Next Details
• Intended use: Enduro, trail, eMTB
• Travel: 150mm, but designed to match a 170mm conventional fork thanks to minimal sag
• Axle-to-crown: 562mm (similar to 150mm fork)
• 35mm stanchions, 49mm carbon fiber upper legs
• Adjustments: Low-speed compression/lockout, low-speed rebound, air pressure
• Weight: 2,287-grams (actual)
• MSRP: 1,930 Euros
• Bright Racing Shocks
As a result, the Next is said to be equivalent to a regular fork with about 20mm more travel. The fork I have on test has 150mm of actual travel, but because it barely sags under rider weight, it has a similar ride height at sag as a conventional 170mm fork, which is what it's designed to compete against.
While other brands are adding more features and dials, Bright keeps the adjustability to a minimum. Only the air pressure, low-speed compression and low-speed rebound are adjustable by the user. Instead, they'll custom-tune the damper for each customer.
The carbon fiber upper tubes have a 49mm diameter at their widest part and are fixed into a CNC-machined solid aluminum crown. Like most inverted forks, the legs would be free to move up and down and twist independently if it wasn't for the 15mm thru-axle that, along with the hub, ties the two legs together. The dropouts are torque-cap compatible and Bright strongly recommends using a Torque Cap hub to increase the stiffness. The thru-axle tightens up with a 6mm Allen key plus a 4mm pinch bolt on the leg opposite the thread. It's not a floating axle like Fox and Ohlins use, so the pinch bolt is just there to hold the axle to the leg on the non-threaded side.
At 2,287 grams (5.04 lbs), it's a shade lighter than a RockShox Zeb, but heavier than a Lyrik or Fox 36.
The brake mount is replaceable - in this case, it's a 200mm post-mount. The stanchions measure 35mm in diameter, which makes it possible to use RockShox wiper seals for at-home servicing. Bolt-on plastic stanchion guards are designed to protect the stanchions from impacts and debris.
The spring and damper are housed in the left leg, while the right leg is essentially passive, except for the small spring force due to the air in the leg being compressed. Theoretically, having the damper and spring on the same side could create a more uneven force on the chassis during the compression stroke, because all of the force resisting compression is coming from one side of the axle. But in most modern forks where the damper is in one leg and the spring in the other the forces from the damper and spring are rarely equal anyway.
The damper is a fairly conventional single-tube cartridge design, with a spring-backed IFP compensating for displaced oil. There's a low-speed compression adjuster at the top and a low-speed rebound dial at the bottom. The compression dial acts as a lockout when closed off - making it similar in use to Fox's Grip damper compression dial. Neither adjuster has detents (clicks) but instead has a continuous motion. The compression adjuster has a range of about one and a quarter turns from fully closed to open, while the rebound adjuster has about 3.75 turns. If it was a whole number of turns or the settings were delineated by distinct clicks it would be easier to keep track of settings.
The air spring is really what makes the F929 so distinctive to ride. The air valve located at the bottom of the fork pressurises the air in the left-hand stanchion, which is compressed by a piston at the base of the damper. There's no negative air spring, but there is a small coil negative spring housed inside the damper to help push the fork away from top-out and into its travel. Coil negative springs are used in other forks from X-Fusion and DVO, but the negative spring in the F929 is much weaker and shorter, meaning the fork stays close to top-out at sag.
There are no volume spacers to adjust the ramp-up, but the fork is very progressive towards the end of the travel.
The lack of any real negative spring means lower pressures are needed for it to engage its travel. For my 85Kg weight, I'd run about 100psi in a RockShox Lyrik (which also has 35mm stanchions), but with the F929 I settled on 52psi. This lower pressure is mostly down to the lack of a negative spring, which acts against the positive spring throughout the travel in most forks, but also the low volume and high compression ratio of the positive air chamber, which makes it quite progressive. I tried everything from 48 to 65 psi, but I found that with more than 55 psi the fork was too harsh when it first made contact with the ground, caused it to top-out hard like a slide-hammer even with the rebound very slow, and made it too firm at the end of the travel, making it almost impossible to use more than 120 mm of travel.
Bright sent me three dampers to test during the test period.
With the first damper, I tried all the rebound settings from fully open to fully closed but settled at around halfway. Slow rebound caused it to bog down into its travel, while running it any faster caused the fork over-extend and top-out. The rebound setting was always a compromise between these two factors, which occur simultaneously throughout most of the range. Bright suggested sending me a second damper with a firmer high-speed compression tune to hold the fork up when riding hard, thereby allowing for lower air pressure to be used.
Swapping the damper/spring unit is a straightforward task requiring no more than a plastic tool supplied with the fork and a spanner or socket. You'll also need some suspension grease and a little Bright or Fox Gold oil, but the whole process can be done in less than ten minutes.
The second damper was too slow when fully open on rebound, so Bright quickly sent a third damper with the firmer HSC tune but lighter rebound. This time, my ideal setup was somewhere near the middle of both adjusters, with the air pressure around 50-52 psi.
