The SR Suntour Axon Elite34 is a Capable XC Fork [Review]

SR Suntour bills the Axon Elite34 mountain bike fork as a pro-level XC component boasting a light weight, “magic carpet” ride feel, low maintenance, and race-ready features. I’ve been testing this fork for the past few months while clocking countless head-down XC miles mixed with rough and raw trail riding, and here’s what I’ve found.

Specs and build

As the name of the fork implies, the Axon Elite34 features 34mm-diameter stanchions, which promise to add torsional stiffness over XC forks with 32mm tubes. The stanchions are made from A7000-series aluminum with a hard-anodized finish.

I mounted the 120mm-travel Axon Elite34 on an Orange P7 29er hardtail, a trail bike that’s designed around a slightly longer 130mm fork. As far as XC forks go, 120mm of travel tends to be the upper limit, and the Axon Elite34 is clearly designed with rougher tracks in mind.

The fork ships with a remote lockout that racers will certainly appreciate. The remote cable needs to be set up precisely, as shown in the photo above, to take full advantage of the lockout; I found that if the ratcheting mechanism is off by a single tooth, the suspension won’t firm up, even a little bit. That is to say, there’s no such thing as sorta locked out with this fork. Twenty clicks of low-speed compression adjustment are available via a knob at the top of the fork, and there’s also rebound adjustment at the bottom.

A closed cartridge system called RL-RC PCS (piston compensator system) lies at the heart of the fork’s damping mechanics. The brand claims that by using a sealed cartridge, the fork doesn’t need to be serviced as often and is less prone to issues like cavitation. When it is time for regular service, the entire cartridge can be quickly and easily replaced.

To keep the weight just under 1700g, SR Suntour uses a forged, hollow aluminum crown on the Axon Elite34, and like most forks, the lowers are magnesium. A decent-sized fender is included in the box.

SR Suntour uses a unique quick-release axle system they call Q-Loc on many of their forks. The Axon Elite34 features the latest, second-generation model that’s said to be even more compatible with all the hubs on the market today. Q-Loc is designed to make wheel changes quicker and easier than with traditional skewer designs, clearly with racing in mind. I found that the Q-Loc works great on the bike, though I did run into a little frustration when attaching the bike to a fork-mounted roof rack.

Finally, the Axon Elite34 fits up to 180mm rotors (tested) with an adapter; 160mm rotors can be directly post-mounted. I tested the fork with 2.5-inch 29er tires, and while there is no official maximum tire size listed, I wouldn’t run anything wider than 2.6″. With the fender in place, tire clearance is further reduced. The arch height appears to be the limiting factor for larger tires, though since this is an XC fork it’s unlikely buyers will want to run wider tires.

Finding the fork for after market purchase appears to be difficult, if not impossible, at the moment, but if you can find one it should retail for around $750USD.

On the trail

photo: Paul F.

Strapping the Axon Elite34 onto the front of my hardtail instantly gave the bike a more XC feel. Since the frame is designed around a 130mm fork, the 120mm Axon creates a slightly steeper head angle and also a noticeably lightweight front end. On the trail, that means relying on the suspension a little less when the ground gets rough and lifting the front wheel more often to soften bigger blows.

I set the sag to just over 20% and found the middle rebound and compression settings offered a good starting point for the first few rides. The brand says that their new Air EQ system will optimize “proper sag and volume control” between the positive and negative air chambers. Overall I found the tune to be pretty much spot on for most of my testing.

SR Suntour touts the “magic carpet feeling” of the Axon Elite34 fork thanks to the brand’s proprietary PCS, Piston Compensation System, technology. While there’s no flashy, ultra-low friction coating on the stanchions, the fork does deliver that progressive, flat-tire feeling that’s surprisingly supple when it comes to small bumps. Over long, multi-hour trail rides, I found it to offer a very comfortable ride feeling. For more XC-focused rides where efficiency is the name of the game, that supple feel is mainly welcome on the climbs and provides excellent front-end traction. Fortunately the lock-out remote is there to firm things up when it’s time to get serious about mashing the pedals over smooth terrain.

My test fork shipped with two volume spacers installed, which I found to offer a good balance between overall support and small bump sensitivity. Just for fun I tested adding two more spacers (for a total of four) to see how the fork felt running a reduced air volume. While heavier or more aggressive riders may benefit from adding additional spacers, I found two was plenty while four compressed the fork’s suspension curve unnecessarily.

photo: Paul F.

For bigger hits and rougher trails, the Axon Elite34 offers reasonably firm pushback toward the end of the stroke. Some trail-style riders will easily bottom the fork out with proper sag, but for XC riding and racing, I found that it offers a good balance between responsiveness and handling big, sudden impacts. The suspension did get overwhelmed on one or two fast, blind descents over washed-out trails, but that was not unexpected given the slower rebound settings.

While some XC forks can feel noodle-y through the turns, the Axon Elite34 offers confidence-inspiring stiffness. Cornering feels precise, and there’s little noticeable braking feedback thanks to the 34mm stanchions paired with the stiff arch and crown. There is a bit of a weight penalty with the Axon Elite34 compared to the 32mm Axon forks, but I suspect many riders, myself included, will be willing to trade improved control and ride feel over a few grams.

The lockout remote functions well on the trail, with a solid feel. Disengaging the lockout is a little trickier than engaging it, requiring a push with the side of the thumb rather than the ball. Overall the control fits in nicely on the bars, and plays well with a 1-by, lever-style dropper remote.

Overall

While the Axon Elite34 may not sit at the tippy top of the SR Suntour cross-country fork line, it clearly offers excellent performance out of the box in a lightweight, and easy-to-use package. The fork is light without feeling underpowered on rough trails and stiffens up when it’s time to lay down the watts. While the sealed cartridge may be a deal-breaker for tinkerers and DIY mechanics, others will appreciate its consistent, low maintenance performance over time.

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