Fox’s 34 fork has always split the difference. It’s not the full-on brawler the 36 is, also not the weenie gram-counter’s XC-race-only fork. It’s the sensible fork, probably where we spend a lot of our riding time, even if looking longingly at that lovely, robust 36. Did I mention I like to overfork?
So how do we make sensibility exciting? Have we ‘lost that lovin’ feeling?’ Can we add some zest to a logical choice in life? Yes we can: make the practical fork impractically light. Correct, make it as light as an XC fork.
Fox did just that--well, almost, depends on your definition of XC light. But, 3.5 pounds isn’t heavy (27.5-inch, 120-millimeter) and 34-millimeter stanchions aren’t petite. How’d they do it? They spooned out the lowers.
Not actually, but the 34 underwent the same sort of treatment we saw with the Fox 32 Step-Cast a year ago. Rather than inner carvings, Fox shaved outboard so one will notice that the lower 3 inches of the lateral legs are missing. It saves 34 Step-Cast forks close to a half pound yet limits travel to 120 millimeters, the only travel option for 27.5-inch or 29. Fox claims the Step-Cast 34 120-millimeter achieves the same stiffness as a regular 34 140-millimeter fork, and 15-percent more than a 32 with equivalent travel. More stiffness? More thank you.
Those that remember that the 32 Step-Cast fork is limited to 2.3-inch tires will be pleased to know the 27.5-inch 34 Step-Cast chassis will fit up to 2.8-inch tires, the 29-inch up to 2.6-inch.
Aftermarket 27.5-inch 34 Step-Cast forks feature 44-millimeter offsets, 29-inch use 51. Both wheel sizes feature Kashima, Kabolt lightweight 110-millimeter through axles, EVOL and FIT4 Dampers as we’re used to seeing on current, ‘traditional’ 34s. Remote adjustability brings the price from $943 to $1,024 on both wheel sizes. Riders can choose between shiny orange and matte black. One lone 29-inch option brings the price down to $789 by offering slightly different options than the others--the matte black fork skips Kashima, uses a traditional QR-style 15-millimeter-through axle and a Grip damper. Riders willing to forgo additional compression adjustment in the Open setting might find this an excellent option for still saving weight. Other than that, it’s big money time. Our 29-inch, three-position-adjustable fork tipped the scales at 3.98 pounds with a star nut installed, no crown race and the steerer cut to accommodate an XL frame and an inch of spacers.
Same great taste?
With the 34 Step-Cast bolted to a Cannondale Scalpel SE, I headed to a rugged, plate-like rock trail with slow-speed, sneaker sections of large, rounded, thread-the-needle heaps causing even big boy forks to twang about, particularly when piloted into a poor line choice by yours truly. Did the 34 Step-Cast flex? Of course it flexed. Did this prove anything? Absolutely not.
So, I headed to the fork’s native environment, the home of convergence. Fox bills the 34 Step-Cast as the next generation of XC race forks, shining in singletrack-overload, grueling, distance events like the BC Bike Race. A switchbacking, semi-technical climb led to a medium-speed descent with berms, occasional jumbles of loose rock, decent lines of sight and the ability to easily calculate timing and effort needed to pick up over annoyances. I like easy.
Did it perform? Of course it did. Did it flex? Not any more than a traditional 34, and really not much at all in that decisively trail without ‘gnar’ environment. It happily accommodated landing then promptly shutting things down while skittering into the next sun-baked berm. It felt composed, almost encouraging, one of those enabling relationships. I happily ran it in Open and it suited my needs just fine. It didn’t dive or blow through its travel and it also didn’t feel harsh at the top of its stroke. Magic. Those looking to high-speed plow can add air volume spacers if needed. It didn’t need much futzing, the 34 Step-Cast was good to go.
Climbing, I alternated between Open and Medium, but I’m one who likes my fork to sag somewhat when getting over the front end. Riding pavement on the way to the trail, I did put the fork in Firm and indeed, it’s firm. It’s there for those who need it.
All forks flex. If they didn’t, you’d ricochet into the abyss upon the first rock encounter. What makes for a great fork is one where you can’t perceive flex while it’s happily operating and tracking in its natural application. In an XC world turned trail, the Fox 34 Step-Cast 29 goes about its business predictably and without complaint. It does so without perceived flex or sponginess of steering when trail riding. It comes at a price, and that price is $943, or $783 if you’re willing to forgo additional compression tuning in Open mode. Money aside, it reduces close to a half pound in the process. What does it all mean? It means you can now bolt a trail fork to an XC bike and not feel badly about it. Not as though that’d bother me anyway--either way I’ll do it, either way I won’t feel badly about it. But now I have an excuse, which is nice. Fox 34 Step-Cast forks are scheduled to be shipping mid-May.
More details at Fox Factory website.