Testing New 2018 FOX Suspension

We recently took part in a very interesting testing event with the crew from FOX, where the aim was to get a better understanding of what is new from FOX in the 2018 range. While it may seem that the new season doesn’t bring massive change to the fork and shock range, it’s the small details of the air spring and damper that was the focus.

A 2017 model bike received the 2018 treatment, it’s all about the internals and small details for FOX this season.
Three FOX team members, clipboards, pens and a shock pump. It’s getting serious!
FOX’s big gun – Eamonn Cleere knows a thing or two about tuning suspension; we picked his brains until he could take it no more… Sorry, Eamonn!

So, what is new in 2018?

The headline item is the introduction of the EVOL air spring system to the FOX 36, which we already took a look at here. And larger negative air springs in the EVOL system, and a new damper to suit. EVOL was introduced last year with the new DPS Float shocks, which we tested in-depth on a Yeti SB5 – read our Float DPS shock review here. Other new tweaks include a lighter weight EVOL air can for DPS shocks which also loses a seal to decrease unwanted friction.

The new DPS shock with its one-piece air can. A lighter unit, and smoother in operation.

What’s EVOL all about? 

EVOL is a snazzy abbreviation of Extra Volume, in reference to the increased volume of the negative air spring found in EVOL forks and shocks. What does it mean on the trail? The most noticeable benefit is a reduction in breakaway friction i.e. it takes less force to get the fork moving, meaning less shock is transferred to the rider.

There’s only so much space inside a fork, so if you’re increasing the negative air spring volume, you’re taking that space away from something else. In the case of the forks, the trade-off is a smaller positive air spring, smaller air volumes have more progressive curves. So to bring things back in line the damper in the other fork leg needed to reflect the increase in spring curve with a tune that would suit it.

Testing time!

Oh gee, didn’t we feel special on this one day, like a real top pro rider! We had many FOX technicians from FOX Australian crew, and FOX guru big wig Eamonn Cleere (FOX Europe technical manager, Europe Asia/Pacific.) and Damon Chen (Technical support Asia/Pacific.) at our disposal.

We arrived with a test bike equipped with 2017 FOX suspension on our bikes, and the aim was to ride the bike on a short testing loop and upgrade the fork and shock in stages and adjust the settings with the FOX technicians like we’re on the team. Greg Minnaar would have been envious.

For the test, we brought along the Scott Spark 900 with a 120mm travel FOX 34 with Fit 4 damper up front, and the FOX Nude EVOL DPS rear shock out the back, a bike we know well and have spent quite some time on in its stock spec.

Test lap #1 – 2017 standard.

Before heading out for our first lap the crew took note of the important settings; air pressure, rebound and compression, tyre pressure, etc, and off we went. The bike performed as we expected and were familiar with.

First lap on the stock suspension.
Note taking, back to school for us.

Test lap #2 – New spring.

In went the new air spring, suspension sags were measured and off we went. The fork didn’t feel particularly great with the new spring fitted, to say the least. As we warmed up on the trail, we were riding faster with more aggression and found ourselves blowing through the fork travel far too quickly and riding low in the last third of the travel too much. 

New vs. old – the MY18 air spring has a larger negative air volume (space around and above the black rubber) for increased sensitivity.

The new air spring has greater negative air volume, and hence the positive chamber is smaller, so in theory, it should have felt too firm and harsh, but our experiences were that it felt harsh and too soft. It was back to camp to install the damper to match the spring.

Test lap #3 – New damper fitted to match the new air spring.

In went the new damper designed to match the new air spring, and we were back on the trails in the blink of an eye. And presto! The bike was feeling great, the fork’s action was incredibly smooth and very supple, the change was slight but as the timeframes between the changes were so short, and on the same trail, we were able to discern the smallest of differences.

With the new spring and damper inside the fork, it was reacting faster to impacts and transferring less feedback to our hands. It felt softer, but there was the support and progression from a fork with higher air pressure.

Small improvements to the fork’s action made for a significant increase in performance on the trail.
The damper in the right-hand side of the leg.
Damon from FOX on the task of dialling in the suspension settings after each lap.

With the new spring and damper inside the fork, it was reacting faster to impacts and transferring less feedback to our hands. It felt softer, but there was the support and progression from a fork with higher air pressure.

On the climbs, the front wheel would track along with less disturbance, especially when out of the saddle and over the bars, pushing hard up ledges and over bumps the 120mm of travel felt very active to help maintain significant forward momentum.

Test lap #4 – Completing the picture with the new rear shock.

On the trail with the new shock, the rear suspension felt to be better matched to the fork regarding suppleness and feel; the bike was tracking along the trail excellently. While the Scott Spark wasn’t by any means old or worn out, the updated shock and fork internals made it feel super fresh and highly sophisticated.

A new EVOL DPS shock out the back, a more supple and sensitive unit than the one it replaces.
With the new shock fitted, things don’t look far different. Although the EVOL air can has no join near the shaft seal, requiring one less seal, resulting in a smoother operation.

The larger negative air spring let the shock access its travel faster with less force required to get it moving, it felt smooth, that’s for sure. It’s a lighter unit too, though that’s not something we would necessarily feel out on the trail.

So, new stuff is better than old stuff?

While we do wish we had a long travel bike on hand to feel more of the suspension in action, the 120mm Scott Spark we upgraded with the 2018 internals came away feeling a million bucks. It’s hard to put the experiences of testing suspension into words sometimes, and we risk repeating words like smooth, supple, supportive. While the FOX crew were on hand to help the installation process they weren’t there to tell us what to expect, though our feedback to them was generally what they would expect.

Stiction is suspension’s worst enemy, and for 2018 FOX have used larger negative air volumes and adapted the dampers to match, the outcome is a new level of suppleness. That suppleness translates to a very smooth ride, enhancing traction, keeping your bike in check when the terrain turns choppy.

So we should all rush out and buy the new stuff?

Well, while development of new stuff drives sales and makes the racers even faster, there’s plenty of people with current suspension forks and shocks happy enough not to replace them. FOX has come out with something very interesting globally, FFT – Fox Factory Tune. FFT will be a cheaper, and faster way to get the most out of your suspension.

Read about the FFT program here.

FOX has come out with something very interesting globally, FFT – Fox Factory Tune. FFT will be a cheaper, and faster way to get the most out of your suspension.

FFT, do this whole process from home, or through your bike shop.

FFT will give consumers a direct line to FOX for servicing, tuning and upgrading. Effectively anyone could do the same process we did here with existing FOX components and upgrade the internals to current spec and also request custom tuning to suit unique requirements.

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