Even with this lowest pressure (50 psi), I measured just 20mm of sag, whereas with a 170mm conventional fork you might run as much as 40 mm (22.5%) sag, so in theory, the difference in sag roughly cancels out the difference in axle-to-crown length when run at this pressure, meaning the ride height at sag is similar.
It's worth noting that small changes in air pressure make a big difference to sag. If you doubled the air pressure in a self-equalising Fox or RockShox fork you'd get (roughly) half as much sag, but with the F929, increasing the pressure above 60 psi almost eliminates the sag entirely. This makes it feel like a conventional fork that's been inflated but hasn't yet been equalised, so there's no air in the negative spring. This is because the F929's coil negative spring doesn't change proportionately with air pressure.
It's also worth mentioning on the setup front that installing a wheel in this fork is a little fiddly. The two legs can twist and slide independently of one another, making it hard to line everything up, and the Allen key for the thru-axle enters at the threaded end, making it tricky to keep enough force on the axle for it to locate the threads while simultaneously turning it. Another disadvantage of USD forks is that most mudguards are pretty ineffective when placed under the crown as opposed to under the arch. Also, the valve located at the base of the fork sprays oil when releasing air or removing a shock pump; this could contaminate the brake.
On the other hand, the clip-in cable guide is genius and the removable 200mm brake mount is an elegant solution.
While most forks from Fox, RockShox and Ohlins feel pretty similar on the trail, Bright is definitely offering something different.
With pressures north of 55 psi, the fork had too little sag and felt overly springy and keen to top-out when riding technical terrain and lifting the front wheel over obstacles. Running the spring down to 50 psi, the sag increased to around 20 mm (13%), which was just enough to keep the front wheel in touch with the ground most of the time and avoid the worst of the top-out.
But with the spring pressure in the low fifties, the fork is very soft in the middle third of its travel. This can make it feel a little unpredictable on steps or holes, as the fork moves through that part of the travel very readily. The ramp-up is there towards the end of the stroke, which means the chassis movement doesn't get too extreme, although the downside is that I rarely dipped into the last 20 mm of travel even with the lowest pressures I tried. With the firmer compression tune, it's usually manageable even on steep terrain. Although I resorted to running the compression almost locked o-ut on particularly technical features, and otherwise the lack of spring support is unnerving when things get out of shape.
Even with the lowest air pressure and the rebound set much slower than I'd usually run it, it would still top-out when bunnyhopping or lifting the front wheel, which makes it a little harder to judge the timing and amplitude when initiating a manual. On really fast and rough trails the top-out added a little harshness when it happened frequently. Setting the rebound even slower helped reduce this problem but the fork started packing down (exacerbating the lack of support) before the top-out issue diminished.
But with suspension, everything has pros and cons. The upside of Bright's unusual "stiff then soft then stiff" spring curve is that the soft middle part of the travel makes it really, really comfortable when plowing through rough terrain with the fork consistently loaded. When riding headlong into a kerb (or similar trail feature), the fork moves so readily into its travel that it just soaks it up. Long, rocky, but uncomplicated tracks which usually result in hand buzz were noticeably less jarring as the fork soaked up the bumps, even with the damping pretty firm. This is pretty much the reverse of what I found with the Vorsprung Secus
, which offered exceptional support, predictability and traction, but was also firmer in the middle of the travel, leading to more feedback on single, simple impacts. Having said that, the need to use such firm damping on compression and rebound to mitigate the diving and top-out led to a lot of buzz on high-frequency, small bump terrain like weathered machine-built trails.
I'm not sure if the inverted design, with the bushings closer to the axle and with lubricant held against the wiper seals by gravity, helps improve sensitivity - the spring curve is what dominates the fork's character. Similarly, even with a Torque Cap hub, the steering occasionally felt a little vague and delayed, but this could be down to that mid-travel wallow leading to a disconnected sensation. When I used a normal hub, the front wheel definitely felt less responsive and predictable in high-load situations like ruts and pivot turns. I don't have a stiffness testing jig, but based on the "wiggle the bars with the wheel against a wall" test, the Bright fork feels significantly less torsionally stiff than a Fox 36, even with the Torque Cap hub, but on the trail, this was rarely an issue.
I did a day of back-to-back testing comparing the Bright to a 2021 Fox 36 Factory set to 170mm travel on a classic South Wales enduro track with a mix of terrain. On the one hand, the Fox fork couldn't gobble up the mid-sized chatter like the more softly-sprung but firmly-damped Bright fork, making it feel a little more firm and springy when dealing with individual, square-edged hits. But on the other hand, the 36 was much easier to ride in the more complicated situations; the extra sag kept the front wheel pressed into the ground on matted roots and the more linear spring feel offered more to push against under braking or when slapping into catch berms. I also felt more able to nail tight, high-load turns with the Fox fork, though whether that's down to stiffness or support I can't say. Most of all, the way the regular fork gently and predictably eases into its travel made it feel much more forgiving and predictable on choppy terrain.
Bright Racing Shock's Response
Superb sensitivity and comfort when the fork is loaded and plowing.+
Unique and boutique.
Lack of sag but soft mid-stroke creates an unpredictable feel.-
Regular top-out even with soft settings and slow rebound.-