Wil reviews the Fox 36 vs RockShox Lyrik
A common sight on the front of trail bikes in the 140-160mm travel bracket, the Fox 36 and RockShox Lyrik are undoubtedly two of the most popular forks on the market.
These big-hitters were first introduced to the world back in the mid-2000s, and soon found favour thanks to their ability to pack DH-level performance into a lighter single crown chassis. Indeed their versatility has seen the Lyrik and 36 covering quite the spectrum of travel, wheelsizes, axle and steerer tube standards throughout their lifespan. However, with the bigger 38 and Zeb forks now covering the enduro and freeride end of the spectrum, the 36 and Lyrik no longer need to cover such a broad range.
With that in mind, the latest versions are now optimised around a narrower 140-160mm travel window, featuring updated designs that are lighter and stiffer than their predecessors.
We’ve been spending a load of time on multiple examples of each fork, and decided it was time for a closer look at how the new 36 and Lyrik compare directly to one another.
RockShox Lyrik Ultimate
The RockShox Lyrik was rebuilt from the ground up for 2023, having arrived alongside the latest Pike, Zeb and Super Deluxe as part of a massive suspension overhaul.
The Lyrik still features 35mm diameter upper tubes, though the chassis is all-new including the beautifully machined crown. The magnesium lowers incorporate pressure relief valves, updated bushings and the much-talked-about Buttercups. More significant is the new DebonAir+ spring, as well as the Charger 3 damper that moves to a coil-backed IFP design.
In addition to the four standard models (Base, Select, Select+ and Ultimate), RockShox also offers the Lyrik in a high-tech Flight Attendant version. Each is offered in 27.5in and 29in sizes with 140, 150 or 160mm of travel. It is possible to change the travel by purchasing a separate air shaft, and the procedure is relatively straightforward for any competent home mechanic.
It’s the RockShox Lyrik Ultimate that we’ve spent the most time on, having ridden it both at 150 and 160mm of travel on a Specialized Stumpjumper, Levo SL and a Trek Fuel EXe.
RockShox Lyrik Specs
- Travel | 140, 150 & 160mm
- Wheelsize | 27.5in & 29in
- Stanchions | 35mm Tapered alloy
- Spring | DebonAir+
- Damper | Charger 3 RC2 (Lyrik Ultimate & Select+), Charger RC (Lyrik Select), Rush RC (Lyrik)
- Lowers | Magnesium lowers w/Pressure Relief Valves (Ultimate & Select+) & ButterCups (Ultimate)
- Bushings | Ultimate Bushing Package (Ultimate), Standard Bushings (Select+, Select & Lyrik)
- Axle | 15x110mm Maxle (Torque Cap compatible)
- Rotor size | 180-220mm
- Max tyre clearance | 2.8in
- Offset | 37mm (27.5in) – 44mm (27.5 & 29in)
Fox 36 GRIP2
In the orange corner is the Fox 36, which is the US brand’s premium All Mountain fork that’s offered with 140, 150 and 160mm of travel.
Just like the original that launched way back in 2005, the latest 36 utilises 36mm diameter stanchions. That’s about the only similarity however. The chassis received a complete overhaul for the 2021 model year, adopting the rounded arch that has become a signature design feature of Fox’s current fork lineup. It also incorporates lower leg oil bypass channels, bleeder valves, a floating axle design and an optional bolt-on mudguard. It was updated again for 2023 with a new crown and steerer that claimed to increase strength and stiffness while silencing the creaking that had plagued some of the previous versions.
Inside the 36 you’ll find an updated Float EVOL air spring with a large volume negative chamber. As with the Lyrik, the 36 is available in numerous models and damper options. The Performance Series fork comes with the simpler GRIP damper, while the Performance Elite and Factory Series models get the high-end GRIP2 damper.
Fox also offers the 36 with a lightweight FIT4 damper. This can be synced up to a handlebar remote, which is a setup found on the latest Scott Genius. There’s even an electronically-controlled Live Valve version, like the one we tested on the Giant Trance X.
It’s the top-end 36 Factory Series GRIP2 fork that we’ve been back-to-back testing against the Lyrik Ultimate. This fork has been switched up between 150 and 160mm of travel as it’s moved between the Stumpjumper, Levo SL and Fuel EXe. In addition to our test fork, we’ve also spent a tonne of time on several other examples of the latest 36, including on the Canyon Spectral 125, Trek Fuel EX, and Orbea Rise.
