While the 34 is obviously still an air fork, it has a relatively linear feel for the first 2/3 of its travel, then ramps up fairly dramatically over the last third. Even when running a fairly low pressure, it took a pretty hard hit to bottom out the 34.
In Descend mode, the 34’s mid-stroke action is nice and supportive, but it also does a great job of absorbing bumps. Moderate size roots and rocks disappear nicely, yet the fork doesn’t feel mushy. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much the holy grail of suspension.
The 34 isn’t perfect in every respect, but when it comes to balancing small bump sensitivity off the top with good mid-stroke support, it’s better than most of the other forks in this travel class that I’ve ridden. The Pike is very nearly as good, and it might be better at taking big hits repeatedly. But for the vast majority of riding involving moderately rough terrain, I think the 34 Float is the best in its class. (The revised 36 Float could give the 34 a run for its money, but that’s only speculation, as I’ve only spent a brief amount of time so far on the 36.)
More on the 34 Float’s Trail Mode
As I mentioned above, I used the Trail mode fairly often on previous iterations of the 34 to get the support that I felt the fork’s Descend mode lacked. But on the new 34, I rarely use the Trail mode. Part of this is obviously because I think the Descend mode feels quite good, but it’s also because I’ve been less impressed with the fork’s damping characteristics in Trail mode.
Trail mode still offers most of that great small bump compliance that I like about the Descend mode, but I found that the 34’s high speed compression circuit comes on a little too strong in Trail mode. On abrupt hits, it felt like the compression damping was providing too much resistance, and the fork felt spikey. Instead of smoothly absorbing sharps roots or rocks, the fork was overly firm, and a significant amount of the impact would be transmitted to the bars.
The flip side to this is that Trail mode offers more mid-stroke support earlier in the travel than Descend mode, so the front end of the bike definitely stays higher. On very smooth, flowy trails, the Trail mode was great; I could get better pumps off of rollers, and keep my bike more composed in berms.
But even with the Trail Adjust set at 2 or 3 clicks from the full, open end of its adjustment range, the fork struggled to smoothly absorb the occasional large rock or root that you’ll find on all but the smoothest trails. And so I rode with the 34 in Descend mode almost all of the time, since I found it handled bumps of all sizes quite a bit better there than in the Trail setting, and never lacked support.
The 34 Float’s Climb mode is pretty self-explanatory. I haven’t used it much because (1) I do most of my climbing in the saddle at a pace where a fork lockout doesn’t make all that much difference; (2) I don’t mind if I’m slightly less efficient on climbs, since I’m not racing my 160mm travel bike uphill too often; and (3) I’ll forget to switch back to Descend mode and ruin a perfectly good descent.
Having said all that, if you like locking out your fork, the 34 Float’s Climb mode will keep you happy.
Wrapping Up: Fox 34 Float vs. RockShox Pike
I don’t own a RockShox Pike, but I’ve spent a decent amount of time riding one, and think it’s an excellent fork. However, while the Pike and the 34 Float both have fantastic small bump sensitivity and both handle big hits well, I think the 34 does a better job of providing the right amount of absorption and compression damping through a wider variety of obstacles. The Pike’s mid-stroke, while not bad by any means, feels a bit less refined than the 34’s.
On the other hand, the 34 Float’s chassis is a little less stiff than the Pike’s, and it’s a little heavier. I’m a small guy who doesn’t care all that much if my bike weighs a few grams more, so for me, neither the 34’s slightly more flexible chassis nor its weight are deal breakers. The 34 Float’s damping/suspension performance is exceptional, and that’s what I care about most.
Given my experiences with previous iterations of the Fox 34 Float, I was slightly skeptical when I got on the 2015 version. But none of my initial concerns were realized.
Some might prefer the RockShox Pike for its slightly lighter weight and stiffer chassis, but to date, I haven’t ridden a mid-travel fork with better overall performance than the Float 34.