Modern cross-country (XC) mountain biking is all about speed. Super light bikes with World Cup-winning pedal efficiency will complement an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness. Whether racing the quick-lap XCC (Circuit), the longer track XCO (Olympic) or the endurance-demanding XCM (Marathon) formats, riders need suspension that is capable, tunable and most of all, as light as possible. For all types of XC riding and racing, FOX makes the 34 Step-Cast fork. More on the 34 SC in a minute.
A the same realm of endurance, gravel biking has exploded recently as an alternative to pavement-only road cycling and trail-specific mountain biking. It evolved out of the cyclocross racing discipline, with gravel bikes employing more relaxed geometry for all-day endurance rather than 60 minutes of redlining around a cyclocross course. While a relatively new addition to Gravel, suspension forks specifically designed for the demands of gravel biking are proving to be worth both their weight and their cost.
For Gravel riding, FOX makes the 32 Taper-Cast fork. You can read more about the benefits of gravel in the latter half of this article.
FOX 34 Step-Cast: The XC Race Specialist
The 34SC is the lightest 34 FOX has ever made. It takes the proven 34 chassis and sheds grams at every opportunity all with unparalleled tunability, stiffness and strength. The fork arch contributes significantly to the 34SC’s excellent stiffness-to-weight ratio while the step-cast lowers allow a narrower stanchion profile while maintaining disc rotor clearance. All these carefully engineered design elements come together to make the 34SC the highest-performing fork in the XC race category.
I ride the 34SC every day. Riding or racing, it’s such a capable piece of equipment. I love having a snappy, responsive bike that is quick and easy to climb and zip through technical undulating terrain and also gives a predictable, supportive feel on challenging descents. Riding an XC bike should be fun up, down and across all kinds of trails, and the 34-SC enables that.— Jenn Jackson, XCO Canadian National Champion
34SC: Superior Air Spring and Damper Performance
At the heart of the 34SC’s internals is FLOAT EVOL, an enlarged negative air spring to assist with mid-stroke support with the option to tune with a volume spacer. Each EVOL air spring is optimized for the fork’s 100mm or 120mm travel to ensure the best overall feel; top-of-the-stroke suppleness and progressive firmness throughout the range.
On the other side of the internals is the FIT4 damper, enabling riders to switch between open, medium and firm modes with either an external switch or handlebar-mounted remote. FIT4 also has an open mode adjust feature allowing riders to dial in exactly how much platform they want when running the damper wide open. This feature greatly benefits endurance riders and those racing XCM formats.
The most desired characteristics of an XC race fork are small bump performance, low weight, lateral stiffness and the ability to lockout often quickly and easily. The FIT4 damper and ability to adjust air volume with spacers make the 34SC very easy to tune to get the right feel on the trail. With so little travel on an XC bike, the fork has to be extremely tunable in order to get maximum performance.— Andrew “Lespy” L’Esperance, Maxxis Factory team member and former World Cup XC athlete
Why does the Factory 34SC not come with our most advanced GRIP2 damper? It’s all about having the right tool for the job. FIT4 is about 75g lighter than GRIP2 and is both easier to set up and allows for quick external adjustment on the fly. FIT4 also matches the XC and Trail-geared adjustments found on our FLOAT SL and FLOAT DPS rear shocks, making for an intuitive suspension tuning experience.
FOX 32 Taper-Cast: Purpose Built for Gravel
As gravel biking continues to grow in popularity, riders are seeking ways they can venture further on their bike and in greater comfort. The 32TC is the lightest fork in the FOX lineup, coming in 40 or 50mm travel options and utilizing tapered lowers to weigh in at just 1226g (40mm travel). That weight also includes integrated fender mounts as well as 160mm and 180mm flat mount brake compatibility.
A sleek drop crown profile and reverse arch allow a wide range of fitment for gravel frames while maintaining stiffness. We also wind tunnel tested The 32TC against a popular rigid gravel fork, the results revealing that the very slight increase in drag did not outweigh the efficiency gains from running suspension on the front of the bike.
Switching to this fork was life-changing! I was a skeptic before, but the 32TC extends the bike’s versatility so much. It is an off-road weapon now, and I love it. The first race I did on it was Belgian Waffle Ride Vancouver Island, and I think I smiled for the whole 7hr 39min, especially on the final 600m of sustained descending when I had NO arm pump or grip fatigue.— Haley Hunter Smith, Olympian and World Cup XC bronze medalist
32TC: Optimized for Short Travel
Both the FLOAT EVOL air spring and FIT4 Damper are specifically tuned to get the highest performance out of the 40mm and 50mm travel options. For riders looking to take their bikes into more aggressive at higher speeds, the 32TC is one of the few forks in its class to offer 50mm of travel.
Fast, rough terrain is where this fork shines. As speed goes up, the terrain doesn’t even have to be that rough to feel like the 32TC is giving me a benefit. I raced (and won) with the 32TC at BC Bike Race Gravel Explorer in 2022. This fork was essential to get through the loose rough terrain and long descents in that event, not to mention limiting fatigue from racing over rough terrain day after day.”— Andrew Lespy
There was a time not too long ago when mountain bikes came in two flavors; cross-country (XC) and downhill (DH). As the names suggest, one bike was made for pedaling uphill and riding/racing cross-country, one was a gravity-oriented descent machine made for riding/racing downhill. Since technology caught up in the mountain bike industry and the sport grew, most XC bikes have been replaced with more rounded, descent-capable bikes in the Trail category and many DH bikes have now been supplanted by long travel, pedal-capable enduro bikes.
But XC lives on, and not only in the race format. Riders looking for THE most efficient bike to ride up and over terrain will choose an XC bike with shorter-travel suspension that prioritizes weight savings over descent performance. Gravel serves as an even more efficient option for riders looking to cover even more distance, the modern gravel-specific geometries and front suspension like the 32TC giving riders the option to bridge into green and blue MTB trails.
Off-road bike suspension comes in every flavor in 2023. With the right tool for the job, you can ride faster for longer with less fatigue. Supercharged XC and gravel is here.