WHAT: Fox TALAS RLC
HOW MUCH: $699
There is so much technology lurking inside this TALAS fork, that it's hard to know preciselywhere to begin its review. I guess we can start with the whole name thing… TALAS stands for "Travel Adjustable Linear Air Spring"—a title that sounds innocuous, but is actually quite straight forward once you break down the jargon a bit.
The first part of the acronym is easy—the fork features adjustable travel. Wind the dial (located on the top of the left leg) clockwise `till it stops and the fork scrunches down to a sporty, 90 millimeters of cross-country appropriate travel. It's a nice feature for smoother trails and steep climbs. Turn that same dial counter-clockwise fifteen clicks (you've gotta unweight the front wheel at this point) and you now have 130-millimeters (that's five inches for all of us non-metric types) of travel. Each click signals a travel change of 3 millimeters.
The "Linear Air Spring" bit is a little trickier to describe. Historically, air springs have had progressive spring rates; which is a very succinct way of saying that as the fork compresses, the air chamber shrinks, the air pressure inside increases and the fork "ramps up" and feels "stiffer" as you push it deeper towards the end of its travel range. If you plotted the spring rate of an air spring on a graph, it'd curve sharply upwards—sorta like the birth rate of some depressed, third world country.
Coil springs, on the other hand, typically have linear spring rates—which is to say that it takes the same amount of force to compress the first inch of travel as it does the last. If you plotted the spring rate of a coil spring, it'd slope upwards at a constant rate (hence the whole "linear" term). But enough with the math geek stuff—the important thing to understand here is that many folks prefer a linear spring rate as it lends your suspension a more consistent, "smooth" or "plush" feel.
Fox designed the TALAS fork with a secondary air chamber which is (in turn) controlled by an independent floating piston, to create a smooth, coil-spring feel. No, I didn't tear the fork apart to verify that last detail. I'm going to take the catalog copy to heart in this case, as the fork really does feel like it has a coil spring inside it and I really don't give a damn why it feels that way.
There are plenty of other nifty features loaded on this model. Naturally, the fork features adjustable rebound damping (red dial on top of right fork leg). The fork also features adjustable compression damping (the blue bezel on the top of the right fork leg), a lock out lever (also located on top of the right leg) and a blow off threshold adjuster (the blue knob located on the bottom of the right fork leg).
The blow-off threshold adjuster basically allows you to adjust the compression firmness while in lock-out mode. If that sounds complicated, think of it this way: when you turn the adjuster all the way clockwise and then lock your fork out, it takes a really big bump to unlock the fork and make it bob. Conversely, if you turn the adjuster all the way counter-clockwise, your fork will "unlock" and bob in response to fairly small jolts even when it's lock-out mode.
As for construction details….the TALAS sports stout magnesium lowers, bolshy 32-millimeter stanchions, a weight-saving, hollow-forged fork crown and a universal disc brake mount. You can run up to 180-millimeter rotors on this fork. No, it won't work with anything larger, but then again, this is basically an XC/All Mountain fork and 180 is really all you need for that style of riding. Weight is a very impressive 3.78 pounds.
Out on the trail, the TALAS tracked exceptionally well at the short and middle settings of its travel range (up to around 115 millimeters of travel). After that point, the fork was still acceptably stiff, but it didn't possess the same balls-out, flex-free feeling you get from a thru-axle model. Again, this was only apparent when the fork was set at five inches of travel, and you can only expect so much from a fork that weighs less than four pounds, but if we're going to be exacting, there you have it.
The compression stroke is absolutely peerless. Fox has truly delivered on the whole linear compression hype. The TALAS is unbelievably smooth and consistent for an air-sprung fork and it pretty much felt that way out of the box. Initially, I was a bit spooked by that fact, since forks that feel friction-less right away tend to develop loose bushings over time. This, however, hasn't happened to the Fox during the three months of abuse I've subjected it to thus far. Bushings and seals are still hunky-dory and if they do develop play later on down the line, I'll let you know about it in a long-term review.
While there really is a pretty narrow range of acceptable rebound damping in the real world, it's still nice to see manufacturers like Fox giving you a wide range to play with (at any rate, it makes you feel better about blowing this much money on a fork). I appreciated having the rebound damper within easy reach on the top of the fork, but would have actually preferred that the blow-off threshold adjuster was in its spot since I normally set rebound and forget about it for months, whereas I like to fiddle around with compression damping on an almost daily basis. Placing the blow-off threshold adjuster on the bottom of the fork made it much less accessible (it's certainly takes it out of the "on the fly" realm) and that's a shame since it is a pretty cool feature that works quite well.
While I'm nitpicking here, I guess I'd have to say that while the travel adjuster works, the aluminum knob isn’t nearly as easy to turn as the rubber coated version found on RockShox's U-Turn models. Since the fork adjusts in small, three millimeter increments, it'd also be nice to see some travel gradients marked on the forks stanchions—just to give you a better idea of where you are (counting clicks in your head kind of sucks).
Minor quibbles aside, the TALAS is an amazing fork—light enough for cross country racing and yet stout enough to qualify for big hit duties. Yes, the price is pretty steep, but the workmanship and attention to detail is absolutely top of the line. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. It's certainly true in this case.