Formula Thirty Five 160mm 2017

Reviews / Forks

At A Glance

Formula originated from the Motorcross scene in 1972 although better known in those days as ‘AIM’. AIM was profoundly respected for their innovative style which Formula has remained faithful to and kept alive, so suspension technology is nothing new for these guys, in fact, these guys arguably have a heritage as long as brands such as Fox or Ohlins.

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Described by Formula as their ‘definitive enduro suspension fork’ I knew exactly what bike I needed to hang these off and I opted for 160mm travel instead of the extended 180mm bigger brother.

At almost 200g lighter than my current forks, they felt featherweight at less than 1800g. However just the weight wasn’t going to sway me that easily, and these forks had a lot to live up to after running Fox 36’s for the past few months. However, to put them in the right category, the Formula 35, with the 35mm stanchions and light weight, is in the same bracket as the Fox 34s and Rockshox Pikes. In short, they have a lot to live up too in such a hotly contested marketplace. My first impression out of the box was the outstanding attention to detail, the dials on the crown would fit nicely on one of those fancy coffee machines.

On The Trail

After bolting these on to my bike it was set up time, the first thing I liked is Formula's take on volume adjustment of the air chamber. Rather than clumsy bits of plastic you can fit or remove, Formula recommends adjusting the volume by adding or removing oil from the air chamber. This is ideal for those who love to play with set up. I left the volume as it was for the first few rides, but quickly found I was reaching full travel a little bit often so added 5cc of oil although kept the air pressure the same. The air chamber also has a secondary spring which is aimed to keep the fork linear throughout its travel (adding oil to the air chamber will make the fork more progressive).

The 35 uses a closed cartridge style damper, this is perfect for servicing as it's not too messy, but what sets this damper apart from others is the ‘IFT’ (Internal Floating technology). Think damper rod with a rose bushing, this means while the fork is under load laterally (cornering, braking) and the shell of the fork may flex, the damper can compensate for that flex without affecting the damping performance.

While this sounds great on paper, I was gobsmacked at how active these forks were under load, even compared to more heavy duty forks. They remained buttery smooth and kept my wheel on the ground when I wanted it to be.

I noticed the most difference however in cornering, and at first, it felt like it could be an issue! I was too far over the front of my bike even with the sag I am used to running. Finally, I got my head round it and was able to adjust my high-speed compression and air volume to keep the front end up.

Something worth noting is that Formula doesn't use a stanchion coating as such, their stanchions are just hard anodised and they rely on the particular oil, which lubricates them. Ballistol Oil has a German heritage and has been used for decades as a ‘wonder oil’ from the military to your everyday household, and It's super slipperiness adds to the 35’s buttery smooth feel.

I am a fast rebound kind of guy; I hate the thought of wasted travel so I like to keep my forks returning as quickly as I can which is a delicate balance, as any more would feel like my sister's pogo stick. There are 21 clicks of rebound available here, and I found seven clicks from fastest suited me best.

Compression comes in 12 clicks from the blue dial, Formula state this external adjustment as low-speed compression. You also have the option of changing the CTS (Compression Tuning System) valve, which comes in the form of three different and easily removable valve heads. Soft, medium and firm. I tried the medium and firm but was finding that on the medium I was running the dial fully clockwise for maximum high speed, so I settled with the firm with five clicks on.
The 35 also features a lockout which has an adjustable threshold, unlike some of Formula's competitor's lockout features this one is firm if you wind the threshold up and made my rather lardy bike climb like a dream on those inevitable road sections.

Formula have also used their own design for the axle set up; it’s a 15mm with a 5mm hex much like the Syntace X12 rear axle. What separates the Formula system from the rest is the removable lever they like to call ILS (integrated locking system) which doubles up as a 5mm hex for any other bolts.

Servicing on the 35 is made easy with predominately using a 4mm Allen key for the most part. I had a quick look inside the lowers out of interest as I had experienced a touch of weep on the wiper seals, after a quick conversation with Formula we agreed this was just assembly oil and nothing to cause concern.

Overall

At a shade under £1000 these are right up there with the likes of DVO, FOX and RockShox. The Formula 35’s hold a strong game against their competitors and even managed to surpass them with some of their innovative features. For me, I would seriously consider the 35 when speccing my next custom build, the buttery smooth feel and active feel under load is what sets these apart.

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This review was in Issue 46 of IMB. For more information visit Formula.

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By Graham Beaumont
Graham Beaumont is a highly respected mountain bike coach, and has travelled the world riding his bike on the best trails the planet has to offer. His laid back attitude is in stark contrast to his hard riding style, and there are very few riders who have such exacting standards and demand so much from their bikes and kit.

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