Manitou recently added the Mezzer Expert fork to their lineup, which has a slightly pared down list of features compared to the top of the line Pro model, and a price tag that's $250 less as a result.
The fork has 37mm stanchions, Manitou's signature reverse arch design, and can be set to have anywhere from 140 to 180mm of travel in 10mm increments. That puts it squarely in the enduro / all-mountain category, where it's designed to handle the type of punishments that accompany aggressive riding in challenging terrain.
There are 29” and 27.5” models available, with either 51 or 44mm of offset for the 29” version and 44 or 37mm of offset for the 27.5” option. MSRP is $750 USD, and my 29” fork weighed in at 2040 grams with the axle installed and a 190mm steerer. That's a smidge (10 grams) lighter than a 2021 Fox 36 Grip2 with a Kabolt thru axle.
Mezzer Expert Details
• 37mm stanchions
• Air sprung
• 140 - 180mm travel
• 29" and 27.5" versions
• Externally adjustable compression, rebound
• 15 x 110mm spacing
• Offset: 37 or 44mm (27.5"), 44 or 51mm (29")
• Weight: 2,040 grams (actual, 29")
• MSRP: $750 USD
The damper has six distinct different positions.ADJUSTMENTS
An open bath damper is used to control the fork's compression and rebound properties. The damper has what Manitou calls “Variable Terrain Tune,” a six position dial that's used to easily adjust the amount of compression. According to Manitou, in the first two positions there's an open flow path through the compression damper. In positions 3-6, the adjustable shim stack comes into contact with the piston, increasing platform force.
Rebound is adjusted via a blue dial at the bottom of the right leg, with 10 clicks of adjustment.
I mentioned the 140-180mm travel options earlier, but it's worth noting that it's not necessary to purchase any extra parts to make that change – pulling out the air spring and removing or adding plastic spacers is all that's required.AIR SPRING
The Expert uses Manitou's Expert IVA air spring, which is inflated from the bottom of the left leg. Unlike the IRT air spring found on the Pro model, which has a secondary positive air spring that can be used to adjust the amount of mid-stroke support, on the Expert there's only one air valve, and the positive and negative air chambers self equalize. It's possible to upgrade the Expert with the air spring or damper from the Pro model, since they both share the same chassis.
The amount of end-stroke ramp up is adjusted by removing the air spring side top cap with a 24mm wrench, and then choosing from one of five position for the plastic puck. The further down the puck is positioned the more ramp up there will be, and vice versa. CHASSIS
When the Mezzer first came out those 37mm aluminum stanchions were said to put it ahead of the other single crown forks on the market when it comes to stiffness, but in the months since the Fox 38 and RockShox Zeb have been released, both with 38mm stanchions.
The lowers have Manitou's signature arch, and a bolt on fender is included that attaches to the backside of that arch. Like I mentioned in my Mezzer Pro review, it'd be nice to see that constructed from a slightly less flexible plastic, but it does a decent job of keeping mud at bay.
The bolt-on axle design is slightly different from what you'd find on a Fox or RockShox fork. Instead of having the axle thread into the lowers, a captive bolt on the left side threads into the axle to secure it in place. Each end of the axle has a hexagonal shape, eliminating any chance of it rotating. PERFORMANCE
It's no secret that I wasn't blown away by the Mezzer Pro fork I reviewed a couple years ago. The fork I had developed premature bushing play, and despite multiple rounds of testing I was never able to get its performance to match that of a Fox 36 or a RockShox Lyrik.
The good news is that it's a different story with the Mezzer Expert, so all the Manitou superfans out there can put those pitchforks away. I've had a 160mm Expert mounted on a Commencal Meta TR for the last few months, and I've been thoroughly impressed by its performance, especially considering its price. ON THE TRAIL
After a few rides I settled on running 58 psi, with the IVA (Incremental Volume Adjuster) in the fourth position, one more than stock. Based on Manitou's setup chart, that air pressure is on the higher side for my 160 pound weight, but I found that at the recommended 49 psi the fork was much too soft and rode much deeper in its travel than I wanted.
For reference, when it comes to fork setup I'd consider my tastes to be fairly neutral – I'm not looking for a rock hard setup, and I also don't want an overly plush setup that dives deep during small impacts.
The 6 position VTT dial makes it easy to get things up and running on the Mezzer Expert. There may be fewer options to choose from compared to the Mezzer Pro's cartridge damper that has high- and low-speed compression adjustments, but each of the positions makes an immediately noticeable difference in how the fork feels.
In the most open two positions, which is when there's no preload on the secondary shim stack, the fork didn't have enough support for my liking, although I do appreciate the range of options. I'd rather have the ability to have too little or too much compression damping rather than being forced to run things all the way open. I settled on the third or fourth position depending on the conditions, running it more open for slower speed, slippery conditions, and closed off an additional click for more support on drier, faster trails. No matter which setting I used, the fork had an smooth initial stroke, with plenty of support during bigger and faster impacts. It does decently well at dealing with smaller, chattery sections of trail, although it's not mind-blowing in that regard - I'd call it very good, just shy of great.
Where the Mezzer Expert is
great is during repeated hard hits – picture a bunch of curb-high roots in a row, or a steep section of trail with multiple stair-step like drop offs. In those scenarios it recovered quickly and predictably, and always felt like it was using the right amount of travel. Bigger single hits, like landing off a drop or jump, were handle well too, and I didn't have any harsh bottom outs once I had everything dialed in. SERVICE
Manitou get a round of applause for having easy to follow service documents available on their web site. The Expert is even easier to fully service than the Pro model due to the open bath damper, and doesn't require any proprietary tools for disassembly.
The Mezzer Expert has air relief valves at the back of the fork legs, which are used to let out any air that may have gotten trapped in the lowers. Manitou calls it their 'Trail Side Relief' system, but I'd recommend waiting until you're at home or somewhere that dropping a bolt won't result in it being lost forever. There's also a bonus side to that feature - it's possible to inject 5-7cc of bath oil in after 25 hours of riding, a little mid-term top up that doesn't require removing the lowers before the recommended 50 hour service interval arrives. HOW DOES IT COMPARE?
At this pricepoint, the Marzocchi Z1 is the competitor that immediately comes to mind. At $729 USD it's $21 less than the Mezzer, but it also weighs approximately 200 grams more. Another point in the Mezzer Expert's favor is the ability to change the travel by adding or removing spacers; on the Z1 that requires the purchase of a different air spring.
On the trail, both offer plenty of stiffness, and the range of adjustments should suit most riders. The Z1 does tend to ride a little lower in its travel, though, with a bit less mid-stroke support than the Mezzer. The Z1 has a plusher, fairly linear feel until its deeper in the travel, while the Mezzer has a more pronounced platform in the middle of the stroke that helps keep it from diving during big hits. ISSUES
Part way through the test period I noticed a clicking noise that occurred when the fork was switching from compressing to rebounding. The performance didn't seem to be affected, but the noise was distracting. It turns out it was a washer at the bottom of the damper that was sticking and causing the issue. Manitou sent out a replacement damper, and after making the swap (which took all of five minutes) the noise was gone, and it hasn't returned since.
Wide range of usable adjustments+
Good mid-stroke support+
Adjusting travel doesn't require a different air spring
Reverse arch looks can be polarizing