The Fox Float fork blew every noodly fork out of the water when it hit the scene fifteen years ago. Stanchions were skinny at the time, typically between 28 and 30 millimeters in diameter, and the Float's 32-millimeter uppers allowed it to evolve to serve everyone from racers to aggressive trail riders to dirt jumpers, all with fundamentally the same chassis. Even after 36- and inevitably 34-millimeter stanchions appeared in Fox's lineup, the overall shape of the iconic Float 32 remained the same. But as Fox's lightest-weight platform came to be found predominantly on cross-country bikes, its engineers pondered how to optimize the 32 for shorter travel applications.
The 32 Step-Cast is the result of that pondering. If this fork were to pass you on the trail (which could probably happen rather quickly) you might assume it's just another Float. But this little fork is ushering in some big changes. Instead of its guts extending all the way down to the dropouts, the Step-Cast packs its innards in about 90 millimeters from the tips of the lowers. This means that everything is shrunk inside, but that's not what makes the Step-Cast stand out.
With no moving parts sliding through the few hollow inches at the bottom of the lowers, there's no need for them to be wide or round like the rest of the fork. The Step-Cast flattens the inside edge of the lowers below where the business stops, narrowing each leg's profile by about 10 millimeters. This offers enough spoke and rotor clearance to narrow the stance on the Step-Cast forks by nearly 20 millimeters. Eliminating excess width in the crown, bridge, and lowers puts most Step-Cast models at just under 3 pounds, hacking about a half pound off the previous 32. As a bonus, many of the ounces were in those hard-to-reach unsprung areas, including the lighter, cleaner, but slow-release Kabolt axle.
This purpose-built XC fork gives up a few other comforts in favor of light weight. Tire clearance is restricted to 2.3″ on Step-Cast forks, and the relatively shallow overlap between lowers and uppers means this fork has to draw the line at 100 millimeters of travel. But there's still room for a few options in the SC lineup. The 29-inch version offers lowers with either a 44- or 51-millimeter rake, and both wheel sizes are available in either 100-millimeter or Boost 110-millimeter spacing. You can opt for the Performance level build at a downright average $619, go a tad above average for the Fit4 Remote version for $969, or way above average for the IRD electronic remote version for $1569. And, if running a bright orange fork on your bike isn't your jam, you can of course get it in black or white.The non-remote Fit4 damper in the SC that we tested ($889) felt every bit as sophisticated as that of the current 32. Having such fine control of the compression damping can be crucial when dialing in just 100 millimeters of travel. It didn't have the too-steep ramp-up you might expect from a dedicated XC fork. If you're into too-steep ramp-ups, though, you can achieve it with volume spacers. I expected to detect some extra flex in the newly lightened chassis, but it felt nearly identical to the 2016 32 I swapped from. It's unmistakably an XC fork, but the simple tune-ability of the Fit4 damper lets you dial it to your liking whether you ride with kids' gloves or heavy hands.
Keep in mind, this new platform isn't out to replace its predecessor. The non-Step-Cast Float 32 shall live on for those seeking its mix of longer travel and light weight. But after riding the Step-Cast back-to-back against a standard 100 millimeter Float 32 on a short travel cross country machine, I expect the Step-Cast to be the go-to option for Fox fans in the XC category.