07 April 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Marzocchi 44 Micro Ti QR15 suspension fork

After you've read through this review, check out our update here. The 44 now feels great and gets full travel...

Marzocchi have had a rough time of things lately- and they'll be the first to admit it. After years of building smooth, durable, and (literally) Bomber suspension forks, the company seemed to lose its way a few years back. While their customers have long been willing to pay a slight premium for the forks' Italian construction and live with their slightly pudgy weights, few were willing to put up with the reliability issues that had recently become associated with the brand. My last experience with Marzocchi was a frustrating one. As much as I liked my fork's suspension action, adjustable travel, and light weight, its inability to maintain a travel setting gave my bike unpredictable in both suspension and handling- especially on long descents. Talking to the Marzocchi guys at Interbike this year, they told me that they were working hard to bring the brand back to what made it great- excellent suspension action and durability without too much fretting about weight or extra features.

Looking through the 2010 Marzocchi range, the most suitable replacement for my RockShox Revelation was clear. At 140mm travel and 4lb, the 44 Micro Ti is the company's air-sprung trail fork. The "ti" refers to the titanium negative spring and the fork takes advantage of the lightweight but strong QR15 thru axle standard (9mm QR versions are also available) to provide improved front end stiffness with an increasing number of cross country and trail wheelsets. An external adjustment allows the rider to change the air spring's volume, making the spring curve more linear for suppleness or progressive to prevent bottoming or over-travel. The fork's compression damping threshold (TST) is easily adjusted and can be either fully or partially engaged via an external lever. Though all of the fork's knobs and caps are nicely machined and laser etched, its stickers are poorly applied and unfortunately cheapen the look. Between the slightly heavy weight, nicely executed details and chunky castings, the 44 Micro Ti certainly gives the impression of solidity.

I decided to give the big white 'zoke a shot and ordered one of the first handful to arrive on our shores (nowadays from Taiwan). Per the owner's manual, I added 40psi to the main spring and set out to enjoy some late-fall riding. To put it simply, I was blown away with the 44's performance. Running low pressures generally reduces the amount of stiction generated by modern forks' many seals, allowing for fantastic small bump action- no doubt aided by the legs' shiny nickel coating. The fork initially felt too linear and dive-y with such a low spring pressure, so I used the air spring's volume adjustment to make the suspension a bit more progressive. This helped to keep the bike reasonably level under big hits and braking without sacrificing suppleness. In the middle of the air volume range, the Marzocchi felt uncannily smooth but never bottomed out harshly. In the loose, rocky terrain that makes up much of our local riding, the fork felt great- supple on slow climbs and fast descents without wallowing when standing. Wide open, the rebound damping was nice and light- allowing for fast recovery in washboard and rough sections without being bouncy. In short, the 44 Micro Ti felt like everything that I look for in trail bike suspension.

Of course, nothing's perfect. The TST lever feels like the usual ball bearing detent follower has been left out and a spring is scraping the underside of the aluminum knob (I have no idea if this is actually the case). It works, but feels awful. The air volume adjusting knob is the sharpest adjuster I've felt and cannot be adjusted without full-finger gloves. Demerits, for sure, but nothing critical. The fork itself didn't seem as stiff torsionally as I'd hoped with the thru axle, but was far from flexy under my 145lb. Oddly, I did notice that the fork made my bike feel a bit twitchier than it had previously- a surprise given the claimed 10mm increase in travel over the Revelation. A few rides in, Charlie mentioned that it looked as though the Marzocchi was riding low in its travel. Sure enough, when I pulled the fork apart by the brace and stem, it extended about 3/4in, explaining the twitchiness. Back in the bikefix workshop, the 44 Micro Ti looked to be getting under 120mm of travel.

I mentioned the issue to the guys at Marzocchi, who told me that the 44 should be run at no less than 55psi, in order for the air spring to overcome the Ti negative spring (to be fair, Marzocchi's manuals have been pretty far from the mark in the past). Taking their advice, I changed the 44's settings and headed back out for the rest of the fall. Sure enough, with 55psi in the air chamber, the fork sits much closer to full travel when unloaded and sags only slightly when ridden. Unfortunately, it is also far too stiffly sprung for my 145lb. I did back the air chamber out to its largest volume to prevent it from ramping up, but at 50 or 55psi, the fork becomes harsher than even Fox's TALAS - a dramatic change from its earlier magic carpet ride.

I really, really want to like this fork. Because I keep pulling the Marzocchi off of my bike in frustration, I can't speak to its durability. If Marzocchi are able to provide a lighter and/or shorter negative spring (so that it doesn't eat into as much of the fork's travel at low pressures), I feel like it has the potential to be one of the best-riding trail forks out there. I'm going to hand it off to Charlie, who's extra 40lb should make 50+ psi a more reasonable setting and so should get full travel and good movement. In the meantime, we'll talk to Marzocchi to see if we can't make the 44 Micro Ti work for lighter riders. Look for a followup later this spring...

Now that you've read through this review, check out our update here. The 44 now feels great and gets full travel...

marc

www.marzocchi.com

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling one of the problems with Marzocchi lately has been their decision to use air as a preload for their coil forks. It just does not mesh well as a technology, because of the different characteristics of air and coils. I have a 2003 marathon s coil and a 2007 xc600 retro which is coil and air, and although the newer model is stiffer i feel adding more air preload makes it notchier because the air makes the seals much tighter (of which zoke seals are already absurdly tight compared to others -this is a good thing mostly but bad when air and coil are mixed together). Bottomline i think if marzocchi is going to be able to pull out of this little problem of theirs is that they should just ditch the air preload technology, forks should either be just air springs or just coil with mechanical preload.

Huwanito

bikefix said...

Huwanito,

Though it was hard to set up, the dual air 2004 or so Marathon was my favorite Marzocchi... I really liked that fork. With the 44, they're using a coil negative spring and air positive spring- pretty common stuff. Non-adjustable negative springs will always have trouble meeting the needs of every rider. We'll see if, when it comes back from tweaking at Marzocchi, it lives up to it's potential...

marc