We put eight big-hitters to the test to see if you really get what you pay for.
Fork performance is a critical element of any enduro bike; we put eight big-hitters to the test to see if you really get what you pay for
The frenzied pace of enduro bike development has made these highly capable machines more relevant than ever. Now light and efficient enough to pedal all day, they are equally suited to thrashing around your local woods, uplift days at BikePark Wales or a riding holiday in the Alps. In these environments a good suspension fork makes a huge difference to ride quality, and ultimately your control and enjoyment — arguably more so than the rear suspension.
If you’re looking to upgrade, your choice will be constrained by your budget, which is why we’ve split this 160mm fork test into two halves — entry-level and high-end. The entry-level 160mm forks are all keenly priced at £550, while the high-end models start at £800 and top out at £960.
We’d like to say that (almost) double your money buys double the performance, but having spent three months testing them, this isn’t the case — several of the entry-level forks stack up pretty favourably in terms of weight, stiffness, damping and adjustment. That’s good news for you, because even if your budget is tight, you shouldn’t have to compromise on ride quality.
We tested all eight forks here with 27.5in wheels, simply because this allowed us to include the widest range of brands. Some companies, such as BOS and Fox, for example, only make high-end aftermarket forks and nothing at the low end. With bikes diversifying every year, this may change in the future but right now there are more all-mountain bikes out there with 27.5in wheels than anything else.
How we test
To ensure the fairest test possible, we mounted all the forks to a pair of 160mm-travel Giant Reigns for back-to-back testing. We also spent time in three distinct UK locations — the Surrey Hills, the Forest of Dean and BikePark Wales. This is because fork set-up and performance changes dramatically with the terrain.
Also known as volume reducers, these allow you to manipulate the spring curve. Adding more tokens creates more progression and support. Some tokens, like those used by Manitou and SunTour, are stored inside the fork for convenience.
High and low-speed compression, along with rebound, are standard adjustment options on most 160mm suspension forks, although there are forks here with separate high and low-speed rebound adjusters.
All the forks in this test are air-sprung. Air is lightweight and easily adjustable to different rider weights and riding styles. All the forks have a negative spring, which helps the fork breakaway to improve small bump compliance. The negative spring is either a second air chamber, that’s charged when pumping up the main air spring, or a small coil spring.
This measurement is the ride height of the fork at full extension, and it’s an important number because some 160mm forks are taller than others, which makes a difference to the geometry and the handling.
Most forks have either a 15mm or 20mm axle, with some sort of quick-release function so you can remove the front wheel without using a tool. You’ll also find a bolt-thru 15mm and 20mm axle available as options on some models.
All the forks come with post mounts for fitting the front brake. There are, however, two sizes in use — PM160 and PM180, which is simply the minimum size rotor you can fit to that fork. This means if you want to use a 180mm rotor with PM160 you will need a 20mm adapter. We weighed all of the test forks with adapters fitted for a 200mm rotor.
Forks with 160mm travel have 34, 35 or 36mm-diameter stanchions (upper tubes). It’s only one element of overall stiffness, but generally speaking the larger the diameter of these tubes, the stiffer the fork.
Manitou Mattoc Pro
The supple, coil-like feel, kept the fork planted. Even smashing through the rocks at BikePark Wales, the Mattoc Pro was totally unfazed, and we never had any issues with excessive diving or harshness in the damping. Our only criticism is there’s a bit of a squelching noise from the rebound circuit. The Mattoc Pro is hugely adjustable and easily the best entry-level 160mm fork on test.
RockShox Yari RC
While rigidity was on a par with its high-end stablemate, as you might expect, the Motion Control damper isn’t as sophisticated as the Lyrik — when we were slamming it down the trails at BikePark Wales there was a bit of harshness through the bars. The Yari also didn’t feel as stable, especially in slippery conditions, when you’re riding on the edge of traction. But then we are talking fine margins, because this is an excellent 160mm fork for the money — stiff, reasonably light and you couldn’t set it up badly if you tried. The fact that you can buy it online for less than £400 makes it even better.
SunTour Durolux R2C2
For the money, the level of adjustment on this fork is amazing; unfortunately, there are a couple of niggles. It’s noisy, you can hear a sort of squelch coming from the rebound circuit and a rattle on the spring side. Play also developed in the bushings by the end of the test period. The deal breaker is probably the Q-Loc axle — it’s truly annoying. A standard bolt-thru axle would have been much better than this heavily flawed quick-release system.
