I’m not sure which malty beer that the Fox Kashima coating resembles most. Maybe an oatmeal stout, with its oft mirky-tawny hues? Or perhaps an unfiltered IPA? Regardless of the palette-matching brew ingredients, the coating looks like fast on a fork.
Over the pandemic summer, I bounced around on the 2021 Fox Float 36 Factory fork with its EVOL air spring and GRIP2 damper, and I have a pile of notes to share. Most riders have used a 36 Float fork in one iteration or another, or read one of its myriad glowing reviews, and this article will focus on what’s new with the 2021 model and why that newness might matter.
What’s new and what does it do?
It’s been a hot minute since this fork was released, so we’ll refresh everyone’s memory on the model updates. The outwardly-significant renovations Fox made to the new fork are fivefold. They added burpy buttons — air bleed ports — that we’ve seen on the dual-crown Float 40 DH fork to both this and the newly released 38 fork. Those little breathers allow riders to equalize air pressure that can build up in the lowers following large changes in elevation. After a long ride in the chair lift or shuttle, air pressure can build up in the lowers, resulting in a somewhat harsher fork-feel on the way down. Prior to this bleed-port addition, you might see gravity riders sliding a zip tie between their wiper seal and the stanchion to burp air from the lowers. Now we can just press a little button and listen to the fork exhale.
The first time I hopped off the chairlift and patted my fork on the back like a milk-drunk baby it burped audibly. It also spit up a surprising amount of oil. After climbing roughly 800m on the lift, there was a significant pressure change in the lowers, and pushing the bleed-button worked as advertise to equalize the pressure. There’s also a fair bit of Gold Oil in the lowers, and the little bit that sprayed out on my fingertip was nothing to worry about. Successive burps didn’t continue to release oil, and it seems that first one must have cleared out the space behind the port.
After the initial uplift I did intentionally wait to burp the lowers, riding for a bit to see how things feel. While the pressure shift isn’t identical on every lap, the difference in smoothness and small bump sensitivity at the top of the slopes is noticeable. The gap between burped and non-burped lowers feels similar to adding or subtracting 3 PSI in a good set of gravity tires. It won’t make or break your run, but the ride is improved with the pressure set correctly.
Another redesigned element of this new 36 fork is the lower leg channels, molded just behind the bleed-ports. As the fork moves deeper into its travel, internal air pressure increases. Fox says, “this effect can have the unintended consequence of preventing full travel from being achieved. Our lower leg channels help alleviate this issue by dramatically increasing air volume within the lower legs and thereby reducing the amount of additional unintended pressure ramping.” They also report that these channels allow the fork to better circulate lower leg oil to the upper tube and seals, resulting in a smoother slide. Fox might be on to something here, as this fork is unwaveringly fluid throughout its stroke.
The new 36 also gets a proprietary fender so we don’t have to cinch zip ties to our shiny new components anymore. To mount it up, first, remove the bleed ports with a 13mm box-end wrench. The black plastic washers under the ports will be replaced by the fender, so slide those off. Then, using the bleed-ports as bolts, tighten the fender in place and add the two screws to the back of the bridge. The bleed ports are made of a soft alloy, and the fork-lowers are magnesium, so be careful not to torque them any tighter than they were before you removed them.
The fender is on the smaller side, but it does cover the space where a rider’s face is typically positioned over the front tire. The plastic is notably rigid, and doesn’t make any noise on rough trails. This mudguard fits my personal fender-all-year policy.
The fourth external chassis change on the updated 36 is at the bridge. Fox says that their engineers have shaved every ounce of weight from the arch without sacrificing stiffness. While I’m neither heavy nor strong enough to truly test the stiffness of this fork, it feels every bit as stiff as the twenty-or-so Float 36 models that I’ve ridden on various bikes since they were first released in 2005. The fork tracks well, with a pointed line-exacting confidence, and it is arguably every bit as stiff as an average-level 68kg rider like me could need. Of course, I’ll test that statement once the Float 38 is mounted up. For now, the 36 stoutness seems adequate.
The weight-saving cutouts on either side of the arch add to the number of spots where mud can cling to the fork, and like the cutouts on the dropouts, a tooth brush might be necessary to flush them clean on occasion.
Like the bleed-ports above, Fox moved floating-axle technology over from their DH fork to this single-crown squish wonder. A ring inside the drive side dropout floats freely as you tighten the axle, allowing it to sit snuggly against the wheel’s end cap. After the pinch-bolt is tightened the floating ring is secured in place, and you can mount the wheel and axle as you would with any other Float 36. There’s no need to realign the floating axle unless you swap wheels.
This feature is significant because the fork’s round stanchion tubes and lowers are designed to compress in a relatively precise line with one another. Small variations in wheel end cap spacing can pinch or expand the fork’s lower axle measurement, affecting performance. Well, they could before Fox added this smart little feature.
Remember when bikes first moved from 130mm to 135mm rear axle spacing? We were stretching some steel frames to fit around wider axles, and pinching them in reverse. Thankfully, those days and silly ideas have passed. I do have a friend who rides with a rigid 100mm non-boost carbon fork stretched around a boost 110mm front wheel. It’s a good thing there are no stanchions to screw up on that bike.
The overall 2021 Float 36 ride
Since we’ve written about countless Float 36 forks in bike reviews over the past fifteen years. I’ll stick to what feels different about this one. First off, the GRIP2 rebound tune is a touch slower. In order to have the fork returning at a speed I like, providing ample support and staying fairly high in its travel on rough trails, I had to wind the high-speed rebound all of the way open, and the low speed a few clicks faster than I typically would. This still feels like a useable range for the low-speed, but the high speed clicks could be adjusted a touch for my taste. With the high-speed dial cracked open and the low-speed dial four clicks from fully open (15 clicks from closed to use the Fox terminology) the 36 feels nicely responsive.
As I wrote above, this fork fills all of the smooth/plush/buttery/gravy expectations we have for a Kashima-coated Float 36. I dialed in the mid-stroke and end-stroke support by adding a pair of tokens and pumping the pressure until it felt just right — backed by a fast rebound to get things in order quickly. To achieve the ideal pushback, I’m running 5-8psi more pressure in this fork that I did with the prior generation. On the first third of the stroke, I tried to leave things as open and fluid as possible, only adding five clicks on the low-speed circuit and two clicks of high-speed compression to bolster the big hits.
The result of these adjustments is a stock fork that flattens fast, chattery tracks while holding up its end of the deal when real rocks join the game. This 2021 model seems to extend and compress as smoothly as ever, without obvious transitions between its compression and rebound circuits. There is ample room for larger and harder-charging riders to add tokens and compression for a stiffer setup that best suits their size and trails, and if they want more they can have it with the 38. Folks who tip the scale at less than say 62kg might want to look into the Fox Factory Tune option for lighter damping characteristics. As ever, Fox has designed a gravity fork that’s predictable, relatively easy to set up, and will ride reliably throughout the season.
Stiffness and overall raceability characteristics of the 2021 Float 36 seem on par with the top competition, and I am genuinely intrigued by what the 38 could possibly offer in addition. Several EWS racers of all shapes and riding styles have been sticking to the 36 to do their jobs, begging the question of “who is the 38 and Zeb really designed for?” We hope to find out and share the news in the near future.
Retail pricing for Fox Float 36 forks ranges from $849 to $1099 (€1339 to €1459) depending on the model. Shop models and compare prices here.
We would like to thank Fox for sending the revamped Float 36 over for testing and review.