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.
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
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