28 September 2007

bikefix midterm Review: 2008 Fox 32 TALAS RLC

An early player in the long-ish travel, XC-ish fork market, Fox have built quite a reputation with their versatile 32 series forks. Introduced (in mid-2006) for 2007, the 32 series has 32mm stantions, is available in air- or coil-sprung versions, and have either 140mm or 100-140mm (adjustable) travel. TALAS designates the company's adjustable travel models and the letters at the end stand for the optional adjustable [R]ebound, [L]ockout and [C]ompression. Vans (previously Vanillas) are fixed-travel and coil-sprung, while Floats are fixed-travel and air-sprung.

Having previously owned two Fox forks (an '04 adjustable-travel TALAS and an '07 air-sprung Float RLC), which felt overdamped and unwilling to move over anything much smaller than a tennis ball, I was interested when Fox claimed that their '08 models were designed with more compression damping and lower air pressures. Counterintuitive at first, but it makes sense if (as a suspension designer) you suspect that your forks' unwillingness to move is the result of excessive stiction, caused by seals trying to hold in high pressures. They even went so far as to claim that the '08 forks felt like the corresponding '07 models, only with 5psi less pressure in the front tire. Interesting... The change to post-type disc mounts is also welcome. Compared to IS mounts, post-type mounts are a bit harder to manufacture, but allow you to ditch the 30g or so of adaptors that most disc brakes are using now. Post type mounts also don't rely on bolts in shear to stop the rider, which is a good thing. Dropouts are also angled forward a bit, normal to braking forces, which solves a largely hypothetical scenario where the rider grabs the front brake hard and the wheel is twisted down and out of vertical dropouts. Removing that possibility can't hurt.

We've been riding the '08 TALAS for about a month now, so it's time for a midterm review. First of all, Fox's 3-positions adjustable travel switch is fantastic. Moving the lever (right) 45deg takes the travel from 140 to 120 to 100mm, shortening the fork and keeping more weight on the front wheel for steep climbs. Compared to the Pace RC40 and Marzocchi XC700sl, which use multi-turn knobs (as many as 10 full turns), the Fox is much easier to drop for *oh crap* climbs. That's good. I found my self using it so much that I could almost see the use of a remote handlebar TALAS adjuster- a 140mm fork can be a handful on steep climbs, and lowering even 20mm makes a big difference. I also couldn't feel any lateral flex in the fork either, but at 145lb I would hope not.

Now, there are forks out there that the bikefix crew like. Pace make some fantastic feeling forks, as have Marzocchi and even RockShox. Yet, Fox seems to have the most cachet. Of the six or so forks that I've used (hard) over the past 18 months, the action of the TALAS is unfortunately the worst. In order to get even decent performance out of the fork, I had to drop the air pressure to 40psi (60 is recommended) and (to keep the fork from diving excessively) increase the low speed compression damping to 3 or 4 clicks (out of 5) from the bottom. Yet, it still felt harsh, even surprised, over smaller bumps. Because it doesn't feel like Fox have done a particularly good job at de-coupling the (non-adjustable) high-speed compression damping from the (adjustable) low-speed compression damping, I kept backing the low-speed compression damping off, increasing fork dive and bobbing, in the search for some forgiveness over bumps. I was amazed when I'd dive into rocky streambeds at speed and feel nearly everything. That shouldn't be the case at all.

Adding injury to insult, I came off a few times whilst climbing, something I attributed initially to a crap day, but came to believe was the result of the fork stopping at (rather than rolling over) bumps I shouldn't have had to lift the front end over. That said, though, bigger hits seemed well within the fork's capabilities, but if we're going to deal with the complexity, weight (4.1lb actual), and cost (over US$700), it should have a broader range.

So, this is a mid-term test. On talking with a former suspension engineer (who feels similarly about Fox), we're going to pull the fork and rebuild it with lighter (5wt as opposed to the stock 7.5wt) oil. This should reduce the compression damping all around and could either make the fork work better or turn it into an uncontrollable pogo stick. It could also be that the seals and bushings need to bed in a bit, but after well over 100 hard off-road miles, it should be starting to improve. We'll let you know...


GreenLightGo said...

Interesting to hear your feedback on the RLC. I installed a brand new 2007 32 TALAS R yesterday on my 5" travel bike and after JRA the street, I can feel a BIG change from my RS Tora 318 Solo Air 130mm. I mean a BIG difference. I like the Tora a lot, this if my first Fox though and I'm totally impressed so far. No issues getting over 5" of travel and the TALAS switch is very handy. I weigh 215 lbs and run 75 PSI. I prefer a set it and go type of fork so I opted for the R over the RLC. Brake dive is no worse than my Tora (I used some of the Motion Control damping) but feel is just incredible. Looking forward to my first trip out with this fork.

Scott said...

Yeah I'm curious too... i have a manitou minute 04 (130mm with IT) but wanted a little longer fork for me intense 5.5... fox talas was my first choice but now I'm not so sure??