Wil reviews the Fox 34 SC fork
The Fox 34 SC (Step-Cast) first arrived in 2018 as a slimmed-down version of the standard 34 fork. Aiming to bridge the weight gap to the super-light 32 SC, the 34 SC was a unique performer in that it offered the smooth and controlled feel that trail riders wanted, albeit in a significantly lighter package. This made it surprisingly versatile, with the 34 SC finding its way onto the front of contemporary XC bikes such as the Trek Top Fuel and Specialized Epic EVO. Fox’s main competitor has since hit back however, with the RockShox SID raising the bar in the 120mm arena, both in terms of weight and on-trail performance. We wouldn’t have to wait long for a response, with Fox rolling out an entirely new 34 SC for 2022 that is aiming to kick the SID off the top step.
All-new for 2022
Reengineered from the inside-out, the Fox 34 SC enters its second generation for 2022. It still features 34mm diameter stanchions, and it’s still primarily designed as a lightweight 120mm travel fork, though it’s also available in 100 and 110mm travel configurations too.
Compared to the old fork, much of the chassis and internals have been revamped. There’s a new EVOL air spring, a new crown, and the magnesium lowers now feature the rounded and heavily-chiselled arch as first seen on the bigger 36 and 38 forks. You’ll also find the same lower leg bypass channels on the back of the fork legs. These channels improve oil flow, allowing the lubrication fluid to more easily make its way up to the bushings and main seals, especially if you hang your bike up by the front wheel. The channels also increase the lower leg’s air volume, helping to decrease the unintended ramp-up that happens when air pressure builds up in the lowers.
You’ll also notice that the step in the lowers now occurs on the inner face of the legs rather than the outside. This allows the whole fork to be built with a narrower stance than its predecessor, reducing material while delivering a stiffer chassis. The result is a 140g weight reduction over the first generation Fox 34 SC fork, with the new version claimed to weigh just 1,496g in its lightest configuration. That is incredibly light for a 120mm travel fork, and it’s a big reason why we’re now seeing World Cup XC racers choosing the new 34 SC over the skinnier and flexier 32 SC.
What’s the difference between the Fox 34 and 34 SC?
That’s a great question, since the Fox 34 SC and the standard 34 both utilise 34mm diameter stanchions. However, that’s about where the similarities end.
The standard Fox 34 is offered with 130-140mm of travel and features a noticeably beefier chassis that can accommodate 2.6in wide tyres and a 203mm brake rotor. It’s available with FIT4, GRIP and GRIP2 damper options, and has a claimed weight of 1,738g. You’ll see the standard 34 spec’d on trail bikes like the Specialized Stumpjumper and Giant Trance 29.
In comparison, the Fox 34 SC is offered with 100-120mm of travel. Its slimmer chassis is limited to 2.4in wide tyres and a 180mm brake rotor, and you can only get it with the FIT4 or GRIP damper. It is available with a remote lockout option though. You’ll see it on the aforementioned Top Fuel and Epic EVO, but also increasingly on XC race bikes like the Giant Anthem and Scott Spark RC.
Fox 34 SC weight
Out of the box with a full-length steerer, our Fox 34 SC Factory Series test fork weighs 1,520g. By the time I’d trimmed the steerer tube and installed a star nut, that weight dropped to 1,509g.
As advertised, that’s some 140g lighter than the old fork, making for a healthy weight saving. To put that number into perspective, here’s a look at the confirmed weights (with a full-length steerer) of some of the other XC and trail forks we’ve tested;
- RockShox SID SL Ultimate – 1,328g
- Fox 32 SC Factory Series –1,448g
- Fox 34 SC Factory Series – 1,520g
- RockShox SID Ultimate – 1,525g
- Fox 34 GRIP2 Factory Series – 1,780g
- RockShox Pike Ultimate – 1,920g
Fox 34 SC price & models
The Fox 34 SC is available in three trim levels; Performance, Performance Elite and Factory Series. You can get it with a crown-mounted lockout or a remote lockout, and there’s even a Live Valve version too.
Our test fork is the premium Factory Series version with a 3-position remote lockout, which comes with a suitably premium price tag of $1,739 AUD. It gets the FIT4 damper and gold Kashima-coated upper tubes for minimum friction and maximum bling. The same fork is available without the remote lockout for $100 less.
The Performance Elite version is functionally identical, using the same chassis, EVOL air spring and FIT4 damper, albeit with cheaper black-anodising for the upper tubes. Unfortunately this model isn’t available aftermarket however, so you’ll only find it on complete bikes.
The Performance Series version is otherwise the same as its fancier siblings, but brings the price down further with the use of a simpler GRIP damper. This does add weight, with the 34 SC Performance claimed to weigh 1,590g. It’s available aftermarket and is considerably cheaper at $1,389 AUD.
