As ridden by XCO Olympic champion, Tom Pidcock, SR Suntour's flagship cross-country fork is a viable alternative to RockShox and Fox
SR Suntour has been striving hard to dispense with the image of a brand mostly found on entry-level hardtails. Employing a considerable roster of high profile riders, including Olympic gold medallist Tom Pidcock, is definitely helping. Add in a new range of forks and shocks, and the brand is starting to transform into a legit alternative to the big two. If you’re looking for the best suspension forks for XC, trail or enduro, be sure to check out our buyer’s guide.
The Axon-Werx34 sits as SR Suntour’s flagship fork in the ‘hard’ XC/down-country category; think the top-rated RockShox SID and Fox 34 Step Cast as its rivals. Suntour has been busy fettling with the design, and there have been a swathe of improvements over the last version of the fork. All intended to get it to compete with the key players.
As the name implies, Suntour has endowed the Axon-Werx with 34mm stanchions – an improvement over the older model’s 32mm diameter. The crown and steerer is a one-piece, hollow carbon affair that reduces weight and adds a little high-end glitz to the package. It’s not as light as its rivals from RockShox and Fox, but it still weighs in at a respectable 1,625g in stripped-down guise (1,717g with lockout lever and other accessories).
The RL RC Piston Compensator System (PCS) is Suntour’s top-level damping circuit and controls rebound and compression rates. As the initials indicate, low-speed rebound and compression adjustment are present; both are externally adjustable on the fly. This system aims to prevent air and oil mixing (cavitation) and thus improve the consistency of performance. A new Equalizer system employs a negative air spring rather than the coil version of old. Breaking down the technical description, the Equalizer automatically balances the positive and negative springs, keeping the initial small-bump response as Suntour intended, regardless of rider weight.
I opted to test the 120mm version of the Axon-Werx34 and, during the testing period, went from the extremes of XC racing to riding some pretty lairy South Wales trails sprinkled with hits and drops.
Setting up the fork with the suggested 25% sag, it was noticeable from the first ride the sensitive and buttery smooth beginning stroke. This small bump sensitivity is as good as anything exhibited by its rivals, and for the first few rides had me checking that I wasn’t losing air, such is the fork’s willingness to get moving. Unlike some forks, where the pay-off for small bump sensitivity is a propensity to blow through its travel, the Axon-Werx34 isn’t lacking in mid-stroke support. A subtle but noticeable ramp up in progression kicks in around mid-travel, keeping you from diving too deep, too quickly. The good news is that this typical progression doesn’t come at the expense of the last 10/20mm; I could still get the fork to use full travel on more significant drops or when encountering hidden rock gardens. The ability to adjust low-speed compression gives you the ability to dial in more support if you require it. I ran it fully open for proper trail riding (and used the lockout on climbs), but dialled in at least three clicks when racing XC and on fast training rides.
Suntour has also increased the positive air chamber size, so it’s now possible to fit up to seven volume spacers to dial in the end stroke behaviour. Suntour supplies five, and after a bit of messing, I settled on using all five to give me the best performance for my weight (75kg) and riding style.
Steering precision is also pretty impressive for a slightly overbuilt XC fork. Whilst it isn’t quite as precise as the RockShox SID with Torque Caps fitted, it is capable of tracking a line on a chattery trail without any noodly vagueness or twang.
Whether you like them or not, Suntour supplies the Axon-Werx34 with a remote lockout lever. Curiously this looks like the same lever as found on much lower spec forks, and it feels a little plasticky. However, it is incredibly intuitive, with an action that only requires a slight nudge with your index finger to release – it also performed flawlessly throughout the test period.
Suntour’s unique QLC axle is, in equal measures, ingenious and infuriating. It works using a self-expanding, wedged collet end piece combined with a quick-release lever. You simply push the axle through and flip the lever in place for the fastest wheel removal/install I’ve ever used. The downside is that the collet does get gritty, and sometimes it can take a couple of goes to get the technique right when pushing it through. The design also allows you to set it on either side of the fork.
Suntour also includes an effective ‘mini’ mudguard that fits seamlessly around the arch. It’s longer than many and extends forward, so it has been well used over the last few months.
If you only know Suntour as a ‘budget’ brand, you will be shocked at the price. Costing £1,019, it sits between RockShox’s SID Ultimate (£991) and Fox’s 34 Float Factory SC (£1,119), so it is definitely a considered purchase. Whilst it doesn’t stand head and shoulders above these two in terms of performance, it represents a genuinely viable third option with a ride quality that, in my opinion, is equal to both. However, the lighter, cheaper RockShox SID still remains the obvious choice in this category.