Fox 36 Specs
- Travel | 140, 150 & 160mm
- Wheelsize | 27.5in & 29in
- Stanchions | 36mm Tapered alloy
- Spring | Float EVOL
- Damper | GRIP2 (Factory Series & Performance Elite), GRIP (Performance Series), FIT4 (Factory Series & Performance Elite)
- Lowers | Magnesium lowers w/Bypass Channels & Bleeders (Factory Series & Performance Elite)
- Axle | Floating 15x110mm Kabolt X or QR15
- Rotor size | 180-230mm
- Max tyre clearance | 2.8in
- Offset | 37mm (27.5in), 44mm (27.5 & 29in) & 51mm (29in)
Price | RockShox Lyrik vs Fox 36
The RockShox Lyrik and Fox 36 are premium forks that come with price tags to match. In their top-end trim each fork costs close to two grand, which is a lot. We’ve also listed the RRP for the cheaper Select/Performance Series models, which come in at nearly $500 AUD cheaper;
- Fox 36 Factory Series GRIP2 – $1,945 AUD
- RockShox Lyrik Ultimate – $1,903 AUD
- Fox 36 Performance Series – $1,499 AUD
- RockShox Lyrik Select – $1,449 AUD
As you can see, pricing is pretty much a wash between the two brands with RockShox being marginally less expensive. Even the Select and Performance Series models will be a significant investment for most riders.
For those who are on a tighter budget, it’s worth noting that there are cheaper alternatives. RockShox offers the Yari as a lower-spec version of the Lyrik, which sells for $923 AUD thanks to its heavier chassis and Motion Control damper.
In the case of Fox, it’s actually sister brand Marzocchi that provides the entry-point. You’ll be looking at $1,179 AUD for the Marzocchi Z1, which draws on similar tech from the 36 including its GRIP damper.
Weight | RockShox Lyrik vs Fox 36
Weight is pretty comparable between the Fox 36 and RockShox Lyrik, with the Lyrik just edging ahead by about 80g;
- RockShox Lyrik Ultimate – 2,028g
- Fox 36 Factory Series GRIP2 – 2,107g
The weight listed above is for each fork with the steerer trimmed to 180mm, a starnut installed, and the axle. However, it’s worth noting that our Fox 36 came with a QR15 axle that is a bit heavier than the Kabolt X bolt-up axle. Fit one of those, and the gap to the Lyrik narrows.
On the topic of mass, both forks are considerably lighter than the 38 and Zeb by around 300g. Given that all these forks crossover at 160mm of travel, that gives riders the option of a healthy weight reduction by picking the smaller 36 or Lyrik.
Installation & finish
Both our Fox 36 and RockShox Lyrik test forks are designed for 29in wheels and feature a 44mm offset. They utilise a 1.5in tapered steerer, a 180mm brake mount, and Boost hub spacing.
The Lyrik adds a trick with its oversized dropouts that can accommodate standard front hubs as well as those with Torque Caps. Bolt-in adapters are included for use with the former to provide a neater fit. We love the look of the machined alloy crown and the bolt-on hose clamp for the front brake, while the chunky knurled adjusters lend a quality feel.
Although the finishing details may not be quite as nice on the 36, the floating axle offers a potential advantage. This sees a sleeve in the drive-side dropout that can move side-to-side to accommodate small variations in hub width. Once the wheel is installed and the axle is locked in place, tightening down the main pinch bolt sets the sleeve against the hub. The idea is to prevent the lower legs (and therefore internal bushings) from having to bend around an over or undersized hub. Given the tight tolerances required in high-end suspension forks, the floating axle offers a nice level of insurance to help achieve optimum alignment of the sliding components.
As far as aesthetics go, the orange and green lowers don’t always provide a great match to the frames they’re bolted to. Of course colours are personal preference, and so too is the Kashima coating on the 36. Thankfully each fork is also available in black.
Setup & adjustability
I’m always harping on about suspension setup guides, so it’s great to see both Fox and RockShox providing several resources to help riders get their forks dialled in.
There’s a stick-on guide at the back of the lowers that lists suggested air pressures based on your riding weight. Fox then complements this with recommended high and low-speed rebound settings. You can also access a detailed online manual that walks you through the high and low-speed compression adjusters, and why you would add or subtract volume spacers.
In practice we’ve found Fox’s recommendations to be very close to our preferred settings, with only a click or two required to dial in the compression and rebound speed to suit the terrain and the bike we’ve been riding.
