More, more, more
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.
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.
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.
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
Though 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.
For more information visit ridefox.com.