Mick reviews the Fox 34 GRIP2 fork
Over the past decade the Fox 34 has held the mantle as the premium trail fork from Fox Racing Shox. Mountain biking has evolved a lot in that time however, with contemporary trail bikes having become extraordinarily capable. Bikes like the latest Pivot Trail 429, YT Izzo, Specialized Stumpjumper and Santa Cruz Tallboy for example, all of which feature progressive suspension designs, high-traction rubber, and handling that thrives at speed. Indeed the evolution of these modern trail rippers means that while they’re still quite light and efficient, you can ride them pretty darn fast on some pretty hairy terrain.
Overhauled for 2022
Designed to suit the expanded capabilities of these new all-rounders, the Fox 34 has been completely overhauled for 2022. It follows closely in the footsteps of the latest Fox 36 and 38 forks, with new magnesium lowers that feature a bulbous arch for increased stiffness. There’s also a larger diameter crown that’s designed to better integrate with the bigger head tubes we’re seeing on these modern trail bikes.
Inside you’ll find a reengineered EVOL air spring with a new top-out bumper design. The negative air chamber volume has been expanded, with the aim of offering up a smoother, more coil-like feel.
On the fork lowers, you’ll also notice raised ridges that run up the back of each leg. These lower leg bypass channels allow oil to move more easily inside the fork, ensuring more consistent lubrication of the seals, foam rings and bushings. Furthermore, the channels also increase the total air volume inside the fork lowers by 14.6%. According to Fox, this reduces the ramp-up effect that can happen to the trapped air inside the lowers as the fork compresses through its travel.
Narrowing the focus of the 34
In times gone by, the Fox 34 has been made available across a huge array of options. Going all the way up to a whopping 160mm of travel, there have been 26in, 27.5in and 29in versions, forks with quick-release dropouts (remember those?) and even a travel-adjustable TALAS model too.
For 2022 however, Fox has narrowed the focus of the 34 platform significantly.
The Fox 34 is offered with either 130mm or 140mm of travel. It’s also only available in a 29in size, signalling reduced demand for 27.5in front wheels in the trail bike market. As another sign of the times, the lowers are Boost-specific too.
Fox 34 GRIP2 weight
Since the Fox 34 covers less ground than its predecessors, the engineering team has been able to totally optimise the chassis for the narrower travel range. So while the 2022 Fox 34 is stiffer, it’s also lighter by around 100g.
According to Fox, the claimed weight is as low as 1,738g for a Fox 34 Factory Series fork. That’s with the FIT4 damper and a Kabolt thru-axle.
The fork we’ve been testing is the Fox 34 GRIP2 Factory Series fork. Because of the additional oil inside the GRIP2 damper, confirmed weight is a little higher for this version at 1,780g with a Kabolt thru-axle and a chopped steerer tube.
That’s a very impressive weight for a hard-hitting trail fork. To put it into perspective, a Fox 36 GRIP2 fork weighs 2,080g (confirmed). So you’re looking at a full 300g weight saving, which is not a small amount of mass to take off the front of your bike.
Performance, Performance Elite & Factory Series
As we’ve come to expect from Fox Racing Shox, there are three key price points within the Fox 34 range;
- Performance Series – GRIP damper & black anodised upper tubes
- Performance Elite – GRIP2 or FIT4 damper & black anodised upper tubes
- Factory Series – GRIP2 or FIT4 damper & Kashima coat upper tubes
The key differences are the damper and the coating of the upper tubes. Otherwise all Fox 34 forks share the same lowers, axle system, crown and steerer tube, and they all get the updated EVOL air spring.
It is possible to upgrade the damper, so if you owned a Performance Series fork for example, you could always change it to a GRIP2 or FIT4 damper down the line. Fox also offers a 120mm air spring too for riders who want to shorten the travel further. It’s worth noting that the new EVOL air spring design is not backwards compatible with older Fox 34 forks though.
All forks sold aftermarket come with standard crown-adjusted controls. Fox does make a remote lockout version of the 34, but you’ll only see that on complete bikes like the new 2022 Scott Spark.
