DT Swiss is a company you like to see on your bike, but mostly the hub, rim, spokes, and wheel areas. I think if you asked most people at a trailhead on the weekend if they like the new DT Swiss fork they would think you are confused with another brand. Well, the truth is DT Swiss has been making suspension for a while now and even has some XCO World Championships under its belt. Recently designed and released, the new DT Swiss F535 One fork is here to fill your all-mountain fork needs. With a fresh look, a new take on how the damper and air springs work together, and the incredible Swiss engineering you would expect from any DT Swiss product.
There is no shortage of specs to cover with this DT Swiss fork, from the clean look and hidden features, to how it works. I'm going to cover it top to bottom externally, then internally on each side, the air springs, and the damper, so bare with me.
Starting at the top on the outside, you will see that both sides have a clean cover that helps keep debris away from any parts. On the left, you will see the airside covered by a cap with a T10 Torx bit. Once removed, you will see the Schrader air valve. One really cool feature that DT Swiss came up with is the air valve caps actually have numbers on them to indicate the number of tokens installed in the fork. They provide four caps in total to go along with the maximum of four tokens that you can install. On the cap itself, the T10 bolt is contained in the cap, so there is no way it can fall out or get lost, just one of the many Swiss features. Looking at the right side (when on the bike), you have your compression lever. The compression lever has three positions: Open, Drive, and Lock. There is also a low-speed compression screw that you can adjust with a T10 as well. Next to that is the cap for the damper side. It matches the clean look of the airside but doesn't really need to be removed unless taking the damper out of the fork.
Moving down, we have a fender and a nice cable guide to talk about. The fender bolts on to the back of the fork with 3mm bolts. Not only does it bolt-on and look very clean, but the shape of this fender works really well. It does its job at keeping the muck off your bike, off your face, and off your wiper seals. I actually had the chance to ride this fork in some wet weather at SkyPark for Vital MTB ditch day where it rained the previous night. The fender was sweet and did the job. The cable guide on the front of the fork is also a bit different. It gets bolted in from the back of the lowers, and is only a guide, as it's not bolted onto the cable the way most other brands do. I guess if you happen to break it off you can get a new one and bolt it in. Either way, it looks good and changed the way all other brands guide the cable down the fork. The arch of the fork is also a bit different on the appearance side, as it's more squared off than your standard fork that we are all used to. This, combined with the fender and the clean caps up top, gives the fork a very distinct futuristic look. The arch isn't only for looks as it also offers a massive amount of tire and mud clearance, even when the fender is bolted on.
At the bottom of the fork, the clean appearance continues with smooth dropouts and a smooth cap where the thru-axle threads in to keep debris out while looking super clean. The axle itself is pretty cool as well. At first, it looks like your typical QR DT Swiss axle, however, the handle can be pulled off exposing just a 6mm Allen key for your axle if you don't want to run the handle. But, on the handle, there is a small T10 Torx that screws into the handle, allowing you to make all those small adjustments to low-speed compression and air pressure. I'm sure when first reading about these T10 bits all over the fork, there were some eye rolls, “Oh great, now I need to carry more tools”. I personally prefer the look of the axle without the handle, but the fact it has the T10 threaded in and after riding it in tons of conditions it never fell out. So there’s that.
Now let's get into the internals. Let's start with the air side of things. The air spring is fairly traditional, having positive and negative chambers that self equalize, much like other forks. However, it's also “helped” into the travel by a coil spring for the first 5% or so of the travel. We all know how good coil suspension feels, which is why almost every new air fork that comes claims it “feels like coil”. Well, this fork takes the best of both. It feels like a coil off the top and then is supported in mid-stroke and end stroke by air. The damper is also quite different and even reacts differently than almost every other fork damper out there. Instead of working primarily off-speed, it reacts from the position. Stay with me, I will help explain further.
The DT Swiss damper takes a different approach by using positions to help tune the ride rather than high-speed compression and low-speed compression. While the F535 One still has low-speed compression adjustment, it's not exactly the same as it is on most other forks. In the first third of the travel, the fork’s compression is fully open, allowing for the most plush off the top feeling possible. The LSC dial is pretty much out of use during this portion of the travel. Once the fork gets going into the second third of the travel, the compression port is slightly closed off, making it harder to compress the fork. At this point, oil is also being pushed slightly through the low speed, allowing you to tune in some compression for the mid-stroke. And last, the final third of travel the compression ports are almost closed off and pushing the most amount of oil through the low-speed adjustment, making it hard to use all the travel of the fork at this part of the travel. The rebound is on the traditional side of things and this is handled by shim stacks within the damper, meaning it's not position sensitive. The combination of the air system with the unique DT Swiss damper creates a fork that works and feels different than anything on the market. Let's get into just exactly how that feels and works.
Setting up the DT Swiss F535 One is pretty simple and very similar to other forks on the market. However, one thing that helps is on DT Swiss site they have a very helpful setup guide that not only will get you set up quickly and properly, but also give you options to select the type of rider or the feel you want from your fork. There are three rider characteristics to choose from: comfortable, balanced, and performance. While I found myself in the middle with balanced, the difference between each is a few PSI and a corresponding rebound adjustment with the change in PSI.
