Every once in a while, I get the bug to build up a fast, light race bike. I think about how cool it would look and zippy it would feel during my three, four or even six annual races. Much time is spent talking to friends, trawling eBay, and completing fantasy builds before my financial bottom line wins out and the idea goes back into hibernation. Sure, there are 22lb full suspension bikes available to those willing to drop the coin, but in a more realistic price bracket, I'd be looking at an XT or X9 equipped, 25lb 4in travel bike that really wouldn't be ridden all that much. The recent realization that my 5in travel 'trail' bike is pretty darn efficient and hovers right around 26lb to begin with had me wonder about how to make it a better race bike.
While wheels are an obvious starting point, I also realized that the plush 140mm Marzocchi I've been riding had a huge impact on how my racy (or not-so-racy) my bike felt. With a lightweight 120mm fork and some fast tires, I reasoned, I could bring back a bit of that race feel without needing another bike- all in about 30 minutes. Given my excellent experience with Rock Shox forks, I decided to order up a 2010 Reba Team. Outside of the 29er world, the Reba is a criminally overlooked fork. After the SID's 2009 redesign (which made it go where pointed but brought that model into the mid-3lb weight range), the gap between Rock Shox's raciest fork and its stiffer, longer travel sister has become very small. The Reba comes in several versions with optional remote lockouts, standard 9mm QR or 20mm dropouts, and externally adjustable (U-Turn) or fixed travel. Going, as I was, for a race fork that would be a good match for a 5in travel XC bike, I chose the fixed-travel Team model with a remote lockout lever.
What few riders (or even shop employees) seem to realize is that most fixed-travel Rock Shox forks' travel can be adjusted internally by adding or removing provided shims.
Before the fork is installed (and while it's still clean), changing the travel is a simple 20 minute job involving nothing more complicated than some Allen keys, a mallet, and snap ring pliers. As long as the fork is kept close to horizontal (I used my workstand), the oil in the lowers won't need changing or topping off. With the spacer removed, I had myself a 3.75lb, 120mm suspension fork- not a bad start to a reasonably light enduro bike.
Coming from bigger forks, the lower, lighter Reba felt great. Dropping the front end made for a racier cockpit and steepened my bike's angles a bit. With Dual Flow (separate rebound circuits for small and large hits) BlackBox Motion Control damping and a titanium spring, the Team's damper doesn't feel quite as plush as my last two Rock Shox- but, at 2 months old, the fork probably isn't quite as broken in yet. The dual air springs do a great job of allowing for suspension movement on all but the smallest obstacles but ramps up nicely to handle bigger bumps very well too. As usual, the air pressure guides on the fork's lower legs are spot on and I use very little rebound damping to keep the fork from packing down and becoming harsh on repeated hits.
The fork's "Power Bulge" casting is plenty stiff for my 140lb, even in the fork's longest configuration, and feels stiffer fore and aft than Fox's thru-axle 32 TALAS. Bigger riders might want to play with the idea of the 20mm "Maxle Light" thru-axle Reba (wheels permitting), though- it adds very little weight. The new Push Lok remote lockout's cable exits straight forward from top of the right leg, making for less graceful routing than earlier versions', which were integrated into the crown and left the leg at 10:00. Beyond that, the fork is handsome enough in white and came with both red and gold sticker kits.
While a $725 suspension fork isn't cheap, it is cheaper than buying a dedicated race bike. The Reba Team and a pair of fast (though grippy) Geax AKA tires took my trail bike from an all-day technical riding bike to one very well suited to moderately technical race courses and the smooth Foothills trails we're confined to for the winter. With about 500 miles under it, I can say that the Reba is looking (and feeling) like one heck of a fork. It's light and stiff and its suspension action is excellent. It's not quite as plush as the 2010 Revelation Team, but that's to be expected given its shorter travel and intended use. My real only complaint is that the PushLoc remote lever has already lost a screw, which makes it a bit rattle-y. It still works, but I'll need to track down a replacement before too long. It'll be a month or two before I can use the Reba on more demanding terrain, but the fork has never yet felt overwhelmed. As I did on my 29er's fork, I may well change out the 5wt oil for 2.5wt, which will allow me to run slightly higher pressures to reduce brake dive a bit more without sacrificing small-bump compliance. If I had it to do again, I'd probably forego the remote lockout (which adds somewhere around .2lb) to save $60 or possibly the BlackBox damper in favor of the already excellent $575 Reba Race. Though it's chronically overlooked in favor of Fox Floats, I think that the Reba would be a great choice for anyone building up a fast and light 5in travel bike (like an Ibis Mojo or Pivot Mach 5). U-Turn adjustable travel versions would also add a bit of versatility to capable 4in travel bikes (like Giant's Anthem X series). Look for a final review of the Reba this fall.