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Fox 38 Factory Grip 2 fork review

The 38 Factory is the biggest and most expensive single-crown mountain bike fork Fox has ever made but is it the best big-hit fork in its category? We’ve been smashing several sets down UK and Alpine trails from summer to winter to find out

Fox 38 Factory Grip 2
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

A brilliant balance of sensitivity, support, precision and comfort for flat-out speed fiends but heavy on the bike and the wallet

For

  • Fantastic suspension feel
  • Sensitive yet supportive
  • Super precise but comfortable
  • Fully useable tuning
  • Brilliant tracking and traction
  • Atmospherically adjustable

Against

  • Next level pricing
  • Heavy
  • Go higher on recommended pressures
  • Limited travel options
  • No 1.8in steerer
  • Potentially overkill

Fox wasn’t the first manufacturer to introduce a 38mm legged single crown Enduro fork, but you’ll certainly see more of its new monster on bikes and on trails than the pioneering RST Stitch. Totally new chassis and internals are loaded with practical smarts to create a truly outstanding stiffer tracking yet smoother feeling benchmark fork for the flat-out fast through anything crowd. Set up isn’t as simple as RockShox Zeb though and it’s a lot more expensive.

Construction 

Rather than adopting the 40mm legs of its 40 DH triple-crown Fox has slotted the new fork into the obvious gap in the 32, 34, 36, 40 line-up. To make sure it doesn’t get cramped the company has now discontinued any 36 forks with more than 160mm travel, so if you want 170 or 180mm of stroke, 38s are your only option. Unlike RockShox Zeb there’s no 190mm option though and Fox has not introduced a 1.8in steerer version for some of the E-bikes that are now appearing with huge head tubes. By throwing the new smoothly curved brace further forward from the crown its given more clearance for oversized head tubes and angle set bearings though. Fox also ovalized the steerer tube so it’s fatter at the front and rear which it says makes it 9% stiffer front-rear than the 36. The bigger legs and crown plus rounded, forward projecting brace also make it a 31% stiffer laterally and 20% stiffer torsionally. Big numbers, particularly as RockShox only claims significant gains torsionally for the 38mm legged Zeb compared to the 35mm Lyrik.

The ridges up the back of the legs are channels that let air (and a bit of lubricating oil) from the lower leg transfer to the top of the fork. That keeps the top seals smooth and stops pressure build-up in the lower leg effectively creating a secondary air spring. Those channels also have manual release valves so you can burp out increased pressure caused by heat build-up or changes in altitude. Rather than using the whole leg volume the air spring also sits in a smaller diameter tube, reducing the external air effect and seal drag. 

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Fox 38 Factory Grip 2

You get both low- and high-speed damping adjustment of rebound and compression (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Fox 38 Factory Grip 2

The manual release valves allows increased pressure to be burped out (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Fox 38 Factory Grip 2

You can get a QR lever axle or a lighter Kabolt bolt-in hub option (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Fox 38 Factory Grip 2

The brace has been shaped to give more clearance (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

On the damping side, the Grip 2 circuitry gives you both low- and high-speed damping adjustment of rebound and compression. Both high-speed circuits now get Fox’s VVC system where the leverage point of the oil-slowing shims in the stack are altered by the external adjuster, effectively making them softer or firmer without having to get inside and physically change the shims.

Back on the outside, the dropouts are still 15mm but the QR axle now has a step that clamps the hub against the left leg but leaves the right leg floating slightly on a sleeve. Once you’ve compressed the fork a few times to make sure it’s neutrally aligned you then tighten the sleeve clamp and the legs are secured with perfect alignment and free telescopic movement rather than being squeezed in or splayed apart by an over or undersized hub. 

If you don’t want the QR lever version there’s also a lighter Kabolt bolt-in hub which doesn’t have the sleeve system. Either way, it's still a relatively heavy fork, with our 160mm travel-sample weighing in at 2,340g cut and star-nutted. That’s 65g heavier than Zeb and the 38 also needs an adaptor to run a 200mm brake rotor.

Performance 

I actually came into riding the 38 blind, using a Performance Elite version on a complete test bike at first without hearing any of the tech prep/hype. It was also my first time on a current year Fox, but it still totally blew me away. Admittedly that was partly because I was expecting a bigger legged version of the 36 to feel even stiffer and more unforgiving than previous generation 36s and 40s tended to. That meant the exceptional smoothness and sensitivity of the 38 came as a very welcome shock and the more our test team hammered different Performance, Performance Elite and Factory examples of the fork everywhere from super steep, pick your way rock steps in the Lake District to flat-out boulder runs or the subtle root and soil change nuances of natural trails the more it impressed. Despite that seamless connection to the trail over the small stuff, the spring rate means it never dives too deep into travel even when you’re panic stopping an E-bike. It also gives excellent support under cornering load and super precise but never overwhelming feedback for exactly what the tires are doing. As a result, despite the fact it’s structurally stiffer it actually feels smoother, more compliant and less tiring, while still tracking and nailing the most demanding line choices without hesitation or deviation. Or to put it another way, set up right this 38 feels like that perfect moment with buttered toast, when the bread is still crispy but the salty smoothness is fully fluid. There’s obviously a vegan alternative too, but plant-powered riders will have to find their own analogy. Either way however far you drop it from or badly you fumble a catch the 38 always seems to land right side up and give you plenty of ‘5-second rule’ time to clean up your act and carry on feasting on the fastest, rowdiest lines.

Fox 38 Factory Grip 2

The Fox 38 offers a wide range of adjustability to tune in your preferred fork characteristics (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

We need to point out that the printed pressure recommendations on the leg seem to be a little low if you’re an aggressive rider (it’s a common Fox trait) and inevitably more adjustability means more chance of getting things wrong if you don’t tune systematically. Fox has now made the tuning bandwidth fully useable though (even if you’re a light rider) so while some extremes of setup won’t be perfect they won’t be lethal either. That makes the whole fork more forgiving and while older Fox big hit forks had an air of ‘hardcore riders only’ intimidation and about them, pretty much anyone will love the way the 38 feels.

At this point, you need to remind yourself that it is extremely expensive though (the RockShox Zeb is over £300 less). You can get the Performance Elite (exactly the same but no gold Kashima stanchions) for £1,199 though and the Performance (same structure but bleed valves are an added extra and the damper is the simpler FIT GRIP). It’s a lot heavier than the 36, which gets most of the same tech as the 38 and feels equally fabulous if you don’t need the extra stiffness of its bigger brother. As we mentioned before though if you need a 170 or 180mm travel single crown fork the 38 is now you’re only Fox option.

Verdict

Fox’s 38 Factory is extremely expensive and significantly heavier than the similarly updated and superlative 36. That makes it more fork than most people actually need if they only need 160mm of travel. If you’re a mid-travel mauler or need 170 or 180mm though then the stiffer structure, actual air spring, the workaround of the accidental lower leg one, the leg alignment and inclusive rather than exclusive VVC damping performance all work together is fantastic. It’s more controlled, it’s more consistent, it’s more sensitive, responsive but still super supportive and despite being noticeably stiffer structurally it’s actually more comfortable, too.

Tech Specs: Fox 38 Factory Grip 2 fork

  • Price: £1,299.00 / $1,199.00 / AU$2,288.99
  • Weight: 2340g (160mm travel)
  • Travel: 160 - 180mm travel (160mm tested)
  • Colors: Factory orange, black, Ltd Ed Pistachio
  • Sizes: 27.5 and 29er