Review: New 2015 Fox 36 FLOAT and TALAS fork

FOX takes the fight to RockShox with new, much improved 36

26er 27.5 29er Forks
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Fox 36 HyMasa Moab

The new HyMasa Trail takes you to the top of Moab’s newest piece of mountain bike nirvana—the Captain Ahab Trail. Photo by Don Palermini

On day two we put the 36 through the paces again on one of Moab’s newest and best trails—Captain Ahab. To get there we climbed another new trail called HyMasa. An alternative to the Amasa Back 4×4 trail, HyMasa ascends the same incline to Whale Rock, the inspiration for Ahab’s Melvillian moniker.

This extended climb offered the opportunity for more slow-roll testing of the fork. As it had done on the shorter climbs the previous day, the lockout-free 36 behaved well, taking up the subtle bumps, but remaining fairly firm for the long, alternately seated and unseated climb.

We resumed our low-speed compression testing by running the bike into curb-like uphill steps. Dutifully, the 36 swallowed up the impacts with little more than a silky bump. Tug on the bars a tiny bit and the steps virtually disappeared. The more we rode the 36, the more it felt like, well, a Pike.

Fox 36 Captain Ahab Nick Charlie

Nick Wilson of outfitter Hermosa Tours takes a high line on Captain Ahab, while his dog Charlie runs it low. Photo by Colin Meagher

Once at the top—actually Ahab’s mid-point—we pointed the bikes down what can only be described as a wild lands downhill skatepark. With abounding challenge lines, drops, jumps and occasional spots of mayhem, neither the Captain nor the FOX 36 disappointed.

Fox 36 Captain Ahab Moab

It may not look like much, but Ahab has its share of techy trouble balls like this slot maneuver. Photo by Colin Meagher

Though less chaotic, Captain Ahab’s combination of high-speed stutter, and slower-speed bounces and thunks gave us another full-spectrum experience with the new 36. Once again, we were impressed with the fork’s performance in every aspect, especially and critically with its damping. Whether it’s the changes to the RC2 damper, the FLOAT air spring, or both in combination, FOX got things very, very right with the new 36 putting it not only in the same league with RockShox’s Pike, but on par.

On the home front

While we had no complaints about the fork in Moab, we were happy FOX let us take it with us to try out on our more familiar home trails. With its sandpaper-like rock surface, traction in Moab is amazing, so we were keen to see how the 36 felt on some more typically loose and dry dirt. With a couple clicks out on the rebound adjustor and our tires pressure back in the mid 20’s, the fork found its happy place. The bike’s front end dug in and felt confident, even in bumpy berms where the Fox’s new found suppleness came to the forefront.

On mid-sized and larger drops and jumps the fork felt bottomless even on intentionally nose-heavy landings. Popping and preloading was also easy and predictable. After a stint on Moab’s rough-and-tumble, a spin at home on the 36 felt like a magic carpet ride.

Fox 36 Captain Ahab Lars

Transition Bikes’ Lars Sternberg pops his FOX FLOAT 36-equipped prototype whip down a ledge on Captain Ahab. The fork’s bottomless feel makes even nose-heavy landings comfortable. Photo by Colin Meagher

Golden samples, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary

Lest you think our test forks were ringers, FOX claims that while pre-production, our samples went through the same assembly line and procedure that production models will, and had no special sauce or hop-ups added. On that subject, Jordan said the company has added steps and processes to insure more consistent quality coming off the line.

The Bottom Line—A mini Forko Compare-o

Fox 36 Intense Carbine 29 MoabThough we can’t yet speak to the 36’s durability, we’ve put a couple hard weeks on the fork and been massively impressed with its performance across a range of terrain. By lowering the weight, reducing the axle-to-crown length, improving stiffness and upgrading both the air spring and dampers, the 36 checks all the boxes of FOX’s stated fork improvement punch list. The words “smooth,” “silky,” “responsive,” and “precise” were uttered repeatedly in casual conversation at the 36 press launch—the word “harsh” was not.

While we hate to keep comparing it to the Pike, it’s the question everyone is asking. We’re happy to report they’re alike in many (good) ways. Both retail for around $1,000, both weigh-in at just a hair over four pounds, and both forks posses a fantastic, silky feel right out of the box. We’d also add they perform significantly better than any other forks in the segment we’ve ridden.

There are also some differences, and, depending on your preferences, these factors may sway you one way or the other. In terms of performance latitude and adjustability, we give the edge to the FOX with it’s wide-ranging internal and external fine-tuning options. While very flexible, we found the 36 simple to dial-in. We also like the convertible 15mm/20mm thru-axle which reduces compatibility issues and offers plenty of options.

