Throwback Thursday Product Review – Fox 34 Step-Cast Factory Fork
Fox 34 Step-Cast Factory Fork
In early 2016 Fox released the 32 Step-Cast fork with 100mm of travel and a slimmed down chassis. This fork was the lightest we had tested in its class and has since proven to be a go-to for our XC testers. Since the release of the 32 StepCast, Fox has revamped their longer-travel 36-series forks and even built a high-quality option for riders on a budget with the Rhythm trail fork. For 2019 Fox has another card up their sleeves—the 34 Step-Cast with 120mm of travel. We have been riding the 34 Step-Cast for several months to get a feel for this dedicated trail fork.
Tech info: Similar to the 32 Step-Cast, Fox slimmed down the chassis and lowers on the 34 to find a balance of durability and weight savings while not compromising on the overall stiffness. The lowers on the 34 Step-Cast are “stepped” in eliminating excess material while the uppers are a touch narrower compared to the current Float 34. Fox claims the new SC34 chassis is just as stiff as a Float 34 with 140mm travel. The SC34 is available in 27.5 and 29-inch versions, with the 29er having enough clearance for 27.5-plus tires and 29×2.6 tires. Fox designed this fork to take anything from a direct-mount 160mm up to 180mm. Inside is the Fox Isolated Technology (FIT4) damper which is a closed cartridge system with three different settings—open, medium and firm. Along with the three positions are 22 clicks of low-speed-compression adjustment. Fox tuned the damper specifically for this fork for a balance of trail capability and cross-country performance. Fox introduced their EVOL air spring last year and carried that over into the new SC34. The EVOL design adds extra air volume in the negative spring to give the fork better small-bump sensitivity and more mid-stroke support. The bottom end of the air spring is tunable using Fox’s volume reducers that come in one size. The new Step-Cast 34 is available in two colorways with only a Factory version for now. Each fork has a 1-year warranty and is only available in 120mm travel. Retail price on our test fork is $943.
On the trail: Out of the box the new SC34 felt incredibly lightweight, surprising most of our test riders. The Float 34 already felt fairly lightweight, but the SC was even more so. We opted to test the 29er version of the Step-Cast, which came in at 1,871 grams with the steer tube cut to 7 inches. We had a 120mm-travel Float 34 on hand with the same travel to compare weights. The Float 34 came in at 2,097 grams with the steer tube cut to the same length. We installed the new fork on our Pivot 429 Trail that has 115mm of rear travel and was designed to run 120–130mm forks. Setting the sag was similar to the other EVOL-equipped Fox forks. Fox has been including a small sticker chart on the back of the fork leg with psi recommendations for rider weight. We opened up the rebound all the way, put the recommended pressure in, then compressed the fork a few times to make sure the positive and negative air chambers were equalized. We set the rebound to about 10 clicks for our local trails and left the low-speed compression open for our first ride. Our test riders were stoked on the 200gram weight savings, which may not sound like much but does make the front end feel quite a bit livelier. The SC34 was plenty plush off the top of the stroke, soaking up minor chatter and smoothing out imperfections in the trail without a second thought.
The refined air-spring tune provided a very supported feel through the travel and a comfortable amount of mid-stroke support. Hitting bigger and more technical sections, the SC34 sat higher in the travel, helping keep our weight balanced and eyes on the trail. The tune on the Step-Cast was very efficient and was able to recover quickly when hitting technical sections and drops at high speeds. The bottom-out on the SC34 wasn’t overly harsh, even when we overshot a jump on our first ride that resulted in a rough landing. Fox did a good job delivering a stock air spring with a comfortable amount of progression through the end of the stroke. Our fork did ship with one volume reducer, and for general trail and cross-country use, we didn’t feel like we needed another. If you are a more aggressive rider, you may want to install one more spacer for a little more support, though. We did hit some steeper sections of trail to test the chassis’ stiffness under hard braking efforts. With a 180mm rotor coupled with a Shimano XT brake, the chassis was stiff and didn’t give our test riders any chatter or negative feedback. With the damper in the middle setting, the fork was equally stiff and responsive when climbing hard out of the saddle. The Step-Cast 34 is a very capable fork that will make any rowdy XC rider happy. The new chassis combined with the air spring and damper tune makes for a finished product that feels spot-on for its intended use.
• Lots of mid-stroke support
• The right amount of small-bump sensitivity
• Stiff under hard braking
• Broad range of tuning option
• Only available in 120mm travel
THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO GET MOUNTAIN BIKE ACTION
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.