Each year the Fox 36 receives incremental improvements. Last year Fox focused on the left side of the fork with the introduction of its EVOL air spring. There’s no doubt it made small improvements to top-end sensitivity and mid-stroke support, but it wasn’t a mind-blowing step forward. GRIP2 is. Based off the FIT GRIP damper developed for Fox’s wallet-friendly Rhythm fork, the new GRIP2 4-way adjustable damper is actually a rare example of technology “trickle-up.”
It turns out, the FIT GRIP damper architecture is incredibly reliable, partly because of a sort of Murphy’s law type of design philosophy: no matter how hard you try, oil will wind up where you don’t want it. The GRIP design features a dynamic bleed system, using a sprung IFP with a bleed port. The port allows a way for oil that has found its way on the wrong side of the seal head, out of the cartridge, where it becomes lubricating bath oil. What this essentially means is that the cartridge is continuously bleeding off air and oil every time the fork cycles, reducing performance-robbing pressure build-up, and improving consistency and reliability. Previous FIT dampers have used an expanding bladder, rather than an IFP, to handle fluid displacement, but this fully-sealed system doesn’t allow an escape for unwanted air and oil when they inevitably make their way to where they’re not supposed to be.
The FIT GRIP damper was not breakthrough design, it was actually sort of the opposite. Most moto forks use the same style damper. Fox wanted a no nonsense, bombproof system for its lower-priced forks, so engineers figured why not base it off one that’s already proved itself in motocross. It wound up being so good on those “low-end” Rhythm forks, that Fox decided to redesign its flagship 4-way adjustable damper off this dynamic bleeding damper platform. The result is FIT GRIP2. Think of it like the new RC2, featuring high- and low-speed knobs on both compression and rebound circuits, that Fox says, are more independent than they were on RC2.
Outside the main architecture, GRIP2 also features a CNC’d main piston with more oil flow capacity, and wider tunable range, a mid-valve for extra damping control, and low-friction seals throughout. All said and done, the new 36 FIT GRIP2 is boasting higher sensitivity, improved oil flow and more adjustability in what should be a more reliable, consistent design. Oh, and the air spring has been tweaked as well, for a more linear spring curve. Fox has also increased the maximum travel from 160 to 170 millimeters for the 27.5+/29er chassis, and 180 millimeters for 27.5-inch chassis. Short and long offsets will be available in each chassis, as well.
2019 Fox 36 FIT GRIP2 Ride Impressions
It all adds up to a bit more than an incremental change--the GRIP2 damper is a vast improvement over the already excellent HSC/LSC damper it replaces. Last weekend I did back to back laps on a 2018 36 HCL/LSC and a 2019 FIT GRIP2, and the difference was mind-blowing. I feel like I have my 2018 36 perfectly dialed and feeling ultra-buttery smooth, but the GRIP2-equipped fork is dramatically more sensitive and responsive. It feels like it’s managing oil more effectively, where it’s fast enough to get out of its own way while remaining smooth and controlled. It’s so much better, I was actually pissed at myself for thinking the other one was so amazing. Now, I don’t even want to ride the bike that fork is on--which, up until now was Fox’s highest level enduro fork. All I can muster with most of these year-on-year updates is a fleeting thumbs up, but GRIP2 deserves a solid high-five--the kind that leaves your hand tingling.
I’ve never thought high-speed rebound was all that necessary on forks. I can feel those nuanced differences on rear shocks, but it’s always been tougher for me to feel it up front. The high-speed adjuster on the GRIP2 damper is more noticeable. The VVC, or Variable Valve Control, design utilized on the high-speed rebound acts to stiffen the valve instead of spring preload on the shim stack. Moving the high-speed knob increases or decreases the surface area contacting the shim stack, which is essentially like adding or removing shims in the valve. Most systems simply apply more or less preload on the back of a shim to adjust how much pressure it takes to crack the valve open. I’ll admit that I’m still not sure precisely how this is different, and I’m not sure if this architecture is specifically the reason why I’m now seeing the value of this fourth, less understood adjustment. While it’s definitely possible to speed it up too much, I found in general, that speeding up high-speed rebound could help increase traction in stuttery corners because it allows the wheel to more affectively rebound into the valleys of bumps instead of just skipping over the peaks.
Dialing in compression is a pretty simple affair. It’s actually hard to get this fork to feel like total garbage--even with both high- and low-speed compression knobs fully slow, the fork still works. I usually start with the adjusters halfway between open and closed, and then make adjustments from there. This technique should work well for most riders. I find that I like the fork to be quite active at the top of the travel to minimize trail noise, so I run my low speed damping pretty wide open--about 8 out of 12 clicks, from closed. But I’ll keep the high-speed knob set a little farther in so I don’t go through all my travel on bigger, more abrupt impacts. On steeper descents, I’ll add a bit of low-speed to keep the fork higher in its travel. Having these two adjustments allows the rider to adjust ride height and attitude with actual damping, rather than just adding volume spacers and changing the whole spring curve.
The GRIP2 damper is all about--uh--grip (duh). It might sound gimmicky, but it’s real, and it’s instantly noticeable. Fox is currently ramping up production on its 2019 lineup, and says the 36 should be available around mid-May. If you’ve already got a 36, you might be able to upgrade it to GRIP2 and latest EVOL air spring via Fox’s recently announced Factory Tune program for much less than the cost of a new fork.
2019 Fox 36 FIT GRIP2 Specs
- NEW FIT GRIP2 damper with 4-way high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping
- NEW max travel options: 180 mm (27.5" ) / 170 mm (29")
- NEW Gloss Orange paint option
- 27.5" with 37mm offset and 29" with 44mm offset options
- FIT4 three position damper options
- FLOAT EVOL air spring
- 831 model - GRIP2 with convertible 15 mm/20 mm axle
- Factory Series models feature Genuine Kashima Coat (Performance Elite is exactly the same, but with black stanchion coating in place of Kashima)
2019 Fox 36 FLOAT Pricing
- Factory FIT GRIP2 $1,065
- Factory FIT4 $994
- Performance Elite FIT GRIP2 $973
- Performance Elite FIT4 $899