“Am I brutish enough to handle this everyday?” That’s the first thing I asked myself after giving the Ohlins RXF 36 its first test ride. It is a racer’s fork. Period.
The Ohlins RXF 36 is a relative newcomer to the all-mountain and enduro fork arena. It checks all the boxes for a serious rider looking for high performance. Adjustability? Practically everywhere. New technology? Hidden inside, but immediately apparent. Stealthy looks? Just look at it. Stiffness? Oh yes. Definitely yes. Ohlins did not just take a laundry list of ideas and chuck them at the RXF 36. It’s a thoughtfully crafted, engineered piece of technology meant to go fast and nothing else.
The Swedish long travel fork is only available for 29” and 27.5+ frames (the same fork will fit either bike) and comes in 4 different travel lengths, starting at 120mm and going up to 160mm. It has the industry standard for enduro forks of 36mm stanchions and a Boost axle (110x15). Unique to Ohlins is the tapered steerer tube with a “uni-crown”. The Swedish brand ups the stiffness by building the steerer tube and crown from a single piece of aluminum instead of sticking the two pieces together like most manufacturers. Internally, the RXF 36 sports Ohlins’ famous TTX twin tube technology, which gives riders buttery smooth performance and insane amounts of control.
After a few rides, I really had to rethink my toughness on a bike. The RXF 36 is not for beginners, nor is it for the casual rider. And why should it be? Ohlins was founded as a racing brand and everything they make is meant to catapult you to the top of the podium. Ohlins lacks the size or market share that Rockshox and Fox have, so of course it makes sense that they would focus a on a premium product designed to do one specific thing: win. Besides, the RXF 36 was designed and fine tuned with direct input from EWS World Champ Jared Graves and his teammate Curtis Keene. (Fun fact: Keene did a lot of testing on this fork on a downhill trail only 20 minutes away from Worldwide Cyclery HQ.) The damping on this fork really is superb. It takes massive hits like a champ. The stiffness feels almost exactly the same as a Fox 36, which is currently regarded as the stiffest enduro fork available. It refuses to get unsettled, no matter how chattery the trail is. It’s a fantastic damper in almost every regard, but the one thing that might give you pause is the small bump compliance.
The Ohlins RXF 36 is a strange fork in that it will run into small bumps no problem and feels just as smooth as any other premium fork. There is zero stiction throughout any single inch of its travel. It still beats you up, though. On a local trail, which we might classify as “all-mountain”, arm pump presented its ugly head. The rocks on this trail don’t get over 6 inches in height and there are no braking bumps to be afraid of. It is a relatively smooth trail, and yet I failed to get the limo-smooth feel you might expect from a fork like this. Granted, it didn’t feel like I had ridden a jackhammer down the trail or any other analogy for “harsh up and down movement”, but it certainly wasn’t a comfortable ride. So what does this mean?
Racers would love this fork. I do the occasional race and would be excited to have this mounted to the front of my bike. Like I mentioned earlier, it is completely controlled and really, truly does not get unsettled in the rough stuff. As long as your hands can hold on to your bars, this fork makes you want to try going faster. Although, going faster hurts a little bit more.
Yes, I tried playing with the settings. The RXF 36 has a unique third air chamber designed to control the increase or decrease the progressiveness of its travel. It’s a fantastic system that works really well, so I thought this could be the key to dialing in some more small bump compliance. Add more air to the ramp-up chamber, let a little bit of air out of the positive chamber, and we’re good to go, right? I found out the ramp-up chamber really only acts on the end stroke of the fork. By setting the fork up for a ride like this, I ended up with significantly better small bump compliance, but a total lack of mid-stroke support and a completely unusable last two inches of travel. Definitely not a racer’s setup or even for just a regular, aggressive ride. The negative air chamber is self-equalizing with the positive air chamber, so there was nothing I could do to adjust that. It looks like you’re at a loss if you buy this fork expecting a comfy couch-like ride.
Bikes and bike parts are a series of compromises. The RXF 36 does not break this rule. Want to go faster, with more control, and more confidently? Buy this fork and love it for what it is. You simply cannot have a fork that has great small bump compliance while maintaining superb damping qualities and a consistently high ride height. However, I would argue that it is the superb damping qualities and consistently high ride height that make this fork so great. If your idea of a fun ride is trying to beat your previous time or nab that ever-elusive KOM, then buy this fork and chuck yourself down the mountain at ill-advised speeds. Despite the harshness, traction and control are at the forefront. The RXF 36 has incredibly predictable rebound damping when adjusted correctly, which lets you nail that rock garden. The high ride height helps maintain a more static head angle for steep trails. So then steep rock gardens mean a magical experience. It doesn’t dip down into small depressions and throw you over the bars, which means that your 29” bike has even more rollover capability than it did before. And the ramp-up chamber, like I mentioned earlier, works flawlessly. It doesn’t require much extra pressure to make a noticeable difference in the progressiveness of the spring curve and using a shock pump to change ending stroke is almost infinitely easier than opening up the top and inserting spacers. The only time I bottomed out the fork was on a 10 foot drop, which is great considering I had the pressure set to only slightly higher than I did for my more average trail rides.
Fits 29” and 27.5”+ bikes
To answer the question of whether or not I’m brutish enough to handle riding the Ohlins RXF 36 everyday, I’d have to first ask myself what my intentions are. Personally, I love trying to set personal records on a trail (and I did with this fork, several times) and going to the occasional race. So yes, I would put up with the less than perfect small bump compliance for all of the other amazing benefits. But a lot of my friends’ ideas of a fun ride is popping off little features, throwing dirt from the back tire, and general hoonery. For them, this fork would be a bad recommendation. Why beat your hands up if speed isn’t your end goal? You can have plenty of comfort on a different fork if going sideways on two wheels is your thing. For me, however, give me the discomfort and the racer’s edge any day of the week.
120, 140, 150 and 160mm travel lengths
Uni-crown with tapered steerer tube
Boost axle (15x110)
High and low speed compression adjustment
Low speed rebound adjustment
Adjustable positive (with self-equalizing negative) air chamber
Adjustable ramp-up air chamber