With fork technology evolving, the singletrack is getting faster and faster - our pick of the best mountain bike forks will help you run smoother.
If you’re looking to make a significant improvement to a mountain bike’s ride quality, upgrading to the best mountain bike suspension forks is a smart option. The top models are likely to be one of the biggest investments you’ll make, but they pack the potential to totally transform your riding experience.
Easy to live with and more affordable
Weight: 2,280g | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Travel: 150-190mm | Offsets: 38mm, 44mm (27.5in), 44mm, 51mm (29in) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Great option for ebikes and/or heavier riders.
Cons: Damping not quite as amazing as rival forks.
Although the Zeb is slightly less adjustable than its rival Fox 38 (above), it is a bit lighter and more importantly is cheaper. The Zeb is genuinely, noticeably stiffer than the RockShox Lyrik, which is partly due to the overall beefier chassis but also due to the increase in bushing overlap inside the fork.
The damper is RockShox’s best: the Charger 2.1 RC. Which, although not quite as externally adjustable of the Fox 38’s damper, has more than enough adjustment on offer and is arguably easier to dial in and live with. The Charger 2.1 RC is definitely worth the extra money over the cheaper Zeb forks that come with different dampers.
All in all, a great fork that may not be quite as amazing as a Fox 38 or a DVO Onyx but can be had for significantly less money if you shop around.
Best XC fork
Weight: 1,508g | Offset: 44mm | Wheel size: 29in | Travel: 120mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Great combination of low weight and supple suspending.
Cons: Price tag isn’t very light.
The SID has a longstanding name in XC circles and the venerable name got a thorough dusting off and rejigging last year. The result is an incredibly impressive fork that arguably bridges the gap between the masochistic world of XC racing and the baggy shorted smile-time of trail riding.
Having said that, we really think the 35mm stanchion version featured here is the one most people should go for. Leave the skinny 32mm version for World Cup wannabes. Even the 35mm stanchion version is lighter than anything you can claim to be its nearest rival (it’s 150g less than Fox 34 Step Cast for example).
Besides by reassuring stiffness – and the attendant handling accuracy – the proof is in the pounding. And the SID doesn’t give you a pounding. Sure, when ridden hard you max out the travel a few times but it’s never overly harsh or alarming. Nor does the fork dive too much, despite its suppleness around the sag point.
You have to have a brain to ride the SID but you don’t have to treat it with kid gloves or reign in your riding too much. Did someone say down-country perfection?
Weight: 2,220g | Offset: 44mm or 51mm (29in), 37 or 44mm (27.5in) | Travel: 150 or 160mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: The best ever 36 by far. Smooth and delicate everywhere.
Cons: The price tag.
The new 36 never gets flustered and absorbs hits of every size calmly with an initial dull slurp that feels like your tyre has less air pressure inside. On one local trail section with brain-rattling high-speed moto whoops, it danced over crests without jiggling vision and balance, while most forks jackhammered and pitched the back end of the bike in their wake.
Touch and bump absorption feel consistent whether absolutely hauling into square edges, or plopping off slow speed steps too. The latest Factory 36 feels like floating in a bath of oil, but also informs enough about the terrain to ride precisely and actively by never being too wallowey or mushy.
The superb performance comes at a considerable financial premium to its closest rival – the RockShox’s Lyrik – however, plus all the new features add a chunk of weight over the older model.
High performance trail fork
Weight: 1,880g | Offset: 37mm/44mm (27.5in), 44mm (29in) | Travel: 120mm, 130mm, 140mm | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Supportive, sporty feel. Easy to use adjusters.
Cons: Slightly less initial sensitivity compared to the Fox 34 Float Factory GRIP2.
The latest MY23 Pike has undergone a comprehensive redesign, with new chassis, new damper and repositioned intended use.
Mirroring the angular 38mm Zeb, this redesign sees an all-new Charger 3 damper, new DebonAir+ air spring and even a completely new isolation technology called ‘Buttercups’. Ultimate level forks also gain ultimate bushings with greater overlap to reduce friction and lower leg air relief valves that let you purge any unwanted internal air pressure build up that can affect performance. There’s also a new Charger 3 damper – it loses the bladder design in favour of an Internal Floating Piston, as used by the likes of Fox.
The result is that it’s easy to set-up, rides high in the travel with loads of support, but can’t quite match the sensitivity of the Fox 34 with its GRIP2 damper. Just a whisker away from perfection.
Best enduro fork
Weight: 2,360g | Travel: 160-180mm | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Fox’s best just gets better; even light riders are well catered for now.
Cons: Yep, you guessed it: price tag.
In back-to-back testing at BikePark Wales, Fox’s 38 clearly had the edge over the RockShox Zeb on the same tracks on the same day, to the point we started to think that our Zeb was in need of a service.
To double check, we also repeated the test closer to home with a fresh Zeb and reached the exact same conclusion – Fox’s fork just feels more sensitive and slightly more composed. For a lot of riders, the 38 will be out of budget, even in the cheaper GRIP guise, and in that case, we’d recommend the Zeb or a DVO Onyx, which was a real contender in this test and totally delivered on a really demanding week’s riding in the Alps.
