- 20% stiffer than a Fox 32
- Nearly ½ lb lighter than a Fox 36
- CTD compression damper
- Steerer: 1.5” tapered aluminum
- Axle: 15mm QR thru
- Travel: 160mm / 6.3”
- Weight: 4.3ish lbs
- Spring: Air
- Adjustments: Preload, rebound, compression (3 position CTD damper)
- Riding style: All-mountain rippin’
Back in May, when my new Santa Cruz Nomad showed up at the shop with a hot and fresh 2013 Fox 34 160 (instead of the Rock Shox Lyrik I was expecting), I was surprised…and a bit dubious.
What was up with this new fork? And why would Santa Cruz spec such a light fork on a Nomad?
But after a few weeks of ripping my favorite North Shore tracks and three more days of carving turns at the Kingdom Trails, I’m now pumped to be riding the 34.
Initially, I was worried that anything less than a 36mm stanchion and a 20mm thru-axle would feel too noodly on chunky downhills and high-speed corners. In my experience, longer travel trail forks like the Rock Shox Revelation and the Fox Float 32 (with 32mm stanchions and 15mm thru axles) are certainly adequate for most trail riding, but navigating them down rocky, rooty turns and chutes can require a conservative approach. I preferred the more confident point-and-shoot handling of my last Fox Talas 36, and I wondered how the Float 34 would stack up.
Fox claims the new Float 34 160 is 20% stiffer than a Float 32. Out on the trail, it’s impossible to say whether that’s entirely true. However, it definitely feels like it has less deflection fore and aft and more lateral stability than the Float 32s I’ve ridden. Steering is noticeably more precise in the turns, and the tracking is true through sharply bermed switchbacks and rooty off-camber corners. Up at Kingdom, I felt perfectly comfortable attacking turns at speed and always seemed to exit on line. Even at lower speed, picking my way through the rock gardens on Ancient Line, the 34 felt less squirmy than the 32.
Fox also claims the Float 34 is 200g lighter than a Float 36. And while I haven’t gone through the trouble of actually weighing the fork, a half-pound lighter doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Downsizing the whole package from 36mm tubes to 34mm tubes naturally saves a bunch of grams, but Fox also opted for their sleeker 15mm thru axle on the Float 34, dropping some of the weight and complexity of the 20mm set-up used on the 36. At the claimed 4.3 lbs, the Float 34 160 makes it easy to build up a true all-mountain ripper under 30 lbs.
Inside the 34mm tubes, Fox has dropped in their new CTD compression damper. CTD is a platform that Fox has implemented across multiple components: forks, shocks, and their new DOSS seatpost. It’s their attempt to make the maze of adjustability more rider-friendly by breaking things down into three modes: climb, trail, and descend. On forks and shocks, CTD applies to low-speed compression damping. On the DOSS seatpost, it applies to saddle height.
On the 34, CTD maintains all the functionality of the FIT damper, but focuses the adjustability. “Climb” mode is the firmest low-speed compression setting for tuning out bob while mashing the ups. “Trail” mode features moderate low-speed compression damping for a balance of rider and trail input over mixed terrain. “Descend” mode allows the shock to run fully open for a super plush feel and maximum traction and control whilst rippin’. Compression modes are changed via a lever integrated into the top cap of the right fork leg. My Evolution version has only one Trail setting, but the Factory version has three additional low-speed compression settings for fine-tuning Trail mode.
To be honest, I’ve never had much use for the compression damping adjustments on Fox forks, and so it goes with CTD. For me, a really active, supple compression rate makes a big difference tackling super-techy terrain. Whether climbing, “trail-ing”, or descending, it just does a better job keeping me balanced and on line. So I’ve been just leaving the fork in “Descend” mode and forgetting about it. It’s been perfect for my riding style. Sure, it’ll bob a little and bottom out on big drops if I land heavy on the front wheel, but that’s more my fault than the fork’s.
I found “Climb” mode to be virtually useless unless I also locked out the rear shock. With the rear shock open, the topped-out fork shifts more of the rider’s weight to the rear wheel. This slacks out the headtube angle even further, creating a really awkward climbing position that makes it nearly impossible to keep the front wheel on the ground. The same problem occurs in Trail mode, though to a lesser extent. Bumping up the low-speed compression causes the fork to ride higher in its travel, thereby loading up the rear shock. That said, the 3 modes are all easy to use and function extremely well.
For me, the key to optimum suspension performance is to balance preload, compression, and rebound between the front and rear shocks. It was easy to set up my RP23 rear shock to match the feel of the fork in Descend mode, but it was a hassle to try to match the other modes on the fly. I’d definitely like to try the fork together with a CTD shock, so I could experience both parts of the system working in balance. I can see CTD being super-useful in other areas of the country where riding is more neatly defined into distinct segments. But here on the North Shore, where climbs and descents all flow together, it’s harder to appreciate the full benefit.
Overall, Fox did a solid job of launching the new 34 fork category. I mark the Float 34 160 as the new go-to fork for all-mountain riders who don’t need the heft of a 36, but want something with a little more travel and beef than a 32. In addition, Fox does a Talas version that switches between 160mm and 120mm of travel.