RockShox has completely rebuilt its trail fork trilogy with new chassis, altered air springs, fancier adjusters, and a radical new damper. The new Lyrik definitely has the potential to be a brilliant, stealthily silent, chaos tamer in the 140-160mm range.
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However, it's not a clear win for RockShox yet when it comes to the best mountain bike forks, as we found our early examples have an issue that literally makes them a real handful.
Design and specifications
The Lyrik might still have black 35mm stanchions (upper legs) but apart from that pretty much everything has changed. Even those stanchions don’t have handy sag markers on anymore, perhaps with the intention of marking this out as a serious fork, for serious riders.
The crown is remodeled with more sculpting and a matt finish and RockShox claims it’s 20 percent stiffer torsionally too. The lower legs have a more angular brace as well as external pressure release valves and cutouts in the dropouts for an insert that interfaces directly with non ‘Torque Cap’ hubs. The brake hose clip is now metal, not plastic, and on the Ultimate version forks, the bushings (the low friction tubes that the lower legs slide up and down the stanchions on) are also longer for more overlap too. The suspension fluid is upgraded to Maxima Plush Dynamic as well.
Externally the previous red color option becomes ‘Heavy Meadow’ green and you still get back-of-arch mounts for a short bolt-on rear-facing fender that doesn’t really do much.
Travel has been reduced to 140-160mm options, with the 38mm legged Zeb now taking its place in the 170mm range. The pressure balancing port between the negative and positive DebonAir air-spring chambers has also been reshaped and shifted. That changes the basic spring rate so that the fork now comes as standard without ‘Bottomless Token’ volume adjusters (previous Lyrik came with two) although you do get them in the box.
The Charger 3 damper is the biggest change though. While previous Charger cartridges have used an expanding rubber bladder to cope with oil displaced by fork compression, the Charger 3 uses an Independent Floating Piston (IFP) like Fox’s GRIP damper and other forks. The damping is designed to deliver almost totally independent control of the high and low-speed compression circuits too, with RockShox showing us lots of charts to ‘prove’ it. The damping uses a tapering, stepped oil path and rebound flow recirculation to minimize noise and inconsistency. The new damper also gets really nice feeling knurled metal fork top compression adjuster dials with five clicks of high-speed compression damping and 15 clicks of low-speed. A single big red and black knob on the base of the leg gives 20 clicks of low-speed rebound adjust while high-speed rebound is fixed unless you strip it down and get amongst the shims.
The final bit of smart tech is the ‘Buttercup’ pucks which are inspired by the vibration damping handle mounts on high-end chainsaws. These rubber inserts first appeared on RockShox Flight Attendant electronically adjusting forks. They sit at the junction between the spring and damper rods and the lower legs to suck up micro chatter in the fork structure that’s a lower amplitude than the suspension will respond to.
While travel is slightly reduced, the all-metal internals and new chassis are heavier so the new fork is only a few grams lighter than the previous one at 2021g. For reference, the Fox Float 36 Factory I’ve been testing recently is 1991g cut to fit the same Pace RC295 host bike. In other words, there’s no significant win either way in terms of weight. Pricing is definitely in RockShox's favor though with the Lyrik Ultimate at $1,107 / £1,013 and the Fox at $1,441.99 / £1,239.99.
It’s obvious straight away that the new Lyrik is very different from the previous generation RockShox forks. For a start, there are no sag meters to help with setup but, to be honest, that’s not the deal it would be with something like a rear shock. That’s because I generally prefer a static bounce test to check how much travel a given pressure allows. I also found the recommended pressures on the back of leg sticker to be a good guide for our test riders who were in the 70kg to 85kg range. I never felt the need to add any compression spacers either with the fork progression keeping around 10-15 percent of the travel in reserve until it's really needed. That’s been reflected by everyone else who’s ridden it too, including some nationally top-ranked enduro savages. That’s a big change from the previous Lyrik which needed two or three tokens depending on the feel I wanted and to which the most aggressive riders added even more to. Even when the new fork does get full-travel there’s no thump or slam to disturb composure.
The compression damping also needs a completely different approach to previous RockShox forks and most other forks come to think of it. While low-speed compression can often be cranked on enough to create an almost locked-out feel for climbing on other forks, the Charger 3 is a lot more subtle. That means cranking the dial round for stomping up steep, smooth slopes is no longer a thing. You also need to pay attention to which way your turn the low-speed compression dial, because the increments run off a pointer mark on the high-speed compression dial underneath. That means turning the dial in the “-“ direction actually increases the damping, while “+” actually decreases the damping.
Like a lot of top-performing forks in the past (such as BOS' range) the changes it makes are really hard to discern in a simple car park test too, so getting mixed up isn’t immediately obvious. Start riding through and each click has a noticeable effect on the ride height and platform support of the fork. Like the air-spring, the RockShox recommended start setting of bang central on both compression dials gives a really well-balanced ride too. In almost every situation the damper and air spring work brilliantly together. The changes to negative and positive pressure volumes and the transfer port position make it ride a lot higher than the previous Lyrik and there’s impeccable support for driving hard through turns and pumping features. The IFP damper and progressive stroke means it lands drops and sucks up bigger hits with exceptional smoothness and composure.
