First Ride: Fox RAD 34

Fox Shox gives gear editor Ryan Palmer a little taste of what could be coming

While this fork may not be for sale, it's helping to create the technologies that make it to future production forks.

While this fork may not be for sale, it’s helping to create the technologies that make it to future production forks.

Fox’s RAD program, or Racing Applications Development, is designed to service the high-end needs of top racers. Long before the California-based brand coined the acronym, it’s been providing next-level tuning to elite racers, mostly focusing on World Cup downhill racers. Beginning in 2013, Fox expanded the RAD program to service the vastly growing enduro racing scene. Why is this good for the likes of everyday riders like you and me? Because it means that Fox is investing more heavily in performance upgrades to products that you and I actually ride, like the 34 Talas.

Subtle changes make huge performance advantages, and warrant the RAD decal.

Subtle changes make huge performance advantages, and warrant the RAD decal.

Mark Jordan, global communications manager at Fox, recently stopped by the office flaunting a freshly tuned, hand-built RAD 34, with some pretty intriguing tweaks. When I tell you what they are, they may seem minor, but that is the world of suspension tuning. Small changes, measuring fractions of millimeters, have massive impacts on performance.

To reduce friction, the RAD forks utilize a higher quality lubricating oil in the lowers, a redesigned FIT cartridge seal head and sized bushings. Basically, sizing the bushings takes care of the break-in process normally required in production forks, allowing racers to hop on a fork that’s essentially already broken in.

The air spring in the prototype RAD fork remains surprisingly unchanged from the production fork.

The air spring in the prototype RAD fork remains surprisingly unchanged from the production fork.

On the trail, the benefits from the reduced friction were instantly noticeable. The fork was incredibly responsive on small bumps, and since there was such little friction I could run higher air pressure without sacrificing compliance. The biggest difference that I felt between the 2014 Talas and RAD fork was when switching from Descend to Trail mode. In Trail, the production Talas 34 has a very stout platform that has to be pushed through, But the RAD fork had no such thing. The reason is Fox removed a preloaded shim stack, which is essentially there only to create a favorable ‘parking lot feel,’ so that consumers can actually feel a difference between the settings by simply pushing on the fork. But this has no bearing on how the fork will perform during the higher shaft speeds created when riding on trail, so on race forks, it’s left out.

The adjustement knobs look the same, but there was much more compression adjustment provided in the fork we rode.

The adjustement knobs look the same, but there was much more compression adjustment provided in the fork we rode.

The RAD fork featured much more compression adjustment, with much smaller incremental changes between each indent, allowing for more accurate fine-tuning for different trail conditions.

Although, it’s far from a production fork, the RAD 34 teases the possibilities of the future. The fork we rode employs changes based on feedback from last year’s RAD program, and will serve as a starting platform for Fox RAD racers in the 2014 season. Feedback from athletes this season will ultimately impact what we see on the shelves next year.

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