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Suspension tech has come a long way in recent years, so having the ability to upgrade your existing fork is great as opposed to replacing the entire unit. Thankfully, RockShox offers the Charger 2.1 damper to upgrade most modern RockShox forks. Our friend Ryan upgraded his and loves the plush ride. Read on for more!
When reading any product review, take the time to understand who is writing the review, what kind of terrain they ride and what else they have ridden. We often overlook this when choosing where to spend our hard earned cash (or debt, no judgement). So...who am I? I'm a 200lb, aggressive rider, with a preference on technical trails over smooth jump trails. Nearly all my Denver-area rides include at least 1000 feet of loose, marble-filled, rocky descents. My riding style is more hack than smooth and I've been breaking bike parts for over 20 years now. Over the past five years I've spent extensive time on a Charger 1.0 Pike and Lyrik, Fox 36 RC2, Fox 36 Grip 2 and even a Manitou Mattoc. Outside of my recently converted Yari/Lyrik, my current garage has 2 Fox 36's with Grip 2 (Factory and Performance Elite).
I recently purchased a new bike equipped with a RockShox Yari, outfitted with a Motion Control IS damper. The limited adjustments result in a fork which struggles to match a wider range of rider needs. For me it meant inability to stay high in the travel over successive hits. The stock Yari had me longing for a more supportive setup. Enter the Charger 2.1; the very same damper offered on Rockhox's premium Lyrik Ultimate. Here are my thoughts so far after 10 rides:
Installation: Don't be scared...you can do it and it's only 1 step more than changing the oil in the lowers. Outside of what you need for an oil change, you need snap ring pliers, and a Shimano cassette tool. Follow the technical manual found here.
Getting dialed: I've been riding mountain bikes since RockShox made an Indy with color-coded elastomers. I've had non adjustable Bombers, goofy Lefty's, flexy Sid's and everything in between. For those of you who think I just typed in a foreign language, trust me when I say that suspension fork dials have come a LONG way in just the past 10 years. Both the Grip2 and Charger 2.1 offer high and low speed rebound and compression. l landed with adjusting high speed compression to 1/2 from open with low speed at about 3/8 from open. Rebound is just under 1/2 on both. Unrelated to the damper, Rockshox wins in ease of setup by having the patent on sag % printed right on the stanchion. Simply read the chart for a starting point, then adjust to your desired sag level (30% works well on this fork). Do yourself the favor, spend time researching the millions of articles and videos on how to setup your fork for your needs, it's worth it.
On the trail: It really takes time on both dampers to understand the minor but noticeable differences. While the old Charger damper had really responsive small bump absorption, higher speed, bigger hits resulted in it falling down in the travel. This translated to more arm pump as the fork would operate in it's 60-80% compressed range. Simply put, it was great until pressed really hard on repeated medium to big hits. In contrast, when jumping aboard Fox's RC2 (4 way adjustability) I found myself appreciating something that could maintain composure. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as smooth as the Pike.
I really thought that was the pinnacle of aggressive dampers until I jumped on the new Charger 2.1.
Then Fox came out with the brilliant Grip 2, which improved upon this by providing more support for those small bumps, regardless of the speed. I really thought that was the pinnacle of aggressive dampers until I jumped on the new Charger 2.1. Rockshox was able to keep its reputation as a smooth operator but is now ready to rumble for more aggressive riding. Thankfully, I've found it doesn't require aggressive riding to feel supportive, something that can hinder the Grip 2. This translates to a more comfortable ride on technical climbs or more mellow riding. When things point downhill and get sketchy, let it rip and it'll take what you can hand it. It's a new bar...your turn Fox!
Now for the $350 dollar question...is it worth it? I'd argue that geometry, suspension and tires are the three variables which have the largest impact on two-wheeled performance. Properly setup and supportive suspension results in improved traction, which helps to create a more stable bike under turns and rough trails. There's also the added benefit of less fatigue. All of these factors result in higher rider confidence. The Charger 2.1 allow you to get properly dialed at a price much less than a new fork. This rider has zero regrets on the upgrade...