With the first few rides, I found the fork very comfortable and while sticking with the setup guide, I wanted to see how the other recommendations felt. At first on my local trails, I was having trouble using all the travel. I was consistently using about 85-90%, so I wanted to start messing with PSI and the air tokens, as it came stock with two installed. That is one thing the setup guide doesn't help with is the air volume tokens, and while I'm experienced enough to know when to remove or add, it would benefit the average rider to have a recommendation. I dropped about 3 PSI from my balanced set up to try the comfortable suspension setup. This resulted in more travel used, and while I never had a harsh bottom out, I eventually used all of the travel. However, I also was sitting too low in the travel for how I like it. Previously the fork had sat a bit higher in its travel, and I really liked that feeling. Just for comparison, I tried the performance recommendation and that had me add 3 PSI from the original setting of balanced. While I didn't think the fork felt hard off the top, I used even less of the travel and had too much end stroke support and bigger hits felt a bit harsh and jolted me around.
After trying all the air PSI recommendations, I decided to take out one of the air volume tokens, leaving me with one in the fork. I started again with the PSI at the balanced setting as that is what felt best before. While the difference wasn't extremely noticeable, I did use more of the travel, and on bigger hits, I felt the bottom of the fork. I never slammed to full bottom out, which is what I was looking for, so I left it here for a while. After some time and getting used to the fork I ended up bumping up the pressure a few PSI closer to the performance PSI settings.
After I found how I really liked the fork to be set up, I left it for a while and tried to ride all types of trails. From my normal local trails, that offer some chunk, some good G-outs, and lots and lots of flat corners, the fork performed amazingly. So much so I was loving the front end of my bike and was really digging the DT Swiss fork more than others. I also took it to the jump park that is more than just a couple of flow trails. These turned out to be a great test for the DT Swiss fork as it shined in the small bump chatter of my local trails, but I wasn't totally sure how it would handle jumps, berms, and slower but deeper compressions. The truth is, I ended up adding maybe what was 8-10 clicks of LSC and a few PSI to get the fork to feel good for this style of smooth flow trails. While that might be normal on some forks, I like to strike a balance on setup and not mess with it much if possible. The combination of the air spring/coil setup and the open compression of the damper suits more chattery terrain while still providing all-around support in the fork.
After returning back home, and putting the fork back to my local setup of pressure and LSC, I took it to the real testing grounds. Our local zone of very chunky, steep, loose trails. Local enduro pros ride and test here, and it's quite unique to have five trails off one climb that can offer 5-8 minutes of all-out DH worthy singletrack. Overall my first impressions of the F535 One riding on these trails were good, similar to how I felt about riding the local trails. Small bump compliance was amazing, overall control was super good, and while I used all the travel, I never felt like this fork had any downsides in this style of terrain. That is until I rode the trail with possibly the most repetitive big compressions I've perhaps ever ridden.
I will start this by saying I have never ridden a trail with two sections that require multiple hits in a row, a few of them only two bike lengths apart. The first is a triple drop, all drops being about 3-4 feet and not much more than a bike length apart. I would say this is extremely rare, but since I have it to test, I always test the different suspension on these as it’s an extreme outlier situation. Previously the DT Swiss fork handled single big hits with ease and caused no funky feelings or issues. On this triple drop section, the first hit was handled great as I expected, but the second one comes faster than the third with a bike length to prepare. On that second landing, I got a bit squirrely and continued onto the third where the fork really spiked. I immediately noticed the lack of control here and decided to stop and try the section again at speed, and while I was prepared for the spike to happen, it still happened. This isn't a huge deal and as I mentioned it's a very rare situation but it required much more body English to control than say a Fox or a Rockshox in this situation. The next section that has a similar back to back big hit is a gap jump that's maybe eight feet in length but drops down a few feet as well on the landing. It comes in an already fast section and the gap and landing aren't the hard part, but immediately after there are some big rocks that require some control to get through smoothly. Similar to the triple drop, it seems that just as you land, you are setting up for the big rocks. Again, the fork seemed to get a bit overwhelmed here, requiring more control on the bike during this section. Up until this back to back compression testing, the fork performed so well I was beginning to think there wasn't a flaw at all. While not a huge flaw, and not one that many riders will ever experience on a trail like that, it is worth noting. I think this may be due to the damper being position sensitive and multiple hits at the end of the stroke don't work well for the closed-off compression causing a spike, or the lack of high-speed compression adjustment.
"The DT Swiss F535 One fork really does come swinging at the two big names in the room. With unparalleled small bump and mid-stroke control, it's nice to see a new approach to a product and have it work out for the better. The helpful setup guide is also is a huge plus for the consumer, as many riders like to set it and forget it, something this fork is great for. Let's not forget about the looks and built-in function of this fork. On looks alone, I would give this fork a top rating. I really like the clean lines, smooth covers for parts that are often an afterthought, a built-in fender that actually works, and an innovative axle with a T10 to make your adjustments all over the fork. This is the type of Swiss engineering you come to expect from a company like DT Swiss. The only on trail issues I had was a rare situation that I have only had on one trail I often ride. It wouldn't stop me from keeping this fork on my bike as it just requires more effort to control and felt good in the other 95% of this trail and 100% of any other trails I was able to ride. A refreshingly amazing fork offering from a company you wouldn't expect that not only hits the looks game out of the park but performs just as well. The DT Swiss F535 One fork gets the Worldwide Cyclery approval." - Liam Woods