FOX 34 STEP-CAST FORK & FLOAT X SHOCK REVIEW
SUSPENSION FOR DOWNCOUNTRY DESTROYERS
Review by Nic Hall
Photos by Dusten Ryen
Products like the new Fox 34 Step-Cast fork and Float X shock are helping blur the lines of what 120mm “XC bikes” are capable of. It seems as though the crew over at Pinkbike have made the term downcountry stick, so we’ll follow suit and say that while we’ve not been super excited about testing too many XC bikes in recent years, there have been some downcountry bikes that our downright fun. One of those bikes is the recently reviewed Specialized Epic Evo. After having so much fun on that bike in its stock configuration, when Fox reached out asking us which short travel trail bike we’d like to hop up, it was the only bike we could think of. We bolted up the new 34 Step-Cast fork and Float X shock without a hiccup and began pushing our trusty old Epic Evo hard into the aggressive trail bike category to see when it would say uncle. Let’s see how it held up.
The Fox 34 Step-Cast is a totally new design for the 34mm platform. Fox has integrated a new arch and lower leg design to increase stiffness while decreasing weight. Lower leg air bypass channels allow for a higher total air volume, which decreases ramp up and allows for a more predictable travel. The 34SC comes in Factory spec with either 100mm or 120mm travel or in all black Performance spec with 120mm of travel. Both models are designed for 29” wheels. The Fox 34 SC forks can support up to 180mm brake rotors. Travel on the Factory model is controlled by the FIT4 damper, which has three compression settings for changing trail conditions and additional low speed compression settings in the open option, as well as low speed rebound adjustment. A remote compression adjustment lever can be added to the FIT 4 models. There are options for 44- or 51mm offset, but why would you run anything but 44? The Performance level Fox 34 Step-Cast only comes with a 44mm offset and features Fox’s GRIP damper system, which features three on the fly settings.
With all those features packed into the fork, Fox didn’t want the rear end to feel neglected and designed an all-new shock to compliment the 34 Step-Cast. The Float X is designed for aggressive trail riders who don’t want to sacrifice weight or heat fade while crushing miles and times. They accomplished this with a totally new damper, compact piggyback, and an independent firm mode circuit. Like the fork, the Float X shock is available in two levels. You can buy either the Factory or Performance Elite shock and reap nearly the same ride-enhancing benefits with a few creature comforts to spare. Adjustment on our Factory unit includes a low-speed compression knob and rebound adjustment for the open mode and a new independent firm mode to maximize efficiency when you need that extra boost on the climbs. Keeping in tune with all the fresh work done on this new shock, Fox designed new air spacers for the Float X that allow for smaller adjustments to obtain the perfect progression.
If you read our review, then you’ll remember how much we loved the Specialized S-Works Epic Evo. With OE spec, it is one of the most capable and astoundingly fast XC bikes we have ever ridden. This made it a perfect test bed for the full Fox Factory upgrade treatment. Fox sent us the 34 Step-Cast with 120mm of travel with a 44mm offset and the Float X 190x40mm. Installation was simple, with no hiccups and the included hardware bolted up perfectly. We stuck with the 180mm front rotor and paid the small weight penalty of an adapter for more stopping power. Weight on the fork on our scale with a Kabolt axle, 7.25-inch cut steerer with a crown race and star nut was 1,612g. The shock weighed-in at 421g with hardware.
I dropped three air spacers into the fork and two in the shock. I like my suspension to have higher progression with low compression to ensure I am getting every bit of travel as smooth as possible, especially when there’s only 120mm to play with. My initial setup was a few clicks under half way on the compression and just fast enough on the rebound to not bounce the bike back up from a load. I dialed the air pressure in both the fork and shock giving me 18% and 28% sag respectively. This amounted to 92psi in the fork and 160psi in the shock for my 165lbs kitted mass on the Epic Evo. Over the first few test track runs, I was able to remove a little more compression out of the fork but kept the shock where it was. Within two runs, I was feeling comfortable and ready to push this little bike even harder.
On some of the smoother pedals up the hill I was able to play with the fork compression lever and the independent firm mode of the shock. While both are impressively stiff and allow for maximum forward efficiency, they are only good for very smooth terrain, as travel is limited and feedback in the hands and saddle are noticeably increased. I could see how a bar mounted lever could be good for racing applications, but I prefer to set and forget.
On rolling terrain, the fork is supportive and sits up high in the travel. The shock loves to be pumped into g-outs and has enough compression control to never feel like it wallows or doesn’t have a bit left in reserve. The rear end was the most noticeable difference when swapping to the Float X, it felt like I over-shocked the rear end and even though I was hitting full travel on some of the rougher descents on our test loops, I never felt a harsh bottom or felt like I was out of travel. It absolutely helped this bike achieve a new level of downhill confidence.
For the ultimate test of what the race suspension was capable of, I rode one of our test zones that I would typically test 160+mm travel enduro sleds up to full-blown DH bikes on. This includes mandatory drops, sustained fall line chutes, and rough root sections, which really put the 120mm Epic Evo to the test. Again, the Fox 34 Step-Cast and Float X were beyond impressive. Even though I was deep in the travel of the fork, it never lost the ability to keep me on track. I never felt the fork bottom out, with three volume reducers installed and felt it was a great balance. The ramp is very aggressive in the last 15-20% of travel in this setup, leaving it for only the hairiest of moments. The small legs do flex more than their big brothers, but when the total bike weight is only 23lbs, it is effortless to pick up and choose a new line, and the 34 definitely represents an improvement in front wheel control compared with the 32mm chassis you’d usually see in this use case. With the tire choices on a bike of this weight, line choice is critical anyway, letting the lower stiffness fork blend into the background. When riding the same trails on a non-reservoir shock, I felt serious compression fade about half-way through the descent, but the Float X was able to handle everything I threw at it, never letting up its control.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If you are looking for the very best in lightweight performance, the Fox 34 Step-Cast and Float X are at the top of the pack. Compared to the SID ultimate combo, the Fox set up has more adjustability and can handle rougher terrain. You will pay a bit of weight for those extra features, but we aren’t racing, just looking to get down the trail at maximum speed. Grab your old XC bike and make it more capable than your trail bike with this suspension package. Fox has done a great job elevating what short-travel trail bikes can handle and just how hard to you can shred them with these awesome new parts.
34 SC Fork – $999
Float X Shock – $599
Fork – 1612 grams
Shock – 421 grams
Disclosure: Our team selects all of the products we review and do so with honesty and objectivity in mind. Some of the products we receive come directly from Competitive Cyclist, who also value our readers and have offered them a 15% discount (exclusions apply) on their first purchase by using LOAMWOLF15. Through this program we may also receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support, TLW.
Surprising performance for the weight
Compression and rebound adjustment
Supportive yet compliant
You can only do so much with 120mm of travel
Can we get a 130mm version?
LEAVE A COMMENT, WIN FREE SWAG!
Want to win some free schwag? Leave a comment and vote up the most thoughtful comments and each month we’ll pick a winner. The person with the smartest and most helpful replies will earn some sweet new gear. Join the Pack and get the latest news and read the latest reviews on the top mountain and electric mountain bikes.