On the Levo SL for example, I’ll typically run 75-78psi to suit my 67kg riding weight. I set rebound damping on the quicker side (6/8 clicks for HSR and 8/14 clicks for LSR), and compression is close to halfway in the range (5/8 clicks for HSC and 8/16 clicks for LSC). Side note: if you’re after a deeper dive into what all the adjustments do, see our Fox fork setup guide.
Setting up the Lyrik is arguably simpler thanks to its single rebound dial. And we like that RockShox has developed the Trailhead app, which provides a recommended air pressure and rebound setting based on your riding weight. It’s worth noting that these recommendations have changed since the Lyrik was introduced last year, with RockShox now suggesting lower pressures and faster rebound settings. We’ve found these to be a lot better.
As for the compression dials, the approach is a little different with the Charger 3 damper. RockShox recommends starting with both the high and low-speed adjusters in the middle before tuning from there. The high-speed dial gives you two clicks in either direction (-2 through to +2), and the low-speed dial offers seven clicks each way (-7 through to +7). Each dial is clocked against the other, and once you understand the markings it’s easy to eyeball where you are in the tuning range — something that isn’t possible with Fox’s GRIP2 damper.
For the Levo SL I’m running the Lyrik with 70psi and the rebound set a little quicker than halfway (12/20 clicks). I tend to run compression damping on the lighter side for both the HSC (-1 click) and LSC (-3 clicks) dials, but because they’re quite effective I’ll often tweak these depending on the trail conditions.
RockShox Lyrik issues
Now before we dive into the on-trail comparisons, we need to acknowledge that things didn’t get off to the best start with the Lyrik.
Despite all the talk of Buttercups and new bushings, I found it was lacking sensitivity and passing on more feedback than I’d hoped for. This experience was mirrored by another Lyrik Ultimate that came fitted to the Trek Fuel EXe. Both forks felt sticky and over-damped, despite running lower pressures and winding the adjusters fully open.
This was quite a difference to the two Flight Attendant Lyriks we’ve also ridden, which were far smoother on the trail. Given those forks use exactly the same chassis, bushings, DebonAir+ spring and Buttercups as the regular Lyrik Ultimate, this lead us to believe that the Charger 3 damper may be the culprit.
I ended up sending our green Lyrik back to SRAM Australia for a rebuild, and thankfully it came back feeling significantly plusher. I did the same thing with the Pike Ultimate, and the outcome was the same.
I’ve since read reports online from RockShox users who have also encountered some harshness with the new forks. Then again, there are plenty of riders and reviewers who have had overwhelmingly positive experiences too.
We can’t speak to all the variables at play, but it would appear that having the proper amount of lubrication fluid in the lowers can have a big impact on the fork’s behaviour. The Pike and Lyrik also seem to have a noticeable bed-in period. Whether this is from the bushings and seals, or the Charger 3 damper itself, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, our forks have improved noticeably following the first 10-20 hours of ride time.
On the trail
Troubleshooting aside, we’ve now banked a solid amount of ride time on both the RockShox Lyrik and Fox 36. Each has impressed individually out on the trail, but to dig into the finer differences we embarked on several back-to-back test sessions with multiple riders. This began with the Stumpjumper, then the Fuel EXe, the Levo SL and finally the Stumpjumper EVO.
Through these tests it was clear that while the Lyrik has gotten better over time as it’s bedded in, it still can’t match the suppleness and small-bump sensitivity of the 36. This was particularly noticeable when pedalling along undulating singletrack, where you can feel and see the 36 working overtime in the first 30% of the travel.
In comparison, the Lyrik doesn’t slide quite as effortlessly, resulting in more feedback through your hands from small chatter. The harder and faster you push however, the better the Lyrik gets. It is very supportive on the descents, staying high in its travel and refusing to get bogged down. As the riding intensity increases, the Lyrik impresses with its beautiful mid-stroke flutter. We love how quiet it is, with none of the oil-squelching sounds that most forks emit.
It also soaks up big hits incredibly well too. The chassis is sturdy, and the Charger 3 damper absorbs masses of impact energy with minimal fanfare. When landing back on terra firma after boosting a jump, the transition feels effortlessly smooth with a silky ‘touchdown’, as termed by RockShox. However, it’s because of this touchdown suppleness and the Lyrik’s excellent responsive mid-stroke grip that makes the small-bump woodenness all the more apparent.
Air spring tuning
Part of the Lyrik’s hard-hitting support comes from the DebonAir+ spring, which is inherently more progressive than its predecessors. RockShox ships the Lyrik with no Bottomless Tokens fitted, and while there is room for up to five, our 65-82kg testers never found the need to add any. The fork ramps up nicely towards the end of the travel, and we’ve never once fully bottomed it out.
