Trail / Enduro MTB Fork Comparisons

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
David Golay using the Öhlins RXF36 m.2 Air
Article Navigation:  Intro //  Fox 36 //  RockShox Lyrik //  Fox 38 //  RockShox ZEB //  Manitou Mezzer //  Marzocchi Bomber Z1 //  Öhlins RXF36 //  Spectrums //  What We Would Buy

Intro

There are more options available to riders looking for a long-travel single-crown fork than ever before, and the landscape only got more complicated earlier last year, when Fox and RockShox introduced the 38 and ZEB. These new models essentially defined a new class of fork, and are substantially stiffer, burlier, and heavier than the 36 and Lyrik that they supplanted as Fox and RockShox’s biggest single-crown offerings. We’ve also recently spent a lot of time on the Manitou Mezzer, Öhlins RXF36 m.2, and Marzocchi Bomber Z1, and have found them all to be compelling competitors to what Fox and RockShox have to offer.

So, of course, then the question is: how do all these forks stack up, and who should be looking most closely at which particular model?

Here, Noah Bodman and I will attempt to answer those questions and provide some guidance for those deciding which fork to put on their next Trail or Enduro bike. We’ll be discussing each of the seven forks individually, including their specs and available models; comparing them to the others here; organizing the forks on various spectrums (stiffness, sensitivity, support, & weight) based on our experiences; and then closing with which forks we’d personally run for how and where we ride. 

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
Noah Bodman using the RockShox Lyrik (photo by Marc O'Brien)

Classes of Forks

As I alluded to in the intro, I think it’s basically correct to look at the forks in this guide as spanning two subtly different, but distinct classes — the ~2,100 g, lighter weight options (e.g., Fox 36 and RockShox Lyrik) and their stiffer, heavier counterparts (Fox 38 and RockShox ZEB). While the differences between the two groups aren’t so dramatic as to make it unreasonable to cross-shop them, or compare and contrast across those lines, the jump in weight and stiffness between the 36 / Lyrik class of forks to the 38 / ZEB is more dramatic than any differences within those two groups. And while the travel ranges offered in these forks largely overlap, the other forks listed here can all be configured to have less travel than the 38 and ZEB, while the ZEB is the only fork here with a 190mm-travel option.

That ambiguity between classes is a significant part of why we wanted to write this guide. While it’s easy to look at the 36 and Lyrik as the “old model” forks that have been superseded by the 38 and ZEB, both are still alive and well within their respective brands’ product lines, and we think they still have a place there. So who should be making the jump to the bigger, heavier forks, and who would be better served by their lighter counterparts? And where do competitors like the Manitou Mezzer and Öhlins RXF36 m.2 fit into all of this? Let’s dig in.

Fox 36

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
2021 Fox 36 Factory
  • 2155g (36 Performance Elite, 29”, 44 mm offset, 150 mm travel, QR axle)
  • 36 Factory: Kashima coated stanchions, Grip2 or Fit4 damper.
  • 36 Performance Elite: Black anodized stanchions, Grip2 damper. Same chassis as 36 Factory, apart from stanchion finish.
  • 36 Performance: Black anodized stanchions, Grip damper. Same chassis as 36 Performance Elite. OE only.
  • 36 Rhythm: Black anodized stanchions, more basic, heavier chassis. Grip damper, OE only.
  • 36 Factory: $1,099
  • 36 Performance Elite: $1,049

Travel changed via air shaft swap.

  • Aftermarket forks can be ordered with 150 or 160 mm travel.
  • 130, 140, and 170 mm air shafts are also available aftermarket, and in some OE spec forks.
  • Grip2 with VVC: Adjustable high and low speed compression, and high and low speed rebound.
  • Fit4: Three position compression adjuster (Open, Medium and Firm settings) with low speed compression adjustment in the Open setting, and adjustable rebound.
  • Grip: Adjustable low speed compression and rebound.
  • Float EVOL NA2: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure. Positive chamber volume adjustable via volume spacers.
  • 27.5”: 37 and 44 mm
  • 29”: 44 and 51 mm

Up until the 2021-model-year forks rolled out, the 36 was the burliest single-crown in Fox’s lineup, and had held that title since the first version was released in 2005. While the new Fox 38 is now the biggest single-crown Fox makes, the 36 has remained in the lineup, and continues to be a good option for riders who don’t want or need the added stiffness of the 38 — or the ~260 g weight penalty that comes with it. Named for its 36mm-diameter stanchions, the 36 has kept that particular feature, but received a significant overhaul for 2021.

The lowers are all new, and include a couple of interesting features. As with the 2021 38 and 40, Fox has given the 36 a new arch, with increased clearance for large-diameter head tubes, as well as air channels on the back of the fork, which allow air and oil to bypass the lower bushing as the fork compresses. The goal there is to improve lubrication and mitigate the effect of built-up air pressure in the lowers making it hard to use full travel. The updated lowers also feature a floating axle design, which compensates for variations in hub width to stop the legs from being pinched together when the axle is tightened, which can contribute to binding as the fork cycles up and down.

