Ohlins might have struck gold with its latest RFX 36 M2 suspension fork – as long as you're prepared to give it the required TLC
Available with either an air or coil spring, this Ohlins RFX 36 M2 is Öhlins latest 36mm stanchioned fork. It uses the same twin-tube TTX 18 damper as the brand’s DH fork; a bit of kit that will have stunned many bike nerds while watching one of Loic Bruni’s unbelievably smooth race runs.
The air version tested here uses a self-balancing positive/negative, plus a third chamber to alter ramp up. It’s more complex to set up, as the chambers need inflating in order, but consequently it’s more tunable than a fork where you change the air volume with spacers – since the shifting ramp-up piston can affect support more evenly throughout the stroke. Essentially, the main positive air chamber and the bottom-out chamber equalise as the fork compresses, and this happens earlier in the stroke if the pressure in that bottom-out control chamber is lower, and later if it’s higher. Lower pressures, therefore, influence mid-stroke support as well, while higher pressures only really affect bottom-out resistance. It takes patience and experimentation to dial in (I ran around 30psi over the recommendation in the ramp up chamber), but you can tune support exactly where you want it.
The damping cartridge offers 18 clicks of rebound, 16 of low speed compression and four clicks of high-speed compression adjustment. The quality, solid-feeling alloy knobs are nice to use and the toned-down, lighter, M2 damping suits a wider range of riders than the previous TTX22 with its thicker damper piston. That said, at 82kg, while I did use a few clicks of compression, I ran the rebound almost wide open for more fluidity, so lighter riders will probably still want less damping.
Öhlins twin tube design circulates oil from one side of the piston (on compression) to the other (on return) to resist cavitation or degradation of the damping fluid. The high-speed circuit uses a separate factory-set shim stack valving. M2 lowers use only a very small amount of lubricating bath oil and the service interval is just 50hrs, which I’ll talk about more later.
With a redesigned crown, the 36 chassis is stiff enough, and also uses a clever sliding axle to compensate for different hub widths, so the lowers don’t get distorted when tightened, which would increase binding on bushes and the slippery blue SKF seals. Tyre clearance is way better now too, so there’s room for a fatter tyre and essential UK mudguard.
The headline here is that damping performance and control is at least as good as any other single crown fork on the market. Worked hard on certain sections of trail, especially with rapidly repeating hits, it handles flawlessly, tracking every nuance of the ground with precision and the perfect amount of support and sensitivity.
There’s a really rounded feel to the damping too, so absorption from violent impacts such as heavy landings, or really stoving into thick tree roots, is dull and controlled and that mutes any jolts that could upset vision and balance. If you’ve dialled the air spring properly, support through the stroke is also perfectly balanced.
The M2 isn’t as supple over small repeated chatter bumps as a RockShox Lyrik, where hands feel like they ‘float’ over vibrations less, but riding proper terrain or smashing braking bumps, aggressive root webs or repeated deep holes, the M2 actually feels calmer and more comfortable overall. It simply feels like it’s tracking more accurately, which translates to grip in the wet and on off-camber sections.
More than any product reviewed in a long time, this Öhlins fork had me questioning settings while riding. Because I experienced sublime moments when it worked better than any other enduro fork, there was often a sense of FOMO in situations where it ‘only’ delivered comparable performance. Which left me constantly fiddling with settings in search of perfection everywhere. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the M2 excels when pushed to the absolute limits, but doesn’t stand out from its mainstream rivals when ridden in a more relaxed style.
Add to this how the Ohlins RFX 36 M2 needs much more looking after and it’s a less compelling option. The tiny amount of bath oil frequently dries up (the damper and smaller air spring apparently ingest this over time) and without the time and patience to keep on top of it, the fork gets sticky and noticeably less smooth. You don’t exactly notice the M2 being that bad, until you give it a service – with fresh oil and regreased seals – and it comes alive again. If you ride a lot, this means refreshing it every half dozen rides or so, rather than the 50hrs recommended.