The RockShox vs. Fox battle is mountain biking's equivalent of pitting Coke vs. Pepsi, or Ford vs. Chevy. They're the two biggest players in the suspension world, and if you're in the market for a new bike there's a very, very good chance that it will come with either a RockShox or Fox fork.
RockShox launched their new Lyrik
earlier this year, and shortly after Fox debuted the new Fox 36 GRIP2
. Both options are air sprung, and aimed at riders looking for a fork that can handle everything from enduro racing to aggressive trail riding. With similar weights, prices, and features, choosing one over the other is a difficult, but not impossible task. I've spent considerable time on both forks, including back-to-back testing in Whistler in order to assess their real-world performance.
Fox 36 Factory GRIP2 Details
• FIT GRIP2 damper
• EVOL air spring
• Adjustable high- and low-speed compression and rebound
• Wheel size: 27.5" or 29"
• Max travel: 170mm (29"), 180mm (27.5")
• Reduced offset options (37mm for 27.5", 44mm for 29")
• Weight: 2,020-grams (160mm 29")
• MSRP: $1,065 USD
RockShox Lyrik RC2 Details
• Charger 2 RC2 damper
• DebonAir air spring
• Adjustable rebound, high- and low-speed compression
• Wheel size: 27.5" or 29"
• Travel: 150, 160, 170, 180mm
• Offsets: 37mm, 46mm (27.5"), 42mm, 51mm (29")
• Weight: 2,000 grams (160mm 29")
• Price: $999 USD
Both forks offer adjustable high- and low-speed compression damping.
The chassis design of both forks is fairly similar – they both use magnesium lowers and aluminum stanchion tubes, although Fox's Kashima-coated stanchions have a 36mm diameter, while RockShox's Fast Black stanchions measure 35mm.
Internally, both forks use a cartridge style damper, but the difference lies in how they deal with the increased oil pressure that occurs when a fork is compressed. RockShox's Charger II damper uses an extruded rubber bladder that expands as the piston moves into the cartridge to handle the displaced oil.
Fox has used a bladder-style system in the past, but they went a different route with the GRIP2, and chose to use a spring-backed internal floating piston, a simple but effective design that was originally found on their more budget oriented Rhythm forks.
AdjustmentsFox 36 GRIP2
The Lyrik has one rebound dial, while the 36 has two, for high- and low-speed rebound adjustment.
If this were purely a battle to see which fork had the most adjustments, Fox would take the win. The 36 GRIP2's exact number of clicks on the high-speed compression knob may vary, but according to Fox there are 16 usable settings when starting from fully closed. There are also 12 clicks of low-speed compression, 8 clicks of high-speed rebound damping adjustment, and 16 clicks of low-speed rebound adjustment.
Fox use plastic volume spacers that clip onto each other to adjust the 36's end stroke ramp-up, although a 32 mm socket is required to remove the top cap. It's a tiny detail, but I prefer the cassette tool style that RockShox use – no matter how careful I am, I inevitably end up with a few scuffs on the Fox style of top cap after a few volume spacer adjustments.RockShox Lyrik RC2
The big news this year was the return of adjustable high-speed compression damping on the Lyrik. It'd been absent for a few seasons, part of RockShox's 'less is more' strategy when it comes to adjustments, but now it's back, and there are five possible settings, with the middle setting said to be identical to the amount of high-speed compression damping found on last year's model. The fork also has 18 clicks of low-speed compression, and 19 clicks of rebound adjustment.
Adjusting the amount of air spring ramp-up is as simple as removing the left top cap with a cassette tool (after letting out the air, of course), and then threading or unthreading plastic spacers to change the air volume. Set Up
By the end of the test period my final settings on both forks ended up being quite similar – the air pressure numbers were almost the same, and I ran two volume spacers in both forks in order to get the amount of end stroke ramp-up I wanted. Neither fork took very long to get dialed in, but the process was a little quicker with the Lyrik, simply because there were fewer knobs to turn.
Consummate tinkerers will probably gravitate towards the 36 due to the extra adjustability, but I was able to get both forks set to my liking with minimum fuss, and at no point during my rides on the Lyrik did I find myself thinking “If only I had adjustable high-speed rebound, and more clicks of high-speed compression...” It's also harder to make the Lyrik perform poorly - even with both compression dials turned all the way in the fork still remained rideable, although it was certainly much firmer than my normal settings. Doing the same thing on the 36 resulted in a fork that was basically locked out, a setting that would probably only work if your last name was Gwin. Performance
Time for the real test – how do they actually feel out on the trail? To find out, once I'd had plenty of time to dial in both forks on my home trails I headed to the Whistler Bike Park. I tested them back to back, riding a few laps on one fork before switching it out for the other, and then switching back again. The bike
stayed the same – the only variable that was changing was the fork. I rode a mix of trails in order to subject the forks to a variety of scenarios, everything from the tight bermed turns of Angry Pirate to the rough, root strewn chaos of Lower Joyride.
The level of small bump sensitivity both forks deliver is excellent, and they both initiate their travel with ease, with plenty of traction available for those slippery, slower speed moments. The Lyrik does feel a little more supple off the top, but it also has a lower dynamic ride height than the 36 – the negative spring pressure really wants to pull it down into its travel, which means a few precious millimeters have already been used before you encounter a bump of any size.
I ended up running two volume spacers in both forks, with similar air pressures, and found that the amount of travel I used was quite close between the two. The 36 does seem to inherently ramp up a little earlier in its travel, and is a little less likely to use full travel, but there's not a drastic difference between the way the two air springs behave, and the amount of ramp up can easily be altered with spacers.
When it comes to torsional stiffness, neither fork gave me any reason to complain. Granted, I'm not the heaviest rider out there, but I didn't experience any unwanted twisting or flexing - there's plenty of support for those instances when the best option is to plow and pray.
Ok, so the small bump sensitivity and stiffness is similar, they both use the same amount of travel when ridden on the same trail – what's the difference? The difference is in the way they behave when faced with repeated hard impacts. Picture a high-speed stretch of trail that has tall roots zig-zagging across it in every direction, with deep holes in between the roots. It was in this scenario that the 36 took the lead – it did a better job of handling those bigger impacts, with a level of plushness deeper in its travel that wasn't present with the Lyrik. The Lyrik took those big hits in stride, but it wasn't able to erase them in the same way that the 36 was, and it transmitted more feedback to my wrists and forearms. The 36 had a more bottomless feel, as if there was always a little more travel left over in reserve, just in case things got really wild.Durability:
There haven't been any durability issues with either fork – no oil leaking, no crowns creaking, nothing. When it comes to service intervals, RockShox recommends performing a basic lower service every 50 hours, and a full rebuild after 200 hours, while Fox recommends a full rebuild yearly, or after 125 hours of riding. Those are very reasonable numbers, and worth paying attention to in order to keep your fork running as smoothly as possible. The Wishlist
One feature I'd love to see on both forks is an air bleed valve on the lowers, similar to what's found on the Fox 40, or MRP Ribbon. Carefully sliding a zip tie behind the dust wiper every so often will let out any air that's gotten trapped behind the seal, something that can affect the small bump sensitivity of the fork, but it'd be much easier to have a little button to push.
While I'm dreaming, it'd also be great to see an integrated fender option – it seems silly to zip tie a piece of flexible plastic to a $1,000 fork instead of having a nice and clean bolt-on option.