Factory and Performance Elite series 36 forks also receive new lower-leg bleeder ports, to further help release accumulated air pressure in the lowers. Push a button on the back of each fork leg, and a valve opens, allowing any extra air to escape. Performance series forks don’t get the bleeders, but their lowers have the provision for them, and they can be added aftermarket if so desired.

[Note that the 36 Rhythm, available on some complete bikes, did not receive the chassis updates. The new chassis is found on the 36 Performance, Performance Elite, and Factory versions.]

As has been the case for a while, Fox offers three different damper options in the 36. At the top of the heap is the Grip2, with adjustable high- and low-speed compression, and high- and low-speed rebound. It’s Fox’s most adjustable, highest performing fork damper, and for 2021 received a significant update in how the high-speed compression adjuster works, using a technology that Fox calls Variable Valve Control (VVC). We go into far more detail on it in our full reviews of both the Fox 38 and 40, if you’re interested. But in short, the idea is to mitigate the downsides that arise from conventional high-speed damping adjusters, which usually apply preload to the valving within the fork, which can cause the damper to feel harsh and spiky when running firmer settings. As we said in those reviews, the design largely delivers on this promise, but comes at the expense of total adjustment range — riders who tend to run very firm high-speed compression damping settings might find that they’re unable to get the new VVC Grip2 damper to get firm enough for their liking, at least without some custom tuning work. Overall, though, it’s an excellent, highly tunable damper and we’re big fans of its performance. The Grip2 damper is available in Factory and Performance Elite versions of the 36.

The other damper option for Factory and Performance Elite 36s is the Fit4 — essentially the more “Trail-oriented” option to the Grip2’s gravity focus. The Fit4 features a three-position compression switch, meant to function a bit like a climb switch on a rear shock, and to firm up the fork for climbing or smoother trails where firmer compression damping settings are desired. The “Open” position has an additional fine-tuning adjustment to set the low-speed compression in that mode. The Fit4 gets a single rebound adjuster, in place of the separate high- and low-speed adjustments on the Grip2. The Fit4 damper is a solid performing and easy to set up damper, but can’t match the smoothness and tunability of the Grip2 option.

Finally, the Performance and Rhythm series 36 get the base Grip damper, with adjustable low-speed compression and adjustable rebound. It’s entirely functional and straightforward to set up, but is less tunable than the higher-end Grip2, and in particular, can’t match that damper’s supportiveness in choppier terrain. The Performance and Rhythm forks are only available as part of complete bikes — riders looking to buy one of these on its own should look at the Marzocchi Bomber Z1, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
Noah Bodman using the Fox 36 (photo by Marc O'Brien)

The 36 is only available with an air spring, and its design will be familiar to anyone who’s poked around inside a Fox fork in the last five or so years. It’s a straightforward design, with auto-equalizing positive and negative air chambers (as both Fox and RockShox have been doing for quite a while), and volume spacers that clip to the bottom of the top cap to adjust how much the fork ramps up deeper in the travel. For 2021, Fox did tweak the spring slightly, to increase the negative chamber volume, which slightly improved small-bump sensitivity over prior versions.

The RockShox Lyrik is the biggest competitor to the Fox 36, and when comparing the top-spec versions of each head-to-head, there are some significant differences in ride feel. The Lyrik Ultimate is a little bit better at completely ironing out the trail, especially over small, chattery sections, like exposed roots. The 36 Performance Elite Grip2 provides a bit more feedback as to what the front wheel is doing, and a little more midstroke support. The Lyrik’s chassis is also slightly stiffer and more precise. It’s not a big difference, but it does track slightly better, especially in off-camber sections, and on very steep descents where the front wheel is heavily loaded.

Factory and Performance Elite 36s are the same, apart from the finish on the lowers, and the shiny gold Kashima coating on the stanchions of Factory series forks. Fox claims that the Kashima coating reduces friction and makes for a smoother, more supple fork, but we’ve found the differences in actual on-trail feel to be minor. We’d recommend the 36 Performance Elite Grip2 as the highest bang-for-buck version in terms of performance.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
2021 RockShox Lyrik Ultimate
  • 2040g (Lyrik Ultimate, 29”, 44 mm offset, 170 mm travel)
  • Lyrik Ultimate: Charger 2.1 RC2 damper
  • Lyrik Select+: Charger 2.1 RC damper. OE only
  • Lyrik Select: Charger RC damper
  • Lyrik Ultimate: $949
  • Lyrik Select: $749
  • 140 – 180 mm in 10 mm increments, via air shaft swap
  • Charger 2.1 RC2: Adjustable high and low speed compression, and adjustable rebound.
  • Charger 2.1 RC: Same design as Charger 2.1 RC2, but with adjustable low speed compression and rebound.
  • Charger RC: Base model damper, with adjustable low speed compression and rebound. Substantially different design than Charger 2.1.
  • DebonAir C1: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure. Positive chamber volume adjustable via volume spacers.
  • 27.5”: 37 and 46 mm
  • 29”: 42 and 51 mm