Fox 34 SC specifications
- Travel | 100, 110 or 120mm
- Wheelsize | 29in only
- Stanchions | 7000 series alloy, 34mm diameter
- Stanchion Coating | Black anodised (Performance & Performance Elite) or Kashima coated (Factory Series)
- Spring | New EVOL air spring w/adjustable positive & negative volume
- Damper | GRIP (Performance Series), FIT4 & FIT4 Remote (Performance Elite & Factory Series)
- Lowers | New magnesium lowers with lower leg bypass channels
- Axle | Kabolt or QR15
- Max rotor size | 180mm
- Max tyre clearance | 2.4in
- Offset | 44mm or 51mm
- Claimed weight | 1,496g (Factory Series, FIT4) – 1,590g (Performance Series, GRIP)
- RRP | $1,389 – $1,739 AUD
Testing the Fox 34 SC
So far I’ve had the chance to test out three different Fox 34 SC forks, with my first experience being on the Canyon Lux Trail. I’ve since spent a load of time on the Giant Anthem, which features a 110mm travel 34 SC controlled by the Live Valve system.
More recently I’ve had this 120mm travel 34 SC fitted to the front of our Scott Spark RC long-term test bike. It’s equipped with the remote-activated FIT4 damper, with the three-position compression adjuster syncing up perfectly with the Spark’s TwinLoc remote.
With all three forks I’ve set up the air spring with 70-72psi to suit my 68kg riding weight, as per Fox’s recommendations. Rebound damping has been set halfway with 10/20 clicks.
While the 34 SC’s FIT4 damper is structurally smaller and a bit lighter than the FIT4 damper used in the standard 34, the damping performance is claimed to be the same. The adjustments are also identical, so you’ve got access to the same Open, Medium and Firm settings. The Medium setting adds a good whack of compression damping to firm up the fork for climbing and sprinting off-road, while the Firm setting is pretty much a full lockout.
There’s also a black dial at the top of the fork crown, which gives you 22 clicks of low-speed compression damping when you’re in the Open mode. On the Lux Trail and Spark, I’ve typically set this dial 5-6 clicks in from fully open to provide a little more support under braking. On the Live Valve-equipped Anthem, I set the low-speed adjuster fully open to provide the most supple performance when the suspension was in the Open setting.
Tuning the new EVOL air spring
From the factory there’s a single green volume spacer installed underneath the top cap. You can install up to four, with additional spacers included in the box. Adding volume spacers is a good idea if your sag is good, but you’re bottoming out the fork multiple times during each ride. While I did experiment with adding more spacers, the single volume spacer has provided a nice balance between progression and small-bump sensitivity for my weight and riding style.
Adding further adjustability, it’s also possible to tune the negative spring volume with the new EVOL air spring. There’s a specific volume spacer that clips onto the air shaft just above the negative base plate assembly, which shrinks the negative spring volume to create a firmer and racier platform to the initial stroke. The 120mm fork comes from the factory without this volume spacer for a plusher feel, while the 100mm fork comes with the spacer fitted for a firmer feel. To install or remove this spacer, you will need to drop the lowers and take the air spring out of the fork, so it’s a much more involved process than changing volume spacers in the positive chamber.
On the trail
With all three of our Fox 34 SC test forks, I’ve been mighty impressed with just how smooth and controlled this fork is given its paltry weight. It really is a terrific match for the high-speed capabilities of modern-angled XC bikes.
In the case of the Scott Spark, the 120mm travel 34 SC replaced the stock 130mm travel 34. This resulted in a significant 220g weight reduction, which is noticeable while riding. The front of the bike is whippier and more responsive, and it’s also easier to lift up over obstacles on the trail.
In terms of suspension performance, the 34 SC does feel racier compared to the regular 34. It doesn’t have quite the same sensitivity, particularly deeper into the travel. It’s obviously not as stout either, with more flex under braking and when being pushed hard into repeat impacts at speed.
This is understandable given the weight reduction. Compared to the old 34 SC, 71 grams have been stripped out of the lowers on the new fork. Even the CSU is supposed to be 50g lighter. It certainly looks slimmer than the old fork, though the narrowed stance ensures that overall steering precision hasn’t been sacrificed. It handles off-camber terrain well, tracking confidently in-line with where your grips are pointing.
As well as being quite a bit lighter than the old fork, the new 34 SC offers more support on the trail thanks to the redesigned air spring. Even with the same number of volume spacers fitted, it rides noticeably higher in its travel, keeping plenty in reserve for more violent impacts.