However, if you have the funds and/or you’re looking at a brand-new complete bike rather than a fork upgrade, we’d go for a Fox 38 every time. The Fox 38 just feels like it’s in the correct part of the stroke all the time and, unlike a lot of rival forks, full-travel is actually possible to achieve.
The ultimate trail performance… at a premium price
Weight: 1,770g | Offset: 44mm, 51mm | Travel: 130mm, 140mm | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Four-way adjustable GRIP2 damper, beefier 58mm crown, more sensitivity off-the-top, increased mid-stroke support.
Cons: Higher price point than before.
Installed in a chassis redesigned last year for extra stiffness and other benefits, Fox’s latest Float 34 fork has a damper and air spring that’s been tuned to perfection. Fox’s new chassis incorporates channels at the rear of the lower legs to continually circulate oil over bushings and foam rings for extra fluidity. The GRIP2 is a seriously classy damper with a very fluid action and excellent control. Combine this with the supple-yet-supportive air spring and stiff-enough chassis and it’s a winning trail fork package delivering superb grip and smoothness. The 34 takes the edge off sharp hits calmly and there’s a seamless transition from supple off-the-top, through a supportive, but never harsh mid-stroke and an imperceptible bottom out.
Best value fork
Weight: 2,010g | Offset: 44mm, 51mm | Travel: 100, 120, 130, 140, 150mm | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Simple to set up. Lots of grip. Stiff chassis. Great price-to-performance ratio.
Cons: Carrying some extra weight. Lacking a bit of support. Basic adjustments.
Essentially a Fox 34 Rhythm in drag, the Marzocchi Bomber Z2 rail offers excellent performance and low-maintenance at an affordable price. Everything is built big and burly to last, so it’s not the lightest fork on the block, but it needs less time in the workshop and less fettling by the trail side to set-up.
This Z2 is a solid performer for more aggro riders then; tracking and grip is exceptionally good, there’s no harshness or clunking if you bottom out the fork, and the way it absorbs harsh impacts, like drops or longer jumps to flatter landings, is smooth and dull.
Weight: 2,400g | Offset: 44mm | Travel: 130-160 (internally adjustable) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: One of the best at beating trail chatter. Sheer traction levels from that coil spring. Cons: Coil brings weight
Silky smooth damping, excellent grip and hand comfort. Yes, it’s a tad heavy, and more significantly, the full 160mm travel is unattainable for some riders; we managed just over 150mm, earned on the heaviest landing overshooting a big jump.
That said, this Helm Coil trumps any other fork we’ve used in terms of smoothness and calming fatigue by ironing out stutter bumps and high-frequency chatter. It clearly has supreme traction when leant right over on tyre edge blocks on off-cambers or super-slippery terrain, which means the Helm is a riot on a muddy day and really allows you to really take the mickey pushing the limits of traction.
This is a massive benefit that will always rule over some of small negatives here for a certain breed of riders too.
Weight: 2,339g | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Travel: 160-180mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Great levels of adjustment and super tenacious in the slidey stuff Cons: Not quite a Fox 38
36mm stanchion forks have been around for a long time now in mountain biking but these DVO Onyx take the standard to the next level with thick crown design, relatively lengthy bushing overlap and tapered alloy stanchions that leave material where its needed and removes where it isn’t.
The damping feel of the Onyx is seriously impressive; it feels constantly alive and at work. There’s plenty of adjustment on offer and DVO’s unique OTT (Off The Top) adjustment for the way the fork behaves in the first 30% of the travel is very useful for getting the fork to behave how you personally like it to whether than be ground-hugging slurpy or dig-in sporty. For 95% of riding the Onyx is as good as they come.
It’s only in the really, really prolonged hefty rough chunder terrain that it isn’t quite as forgiving as the Fox 38, and achieving full travel is not a common occurrence.
Needless to say though the DVO Onyx is by far the best DVO fork we’ve ever experienced and should find fans amongst riders who ride slippery, sketchy terrain.
Glimpses of brilliance
Weight: 2,098g | Travel: 120-170mm | Wheel sizes: 27.5 or 29in | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Impressive craftmanship and great platform for tinkerers Cons: Requires a tinkerer, and that price tag
The RFX 36 M2 is available in coil version as well as this air spring version that we tested. This fork uses the TTX 18 damping cartridge that’s found in Loic Bruni’s bike (in theory at least, we wouldn’t be surprised if Bruni’s damper was completely bespoke but anyway…)
The TTX damper has the usual auto-equalising positive and negative air chambers but it is also bolstered by a third air chamber that controls the end-stroke ramp-up. As well as being more accurate than volume spacers, this design also adds support to more of the mid-stroke as opposed to just affecting the very last part of travel.
Light riders may find the fork a tad on the overdamped side of things but racers and/or heavier riders will be fine. The feel of an Öhlins is markedly different to more mainstream suspension brands in that it doesn’t feel as overtly plush or supple. It can feel a bit stiff or sticky during carpark testing but get it out n the trail and you’ll be surprised. It’s actually one of the grippiest forks out on roots or wet rocks.