The RockShox Lyrik has been a mainstay on the long-travel single-crown fork market for a long time now, and it’s still a strong contender. The most obvious comparison to draw is between it and the Fox 36. As we said in the section on the 36, the way to characterize the difference is that the Lyrik feels more inclined to mute out small to medium impacts, whereas the 36 provides a bit more feedback as to what the front wheel is doing, and is a touch more supportive. The difference in support is somewhat less pronounced than it is between the Fox 38 and RockShox ZEB (more on that in a minute), but it’s there.

As far as the chassis goes, the Lyrik is both slightly lighter and a touch stiffer than the 36. As with the support front, the difference isn’t huge. The overall sensation of the Lyrik ironing out the trail vs. the 36 providing a little bit more feedback from the front wheel is the most substantial difference (particularly comparing the top-spec Lyrik Ultimate to the 36 Factory Grip2).

Speaking of the different Lyrik versions, at the top of the food chain is the Lyrik Ultimate, which uses RockShox’s Charger 2.1 RC2 damper. The general design has been around for a while now, and sees use across a range of RockShox’s forks, from the Trail-focused Pike through the Boxxer DH fork, but it’s still a very strong performer. The RC2 version features adjustable high- and low-speed compression and adjustable rebound, with a fairly broad range of adjustment across the board. It’s a reliable, high performing damper that’s fairly straightforward to set up, and all-round a great option.

The Lyrik Select+ is an OE-only option (i.e., only available on complete bikes), which is essentially a Lyrik Ultimate, minus the high-speed compression adjuster. The Charger 2.1 RC damper in the Lyrik Select+ shares its overall design with the top-shelf Charger 2.1 RC2, just with a bit less adjustability.

Finally, the Lyrik Select gets RockShox’s Charger RC damper, which again features adjustable low-speed compression and adjustable rebound, but with a substantially different damper design than the Charger 2.1 in the Ultimate and Select+. It’s still a solid performing option, but can’t match the higher-end designs in terms of smoothness, and can feel a bit lacking in high-speed compression damping when being pushed very hard. It’s a strong competitor to the Grip damper in the lower-spec versions of the Fox 36 and Marzocchi Bomber Z1, but a bit less refined than the higher-end offerings here.

Compared to the Manitou Mezzer Pro and Öhlins RXF36 m.2 Air, the Lyrik is significantly less supportive, but the Lyrik Ultimate handily bests the Mezzer Pro in terms of small-bump compliance and edges out the Öhlins in chassis stiffness, despite being a touch lighter.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
2021 Fox 38 Factory
  • 2417g (38 Factory, 29”, 44 mm offset, 170 mm travel)
  • 38 Factory: Kashima coated stanchions, Grip2 or Fit4 damper
  • 38 Performance Elite: Black anodized stanchions, Grip2 damper. Same chassis as 38 Factory, apart from stanchion finish.
  • 38 Performance: Black anodized stanchions, Grip damper. Same chassis as Performance Elite.
  • 38 Factory: $1,249
  • 38 Performance Elite: $1,149
  • 38 Performance: $989

Travel changed via air shaft swap.

  • Aftermarket forks can be ordered with 160, 170, or 180 mm travel.
  • 150 mm air shafts are also available aftermarket, and in some OE spec forks.
  • Grip2 with VVC: Adjustable high and low speed compression, and high and low speed rebound.
  • Grip: Adjustable low speed compression and rebound.
  • Float EVOL NA2: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure. Positive chamber volume adjustable via volume spacers.
  • 27.5”: 37 and 44 mm
  • 29”: 44 and 51 mm

Fox added the 38 to their lineup for 2021, supplanting the 36 as their biggest single-crown fork. As the name suggests, it has 38mm-diameter stanchions, and is designed to be an option for riders looking for a stiffer chassis with greater steering precision and improved tracking through rough terrain. That added stiffness comes at a weight penalty of around 270 g, depending on the exact configuration. The difference in stiffness is significant, particularly for bigger riders, and those tending to charge harder in steeper, rougher terrain. Compared to the forks here with smaller stanchions, the 38 tracks noticeably better, is more precise in holding a line, and is stiffer fore-aft under hard braking and the like.

That’s not to say that everyone should be abandoning the 36 in favor of the 38 though — far from it. The 38 is substantially heavier, and for more varied Trail-bike use, the 36 is going to be plenty of fork for most people.

