The Öhlins RXF 38 M.2 shares features and internals with the fork Loic Bruni has won World Championships on, but does this race pedigree stack up for us?
Just like the RXF 36 we rated highly last year as one of the best mountain bike forks available, this beefier 38mm-legged Öhlins RXF 38 M.2 fork relies on the 18mm-piston TTX damper that’s inside Bruni’s fork. With a slimmer shaft than Öhlins older 22mm design and significantly more fluid and flow, the aim is a softer feel at your hands and much more suppleness and float over choppy terrain than the M.1 version. This increase in sensitivity is also bolstered by a slightly redesigned air spring that sees a proportionally larger negative chamber than before.
TTX adjustment is three-way, with external dials for low-speed rebound and both low and high-speed compression. There’s a functional damping range, so at 82kg we sat mid-way on rebound and low- speed compression, although we tended to run the high-speed compression dial close to fully open. The chunky RXF chassis feels very solid – like RockShox’s Zeb – and also shares the Zeb’s 200mm direct-mount brake boss, so there’s no need for annoying adaptors to run appropriately-sized rotors.
In certain scenarios the Öhlins fork excels, especially when you’re past the sag position and the tyre is getting continuously pummelled on the kind of trails that hurt your hands. Once you’re into the travel, there’s a smooth and rounded feel to the damping with tons of control and reliable consistency – we did 15-minute rough downhill runs in the Lakes with the same completely predictable, smooth and muted response to repeated hefty hits from top to bottom.
One unique kind of terrain the RXF 38 outshone its rivals on is the kind of man- made armoured paths found in the Lakes – where thousands of miniature steps are laid perpendicular to the trail. Like super-rough Alpine enduro tracks, these paths deliver continuous, rapid, fist-sized punches and no other fork is as unfazed by these as the M.2, with weight continuously loaded on the front tyre. Essentially, it does a great job of keeping hands comfortable, which also means that ride height and vision remain steady, making it easy to stay focused on continuously challenging terrain.
Where the Öhlins 38 felt less comfortable and supple, however, was at the top of the stroke – no matter how much we juggled pressure in the three air chambers (that use a separate lower valve to tune ramp-up) to find a smoother balance. When fully extended by the bike being airborne, or simply the wheel momentarily lifting off the ground, there’s always a subtle sharpness in the reconnection that makes it harder to sense exact grip. This ground-tracing element is an essential part of control in the wet and on off-camber sections, and compared to a fork like DVO’s Onyx, it’s harder to sense traction levels and therefore we were less confident really leant into slippery cambers and on greasy surfaces.
The new Öhlins RXF 38 M.2 costs almost double some forks here and yet it’s not as conforming and comfortable either. Then there’s the more convoluted set-up, and the sense that the fork had declined in sensitivity after long days of wet and wild riding, while other forks (with more lubricating oil) suffered less. So while it excelled in some areas, overall we feel you can save money and enjoy better all-round performance with the Fox 38, RockShox Zeb or DVO Onyx.