While Marzocchi may not be the first name in high-end mountain bike suspension these days, that wasn’t always the case. I’m sure that many of us remember the days when the Italian company was the first word in suspension. In a time when most were barely beyond producing noodly forks with 80mm of stiff and poorly damped elastomer-sprung suspension travel, Marzocchi was stealing the show with their buttery smooth coil-sprung forks that had a stiff chassis and reliable open-bath damping. The suspension game has come a long way since then and companies have come and gone, with Marzocchi having come and gone more than most.
Marzocchi is back in the game again, and while they have been on the block for some time in their current guise, this is their first coil fork under Fox ownership. Their current line-up is sort of a budget alternative to the Fox suspension range. It shares a lot of the same architecture as the lower end Fox forks, such as the Grip damper, but with some design and engineering tweaks. Harking back to the legendary Bomber Z1 of old, an amazing fork at the time, the new Z1 coil aims to smooth out the trails with plush as hell travel for hard chargers and big senders without breaking the bank.
This coil fork uses a 36mm chassis based on the Fox 36, a Grip damper, and some similar hardware, but the similarities between the two forks end there. Fox does not currently have a coil fork in their arsenal, and Marzocchi aims to offer something different with the Z1 Coil. Designed for those people who care more about reliable, plush performance than weight, the Z1 Coil aims to be more than just a throwback by bringing some new-school tech to the party.
The main draw of a coil fork is the legendary plushness – a coil spring has almost zero breakaway friction and without any preload will easily move through its travel. An air spring by its design requires some sort of negative spring to help pull the fork down and initiate movement. Without that negative spring, it can be extremely stiff and difficult to initiate travel. Removing the positive and negative air springs and seals also makes coil forks simpler and therefore usually more reliable. The industry moved away from coil forks a while ago for many reasons, the main two being weight and lack of progression. Air springs are lighter than coil and by its very nature, an air spring ramps up in spring rate as it moves through the travel, whereas a coil spring has the same spring rate throughout its travel and therefore no progression.
Marzocchi is aiming to change the game with the Z1 coil by addressing these two points. Firstly the spring side is equipped with what Marzocchi calls an “ultra-lightweight tempered silicon-chromium steel spring,” presumably lighter than a standard steel spring. The second is by having an “air assist” feature built into the coil spring assembly, designed to boost progression through its travel.
The Z1 coil is available in both 27.5″ and 29″ versions with Boost spacing, and between 160 and180mm of travel for the 27.5 version and 150 to 170mm for the 29″ version in 10mm increments. Offset options include a 37mm, 44mm, or 51mm measurement. The fork comes in stealth black or a super sexy red. The travel can be internally adjusted using provided spacers meaning there’s no need to buy parts to change travel. The coil springs come in four different weights and are easy to change, though all forks ship with a medium spring installed and any other springs must be purchased separately. The fork weighs around 5.5lbs depending on wheel size, and the Z1 Coil adds about 1lb of weight over a lighter air fork.
Setting up the Z1 coil is pretty simple in a lot of ways. There are few adjustments to play with, the main one being sag, which on this fork is pretty straightforward. You just pick the coil appropriate for your weight. The Marzocchi website gives the recommended weight ranges for all of their available springs – however, with a coil fork, there is the danger that you can sit between spring weights. I happen to sit right between a medium and a firm spring at around 175lbs and so was able to try both springs. This made setting it up a little more tricky than it might be for somebody right in the middle of the weight range.
I don’t tend to find sag to be such a useful measurement on a fork compared to a shock, preferring to base my setup on feel and bottom-out resistance. The medium spring gave me roughly 30% sag but given how linear the fork can be this wasn’t for me and I ended up switching to the firm spring running the preload and compression fully open with around 20% sag. Setting rebound is simply a matter of following the same chart Marzocchi provides for spring rate. Once set, the Z1 coil is truly a set and forget piece of kit, with very little to adjust on the fly.
Those who have ridden a coil fork always seem to harp on about the ‘plushness,’ and those that haven’t, presumably are sick of hearing about it. While air suspension is as supple as it’s ever been, nothing really can beat a coil, and it’s not until you hop onto the Z1 coil that you remember just how smooth coil suspension can feel. The front end of the bike instantly feels softer and more supple with the Z1 coil installed, ironing out the bumps and making the trail feel buttery smooth, which is something I certainly appreciate on the rough trails of the North Shore.
As I mentioned earlier, setting up the fork initially was a bit of a challenge, mostly because I fall between spring weights. I found that with the medium spring I had to run several clicks of preload and a significant amount of compression damping to keep the fork high in its travel and prevent it from bottoming out. Even running it this way, I found the fork to dive significantly under braking and on steep sections, pushing me over the front of the bike when I wasn’t expecting it. The Grip damper also felt quite harsh and not super refined, so by dialing in a lot of compression I found that it lost a little of the coil magic. Swapping to the firm spring and running zero preload or compression brought the fork to life for me and despite running a lot less sag than would typically be recommended, the linearity of the spring meant that it worked really well, retaining that supple small-bump compliance that the coil is known for.
With the spring weight dialed in, the Z1 is a super fun fork to ride. With less pop and zing than an air fork, it requires a little more body English to move around sometimes, but that’s offset by the reward of a super smooth ride. It does still dive a little more than an air fork and that’s tough to get around. It’s also a really nice fork to ride every day, with great trail manners and very little to worry about in terms of maintenance.
Back-to-back testing with a Lyrik Ultimate definitely showed through the Z1 Coil’s main weakness which is the Grip damper. Certainly a more basic fork, the Z1 coil is a little less refined than a top-end model, with a feeling of less control, and spiking over fast and square-edged hits. However, the suppleness of the coil does make up for the more basic damper. Run wide open, the Z1 coil has a feeling of grip, even in super loose and slippery conditions.
Riding back to back with an air fork also highlighted the fact that despite Marzocchi’s Air Assist system, the Z1 Coil is still very linear until the very end of its travel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a time where progressivity is supposedly everything, some people out there definitely prefer a more linear feel. With the correct spring installed, I only felt a harsh bottom out once, and admittedly I wasn’t exactly pulling the smoothest moves. More than anything else the air assist seems to be a bottom-out bumper in the last 10mm of travel rather than offering any meaningful mid-stroke support, which again is great if you like the linear feel.
The Z1 coil is a great option for riders looking for an alternative to the norm, and a little less maintenance with a more supple feel harkening back to the glory days of coil suspension. It does what it says on the tin and feels great, if a little less refined than some of the top-end options. It also lacks the top-end price tag at $779. It’s tough to beat when it rides as well as it does, and as somebody who doesn’t race it makes a great argument for itself as a day-in, day-out performer with zero fuss. I was testing the fork on a bike with an air shock and so the fork felt quite soft compared to the back end, however it would pair really well with a bike running a coil shock to give a balanced supple feeling. If I were to change one thing on the Z1 Coil, it would be to have a few more spring weights available in between the current options to make it a little easier to dial in the ideal spring rate.