In terms of design, the 38 shares a great deal in common with the revised 2021 Fox 36. The overall design language is nearly identical, and the lowers share the same set of features that the newest 36 received, including the air channels, air bleed ports, and floating axle. Check out our full review of the 38 for more details on that.

The 38 shares the updated Grip2 VVC and base Grip dampers with the 36, but in keeping with its gravity-oriented focus, the Fit4 option is dropped for the 38. There’s also no 38 Rhythm available as of publishing this article, paring the list of versions down to Factory, Performance Elite, and Performance.

As with the 36, the Factory and Performance Elite versions use the same Grip2 damper, and differ only in terms of finish, both on the lowers and on the stanchions. The 38 Performance shares its chassis with the 38 Performance Elite, but gets the base Grip damper with adjustable low-speed compression and adjustable rebound, as compared to the Grip2’s adjustable high- and low-speed compression and high- and low-speed rebound.

The air spring of the 38 is in some ways similar to that of the 36, but has one notable difference: instead of using the inside of the stanchion for the air piston to ride on, the 38 adds a separate tube inside of the stanchion for this purpose. Mostly, this allows Fox to tune the progression of the fork a bit more — very long-travel, air-sprung, single-crown forks tend to be quite progressive, due to what basically boils down to packaging constraints. The extra tube in the 38’s air spring gets around this, allowing for a wider range of progression adjustment (again via volume spacers) and also might help a little bit with binding in the air spring due to chassis flex, as an added benefit.

As far as suspension performance goes, the 38 feels broadly similar to the 36 (when comparing both with the Grip2 damper). The difference in chassis stiffness, and the added precision that brings to the 38, is by far the greatest point of differentiation between the two. If anything, the 38 is a tiny bit more supple on smaller bumps, with a touch better small-bump compliance than the 36, but the difference is subtle. On the flip side, the 38 has less of a tendency to feel harsh and spiky though choppy, high-speed impacts (such as braking bumps), or when cornering. The stiffer chassis binding up less is likely a big part of the reason why. As with the 36, the latest Grip2 VVC damper in the 38 does an uncommonly good job of mitigating the harsh, spiky behavior that can be felt when running the high-speed compression adjuster cranked up on many other forks, but also has a relatively light high-speed compression tune. Riders accustomed to running their high-speed compression adjusters very firm on most forks might be wishing for a stiffer setting out of the 38.

The comparison between the RockShox ZEB and the Fox 38 is also fairly similar to the Lyrik vs. 36 matchup. The ZEB is especially notable for how thoroughly it mutes small chatter — if you’re looking for a fork to simply make small bumps disappear, it’s outstanding. I feel that the 38 delivers a bit more feedback to the rider and is a bit more supportive, but Noah has a slightly different take here.

Noah Bodman (5’9”, 155 lb / 175 cm, 70 kg): I found the 38 to be better at ironing out the trail while retaining a “lively” feel, whereas the Zeb is decidedly more muted. The differences in opinion are almost certainly related to setup, and the 38 is quite touchy with regard to air pressure (see my full review). The 38 also has a fairly narrow range of compression damping adjustments (plenty of clicks, but they don’t do that much), which means it might be harder for a rider to achieve a particular “feel.”

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
Noah Bodman using the Fox 38 (photo by Marc O'Brien)

David Golay (6′,  165 lb / 83 cm, 75 kg): Ultimately, which works better for you is going to be a matter of personal preference. The benefits of the ZEB’s “magic carpet ride feel” are fairly obvious, but in some ways, I find it easier to know what the front wheel is doing, and particularly how it is (or isn’t) gripping the trail with the 38, which has real upsides, particularly when trying to push hard and ride at or near my limit.

The 38 is pretty comfortably the second stiffest fork in this guide, but it’s clearly bested by the ZEB on that front — by a considerably bigger margin than the Lyrik edges out the 36 — and loses out despite being about 150 g heavier than the ZEB. While I doubt that many riders will find the 38 to be an intolerably flexy noodle by any stretch, folks looking for the stiffest, most precise single-crown that they can get their hands on should look to RockShox.

