Marzocchi Z1-1546

First Ride: 2019 Marzocchi Bomber Z1 Fork—$700

The Bomber is back—as a budget Fox 36

It’s been more than two years since suspension giant, Fox purchased Marzocchi’s bike division, a decision that left a lot of people confused. Why Fox would want to buy the same company it spent the past decade beating to a bloody pulp seems a bit strange to me. But hey, I guess there’s no better way to ensure the legendary Italian suspension brand could never become a threat again. It must be strange, though, to now be responsible for restoring brand equity to a company you helped bring down. Luckily, Marzocchi has brand equity in spades.

Twenty years ago, RockShox and Manitou were producing forks filled with pieces of spongy plastic and more millimeters of flex than travel. But they were light, which is what it took for early suspension skeptics to bite. Marzocchi had a different approach, figuring they’d just go ahead and make a suspension fork that actually worked rather than trying to keep it under 3 pounds. If it was a real suspension product, perhaps people wouldn’t care if it was heavier. The gamble worked. The first Marzocchi Bomber Z1 was a huge departure from what the other guys were doing, and it gained a cult-like following.

 

Who could forget that classic M-shaped arch?

 

As if perfectly timed, the freeride movement was full of riders who were beating the daylights out of the status quo. They couldn’t care less about how much their bike weighed, they just wanted something bomber. Marzocchi was born for freeride, and it dominated--hard. In the early two-thousands, if you went to the worldwide capital of freeride, otherwise known as British Columbia, you saw nothing but Bombers. Of course, since making suspension forks actually work was a wise business choice, Fox caught on and so started the decline of Marzocchi, leaving behind thousands upon thousands of diehard Bomber fans. Those folks are still out there.

 

New knob, same GRIP

 

But, let’s face it: under the nostalgic stickers and behind that familiar m-shaped arch, the 2019 Marzocchi Bomber is 100% a Fox fork. The Bomber Z1 is essentially a more wallet-friendly 36. I say that like it’s a bad thing, but it’s actually pretty rad. The Fox 36 is a brilliant fork, but at a $900 cost of entry, it’s not for everyone. The Bomber Z1 boasts nearly the same level of performance for a couple hundred bucks less. Fox built the Z1 true to Marzocchi’s original ethos of providing quality, no nonsense suspension built to last, weight be damned. It’s really not that heavy, though, weighing only 170 grams more than the 2019 Fox 36 FIT GRIP2 (27.5+/29″, 140mm travel). The additional weight comes from thicker, 6,000 series uppers, and heavier lowers. This could mean the Z1 is a little stouter than the slimmed-down 36, although Fox makes no claims to that--and I don’t charge hard enough to detect a difference.

 

A Fox EVOL air spring sits below.

 

In order to make sure the Marzocchi Z1 would be reliable, Fox went ahead and filled it with Fox parts. Inside, you’ll find a FIT GRIP damper, which has proven to be robust and reliable. The damper is based on a proven dynamic bleeding design popularized in moto forks, and actually used by Marzocchi itself. On the righthand leg, under the anodized grey Marzocchi air cap, sits a Fox EVOL air spring that utilizes the same type of clip-on volume spacers found on Fox forks.

 

The axle is a bit of a budget affair, but it works.

 

2019 Marzocchi Bomber Z1 Ride Impressions

 

The Bomber Z1 offers a surprisingly sophisticated level of performance for the price. The GRIP damper and EVOL air spring deliver sensitivity without diving, and the “Sweep” version--which consists of a detent-less low-speed compression knob throw--is lighting fast and effective at keeping the fork riding high in its travel. I’d say that the Z1 has a similar level of sensitivity and bump eating performance as the 36 HSC/LSC, without the high-speed compression adjuster. I only have a few rides on it so far, so I can’t speak to durability and consistency at this point. My first impressions far exceeded expectations, though. The Bomber used to be the only choice for riders wanting actual suspension out of their fork. That’s not the case anymore, but it’s tough to find a better damper at the price. Based off initial impressions, I’d choose the Bomber over a RockShox Yari at the same price.

The GRIP damper offers excellent performance for the price. From this close, it’s hard to tell it’s not a Fox fork.

I’d prefer it if this were just a Fox fork, though. The 2019 Marzocchi Z1 is proof that Fox could easily just offer a 36 at a lower price point. So what’s the point in keeping the Marzocchi brand around? It’s like if Mortal Kombat ended with the winner pulling his opponent’s head and spine out of his body, holding it up in victory, and then performing CPR on the severed head while shouting, “don’t go, you’re such a great fighter!

 

The simple answer is branding. There are plenty of riders who remember fondly the days of the big black truck, the racy spokesmodels, and the way Marzocchi first upended the industry's approach to suspension. And more power to them. After all, a good fork is a good fork, no matter how Fox decides to brand the product. And if I’m perfectly honest, it’s a heartwarming thought to imagine Bombers repopulating the forests of British Columbia. I’m guessing that sentiment rings true with a lot of core riders.