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 performers in the 140mm to 160mm travel models.
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.
The best 140mm mountain bike suspension forks
RockShox Pike RCT3
There are more travel options in the Pike platform, it’s a stiffer fork, and setting it up is child’s play but the Fox 34 is lighter, closer in price and, crucially, has the edge when it comes to damping performance.
RockShox Yari RC
With its 35mm stanchions and deeper crown, the Yari is stiff, but because it’s essentially a 180mm fork stepped down to 140mm, it is carrying a bit of extra weight.
Fox Float 34 Factory
X-Fusion Trace Roughcut
X-Fusion Trace Roughcut is stiff, a reasonable weight, and has a top spec damper but needs a system for adjusting the spring progression to really challenge the big boys.
Öhlins RXF 34
A quality suspension fork from Öhlins with adjustable spring progression. But it’s weight and damping make it less suitable for lighter riders.
140mm suspension fork conclusion
The well-priced X-Fusion Trace scores even better on value. It has a more sophisticated damper with a wider range of adjustment and more scope for tuning. It’s only really let down by the basic spring system. It has an air positive with a coil negative, and although the system is usable, to really boost performance we’d like to see a self-adjusting positive and negative spring and a way to tune the ramp-up and bottom-out.
The Fox 34 is not the stiffest fork here, but at 140mm travel it’s stiff enough and the ride quality is a big step up. It’s supple, has good mid-travel support and can easily cope with big, ugly hits and high-speed chatter. With the new spring assembly, adding tokens is dead easy, and it’s future-proofed too — buy a replacement air spring assembly for about £32 and you can adjust the travel in 10mm jumps from 110 to 160mm.
The best 160mm mountain bike suspension forks
Cane Creek Helm Air
For a first effort, Cane Creek has totally nailed this fork; it’s mega adjustable if you need it to be, but also performs superbly for all riders, not just tweakers or hard chargers. It’s still running smoothly after a UK winter with zero maintenance too.
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.
RockShox Yari RC
This is an excellent 160mm fork for the money — stiff, reasonably light and you couldn’t set it up badly if you tried.
SunTour Durolux R2C2
The level of adjustment on this fork is amazing; unfortunately, there are a couple of niggles. It’s noisy and the Q-Loc axle is truly annoying.
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.
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.
Fox 36 Factory Series
Surprisingly, with 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.
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 Solo Air
It’s easy 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.
160mm suspension fork conclusion
In the longer travel 160mm forks, the more affordable Manitou Mattoc Pro just shaded it. 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.
The higher end 160mm fork winner was the superb RockShox Lyrik RCT3 Solo Air. It’s ridiculously easy to set up and an absolute bargain. The Cane Creek Helm Air is worthy of a shout too but its price and adjustability marks it out as one for the confident suspension tuners out there.
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.
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…
1. Wheel size
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.
2. Fork steerer
These days pretty much all mountain bikes accept the tapered steerer standard. Some older bikes will only accept 1 1/8th steerers.
3. Axle types
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.
4. Disc mounts
Modern mountain bikes and forks will have Post Mount disc brake callipers. Older bikes and forks may have I.S. mount.
5. 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…
1. External controls
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.
2. Volume spacers
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.
3. Air spring
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.
4. Stanchion diameter
To keep the weight low, most trail forks have internally butted, aluminium stanchions (upper tubes), which are either 34 or 35mm diameter.