Comprehensive update for RockShox's premium forks and shocks focuses on reducing harshness and improving adjustability and control
With multiple internal and external updates, the MY23 RockShox range promises to be its best yet. Find out what’s new and how the changes perform on the trail.
Looking for the full range update overview, plus prices, spec and availability? Check out our guide to everything you need to know about the MY23 RockShox range.
RockShox MY23 need to know
- Comprehensive overhaul of RockShox Pike, Lyrik and Zeb forks as well as Deluxe and Super Deluxe shocks
- New Charger 3 damper with independent high-speed and low-speed compression adjustment
- Buttercups rubber bumpers reduce harshness from trail buzz
- New DebonAir+ air spring with metal construction
- Longer bushings for increased stiffness
- Pressure Relief Valves release air trapped in lowers
- New RC2T shock damper with independent high-speed and low-speed damping
- Newly introduced Hydraulic Bottom Out control
80 pages. That’s how long the press release runs to for the new MY23 RockShox suspension line-up. Considering brevity is one of the pillars of a good press release, it just goes to show how much is going on with RockShox’s updated range of premium forks and shocks.
Pike, Lyrik and Zeb all get new chassis, dampers and air springs, while on the shock side there are new dampers, a hydraulic bottom out control and a variety of air cans to choose from. Suffice to say, trying to get to grips with all the changes is enough to induce a tech coma. For a run down of how the updates are distributed across the range, check out our separate MY23 RockShox news story.
Rather than dive into the minutiae of shims and valves and oil pathways, let’s get back to basics; what did RockShox want to achieve? In its own words the goals were: ‘deliver unprecedented control’; ‘mute trail chatter’; and ‘win the fight against friction’. All this alongside a quest for real tunability – giving tangible adjustment of suspension parameters to help riders achieve their ultimate set-up.
RockShox Zeb Ultimate fork – Updated chassis
Outwardly the new Zeb Ultimate shares its chassis with the Flight Attendant model launched last year, minus the electronics of course. In fact the Zeb, Lyrik and Pike all get the new chassis introduced at the Flight Attendant level in 2021, which means updated angular aesthetics alongside a claimed extra 20% torsional stiffness, Pressure Relief Valves on the back of the lowers to release trapped air, and Buttercups at the base of each leg to reduce high frequency trail buzz.
Many of us are familiar with excess pressure bleeders on the lower legs since Fox introduced them on its 38 and 36 platforms in 2020 (those with really good memories may even recall sticking a zip-tie down the stanchion), but the ButterCups are a new concept worthy of greater explanation.
ButterCups take the sting out of the trail
Much like in your car’s suspension top mounts, or, as Patrick Bateman would probably testify, chainsaw buffers, rubber is used to help isolate the moving component from the rest of the machine and the operator. In this case, the ends of the air spring and damper shafts sit sandwiched between two rubber donuts, which are housed inside gold anodised cylinders.
The donuts allow a small amount of vertical movement (4mm) and, according to RockShox, they reduce the severity of small, high-frequency vibrations by over 20%. Specifically we’re talking about a range between 6-10Hz, or 6-10 times per second – think the off-road equivalent of driving over cat’s eyes, or as RockShox suggests, riding over horses’ hoofprints in dried mud.
RockShox has increased the lower bushing length by 53%, maximising overlap and minimising friction – because the uppers and lowers remain better aligned through their travel, binding is reduced and they run more smoothly.
New all-alloy air-spring assembly aims to maximise travel while retaining sensitivity
Going back to the drawing board has allowed the engineers to look closely at the desired spring curves, with the new forks gaining an updated DebonAir+ air spring. Nylon parts have been replaced with machined alloy, improving production tolerances and maximising air volumes, while extensive work has gone into the design of the air spring seal head and the dimple that balances the positive and negative air chambers.
A new shock-inspired seal assembly helps reduce friction and improve consistency, and along with other changes, is said to give the air spring a softer initial response while still giving good support and access to all the available travel.
RockShox has been tinkering with the air springs – particularly on Lyrik – for a few years now, and in terms of ride feel, the new fork sits somewhere between the original (soft) 2018 DebonAir and the last generation (2020) version, with its higher ride height. As Zeb has a large air volume, pressures are low (I ran 64psi) which means small changes in air pressure can have a big effect on ride feel.
Charger 3 damper – no more bladder
The most significant development – and this applies to Lyrik and Pike as well as Zeb – is the Charger 3 damper. Completely new from the foot nut up, Charger 3 moves to an internal floating piston pressurised by a coil spring instead of the bladder system used by the Charger 2.1.
In fact RockShox has entirely moved away from the bladder design on all MY23 forks. This is because the IFP brings a more consistent pressure to the damping circuit, it’s self-bleeding – making it more consistent over longer periods – and doesn’t require such tight sealing, allowing for reduced friction.
It’s worth noting that Fox’s Grip2 damper, found on its Factory and Performance Elite forks, also uses a coil-sprung IFP.
While Charger 3 gets high and low-speed compression control, just like the Charger 2.1, RockShox wanted to reduce what’s known as cross-talk, or in other words, the influence that one adjustment has on the other. Make a change to one aspect of damping with Charger 3 and it will only have an impact on that parameter.
Alongside this goal, was the aim of creating a real usable range of damping, where each click makes a noticeable and consistent difference, and simplifying the dials so you don’t get lost in clicks.
New approach to dialling-in your damping
On Charger 3 there is a middle, or neutral setting, and you either add or subtract damping from there. For HSC there are five clicks (neutral and +/-2), LSC has 15 and LSR has 18.
