FOX 34 Float 160 CTD w/Trail Adjust

Words by Mick Ross | Images by Flowtographer

The not-so-minor details

Product

FOX 34 Float 160 CTD with Trail Adjust

Contact

Sola Sport
www.ridefox.com

Price

AUD1,395.00

Weight

1,950gm

Travel

160mm

Steerer

Tapered

Positives

The best of both Fox 32 and 36 forks. CTD damper is user-friendly. Revised air spring gets full travel.

Negatives

Our test fork was quite sticky from new.

In all-mountain riding the ‘bigger is better’ mantra generally applies with any component that you fit to the front end of a mountain bike. But going bigger, beefier, stiffer or stronger normally means more weight, and overcoming this tradeoff is a battle for the product engineers. We want it strong and stiff, but we won’t put up with undue heft. We were very happy to get our hands on the new FOX 34 Float in a 160mm travel version to see if FOX had succeeded in treading this fine line.

The 34 series straddles the divide between FOX 32 and 36 forks. We think it’s going to convert a lot of people to 160mm-travel bikes.

 

This fork makes a lot of sense: 160mm-travel bikes are increasingly common as they get lighter and more efficient, but the popular FOX 36 fork often found on these all-mountain bikes is a pretty hefty little number. With more and more people looking towards the 160mm category as the do-it-all bike, FOX wanted a way to offer the same amount of travel and stiffness, but to lose a little weight and facilitate the use of lighter 15mm axle wheels. Enter the FOX 34.

The magic number? 34mm stanchions represent a huge stiffness increase for a 200g weight penalty. Is 200g too much?

As you’d have guessed from the name, this fork is all about legs. Beefy new 34mm diameter legs to be precise. Previously, FOX forks of 150mm-travel and below used 32mm legs with a 15mm axle. In longer travel applications (anything 160mm and up) FOX used 36mm or 40mm legs combined with 20mm axles. The new 160mm-travel FOX 34 is pretty much the perfect hybrid, combining the new 34mm diameter legs with the lightweight and widely used 15mm axle standard.

2mm difference doesn’t sound like much, but the new 34 fork is more robust all over. You certainly notice the beefier appearance right away when you look down at your front wheel.

Weight wise, it’s right in the middle too; the 34mm fork is 200g heavier than a Float 32 150mm fork and almost 200g lighter when compared to a FOX Float 36.

Fitted to a Yeti SB66 Carbon, the tall 160mm travel fork wasn’t the perfect match to the 150mm travel rear end, the fork is however adjustable internally down to 150mm if desired. We plan to drop it down to sharpen up the bike’s head angle slightly. A 34 TALAS is also an option, with adjustability from 160mm down to 120mm for the steep ascents. Interesting to note; the FOX 34 at 160mm has an axle to crown height that is 7.4mm lower than FOX 36  – running the 34 160mm doesn’t mess with the bike’s geometry nearly so dramatically as would occur with the 36.

With 160mm-travel, the 34 was little longer than we’d normally run on the Yeti SB66. Still, it’s around 7mm shorter in terms of axle to crown length than a 160mm-travel FOX 36 fork.

 

Visually, it’s surprising how much chunkier this fork appears when compared to 32mm forks. And the extra beef is 100% noticeable on the trail; this fork is seriously stiff! You become used to a degree of deflection, twisting and flex with most lightweight trail forks, but with the 34 this was drastically reduced.

The confidence we found when piloting the fork down rough and steep lines was higher than we have been accustomed to, and we were able to adapt our riding technique to make the most of it. In short we had a lot less care about what we were ploughing our front wheel into, and focused that energy into the fastest line choices. Straight-line speed was a highlight too, and a lot of this has to be attributed to the stiff chassis.

The stiffer chassis does transfer generate more feedback than a 32mm fork – the classic ‘when is stiff, too stiff’ debate. A Float 32 does feel smoother, as the thinner legs offer slightly more compliance. Lighter riders may notice this, but a heavier or more assertive rider shouldn’t be fazed by it.

The 15mm axle is key to this fork’s appeal. It opens up the prospect of using lighter hubs and wheel sets in these long-travel applications.

In typical FOX style the fork’s action is unrivalled, the control and consistency is simply unreal. The rate of compression is quite linear, finding us in the deeper part of the stroke a lot and letting us get full travel without too much effort. This is all due to the completely redesigned air spring, which finally addresses the issue of it being hard to get full travel out of FOX Float fork. If you prefer a more progressive fork action, the more savvy suspension tuners may benefit from adding a little oil to the air chamber, to reduce the air volume.

Our test fork came to us feeling a little dry and sticky unfortunately, so the sensitivity over small bumps was not quite 100%. A little stanchion lube (Finish Line Teflon suspension lube) applied to the pretty gold Kashima legs instantly, but temporarily, gave us the smooth action we expected. To resolve the issue properly requires a quick 30min service – simply yank the lower legs off and perform a seal and foam ring lubrication. We also found storing the bike upside down to allow splash oil to soak into the seals helped the fork feel smooth at the beginning of the ride.

Kashima Coat. It looks good, and it works well. Unfortunately our fork required a strip down and relube to get proper performance – the seals were unusually dry from the factory.

2013 sees FOX introduce a new damper too, called CTD – it stands for Climb, Trail and Descend. In short, the new damper is all about simplifying adjustment options and helping the fork and rear shock to work in unison. A lever on the right fork leg lets you select between Climb (firmest compression damping) or Descend (least compression damping), or an in-between ‘Trail’ setting. The ‘Trail’ setting has three levels of adjustment too, brilliantly called Trail Adjust – you simply set it to the level that’s right for you and leave it, kind of like the three ProPedal settings on an RP23 rear shock. (NB. The less expensive forks lose this Trail Adjust function). While some people will lament the loss of the low-speed compression dial found on the RLC or RC2 dampers, it’s definitely a far more user-friendly system for the average rider.

We like the CTD Trail Adjust damper and it will certainly help remove some of the mystery out of suspension tuning for many riders. It’s easy and intuitive to operate on the trail and matches up perfectly with the CTD rear shock too.

In response to the fairly linear rate of travel, we rarely rode the fork in the Descend mode; even on the roughest descents we opted for the Trail mode in setting one or two. This offered greater support, especially under front braking, without detracting too much from sensitivity.

So is the FOX 34 platform a winner? Hell yes. Stiffer than 32mm, lighter and lower than a 36mm fork, the 34mm fork is a no-brainer for the fast growing realm of all-mountain bikes. And of course, with longer travel big-wheelers appearing everywhere, the stiffer chassis of the 34mm fork is going be increasingly important in controlling the inherent flex found in the longer legs of a 650B or 29er fork. So yes, bigger is better in this case, and in our eyes it’s added weight in the right place. And you cannot beat the look of those gold Kashima legs, hot stuff indeed.

 

 

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