2022 Fox 34 Fork
Test Location: Montana
Test Duration (so far): About a month
Stanchion Diameter: 34 mm
Travel Options: 130, 140 mm
Wheel Size Options: 29”
Version tested: Factory Trim, 29”, 44 mm offset, 130 mm travel
Blister’s Measured Weight (as tested, cut steerer): 1,820 grams
MSRP (as tested): $1,019
Bolted to: Pole Taival
Reviewer: 5’9”, ~160 lbs / 175 cm, 72.5 kg
For 2022, Fox gave their 34 fork a substantial makeover, with some revisions that we saw last year in the 36 (and 38). The 34 is still positioned as an XC / Trail fork, and is still available in two flavors — the lighter 34SC (Step Cast) and the more general-purpose, Trail-oriented 34, which I’m currently spending time on.
The 34 holds down the middle ground between the lighter, XC-race-oriented 32, and the more substantial 36 and 38. But increasingly, these lines are getting a bit blurrier. There are a number of racers on the World Cup XC circuit that are opting for the 34SC, especially on some of the rougher and more technical courses. And the increasing popularity of “downcountry” bikes with shorter-travel suspension and geometry that’s inclined to get rowdy means that 120-130mm forks that can handle fairly rough descents are an attractive proposition.
And that (was) my exact intent with the 34 — at 130 mm, it seemed like the perfect option to slightly over-fork the Transition Spur that I ordered. The complication, of course, is that this is 2021 and the Spur is a few months late in arriving. So while I’m waiting for that attractive piece of carbon to show up, I stuck the 34 on my trusty Pole Taival — a steel hardtail that, in typical Pole fashion, is slack, long, and perfectly happy rallying around on techy trails.
With all that in mind, I still want to spend more time with the new 34 before writing up the full review. But for now, Blister Members can check out my initial impressions in our Flash Review, and then here, we’ll kick things off with a discussion of the design of the new 34 and how it compares to its predecessor.
What’s New and Different
The biggest change for the 34 in 2022 is new castings. The lower legs get a few changes that we’ve seen previously on the latest Fox 36 and 38 forks. Visually, the biggest change is a redesigned arch that’s intended to be stiffer, and it’s also angled a bit farther forward so that there’s more clearance for the frame’s headtube when the fork is fully bottomed out. And of course, those tweaks to the arch still retain good tire clearance — it’ll fit a 2.6” without issue.
The new 34’s lower legs also get bypass channels similar to the 36 and 38, but to save a bit of weight, the 34 lacks the bleeder valves found on the bigger forks. The point of the bypass channels is to allow air to easily move around the lower legs as the fork compresses; as the fork approaches bottom-out, the ambient air in the bottom of the leg is getting compressed. Especially for lighter riders, that ramp-up can actually make it hard to use the fork’s full travel. The bypass channels in the lower legs allow that air to move around and effectively occupy a larger space, thus limiting how much unwanted air pressure is built up down there.
Also of note is that the 34 is now only available for 29” wheels. Call that Fox’s analysis of where this travel class is heading, but if you’re looking for a 27.5” fork, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The 34 is still offered in Fox’s normal offsets (44mm and 51mm), and is available with either a QR thru-axle or the Kabolt bolt-on axle (tested), which is a good bit lighter. The 34 doesn’t get the floating axle hardware found on the 36 and 38, presumably as a weight-saving measure. And as an indicator of Fox’s “aggressive” intentions for the 34, the fork features a direct post mount for 180 mm rotors (although the Step Cast version has a 160 mm mount).
The Air Spring
The air spring in the 2022 Fox 34 is still their Evol unit, which isn’t new for 2022. This year does, however, bring an enlargement of the negative air spring, which Fox claims will increase mid-stroke support. While that claim might sound slightly suspicious, the rationale is usually that a larger negative air chamber allows you to run higher pressures in the positive chamber (which increases mid-stroke support and bottom-out resistance) while still retaining a supple early stroke to smooth out small bumps.
Beyond the modifications to the negative air chamber, the new 34’s air spring feels quite familiar. The same 34 mm tokens as the previous version can be used to modify the positive air chamber volume under the top cap. And on 34SC models, tokens can also be added to the negative air chamber to give the fork a firmer, “racier” feel (although adding those requires pulling the fork apart).
As with prior model years, the 2022 iteration of the 34 is available with an assortment of dampers. Factory models are available with Fox’s Grip2 or Fit4 dampers, although the 34SC Factory is only available with the Fit4 option (the Fit4 damper is a good bit lighter than Grip2). Performance Elite models are only available with the Fit4 damper, while Performance models come with the lower-end Grip damper.
My test fork (34 Factory) came with the Grip2 damper, which is similar to the damper found on the 36 and 38. And as with my past experiences with Grip2, it’s a fantastic performer — it’s very adjustable and super smooth in all situations. You get 8 clicks of high-speed compression adjustment, 16 clicks of low-speed compression, 8 clicks of high-speed rebound, and 16 clicks of low-speed rebound. Both the high-speed compression and rebound circuits also utilize Fox’s VVC unit, which is an ingenious way to adjust the damping shim stack that makes the damper feel noticeably smoother. You can check out Jordi Cortes’ full explanation here.
And if all of those adjustments sound vaguely familiar but you have no idea how to even begin setting up the fork for yourself, Fox includes a nice little sticker on the fork to give you some starting positions for both air pressure and damper adjustments. And in my experience, the chart is reasonably close to where I ultimately end up.
The Bottom Line (For Now)
The 34 has long been a popular option for riders on relatively short-travel Trail bikes, and the updates to the 2022 model should make it an even stronger contender there. We’ll be spending a lot more time on the new 34 in the months to come, but for now, Blister Members can check out our Flash Review of the new 34. Stay tuned for a full review to come.