Product test: Fox 36 RC2 Fork
Fox had long been the gold standard by which every other suspension component was measured, and, like a fox being hunted by a pack of dogs, had managed to stay ahead of the pack for many seasons. Recently, however, the rest of the suspension pack has caught up, and in many riders’ minds, even surpassed Fox’s “gold standard” performance. With this in mind, Fox redesigned its iconic 36 platform, one that’s been curiously unchanged in its lineup for several seasons. Deemed the ultimate enduro fork, the new 36 is designed to put Fox back in front of the pack when it comes to suspension performance.
Tech features: The 36 is available for 26-, 27.5- and 29-inch-wheeled bikes in a number of different configurations, including the Float single air spring, TALAS travel- adjustable system, and VAN coil- sprung system for 26-inch forks only.
We chose to test the Float 27.5-inch- wheel model with the RC2 damper, which has 6.3 inches of air-sprung travel. The RC2 damper features independent high- and low-speed compression adjustments, which are controlled with two blue knobs on the top of the left fork leg. Rebound is controlled with the red knobs on the bottom of the same leg.
For fine-tuning, Fox also includes air-volume spacers that allow the rider to make the spring curve more progressive for big-hit control or more linear for supple travel throughout the stroke. The fork is compatible with both 15- and 20-millimeter axles, thanks to a convertible axle that’s not yet available on any other Fox products. Our test fork tipped the scales at 4.25 pounds with a cut steerer tube. The Fox 36RC2 sells for $1050.
Field test results: The new 36 might have the same name as the 36 forks of old, but take a closer look and you’ll see this thing is purpose-built
for new-school riders. The new 36 features a lower assembly that evolved from the current 40 downhill fork. The design uses five tapers in the casting to remove material where it’s not needed. This makes a noticeable difference
in the overall weight of the package. In fact, when we took the fork out of the box, we caught ourselves thinking, “Did Fox ship us the wrong fork? Does this thing really have 6 inches of travel?” On the trail, however, riders were very impressed with the stiffness, steering precision, braking input and overall feel.
Further reducing the weight is the post-style brake mount that’s designed for 7-inch rotors right out of the box. By going to this direct-mount standard, Fox was able to forgo an adapter, shorten the length of the mounting bolts, and squeeze a few more precious grams from the chassis. Let’s face it, if you’re trying to mount a rotor smaller than 7 inches to the 36, you would probably be better served sticking with one of Fox’s smaller forks. As an added bonus, not having to deal with an adapter makes installing the front brake caliper easy as pie.
Despite all the external changes, the internals are really where the new 36 shines. Everything from the damper to the air spring to the dust wipers and even the fluids that Fox uses have been redesigned to make the fork more supple, slippery and tunable.
The most significant change to the fork is the addition of an air-sprung negative spring, which replaces the coil-sprung versions of the past. Yes, if you had an air-sprung Fox fork in the past, it still had a coil spring in it acting as a negative spring. The new air-sprung negative spring automatically adjusts to rider weight and air pressure and keeps the breakaway force low. We’re not sure if this is what contributed to the improved feel, or if it was one of the factors below; however, on the trail, we noticed almost immediately that the very top portion of the travel delivers a supple feel that’s a marked improvement in small-bump compliance.
Rather than running its Climb, Trail, Descend (CTD) damper, Fox chose the more adjustable RC2 damper for the new 36, and it clearly caters to the advanced rider who prefers to tinker rather than find a setting and forget about it. The compression knobs have a large number of clicks, but the fork delivers a very usable and versatile range. We set our fork up with the recommended Fox settings for our test riders’ weights and found them to be spot-on for everything from small bumps to big hits. We noticed that the low-speed compression adjustment is very powerful and can be used as a makeshift pedaling platform if it’s needed for long climbs.
As icing on the cake, Fox has also redesigned its seals for the second time in just a few years to further reduce stiction. Fox has also re-formulated its stock bath oil, dubbing it “20-weight gold,” which will become the standard oil in all forks going forward. In the 36, Fox uses a lighter-weight oil in the sealed damper for consistency.
The new 36 is a very different and innovative fork for Fox. The chassis has been streamlined, the damper has been refined, and the air spring has been vastly improved. Fox’s effort to be back at the forefront of suspension innovation seems to have just begun. Rather than focusing on fancy- looking coatings or bold new graphics for this new fork, Fox has completely redesigned it from the inside out, and that has resulted in some real benefits on the trail. It is the first fork that can hang with the other top-shelf offerings out there. What else could we ask for? ❏
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