Long Term Review
2020 Öhlins RXF36 m.2 Coil Review
In late 2018, Öhlins let the cat out of the bag and released their new fork, the RXF36 m.2. At the time, it was tentatively labelled the RXF36 Trail but that label was confusing and undermined the capabilities of the new enduro/all-mountain fork. By the time it was ready for sale, Öhlins had updated the name to what we see today. Twelve months after the unveiling I received a 160mm 29er m.2 fork with 44mm offset and a coil spring to hold it at full attention. But I also have the air spring assembly ready to go. Thanks to the cartridge-based spring system, this can be swapped from one to the other.
Four months after first bouncing around with the RXF36 m.2 mounted, the fork has seen more abuse than most. Why so long? Öhlins went to great lengths to make the new RXF36 as durable as possible. During the product launch, attending media were told about increased material overlap at the crown and steerer, and how the stiffer chassis increases durability and prevents creaking. With this in mind, I wanted to test the long term durability and that requires heaps of riding. So how has it faired so far?
- Air and Coil sprung options.
- Coil provides 130–170mm travel. Air is 150–180mm
- 160mm coil spring option tested
- Different offset options available:
- 27.5: 46 or 38mm | 29: 51 or 44mm
- 29er 44mm offset option tested
- New TTX18 damper cartridge
- Retrofittable internals
- SKF seals
- Weight: 2,393g (w/ hardware/axle and an uncut steerer)
- MSRP: 1,250 USD/1,190 Euro
Stiffer Doesn’t Have to Mean STIFF
When riding the m.2 at the product launch it was hard to feel the difference in the chassis. We were on bikes we didn’t know and for many of the media in attendance, riding trails we didn't know. This made our ability to compare the new fork with what we were riding at home tricky but it certainly gave us a few hints. However, when I swapped the Smashpot-equipped Fox 36 on my G1 for the new Öhlins fork, the difference was clear.
Immediately after the switch, I noticed the difference the stout chassis made at the handlebar, even on smooth sections of trail. The response to steering input was more immediate with the m.2. That responsiveness has made the bike feel more nimble, with lighter actions needed for direction changes. I've also never experienced any deflection from the fork and it stays on line. The added stiffness didn't produce a front end that needs to be wrestled into submission. In deep compressions and through rough chunky sections, the fork remains composed and direct.
After more than 600kms on the fork, it remains quiet; no creaks, no squeaks, just accurate steering and support. In its coil-sprung form, the m.2 weighs a touch more than some competitors but lighter weight can come at a durability cost and this fork is proving very durable. For riders who've never had an issue with CSU durability, disregard my comments about creaks but the improvements in control and steering response are still worth consideration.
Another thing worth considering when assessing the accuracy of the fork is the choice of a floating axle design. When the m.2 was released, Öhlins was one of the only manufacturers* to use this interface and they have since their first MTB fork. The system provides improved alignment when the wheel is bolted in place, which allows the fork to work better through the stroke with minimal chance of bind. This improved alignment should also help the fork run well for longer with less stress put on the chassis.
*Fox has reintroduced a floating axle for their 2021 36 and the new 38.
Size Matters; That Smaller 18mm Piston
While durability and a creak-free experience were important to Öhlins, there’s more to consider. One is the updated damper, which benefits from many hours of testing under Loïc Bruni, who’s quite particular about his settings. While spending time with Öhlins and Loïc, his attention to detail and general set up fussiness were clear. Working with a rider that hyper-analyzes his equipment led Öhlins to develop the new 18mm piston. They've also generated a large bank of shim stack configurations directly from the race track, with the help of racers like Bruni, Graves and Curtis Keene.
Before getting carried away with shim stacks and whatnot, it's important to understand that the new damper isn't the same as those found in previous Öhlins trail bike forks. The development of the DH38 fork with Bruni saw Öhlins change to the smaller 18mm damper piston from the existing 22mm. That change has been brought over to the m.2 fork and Öhlins claims it provides a lighter, more sensitive ride quality. The benefit should be less hand and arm fatigue, something often mentioned with the original RXF36 which rode a bit harsh. While the smaller, lighter-acting damper should reduce feedback, Öhlins said it also provides increased front-wheel traction thanks to the increased sensitivity.
When it comes to external adjustments, the m.2 offers 15 clicks of low-speed compression and rebound, while the high-speed compression circuit has just three clicks available. The HSC has a fourth position and when engaged, this setting firms up the low-speed circuit while allowing the fork to react when encountering higher shaft speeds. Its location on the HSC adjuster can be confusing but it affects the low-speed circuit when engaged. I generally don’t find pedal support settings useful, especially on bikes with modern geometry but it’s there if you enjoy using them.