If you value convenience above all else, the ease-of-use of the Pike’s Maxle Lite trumps the 36’s four-bolt thru-axle configuration. The Pike’s three-step compression configuration (Open/Pedal/Lock) will also appeal to those who prefer simplification. Along the same lines, we’ve always liked RockShox’s sag gradients that are printed on their stanchions, as well as their recommended air pressure charts on the fork legs—probably not a deal breaker for the FOX, but a convenience none-the-less.

We know many Mtbr readers like to work on their own forks, and the FOX’s FIT damper has historically been more difficult for the home mechanic to tackle than the Pike’s Charger Damper, though we generally leave our rebuilds to professionals. Finally, with a year in the real world under its belt, the Pike enjoys a sound reliability record. The new 36 is unproven on a mass scale at this point, though given the company’s track record—and our trust in their word that our early samples are assembled exactly like production models—we see little risk in early adoption of the new fork.

Fox 36 Chart Pricing

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About the author: Don Palermini

Chicago-born Don Palermini became a cycling-based life-form in the sixth grade after completing a family road bike tour of his home state. Three years later he bought his first mountain bike to help mitigate the city's pothole-strewn streets, and began exploring the region's unpaved roads and trails. Those rides sparked a much larger journey which includes all manner of bike racing, commuting, on- and off-road bike advocacy, and a 20-plus-year marketing career in the cycling industry that landed him at his current gig with Santa Cruz bicycles. Now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, his four favorite words in the English language are "breakfast served all day," together in that order.

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  • tyrebyter says:

    20mm axle option with clamping bolts. Yes, definitely. Still a lot of money for a Chinese fork, but I’ll have to get over that.

  • Mtbr says:

    Tyrebyter- The 36 is not built in China, but in the US–Watsonville, Calif. to be exact. Many of the components are built there as well, though some are imported–Kashima coating comes from Japan for example.

  • tyrebyter says:

    So, I just found Fox’s Registration Statement to the SEC from July 2013 indicating their intention to move production overseas by 2015. Did they reverse course?

  • Mtbr says:

    Tyrebyter- Our understanding is that FOX has set up parallel production lines for manufacturing OEM shocks and forks to go on bikes that are produced overseas and sold worldwide. Aftermarket production will continue in the US.

  • MBR says:

    Maybe not a deal killer for 36mm forks, having to loosen four pinch bolts to remove the front wheel, but hope this doesn’t migrate down to 32-34 mm forks…

  • Outside! says:

    One more fork with cast in mud catchers on the back of the fork lowers bridge. Everyone does it, but it would be nice if function won out over form someday and the casting recesses faced forward.

  • Rod says:

    I AM in the market for a 120 fork……which one? Talk about getting confused.

  • Sylvain says:

    After 2 emails explaining my problems with my 2012 34 Float CTD 29er and no response from Fox, my next fork won’t be a Fox.

    I’ve spend hundreds of $ servicing my fork (3 times a year in a Rockies summer) and still works like a pogo stick. No advice, no courtesy email. Nothing from Fox. AND the steer tube in the crown creaks like crazy and it`s driving me nuts…

    Sad that my 1st generation ever Fox Talas (32 Talas, 26 RLC), Fox first fox ever produced, now on my daughter`s bike, works better. It`s over 8 years old!!! My old 36 Talas worked better too.

    But if you can`t get help from the source, I don`t buy it. Glad to see that Santa Cruz is spec’ing Pikes now on their Tallboy LTc…

    Doesn’t matter how good this 36 is. They seem to help only their racers and the bike media…

    Very disappointing customer.

    Sylvain Vanier

    • Sylvain says:

      It was a 34 Float 140mm CTD for 29er…

    • StJoeRider says:

      My sentiments too. I’m through with Fox. And I have several rides.
      My latest ride, a new left over 2013 FSR EVO Expert Carbon has
      an all Fox set-up, which I’m gonna swap out for RockShox. You
      don’t spend that kinda of money on a bike with no help or service
      from someone. Called Spesh, they blew me off. Called Fox, they
      blew me off. My LBS will help by selling me all new fork and shock
      from RockShox for wholesale to fix this deal. BYE BYE FOX!
      FOX SUCKS!

  • SC says:

    Interesting on the weight of the 2014 float 36 RC2. Are you SURE 4.85lbs is the weight of the float, or the Talas….;-)

  • Jombo Man says:

    If I spent $599 for a Fox Fork and then another 400 to 500 for a rear shock you bet I want help from the manufacturer. Place a complaint with the Consumer product protection bureau. Defective and Unsafe products are their speciality..Now that would get Foxes attention.. BTW thanks for all the advise. When I spend $8000 to $10000 on my next bike it will have ROCK SHOX all the way around.. Go to go..Momma is calling.. TTYL Jombo Man

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