Wil Reviews The Fox 32 Step-Cast Factory Series Fork
In the pursuit of ultimate performance, sometimes less can actually be more. That was certainly the approach that Fox took with its 32 Step-Cast fork when it debuted back in 2016. Named after its unique stepped lowers, the 32 Step-Cast (SC) is a pure XC race fork that is optimised around 100mm of travel. Like the regular Float 32 fork, it also features 32mm diameter stanchions, but everything else has been pared everything back to the absolute bare minimum. The result is the lightest suspension fork that Fox has ever built.
Since its launch, the 32 SC has received two key improvements. In 2019 Fox added the new generation EVOL air spring system, which has a larger negative spring volume to help ease the fork into its travel for a smoother feel with improved small-bump sensitivity. All well and good, but some riders were still complaining of the 32 SC being too twangy. To increase chassis stiffness, Fox has added a beefier (and heavier) crown for 2020, which apparently brings the stiffness levels up to that of the popular 34 trail fork. A bold claim indeed.
What Options Can You Get?
As mentioned above, the 32 SC is purpose-built around 100mm of travel. However, it is possible to buy a separate air-shaft aftermarket that will drop travel down to 80mm. How old school! If you’re even more old school (or is it new school? We’re not entirely sure…), Fox also offers the 32 SC fork in a slightly whacky and super-short 40mm travel AX model that’s targeted at gravel bikes.
Going back to the 100mm mountain bike version, you can get it in both 27.5in and 29in sizes, the latter of which can be had in both 44mm and 51mm offsets. Still running a non-Boost front hub? Fox has your back too – the 32 SC comes in both Boost and non-Boost varieties.
In Australia the Fox 32 SC comes in this flagship Factory Series version, which utilises the distinctive gold Kashima-coated stanchions and the proven FIT4 damper inside, which carries on unchanged from the original 32 SC. Our test fork comes with the standard crown-mounted lockout ($1,489), though for an extra hundred buckaroos you can get the remote version that puts a lockout lever on your handlebars ($1,589).
The 32 Step-Cast is also available in a cheaper Performance version for $1,175. The chassis is identical and it also comes with the same EVOL air spring that can be tuned with blue plastic volume spacers. However, the Performance model skips the Kashima Coat in favour of regular black anodised stanchions, and it also utilises the simpler GRIP damper.
How Light Is It Then?
Very. Our 29er Boost test fork weighs in at a scant 1406g. That’s including the Kabolt thru-axle and with the steerer tube cut to 175mm. Though exceptionally lightweight, it’s worth pointing out that the 2020 fork has gotten about 40g heavier than the 2019 version thanks to the new beefier crown.
which in the realm of weight weenieism, is also known as ‘a metric shit-tonne‘.
Compared to the competition, the new 32 SC is still around 100g lighter than a RockShox SID Ultimate Carbon. If you’re comparing it to the regular SID Ultimate with the alloy steerer and crown, the difference is even greater – 200 whole grams in fact. In the realm of weight weenieism, that’s known as ‘a metric shit-tonne‘.
Here’s a brief glance at how the 32 SC’s weight compares to some of the other players in the lightweight XC fork market, though note all of the numbers we’ve listed here are claimed weights from the manufacturers;
- Fox 32 Step-Cast: 1387g
- Cannondale Lefty Ocho Carbon: 1446g
- DT Swiss F 232 One: 1480g
- RockShox SID Ultimate Carbon: 1481g
- RockShox SID Ultimate: 1582g
- Fox 34 Step-Cast: 1589g
Bolting On The 32 SC
To suit the front of my Santa Cruz Blur, I chose the shorter 44mm offset. I also elected for the non-remote option as I prefer a cleaner cockpit layout with less cables.
Having previously had a 120mm travel 34 Step-Cast on the same bike, the 32 Step-Cast looks positively anaemic in comparison. It has a much narrower stance – about 10mm narrower than the regular 32 Float. This helps to get the weight down, but it does mean there’s less tyre clearance – Fox says a 2.3in tyre is the maximum size you should run. Go bigger than that, and you may have contact between the tyre and the crown at full compression, which I think we can all agree, would be A Bad Thing™. I’ve been playing it safe with a 2.2in Pirelli Scorpion M, and there’s loads of mud room around the arch.
Because of the narrower legs, the magnesium lowers are externally-stepped down at the dropouts to provide clearance for the disc brake rotor. With a 160mm rotor, the calliper bolts directly to the post-mount tabs with no need for an adapter. However, you can run up to a 180mm diameter rotor with an adapter.
Air Spring & Damper Setup
As per the setup chart, I set the air pressure to 80psi to support my 68kg riding weight. This achieves about 25% static sag while standing up on the pedals in the attack position. Fox installs a single plastic volume spacer in the fork from the factory, and includes two additional spacers in the box.
Since rebound force is determined by how much air pressure you have in the fork, Fox’s recommendations on the setup guide tend to be spot-on. I set the rebound damping 10 clicks off of the slowest setting, which is meant to be halfway, but weirdly our test fork only has 19 clicks of rebound adjustment.
The blue compression lever gives you Open, Medium and Firm settings. Firm is close to a full lockout, though the fork will still compress if you hit something hard enough. I used the Firm setting while riding on the road to and from the trails, but I never used the Medium position. For XC riding and racing, personally I’d be happy just to see the same 2-position Open/Locked setup you get with the Remote option.
