Fox Racing Shox 36 Factory GRIP2 2018 Mountain Bike Review

Fox Racing Shox 36 Factory GRIP2 2018

Reviews / Forks

Fox Racing Shox 847,321

At A Glance

Just when you thought you were getting your head around 2018 Fox decides the future is coming early and drops some 2019 goods on our laps. Given I barely know what I'm up to next week, 2019 feels a long way off! Still, never one to sniff at some fresh produce, these rather lovely 36s arrived in time to celebrate spring (2018 that is).

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Now Fox's 36 platform has been the hard-hitting riders choice for some time now, with their top end factory models always gaining lustful glances with their golden Kashima coated stanchions. They occupy a position at the top of the market and are hugely desirable objects, even from a purely aesthetic standpoint.

For 2019 they remain very similar to the casual glance with 36mm stanchions of course and this model here featuring the 'don't you know I'm sponsored?' orange lowers. These forks are in 160mm mode and 29er wheel size but are available in a plethora of travel and wheel size options up to 180mm travel and even 26inch models for those keeping it real.

Crucially, for 2019 the 36s get a new damper in the form of the FIT GRIP2 Damper, which allows for tuning of both compression and rebound damping at high and low speeds. This 4-way damper control uses their Variable Valve Control to give better rebound control and more precise compression adjustment. With reduced friction all round, the new forks aim to give the level of control, adjustability and sensitivity achieved with their X2 rear shock.

With all this damping control, matched up with easy to add air volume spacers, the forks have almost limitless permutations of settings. This means the forks should be perfectly tuneable to any rider and any conditions, and with a healthy price tag, this is what we'd expect!

On The Trail

Sliding the forks into the frame for the first time gives a chance to feel the solid and chunky robustness of the 36s. They are a beautiful piece of kit, and the gleam of the Kashima and the Factory lowers really hit the mark. However, looks alone don't make a fork, and proof can only be in the riding.

The most striking thing about the forks on first use is the super supple, buttery smooth action in the first part of the stroke. This low friction action is impressive and Fox have claimed, and delivered on this part. Although the movement is active straight away, this doesn't continue deep into the travel meaning small sensitivity is preserved without a wallowing feeling.

This soft initial action works well. Even on a big slack bike whilst winching uphill, you feel that the fork is trying hard to keep the front wheel on the ground, something that these forks do very well.

Increasing the speed and hitting something rough it becomes apparent that Fox has maintained the standard and they feel familiar in their performance to previous incarnations. No surprises here. They give a feeling of invincibility as you hold on and smash through whatever gets in your way. Their stiffness and ability to absorb any obstacle really inspires confidence.

The challenge really comes when trying to get the perfect set up on these highly adjustable dampers. Sure the base settings get you out of the starting blocks, but with so much tune-ability and with a hefty price tag, nothing but perfect should be acceptable. Base settings give a comfortable feel but experimentation is required to make them really shine.

My set up is usually stiff with pretty fast rebound to suit my steep rocky trails. Initially rebound was a bit slow on the base so a bit of reduced rebound damping was required and more pressure to keep the front end higher in the travel. This last part of travel proved tricky to gain and I experimented with dropping an air spacer out and upping the pressure to get that final travel. This worked pretty well and was surprised as I tend to run at least one spacer normally.

With so many clicks of compression available it's possible to get incremental changes, but also with the wide range set-up should be possible for lightweight and heavyweight riders alike.

While tuning the last part of the travel needed a bit of work, the initial suppleness proved to be really where this fork shines. The muddy slop that has characterised this winter proved this perfectly with the 36s trying so very hard to keep traction regardless of the lack of friction. Hammering into flat slippery corners you can load the front and rely on the fork to find just how much grip is available. If the rear shock isn't a match it can feel like riding a hardtail as the back can't keep up!

The buttery smooth suppleness is the balancing act with the forks. I've had the issue before on the Nukeproof Fox Factory equipped Mega, where getting the balance between ground sucking traction and playful poppy riding is hard. Fortunately, I found I could happily add some pressure and reduce rebound damping without sacrificing the light touch. Stiffness also needs to be mentioned but not for long, as the chassis is known to be capable enough for the fastest riders in the world. So yes, they're stiff and you'll struggle to find the limit.

I could talk all day about tuning options, but it's safe to say you can get almost any feel you like, depending on riding style, terrain and weight. That is really what you get with this level of fork; pro-level tuning for the average consumer. For some, this may be too much, and the complexity may drive you crazy, but for those who like to tinker and makes things 'just so' these are the business. Want to fit and forget? Sure, they'll be great, but you won't get the full experience.

A mention should go to the tuning experience, which although complex is super easy. Volume spacers clip in and out with a push and merely require the air to be emptied and a big spanner to get involved. Compression and rebound are simple, there are big, easy to use knobs at the top and bottom of the damper leg that work even in muddy gloves.

Another issue from previous 36s has been a top out clunk, but I have not heard any sign of this through the testing so far, which is great to see this having been addressed.

Overall

You couldn't get more pro unless you hired a personal mechanic to follow you to the trailhead. Almost infinitely adjustable, the 36s give all you could ask for in a fork and more. Tune them to the conditions, the track or simply your mood, they will reward an analytical approach to tuning and give back any effort you put into setting them up. Sure they have a price tag, but perfect damping comes at a cost and these are about as good as you can get.

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This review was in Issue 53 of IMB.

For more information visit Fox Racing Shox

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By Ewen Turner
Ewen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.

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