DT has done a great job with the F535 One; it's stiff, supportive, supple and sleek
With the DT Swiss F535 One fork DT certainly didn’t mess around, packing an array of tech into one of the sleekest exterior skins on the market.
My first suspension fork was a Pace RC35. The year was 1992 and, looking back now, it was a terrible product. It had an elastomer spring that was rock hard in winter and marshmallow soft in summer and a brake routing that made it impossible to set-up with any consistency. But it had lower legs wrapped in carbon and a brace mounted backwards, so as a shallow 17-year-old it was unbelievably cool.
Pace sold the development of the RC35 to DT Swiss back in 2006, and, although much has changed since, the origins of DT’s current OPM fork can be traced back to that pioneering design.
Why am I telling you this? Well, until now, DT Swiss has always been tied to the DNA of that original Pace fork. But with the introduction of the F535 One it has finally been able to start from a completely blank sheet of paper and create its idea of the perfect modern trail/enduro fork.
Before we dive inside, lets examine the aspects that give the F535 One its particularly clean look.
With 35mm diameter stanchions and a conventional front-mounted brace, there’s nothing radical about the foundations of the F535 One. But the bold, boxy crown and brace give it a really muscular look. With all the adjusters and fixing points hidden or covered by blanking plates, there’s nothing to clutter the stocky silhouette.
It’s been done partly to streamline the looks, but also to force you to eliminate the faffing and tweaking and concentrate on the riding. To do that it there’s a comprehensive instruction book in the box and companion online set-up app.
Inside, DT has done things a little differently from the norm. To begin with, although it’s a self-balancing air fork, there’s also a small coil spring at the bottom of the air piston to help lower the breakaway force and improve sensitivity.
Tuning the progression of the air spring is done with volume spacers. The fork is shipped with two inside, and there’s one more in the box.
While most forks use speed sensitive dampers – oil is diverted through the high or low speed circuits depending on the shaft speed – DT Swiss has designed a position sensitive damper for the F535 One. This is nothing new in the off-road vehicle arena, but pretty rare on mountain bikes – Manitou dabbled with it during the early Noughties. While DT doesn’t fully explain how its new Plushport system works, this is the gist of it; in the first third of the travel, there is minimal damping and oil is free to circulate through the cartridge. As the damper rod slides deeper into the travel it begins to close off the Plushport orifices until, at 50 per cent travel, they are completely blocked and all the oil must flow through the firmer shim stack. Thus damping is light at the start of the stroke, and builds through the mid-stroke to provide support and control on big hits.
There’s externally adjustable low-speed rebound and compression as well as a three-position platform lever (with the option to control it remotely on the handlebar). All the adjustments are made, and covers removable, with a T10 Torx key hidden within the axle QR lever.
Because set-up is critical to the performance of the position sensitive damper, we turned to DT’s recommended settings to get started. As with most advice, it’s only as good as the information you feed in. There are three different riding styles to choose from, and initially we went straight for the Performance-orientated option. However, after extensive testing, our own preferred set-up more closely matches that of the middle, Balanced style. Performance-orientated was simply far too firm, and we were achieving only 115mm of travel (of 150mm) with two volume spacers. Once we dropped the air pressure to the Balanced setting, this went up to 125mm, and finally, after removing one of the two volume spacers, we got to 135mm of travel with the final 15mm reserved for butt-clenching hang-ups and monster hucks to flat.
The damping is also noticeably progressive, so combined with a rampy air-spring means the F535 One can easily be made too harsh in the mid-stroke, as we did, causing deflection from obstacles and soreness in palms over long descents.
Once we’d speeded up the rebound damping (we ended up at +13 clicks at 74psi, four clicks faster than recommended) and dialled out some progression from the air spring, we arrived at a sensible, usable set-up. In this guise the F535 One allowed us to go flat out – holding up well through the mid-stroke and offering excellent small-bump performance. It steers with precision and tracks accurately but doesn’t feel punishingly stiff. In fact, on an e-bike we found it can give a bit of fore-aft flutter on high speed washboard. Speaking of which, the DT’s progression was a real asset for e-biking, where the fork remains propped up even loaded up under all the extra chassis mass.
So to the crunch point; is it better than our benchmark RockShox Lyrik RC2? DT has done a great job with the F535 One; it’s stiff, supportive, supple and sleek. We could also ride it just as fast as the Lyrik, but the RockShox remains calmer in the mid-stroke, in our opinion it’s just as supple and it’s easier to find a good set-up with.