When Fox introduced their 34mm stanchion models for the 2013 model year, it appeared to be the solution that many riders had wanted for years – a long travel trail fork that split the difference between the spindly 32mm models, and 36mm forks that were too heavy and aggressive for a large sect of trail riders. However, the release of Fox’s 34mm fork also coincided with the debut of Fox’s CTD damper, which mountain bike history may well see as Fox’s biggest foible. In an effort to make their dampers more user friendly, Fox seemed to have abandon their priority on performance. A lack of low speed compression support, damping spikes, and huge gaps between the compression damper settings saw many riders ditching their CTD forks altogether, and many aftermarket suspension tuning outfits came out with completely revised compression damper assemblies for those who were willing. While Fox had mostly made up for their lost ground with many refinements of the CTD by the 2015 model year, more was required to make the Float 34 a front runner again. In the interim, Rock Shox had a smash success with the introduction of the Pike, and more boutique suspension companies were making big pushes in the market place, such as BOS and DVO.
So Fox went out and changed the fork entirely. And by “entirely” I mean a complete, ground-up redesign of every fork assembly. New air spring, new damper, new lowers, new stanchions, new crown, new steerer – everything. They even revised the design of their dust wipers. Though that means, for better or for worse, all 2015-and-earlier Fox wipers will be incompatible with 2016-and-forward forks (except the 36, which made the transition to this seal design a year earlier in 2015). All these changes at up to a whopping half pound of weight savings (3.92lbs), though the advantages go way beyond that.
Fox Factory Series Float 34 details:
Intended Use: Trail/AM
Travel Options: 140, 150 (tested)
Air Spring Models: FLOAT, TALAS (140/110, 150/120)
Damper Options: NEW FIT4 3-Pos Lever w/adj
Axle Options: 15QR x 100
Upper Tube Finish: Kashima Coat
Starting Weight: 3.92lbs
Color Options: Matte Silver (FLOAT 150), Matte Black
The damper is going to be the change that bears the most significance to people, as the elimination of the CTD system is what is surely the most attractive new feature. Starting with the knobs, the new FIT4 damper still has a three position switch that controls the change between “Open, Medium and Firm”. A key change here is that the low speed adjustment dial now controls the Open setting, rather than the middle. The number clicks also steps up from either 3 or 8, depending on what year of CTD fork, to a lofty 22 clicks. This gives enough fine tuning options to satisfy the particular types, and still enough range to approach the firmness of the Medium setting.
Getting inside the fork, the framework of the new FIT4 damper was based on the venerable RC2 cartridge from the Fox 36/40, with a key overall goal of increasing oil flow. In accordance, a higher flow base valve and rebound piston were used in conjunction. This is said to improve overall bump sensitivity, provide a wider damping range, give more mid stroke support, better traction and a faster rebound recovery rate. Certainly a wealth of improvements that are hard to argue with.
Despite huge gains in the right fork leg, the air spring also received a major overhaul. Moving away from the coil negative spring which Fox has maintained for ages, they have now switched to an air negative spring design, using a transfer port in the wall of the air chamber, similar to the little dimple you can find on the air can of a Float rear shock. The concept behind the transfer port is that as the main air piston passes across the port, the air pressures balance between the two chambers. Utilizing the air spring in conjunction with the transfer port results in the key advantages of a sizable weight savings, a more supple feel off the top of the stroke, and better rebound recovery. This is another element that was developed based on the 2015 Fox 36, though with the main difference of having the transfer port located in the wall of the air chamber, rather than the center shaft in the 36, in order to eliminate an air seal and reduce friction.
Under the top cap you will now find an assembly to accommodate air volume spacers in order to tune the progressiveness of the air spring. For many, this concept is old hat, and it is pretty much an essential feature in any modern suspension component. However, Fox was a little slow to implement this feature in their forks, despite offering volume reducers for their Float shocks for quite some time. For years riders and tuners were altering the air chamber volume by dumping scoops full of Float Fluid (Fox’s air chamber lubricant) into the top of the left leg to make the spring more progressive, or cutting down the air piston rod to make it more linear. Obviously neither of which offer a tidy, quick, calculated tuning option. Push Industries stepped up to the plate a few years ago and made an aftermarket top cap and volume spacers for inclined customers. But with increasing awareness and demand for tunable suspension properties, this should be an essential out of the box feature on any high-end fork.
A downside to the new spring design is that travel adjustment can no longer be done by way of adding spacers to the negative spring. While this can physically be accomplished, it means the air seal will no longer bypass the air transfer port, which results in very poor performance. In order to adjust travel you will need to purchase a new air shaft assembly. Though, the actual procedure is no more complicated than before. Riders can also breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that Fox has now greatly increased the service intervals on their suspension. Rather than the 30-hour oil change and 100-hour rebuild protocol that many found frustrating, Fox now merely calls for a rebuild at 125 riding hours, or yearly. However, as always, the disclaimer states that aggressive riding or riding in foul conditions demands more frequent service intervals.
