Landing Gear: Six Forks Put to the Test

A quick guide to some of 2015's best

MTB Forks

 

DVO DIAMOND | $1,000

Like many young, cutting-edge brands, DVO offers things the big guys don't. And surprisingly, its boutique label doesn't come with an inflated price tag.

DVO believes that what makes the best suspension depends a little on the trail and a lot on who's riding it. So the Diamond allows riders to adjust five of the fork's characteristics. Beyond the preload, rebound and high- and low-speed compression damping, the DVO sports a unique initial small-bump sensitivity adjustment. The 'Off The Top,' or OTT knob, is essentially an on-the-fly negative air-spring adjustment. It works against the positive spring, allowing you to run higher air pressure. Dialing up the OTT knob increases initial sensitivity and adds smooth progressivity that could normally only be achieved with volume spacers. Dialing it back allows for lower pressure and a more linear feel. In this setting, the compression knobs fine-tune the fork's resistance to slow dive and help minimize high-speed chatter.

The more linear setting offered nearly the same plushness as this year's smoothest forks. Those who want to hug the roughest of ground won't be disappointed. But the Diamond was most at home with a little extra OTT. Given its DH-oriented lineup, it's clear that DVO is all about getting rad. Exactly what that means is up to you. –Travis Engel

FORMULA THIRTYFIVE 27.5 | $1,220

Formula is known for its lightweight, techy brakes, and its forks aim to follow suit. The ThirtyFive clearly has the lightweight part covered. Our 160-millimeter-travel, 27.5-inch version was lighter than most of the forks in this issue. It was also the most expensive, but there's a lot under its hood.

In addition to its feathery weight, the ThirtyFive stood out for performing just as well in small chatter as the notably plush RockShox Pike. This is partially thanks to much of the initial bump force resting on an actual metal coil spring, not the air chamber. The damping cartridge shares some of the load as well, making for a buttery feel through the entire stroke.

On a fork this plush, finely tunable low-speed compression damping is a necessity. Without it, the fork gets divey when riding heavy on the front wheel, so a blue knob is there on top of the right leg. The stiff lock-out seems less useful unless the threshold is dialed back, and even then it only feels appropriate in fierce pedaling sections.

Formula distilled the tunability to the essentials so you won't need to read the manual every time you want to properly roost a berm. And despite its sub-4-pound heft, the ThirtyFive roosts with confidence. Its stiff chassis and trail-hugging technology make it a worthy contender this year. –T.E.

FOX 36 FLOAT 160 FIT RC2 | $1,050

The 36 has always been a personal favorite. Admittedly there was room for improvement, considering what some of Fox's competitors have brought to the table recently. Fox was aware of the shortcomings and came out swinging with its 2015 36 FIT RC2, resulting in the lightest, most tunable 36 to date.

The most noticeable improvement is the suppleness of the initial stroke. For a rider in the 200-pound range like myself, this isn't easily achieved. On some forks, I find that the air pressure needed to achieve proper mid-stroke support and bottom-out control means sacrificing some small-bump sensitivity. The redesigned Float Air Spring avoids this problem by equalizing the positive and negative air chambers to deliver a smooth and consistent initial stroke regardless of air pressure. Heavyweights rejoice.

The fork's mid-stroke support is equally impressive, and it perfectly complements that initial suppleness. This combination results in superb control on high-speed, chunky descents. I got along well with the stock tune on our 27.5, 160-millimeter-travel 36, but more aggressive riders will appreciate the ability to adjust the progressivity of the air spring by adding or taking away volume spacers internally.

The new 36 proudly carries on the legacy of this legendary fork. –Anthony Smith

MTB Forks

 

MRP STAGE | $970

The Stage is billed as MRP's enduro fork, but the new platform offers a lot to trail riders as well. Our 130-millimeter-travel test fork felt right at home on a snappy 120-mil 29er. The Stage is not the lightest fork we're highlighting, but it's within 100 grams of our other favorites. Besides, the 34-millimeter stanchions and overbuilt magnesium lowers dare you to shred as though you've never counted a gram in your life.

The Stage allows you to choose how best to do that shredding. The externally adjustable ramp-up is more noticeable than other brands' bottom-out limiters. It's as crucial to set up as rebound damping or preload. The 'Ramp Control's' firmer clicks may seem unnecessary, but with the right amount of bottom-out resistance, it's possible to run low air preload and the fork will float over small bumps while effectively softening big hits. A low-speed compression knob allows you to mitigate the mushiness and low ride height that comes with that low pressure. A magnetic blow-off valve helps prevent spiking when large, high-speed impacts hit the compression damper.

Riders concerned about high-speed, mid-sized chop can back off the ramp-up to zero, and the fork still keeps a firm feel that's perfect for those who prefer a moderate travel bike, but ride it fast and rough. –T.E.

MANITOU MATTOC PRO | $850

It might be easy to let the Manitou Mattoc Pro fly under the radar with all the hype surrounding some of the front suspension we've tested in this issue. Once you get the Mattoc Pro on the trail though, it quickly becomes clear that this is one fork that shouldn't be overlooked.

One of the standout features is the external Hydraulic Bottom Out adjustment. The ability to control the ramp-up in the last part of the stroke gives the fork a bottomless feel without having to crank up the high-speed compression. Many forks offer ramp up control, but it requires internal adjustments. Being able to adjust this externally made set up a breeze, and it helped strike the perfect balance between a soft and supple initial and mid-stroke with a big-boy-sized ramp-up to keep me in control.

If you do love to tinker internally, fear not, all of the travel adjustments–from 170 millimeters down to 140 millimeters–are handled internally in 10-millimeter increments via travel-reducing chips. This can help get you dialed in on a 26- or 27.5-inch bike, but the Mattoc is not yet available for 29ers.

For a fork that comes in on the lower end of the price spectrum, the Mattoc Pro delivers top-end performance that's able to rival many of its more pricey competitors. –A.S.

ROCKSHOX PIKE RCT3 | $980-$1,085

This year's lineup of forks is as outstanding as its bikes. Still, our testers found favorites in each, and the RockShox Pike was prevalent on both lists. This 35-millimeter-stanchion darling was introduced last year, and it has become more than just a hot upgrade. Given the range of bikes that come with Pikes nowadays, it may become the new standard across a variety of shred-worthy platforms.

The technology that gives the Pike its remarkable plushness stems from the damping cartridge that reliably carries more of the rider's weight, requiring less air pressure to achieve proper sag, thus achieving a smoother ride. At barely 4 pounds, the Pike is versatile for 29-inch trail bikes, 650b all-mountain monsters, 26-inch dirt jumpers and even on one cross-country bike at the Bible. The whole package is stiff enough to out-steer any single-crown fork.

The RCT3 offers quick access to a firm pedaling mode or even firmer lock out, but most riders will rarely stray from the silky smooth wide-open setting. The low-speed compression knob does much to keep the Pike from diving under aggressive riders. Those who want more tunability can dial in progressivity with internal volume spacers.
The skin around this impressive fork may be the best part. The all-black, thick-boned Pike looks as solid as it feels. –T.E.

Related:

Roll Models: Six Wheelsets Put to the Test

Reviewed: Dropper Posts