2021 Fox 36 Fork Reviewed
With the launch of the Fox 38 you can be forgiven for not realizing that an all new Fox 36 was also released for model year 2021. I somehow missed this, and was surprised when I was asked to review the all new Fox 36. "There's a new one?" I gasped. Apparently all new! So what's this new Fox 36 all about then?
- Intended use: Trail / all-mountain / enduro
- Travel: 150 mm and 160 mm
- Stanchions: 36 mm
- Wheel size: 27.5 or 29 inch
- Rotor Size: 180 mm direct Post Mount, Up to 230 mm compatible
- Spring: EVOL air spring
- Damper Options: GRIP2 w/ VVC, GRIP2, FIT4, Live Valve
- Offset Options: 37 mm, 44 mm, 51 mm
- Starting Weight: 1,965 grams
- MSRP: $849 - $1,099 USD
For 2021 Fox has added Variable Valve Control or VVC to the GRIP2 damper for both compression and rebound circuits. VVC is a patented technology for the high-speed compression and rebound adjustment. This system improves the performance of the high-speed circuits by adjusting the stiffness of a leaf spring to effectively control the size of the high-speed flow port vs. the traditional shim stack preload. Fox claims that the new VVC systems provides high speed circuit performance that would normally require rebuilding the damper to optimize a preloaded shim stack to your riding style and spring rate. This video gives some good additional info on how and why Fox has implemented VVC. Externally adjustable low-speed compression and rebound, each with 16 clicks. Externally adjustable high-speed compression and rebound, each with 8 clicks.
While the GRIP2 VVC steals the headlines, the new Fox 36 is also available with the excellent GRIP2 damper, the FIT4 and Fox's active Live Valve.
Updated Air Spring
EVOL increases negative air spring volume, optimizing small bump sensitivity. EVOL’s linear spring curve delivers plushness off the top, extra mid-stroke support, and more tunable bottom-out progression.
The new lowers on the new Fox 36 have a number of changes. The Lower Leg Arch is more pronounced, air bleeders are added, and there are integrated oil channels. The 36's more pronounced arch was not a stylistic decision. This is form following function. Fox aimed to shave every possible gram without compromising stiffness or strength. Fox also pushed the arch forward to improve clearance. This was needed with shorter fork offsets, and larger head tubes on modern bikes.
The lower leg bleeders allow for atmospheric pressure equalization at the simple press of a button (on each leg). Pressure build-up in the lower legs dramatically decreases fork performance, preventing full travel from being achieved, and diminishing small bump sensitivity and responsiveness. This feature allows you to easily burp the forks to account for changes in temperature and elevation, or simply pressure build up over time. Pro Tip, don't use the air bleeders when the fork is upside (keep the oil inside), or covered in mud (keep the schmoo outside)
Fox added oil channels to help with the lower leg bleeders. These passages have two other benefits. The lower leg bath oil can easily reach and lubricate the foam rings, oil seals and bushings. This should reduce friction, and improve fork performance and longevity. Secondly the passages significantly increase the air volume in the lowers at full compression. This reduces the air pressure in the lowers at full compression, which reduces unintended pressure ramping.
A floating sleeve on one fork leg allows the user to precisely match the fork width to their hub width. This allows perfect chassis alignment, eliminating unwanted friction between the upper and lower fork legs. I recommend reading the manual and following the proper tightening procedure. But if you are unsure of how to operate the floating axle system or simply don’t want to bother with it, the sleeve is preset at the Factory to a nominal setting. Available optionally is the new Kabolt-X bolt-on floating axle that shaves a couple grams, and increases torsional stiffness.
I ride in a place where we get a lot of rain. Fenders zip tied to our forks has always seemed like a bodge to me. I like the way Fox has integrated this new mudguard into the fork design. Picking up off the air bleeder locations is smart, and makes for a more rigid mudguard.
To get started I used the tuning guide on the Fox website. I used 2 tokens initially, 100 psi air pressure. 6 clicks out for the compression circuits, 4 clicks out of the rebound circuits. And that was pretty much spot on. I changed to 3 tokens in the air spring, and this made the fork ramp up significantly quicker, so I lowered the air pressure to 93 psi. Both settings worked well for me.
One of the first things I noticed with the new Fox 36 is that it rides relatively high in the travel. It provides excellent support under braking and hard cornering. Normally this would result in harsh bump compliance, but that hasn't been the case. I think this is a function of the revised air spring in combination with the updated damper. I can normally get a fork to feel great on a steep trail, or on a flatter high speed trail but not with the same settings. The updated Fox 36 has been a bit more set it and forget it, providing excellent performance everywhere with one setup. Both high speed braking bumps in the bike park and absorbing big impacts overshooting jumps seemed to be handled with ease.
The updated VVC Grip2 damper is a noticeable step forward. The VVC is most apparent in the fast rough stuff where the fork seems to open up and transmits very little harshness through to the bars. But I'm going to say this is evolutionary and not revolutionary. The Grip2 is already an excellent damper, with the VVC valving building on that foundation. The other main difference with the VVC version of the GRIP2 is fewer clicks on the external adjusters, but each click makes a much more noticeable difference. I had ample room for change in either direction on all external adjustments. This means the new Fox 36 should be easy to setup for just about anyone using just the external adjustments.
The mud guard and air bleeders are relatively minor features, but both add to making the new Fox 36 a polished product. I really liked the new mud guard. It was stiff, didn't make any noise, and my fork isn't scratched from using zip ties to hold a cheap fender. I never got a ton of air whooshing out of the air bleeders, but the fork did feel noticeably better when riding on a hotter day than I last rode because I could quickly equalize the pressure in the lower legs.
After chatting with other riders it's clear that I'm not the only one who missed the launch of the new 36 because it was overshadowed by the 38. And that's a shame really. I think the new Fox 36 is a significant step forward for Fox, and for the 36 chassis. All the changes come together to make the new Fox 36 a significant improvement over the last iteration. I can't comment on long term reliability as I've only had the fork for just over a month, but so far the performance has been excellent. Although the 2021 Fox 36 is laterally stiffer than the older 36 fork, I'd still want a bit more lateral stiffness, but that's what the Fox 38 is for. With its mix of weight and performance the 2021 Fox 36 still sits on the top shelf of aggressive forks. Ultimately its hard to find fault with the 2021 Fox 36, and this is a fantastic evolution of what was already an excellent fork.