We installed the Rock Shox Zeb on our trusty Trek Rail 9.9, which has seen many upgrades since our eMTB Shootout back in January. It originally came with a Rock Shox Lyrik that was replaced by a pistachio Fox Factory 38. We removed the Fox 38 and put on the new Zeb for a real deal Pepsi challenge as it was the bike, we were most familiar with and had just ridden for months with the 38 up front.
The Rock Shox Zeb has an industrial, tough look about it, a departure from the rounded, wet looking finish of the Fox 38. The arch and crown instantly demand attention with fine touches on the details. Moving past the looks to set up process, the Zeb Ultimate is on par with other Ultimate forks as the rider can adjust progressivity with bottomless tokens, tweak on high speed or low speed compression and rebound adjustment. Within about two or three rides we had our fork pretty dialed in.
Our testers enjoyed the feel of the Zeb in many scenarios on the trail but had some areas of note when comparing it to the recently replaced 38. As a whole we’d say that Rock Shox forks have a bit of a stiff feeling at the higher points of travel. It is something that we love while on flow trails, jump lines or smoother bits of trail where pumping transitions and momentum matter. Where that stiffer platform bites back are initial impacts or high frequency braking bumps. Where the Fox 38 sits in the travel a little bit, making it buttery smooth and plush, the Rock Shox Zeb is marginally stiffer and requires a bit more energy to open up. Again, this could be something that suits some riders and types better than others as it offers a slightly faster ride with more efficiency when pumping and jumping, but also caused our hands to get a bit more fatigued, more quickly.
What is interesting is despite the somewhat stiffer feel off the top, we found the mid-stroke to be a bit softer than the Fox 38. After moving through that first 45-55mm of travel the Zeb has a bit of a bottomless, soft feeling that is buttery and cushy. At first that may sound great, and it could be for some, but we found that it was a bit too soft and vague for wanting to push off the fork out of berms or trying to change lines mid-turn. By no means is it a huge flaw of this fork, but when coming directly off the 38, which feels like it has more support in the mid-stroke, it was something we felt. In some scenarios on the trail, we liked it, in others we did not.
We experimented with increasing air pressure, tokens and both high speed and low speed compression settings but found that any major changes would affect other areas negatively that were bigger concerns than a slightly soft mid-stroke, so we settled on a happy medium that gave us the best support with the best sensitivity we could get.
When it came time to send our 50lb eMTB into orbit, the Zeb was ready to handle it. We did not battle with the harsh bottoms out of the box and need to keep airing up or adding volume reducers like we did on the 38. The DebonAir and Charger 2.1 did a good job of sucking up large hits and landings. It felt like diving into a hot bowl of butter every time we would land larger step downs or drops, and the quick reaction rebound circuit got us back to the top of the travel effortlessly. Rock Shox’s effort to design a fork that rides higher in the travel has been achieved and it will quickly get back up, giving riders as much travel as possible for impacts and obstacles ahead.
When it comes to hard-charging, long travel single crown mountain bike forks, the Rock Shox Zeb is certainly a force to be reckoned with. With travel up to 190mm, impressive stiffness, damping and tune-ability, our crew liked really liked the Zeb. The fork sets up quickly, looks sharp and performs well. The stiffness is certainly there and should be a topic of discussion when considering a purchase. If you live in an area with lots of loose terrain or ride tons of wet roots, you may prefer the Lyrik over the increased stiffness provided by the Zeb. If you are a hard charger, weigh over 180lbs or enjoy pushing the limits of your eMTB, the Zeb will deliver.
Weight: 2,282 grams;
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