10 June 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Magura Menja 130 suspension fork

Regular bikefix readers will know that I'm pretty picky about suspension. Being a lightweight but aggressive rider, it feels like most companies' front and rear suspension just isn't built for me. At lower pressures, many forks and shocks' stiction is exposed, making them feel harsher to me than most riders. Lowering pressures further can sometime get a fork moving over small bumps- but at the expense of the rest of its travel. Over the past 10 years, many manufacturers' goal has been to produce as "linear" feeling a fork as possible. Coming from low-volume air and short-travel elsastomer sprung forks, this was a revelation to many riders. However, as every category of bike sees increased travel, this "linear" feel quickly becomes "dive-y" and bikes blow through their travel far too readily. The solution, for many, is to find a happy medium: passable (though not good) small bump performance with enough pressure to prevent hard bottoming under most circumstances. As riders become more suspension-literate and their expectations are raised, however, this just isn't cutting it.

At Interbike last year, I visited every suspension fork maker I could find looking for a holy grail of sorts: A reasonably-priced 5in travel XC fork that works equally well on small and large bumps, was reasonably priced and came in under 4lb. The standard against which this fork would be judged? RockShox's excellent Revelation. As I mentioned in my Initial Review, the Germans are making some really well thought-out gear at the moment. The bikefix Crew are big fans of pretty much everything we've tried from Syntace, and VauDe, Deuter and Ergon are making some fantastic bags for both commuters and mountain bikers. While I hadn't really looked closely at Magura's line in the past (put off by having worked on some of their disc brakes around the turn of the century), I came away very impressed with the company's $470 Menja 130. After thinking on it a bit, I ordered one to see what it was like.

Built in Germany, the Menja line consists of 80, 100 and 130mm fixed-travel forks. When handling a Menja, one can't help but notice how well everything seems to have been built. The disc tabs and dropouts have stainless steel inserts to prevent scarring and corrosion. The lockout is aluminum and actuates smoothly and precisely and the air cap and rebound adjuster are nicely machined and laser etched as well. The Menja plain oozes quality. In the pursuit of stiffness, the lowers use the company's proprietary Dual Arch Design, which looks a bit funny but seems to work very well. In fact, while my light weight keeps me from being the best judge of a fork's stiffness, some of the bigger riders I know call Magura's the Menja and Wotan the stiffest non-thru axle forks they've felt. At 3.75lb, the Menja is reasonably light for its intended use, especially when its price is considered.

Positioned above only the unfortunately-named Odur, the Menja is Magura's simplest air fork. No platform damping. No travel adjust. As I've noted in the past, I'm a big fan of active forks. While platform damping in general 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. As someone who is accustomed to backing most forks' rebound damping full off (and occasionally wanting for less), the Menja's extremely light compression and rebound damping was a pleasant surprise. The light damping allows the fork to follow the ground very well- I even had to increase the rebound damping a bit to keep it from pogoing. In an effort to keep stiction to a minimum, Magura have allowed the Menja's lower leg seals to breathe somewhat. While not noisy like some forks I've ridden, this means that there can be a fair bit of scary-looking oil on the stantions. Though the company warned me to expect this, it was a little bit worrying at first. In effect, what is happening is that some of the lubricating oil (the damper is well sealed and tucked away inside of the upper leg) is allowed to work its way past the wipers, taking contaminates with it. When I pulled the Menja apart a while back, it was clean inside- so the system seems to be working well. What this does mean is that the Menja might want a bit more lubrication than other forks on the market (though most every fork will appreciate an annual tear-down) and it can be a bit messy if not wiped off from time to time.

In my initial review, I noted that I felt that the Menja's sweet spot (for my weight) was at a very low 52psi. The result was a fork that is probably the smoothest I've felt on small bumps but an overly linear feel: the fork's large air chamber just didn't allow such low pressures to ramp up enough to prevent bottoming. My hopes of the seals breaking in (to allow be to run higher pressures without small-bump harshness) never came about, so I talked to Justin at Magura about possible fixes. As I suspected, his suggestion was to add a bit of oil to the air chamber (where there usually is none). My inability to correctly read a beaker led to several tries (adding too much oil will decrease the fork's travel but not its length) and I settled on about 5cc of 5wt oil (Magura recommended a max of 2.5cc). This had the effect of decreasing the air chamber's volume and (given the same starting pressure) increasing the air pressure at the end of the fork's stroke. While this sort of thing shouldn't be necessary for heavier riders, for me it made the Menja a much more predictable fork on the trail (nobody like to hit a mid-sized bump only to find their bars 4in lower than they should be).

After about 9 months, I'm still impressed with the Menja. While $470 isn't cheap, it has to be the best-built fork I've seen for less than twice that- and its actually built in Germany. For lighter riders, I still think that forks with adjustable negative springs will provide better performance at both ends of their travel (at the cost of increased complexity and price). Heavier riders (starting at, say, 170lb), on the other hand, should be thrilled with the Menja's stiffness and coil spring-like feel. For riders who like the feel of Fox's Vanilla but who'd like lighter weight, more adjustability and (probably) increased stiffness, I can't think of a better option.



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