We received the new Fox 34 SC 120mm trail fork just days before the launch, but that was enough to get it dirty and earn our first impressions. The fork is designed for the growing XC-bike-that-wants-to-be-a-trail-bike category, which includes the Pivot Mach429 and Niner RKT, among others. I mounted it to a 2017 Niner JET9 RDO and hit the trails, here’s how it went.
First, a bit about the bike. The current Niner JET9 is designed with 120mm rear travel and paired with a 130mm fork. Usually, folks put a slightly longer travel fork on the front when upgrading. But, the JET9 has been one of my favorite XC bikes for years, and I’ve ridden every generation of them since they launched it as their first full suspension model in as a short travel alloy bike. I wanted to see if matching 120mm suspension could turn the current JET9 back into a XC bike, albeit one with plenty of suspension.
In short, it worked flawlessly. Handling sharpened a bit, and it made the bike more dialed for our local conditions. Which goes to show that the addition of a 120mm fork to 100mm bikes isn’t the only direction you can take. Got a “trail” bike that you want to race? This might be the right fork for those days, stage races, epics or marathons. Then throw your longer travel fork back on the bike to hit the big mountains. Interesting times…now, about that fork.
Fox 34 Step-Cast Actual Weights
From left to right:
- Stock Fox 34 130mm from JET9, no hardware – 1801g (3.97lb)
- Stock QR thru axle – 77g (0.17lb)
- Fox 34 SC 120mm, uncut steerer, no hardware – 1698g (3.74lb)
- Fox 34 SC 120mm, steerer cut, no hardware – 1664g (3.67lb)
- Fox 34 SC 120mm, cut, with expansion nut & crown race – 1699g (3.74lb)
The apples to apples comparison is with both forks’ steerer length cut to 19cm with no star nut or crown race, which puts the 34 Step-Cast at 137g (0.3lb) lighter than the standard 34. The only difference being that the standard 34 has 10mm more travel. Fox claims that the SC is nearly half a pound lighter than the 140mm 34, so we’re seeing numbers close to that mark…and the swap to the KaBolt will save the ~40g needed to get closer to the claim.
34 SC Ride Review
Like most of Fox’s forks, I found the 34 performed best wide open. I set the 3-position compression damping to Open, then dialed the smaller adjustment knob all the way open, too.
Kitted out, I’m about 196-198lbs, so I settled on 88psi. It ships with 2 volume spacers. With that setup, I could see the fork vibrating over the small stuff, yet still support larger hits without bottoming out. If I were taking it somewhere more aggressive, I might add a spacer, purge a couple psi, then fiddle with the knobs as needed on the trail. Which is the beauty of modern suspension, it’s pretty easy to tune.
What’s impressive is that it feels just like the regular 34. Throw it into a corner or ramble over rocks and roots, and it keeps up. I didn’t sense any deflection that would diminish handling or confidence.
Where their shorter travel 32 SC fork feels like we’d expect a lightweight fork to feel, the 34 SC leaves no such impression. Not that a fork feeling light is a bad thing, but there’s a noticeable difference between the regular 32 and the Step-Cast 32. The 34 series forks feel the same, except for the weight.
On the bike, that weight savings is immediately appreciated. The front end is far more playful – easier to pop over a log, whip around a corner, and flick through the tight stuff. Which makes sense, but it’s more than that. Half a pound is no small feat, but consider that a lot of that weight is saved on an unsprung, moving part, and the performance gains add up to more than just a lighter front end.
These are short term impressions. Long term, we’ll see how it holds up. Fox has a good history, and the new 34 SC fork is already getting OEM spec, so I’m sure it’ll live up to expectations. But just in case, I guess I’ll have to keep riding it…