Holden or Ford? Liberal or Labor? RockShox or FOX? Which camp are you in? Mountain bikers can be pretty parochial when it comes to component choices, especially suspension and drivetrains. Here we've got the top of the line RockShox Lyrik versus the FOX 36 Factory. Which one would you pick? Turns out, it's a pretty tough choice!
Here’s a good battle, if ever we’ve seen one! The FOX 36 vs the RockShox Lyrik. We’ve put two of the biggest forks in the business head to head, to find out which one we really do prefer, bolting them both to the front of our Commencal Meta AM for a bit of rough and tumble.
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 vs FOX 36 Factory FIT4, on paper.
As we reflected in our introductory piece, you won’t find a more evenly matched pair than this. For the records, we tested both forks in a 170mm travel version, for 27.5″ wheels. The Lyrik RCT3 in the spec we tested is $1549.95, while the FOX 36 Factory FIT4 is $1579.
With the steerer tube trimmed to 185mm, and with a star nut fitted, the weights were very similar: 1998g for the Lyrik and 2027g for the FOX. While the FOX is slightly heavier it also has a tool-free QR15 axle fitted, while our Lyrik needs an Allen key to remove the axle. The Lyrik has the edge by a few grams, but it’s not enough to really separate the two.
When it comes to travel options, the Lyrik has the advantage. You can get the RockShox in travel variants from 150-160-170-180mm (for 27.5″ wheels – it tops out at 170mm for 29ers), plus it’s available in a travel-adjustable Dual Position version. FOX no longer offer a travel adjustable 36, so if you’re looking for a fork that will let you lower the front end on a climb, then the Lyrik is for you.
Off the shelf, the 36 comes in 150-160-170mm versions. That said, you can extend a 27.5″ 170mm-travel 36 up to 180mm (or a 29er 160mm 36 up to 170mm) with a new air shaft, which will set you back around $75.
FOX have the advantage when it comes to damper options however. In addition to the FIT4 damper (with its three position compression lever) you can also get a HSC/LSC damper, which gives you more precise control of the high-speed compression settings and independent low-speed compression adjustment.
Both the RockShox and FOX have a single air spring, and practically identical damping adjustments. Both have three position high-speed compression adjustment, with open, medium and firm settings. Both have low-speed compression adjustment (which only effects the fork when the high-speed compression adjuster is in the ‘open’ setting). Both obviously have generous rebound ranges. There’s plenty of scope for tuning, but without being overly complex.
Finally, both allow you to adjust the rate of the air spring via a spacer system, which involves removing the top cap and threading (with the Lyrik) or clipping (with the FOX) spacers into place. For our testing, we opted to run two spacers/tokens in both forks.
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 vs FOX 36 Factory, on the trail.
So, you’ve got two forks that are practically identical on paper. It turns out there’s not much between them on the trail either, though ultimately we came away preferring the FOX.
Both of these forks are simple to achieve setting that’s 90% of the way there, with a bit of ongoing fettling required to get the perfect setup. On the back of both forks, you’ll find a chart of recommended air pressure for a given rider weight. The FOX goes a step further, with recommended rebound settings too. However, we’re big believers in getting your suspension sag correct, and that’s where the Lyrik’s sag gradient markings really come in handy. On the trail, we found that FOX’s recommended pressures a little firm, while the RockShox was surprisingly bang on.
Which fork reacts to the terrain best? FOX make a lot of noise about the slickness of the Kashima Coat anodising on their fork legs, but we don’t think it’s inherently much smoother than RockShox’s Fast Black coating. We’ve felt good and bad forks with both coatings – variables like bushing tolerances, maintenance and friction due to flex in the fork have a bigger impact than the finish of the fork legs.
But the air spring is the other vital component when it comes to creating a responsive fork, and the FOX 36 has the edge here. The higher volume of the negative air spring in the new EVOL air spring assembly makes for pretty incredible small bump sensitivity (an issue that has plagued the 36 in past years).
This is where the FOX really stood out to us, particularly in the way it handled high-speed impacts. When the biggest hits happened, it was the FOX that left us feeling more in control and sent less of the impact our way.
At the end of the roughest descents we were surprised to find that FOX would consistently keep a little travel up its sleeve, but without ever having felt harsh or like we had the front end setup too firmly. On the other hand, the Lyrik would consistently use up all 170mm to gobble up the terrain. It wasn’t that the Lyrik was too soft, or too linear, just that it was using more travel to get the job done.
You could say this is a negative for the FOX, that it was too progressive and we should have removed spacers. But the fact is, even when it was not getting the full 170mm, the ride it delivered was just as smooth, controlled and supple as the Lyrik, while still keeping a little travel ready for when things got out of hand. The FOX’s high speed compression damping was doing an amazing job, dissipating the force from the hits so effectively that full travel was only required when we really made a mess of things.
Decision time. What would we choose?
It’s easy to see why these two forks are so dominant in the Enduro market. Their performance out of the box is ridiculous – it’s incredible that you can buy this level of suspension right off the shelf, and with very little setup you’ve got a fork that could happily win an EWS. But if we were picking one, we’d take the FOX 36 Factory. It just has the slightest edge in damping performance and in this arena that counts for a lot.