Öhlins feels that providing fewer adjustments on the high-speed compression circuit gives riders the ability to quickly find a setting that works for them without being a limitation. The range provided should offer most riders adequate tuning but in the event that an optimal setup can’t be found, a different tune can be installed. There are also two different compression damper configurations available stock, depending on whether the fork is coil or air-sprung. The coil-sprung fork has a C60/R40 tune and the air-sprung fork comes with a lighter C50 compression tune. I'll test the lighter damper setting of the air sprung setup with the coil after switching the spring assemblies. That review will come soon but for now, everything was left as stock for the coil setup.
Over the last 18 months, I've learned that bikes with geometry like the Geometron G1 hold less mass directly over each wheel. That's seen me go down to a lighter coil spring compared to what Öhlins recommended for my weight. Öhlins provides seven spring weights for configuration and my review fork arrived with a black spring (10.6N/mm spring rate) and white spring (9.7N/mm). The fork was mounted with the pre-fit black spring but without getting out of the garage it felt too stiff. I grabbed the socket wrench and pulled the top cap, switching the spring for the lighter white option. It felt better but still wasn’t there.
After a couple of rides to confirm, I had the lighter weight blue spring (8.8N/mm) sent and it's been the ticket. There’s also the option to wind in the spring preload and tighten things up a bit more if needed and I’ve wound it in between 5 and 10 clicks, depending on bike setup. I’ve been able to utilize a good portion of the available external adjustability of the damper and have enjoyed the excellent ride quality of the fork. The coil spring does everything that's expected; it tracks the ground sensationally and provides excellent mid-stroke support, riding higher in its travel. That higher dynamic ride height while still providing heaps of grip and the consistent feel through the stroke are what I enjoy most about a coil-sprung fork.
For a few rides on varying terrain, I continued fettling with the damper settings. Adjustments produce usable changes to the feel of the fork and I haven’t found myself wanting more than what’s available. Eventually, I arrived at a setup that works great for me on 90% of the trails I ride. In Pemberton, the Whistler Bike Park and during shuttle days on Cypress in North Vancouver, I found myself adding a click of HSC. At these locations, I needed added stability from the front end. Stable is an appropriate word to describe the RXF36 m.2. Once set up well, the combination of the chassis, damper and coil spring make this one of the most predictable and balanced forks I’ve ridden. The grip across chatter is excellent but it performs equally well when hitting something hard or touching down to a harsh landing. Across chatter, it's active without getting too deep into the stroke but when the big hits come it takes the impact gracefully, returning to extension in a wonderfully controlled manner.
The composure and predictability have allowed me to get more aggressive coming into rough, choppy sections of trail. There’s less force needed to brace for impact on big hits, allowing me to remain more focused on what's ahead. Confidence in front wheel response has put me more at ease on the bike. Feeling less of the feedback from the trail has also meant there's been no trouble with hand fatigue or arm pump with my preferred bar setup. But the big hit capabilities aren't all, the m.2 holds the bike's shape exceptionally well on high-speed berm and jump trails while still providing heaps of grip. It's changed how I ride my G1 and as a result, after a couple of months, the sometimes additional click of HSC has been added more permanently.
While the fork performs well, no one part makes it what it is. The combination of Öhlins' effort to reduce friction and the more stout chassis combined with the floating axle make it what it is. Currently, I struggle to find a fault with the fork, at least for riders interested in running a coil, which is a bonus in its own right given how few are available today.
Your bike, riding style, terrain etc. may differ but here's where I've ended up. Also worth noting is that during the winter months, I opened the damper settings a click or two from these:
- Bike: GeoMetron G1, size “Extra-Longest"
- Fork: Öhlins RXF36 m.2 Coil
- Travel: 160mm
- Spring: Blue (8.8N/mm)
- Sag: 30mm / ~18%
- HSC: 2 Out (pedal platform is 0) / LSC: 12 Out
- Rebound: 12 Out
Four months on the fork and it's been subjected to everything from gentle trail rides to punching out laps in Whistler. The RXF36 m.2 remains creak-free and the supportive chassis feels great when heavily loaded or directing through an arc. Best of all, it provides gob-loads of grip and composure, keeping the bike shape consistent and traction high in all conditions and terrain. It glides through its travel but in a controlled manner that doesn't pull the rider around at the bars.
I haven’t dropped the lowers yet but it will get a freshen up when the damper and spring are switched for the upcoming air spring review. When completing that I’ll make sure to check back on how the chassis is holding up and how the air and coil compare. I do, however, enjoy the consistency and lack of attention needed from the coil spring.
More information on the Öhlins RXF36 m.2 is available on the website.
Ape Index: 1.037
Trail on Repeat: Changes as often as my mood.
Current Regular: Every test product spends time on Entrail