Fox introduced this, the latest 36, in the 2021 season and it rapidly established itself as the best mountain bike fork for aggressive mid-travel trail riding. A new air-spring and damping range finally caters for lighter or less aggressive riders but still delivers for proper pinners. While this superb fork is top of the range, the Factory version we're looking at here isn’t the most cost-effective model though.
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Design and specifications
The latest Fox 36 is a major evolution from previous models inside and out. The most obvious changes structurally are the much bigger, rounded arch with more forward projection. This also gets threaded mounts for a dedicated fender which I’ve not tested but looks a bit small to make much difference in real mud. The back of the fork also features a raised rib that houses a bypass channel from the lowers up to a ‘Bleeder’ air valve on each leg. The crown has more overlap to combat steerer creak and the dropouts now have a floating adjuster to give perfect lower leg alignment. However, while the crown is 20g lighter, overall weight actually increases over the previous incarnation.
The arrival of the bigger Fox 38 model meant the stock travel options for 36 dropped to 160mm in 27.5in and 150 or 160mm travel in 29, but air-springs up to 170mm are available aftermarket. Offset options are 37 or 44mm in 27.5 and 44 or 51mm in 29. Our test fork was a 150mm travel, 44mm offset 29er but we’ve ridden Factory and Performance Elite 36s in other formats too.
Internally, the air-spring and damping have both been reworked too. The new EVOL air spring features a larger negative chamber. The VVC (Variable Valve Control) design with its cunning shim balance point altering, adjustable leaf spring, is now used in the compression damping circuit and not just the high-speed rebound. Low and high-speed compression damping are dialed in via metal wheels on top of the right-hand leg, while high and low-speed rebound damping is under a ‘dustbin’ cover on the right lower. The Factory version gets the iconic ‘Kashima’ gold anodized stanchions that tell everyone you’re riding the top dog Fox. There’s a full pro race ‘Fox orange’ painted lower option for the same price too, but only in 44mm offset and 160mm options.
Previous generations of Fox have been notorious for stiff feeling forks with a damping range focused on larger and more aggressive riders. The new batch is far more welcoming to lighter, more subtle pilots. As a result, while at 70kg I historically had to wind compression damping completely off, the new 36 gives me at least the lighter end of the high and low-speed damper range to play with. They don’t need an obvious breaking-in period either, with the larger negative spring making them feel super plush off the top of the stroke.
The suggested fork settings are much more accurate than they have been in the past although the default rebound prompts are a bit slow if you’re not regularly doing large jumps. The VVC damping is more forgiving of less than perfect setup in general too and the whole Fox vibe is just a less intimidating and ‘judgy’ place to be.
It’s pretty much a parade of desirable suspension cliches. Buttery smooth off the top and super fast to respond to any jabs or punches from sudden hits at any point of the stroke. Under cornering and braking loads though it stays settled, supportive, and feedback-rich at whatever level your chosen low-speed compression adjustment naturally sits at. It feels super composed through serious slams too, accessing deeper travel progressively without ever wallowing or getting lost mid-stroke. That makes it better able to cope with the seismic appetite of high pivot bikes such as the Forbidden Druid, which I spent a lot of time on with the fork last summer. The only slight niggle is that low and high-speed compression aren’t entirely independent in terms of the overall effect, but you just need to be aware of that and compensate tune accordingly.
As sublime as the Float Factory 36 is, it’s worth noting that you get exactly the same changes and performance with the Fox Performance Elite version for $150/£100 less just without the golden Kashima stanchion coating. Given that I’ve never seen any tangible benefits from Kashima in terms of less friction or greater longevity The FIT4 damper version with a three-position firm lever for extra climbing support is also cheaper at $1,079/£1179. The current RockShox Lyrik is both 100g lighter and more than a couple of hundred dollars/pounds less too.
Fox's Float Factory 36 is a fantastic fork and it really does set the gold standard for hardcore trail suspension. It’s supple, subtle, and far more welcoming and less tiring than previous generations for lighter riders, but it’ll match the best rear suspension bikes without worry.
The Performance Elite delivers the same performance for less money though and while the current RockShox Lyrik is lighter and cheaper but not quite as plush. We’ll be re-evaluating that comparison as soon as we can.
Tech Specs: Fox Float 36 Factory GRIP2
- Price: $1441.99 / £1239.99
- Sizes: 27.5 and 29in, 150 or 160mm travel, 37 - 51mm offset
- Weight: 1191g (model tested – 150mm travel 44mm offset 29er cut down to 185cm steerer)