2018 Fox Factory Tuning
In recent months, Fox Racing Shox has steadily trickled out information on their 2018 lineup, including the launch of the new DPX2 shock and a range of other refinements. Now they've released details on Fox Factory Tuning; not a product as such but a tuning service that aims to assist riders who are chasing a particular suspension feel or simply want to update their existing Fox suspension with the latest 2018 internals.
Fox Factory Tuning or 'FFT' is only available through an official Fox workshop. With this you'll retain the factory warranty after any custom tuning is done, and you also get to communicate directly with the Fox technicians—no need to go via a retail store.
Prior to the official FFT launch, I had the opportunity to put some of these suspension modifications to the test on the rocky and drop-strewn trails of ‘Mt Narra’ in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. My Norco Optic trail bike served as the test platform; a bike that was already fitted with 2017 Fox Factory suspension. For the past 18 months I’d been running a Float 34 fork set to 130mm travel and a Float DPS rear shock with their EVOL negative spring—it’s a setup that performed really and I had no real complaints.
If I was to really nitpick, I’d raise the following points on my stock 2017 setup:
- Even with the extra light compression tune on the rear shock (that’s how Norco specs the Optic), the rear shock provided loads of support and bottom out resistance, even when running 30-33% sag. What’s more, I didn’t have any volume reducing spacers fitted to make the rear shock more progressive. While I was happy with this setup, a more tentative rider probably wouldn’t get the most out of it and may struggle to utilise the travel to it’s fullest.
- Up front the fork was set with the low speed compression adjuster wound all the way out to the softest setting—it lived there and was basically redundant as a result. I’d only ever add more low speed damping for extended climbs with lots of out-of-the-saddle pedalling, and that was best done by flicking the three-position climb lever over to the middle setting.
- While the fork offered plenty of support, big G-outs did lead to harsh bottoming on the odd occasion. It was something that I could have prevented by adding an extra volume reducing spacer but I didn’t want to mess with the generally plush feel of the fork in stock form—if anything I wanted a little more plushness and travel usage in general riding, hence the LSC dial being fully unwound.
While I was far from unhappy with my suspension, we proceeded to change the internals piece by piece, swapping each bit from 2017 to 2018 spec.
First up the air spring of the fork was swapped out. This is a simple case of changing the left-side compression rod and piston assembly. The 2018 piston features a larger volume negative air spring (EVOL) and a slightly smaller positive air chamber. While the difference wasn’t huge, the fork did seem to require slightly less effort to get it moving into the travel and by retaining the same number of volume spacers in the positive air spring, the fork offered more resistance to bottoming. If you don’t hit big drops and G-outs, you can always remove a volume spacer when moving across to the EVOL air spring. For me however, the added progression was a good thing and the slightly enhanced suppleness certainly didn’t hurt the ride quality either.
Next we turned to the FIT 4 cartridge; for 2018 the damper has been tuned to match the updated EVOL air spring. Where the optimal LSC setting with the 2016/17 damper was fully unwound – for me anyway – I found the 2018 damper could be run four or five clicks in without introducing any harshness. It seemed to offer a softer tune that made the low speed compression adjuster more usable—especially for lighter riders. Combined with the supple EVOL air spring, this helped with keeping the tyre glued to the ground whilst still offering good support. Overall it feels more compliant but it didn’t wallow or dive into its travel—it just tracks the trail smoothly and provides great traction.
When looked at in isolation, I'd suggest the most noticeable improvement comes from the new EVOL air spring. The 2018 FIT 4 damper also offers advantages and works in conjunction with the revised spring curve but I wouldn't say it's an essential move. If anything it's likely to offer greater advantage to lighter riders who will benefit more from the softer damper tune. Combine the two and you do wind up with a nicer feeling fork, but it's hardly as if the old setup was broken.
Rear End Action
While the 2018 fork looks identical – all the changes are internal – the new generation DPS rear shock is quite different. Aesthetically the most obvious change comes with the new air can. Previously Fox had used a two-piece air sleeve to create the larger volume negative air spring on their EVOL models. Now the air can is formed in one and the large negative chamber can be seen in the pronounced bulge that's down near the main wiper seal.
Despite the visually different approach to creating the large negative air spring, the actual air volume remains unchanged (the positive air chamber actually decreases in size, but only slightly). The new one-piece design does eliminate one seal, which Fox says reduces friction, and it also trims around 20g from the weight of the shock (based on our 200x51mm sample).
The changes are more than skin deep however. For 2018 Fox is using a new-style piston on their trail-oriented DPS rear shocks. Previously they've employed digressive valving; the shim stack has initial resistance built into the damper that needs to be overcome before the shock moves into its travel. The new piston has a linear action that allows the EVOL air spring to do its thing and aims to provide a more supple ride. Fox will still offer their digressive piston but it will be reserved for XC race application where the firmer platform is desirable for snappy pedalling performance.
In addition to changing the piston architecture, Fox has also introduced a broader range of tuning options. There used to be three separate tunes for rebound and compression—a total of six possible variants. Now they have 12 tunes for compression and same for rebound, which leads to total of 24 possible combinations. That's a huge increase in the tuning options that will be accessible through the new FFT service.
With the move to the new linear piston, the Fox team swapped my extra light compression tune to the 'light' option. Where the difference was subtle on the fork, the 2018 DPS shock resulted in a distinctly different feel. Much of this comes down to the bike and the suspension kinematic; something that always plays an important role in determining the end ride feel. In this case the Norco Optic runs a competitively low leverage ratio; 110mm of rear wheel travel from a rather long 51mm stroke shock. As a result, any small change in the damping will have a greater impact on the suspension performance.
For me, the change was instantly noticeable. The 2018 shock was softer overall and far more willing to use its travel. I wound up fitting a small volume reducing spacer to begin with (even before hitting the trail) and then swapped to an even bigger volume spacer before the shock gained the desired level of bottom out resistance. Others present on this Fox test day didn't find the change as radical, as they were on higher leverage ratio bikes where the damping characteristics aren't as noticeable. In any case, the most obvious difference lay in the increased tuning range, particularly towards the softer end of the spectrum. I went from running no volume reducers and the lightest damper tune to having a mid-size spacer and the second lightest valving—more in line with what I'd expect for my 65kg weight and there's now more tuning options that will allow lighter or less aggressive riders to get the most out of their suspension.
To further supplement the tuning options, Fox has also introduced a range of volume reducers for the negative air spring. These can be used to fine tune the early travel suppleness—combining this with the digressive valving option could be the hot ticket for the serious XC racer.
Looking beyond the wider tuning range and returning to the trail, I felt that the new linear piston provided a more compliant ride that seems better suited to general trail riding. It's a better match if you're more interested in bump absorption and compliance than out-and-out pedalling efficiency. As with the new EVOL equipped fork, the 2018 DPS shock offers enhanced ground hugging abilities and is a better match for trail bikes in the 120-140mm travel range. If you're on a 100mm travel marathon or XC race machine; go with a regressive piston and you'll get the ride qualities you're looking for—take your pick.
With the introduction of the FFT, Fox is not only allowing riders to custom tune the latest product; it's also open to owners of 2016 and 2017 product—you can update to 2018 spec without investing in new suspension. While the latest changes are more about refinement rather than revolution, it could be just the ticket for those who are looking for a specific ride quality that their stock suspension doesn't achieve.
It's currently hoped that the FFT service will be available to Aussie mountain bikers by late 2017. A dedicated FFT website is also in the works. In the meantime, inquiries can be directed towards the Australian Fox distributor; Sola Sports.