Sea Otter is full of mini product launches within its Laguna Seca confines, but it is also host to many events that happen outside the famous race track. Just a short trip from the venue lies a number of company headquarters to some of the biggest industry players, including Fox in Scotts Valley, CA. Fox took advantage of Monterey’s invasion by the bike industry to open their new museum, chronicling the suspension company’s nearly 40 year history. We were fortunate enough to get an invite, and took advantage to give you a peek into the museum.
Get a Fox history play by play, including the first ever Fox bicycle shocks after the break!
The evening started off with an emotional speech from the man who started it all, Bob Fox. Like so many success stories, Bob started with an idea but it was an idea that most people thought ridiculous. “Air shocks on a moto? You have to be kidding me.”
When motocross began to experiment with long travel in the Early 70’s, the advantages to the increased wheel travel were obvious but the design took its toll on shocks. Shocks would overheat, sometimes failing completely. As an amateur motocross racer at the time, Bob used his mechanical engineering background to develop a solution – an air pressurized shock absorber.
Today we all know the advantages of being able to change spring rates with a stroke of a shock pump, but back then it was unheard of. Bob took his ideas from pencil to working shocks, and with the help of professional riders like Brad Lackey (who were present at the speech, and Bob thanked personally), Fox Airshox were born.
In 1976, Kent Howerton and his mechanic Eric Crippa invited Bob to join them for a test session in Florida, Bob packed his suitcase to the brim with Airshox and was on his way. After a long day of testing, Kent announced that he liked the shocks and was going to use them in his next race.
“On the flight home, I remember being happy and excited that Kent had chosen my design, but I had no idea of how crucially important that day in Florida would be for my future.” – Bob Fox
Kent went on to win his first race, and continued riding the Fox shocks to an AMA 500cc National Motocross Championship aboard his Husqvarna.
Just a year later, Marty Smith rode his Fox Airshox to the 1977 AMA 500cc National Motocross Championship on his Factory Honda, making it back-to-back victories. According to Fox, those two victories are what truly launched his suspension career.
Due to an earlier agreement with his brother Geoff which allowed Bob the right to buy out the Airshox division from Moto-X Fox, Bob purchased the division and established his own separate company. This is where Fox Shox and Fox Moto-X split. Fox Factory, Inc. along with the iconic Fox logo with the Fox tail sweeping out from the center of the ‘O’ was born.
1979 saw the introduction of the first Fox Forx, still a coil spring fork, but one with massive 44mm stanchion tubes. At the time the standard diameter was 38mm, with a few riders on 41mm forks. Due to complicated installation and high manufacturing costs, the Forx project set the standard for future fork production but lost money and ultimately were discontinued. Only a few hundred sets were produced which of course are in high demand now for vintage moto buffs.
Not letting that setback slow him down, Bob continued to grow Fox Shox entering into the world of the Indy 500, outfitting 14 of the 33 cars in the 1981 running. Entering into the superbike market, it wasn’t long until Eddie Lawson took the 1982 AMA Superbike Championship on his Team Muzzy Kawasaki with twin Fox Piggyback shocks. The very next year motorcycles made the evolution to mono-shock frame designs which didn’t stop Wayne Rainey from winning the Championship on his Team Kawasaki equipped with a Fox Twin Clicker.
Seemingly nothing could stop Fox now, as they expanded into the snowmobile and 4-wheel offroad market, leading to some of the most gargantuan shock absorbers Fox makes.
If you’re wondering when bicycles came along, the year was 1991. The Alps 1 was the first bicycle prototype from Fox, even though it was never sold it started another revolution.
In 1992 the Alps 2 was released as the first production Fox Bicycle product. Most of us probably think of forks first when we think of the early days of Fox Shox, though that may have something to do with the infancy of full suspension at the time. In 1993 Cannondale spec’ed Fox Shox on their first line of full suspension mountain bikes.
The Alps series was a simple pressurized air shock without any external adjustments and a steel shaft. In 1994 the Alps 4R gained rebound adjustment and an alloy shaft, with an improved bearing and valving design in 1996 with the Alps 5R.
It wasn’t until the year 2001 that Fox entered the world of mountain bike forks based on Fox’s wanting to be best in class before entering any new product to the market. This early prototype of the Fox Forx on the left was created with sterolithography, an early form of 3D printing.
And before you know it, an entire family of Fox bicycle product takes shape. It was very impressive to see how far they (and all suspension for that matter) have come in such a short time.
Of course much of the new technology has been thanks to Fox’s RAD department, which is a real thing – FoX Racing Applications Development. Testing doesn’t always result in production as in the case of the inverted Fox downhill fork, but it is the feedback and data from the world’s best pros pushing things to the limit that allows for improvement.
For instance, in 2008 Fox tested a Nickel coating on their rear shocks with Gee and Rachel Atherton and while the coating proved have lower friction than standard anodized coatings, it was too soft for production. But it was this testing that led to Fox introducing Kashima coating in 2011. Similar development led to the Fox DOSS seat post.
Aaron Gwin’s World Cup winning Session 9.9 was on display with the RAD fork which gave way to the new Fox 40 Air DH fork.
In addition to dirtbikes, bicycles, snowmobiles, race cars, motorcycles, side by sides, and just about anything else with wheels, Fox Shox have been finding their way into unique prosthesis like Monster Mike’s leg. After an accident in a Snocross race left Mike Schultz’s knee “exploded”, rather than succumb to a life of “Wii Golf”, he has continued to pursue his favorite activities. Mike’s new leg is not only a marvel of engineering, but it is even more impressive due to the fact that he designed and machined it himself – without any formal training.
The design key to Mike’s Moto Knee is that unlike typical prosthesis, it assists extension and resists flexion. That, along with 135 degrees of flexion allows for users to do many things they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, like ride motocross or downhill mountain bikes.
In a way Mike and Bob are not that different. Each saw a way to do something better, and with the resources at hand were determined to get it right. What all started as simply the want to build a better moto-X shock for a hobby turned into a career that has revolutionized suspension as we know it.