Where the 38 notably outshines the ZEB, on the other hand, is in terms of midstroke support. As I wrote in our full review of the ZEB, I think a whole lot of people won’t care one bit about that. However, riders spending a lot of time on very steep trails, and especially those inclined to seek out a very firm, supportive fork setup might be better served by the 38, despite its higher weight and somewhat less outstanding stiffness.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
2021 RockShox ZEB Ultimate
  • 2264g (ZEB Ultimate, 29”, 44 mm offset, 170 mm travel)
  • ZEB Ultimate: Charger 2.1 RC2 damper
  • ZEB Select+: Charger 2.1 RC damper. OE only.
  • ZEB Select: Charger RC damper
  • ZEB: Charger R damper
  • ZEB Ultimate: $999
  • ZEB Select: $749
  • ZEB: $699
150 – 190 mm in 10 mm increments, via air shaft swap
  • Charger 2.1 RC2: Adjustable high and low speed compression, and adjustable rebound.
  • Charger 2.1 RC: Same design as Charger 2.1 RC2, but with adjustable low speed compression and rebound.
  • Charger RC: More basic damper, with adjustable low speed compression and rebound. Substantially different design than Charger 2.1.
  • Charger R: Same design as Charger RC, but with adjustable rebound only.
  • DebonAir C1: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure. Positive chamber volume adjustable via volume spacers.
  • Dual Position Air: Air spring with two position, on-the-fly adjustable travel.
  • 27.”: 38 and 44 mm
  • 29”: 44 and 51 mm

The ZEB is RockShox’s contender in the realm of extra-burly single-crown forks, meant to go toe-to-toe with the Fox 38. And on the point of chassis stiffness, in particular, the ZEB is outstanding. Despite being significantly lighter than the 38, the ZEB is the stiffest fork here, by a considerable margin. While it’s not up to dual-crown levels of stiffness and precision, the ZEB holds a line and tracks appreciably better than any of the other forks here.

As with the Fox 36 vs. 38, the ZEB shares a great deal with its smaller sibling, the Lyrik. The spring and damper designs are essentially the same between the two, albeit in versions sized for their respective chassis, and the ZEB comes in four different versions.

At the top of the heap is the ZEB Ultimate, which comes with RockShox’s Charger 2.1 RC2 damper, with adjustable high- and low-speed compression, and adjustable rebound.

The ZEB Select+ is an OE-only offering (i.e. only available on complete bikes) and uses a pared-down version of the Charger 2.1 damper, with adjustable low-speed compression and adjustable rebound. RockShox says that the high-speed compression tune on the ZEB Select+ is equivalent to running the ZEB Ultimate in the middle of its adjustment range.

Next up is the ZEB Select, which uses the more basic Charger RC damper. While it shares the same nominal adjustments as the Charger 2.1 RC (again, low-speed compression and rebound), the Charger RC uses an entirely different damper architecture. While we haven’t yet tested the ZEB Select, we do have a fair amount of time on that Charger RC damper in both the Lyrik Select and the Trail-oriented Pike Select, and have found it to be a competent performer, but it’s not quite up to the Charger 2.1 in terms of smoothness or support at higher speeds.

Finally, the base ZEB uses a Charger R damper, which is essentially the Charger RC from the ZEB Select, without the low-speed compression adjuster.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
David Golay using the RockShox ZEB Ultimate

Beyond the stiffness of the chassis, the defining characteristic of the ZEB Ultimate that we’ve tested is how well it tracks the ground. While its sensitivity to the very smallest bumps isn’t quite as outstanding, the ZEB really shines when it comes to mowing down high-speed sections of choppy, small to medium impacts. In those circumstances, the ZEB is particularly excellent.

That excellent soaking up of chop does come at the expense of some midstroke support, which is particularly evident on tight, steep descents that require a lot of braking control. When weighting the front wheel heavily, the ZEB can feel a bit dive-y, and settle deeper into its stroke than would be ideal. This trait is particularly apparent in comparison with the Manitou Mezzer Pro and Öhlins RXF36 m.2 Air, which offer by far the most impressive midstroke support of the forks tested here, but is notable compared to the Fox 36 and 38 as well.

That’s a tradeoff that a lot of riders will be happy to make, in the ZEB’s favor, but as we’re fond of saying at Blister, it’s a good time to try to “know thyself” and think about what your priorities are when it comes to the performance of your fork.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
Manitou Mezzer Pro

2085g (Mezzer Pro, 29er, 44 mm offset, 170 mm travel)

  • Mezzer Pro: MC2 damper and IRT spring
  • Mezzer Expert: VTT-6P damper and Expert spring
  • Mezzer Pro: $1,000
  • Mezzer Expert: $750
  • 140 – 180 mm in 10 mm increments, via internal spacer
  • MC2: Adjustable high and low speed compression, and adjustable rebound. Features a hydraulic bottom out circuit.
  • VTT-6P: Adjustable compression and adjustable rebound.
  • Infinite Rate Tune: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure, and secondary “IRT” chamber to adjust midstroke support and progression.
  • Expert Air: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure. Positive chamber volume adjustable via volume spacers.
  • 27.5”: 37 and 44 mm
  • 29”: 44 and 51 mm

The Manitou Mezzer Pro was one of my favorite products that I tested last year, and is an extremely compelling option for riders who prefer to run a firm, supportive setup in their forks, in particular.

