2018 marks a significant year in front suspension for both Rockshox and Fox. Both suspension companies came out with redesigned forks, most notably the Fox 34 & 36 as well as the RockShox Pike & Lyrik. Last year was all about getting into their rear shocks, so now it’s time to get after the forks. While the 2017 models of all these forks were great in their use, improving on something already stellar is always nice.
The Pike and Lyrik are very similar and internally not much different from each other. While the Pike handles the mid-travel range duty (27.5: max travel 150mm and 29: max travel 140mm), the Lyrik handles the bigger bikes, available in 180mm for both wheel sizes. Both the damper and air sides got some remodeling. As mentioned, the 2017 forks worked great, so only small, incremental improvements have been made. One of changes that Rockshox boasts about is how easy it is now to switch between damper settings. Open, medium, and firm are much easier to switch through now. Also, the modes have been slightly better defined, making them more useful for specific trail applications. The trail mode is now a more usable setting and the firm setting is stiffer, which is great for pavement transfers or sustained climbs. Now that this damper is easier to adjust settings-wise, it’s possible for a remote lockout to be installed. Considering how capable trail and enduro bikes have gotten, having lockouts on the fly makes small, punchy climbs a breeze!
Rockshox also introduced a larger negative chamber, so the already plush Pike and Lyrik have gotten, as I like to say, more betterer. A smoother initial stroke off the top is immediately noticeable while retaining the same, or perhaps slightly more supportive, mid-stroke. When set up properly, I never found that my fork was diving too deep, even on some of the steepest trails. Another change, which might be small for some, but huge for others who are always changing their air volume tokens, is that the Pike and Lyrik now use a cassette tool to remove the air top cap. No more slipping flats and scratching unneeded parts. This also makes it possible to run an almost flat air cap, giving the crown a clean look.
With the remodel of the 34 and the 36, the 34 received slightly fewer changes than the Fox 36, but both got some of the same new features. The introduction of the EVOL chamber for forks is found in both models. While the EVOL chamber has been in the rear shocks for what seems like years now, 2018 is the first year the forks have seen this. Basically, EVOL stands for extra volume, meaning that both positive and negative air chambers get larger. This is very similar to what we see in the new Rockshox forks. While some people have said the previous Fox forks have been slightly harsh off the top, I think this new negative chamber helps out a lot with the beginning stroke. Riders now need less air pressure across all models to achieve the same sag as before, which helps significantly with the harsh feel. Also, something to note, is now all Fox forks have a recommended pressure guide. The guide gets close to what is needed, which makes it a nice starting point, especially if you are a set-it-and-forget-it type of rider.
Something that riders have long desired in the aesthetics department was to change the top of the aircap and damper to black instead of silver. Now the Fox forks look even cleaner, giving something every color geek out there to get stoked on!
Riding the two can be very similar without paying close attention. To me that is a good thing because I like when parts underneath me can just disappear without having to think about them. I will say, however, the overall feel of the two can be quite different when paying attention and adjusting their settings. Although the Pike has a slightly larger stanchion at 35mm, it doesn't come off quite as stiff as the Fox 34, although it is plusher. The Fox 34 has a much more solid feel and can be set up to be very plush. It also feels like I’m getting a bit more mid-stroke support with the 34. This is something that can easily be fixed between the two. I ran similar pressures in both forks, within about 5 PSI of each other, but in the Fox 34 I only have 2 volume spacers, whereas I ran 3 volume spaces in the Pike to achieve the same progression and mid stroke (Fox calls them volume spacers, Rockshox calls them volume token, po-tay-to, po-tah-to).
I will say the pedal or middle compression mode feels better to ride in on the Pike. Rockshox increases the compression a bit, but not so much that it hurts. For a flow trail or something mellow, it’s a really nice setting. The 34 also includes a medium compression mode, but it’s much more distinctive and tends to feel a little harsher on the hands. The Fox 34 feels quite a bit stiffer in the medium mode than the Pike. While both forks have a very solid lockout or firm setting, the Fox is more of a pavement setting than a fire road climb. With very, very little movement I only found myself using this setting on a pavement climb or transfer between trails. The Rockshox also adds a lot of compression to the firmest setting, but has slightly more squish than the Fox. Both keep you from bobbing when out of the saddle climbing hard, though, and that's really what matters.
Set up for either fork was not too much of a task. Both forks are easy to land on a correct air pressure and tokens or volume spacers can be easily installed. One thing I did notice was that the Fox was much quicker to get going. With a couple of parking lot tests and one trail adjustment I had my base pressures. It was very quick and easy. The Pike, on the other hand, took a little more effort to set up after riding a few different trails. Since the Pike is more plush than the Fox, it felt a little misleading after setting it to the recommended air pressure. I ended up going a bit above the recommended pressure and also added 2 tokens for a total of 3 in the fork. Once I got it set up, I was able to ride it like this for all of my riding, not changing anything for specific trails. Chunky DH trails or smooth flow, once the Pike was set up, it was smooth sailing!
After putting my 34 through some serious riding, I would happily put this on any bike with 120mm-150mm travel up front. Want a beefy XC bike that doesn’t get squirrely? Put a 34 with 120mm of travel up front. Want a trail bike that can handle it all but doesn't come with a weight penalty? Slap a 150mm 34 on there. I would go about the same with the Pike, however it’s only available in 140mm for 29er bikes. Both forks can handle whatever you throw at them, whether it’s light trail duty or some chunky shuttle runs. These forks punch well above their weight class, so it’s hard to make a bad choice between the two!