Ultimately, the Sweep just doesn’t have the grip levels of the Manitou Mattoc or RockShox Yari. With a dual-air system and maybe tokens (so you could run more sag) you could maybe increase the small bump sensitivity, but X-Fusion is already playing catch-up, because there are better options on the market right now.
Bos Deville 3-Way TRC
The silky smooth action of the Bos Deville means that traction and comfort on loose, rough trails are both first rate. Push it flat-out through root and rock and it’s cool as a cucumber. Baseline settings on the Bos website are good too, just don’t be tempted to go straight to the Race level recommendations. One area where the Bos Deville loses ground to Fox and RockShox is on flat, smooth corners, where the plushness of the fork makes it harder to load the front tyre for grip. Tyre clearance is also limited with the low arch design.
As it stands, the Diamond is ultra-plush and can withstand a lot of abuse. If DVO really wants it to stand out in this ultra-competitive category, however, the Diamond needs a little polishing. Better signposting on the high-speed compression and OTT dials, and a range of negative spring rates for different weight riders would be a great place to start.
Fox 36 Factory Series
Surprisingly, with such a firm set-up, the 36 still offered unparalleled control in rough terrain, where the extra support on steep tracks has got to be worth a couple of degrees in the head angle alone. This set-up was hard fought, however, and even though the Fox 36 had a slight edge over the Lyrik, we’re certain the 36 could be even better with a lighter touch to the damping. This would certainly offer a more usable range of adjustment and give the option for a softer, more comfortable set-up for big mountain riding.
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 Solo Air
Given that you can pick up a Lyrik online for around £600, it’s a total no-brainer. So while the Fox 36 inches ahead in outright performance, it’s far easier to get a good baseline setting on the Lyrik. Add air and low-speed compression and you’re good to go. Solid, reliable and easy to set up, the new RockShox Lyrik offers first class performance at a knock-down price.
Before we start the debrief, it’s worth emphasising that the level of performance from the latest crop of 160mm- travel forks is hugely impressive. And while it’s tight at the top — where you really need to push hard to feel the differences — in the cheaper price range, the best forks boast all the performance most of us will ever need.0
With its new Roughcut damper, the X-Fusion Sweep is a capable fork for big mountain riding, but it could be improved if X-Fusion made it more sensitive, offered some form of volume reducer, and changed the offset to be more in keeping with the other forks on test.
All-mountain riding covers quite a broad spectrum, and with its 36mm stanchions and 20mm axle the SunTour Durolux is definitely at the rowdy end. It’s fully loaded with both high and low-speed compression and rebound adjustment as well as tokens, which are conveniently stored inside the fork. It is over 300g heavier than anything else in this test, though, and is tall, so will make a more dramatic change to your geometry. It isn’t the best when grip is at a premium, but it’s stiff and it monsters rocky trails at high speeds. If you’re looking for a hardcore fork on a budget, this is it.
Normally we disregard the online price of forks when rating them, but in the case of the RockShox Yari (and Lyrik) it’s hard to ignore. The Yari is universally discounted, while most of the other forks are not. We haven’t actually been able to find the Yari online at the full retail price, and why would you pay over the odds when you can get it for over 30 per cent less?
That said, the Manitou Mattoc just shaded this test simply because it’s the same price as the Yari but has more features than the Lyrik. Admittedly it’s not the stiffest fork on test, but it’s lightweight and we could easily dial it in for any terrain or rider weight. Our test fork has also been totally reliable and hasn’t put a foot wrong.
Price-wise, all the top-end forks are about a third more expensive, but do you get a third more performance? Both the DVO Diamond and Bos Deville 3-Way are great forks, but the Diamond is a little fiddly to set up and isn’t effective for all rider weights. The Deville 3-Way has the company’s impressively plush action, but the TRC feature is all but redundant and there are better forks for smoother, flatter trails.
Like a dog with two masters it took us an age to decide on the test winner in the top-end category.
The Fox 36 inspired so much confidence that it was initially out in front of the pack. Then we found it was impossible to buy the RockShox Lyrik for any more than £650 online, and this really set the cat among the pigeons. Both heavyweights are superb, and you wouldn’t make a mistake buying either, but to get the best from the Fox is more involved, and there’s the potential to get it really wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. Which is why the RockShox Lyrik is our test winner in the high-end price category. It’s ridiculously easy to set up and an absolute bargain.