It’s a fast-changing market, but for now at least, the Fox Float 38 Performance Elite is our new performance benchmark. It comes at a cost though
Fox’s latest Float 38 offers travel between 160-180mm to tackle terrain even spicier than the lighter 36. This black-legged Fox Float 38 Performance Elite model is £150 less than the Factory version, which means no gold Kashima- coated stanchions, but we’ve consciously chosen it to be closer in price to its key rival – and one of the best mountain bike forks for enduro out there – the cheaper RockShox Zeb Ultimate.
Latest-generation Fox forks have been totally redesigned with a chunkier crown and more rounded magnesium casting with bulging brace. The Öhlins-style axle system uses a floating sleeve that allows you to precisely align the lower legs to reduce any binding or friction between upper and lower legs. Bear in mind you have to do this every time you remove the front wheel, however. Fox’s new chassis also incorporates ‘channels’ and air-release valves on the back of the lowers; the former circulating internal bath oil to continually lubricate bushings and foam rings for extra fluidity, while the bleeders expel any air pressure that can build inside the lower legs and prevent full travel (or reduce sensitivity and responsiveness).
What’s been impressive in long-term use is the 38 wiper seal foam rings remaining soaked in oil after months of use, which has to be a factor in why the latest Fox forks work so well for so much longer – previously an area in which RockShox always trumped Fox, but something we’ll now have to call a draw.
Inside the fatter legs is Fox’s latest top-tier GRIP four-way adjustable damper. For 2021, the brand’s variable-valve-control system is extended from just the high-speed rebound circuit, to include compression damping as well. The ingenious design works by way of a little leaf spring that rotates to adjust the fulcrum (balancing point) of the oil flow shims, thus fine-tuning valving without having to rebuild the entire damper.
External adjustability offers user control over both high and low shaft speeds in both directions, and Fox’s recommended settings are pretty accurate and also work over a broad range; something that will much better suit lighter riders who might have previously found Fox forks to be overdamped.
The 38’s air spring uses a big negative chamber to ‘suck’ the fork into its travel and ensure pitter-patter tracking that traces contour and edges accurately, and Fox has totally nailed the balance between this and the support of the positive air chamber that holds up the rider’s weight. Even if you’re not picky about volume spacers, at all times the fork feels like it’s at the right place in the stroke, whether pushing into the spring to hop across holes or small gaps, loading into g-out turns or punching into big square- edge bumps and landing jumps.
Combine this with the polished damping that always dulls sharp hits and the overall ride quality is super-smooth; there’s a seamless feel from the suppleness off the top, through the supportive, but never harsh mid-stroke to a largely unnoticeable bottom-out. It’s possible to set the 38 up so you might bottom the fork once on a hard run, which is just about ideal, and it doesn’t feel especially sensitive to exact settings or a perfectly- tuned air spring. In contrast to this, closest rivals RockShox’s Zeb and the DVO Onyx rarely access the last 10mm or so of travel unless you slam the fork into the ground.
It’s not cheap though. Even this second-tier version is still almost £250 more (and 80g or so heavier) than RockShox’s sorted Zeb. Which makes the Factory version a luxury most of us don’t need – the smart money goes on this Fox Float 38 Performance Elite version as we couldn’t tell the difference between the blinging gold Kashima and these black lowers in the real world.