The best mountain bike fork heavyweight division has been a hotly contested sector for mountain bike suspension tech and RockShox’s Zeb Ultimate is one of the best big hit single crown forks around. The Zeb Select shares the same structure and most of the internals to make it a proper bargain bomber. That said, harder and faster riders on longer hills will outrun the composure of the simpler damper.
The 38mm stanchions and a deep angular crown capable of straddling an 80mm tire, lower legs dropping below the axle, sag measuring ladder graphic, bolt-on mini fender mounts and 220mm max rotor rating hasn't changed from the Ultimate version to the Select. The only build difference between Select and Ultimate is the fact the seriously stout crown is painted rather than anodized. That’s a noticeable difference to the Fox 38 family, too, which gets cheaper, heavier alloy stanchions on the basic models. It’s the same story inside with the seals, Maxima Plush lube fluid, and even the DebonAir air spring shared across all Zebs. That also means the same simple top cap-mounted ‘Bottomless Tokens’ can be used to tune air spring progression and it comes in all the same wheel size, stroke and offsets options as its more expensive brother. The only difference is that you get the simpler Charger RC damper with just low-speed compression and rebound adjust rather than the Charger 2.1 with much more advanced valving and high-speed compression adjust, too.
The first thing to point out is the Zeb Select shouldn't be judged until you’ve got at least ten hours of riding into it, as those big legs create a lot of seal drag that can make it feel sticky to start with. The higher air transfer port on more recent RockShox forks also means they don’t suck down onto the trail as succulently as previous generations where the negative spring was more influential on the start of the stroke. Once the internals have slid and slopped around enough to get to know each other well, the DebonAir moves easily over small patter bumps and roots.
While RockShox has used the big legs to lock down twist and lateral stiffness compared to the 35mm stanchion Lyrik they deliberately kept fore and aft feel similar. That means less slap and sting if you’re battering through continual block edges and on really hard, rocky trails. The Zeb Select feels less tiring than Fox’s 38 Performance and Rhythm forks after a few runs.
The setup chart on the back of the fork is more accurate than the Fox ones and the higher pressure balance port on the spring means progression/ride height is really well-judged, too. No tokens certainly gave our 70kg testers an appropriate stroke even on drop heavy runs but heavier riders or slam dunkers might want to screw in some tokens to stop them going too deep. The high-volume, low-pressure air spring Zeb is more sensitive to changes than most RockShox forks, which means you should always use an accurate pump for setup rather than just letting air out with your finger. Don’t forget to be patient with that small-bump sensitivity either.
While it’s okay on shorter runs or smoother trails the RC damper does start to get erratic - particularly in terms of rebound - the harder and further you run it down rocky, steppy trails. Having tested both 150 and 170mm versions of the fork it’s more marked on the longer models where there’s more mid-stroke to get confused. Counter-intuitively, we actually found we could ride harder for longer on the shorter fork, but if that’s the travel category you’re looking at the near 2.3kg weight is definitely very heavy. The low-speed compression damping is functional rather than fine tuned, though it’s still useful for climbing or giving more of a platform feel for pushing through groomed berms.
The good news for existing Zeb Select owners is that you can drop a Charger 2.1 damper straight into the fork to basically build your own Ultimate. However, as the price of the damper is more than double the difference between the price of the two forks we’d recommend more demanding riders just invest in the Ultimate from the start.
The RockShox Zeb Select is seriously stiff and strong, but not painfully so and with a very smooth stroke once bedded in. Simple setup and the extra large brake rotor and tire compatibility plus tons of fit options and top quality internals, make it easy to live with, too. The RC damper is definitely the weak link in terms of control when you’re pushing hard for long periods though, which actually makes the Zeb Ultimate look the more cost-effective fork overall.
Tech Specs: RockShox Zeb Select
- Price: $815 / £817
- Weight: 2,270g (170mm travel, cut to fit 160mm head tube)
- Travel: 150 - 190mm travel (150mm and 170mm tested)
- Colors: Diffusion matt black, high gloss black
- Sizes: 27.5 and 29er in 1.5- and 1.8-inch tapered steerers. 38mm and 44mm offsets in 27.5in, 44mm and 51mm in 29in