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2015 Fox 34 Float 26 160 FIT CTD Fork

Noah Bodman reviews the 2015 Fox 34 Float 26 160 FIT CTD Fork, Blister Gear Review

Fox 34 Float

2015 Fox 34 Float 26 160 FIT CTD w/ Trail Adjust

MSRP: $900

Features / Specs:

  • Travel: 160mm
  • Wheel size: 26”
  • Axle to Crown measurement: 535mm
  • 1.5” tapered aluminum steerer
  • 15mm through axle

Weight:

  • Stated Weight (165mm steerer): 1920 grams / 4.24 lbs
  • Blister’s Measured Weight (200mm steerer): 2020 grams/4.45 lbs

Tested on: Specialized Enduro Expert Carbon

Reviewer Info: 5’9” 155lbs

Test Locations: Whitefish, MT; Fernie, BC

Intended Use: Trail, All Mountain—whatever you call ‘riding that involves 160mm travel forks’

Test Duration: About 2 months

 

What a difference two years makes.

I reviewed the 2013 Fox 34 that came on my Specialized Enduro Expert and, like a number of other people out there, I wasn’t wild about it. Since then, I’ve ridden a few bikes with the 2014 version of the 34 Float, and found it to be  significantly better than the 2013 model.

And having now spent a couple months on the new, redesigned 2015 34 Float, I feel completely comfortable saying that Fox has this fork pretty well dialed.

The big news this year from Fox has certainly been their completely redesigned 36 Float (review to come), which has lost a bunch of weight and, judging from the few rides I’ve put on it, is pretty awesome. But even if the new 34 Float hasn’t been grabbing all of the headlines, it is the workhorse of Fox’s mid-travel fleet and comes spec’d on far more bikes than the 36.

Lots of people like to compare the 36 to the RockShox Pike, a great mid-travel fork, but in reality the Pike is probably more comparable to the 34.

Versions of the 34

Fox forks come in many different versions, with differences beyond their stanchion size. The 34 Float model is made for 26”, 27.5” and 29” wheels, each with various amounts of fixed travel (140mm, 150mm, and 160mm). Fox also makes several 34 “Talas” model forks with externally adjustable travel.

In addition, the 34 Float is produced in two different series: Fox’s “Factory” series and the “Evolution” series. The 34 Float forks in the Factory series feature Kashima coated legs, a 7-position “trail adjust” knob, a 3-position Climb/Trail/Descend (CTD) adjustment, and, most importantly, Fox’s FIT Damper.

The Evolution 34 Float also features the CTD adjustment, but lacks Fox’s Trail Adjust, and has an open bath configuration (which adds some weight).

What’s New for 2015?

Fox has incrementally tweaked and revised the 34 Float each year since introducing the chassis a few years ago. Over the years, the 34’s compression damping circuits have been revised to offer more mid-stroke support, and it’s seen some redesigns intended to improve small bump sensitivity.

For 2015, all iterations of the 34 got a revised damping tune to help with small bump compliance. The 34 also sees some of the same revisions made to the new 36–namely, some of the seals have been reshaped to reduce the initial stickiness at the beginning of the fork’s travel.

All of Fox’s 2015 forks will also come stock with a fancy new oil containing Molybdenum, which supposedly plays nicely with the Kashima-coated sliders on Factory series forks, making everything extra slippery.

Noah Bodman reviews the 2015 Fox 34 Float 26 160 FIT CTD Fork, Blister Gear Review

Noah Bodman on the Fox 34 Float, Whitefish, MT. (photo by Myke Hermsmeyer)

The Chassis

The chassis of the 34 Float itself doesn’t appear to have undergone any major revisions for 2015. In my review of the 2013 34 Talas, I found that the chassis was fairly stiff, but that it did flex a small amount in extra chundery situations, and under hard braking.

I’d still say that this is mostly true for the 2015 34 Float; it isn’t a noodle by any means, but it can be flexed a bit when ridden hard. But as I’ll say more about below, the actual suspension action of the 2015 34 Float is vastly improved over previous versions, which makes the flexing less noticeable. In other words, I don’t think the chassis itself is actually much stiffer, but it effectively flexes less because the new fork’s suspension does a better job of absorbing bumps.

The 34 Float is still only offered with a 15mm through axle; there’s no 20mm option. I have some gripes about 15mm axles (which you can read about in my review of the 2013 34 Talas), but I think Fox’s through axle is the best in the industry: it works well, doesn’t feel like it’ll break easily, is easy to use, and doesn’t come loose.

A Few Words on CTD and Trail Adjust

I spent a considerable amount of time bitching about the CTD damper adjustment in my review of the 2013 34 Talas. Here’s the executive summary: I don’t like it, and I’d rather have good, independent high and low speed compression adjustments on a fork. This is still true, but mid-travel forks that have that option are increasingly rare, so to some extent, I’ve become resigned and have accepted dampers with limited external adjustability.