Perhaps the most significant feature of the Mezzer Pro is its IRT air spring, which deserves a lot of the credit for its exceptional supportiveness. Unlike conventional air springs, like those used on the Fox / RockShox / Marzocchi offerings here, the Mezzer Pro adds a second, independently adjustable chamber to the positive air spring. Check out our full review of the Mezzer Pro for more details, but in short, the main positive and negative springs function as normal, and automatically equalize pressure between the two. The secondary (“IRT”) chamber sits on top of the main positive spring, and runs considerably higher pressure than the main chamber. A floating piston separates the two, but doesn’t move until the fork compresses enough that the pressure in the main chamber reaches that of the IRT chamber. At this point, once the pressures equalize, the IRT chamber effectively adds its volume to the main chamber, and the fork ramps up more slowly in the later part of the stroke.

What all this means is that it’s possible to set up the Mezzer Pro to ramp up very aggressively through the middle part of the stroke, without it then ramping up even more aggressively deep in the stroke, causing harshness and / or making it difficult to use full travel. It’s an effective system and adds a great deal of adjustability to the fork, but does make for a slightly more complex setup. For one, there’s simply a second air pressure setting to keep track of, but the combination of the two does also mean that the Mezzer Pro is somewhat more sensitive to air pressure settings than most forks.

Riders willing to put in the effort, though, will be rewarded with an exceptionally supportive fork, with fewer downsides to setting up for all that support than most forks. The Mezzer chassis is also very impressive. It’s not as exceptionally stiff as the Fox 38 or (especially) the RockShox ZEB, but it’s also significantly lighter than both. The Mezzer is significantly more stiff and precise than either the Fox 36 or RockShox Lyrik, and comes in at a weight that’s competitive with both.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
David Golay using the Manitou Mezzer Pro

One detail where the MC2 damper does set itself apart is in the inclusion of a separate hydraulic bottom out (HBO) circuit. The HBO circuit takes over in the last ~30 mm of stroke in the fork, and adds additional compression damping as the fork nears bottom out, to help control those big hits. The HBO circuit isn’t externally adjustable, but can be re-valved as part of a fork service if needed, and does a great job of controlling big impacts.

While the Mezzer Pro is exceptional in terms of midstroke support and tunability, its small-bump sensitivity is a bit less stellar. It’s a tradeoff that a lot of riders will be totally happy with, especially bigger and / or more aggressive riders who find themselves running relatively firm fork setups, but the tradeoff exists nonetheless.

Manitou also offers a less-expensive version, the Mezzer Expert. It shares its chassis with the Mezzer Pro, but substitutes a more conventional air spring without the secondary IRT chamber, and a more basic damper with six-position adjustable compression and adjustable rebound. We haven’t tested the Mezzer Expert, but expect it to give up a bit of the exceptional support of the Mezzer Pro, due to the loss of the IRT spring.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
Marzocchi Bomber Z1
  • 2172 g (Bomber Z1 Air, 29”, 44 mm offset, 140 mm travel)
  • Bomber Z1 Air
  • Bomber Z1 Coil
  • Bomber Z1 Air: $729
  • Bomber Z1 Coil: $779
  • Bomber Z1 Air: 150 – 180 mm (27.5” version) and 140 – 170 mm (29” version) in 10 mm increments, via air shaft swap. 130 and 140 mm air shaft available aftermarket for both wheel sizes.
  • Bomber Z1 Coil: 160 – 180 mm (27.5” version), 150 – 170 mm (29” version) via movable spacers.
  • Grip: Adjustable low speed compression and rebound.
  • Float EVOL NA2: Air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative pressure. Positive chamber volume adjustable via volume spacers.
  • Coil spring, with four available spring rates.
  • 27.5”: 44 mm
  • 29”: 44 and 51 mm

Despite the different branding, the Bomber Z1 is actually essentially a Fox 36 Rhythm — but with the option for a coil spring. Fox bought Marzocchi a few years ago, and the two now share a lot of technology, including the Grip damper and Float Evol air spring used in the Bomber Z1 Air. The Bomber Z1 does get its own lowers, with Marzocchi’s signature M-shaped arch, but the two otherwise share a platform.

The Bomber Z1 Coil uses the same chassis and Grip damper as the Bomber Z1 Air, but substitutes a coil spring into the left leg. We’ve not yet tested the Bomber Z1 Coil, but would expect the typical coil-spring tradeoffs to apply — coil springs tend to offer better small-bump compliance and a more linear spring rate, but limit bottom-out resistance and ability to fine-tune spring rate. Marzocchi only offers four spring rates for the Bomber Z1 Coil, so riders looking to make fine adjustments to their spring settings, or those at the extreme ends of the bell curve when it comes to weight, are likely to be better served elsewhere.

As we said of the Fox 36 Rhythm, the Marzocchi Bomber Z1 Air that we have tested is a solid performing fork, and it comes in at a significantly lower price than its higher-end siblings. It lacks the range of adjustability of the Grip2 damper that’s available in the 36 and gives up a little bit both in terms of small-bump sensitivity and support on higher-speed impacts, but overall it works well and is far more straightforward to set up than the more complex Grip2 damper, in particular.

