“C” / Climb
The only one of the three settings that has worked well for me is “Climb.” It adds a lot of compression damping, meaning the fork moves only on fairly significant impacts. Still, I actually use this setting very rarely. If I were doing lots of out-of-the-saddle sprints up dirt roads, I’d be psyched on it. Of course, if I were doing lots of dirt road sprints, I probably wouldn’t be using a fork with 160mm of travel, either….
If I’m doing a long climb, I’m usually just sitting and spinning. This doesn’t result in a whole lot of fork movement, regardless of the compression settings. For that reason, it’s fairly rare that I feel the need to switch the fork into “climb.”
“T” / Trail
The “Trail” setting is supposed to provide some low-speed compression while still remaining supple for large hits, but in reality, it essentially renders the fork semi-useless. This setting is over damped at the beginning of the stroke, which means that it has absolutely no small-bump compliance.
In theory, this damping curve would provide excellent support for cornering; in practice, however, it offers more support than necessary and gives up a lot of ground on what the fork is intended to do: absorb bumps.
The Trail setting still works alright for absorbing big hits, and thus it works better (if not well) at higher speeds.
“D” / Descend
The “Descend” setting is where I leave the fork 90% of the time—not because I’m a big fan of the descend mode, but because I find it to be the least bad for ordinary trail riding.
The Descend setting has too little compression damping through virtually the entire stroke. This means the fork dives deep into its travel during braking, cornering, or really any occasion where you might think to yourself, It sure would be nice if this fork wasn’t diving right now.
The Descend setting also lacks support in the midstroke to push off or pump the fork. This becomes a liability when I want to rapidly shift my weight upward and backward, like when I’m trying to lift my front wheel over an obstacle.
Rather than provide some support for this movement, the fork wallows into its travel, which in turn leaves my weight down and forward. This will occasionally lead to me clobbering a rock that I wanted to lift my front wheel over. I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t any rider error involved in these sorts of situations, but the fork isn’t doing me any favors, either.
To compensate for this diving effect, I put more air pressure in the fork than I normally would. This leaves me with thoroughly mediocre small-bump compliance and equally mediocre mid-stroke performance, but at least the fork dives a little bit less.
Further Thoughts on the CTD System
First and foremost, if I’m purchasing top-of-the-line suspension like the 34, I want to be able to make it ride like I want it to. With the CTD damper, I have no ability to dial in the fork to my preferences.
Furthermore, even if the engineers at Fox had somehow managed to get the settings on the CTD just right for my preferences … my preferences sometimes change. I will occasionally adjust my fork settings for specific situations. I might tweak the compression damping slightly if I’m on a smooth, bermy jump trail rather than a rocky, chundery trail. With plenty of forks out there (including older Foxes and current Fox 36 models), this was as easy as turning a knob a couple of clicks. With the CTD, the option is gone.
Second, if some riders are having trouble dialing in their suspension, the solution should not be to take away their ability to do so, it should be to teach them how to do it.
There’s no question that damping adjustments can be a bit confusing. In this age of the Internet where people keep asking whether brick and mortar bike shops still have a place in the market, this is a prime example where the answer should be a resounding YES. If you can’t figure out what knob does what on your fork, a good local bike shop can help you through the process.
Finally, Fox’s idea to make suspension less adjustable is far from revolutionary; low-end suspension has had limited adjustability since the beginning. But an increase in adjustability has always been an upgrade—people have always paid more for an increased level of tune-ability or customization. The lack of adjustability here feels regressive.
This is not to say that having a lever that can radically change suspension performance on a moment’s notice is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. While I’m more of a “set it and leave it” kind of guy, I fully recognize the benefits of something like the CTD. Being able to quickly make the fork climb better, descend better, or hit a nice middle ground is a fantastic option. But when that option comes at the cost of all tuneability, for me it’s not even close to worth it.