I spent the first couple rides running Fox’s recommended setup for my rider weight, which was comprised of 91psi, low speed compression 18 clicks out, and rebound 6 clicks out. However, it’s typically my preferred setup, when possible, to run a bit less pressure, and a bit more low speed compression. So I eventually landed at 86psi, low speed compression 12 clicks out, and the rebound 9 clicks out, and I never felt the need to stray from the two air volume spacers that come stock in the fork.
One thing that was very apparent in experimenting with my setup is that there is lots of room to play around before things go wrong. Small bump compliance was effected relatively little by changes in air pressure, and the damping dynamics were good enough that low speed compression had to be wound down quite a bit before things got harsh. The low speed compression function seems to be well enough isolated in its damping range that it mostly concerns events caused by braking a rider weight input. With the amount of fine tuning permitted by this, it gives the overall comfort to the rider that the time he spends playing with the knobs will be to fine tune the absolute best performance, rather than trying to hunt for an isolated setting that merely makes the cut.
When I put the 2016 Float 34 on my bike, I was coming straight off a Factory Series 2014 Float 34. So this gave me a good opportunity to do a close comparison between the changes in performance of the two models. However, it didn’t take long to realized that idea is completely a lost cause. Fox did not tweak the nuances of the 34, or refine the small features. They re-designed the entire fork from the ground up, and as such, developed a fork that feels entirely different.
While many on CTD model forks struggled to find a good balance of compliance and support, there is no such issue on the 2016 model. The support of “Trail mode” can be had with the compliance of “Descend mode” and then some. The independence of the low speed circuit on the FIT4 is surely sufficient to eliminate the ubiquitous complaints about brake dive in the CTD damper, and damping spikes have been completely eliminated from my experience. Small bump compliance was superb, which combined with the excellent rebound properties and recovery rate of the fork made for remarkable traction and control through choppy patches. I was really amazed at not only how well the fork was able to handle downhill sections that were very rocky and rooty, but how it exhibited an almost unwavering confidence that was asking me to let off the brakes just a little more. I was often going into sections somewhat timid, only to find that in the midst of the fray the front end would keep me planted much more than I had anticipated.
With the excelled recovery rate in the fork, it seemed possible to run the rebound a little slower without risk of the fork packing up. While not a benefit in all situations, it allows more controlled damping in wet or dusty terrain, where you would slow down the rebound for traction, or for those who want to setup the fork with climbing performance as a priority. Another favourable component of the new damper is the practicality of the middle compression setting. While it serves the obvious purpose of firming of the front end a bit for flatter, more benign trail sections, I found the damping dynamics in the open setting to be supportive enough to spare myself reaching for the lever. Instead, I found myself switching to the middle setting when the trail got particularly steep, or when there was air time to be had. On CTD forks, this approach could easily lead to damping spikes or harshness on small bumps. However, the new FIT4 damper has been dialed in well enough in the middle setting that the lever can be switched for more intense sections of trail with minimal loss in bump sensitivity. The firm setting, while having the slightest amount of movement, is still stiff enough that I would consider it a “lockout”.
With the coming off an entirely new fork chassis, the question of overall chassis stiffness may well be asked. I can’t say I noticed any uncomfortable flex in the fork chassis, but at the same time, I have never been one to be too particular in this area. The previous iteration of the Fox 34 felt sufficiently stiff for my riding. Much in the way that the feel of the suspension itself is a team effort between the spring and the damper (amongst other things), the overall feel of the fork is a team effort between the spring, damper and chassis. Not stiff enough and too stiff can be a fine, subjective line for some people. However, all I can say is that at 210lbs geared up, on a 150mm fork, I had no complaints in this area whatsoever.
Fox is not only at the top of their game again, but at the top of the suspension game. This fork is a faultless performer through and through, and in my opinion, leaves Rock Shox in the dust again. Are there better performing forks out there? Very likely. With highly specialized boutique suspension companies like BOS, DVO and Ohlins making more and more headway into this market, there is certainly some amazing forks to put the 34 up against. However, the chances of you finding one of those as an item stock on your next bike are pretty slim, and there is something to be said for the relative ease of service and tuning resources that Fox has available, especially for us here in Canada. More importantly, if this fork does land in your stable aboard your new dream bike, it has such amazing performance the thought of upgrading won’t cross your mind. Provided this fork has the long term reliability that is indicated by its new 125 hour service interval, I see no reason this shouldn’t get top marks.
MSRP $1,219 CAD