The CTD adjustment on the 2015 34 Float does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Each position offers a distinct feel. The “Climb” mode is quite firm, while the “Descend” mode feels quite plush.

On previous versions of the 34 that I’ve I’d ridden, I never found much use for the middle Trail setting, and I treated it more as an alternative to Descend mode, which I was never very happy with when it came to dampening performance, specifically mid-stroke support.

However, this is no longer the case with the 2015 34 Float. I am 95% satisfied with the fork’s performance in Descend mode, so the Trail mode is actually an independently useful feature (more on that below).

The 34 Float’s Trail Adjust dial enables seven clicks worth of adjustment within Trail mode, and there is a noticeable difference in feel with each click. I rarely needed the level of firmness and support that’s offered at the closed end of the Trail Adjust setting — I usually ran the 34 Float 2 or 3 clicks in from the most supple / descend end of the adjustment range.

Noah Bodman reviews the 2015 Fox 34 Float 26 160 FIT CTD Fork, Blister Gear Review

Noah Bodman on the Fox 34 Float, Swan Range, MT.

Performance

The first thing I noticed on the new 34 is that it’s really supple off the top end, and Fox’s tweaks have definitely paid off here.

When the RockShox Pike came out a year or so ago, it blew most of the competition out of the water in terms of small bump sensitivity. The new 34 is just as good as the Pike in this respect, and arguably even better. In Descend mode, the 34 levels out small bumps as well as pretty much any other fork I’ve ever ridden.

What’s more, even after two months of riding with zero maintenance, the 34 is still running at 99% of the smoothness as when I first got it, which also means the fork didn’t require much of a break in period at all.

Beyond its initial suppleness, the 34’s damping is also damn good. I felt previous versions of the 34 had big problems with mid-stroke support, or more specifically, they didn’t have any at all. The new 34 performs much better in this realm. In Descend mode, the fork never felt like it was diving under hard braking or in compressed corners. It would certainly settle into its travel, but I didn’t feel like it was unsupported.

The other nice thing about the 34’s excellent, supple feel up top is that if you want a bit more support, you can add a bit of air pressure without giving up all of your small bump compliance.

10 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Tom October 14, 2014 Reply

    Great review. I’m rooting for Fox. They could use a win after the last few “fork years”. After many years on all Fox, all the time, I drank the Pike cool-aid, and I’m very impressed with its initial plushness, its amazing performance on repeated stutters/roots, and the simplicity of adjusting the curve with the token thingies.

    But the heck with the forks, I want to ride that area in the Swan Mountains!

  2. Matt October 18, 2014 Reply

    Good to hear Fox is upping its ante in the travel range most of us ride these days, and that they’ve managed to close some of the stiction gap to the Pike. All that means, however, is that they’ll be ready to create a better fork when they dump the outdated 34 chassis.
    I’ve ridden most iterations of Fox 34s and Pikes in the 130-160 range for 27.5 & 29 platform, and frankly, the larger & more flexy the wheel, the more evident & critical the lack of chassis stiffness in the Fox 34 is.

    This is where I disagree with the “best in class” assessment here. Like it or not, both the Fox 32 & 34 platforms are outmoded & just too flexy for modern wheel sizes. Fox is trying a band-aid fix by tuning the internals but the fact of the matter is that until they have a platform that can rival a Pike on both stiffness & weight, Fox has lost the war in this segment.
    As for lack of “midstroke support” in the Pike, I own one and have no idea what you are talking about. After a couple weeks of break-in and tweaking pressures, I’ve found the support I want for hits of all sizes. Perhaps the issue is that your small wheels are hanging on obstacles a 27.5 can steamroll, so you’re trying to compensate with “midstroke” tuning?
    Flexier & heavier chassis? Almost-as-good-as-Pike small & big hit compliance? No thanks. I’ll keep an open mind towards the Fox 36 when I’m in the market for a 160-180mm bike, but Fox needs to retool their sub-36mm chassis models before I’d vote for them with my dollars.

    • Noah October 18, 2014 Reply

      Hey Matt,

      Agreed that the 34 chassis is due for an update. Given that Fox redid the 40 last year and the 36 this year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if something new came down the pipe for the 34 next year (that’s pure speculation though).

      As for whether the chassis is too flexy for modern wheel sizes, I’m not so sure about that. Don’t get me wrong – the Pike is stiffer, and the differences are a little more noticeable in the larger wheel configurations. But having ridden a 34 and a Pike back to back, and having ridden both forks in all three wheel sizes, my conclusion is “meh.” The Pike is stiffer, but the 34 isn’t so flexy that I notice much of a difference in performance. It’s not like the 34 is some wet noodle that should only be compared to the old Shiver single crown; it’s just not quite as stiff as the Pike.