Compared to the RockShox Lyrik Select, which is a more apples-to-apples pairing (in terms of both price and features), the Bomber Z1 Air is both a touch heavier and not quite as stiff or precise, but offers slightly better midstroke support. There’s no coil-sprung version of the Lyrik, though, making the Bomber Z1 an obvious choice for riders interested in a simple, comparatively inexpensive coil fork.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
Öhlins RXF36 m.2
  • 2111 g (RXF 36 m.2 Air, 27.5”, 38 mm offset, 170 mm travel)
  • RXF36 m.2 Air
  • RXF36 m.2 Coil
  • RXF36 m.2 Air: $1,250
  • RXF36 m.2 Coil: $1,250
  • RXF36 m.2 Air: 140 – 170 mm, via air spring cartridge / spring tube swap. Spring parts for 90, 100, 120, 130, and 180 mm travel available aftermarket.
  • RXF36 m.2 Coil: 130 – 170 mm, via adjustable spacer.

TTX18, with adjustable high and low speed compression, and adjustable rebound

  • Air: Three chamber air spring with auto-equalizing positive and negative springs. Independently adjustable ramp up chamber.
  • Coil: Coil spring with five spring rates available
  • 27.5”: 38 and 46 mm
  • 29”: 44 and 51 mm

Swedish brand Öhlins have been a mainstay in the motorsports suspension world since the 1970s, and more recently entered the mountain bike market. We’ve been testing their RXF36 m.2 Air fork, and are very impressed with its performance.

The RXF36 m.2 Air uses a conceptually similar air spring design to the IRT spring used in the Manitou Mezzer Pro. As with the Mezzer Pro, the result in the RXF36 m.2 Air is an exceptionally supportive fork with a great deal of adjustability in the spring setup. Despite the design similarities though, the Öhlins’ air spring is a bit less sensitive to small differences in pressure settings — it’s accurate to say that the overall tuning window is a bit narrower on the RXF36, but on the plus side, it’s also easier to dial in.

The RXF36 m.2 Air chassis is around the middle of the pack for both stiffness and weight. The RXF36 m.2 Air is not as stiff or precise as the Manitou Mezzer or RockShox Lyrik, despite being a touch heavier than both; compared to the Fox 36, the Öhlins is both a tiny bit stiffer and slightly lighter. The RXF36 is both lighter and significantly less stiff than the RockShox ZEB or Fox 38.

Where the RXF36 m.2 Air does clearly beat out the Manitou Mezzer Pro is in terms of small-bump sensitivity. The combination of supportiveness and sensitivity that it offers is particularly impressive. Riders intrigued by the exceptional support offered by the Mezzer Pro, but unsure about the tradeoffs that it makes when it comes to small-bump sensitivity would be well served by the RXF36 m.2 Air. On the flip side, the Mezzer Pro is slightly lighter, notably stiffer, and $250 less expensive than the Öhlins, making it a great option for hard-charging riders who want a ton of support and are okay with a bit less small-bump sensitivity.

Blister Enduro Fork Roundup
David Golay using the Öhlins RXF36 m.2

The RXF26 m.2 uses a twin-tube damper with adjustable high- and low-speed compression, and adjustable rebound. It’s impressively low-friction and smooth, but comes with an uncommonly firm compression damping tune. On most forks, my preferred high-speed compression setting tends to fall somewhere around the middle of the range, and on the 2021 Fox 36 and 38 Grip2, I tend to run the high-speed compression most of the way closed. With the Öhlins, though, my preferred settings actually wound up with the high-speed compression all the way open. At 165 lb / 75 kg, I’m not an especially heavy rider, but do tend to favor relatively firm fork setups for my weight, and lighter and / or less aggressive riders might find the compression damping to be excessively firm.

The high-speed compression knob on the RFX36 m.2 also serves as a climb switch — in the first three positions, it works as a normal high-speed compression adjuster. In the fourth, it activates a climb mode, akin to what you’d find on many rear shocks. I’m on the record as saying that I don’t see much need for these sorts of “pedal modes” on forks as they’re far less prone to pedal bob than rear shocks, especially on longer-travel Enduro types of bikes, but if you feel differently, the Öhlins has you covered.

Öhlins also offers a coil-sprung version of the RXF36 m.2, which we haven’t tested. An interesting note regarding the spring options, though, is that the air version of the spring doesn’t use the inside of the stanchion as part of the air spring, in contrast to most forks on the market. The upshot of this is that it’s possible to switch back and forth between the coil and air spring assemblies as desired. With most forks, using a coil spring runs the risk of scratching the inside of the stanchion, and preventing an air spring from sealing properly afterward. Since the RXF36 m.2 doesn’t seal against the stanchion, there’s no limitation there. Öhlins does spec a slightly different damper tune for the air and coil versions, though, so simply swapping springs won’t produce the exact same results as the out-of-the-box setups for both.