Despite the stronger support, the 34 SC has thankfully maintained the suppleness that we enjoyed so much about the original fork. There’s excellent small-bump sensitivity in the Open compression setting, allowing the front tyre to maintain ground contact for maximum grip and predictability. This sensitivity extends across a wide range of riding speeds, with the 34 SC doing well to manage big hits and seek out traction on rowdier terrain.
It’s also happy to make use of the full 120mm stroke, with larger drops to flat resulting in me meeting the end of the travel. It was only ever once per ride though, and the bottom-out was never that harsh or noisy. Adding a second volume spacer did eliminate these bottom-out events, though it came at the expense of mid-stroke sensitivity. I returned to one volume spacer, and haven’t thought about it since. In fact, I haven’t really thought much about the fork at all, since it just performs so darn well all of the time.
How does it compare to the 32 SC?
Given the reduced weight of the 2022 Fox 34 SC, and the fact that it’s now available in a 100mm travel variant, you might be wondering how it compares to the 32 Step-Cast fork we’ve reviewed previously. This is a valid question, as while the 32 SC hasn’t been updated since 2020, it appears it’ll remain in the Fox lineup for the foreseeable future.
As Fox’s ultra-light XC fork, the 32 SC is built around 32mm diameter upper tubes and is only available with 100mm of travel. It’s also limited to running a 2.3in wide tyre. There’s a broad range of adjustability, as its FIT4 damper is largely the same as the one used in the 34 SC. And while the previous generation EVOL air spring doesn’t offer negative volume adjustments, you can still tune the positive chamber with spacers.
Thanks to its highly weight-optimised chassis, the 32 SC is still the lighter of the two forks (1,448g vs 1,520g, uncut). You can certainly feel that difference on the trail, with the skinny chassis being considerably bendier than the 34 SC. Small-bump sensitivity is very good, but the 32 SC simply inspires less confidence on chunky descents, with the front wheel more likely to dance to its own routine.
Given the superior performance of the 34 SC, it’s understandable why so many World Cup XC racers are sucking up the 72g weight penalty and choosing it over the 32 SC. Of course modern XC bikes are getting slacker, longer and beefier, so the 34 SC is naturally becoming a more suitable choice. And while lighter riders may not notice as dramatic of a difference, for existing 32 SC owners who are looking to push their bike harder on the descents, while exploring the option of running more than 100mm of travel, the 34 SC is undoubtedly an excellent upgrade.
Fox 34 SC vs RockShox SID
In much the same way that the new Fox 34 SC has pushed aside the 32 SC to become the fork of choice for XC racing, the RockShox SID has been earning favour over the lighter SID SL amongst RockShox-sponsored athletes. So, with these bigger forks signalling the direction that modern XC bikes are heading, how does the new 34 SC compare to the SID?
The RockShox SID won our last head-to-head battle with the previous 34 SC, as it offered a significant weight advantage and terrific sensitivity and support from its DebonAir spring. The weight difference has evaporated with the new 34 SC however, with the two forks coming out at pretty much the same figure on the scales (1,520g vs 1,525g, uncut).
The Fox 34 SC does offer more adjustability with its 3-position lever, the additional low-speed compression dial, and the tuneable negative volume. In comparison, the SID Ultimate is much simpler with its 2-position lockout. It’s also over $100 cheaper, coming in at $1,599 AUD for the top-end Ultimate model with a remote lockout (vs $1,739 AUD for the Fox 34 SC).
On the trail, both the SID and 34 SC offer excellent sensitivity for such lightweight XC-focussed forks. There are differences though, and we’ll be exploring these in more detail over the coming weeks with some back-to-back testing. Stay tuned for a separate in-depth comparative review coming soon.
With its lighter chassis and improved adjustability, the second generation Fox 34 SC has set a new benchmark for XC riding and racing.
Not only is it considerably lighter than its predecessor, the redesigned air spring also offers more adjustability and better support on the trail. It’s a superior fork all-round, and the weight savings mean it has closed the gap on the skinnier 32 SC. The bigger chassis of the 34 SC means it is much more confidence-inspiring on the descents however, and that makes it a far more suitable match for the capabilities of the latest crop of XC bikes currently hitting the market.
There’s no getting around the high price of the Factory Series model, and for that reason we’d really like to see the Performance Elite model offered aftermarket. And while I’ve not tested the entry-level Performance model yet, based on prior experience of the excellent GRIP damper, it’s likely to be even more supple than the FIT4 models. If you can handle the near-100g weight penalty and don’t mind the reduced adjustability, that fork will be the value pick of the bunch.
If it’s the very best you’re after however, then it doesn’t get as high-end or as adjustable as the Fox 34 SC Factory Series fork. Expect to see the 34 SC on the front of a lot of new XC bikes for 2023.