Be warned though: it’s not a fit and forget fork. It uses a modest amount of bath oil inside and as such benefits from more frequent strip downs and an owner who enjoys such things.
Needs careful setting up but it’s worth it
Weight: 2,140g | Offset: 46mm or 51mm (29in), 46mm (27.5in) | Travel: 130-160mm (29in), 120-170mm (27.5in) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: The most broadly adjustable fork out there. Not fit and forget – so great for tinkerers. Cons: Not fit and forget
We could dial in a really calm, ground-hugging feel with excellent control and stability from both the blue and red CST valves we tried (with a tweak of the air spring). The damping feels very smooth and rounded in both directions, and you can dial in a chunk of compression on the blue dial (which affects both low and high-speed damping) without adding too much harshness or vibration at the hands. The rebound range was appropriate for our weight and silent and smooth in operation too.
The extra time and money required to dial in the ultimate suspension won’t be for everyone, but this impressive Formula Selva R offers a ‘factory’ level of tunability without the need to send it off for retuning, provided you know exactly what ride characteristics you’re looking for.
How we tested mountain bike forks
With plenty of time to put these forks through their paces, we ended riding everywhere from uplift days at BikePark Wales, Dyfi Bike Park and Revolution Bike Park, to big days out hammering Lake District bedrock. The forks here also either did extended time on Alpine riding trips, being pummelled by 10,000s of metres descending, or faced accelerated forces bolted to various all- mountain e-bikes.
All forks were then back-to-back tested systematically on the same bike (in the dry for maximum speeds and loads) on a local test track. The track we chose had a good mix of steep, twisty ruts up top and then high-speed, beaten-up braking bumps and berms towards the bottom. It’s a track known intimately to all test riders and chosen for how hard it works even a modern suspension fork.
Know the best mountain bike forks:
With suspension brands continually updating their products for improved performance, fork technology is a constantly evolving landscape. Leading players like Fox and RockShox will be familiar as original equipment on complete bike packages, while he smaller firms here have big ambitions for a slice of the aftermarket pie. With trickle-down development from oher areas such as motocross and rallying, there’s a really broad approach to design, technology and tunability among the brands represented.
Considering a fork literally just has to slide up and down to absorb bumps and stabilise the rider, a huge amount of R&D and technology lurks inside. Chassis stiffness, weight, damper architecture, seal and bushing friction, and adjustability are just some of the factors suspension engineers strive to improve. Forks also have to work for a wide range of rider styles and weights.
Most high-end forks come with mind-boggling adjustability, but whether you’re a suspension expert, or you just want to enjoy more speed, comfort and control, for this buyer’s guide put in the hard miles to really get to the bottom of which model delivers ultimate performance on the trail.
Air-sprung forks support rider weight with a tuneable air cushion. Air pressure is added via a Schrader valve with a specific high-pressure shock pump to tune ride feel and adjust spring rate and support.
These aren’t used on every fork, but tweaking the size of the (positive) air chamber by adding or removing volume spacers (or in-built systems to do the same) affects the spring curve. More spacers increases spring progression and helps prevent harsh bottom-outs, while fewer spacers (a larger internal volume) softens the end stroke. Öhlins uses a separate, third, ramp-up chamber to tune progressivity.
Dials on the top and bottom of the fork legs adjust parameters to tune support and control. Separate damping dials allow specific tuning options as to how much oil is allowed through ports and shims inside to absorb impacts, but more options also introduce more opportunities to mess up settings. Having said that, most suspension brands and bike companies now offer decent tuning guides according to body weight, and these will give you a good start point to work from.
Stanchion diameter is an important metric for overall stiffness, with thicker fork legs generally adding weight. Bushing size and overlap, plus crown and brace construction also affect rigidity. Tapered steerer tubes are the norm – 1 1/8in to 1.5in at the base. Lower-leg assemblies use cast magnesium to save weight, and all forks here use a Boost 110mm axle spacing with quick- release-style or Allen-key fixings.
Positive and negative springs
Within the air spring there are typically two separate elements balancing breakaway friction and small-bump sensitivity against support. A negative spring pushes back against the main positive spring, and either takes the form of a separate (automatically equalising) air chamber or a coil spring.
Fork rake or offset has evolved as an important design element. Most brands now offer two different offsets in each wheel size, ranging from 37mm up to 51mm. It’s complicated, but offset affects steering feel and tyre stabilising force, so shorter offsets offer more stability and a ride quality that emulates a slacker head angle, while still keeping the bike’s wheelbase shorter.
Compression damping controls the rate at which displaced damper fluid is allowed to move during bump events. Low-speed controls low shaft-speed impacts like body weight shifts and rolling terrain, and high- speed damping absorbs harsh impacts like square bump faces and landings. Forcing oil through ports or shim stacks generates damping resistance, with energy converted into heat.
This is the damping circuit that controls the speed that the fork returns to sag after a bump event. Low-speed damping is the most common external adjustment. The damping circuit uses orifices and shim stacks to regulate the oil flow – ports can be opened or closed and shims made stiffer or softer. Some systems also act ‘dynamically’ and respond differently according to the shaft speeds (the speed the legs slide up or down).