Spectrums

So Which One Would We Buy?

To be clear, we’re taking our reviewer hats off for this section and talking about which fork we would buy for ourselves, personally, if spending our own money. This isn’t any kind of objective statement on which fork is the “best” or anything like that. As I hope we’ve made clear by now, there are a lot of good products here, which have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s much more accurate to look at it as a case of matching the ideal fork to the rider and use case, than any single fork being all things to all people. With that said…

David : If I were putting one of these forks on a bike where I planned to run it at 140–160 mm of travel or so, the choice is pretty easy for me: the Manitou Mezzer Pro. As I’ve said a whole lot on Blister, I tend to favor fairly firm, supportive setups for my forks, particularly for relatively gravity-oriented riding, and the Mezzer Pro excels with that kind of setup in mind.

If I cared a bit more about small-bump compliance, I’d be tempted by the Öhlins RXF36 Air. It’s nearly as supportive as the Mezzer Pro and significantly more supple off the top, but if it’s my money on the line, the stiffer chassis and lower cost of the Mezzer Pro wins out.

Once things start getting to the long-travel end of the range, though, the picture becomes murkier. While the Manitou Mezzer Pro is an impressively stiff fork, particularly given its weight, it’s not as stout as the Fox 38, or, especially, the RockShox ZEB. And those bigger, stiffer forks start to become more appealing as the travel inches higher — both because those sorts of bikes are meant to be ridden harder, but also because as forks grow in travel, so does their axle to crown length, both making the fork less stiff, and increasing the loads placed on it.

As much as I love the chassis on the ZEB, though, its lack of midstroke support makes it hard for me to go that route, personally. To reiterate, I do think I care more about support from a fork than a whole lot of people, and there are a ton of riders who will get along great with the ZEB, but we’re talking about me here. So that leaves us with the Fox 38. It’s not the best fork in this test at any one thing in particular, but it’s extremely well rounded, and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses (apart from maybe weight — it’s heavy). For a 170–180 mm travel application, I’d likely be swayed by a 38 Performance Elite.

Noah: In the 140-160 mm segment, I haven’t yet had the chance to ride the Öhlins RXF 36 Air or the Manitou Mezzer Pro, but David lays out a pretty compelling argument there. Between the Fox 36 and the RockShox Lyrik, though, I honestly don’t really have a strong preference — I’ve happily spent a lot of time on both. Realistically, if I’m at the 140 mm end of this spectrum, I’d probably go with the 36 to have the slightly more supportive fork. If I’m at the 160 mm end of the spectrum, I’d probably go with a Lyrik for slightly better trail-smoothing abilities.

For the longer-travel segment, I have an easier time making the call — I’m smitten by the Fox 38. Yes, it’s heavy. Yes, the crown started creaking and had to be warrantied. But I’m entirely impressed by how it rides — for the way I like my fork set up, it offers a blend of steering precision, mid-stroke support, and small-bump compliance that’s hard to beat. The ZEB is stiffer, but it also felt “dumber” for lack of a better term. It’s more muted feel didn’t translate to pure love for me — it just felt a bit dead.

7 comments on “Trail / Enduro MTB Fork Comparisons”

  1. When you said “trail” I was thinking 34 mm stancions….. I don’t think I need a 36 (or more) on my 140/116 trail bike, but I also prefer said bike with Rekons vs DHF, DHR, Aggressors and the likes. Maybe you meant a class of bikes in the “trail/enduro” category, not trail or enduro. Or maybe I’m just not able to push it hard enough ;-) Cheers and thanks for the continued quality output.

    • Bill — you’re definitely right that these are at the burlier end of the Trail spectrum. The lines get blurry depending on your preferences and so on, but for the sake of keeping things focused, we limited this one to forks that wouldn’t be out of place on an Enduro bike.

      We will have some reviews coming for lighter forks and Trail bikes soon, so stay tuned!

  2. I’m building up my lovely steel Nimble9 as a SS, I want to go weight weenie but 1400 forks don’t seem to be light.
    I have not been able to find a Mezzer in 140mm by 29″, I am considering a Helm MKII but your review has me hopeful for a Manitou as I plan on a LOT of standing sprints up every single hill.

    • I just bought a Mezzer Expert for my hardtail, and found out that they sell them in 180mm or 160mm travel lengths. All of these models can have the travel internally adjusted between 180-140mm. My fork included the parts to adjust travel, I just had to buy a few tools and watch some YouTube videos to do it. Rad fork so far!

    • We’d love to get on one too, but haven’t been able to make it happen yet. Maybe sometime down the line.

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