30 September 2008

bikefix Initial Review: 2009 Fox 32 TALAS 150

Within the mountain bike community, Fox is widely regarded as one of the best fork manufacturers around- if not the best. Their forks feel the way people think a fork should feel and the (XC and DH) racers that use them love them. I also think they make good forks, but I’m not quite as smitten. They have good durability and quality American construction, but across the range I would say that Fox forks are over-damped, compression-wise. I know many people think this feels better and racers absolutely prefer it, but it doesn’t mean its better for me- or you. I’ll start this review with this argument because it is one we often have around the bike shop and in a way, it defines what kind of rider you are (or think you are). There isn’t really a “right” answer in this debate, but there might be a right choice for your type of riding- and it might not be what you thought.

I want less high-speed compression damping because I ride long rides over really rough terrain and that ultimately means less work/fatigue for my arms. I’m not out there trying to push my downhill speeds to the limit. I don’t jump often and not very high when I do, and the biggest drop I will try is maybe 3 feet if the landing looks nice and happy. The higher the low-speed compression damping, the more it prevents the fork 0ver-traveling in response to medium and larger impacts. Racers like it because it helps reduce brake dive and gives the fork a firmer more predictable (and race-y) ride. Unfortunately, it's hard to increase low-speed compression damping without impacting high-speed compression damping. As a result, the rider spends more energy dealing with small bumps and the residual energy from a slower compression. This of course makes sense for a racer because predictability of handling is more important than a plush ride; after all they spent an awful lot of time honing their bodies to deal with the race scenario and a plush bike tends to feel a bit detached for them. Fatigue is also less of a factor for those who's rides can be measured in the minutes (DH) or low hours (XC).

What about those of us who don’t have as much of the racer gene, or those of us who don’t regard speed as the ultimate criteria by which to judge our biking experience? We might be fairly fast or we might be a bit slow, but the more comfortably a bike rides- the happier we are. I am in this group, and anybody who rides with me can tell you: I’m not fast, but neither am I slow. Yet I prefer a fork with very minimal compression damping. For the record, and for you naysayers out there: I am not alone and I do have some very respectable company (come ride with us and I’ll show you). With less low-speed compression damping, I give up a bit of predictability on descents but this applies more to the bigger obstacles like drops/rocks/jumps and not the majority of the downhill. Less high-speed compression damping means that my fork is also better able to respond to those surprise impacts that I don't expect. So does it make sense to tune a fork for what most of us encounter during only a small percentage of our ride? Not to me.

Let’s deal with the other aspect- brake dive. This is where I think most people decide they like a Fox. Most riders hate brake dive. Many engineers and suspension gurus will tell you: “Oh, that is low-speed compression damping, and Fox makes that adjustable”. Yes they do- sort of. Even with the “low-speed” compression dial all the way to it’s minimum, the forks are over-damped. If I turn the “low-speed” dial up on the trail the fork just feels worse to me. Sure, a racer may use energy more efficiently if the fork isn’t bobbing around, but the fork doesn’t feel nearly as good over bumps, and really the rider is hamstringing the fork. In addition, control in rough terrain is compromised- it'll feel fast, but isn't always. Racer types think this is an acceptable trade-off and maybe it is for them. I have learned to ride with brake-dive. All the rider needs to do is push their weight backwards a couple inches as they hit the brakes- easy to learn to do and it is very effective except perhaps in a complete panic stop. I accept it because, at least with today's front suspension, it is a worthwhile trade-off for how the fork behaves the rest of the time.

I’ve written all this and the whole time I was referring to the downhill portion of the trail. A fork with minimal compression damping will go uphill many times better than its over- damped rivals. When climbing, one doesn’t need to use as much body movement on the technical sections of the trail if the fork is allowing the wheel to move up and over bumps. The rider can focus more on their legs and line and let the fork, well, do it's job. Fox is aware of this and supposedly the 09 Talas is actually less-damped in its 2 shorter-travel settings.

I have been riding both the regular (2008) 100-120-140 32 TALAS and the (2009) 110-130-150 QR15 version. This review is about the latter of the two. With the above lecture out of the way, I can honestly say that I really like this fork. It feels much more linear that any Fox I have ridden. Fox says that the seals on this fork are better and have less stiction, and this may well be the result.

The set-up is easy, but I found I needed a bit less air pressure than recommended right out of when the fork was brand new, adding air once it broke in after a few rides. The low-speed compression damping is still a bit high for my tastes but not by much and it seems to be an excellent match for the 150mm travel setting. The TALAS travel-adjust system has been completely re-done and is much simpler than before. Some of Fox's 2008 TALAS forks had travel-adjust issues and hopefully this will make them as reliable as the (less complex) Float series.

New for 2009 is the 15mm quick-release thru axle co-developed with Shimano. This is a thing of beauty and it noticeably sharpens the steering over the standard QR fork. In fact I think it may have saved my butt a couple of times when I made poor line choices. Technically, It may not be as stiff as the 20mm format, but it felt very similar in steering to all the 20mm’s I’ve tried, and I ‘m sure I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference on the trail. At only a slight weight penalty over standard quick releases (in either the fork or hub), I really hope that the industry adopts this format. Unlike some fork manufacturers, Fox forks usually get close to the amount of travel that they advertise, and the 09’ TALAS’s are as close as I’ve seen from Fox at about 146mm (Most forks have a bottom-out bumper that accounts for the last few millimeters of travel).

The 09 TALAS series is silver in color and this is a pleasant change in my opinion. The fork still has all the same features as before: air preload, adjustable rebound, slow-speed compression, and a lock-out with blow-off valve adjustment. The quality seems as high as ever, but I’ve heard some grumblings about other 09’s having trouble. I just spent a week in the Alps with mine and had no trouble despite wet weather, plenty of climbs, and close to 50,000 vertical feet of descending. If you have a 5-6inch travel trailbike that you are looking to upgrade your fork on, then I highly recommend the 2009 Fox 32 TALAS QR15- despite the long title. One issue buyers should be aware of is that you will have to get a new 15QR hub, or an adaptor for a 20mm hub if you already have one of those. This will make it a bit less attractive until the standard becomes more widespread. Always at the higher end of the price spectrum, the TALAS retails for $900.00.




luceronator said...

You can clearly see, this isn't something that Charlie puts much thought into.

I have to argue with "supposedly the 09 Talas is actually less-damped in its 2 shorter-travel settings."
With the damping in one leg, and the Talas system in the other, there's no way the two could be working together like that. I believe the idea is that the fork is more lightly sprung in those settings, helping to make it a bit more plush and climb better.

Not that I put much thought into it or anything.

troy said...

Thank you. I recently purchased a blur lt(2) And wanted a float 32 rlc. the LBS didn't have one in stock at the time and gave me a talas RL off a Specialized in the meantime - which I will probably keep now!