A decent fork is essential for getting the most out of mountain biking.
We’ve tested a whole lot of mountain bike suspension forks and here are the very best mountain bike suspension forks in XC, trail and enduro.
What fork will fit your bike?
Work out your standards. Not all forks will fit – or suit – all bikes. There are varied wheel sizes, axle types, fork steerers and amounts of suspension travel that need to be observed and adhered to.
Here are the five standards that you need to get right…
There are three wheel sizes kicking around the mountain bike world: 26in, 27.5in (also known as 650B) and 29in. You cannot mix and match forks and wheels. The fork must be designed for your bike’s wheel size. If you’re not sure what wheel size your bike is, look at the tyres. The wheel size will be written on the side somewhere.
These days pretty much all mountain bikes accept the tapered steerer standard. Some older bikes will only accept 1 1/8th steerers.
The majority of modern mountain bikes will have 15mm bolt-thru axles. Older and/or cheaper bikes may have 9mm quick release. Some older and/or longer travel bikes may have 20mm bolt-thru axles.
Modern mountain bikes and forks will have Post Mount disc brake callipers. Older bikes and forks may have I.S. mount.
Amount of travel
Bike frames are designed around a fairly specific amount of suspension fork travel. Don’t be tempted to run a long travel fork in a frame designed around a short travel fork. You’ll seriously foul up the bike’s handling.
You don’t have to stay rigidly within the same mm of travel. You can usually get away with running a fork with up to 20mm longer travel in a bike before the handling goes screwy.
Don’t ever run a fork with shorter travel than the frame is designed for, the steering will be dangerously twitchy and your lowered bottom bracket height will result in incessant pedal strikes.
Choose your spec
Once you have worked out (and written down!) all the standards that you need your new fork to have – eg. 27.5″ wheel, tapered steerer, 15mm axle, Post Mount disc, 140mm travel – it’s then time to decide what features you want/need on your new fork.
More features cost more money. More features can be confusing. More features to go wrong. More features can weigh more. But a lot of riders do get more out of their suspension by having more features.
Be honest with yourself about what sort of rider/person you are. Even pared-down forks with minimal features are really good these days. And if you don’t know how to adjust extra features properly you can end up with badly setup fork that works worse than a basic fork.
If you don’t yet know much about how to set up or adjust suspension then read or bookmark our How to set up mountain bike suspension guide. It’s full of useful information and advice that will help you get the most out of your fork.
Here are four things to look out for…
Rebound is a standard adjustment option on 140mm suspension forks, but only the most expensive forks have low and high-speed compression adjusters. A budget fork like the RockShox Yari has a basic compression lockout.
Also known as volume reducers, these allow you to manipulate the spring curve. Adding more tokens creates more progression and support, removing does the reverse. Some forks have one or two tokens pre-fitted.
Most forks are air-sprung, so they’re adjustable to different rider weights and riding styles with a shock pump. Pushing back against the main air spring inside the fork is a negative spring, which helps the fork break away, and improves small-bump compliance. The negative element is either a second air chamber, that automatically equalises when you charge the main spring, or a small coil.
To keep the weight low, most trail forks have internally butted, aluminium stanchions (upper tubes), which are either 34 or 35mm diameter.
The best mountain bike suspension forks
The suspension fork is a critical component, and can make a huge difference to the ride and handling of your bike. It’s also an expensive upgrade, so being informed and making the right choice when buying a new fork is essential.
Because mountain biking is a broad church we’ve separated our forks into three categories: XC, trail and enduro.
The best mountain bike suspension forks for cross-country
Suspension forks with 100-120mm of travel and 32mm stanchions.
RockShox SID Charger World Cup
The SID might have gained a little middle-age spread thanks to a chassis based on RockShox’s more burly forks but the pay-off here is a fork that is more capable. Not only in terms of steering stiffness but in the silky smooth performance of the Charger 2 damper. Which is why most riders should ignore the weight penalty and opt for the SID.
Fox Float 32 Factory Step Cast
For the die-hard XC racer, any of the slight stiffness issues and firmer compression are a fair price to pay for the 32’s sheer lack of mass.
The best mountain bike suspension forks for trail riding
Suspension forks with 130-150mm of travel and 34-35mm stanchions.
Fox Float 34 Factory
Light and affordable would normally be enough to win any grouptest, but the overall ride quality of the Fox 34 is actually better than any of its rivals too. If you want the best performing mid-travel trail fork in either 27.5 or 29in wheelsize, this is definitely the one we’d recommend.
There’s plenty of mid-stroke support in the Beryl too, we never felt like it was collapsing mid-berm and that probably speaks for the strength of the negative coil, and there’s decent progression at the end of the stroke to help you pop the bike around. The Beryl is a top-performing fork at a low price, incredibly supple yet with decent support and damping, and if you happen to land in the average weight band it’s worth every penny. DVO’s best fork to date.
Cane Creek Helm Air
For a first effort, Cane Creek has totally nailed this fork — it’s mega adjustable if you’re a tinkerer, but it also performs superbly if you just want to fit it and forget it. And it’s still running smoothly after a maintenance-free hammering through a particularly dismal UK winter. Only the mechanism that secures the D-Lock axel lets it down as it’s has become increasing sticky and difficult to install now that dirt has worked its way in.
RockShox Yari RC
The Yari is one of the stiffest forks in the lower half of the draw. Indeed, its burly, bombproof chassis really helped when picking through gnarly rock gardens or stuffing the bike into banked turns. The Yari didn’t feel as stable as other costlier forks, 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 best mountain bike suspension forks for enduro racing
Suspension forks with 160-180mm of travel and 36mm stanchions.
RockShox Lyrik RC
The RockShox Lyric RC2 is super user friendly and not just in it’s ease of set-up. With minimal friction and amazing small sensitivity it’s easier on your body too, but it still retains the support you need to load the front end for grip, and to stop you getting ejected if you read the terrain wrong. The Lyrik has always been a force to be reckoned with in enduro, but the new RC2 version put it squarely on the top spot of the podium.
Manitou Mattoc Pro
The Mattoc Pro is hugely adjustable and easily the best entry-level 160mm fork on test. The supple, coil-like feel, kept the fork planted on the slippery, flat trails, but the IRT still gives plenty of support on steep stuff. Even smashing through the rocks, the Mattoc Pro was totally unfazed, and we never had any issues with excessive diving or harshness in the damping.
Fox Float 36 Factory Grip2
It’s got stacks of support and somewhat amazingly you can still achieve full travel on the biggest hits without the fork ever feeling too soft or wallowly off the top. That’s a rare trait indeed on any air-sprung fork and it’s what makes the Fox 36 the best choice here for riding steep, natural woodland tracks. Dropping into holes, clattering across roots, it just eats it up, the bike and rider remaining perfectly composed throughout.
Best mountain bike suspension forks conclusion
Best mountain bike suspension fork for XC: RockShox SID Charger World Cup.
Best mountain bike suspension fork for trail riding: Fox Float 34 Factory.
Best mountain bike suspension fork for enduro racing: RockShox Lyrik RC2.
Such is the level of performance out there in the market, we’d happily run any of the forks in this test on the front of our bike.
They are all genuinely good products in their own right, separated by relatively minor variations in price and performance. Honestly, we had a tough time picking a winner.