Fox 34 GRIP2 price & specs
The Fox 34 we’ve been testing is the flagship Factory Series model, which gets the slippery Kashima coated upper tubes. We’ve got it with the GRIP2 damper, which has ALL of the adjustments, though you can also get this same fork with a FIT4 damper for a few less dollars.
- Travel | 130mm or 140mm
- Stanchions | 34mm, Kashima coated
- Wheelsize | 29in only
- Spring | New EVOL air spring
- Damper | GRIP2
- Lowers | New magnesium lowers with lower leg bypass channels
- Axle | Kabolt or QR15
- Max rotor size | 203mm
- Max tyre clearance | 2.6in
- Offset | 44mm or 51mm
- Confirmed weight | 1,780g
- RRP | $1,689 AUD
Mick’s been testing the Fox 34 GRIP2 fork on the front of his Santa Cruz Tallboy, where it replaced a RockShox Pike Ultimate.
Originally our test fork arrived with 140mm of travel, which gave us the opportunity to open it up and fit a 130mm air spring. The process is relatively straightforward, though it is recommended to use a specific Fox-brand for the bath oil.
The new crown mates up nicely with the carbon head tube, and the brake calliper mounts directly to the post mount tabs, with no adapter necessary when using a 180mm rotor. The Kabolt thru-axle is as simple as it gets, with only a 6mm hex key required for wheel removal installation.
To setup the Fox 34 with 20% sag, Mick ended up with 83psi – exactly what Fox recommends for his 75kg riding weight. Two volume spacers are fitted from the factory, and we’ve not felt any need to deviate from there. However, you can fit up to five volume spacers inside the Fox 34 if you’re chasing greater bottom-out support.
The GRIP2 damper in the Fox 34 is functionally identical to what’s used in the bigger 36 and 38 forks, so it didn’t take long for us to find our sweet spot. Mick did set the rebound damping quite a bit faster than recommended on the setup guide, with low-speed rebound just three clicks off the fastest setting (12/15 clicks) and high-speed at two clicks off the fastest (6/8 clicks).
He’s been light on the low-speed compression damping too with four clicks off the lightest setting (12/16 clicks), but settled on halfway for the high-speed circuit to increase control on bigger hits (4/8 clicks).
On the trail
Since the very first ride, the 2022 Fox 34 GRIP2 has impressed us with its outstanding sensitivity. In fact, we reckon this has to be the plushest 130mm travel fork we have ever ridden.
There are no doubts that the GRIP2 damper, with its higher oil volume and spring-backed floating piston, offers a more dynamic performance over the FIT4 damper with its bladder-based system. Wil had this experience with the latest Specialized Stumpjumper, where the 2021 Fox 34 GRIP2 fork proved to be a real highlight on that bike, offering exceptional traction and control.
This 2022 version, with the new EVOL air spring, elevates the performance bar to the next level. It is stupendously plush, with very little force required to get the fork to ease into its travel. Small-bump compliance is excellent, and that allows the front tyre to maintain contact with the ground in challenging conditions, like cornering at speed over washboard stutter-bumps.
Not only that, but the Fox 34 GRIP2 manages to remain active deeper into its travel, coping with rapid hits comfortably and recovering efficiently.
A lot of this has to do with the Variable Valve Control (VVC) design used within the high-speed circuits within the GRIP2 damper. VVC is a clever way of manipulating the shim behaviour externally, in a way that previously could only be achieved by pulling the damper apart and re-valving it (read: custom tuning).
What it means for riders is that you get a wider range of adjustment for the high-speed compression and rebound damping, with improved control and less choking on really rapid, violent impacts. In these situations the fork is able to compress cleanly and rebound smoothly, ready for the next hit. It’s very impressive stuff, and it means this lightweight Fox 34 really does feel like a shrunken-down 36 GRIP2 fork.
GRIP2 vs FIT4
As good as the Fox 34 GRIP2 fork is on the trail, there are some downsides compared to the FIT4 damper.
For a start, there are a lot of adjustments. In addition to air pressure and air volume, you have four different dials to contend with. This provides a huge range of adjustment for different sized riders, but it also makes things quite complicated if you’re not entirely sure what each adjustment does. Certainly on a 130mm travel fork it can be even harder to discern the differences in damping adjustments. Following the Fox setup guide is a great place to start, and will get the fork performing well, but if you’re not much of a fettler, then all the adjustment may be overkill.
