We've tested a whole lot of mountain bike forks and here are the very best mountain bike suspension forks for enduro, trail riders and XC racers.
We’ve tested a whole lot of mountain bike forks and here are the very best mountain bike suspension forks for enduro, trail riders and XC racers.
If you’re looking to make a significant improvement to a mountain bike’s ride quality, upgrading your suspension fork is the best 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.
With 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.
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, we’ve put in the hard miles to really get to the bottom of which model delivers ultimate performance on the trail.
The best mountain bike forks
1. Fox 36 Factory GRIP2
In terms of ultimate performance, Fox’s new 36 is a superior product
Weight: 2,220g | Offset: 44mm or 51mm (29in), 37 or 44mm (27.5in) | Travel: 150 or 160mm
Pros: The best ever 36 by far
Pros: 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.
2. RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2
It’s hard to ignore RockShox’s Lyrik for its ease of set up and how well it performs
Weight: 2,015g | Offset: 42, 44 or 51mm (29in), 37, 44, 46mm (27.5in) | Travel: 140-170mm
Pros: Supreme suppleness and easy to setup
Pros: Cheaper (and lighter) than a Fox 36
Cons: Damping not quite as controlled and finesse as Fox 36
RockShox’s Charger 2 damper is buttery smooth, has tons of control and never throws you any curveballs. This keeps the Lyrik assured everywhere from climbing over bumps at crawling speeds, twiddling down technical steeps or hammering DH tracks with massive berms. The consistency and sense it’s always got your back with no drama means you can focus on the riding, plus it’s still one of the most comfortable forks in terms of killing trail chatter, which stops hands and arms getting fatigued on the longest descents, so you can charge hard for longer.
RockShox’s fit-and-forget Lyrik already nailed all the construction and internal subtleties to maximise sensitivity and durability and gained a useful lighter compression tune last year. It has a very stiff and sturdy chassis, is a cinch to reach a ‘sweet spot’ on, and works for months with zero maintenance.
3. Marzocchi Bomber Z2
Should be on the shortlist to any rider that just wants to get out and ride
Weight: 2,000g | Offset: 44, 51mm | Travel: 100, 120, 130, 140, 150mm
Pros: Great suspension action and chassis stiffness
Pros: Good value for a great fork
Cons: Does look and feel a bit cheap
The fork is noticeably stiffer fore-aft than a Fox 34. The fork takes mid- and big sized hits truly excellently. No spiking, binding or unpredictable deflection. It definitely isn’t as supple off-the-top as higher end forks but… it didn’t really bother us. And if less suppleness is the price to pay for having seals and damping system that keep the baddies out for 125 hours between services, we think that’s fair enough.
We’d actually rather have a Bomber Z2 than a more expensive Fox 34 due to its stiffer construction and the knock-on effect this lack of flex has on the fork’s predictability and consistency. Under braking or hard cornering, the Z2 leaves other 34 and 35mm stanchion forks found wanting. Sure, this is principally due to thicker wall 6000 alloy stanchions tubing but… it works. Heavier yes. But stiffer. And cheaper.
4. Cane Creek Helm Coil
Beats most other forks in terms of calming fatigue by ironing out high-frequency chatter
Weight: 2,400g | Offset: 44mm | Travel: 130-160 (internally adjustable)
Pros: One of the best at beating trail chatter
Pros: 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.
5. DVO Beryl
A top-performing fork at a low price
Weight: 2,231g | Offset: 44, 51mm | Travel: 140-160mm (29), 150-170mm (27.5)
Pros: Super sensitive and plush as heck
Pros: Feels and looks more expensive than the Bomber Z2
Cons: Fixed negative spring not ideal for heavier riders
Sure, the Beryl is heavy and there’s a bottom out clunk if you really slam it hard, and if you weigh more or less than average there’s a strong chance it won’t feel quite as slick.
But it is a super sensitive fork that simply blew me away with its initial floaty feeling. The Beryl cushioned us from that first few millimetres of trail chatter you get during long days on the trails. We ran the fork with one OTT spacer installed (the maximum is two), as per DVO’s recommendations, which should now be available in a setup booklet that comes with the fork.
6. Formula Selva R
You’ll need patience to really delve in to achieve your perfect settings… but it’s worth it
Weight: 2,140g | Offset: 46mm or 51mm (29in), 46mm (27.5in) | Travel: 130-160mm (29in), 120-170mm (27.5in)
Pros: The most broadly adjustable fork out there
Pros: 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.
7. RockShox SID Ultimate
Olympic success besides, its ability to bridge the gap between XC and trail is its biggest win
Weight: 1,326g | Offset: 42mm | Travel: 100, 120mm
Pros: Bring stiffness to the lightweight XC world
Pros: Much more supple than other XC forks
Cons: 29er only
There’s something really enthralling about thrashing your favourite trails on a bike rocking the bare minimum of weight and travel. OK, so 120mm is still plenty, but as we become more and more accustomed to riding 150, 160 and even 170mm travel bikes. Less inertia, less safety net, more buzz when you get it right. It’s certainly addictive. And the RockShox SID lets you get away with riding stuff that you wouldn’t dream of tackling on any previous XC fork.
Given how light the fork is, there’s enough precision to let you get away with railing ruts and slamming it into turns. In back-to-back testing, we’d say it was on par with the Fox 34 Step Cast, yet the SID is 150g lighter. And that weight saving is appreciable too, with a lighter touch to the steering that keeps the front end super agile.
Know your mountain bike forks
1. Rebound damping
This is the damping circuit that controls how fast or slow a fork returns to its sag position after a bump event. Low speed damping is the most common external adjustment.
2. Compression damping
Compression damping controls the rate at which displaced damper fluid is allowed to move during bump events. Low-speed controls low shaft velocities such as body weight shifts and rolling terrain, while high-speed affects harsh impacts like square bump faces and landings. By forcing the oil through ports or shim stacks, damping resistance is generated, with energy converted into heat.
Stanchion diameter is an important metric in the quest for overall stiffness. Thicker fork legs add weight though. Tapered steerer tubes are the norm – 1 1/8in to 1.5in. Lower leg assemblies use cast magnesium to save weight, and all forks here use a Boost 110mm axle spacing with QR-type or hex-key fixing.
4. External adjustment
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 can be a bad thing; they can introduce more scope to mess up your bike’s performance if you’re not confident in what each adjustment offers.
5. 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.
6. Volume spacers
These aren’t used on every fork, but tweaking the size of the (positive) air spring by adding or removing volume spacers (or in-built systems to the same effect) affects the spring curve shape. More spacers increase spring progression and make it harder to bottom out the fork, while fewer spacers make it easier to get full travel. Most forks here have one or two spacers factory-installed.
Fork rake or offset is a key element of steering response and handling, and with the introduction of different options, can now be influenced independently. Most brands now offer two different offsets in each wheel size, ranging from 37mm up to 51mm. There’s a complex interaction at play here, but broadly speaking a shorter offset offers more stability but a more compact wheelbase, and a longer offset sharpens the steering but adds overall length to the bike.