Why no high-speed rebound adjustment as offered by Fox? Because RockShox believes the trade-off between added complexity and improved control is less significant on the rebound side as the two adjustments can have a lot more influence on each other and the range of shaft speeds are much closer than they are on the compression side.
While we’re on the subject of the rebound circuit, there’s a new ‘silencer’ valve that deflects the oil flow and prevents it spraying into the chamber, which reduces the slurping noise. After all, a quiet bike is a fast bike.
Two final details carried over from the Flight Attendant forks are the bolt-in dropout adaptors that let you run a hub without Torque Caps and still get the axle to align with the hub, and the specially formulated Maxima Plush Dynamic Suspension Lube.
Super Deluxe Ultimate shock
With its new RC2T (Rebound, Compression x2 and Threshold) damper, the new Super Deluxe Ultimate air and coil shocks aim to give you increased control over tuning.
There are five base tunes available to manufacturers when speccing a bike, and RockShox says a full sweep of the adjustment dials can get you from the midpoint of the next lightest tune to the midpoint of the next firmer tune, without fitting a different shock.
Once again, cross-talk has been significantly reduced, so each compression adjuster has more of an independent effect. Total clicks have been reduced and the shock ships in a mid, or neutral setting, so you turn it towards the + symbol for more damping and the – symbol for less.
There are five clicks for low-speed (the big dial) and five for high-speed (a 3mm hex key), and each click is said to have a more consistent and appreciable effect on what you actually feel on the trail.
Hydraulic Bottom Out control softens the big blows
There’s a new kid in town when it comes to end stroke progression – Hydraulic Bottom Out. Found on some EXT and Push shocks, this technology aims to restrict the movement of damping fluid in the last 20% of the stroke. On air shocks the HBO is fixed, but on the coil version you can actually adjust it, giving very precise control over end stroke characteristics.
How do you know if your shock has it? Just look for the pyramid stack of lines at the base of the shock body.
Can-do attitude to spring curve tuning
By using the damping circuit to reduce harsh bottom outs, riders can now use the air volume to adjust the spring curve, playing with initial sensitivity and levels of support.
To this end there are two air can options; progressive and linear. The progressive can has a bigger negative air volume (though less than a MegNeg) and more mid-stroke support, while the linear air can is the better option for bikes with progressive linkages. Regardless of type, the air cans can be tuned with Bottomless Tokens and Negative Tokens depending on the level of support and progression you desire.
As with the Charger 3 damper in the new RockShox forks, only low-speed rebound is user adjustable with the RC2T shocks.
How it Rides
The first thing that struck me about the new MY23 RockShox suspension was its soft initial touch. I’d probably best describe it as akin to fitting softer compound tyres front and rear, or letting 3psi out of my tyres, so it’s subtle but appreciable.
Can credit for this be traced back to ButterCups, or is it a collective symptom of many small improvements throughout the chassis, damper and air-spring? That’s really difficult to say as it’s impossible to isolate just one feature at a time, and largely it’s irrelevant too, as it’s the overall effect that’s important. Suffice to say that there is a definite gain in sensitivity with the new Zeb fork and Super Deluxe Ultimate shock.
Other testers here at MBR that have ridden the new products concur that these improvements can be felt on the trail in terms of reduced harshness and vibrations at the hand and better grip, particularly when cornering and you’re loaded up and pushing into the dirt.
When it comes to the complex and often confusing task of setting up your suspension, the new Charger 3 and RC2T have really stepped it up. They offer the ability to transform the performance and behaviour of your bike in a methodical manner but manage to be straightforward and intuitive at the same time.
For example, adding low-speed damping really stabilises the geometry of the bike and adds support, but doesn’t kick you into the weeds over the slightest bump, while opening it up generates noticeably more grip. One or two clicks difference can be felt on the trail, but the bike still remains rideable at both extremes of adjustment.
RockShox has certainly delivered on its promise of reduced harshness. Feedback is filtered, chatter is muted and I started to worry less about small bumps and slim roots bisecting the trail, as there was enough consistency in the grip that only the bigger holes and chunkier tubers disrupted my flow.
Full travel was achievable at the back, although I never registered any of those events thanks to that hydraulic bottom out. Land deep off a jump or drop and the bike feels ready to go immediately – there’s no need to wait for everything to settle down before getting back on the gas or making a change of direction.
Up front, however, I’m still a little shy of achieving full travel. There’s around 13mm left on the table that I’m yet to unlock, so my to-do-list includes trying it without a Bottomless Token and reducing the pressure slightly but adding a touch more low-speed compression, then seeing which one feels better.
For reference (I’m 76kg, 5ft 10in), fitted to a MY21 Specialized Turbo Levo Pro S4, I ended up as follows (all from full closed):
- Air pressure: 64psi
- Tokens 1
- HSC -2
- LSC -4
- LSR -11
- Air pressure 192psi
- Air can Linear
- Sag 27%
- HSC -2
- LSC -1
- LSR -10
It’s still early days for the new RockShox stuff – I’ve only managed to get a few rides in on the new bits – but first impressions are good and this is a significant step up in performance from the previous generation. The Zeb is now much more in line with the Fox 38 Performance Elite in terms of damping control and tunability, yet it’s still £120 cheaper than its rival. Likewise, the new rear shocks have risen to a level where they can compete with the likes of the Fox Float X2, but they’re £160 less at full SRP. We’ve got more testing to do to find out which delivers the ultimate performance, but whichever way the verdict falls, there’s no doubt that the result is going to be tighter than ever.