In the middle of the blue lever is another smaller black dial, which gives you 22 clicks of low-speed compression damping when you’re in the Open position. In the past I would have run this dial on the lightest setting (full anti-clockwise) to get as much suppleness out of the fork as possible. The thing is though, all these new-school forks are way more slippery than they used to be. This means it’s possible to add more low-speed damping to increase support, without ending up with a fork that feels overly harsh. As such, I set that black dial around halfway with 10-12 clicks to keep the fork steady under heavy braking.
So, Is It Stiffer?
Thankfully it is. There’s only 40g more material in the new crown, but the difference it provides is noticeable. I’ve ridden all prior versions of the 32 SC fork, and while the pre-2020 model was a great performer, it was noticeably twangy under hard riding applications. With the beefier crown, the new 32 SC is more direct in its handling. That makes sense, because the crown is the primary anchor point for the whole fork. So even though the lowers and 32mm upper tubes are unchanged, they now have a more solid connection with the steerer tube, which leads to more precision overall.
The reduction in fore & aft flex is even more noticeable. On particularly fast and rowdy descents, where you’re presented with repeated rock drops and ledges, there’s less tendency for the fork to bend and the front wheel to tuck under. And the bigger the ‘oh shit!‘ moment, the more pronounced this is compared to the old fork design.
I do say this as a 68kg weakling though. As improved as the 32 SC is, it’s obviously no enduro fork. For meatier riders pushing 90kg or more, I’d strongly suggest looking at the 34 Step-Cast instead. I had one of those on the front of the Blur prior to testing the 32 SC, and it takes the torsional rigidity up another level, especially if you shorten down the travel. It is about 200g heavier than the 32 SC, but the added beef is well worth it if you’re a heavier and more pugnacious rider.
Nope. Nada. Zilch. Not a peep out of the fork during the five months I’ve had it on the front of my bike, which is really what you’d expect for the price.
Overall the 32 SC is a superb quality fork. It has impressive small-bump sensitivity and a thoroughly refined spring curve that supports its travel well beyond the sag point.
It’s also easy to fine-tune with the blue volume spacers, with room to add up to four. I spent a good amount of time trying out the fork with a single volume spacer, then with no volume spacers for a more linear XC-ish feel. Even with no volume spacers inside though, I still found the 32 SC to have a well-controlled ramp-up in that last 50% of the travel. You really have to throw your weight at it hard to bottom it out, and even then it was still quite subtle and smooth.
Since my life feels like an ongoing episode of the Princess and the Pea though, I ended up cutting a volume spacer in half and running the Goldilocks setup. That gave me just enough mid-stroke support to keep the fork level under more rapid impacts, while still keeping the nicely active feel.
In terms of ongoing maintenance, Fox does recommend a full service every 125 hours of ride time. For an average rider doing 2.5 hours of riding per week, that’s once every 12 months. Sola Sport now offers Fox suspension servicing in-house, where you can send your fork, shock or dropper post directly to them. A full fork service, which includes a damper bleed with fresh oil and a lower leg service with new seals and splash fluid, will set you back $215. You can get more info on service options and costs here.
Fox 32 Step-Cast vs RockShox SID
Given the earlier weight comparisons, it’s worth exploring the on-trail performance differences between the 32 SC and its main rival; the RockShox SID. (I’m yet to ride a Cannondale Ocho or the new DT Swiss F 232 One, so I can’t provide a comparison to those at this point in time).
As well as beating the SID on weight, in my experience the 32 SC is also more sensitive. There’s less stiction overall, and I’ve found it sucks up smaller rubble more effectively, leading to improved comfort at the grips.
The EVOL air spring also feels more refined out of the box. Whereas the 32 SC is an easier fork to setup as per the guide and ridden straight away, adding volume spacers is more of a necessity with the SID’s DebonAir spring. I’ve tested a number of SIDs and Rebas that have bottomed-out harshly when set to the recommend air pressures, requiring you to over-inflate them, which creates an overly harsh ride quality.
The solution is to load a few Bottomless Tokens in there to provide the necessary support, which does make a big improvement. Even still though, riding the two forks back-to-back the SID just isn’t as supple. It also tends to use the end of its travel more willingly, with a more noticeable bottom-out thunk when you hit full straps.
The SID is more stout though, with greater torsional stiffness that can be felt under high-speed steering inputs. It’s not a massive difference, but it is there. The added rigidity is especially noticeable if you’re running a front hub with the oversized Torque Caps, which increase surface area between the fork dropouts and the axle. Otherwise both forks feel pretty similar under braking – the new crown on the 32 SC has certainly made a difference in that regard.
While the latest version of the Fox 32 Step-Cast fork has gotten a fraction heavier, the chunkier crown has paid dividends in stiffness and stability. The result is an ultra-lightweight XC fork that handles better under duress, with less twang and more precision overall.
It retains bragging rights as being the lightest option out there amongst the big names, though more importantly, it’s also a very smooth and refined performer on the trail, and one that’s easy to adjust and fine-tune.
Heavier riders will still want to consider the regular 32 Float, or the 34 Step-Cast. And in a head-to-head comparison, the RockShox SID does have the edge when it comes to torsional stiffness. But for lean XC racers looking for the lightest high-performance option, the Fox 32 SC gets the pick from us.
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