Though the support is great for hard hitters, the fact there are no Tokens to remove may be an issue for lighter riders. Coupled with the robust, support-focussed damping, daintier folks and anyone chasing a more active feel are likely to struggle with the Lyrik.
In comparison, the EVOL air spring in the Fox 36 delivers a more linear spring rate throughout. The 160mm version comes with a single volume spacer fitted, and removing it allows lighter riders to access more of the travel.
As such, we found the 36 to offer more flexibility when it came to tuning the air pressure and volume. I ran as little as 70psi and a single volume spacer in the 36 when fitted to the front of the lightweight Stumpjumper. Bumping pressures up to 78psi and adding a second volume spacer worked a treat for the heavier Levo SL and Fuel EXe. Dan, who weighs 82kg with gear, benefitted from fitting a third volume spacer to suit his aggressive riding style.
There’s also lots of scope for tuning the rebound and compression damping on the 36 GRIP2. Again, this is beneficial for lighter riders who may want to open things up. On the flip-side, you can also crank down on the dials to boost damping stability for harder riding. There’s considerable range to the adjusters, with the high-speed circuits featuring Fox’s patented VVC design that allows you to manipulate the stiffness of the unique leaf spring-shaped shims. The result is a more nuanced level of damping that means heavier riders can get more high-speed support without adding a lot of harshness at slower shaft speeds.
It’s also nice to have adjustable high-speed rebound damping, which works well for improving control for bigger impacts. To me this is the biggest difference to the cheaper GRIP damper. While the 36 GRIP is an awesome fork, it’s true that it can feel a little squirmier and less composed on large, full-travel events. In comparison, the 36 GRIP2 soaks it all up and tracks straighter as a result. It really is an impressively smooth performer, and that sentiment was only reinforced further when back-to-back testing with the Lyrik.
Servicing & warranty
It’s true that both RockShox and Fox have encountered their fair share of problems over the years. You don’t have to search too hard to find reports of forks with creaky crowns, air springs filled with an excessive amount of grease, or lowers that are lacking lubrication oil from the factory. No doubt these issues have been exacerbated over the past couple of years with a pandemic-induced bike boom.
Despite those apparent realities of mass production, we can certainly sympathise with users who expect these forks to work perfectly out of the box. After all, we’re talking about forks that cost close to two grand!
However, anyone serious about suspension performance will think nothing of dropping the lowers to check for proper lubrication levels. It isn’t difficult either, and knowing your way around the internals and being able to regularly service your suspension is arguably the best thing you can do for it.
On that note, RockShox recommends performing a lower-leg service every 50 hours of ride time. It’s worth doing too, as we found it made a noticeable difference to the Lyrik’s performance. A full service, which includes the damper and air spring, is recommended every 200 hours of ride time.
In comparison, Fox recommends just the single service every 125 hours of ride time. That includes servicing the lowers, air spring and damper. We didn’t find the difference in the 36’s post-service performance to be as drastic compared to the Lyrik, which could very well be due to the oil bypass channels that allow the lubrication oil to more easily access the bushings and foam rings where it’s needed.
If you’re still weighing up between the 36 and Lyrik, one other aspect to consider is the warranty. While Fox offers a standard 12-month warranty, RockShox doubles that to two years.
The Fox 36 and RockShox Lyrik are both excellent All Mountain forks, and it’s true that most riders will likely be perfectly content with either one.
That said, our experience wasn’t exactly flawless with the Lyrik. And while it performed very well after we had it serviced, in back-to-back testing it was clear that the 36 is the smoother and more responsive performer of the two. This was especially the case at slow-to-medium riding speeds, where the 36 offers better comfort and grip, giving us more confidence to push hard on sketchier sections of trail. The EVOL air spring is more linear, and along with the superb GRIP2 damper it can be tuned for a wider range of rider weights.
We do love the control and stability of the Lyrik however, and when you’re giving it the absolute beans it rewards you with incredible mid-stroke sensitivity. It soaks up big hits with ease, and those who prioritise outright support over small-bump comfort will appreciate the control offered by the Charger 3 damper. That will especially be the case for heavier riders that can make the most of the progressive DebonAir+ spring.
As to which of these two forks is the best? Well, it’s the Fox 36 GRIP2 that gets our vote. It’s consistently impressed us over the past few years on every bike we’ve ridden it on, so we have no troubles recommending it and its cheaper siblings.