Having debuted their original mountain bike air shock over 20 years ago, and then their first suspension forks over 10 years ago, Fox Racing Shox have been at the top of the suspension game for quite some time now. Not a company to do things by halves, Fox have consistently put their new products towards the upper end of the performance market. That was certainly true with the debut of their fork line, which quickly saw their products set the benchmark for stiffness and damping quality, thanks to the introduction of oversized 32mm stanchions during a time when RockShox was still pushing skinny 28.6mm legs on their SID fork. Since that debut however, many other brands including RockShox, Marzocchi, Manitou, X-Fusion, and Formula, have been stepping up their offerings too. Fox are still putting out a great product, it’s just that everyone else has started to catch up.
After touring the Fox Factory last year (you can read all about that tour with Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3), we decided it was time to get our hands on a set of 2014 Fox 32 FLOAT forks, in order to take a closer look at the evolution of the 32 chassis and see how the modern incarnation has kept up with progress. We’ve been testing a 120mm CTD Factory Series model over the past couple of months, and here we give you the low-down on how that fork has been holding up.
- Intended use: XC racing & trail riding
- Travel: 120mm (internally adjustable to 100mm)
- Spring: redesigned FLOAT Air Spring
- External adjustments: Climb/Trail/Descend (3 positions), trail adjust tuning range (1, 2 and 3), rebound, air spring pressure
- Optional CTD Remote
- Damper: CTD FIT cartridge
- Stanchions: 32mm Taperwall alloy w/gold Kashima Coat
- Seals: SKF Fork seals and wipers
- Lower legs: Magnesium one-piece 650b specific
- 160mm post mount brake tabs
- 15QR thru axle system
- Steerer: Alloy 1.5″ Taper
- Claimed weight: 1.7 kg (w/1.5″ Taper & QR15 thru-axle)
- RRP: $1239
For 2014, Fox are offering a large number of 27.5″ specific forks, including the 32 FLOAT we’ve got here. The 32 FLOAT chassis is available in 100mm, 120mm, and 140mm versions, with each having the ability to be adjusted down in their travel by an internal spacer swap. (Note: Fox forks cannot be lengthened in travel, only shortened). We’ve got a 120mm FLOAT on test, which has just been stripped down and adjusted to 100mm of travel for an upcoming bike build that you’ll hear about very soon…
All of the aftermarket Fox forks come as standard CTD models, with damping adjusted via a crown mounted lever. However, this top cap assembly can be removed, and a separate CTD Remote assembly can be installed in its place. This is a relatively straight-forward process that most riders could carry out at home themselves, and it allows you to access the forks damping settings via a neat handlebar remote system (see more below). The only caveat is that you lose the extra adjustability in the Trail position, so you’re simply left with Climb/Trail/Descend.
Those shiny gold stanchions aren’t just for show – they use a special coating on the alloy surface called ‘Kashima Coat’. Introduced during the 2011 model year, the Kashima Coat is distinctive via its gold colour, and is available on select Fox fork and rear shock models. Kashima coating is an alternative to hard anodizing the upper tubes, and the concept is simply about reducing friction between the stanchions and the internal seals and bushings. This feature is only found on Fox’s Factory Series suspension products, due to the high costs involved. Each set of uppers is shipped off to Japan to have the special coating applied, before they head back to the US for final assembly. Along with the Kashima Coat, Fox also equip their forks with low-friction wipe seals made by Swedish bearing/seal specialist; SKF. The result is an incredibly smooth suspension feel with incredible sensitivity. In our experience, the SKF low-friciton seals are a big contributor to the overall smoothness of the latest Fox sliders. Theses replacement seals are available aftermarket and are retrofittable to existing 32mm Fox forks for about $50-60. If you own an older model Fox fork and it’s in need of some fresh oil, we’d highly recommend upgrading to the SKF seals to improve sensitivity.
New on the 2014 32 FLOAT range is a redesigned casting for the one-piece lower legs. Built from lightweight magnesium, the forks crown is significantly shaped with the assistance of FEA analysis and years of testing experience. The goal is of course to reduce weight, but without sacrificing any of that trademark steering precision that has been the hallmark of their products since day one. The back of the fork arch uses a hollowed-out truss section, with a little more sculpting and shaping than previous year models. Compared to the simple curved arch of the original 32 chassis forks, the new lowers are far more aggressive in their appearance.
The 32 FLOAT range is available in both 1 1/8″ and 1.5″ steerer options, as well as 9mm and QR15 thru-axle versions, though the skinny quick release models are getting harder to find each year. With a 1.5″ alloy tapered steerer and the 15mm thru-axle system, torsional stiffness is excellent, and that’s despite the longer axle-to-crown length of the 27.5″ fork over a 26″ fork. For 2014, the QR15 thru-axle loses the black anodized finish, which we’d hazard a guess is to do with minimising the visible wear marks from the hub interface.
Fox have 3 levels in each of their fork models; Evolution, Performance, and Factory. Typically only the top-end Factory suspension is available aftermarket, with the cheaper Evolution and Performance models destined for complete bikes on the OEM market. For the 32 FLOAT forks, those 3 different levels refer to differing damping systems, materials, and costs. The Evolution fork is the most basic of the range, and as such it uses a cheaper open bath damper. The Performance fork swaps in the FIT (Fox Isolated Technology) damper, which uses a closed cartridge that is both smoother and more consistent in feel than the open bath model. Otherwise the Performance fork uses the same chassis as the Evolution model. For the Factory fork, you get upgraded to the gold Kashima coated stanchions, as well as having extra adjustability built into the ‘Trail’ setting on the CTD dial.
The CTD remote lever has been refined and shrunken significantly over last years version. It takes up less space on the handlebar, and is designed to be thumb operated, with the larger silver paddle engaging the firmer compression modes (Trail & Descend), while the black paddle releases the cable tension to drop you back into full open (Descend). Because each of the CTD settings are so distinct, having that adjustability at your fingertips gives you very quick control of how the suspension and the overall bike feels.
We’ve been running our test fork in the stock 120mm setting for a couple of months now, but with a new longtermer test frame on the way, travel has been internally adjusted down to 100mm in preparation. The air spring on the 2014 FLOAT forks has received a significant redesign over the 2013 and earlier models, and so it took a while to receive the necessary spacers to carry out the travel reduction. Keep an eye out on an upcoming issue of Enduro magazine, where we’ll be updating you with our durability report from testing the 650B FLOAT fork, as well as a comparison of its performance next to the RockShox SID fork.
Phone: (02) 9550 1655