At 50 years of designing suspension, Öhlins has learned a thing or two about creating systems to maximize traction, especially on two wheels. Although the company is far from having a large share of the US market, where RockShox and Fox are the stock option on almost every bike out there, and brands like MRP and Cane Creek are first thoughts for aftermarket upgrades, Öhlins is easily recognized on the trail by enthusiasts as a standard for suspension performance.
Öhlins has been pushing their mountain bike product development over the past few years. With athletes like Loic Bruni, Nico Vink, and Fabio Wibmer representing the brand, anyone who tunes in to Red Bull TV is going to see that Gold O handling some serious abuse. Öhlins has widened their suspension offerings over the years with air and coil shock options, and 34, 36, and now 38mm stanchioned forks, however, they are first and foremost a premium suspension manufacturer. Affordability takes a back seat to tunability.
About the RFX36 M.2
Gerow spent time on the air version of the RFX36 Evo air last year, which is very similar to the M.2 I tested. Both obviously have a 36mm upper stanchion tube diameter. Both his test fork, and my coil RFX36 M.2, have a pinch bolt design for the axle for better dropout-to-hub alignment. The pinch bolt and axle both use a 5mm hex bolt.
The RFX36 M.2 features Öhlins’ TTX18 damper though, like the new RFX38, with an 18mm piston for improved small bump sensitivity, which differs from the damper in the RFX36 Evo. From the RFX36 to the RFX36 M.2, Öhlins made a stiffer crown, added new offset options, and have added SKF seals for better performance in wet weather and for less friction. The new lowers also widen what’s possible for front tire choices. They can accept a 2.8-inch wide 29er or a 3.2-inch 27.5+ tire.
Öhlins isn’t using model years anymore and are tweaking things on the go. Since the launch, they have updated the oil and grease used in the forks and re-tuned the fork’s stock settings. The brand also works to make sure that the changes are backward-compatible, so older forks can be updated with the new damper, seals of course, and so on.
There is a preload knob on the starboard side of the RFX36 M.2 fork to dial in sag, and there are 20 clicks available for setting the sag. Öhlins recommends setting the sag at 15-20% on the fork. All of the fork’s preload settings are usable to adjust the breakaway force, sag, and to set the ride height.
The RFX36 M.2 has 15 clicks of low speed compression and low speed rebound. For high speed compression, there are three clicks available, minus any high speed rebound settings. Boiled down, that makes it adjustable in high and low speed compression, low speed rebound, and preload.
The RFX36 M.2 29″ coil comes in either a 44 or 51mm offset, is available in 130-170mm travel options, and can fit up to a 29×2.8″ or 27.5×3.2″ tire. The 27.5″ coil fork option can also fit a max tire width of 2.8″ and is available with either 46 or 38mm offsets. The price tag on the M.2 coil fork is $1,250. My coil-equipped 140mm travel, 29er fork weighs 2,300g.
The air forks are available in different travel amounts however, with either 150-170mm for 29ers and 150-180mm for 27.5-inch bikes.
Öhlins suspension components are typically on the pricey side of the spectrum, which is why it’s refreshing that they came out with a service guide on their forks this summer for savvy home mechanics. This includes the RFX36 M.2 air and coil, for both 50-hour and 100-hour service intervals. This takes some of the potential burdens off of buying a fork, considering that users won’t have to send it to an authorized dealer for service and can save some dough.
Öhlins also has a video on setting up the floating axle, which requires more consideration than a standard bolt-through. There’s a separate video on how to swap between an air spring and a coil spring, another unique feature on the RFX36 M.2, compared to other air and coil forks, which usually cannot be changed back to air, after converting to coil.
Lastly, there are seven different spring rates available for the M.2, available in 5lb/in increments, covering rider weights every 20lbs, starting at 100lbs, and working up to a 220lb rider.
On the trail
I installed the RFX36 M.2 in June, and have been riding the fork for about three months. I set it up without any issues that were out of the ordinary. Öhlins included the white, 55lb/in spring with the fork, made for a 180lb rider weight. With gear, I am closer to 170lbs on the bike, which puts me in between the 50 and 55lb spring.
This fork was also installed right after my test with the Marzocchi Bomber Z2, a $500 fork with a 34mm stanchion. Right away, I could tell there was a huge difference between the two forks, which one would expect as the Öhlins costs more than twice as much as the Z2.
The stiffness of the RFX36 was apparent over rocks and chunky trail, and the front end felt much more responsive through corners. To add to my cornering confidence, the RFX36 felt more supportive, keeping my weight more balanced, without any unnerving brake dive. Just like that, with a dash of enhanced chassis stiffness and ride height in the fork, I felt like more a heroic cornerer.
A few rides later on some chunkier trails I realized the white spring was too heavy for me, and even with the LSC and preload backed all the way off, I couldn’t get into the top two inches of my travel, so I asked Öhlins for the lighter, 50lb/in blue spring.
I installed the 50lb spring and set the sag and got back on to the trail. This spring felt much better than the previous, and I was using more of the travel. But, it still felt too harsh over larger bumps. I backed off some of the preload and again opened up the LSC all the way. The support was there, I could use all of my travel, but it still felt harsh and my hands were hurting after long and bumpy descents. So, I asked Öhlins for the lighter 45lb/in spring.
Settling on the right spring rate is often the tricky part with coil suspension though and unfortunately, it can take some time and money to find the right one. This, and the fact that the coil is heavier than the air fork, will make it a tough decision for riders deciding between the two, as they’re the same price. Luckily, Öhlins has designed the fork to swap between air and coil springs, which is pretty amazing.
With the third spring, I set the sag to around 20% on the 45lb spring, and upped the preload, settling on 15/20 clicks. I added eight clicks of LSC, right around the middle, and matched the rebound.
Finally, the Öhlins was doing exactly what I wanted it to do. I had support and responsiveness through corners. The small bump performance and traction felt great, and with the rebound halfway through its allowance, the fork felt very reactive and engaged. The mid-sized bumps, those that are three to four inches in height that are rolled over, were finally being rolled over without any undue harshness. That balance between small to mid-sized bumps took the longest for me to find on this fork.
I’m not sure everyone will have to reduce their spring weight from the Öhlins recommendations, but this could be a frustrating experience for the consumer who has already put a lot of money down. The first spring was absolutely too heavy for me, and I may have gotten along with the second after some time, but who wants to be patient after spending almost $1,300 on a fork?
Through all of the springs, the small bump sensitivity has been outstanding, muting real chattery rocks and knobs and providing a sense of traction that stands out from an air fork. The highly tunable nature of any Öhlins fork makes it possible to find those settings, but the user must be patient setting their LSC and rebound since it can take a while to find the perfect recipe.
I kept one click of high speed compression on with the fork, opening it when it wasn’t necessary on smoother trails with less impacts. Even with the lighter spring though, I wasn’t blowing through my travel and it felt rather progressive on rides, saving some of the top stroke for when it was absolutely necessary. I wasn’t bothered at all by the absence of an HSC rebound adjustment.
As it seems to be with any Öhlins fork, and the RFX36 Evo that Gerow tested, the RFX36 M.2 is highly tunable and a rider will eventually find the right settings with time. The adjustability is there to find the right tune but it may require some patience. The RFX36 M.2 air is lighter than the coil version, but the coil certainly has its benefits and perhaps the most impressive thing about the fork is that it can go back and forth. For $1,250, the M.2 isn’t cheap, but Öhlins has done a great job at making the spring versatile, and the fork is easily serviceable at home.
⭐️ Find the Ohlins RFX26 M.2 fork at Worldwide Cyclery
Thanks to Öhlins for sending the RFX36 m.2 for review.