Words by: Liam Woods
Made for the hardest charging and toughest trails in the world, the new RockShox ZEB not only takes on aggressive styling and sharp angles, but also rocks a 38mm single crown chassis that helps you get through the roughest trails with ease. With more stiffness than the Lyrik in just about every way RockShox tested, they have also managed to keep the ZEB feeling plush and smooth throughout the travel. Speaking of travel, the ZEB is available from 160mm travel all the way up to 190mm travel. Yes, I said 190mm travel on a single crown fork. Some other top features of the ZEB include the Charger 2.1 RC2 damper, a re-designed DebonAir air spring, and the use of a bolt on fender similar to the SID that came out earlier this year.
The biggest story of the RockShox ZEB is the new 38mm chassis, following right behind the Fox 38 that was released in April. It was made to handle the gnarliest terrain you can find. RockShox has some claimed percentages that make the ZEB significantly more stiff than the Lyrik at 180mm travel, a common travel length for today’s current enduro and freeride bikes. Along with the chassis upgrade, the ZEB also sees a new aluminum crown that takes both sharp looks and weight into consideration. The lower leg arch has also been updated and takes after the good looks of the crown with a sharp, aggressive design that gives clearance to some of the larger head tubes on current bikes during full bottom out. On the crown, there are also mounting spots for an aftermarket (for now) ZEB fender. Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, it’s available in a sleek new Slab Grey colorway for the ZEB Ultimate as well as a clean gloss black option with chrome decals.
Another huge topic is the increase in travel options. At 190mm, that is throwing it back to the early single crown freeride days. Stock options will be 160mm, 170mm, 180mm, and 190mm travel for both 27.5” and 29” wheels. One thing to note is there is only one offset option now for 29” wheels at 44mm, whereas the Lyrik has two options at 51mm and 42mm. The 27.5” ZEB will be offered in two offsets, a 38mm and 44mm so you can choose for the smaller wheels, but you’re out of luck for offset choice for the wagon wheelers out there.
For everyone asking or thinking: no, this is not going to be offered in a 20mm axle. With the 15mm axle and the use of Torque Caps, you get a lightweight 15mm Boost axle with large contact points of 27mm, creating a great combination of strength and weight savings.
I was lucky enough to get a few weeks of riding on all types of terrain since I installed the ZEB on my Mondraker Foxy. I had the RockShox ZEB Ultimate setup at 170mm travel, the same travel I was running my Lyrik at before the ZEB made its appearance. Right away when I hopped on my bike for a couple of bounces and a quick parking lot lap, I could tell something bigger was up front, and in the best way. It's a hard feeling to explain, but I feel like it's a similar progression to when the Pike first came out. You hopped on that and it had such a good balance of smooth off the top feeling with the stiffness and stability needed to handle tons of terrain. I set the fork up per the RockShox air chart on the leg that put me roughly at 52psi for my 155lbs riding weight. I like my rebound to be about even and I was -5 clicks out from fully closed for the Charger 2.1 RC2 damper. I also only had one token in the fork, which is how it was shipped to me. With the fork set up and a quick parking lot lap done, it was time to get it on a trail. I headed out for one of our closer loops that would warrant a fork like this and that is climbing up Dead Cow and going down Suicide. The climb is steep and technical with two or three sections that are difficult to clear every time. For the downhill, the name gives a hint to the kind of descent you’re in for. Suicide is a fast, rocky and loose classic SoCal trail.
Well, the ZEB wasn’t meant to climb and this part of the review will not be long. It holds the ground as you would expect and generally sits high in the travel while climbing. With new modern enduro bikes, we all know how they climb and while they aren’t XC bikes, they get to the top at a moderate speed while you remain generally comfortable. You can feel the weight a bit while climbing, but not so much if just pedaling along. If you are in a tech section and need to pivot or change direction, it takes a bit more effort to do so. That’s easily enough information on how it goes uphill.
“Straight away I felt smoother in the gnarlier, rocky straights. Charge into them, let off the brakes, and monster truck through with confidence..”– Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles)
This is what the RockShox ZEB is made to do, handle anything you can throw at it. It has been proven by the legend himself, Sam Hill. In his words, “Straight away I felt smoother in the gnarlier, rocky straights. Charge into them, let off the brakes, and monster truck through with confidence.” I agree with Sam on this one. While I’m nowhere near a pro level of riding, right away you can tell that the ZEB is a beast and ready to handle some serious terrain. On the first run down Suicide, it felt a bit different and I wasn’t sure how to take it. It could have been the slight hangover, but I think it took a few trails to get used to the ZEB. While I used most of the travel and it didn’t really feel harsh, there was a different feeling to the ZEB, both the way it sits in the travel and how the compression feels. The new stiffness of the chassis I think had me feeling off, at first.
After a few more runs on Suicide, I got a bit more used to it and I went up north to do a couple of shuttle days in Santa Barbara. Again, the trails are chunky out there with tons of 50-100 ft rock gardens. This is when I really started to get along with the ZEB. The way it stayed up in the travel on the steep sections and also how the compression felt started to give me the confidence to charge into sections I might have checked up to before. I ended up running a bit less compression than I normally would. After my first run on Suicide, I had the fork set in the middle of the HSC and LSC of the Charger 2.1 RC2. I switched it to fully open and then dialed in as I felt needed. I found it to feel best at one click from fully open on HSC and five clicks in from fully open on the LSC. This gave me the support I wanted while still feeling plush and not diving too deep into the travel on bigger hits.
Lastly, I was able to ride two days at Snow Summit in Big Bear. I spent most of the day on the jump trails, but I did manage to get over to some trails outside of the park that offer some raw, steep terrain I wanted to try the ZEB out on. Of course, this fork felt amazing over the jumps, the support and bottom out control feel better than ever, closely mimicking a RockShox Boxxer. But outside the park on these trails, there is a particular rock garden that is at most 40 feet long. It starts out pretty decent and gradually gets steeper, and near the end has a couple of massive boulders you need to get through. I didn’t really notice until my first time through it that the fork really did not deflect at all and stayed on its line. I rolled right through it and felt smoother and faster. I realized that lots of this was due to the chassis and not that I somehow got better handling skills in just a month’s time. I think after I got enough time on the ZEB, there are two distinct features that I really enjoyed. First is the ride height and compression control, which are extreme confidence boosters. Second is the stiffer chassis. While many new products claim stiffness and it's for sure a buzzword, I think in this case all of your handling up front is something you pay attention to. Holding your line and staying in control has never been so easy for me.
At a time when mountain bike suspension is at its peak, the RockShox ZEB delivers a ride quality that takes what we currently know and turns it up a level. With 38mm upper tubes and a redesigned chassis, the ZEB delivers a top-level ride quality. Travel options from 160mm, 170mm, 180mm, and even 190mm, as well as Slab Grey and Gloss Black colorways, there is a ZEB to perfectly match your enduro bike.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.