Despite the myriad of dials however, the GRIP2 damper doesn’t actually give you a lockout, which may make it a no-go for some riders. In comparison, the FIT4 damper offers a 3-position compression lever with Open, Medium & Firm settings. A quick flick of that blue lever allows you to firm up the fork, which is useful for riders that have a long commute to and from the trails. It can also be a godsend during sections of endless fireroad climbing while on a big day out in the hills.
Lastly, the Fox 34 GRIP2 is a little heavier than the FIT4 version, and it’s also more expensive by $124 AUD. Whether it’s worth ditching the lockout in favour of the smoother and more controlled performance will be totally up to you.
Fox 34 GRIP2 vs RockShox Pike Ultimate
So how does the latest Fox 34 stack up against the venerable RockShox Pike?
Prior to installing the 34, Mick had been running a RockShox Pike Ultimate. This is RockShox’s premium trail fork, featuring 35mm diameter upper tubes, the latest DebonAir spring and the Charger 2.1 RC2 damper. It’s a little simpler to setup as there’s only a single rebound dial, though you do get independently adjustable high and low-speed compression damping. And like the Fox 34, plastic volume spacers (Bottomless Tokens) are used for tweaking the spring rate.
There are some key spec differences though, with the RockShox Pike coming in a wider range of options. It’s available in both 27.5in and 29in wheelsizes, and with 120-150mm of travel. There are three different dampers, and there’s even a dirt jump specific Pike DJ.
Perhaps because of this broader range, the RockShox Pike is the heavier fork of the two (1.86kg vs 1.78kg). However, it is considerably cheaper than the Fox 34 Factory ($1,349 vs $1,689 AUD). It also has longer recommended service intervals, and it gets a more generous warranty as well (2-years vs 1-year).
Both are superb trail forks, though in back-to-back testing the Fox 34 GRIP2 proved to be the smoother fork of the two. You can feel it working harder more of the time, with consistent sensitivity throughout the travel.
There’s noticeably less feedback through the grips, which is something Mick immediately picked up on. Having broken his wrists numerous times over the years, he tends to suffer a lot from arm-pump while also being sensitive to trail feedback. For his funky hands, the Fox 34 was the more comfortable fork of the two.
It isn’t to say that the Pike is a bad fork, far from it. It does sit up high in its travel due to the design of the latest DebonAir spring, and that gives it quite a sporty ride quality that maintains composure under hard braking and on steep descents. Overall though, it doesn’t have that really buttery performance that can be found in the Lyrik and ZEB. Given the current Pike has been in service for a number of years, we wouldn’t be surprised to see RockShox bring out a new model in the near future with similar stylings to the latest ZEB and SID forks. Until then though, the Fox 34 is the fork that we’d pick out of the two.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we have been hugely impressed with the latest iteration of the Fox 34 GRIP2. It offers stupendous control and sensitivity for a 130mm travel fork, making it a superb match for the latest crop of high-performance trail bikes.
It may not serve as wide an audience as it has done in the past, but the narrower focus has produced a beautifully well-tuned trail fork that is lighter and more responsive than ever before. The revised EVOL air spring offers a consistent and predictable feel throughout the travel, and it works harmoniously with the sensitive GRIP2 damper.
Indeed the Fox 34 GRIP2 is now essentially a shrunken-down version of the 36 GRIP2. For all but the heaviest of riders, this will reduce the need to run a shortened 36 on the front of their 120-130mm trail bike. Choosing the Fox 34 will net you a healthy 300g weight bonus, while offering perfectly adequate chassis rigidity for trail riding.
In this Factory Series finish, there’s no denying this is one seriously pricy fork though. Unfortunately the cheaper Performance Elite version, which is identical save for its black anodised upper tubes, isn’t available aftermarket in Australia. You could step down to the Performance version for $1,309 AUD, but then you’d be missing out on the high-speed control of the excellent GRIP2 damper.
If you’re happy to plump up the cash though, and you’re not worried about missing the lockout from the FIT4 damper, you’ll be getting your hands on one of, if not the best lightweight trail fork that money can buy.