10 November 2008

bikefix Initial Review: 2009 Magura Menja 130 fork

While they're not nearly as serious in general as the Swiss, I can't help but thinking that the Germans are very serious about bicycles and bicycling. Why would I say this? Just look at the kid of equipment coming out of Germany at the moment. There are VauDe, Deuter and Ergon packs. Syntace is keeping busy churning out featherweight but downhill-rated bars, stems and seatposts, and of course there have always been Continental's and Schwalbe's very serious tires. Need more evidence? How about Magura's Menja 130 suspension fork?

Magura, a German company, is best known in these parts for their hydraulic disc and rim brakes. Their Martas are long-time racer favorites (Charlie has a set on test) and their Gustavs are downhill workhorses. About five years back, though, the company absorbed Dutch suspension manufacturer Rond. If memory serves (having ridden a couple Ronds), they appeared very well built but had an almost unbearable abount of stiction. In the years since, Magura have brought production over the boarder and worked to make the brand an actual competitor. After seeing good things written about Magura's latest efforts in the Euro press and talking to the company's US distributors at Interbike, I decided to purchase one of their all-around forks- the Menja.

Positioned above only the unfortunately-named Odur, the Menja (like all Magura forks) is actually built in Germany. Essentially, it's the simplest air fork. No platform damping. No travel adjust. The Menja can be ordered with 85, 100 or 130mm of travel and comes with adjustable rebound damping and a lockout. As I've noted in the past, I'm a big fan of active forks. While platform damping is improving, at the front of the bike it still gives up too much in the way of small-bump compliance and adds complexity and cost to a fork. Forgoing all of this allows the Menja to come in at a reasonable 3 3/4lb (130mm travel) and $470. Not a bad price for something built in the first world, and not a bad weight for a laterally stiff 5in travel fork.

Laterally stiff, you say? Well, at 145lb, I'm not the best judge of a fork's rigidity, but bigger riding buddies have had a go and (subjectively) call the Menja the stiffest fork they've ridden this side of a thru axle. While QR15 may be the future for XC riding, lots of us have perfectly good QR wheelsets (and roof racks) that we'd like to get a few more years out of. We'll get back to the ride in a minute. When pulling the Menja out of its box (which also contained a very nice shock pump), the first impression is one of solidity. Not that the Menja is heavy- it isn't, but everything that can be touched or twiddled is surprisingly substantial. The lockout knob is machined out of aluminum, nicely shaped and engages with a very pleasing click. The air filler cap (shown in black at the top of the leg) is also nicely machined and laser etched with "air pressure" and a maximum weight. Pull it off and the leg's top cap is also etched with the same information. The rebound damping knob is much the same. The forward-angled dropouts feature casting-saving stainless steel inserts inside and out, as do the disc mounts. Bad ass. There are a weird-looking pair of braces (Magura's Dual Arch Design), which "ensure maximum torsional stiffness, ultimate steering precision and minimum torsion while braking." There's a (surprisingly accurate) recommended pressure chart on the back of the leg that even has a white space to write in your personal favorite pressures with a Sharpie.

With a nice, low 52psi in the air chamber, and the rebound damper about 1/3 in, I set out for the trail. For a brand new fork with new seals, the Menja felt incredibly smooth. As overused as the term plush is, I feel that absolutely applies in this case. Maybe too plush. Right away, the o-ring on the left leg told me that I was using all of the fork's travel. On climbs. That's a lot of travel to be using on climbs, technical or no. Descending, it felt great on high-speed rough landings, but pretty (frighteningly) prone to 5in dives. Over several rides I discovered that increasing the air pressure slightly and decreasing the rebound damping went a long way toward keeping the Menja from diving to the bottom of its travel at the slightest hint of brake application. I know that a lot of companies make a big point of trying to build the most linear air spring possible, but some sort of progressiveness (ramp-up) as the fork goes through its travel is most certainly a good thing, especially in the absence of a platform damper. Running such low pressures seems to mean that, in this case, the air spring hardly ramps up at all.

So what? Going to 60psi makes the Menja harsher than I'd like on small and high-speed bumps. With ten hours or so on the fork, though, it could still be breaking in. My hope is that there is some initial seal and bushing stiction and that, as they wear in, I will be able to increase the spring pressure without bringing on harshness. Failing that, adding a bit of suspension oil to the air chamber (as I had to do with my Maverick DUC, which felt similar) may well help the spring ramp up a bit more. I've found a happy medium at around 55psi (on my pump)- small changes really do make a difference on this fork and I will continue to experiment. Beyond the overly-linear spring, the fork feels great- smooth, stiff and built for the ages. I'll also get some bigger riders on it to see how it fares with higher spring pressures. I'll keep on it all winter and let you know how it goes!

marc

www.magura.com

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

After some time spent, how do you feel about the quality and performance of this fork?

–Ron

bikefix said...

Ron,

Its been a busy few months with my being on and off other bikes, but so far my overall impression is positive (with a few caveats). The Menja is certainly one of the smoothest forks I've ridden, and feels like the best-built. That said, it is overly linear and dive-y when set up to work well on small stuff- it reminds me of the Maverick DUC32 in this regard. I have some tuning tips (add oil to air chamber) from Magura that I'll be trying out as soon as I'm done flogging our test Giant Anthem.

mb