First Ride: Fox 36 RC2
Moab provides a perfect environment for forking around
Mike’s garage is basically a collection of my old bikes. I’ll ride a bike for a year or so and hand it off to Mike, where he’ll spend the next decade squeezing every last drop out of it. The day before heading to Moab to test a brand new version of the Fox 36 RC2, I stopped off in Denver for a brief visit with my buddy–and my old bike parts.
Mike’s primary bike is a 2005 Specialized Enduro that I gave him in ’07. A few years later, he bought one of the original Fox Float 36 RC2 forks off me, bolted it to the front of the Enduro and forgot about it. The thing still feels as good as the day I sent it to him, making me seriously consider buying it back from him. In my opinion, the 36 RC2 has remained the best fork, and RC2 the best damper in the Fox catalog since it was first introduced. But like the fork on Mike’s bike, it’s gotten buried behind newer, shinier stuff.
After a redesign and some serious weight savings it’s finally time for the 36 and RC2 to take the stage again. I hopped in my rental car and headed for the chunky trails in Moab to see if the new 36 could live up to the name.
The new Fox 36 RC2
Probably the biggest reason the 36 had been forgotten about is because it was kind of a pig. Nobody wanted to sacrifice the weight, even with all the adjustability offered by the RC2 damper. Fox’s biggest goal was to take out a significant amount of weight using lessons learned from the redesign of the 40 last year. The new 36 starts at just over four pounds, about the same as a RockShox Pike. Grams have been saved on every part of the chassis, even in the improved air spring.
Just like before, the RC2 damper provides high- and low-speed compression adjustment and rebound externally. An improved seal head significantly reduces system friction, another major goal with the 36 redesign. Fox uses a lighter viscosity oil in the FIT cartridge for improved rebound performance as well.
In order to make weight targets, Fox did away with the dual quick release levers found on previous 36 forks in favor of four 5-millimeter hex pinch bolts. It’s a bit of a pain to remove the wheel when compared to a quick release through axle, but Fox has a good reason for not using a cam-type quick release. A cam is great, if the hub is the perfect width. If it’s too narrow the fork legs get squeezed together, causing binding between the stanchions and bushings. The axle that Fox uses has a shoulder that pushes the hub to the disc side while the right leg remains floating. The system doesn’t rely on the hub, reducing the risk of binding due to imperfections out of Fox’s control.
A new air spring auto-equalizes the positive and negative air chambers, which improves small bump compliance, while volume spacers can easily be added to adjust spring rate. There are several holes at the top of the air spring unit, each 10 millimeters apart, which can be used to adjust fork travel up to 50 millimeters.
Testing the Fox 36 RC2
To achieve a baseline, we started with Porcupine Rim. I was riding a Santa Cruz Nomad with a Rock Shox Pike, which was perfect because that’s exactly the fork that Fox is targeting with the 36. It’s also in many ways, the fork to beat right now. After a bit of warmup time on the Nomad and Pike it was time to bolt on a new 36.
We proceeded to ride multiple Porcupine Rim laps, fine tuning the fork as we went. I started out with both compression knobs in the middle, at about 12 clicks from all the way in. To see the range of adjustment, we were told to ride for a few minutes with the compression all the way firm, and in contrast, completely open. Nobody in their right mind would want to run the fork either all the way open or all the way closed – or with the rebound all the way fast or slow – but the range is there, so anyone at any weight or riding style can dial in the fork to suit their needs. In contrast to previous RC2 dampers, where I’d frequently find myself swapping cartridge oil to extend the forks adjustment range, the new damper offers plenty of breadth.
Between the lower-friction seals and a slipperier Kashima coating on the inside and outside of the stanchions, friction is noticeably reduced, making the fork absolutely shine in small stutter bumps. The air volume can be adjusted using two sizes of spacers to achieve a spring rate that suits your riding style. Between this, the infinitely adjustable air spring and a wide range of compression control, it’s possible to tune-in just the right amount of support to keep the fork from diving under braking, yet feel supple in the rough stuff.
It’s also possible to tune those characteristics right out of the fork and make it ride like crap. This was the point of our exercises in Moab, and why it’s important to understand what the adjustments do.
The Fox 36 RC2 is a fork built for discerning riders who are picky about their suspension. If you fit into this crowd, it’s definitely worth checking one out.
The 36 RC2 is an incredible fork and it just might be good enough to steal away some of Pike’s sales.