There’s no rebound hesitation or stumble even when pushed super deep into the stroke or when you’re sending into rock fields that are known to offer no respite for dampers that aren’t up to the job. This is amplified by the near-silent operation of the fork, which makes Fox Grip2 forks in particular suddenly seem really noisy and squelchy when comparing the two back to back. Add the more affordable price and the Lyrik definitely has the potential to become the benchmark trail fork to beat.
They aren't perfect though
I say potential though, because both our sample 2023 Lyrik and Pike forks have a significant glitch, and we’ve talked to other testers who are having the same issue. RockShox actively celebrate a new “ruthlessly efficient” “satisfyingly stiff” focus to the new forks and the damping feel and stiffer structure means the whole fork has a much tighter, more precise and ‘racey’ vibe than previously ‘friendlier’ RockShox forks. There’s also the range in the compression and – particularly – rebound dampers to make the fork feel over-damped for most riders. That’s not a problem in itself, but it is interesting because it flips the previous Fox vs RockShox relationship where it always felt like Fox was the ‘Pro’ fork that would make less aggressive riders feel inadequate. Now it’s the 36 (and 34) that feel like the more forgiving forks for a wider range of riders. The easy to misunderstand low-speed compression dial can potentially be an issue too.
The real issue we’ve been having as a team though – echoed by other testers we’ve talked to and riders who’ve started using the new forks – is an occasional but painfully sharp jab response over repeated high intensity hits. That means that rather than the Buttercups delivering the dreamily comfortable ride we were promised, we frequently found our hands blowing up badly through rooty/rocky sections. Think the kind of bite you get from hard, narrow grips/very stiff handlebar/over rigid tire, accidentally left on lockout, top out tap out, or, to be frank, a much cheaper fork.
It’s important to point out that it seems not every fork has the issue and it only occurs in some situations. Often when you’re also braking or turning hard on the fork. Unsurprisingly RockShox say that it’s definitely not how they should perform but we know our Pike isn’t the only test fork to have been stripped down and then called back in for inspection though and so far we’ve not had an answer or an update on what the problem might be. We’ve run through every possible setup combination in terms of damping and pressure settings and tested the fork on several different bikes with several different riders just in case there was a syncing issue of some sort. While running minimal rebound and less pressure seems to help its certainly not a cure and causes issues with the performance elsewhere. The fact it seems to be lessening slightly now we’re deep into testing time could be attributed to the bushings easing up a bit, but also it could be we’re becoming slightly numbed to the problem and it’s still very much there when jumping back on a Fox for comparison.
The fact that it’s possible to sense the glitch in what feels like a rebound catch when rapidly pulsing the fork midway through the other stroke suggests it could be an issue with the new back flow piston design. Alternatively the fact it can be triggered by turning and braking reminds me of skinny legged forks where the upper and lower legs bind and create severe stiction under load mean it could be the bushings. I’ve actually asked for a set of the cheaper Select+ forks which have the shorter bushings to double-check, but that email has yet to see a response. Initial thoughts that it could be the Buttercup pucks themselves being too damped (see some D30 shock absorbing insoles for details) were shelved when I realized that the Zeb Flight Attendant forks I’d raved about used the same tech. Also it seems nobody is reporting similar issues with Zeb forks with the Charger 3 damper, which again points to a structural element being an issue on the 35mm legged forks.
However, RockShox’s PR story also talks of development teams working in ‘separate silos’ and then coming together to create a super-lion-bot [a special reference for all you Deadpool fans – Ed], so there we can only surmise that there may have been some unexpected dislocation when all those elements came together in production fork models.
Stiffer without extra weight. Silently, impeccably damped through a full racing range and most of the hit spectrum. Butter-smooth, well-judged stroke control without the need for volume spacers. All dialed-in with the sweetest feeling knobs RockShox has ever delivered and with other neat pieces like the axle adapters and metal hose clip. All for significantly less money than its main competitors. The majority of statements about the new Lyrik read like a recipe for the best trail fork ever, and the potential is undoubtedly there.
After giving RockShox a reasonable period of grace we’ve had no answers to the high intensity, slap impact chatter issues that are seemingly affecting most (though not all – Pinkbike loved theirs) early release Lyrik and Pike forks. That means for the sake of people wondering whether to buy them or not, we have to call that out, though we’ll obviously update this review as the situation progresses.
It’s also worth noting that it seems the whole ‘good cop/bad cop’ fork landscape has now switched around. RockShox is now the more ‘ruthlessly efficient’ silent assassin character, while Fox is now the friendlier – if noisier – option, so factor that into your buying decisions too.
Tech Specs: RockShox Lyrik Ultimate
- Price: $1,107 / £1.013 / €1,196
- Weight: 2,021g
- Travel: 140mm, 150mm, 160mm
- Wheel sizes: 27.5, 29in