WHAT: Magura Ronin Fork
HOW MUCH: $600
For the last couple years, Magura has been on a mission. The German manufacturer, to be blunt, wants you to stop thinking of it as merely a manufacturer of disc brakes. To that end, Magura has extended its product line to include high-end wheelsets and suspension products.
The Ronin tested here is the most cross-country oriented product in Magura's stable. We got our hands on the 80-mil travel model, but if you're pining for something closer to four inches of travel, they also produce a 110-mil travel Ronin, as well as a buttload of longer, All-Mountain-ish forks.
So, here's the basic deal: the fork is a case study in over-the-top German craftsmanship. Witness the all-metal compression, rebound knobs. Check out the stainless steel inserts (in both the fork dropouts and disc brake mount) that help prevent the cast magnesium lowers from corroding. Hell, they've even been considerate enough to include an integrated disc brake hose guide.
The Ronin's biggest draw, however, isn't its fine build quality, but rather the degree to which it can be adjusted. Magura enters the whole minimal-bobbing-platform-damping fray by outfitting the Ronin with both a lockout lever, and both dual low (gold) and high- speed (blue) compression adjusters.
So, here's the deal. You're climbing up a hill, you're sawing back and forth on the bars and the fork is bobbing too much. Let's say, for conversation's sake, that you don't want to use the lock-out lever. What you can do is crank up the gold knob, increase your low-speed compression damping and voila, less bobbing. That's the basic theory.
On the trail, here's how it worked out: For starters, it takes forever to break in the seals on the Ronin. We had close to 30 hours on the fork before it started feeling appropriately smooth. While this was sort of annoying, it also speaks to the high quality of Magura's seals. A good thing.
The fork is also extremely stout. The combination of burly lowers, crown and 30-millimeter stanchions, all add up to a fork that is pin-point accurate in the most hacked up and technical of situations. If you're a heavier rider or you just happen to be plain `roid rage aggressive on your cross-country hardtail, you'll love the Ronin's lack of flex.
As for the adjustability….How should I put this? You can absolutely dial this fork so that it is reasonably compliant on small hits and absolutely bottomless (a seemingly odd thing to say about a 3-inch travel fork, but it's true) on bigger hits. Accomplishing this, however, is not a stupid-simple task. In fact, adjusting the Ronin takes some serious trial and error before you get the separate high and low-speed compression dampers set where you want them.
I said as much to one of Magura's representatives recently and he noted that Magura's biggest supporters tend to be shop guys. Having ridden the Ronin for a few months now, I can see why that's the case. If you understand fork tuning basics, you can get the Ronin to work quite well. Shop guys fit that niche perfectly well. I imagine shop guys also appreciate the quality materials and construction.
However, if you are the kind of person who does not enjoy fiddling with dials and experimenting with different tuning set-ups, you're probably better served with a more simplified form of platform suspension (Fox and RockShox, in particular, come to mind). At 1595 grams, this fork also hits the scales just shy of the 4-pound mark. Dedicated weight weenies may crave something lighter than the Ronin. Then again, Clydesdale types and hardcore riders who are just flat out abusive to their bikes will undoubtedly swallow the extra weight in exchange for the fork's lack of flex and imperviousness to the elements.
We decided, what the hell, why not throw the Ronin at a couple of riders to get a range of impressions. I rode the Ronin for a solid two months before passing the fork on to another rider, Mel Bearns. Who the hell is Mel? Here's a short bio:
Height: 5' 10"
Style of riding: Traditional cross country, singletrack, technical descents, road…I favor hardtails & shorter travel FS bikes for their ability to communicate what's going on under me. My style of riding is "utilitarian" – I am a steady pedaler and can go long distances at less than race pace. I tend to finesse technical situations rather than barge through them and would classify myself as a "controlled rider" vs. gonzo. I race infrequently. I've been riding MTB since 1994, and road since 1976.
Conditions: I rode the fork (on my WTB Phoenix hardtail) for 15 hours in a variety of conditions(Rock-strewn technical descents, smooth and rutted fire roads, all kinds of singletrack and bombed-out pastureland. In rain, mud and dry conditions.)
Impressions: The fork appeared well built, though the abundance of knobs and controls was initially a bit daunting. I set the fork to what felt like a good base setting before the first ride and took it out on Mt. Tam for a long ride around various parts of the mountain. The climb up the fire road was "interesting" as the fork would grunt like it had a gerbil stuffed inside every time it moved – my initial setting felt stiffer than I'd have liked but I didn't bring the pump to adjust on the trail. I fiddled with the adjustments on the left leg and didn't notice much of an improvement. It wasn't until the first descent down a gnarled rocky trail that the fork came to life – the harder I pounded on it the better it felt. I never bottomed it out and the steering action was precise and felt confidence inspiring. Flex was at par with other forks I've ridden recently and I didn't notice the stiction I'd felt during climbing.
The rest of the ride brought about much of the same – grunting on ascents, opening up nicely when screaming downhill. On rippled surfaces I felt a tendency for the fork to pack up even though the rebound was open fairly wide.
Before the second ride I zeroed out the fork and re-set everything, using less air pressure and dialing back the controls for rebound and compression. This made the fork feel more active and the stiction slightly less noticeable. The occasional grunt could be heard on fire road climbs or on the flats, but overall the fork felt much better. I was unable to bottom it out even with softer settings. The fork would still pack up on rippled surfaces though.
I fiddled with the settings a bit more on the next few rides and found the reward to be minimal – I don't have the patience to diddle with something as much as this fork requires. The complexity might suit a more compulsive/detail-oriented rider, but I favor less complexity and better response from fewer actions.
Overall, I felt the fork to be a decent for someone who enjoys messing with settings and leans towards the Clydesdale end of the spectrum. It had too much stiction for my liking at first, but as I rode it more the action became a bit smoother. Rain and adverse conditions didn't affect the performance, though I could do without the continuous grunting.
If grading the fork on a scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being highest, I would rank it for my weight and style of riding at a 7. Less complexity and reduced stiction would have moved it up higher.