      As for the midstroke support – you’ve gotta read a little more carefully. I said the Pike’s mid-stroke is less refined, meaning that it doesn’t do as good a job of absorbing bumps. In terms of mid stroke support, the Pike has lots of that – a bit more than the 34. The Pike rides high and resists diving a bit more than the Pike, and while this is great for keeping the front end up, when a medium size hit comes along, the 34 handles it better. And I’ll politely ignore your wheelsize / steamroll comment because a) like I said above, I’ve ridden both forks in all three wheel sizes, and b) you’re wrong.

      So yeah, the Pike has the edge on the chassis – it’s a bit stiffer and a bit lighter. The 34 has the edge on dealing with medium sized bumps. The 34 has a very slight edge on small bump sensitivity while the Pike wins by a small margin on bigger hits, but these are close enough to maybe be a wash. So adding all that up, I still think the 34 is best in class, mostly because absorbing medium size bumps is like 90% of what a fork does on an average ride. But like I said in the review, I’m neither a weight weeny nor am I a huge guy that needs the stiffest equipment on the market, so best in class for me might not be best in class for someone else who has different priorities. At the very least, I can say that both the 34 and the Pike are really good forks and you’re not going to go wrong with either.

  3. Bob McBob October 19, 2014 Reply

    All else being equal, the Pike is a proven fork, the new Fox not so much. Seal issues with the Fox remain to be seen. Also the Pike has a longer service interval (200 hours), and longer warranty, and who doesn’t like that?

    So taking these other points into account, the Pike is still the best fork out there, and you can get it for less.

    • Noah October 20, 2014 Reply

      Those are definitely valid points. I’ll be interested to see if the 34 holds up to abuse over time.

  4. Mark October 21, 2014 Reply

    I am buying a Ripley and trying to decide between the Fox 32 and Pike adjusted down to 120mm. I am a 130 lb 5’5″ XC rider who enjoys tough climbs much more than technical descents. When I ride alone (which is most of the time, as I ride 6 days a week), I avoid technical descents. But some of the people I ride with like light AM, so I need a bike that can handle that. I do not know how flick around a bike; I cannot manual. I like steep semi-technical ascents which involve fist-sized rocks. I like to feel safe on descents, and do not enjoy the thrill of a scary descent. I do not descend quickly, and do not “rail” corners. Small bump compliance is important to me.

    Do you have the sense that the 120mm Pike is not necessarily better than the Fox 32 for my purposes? (I would have to pay an additional $270 for the Pike as adjusted.)

    • Noah October 21, 2014 Reply

      Hi Mark,

      Comparing the Pike to the Fox 32, there’s a couple things I’d take into consideration:

      1) The Pike is *much* more torsionally stiff than the 32, but from your description, it doesn’t sound like you’d necessarily benefit from that added stiffness – that stiffness is most noticeable when you’re carrying speed through rooty, rocky trail.

      2) The 32 weighs a bit less, which is always nice.

      3) The axle to crown measurement on the 32 is about 10mm less than on the Pike (assuming they’re both set at the same travel). So a 120mm Pike will put the front end of your bike a bit higher than a 120mm 32. This also means that your headtube angle would be a little slacker with the Pike. You might prefer the lower front end afforded by the 32 if your priority is getting up tough climbs.

      4) Assuming you’re comparing the top end models – the 32 Factory edition and the Pike RCT3, both have very good small bump compliance. I don’t think you’re really going to go wrong with either option. Small bump sensitivity isn’t quite as good on the lower end Evolution series 32’s.

      If you’d said that you were concerned about downhill prowess, I’d definitely say go for the Pike. But since you’re less concerned with the descents, I think the lighter weight and lower axle to crown on the 32 will serve your purposes better. And it’ll save you $270, which is certainly nice.

  5. Steve K November 18, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the review. I think it was written with an eye toward fairness and was very objective.

    Based on this review I’ve decided to upgrade my 2014 Evolution fork with the new 2015 damper and go CTD TA. When I called Fox I found the upgrade is discounted for owners of 2014’s. That with the new Moly oil was far less than a new Pike or 36. From what I’ve read here it should do nicely saving more than enough cash for a pair of studded snows for the fatbike.

    Rocky, rooty singletrack is the name of the game here in New England. I expect my Bronson C to be nicely enhanced. Thanks!

  6. Robert February 14, 2015 Reply

    Good to finally see an honest review for once! I’ve been riding my New 34s and loving them. I can’t believe how much hype is around the pikes, as I’ve had numerous I’ve had to send back for “Known” issues and rebuilds that are only 2-3months old. So far I’ve only sent one set of Fox forks back as the customer decided to try and modify the remote CTD side of the fork.

  7. peter November 6, 2015 Reply

    Do you have any comments on Fox’s own set up #’s?

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