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Fox 36 Van 160 FIT RC2 Review
The Van 160 is an incredible fork, and offers superb compliance, control and steering attributes, along with excellent small bump interaction, and of course, typical coil spring plushness and linearity. What sets this fork apart from its competition, are the responsiveness and laser like steering capabilities that it has in any terrain and speed, and during any type of maneuvering. It functions fine in normal everyday terrain, but excels in the gnarliest stuff that it can be tossed into. It has plenty of buzzes and whistles, including the FIT Rc2 damper, SKF seals and slippery Kashima coated stanchions, but at heart it's a simple coiled fork, that requires very little tuning outside an initial setup. The Van 160 is a sweet technical fork, which any All Mountain and Freeride rider would be happy to have as their main beast master.
Fox 36 Factory Forks
Fox revamped their product line in 2012, and divided things into family groupings, that cover their entire suspension line, and everything is now divided into three entities: Factory, Performance and Evolution.
FACTORY - Best: has their latest, greatest and most advanced technology
PERFORMANCE - Better: FIT on 32, open bath on 36 and 40, less advanced technology and adjustability
EVOLUTION - Good: entry level, open bath forks, simpler technology
The 2012 Fox 36 Factory forks come in two versions, the All Mountain 160 mm and the Freeride 180 mm. The 36 160 come in three flavors, the TALAS, FLOAT and VAN, specifically: the TALAS FIT RLC, FLOAT FIT RLC and the Van RC2 (coil). The 36 180 also come in three flavors, the TALAS, FLOAT and Van, specifically: the FLOAT FIT RC2, TALAS FIT RC2 and Van RC2. Every version comes in an Open Bath only version, aka the R. There was a slight change in 2011 to the TALAS version, as it now uses two steps instead of three. The 160 variant is 160-120, while the 180 is 180-140. The 160 version has changed to the RLC damper in contrast to the previous year's RC2 (the Van remains the same), while the 180 is all RC2. The 180 has an elongated bushing overlap, and a below axle tube design, for an increased stiffness and lower axle-to-crown.
The tested 36 Van 160 FIT RC2 fork, has 36mm stanchions, a 20QR thru axle, either 1-1/8 inch straight or 1.5 inch tapered steerer, 6" post style disc brake mounting, FIT RC2 damper, Kashima coated stanchions, Black Diamond color scheme, and adjustments for low-speed and high-speed compression, spring preload and rebound. It comes with two extra coil springs, with a lower and higher spring rate, and retails for $949-955 (steerer dependent).
The FIT RC2 inverted damper is located within the right fork leg, and offers a wide range of low-speed and high-speed compression, and rebound adjustments (RC2=Rebound Compression x 2). The rebound knob is located on the bottom, while the other adjustments reside at the top. The FIT (Fox Isolated Technology) system uses a damper cartridge, and the suspension fluid is isolated, so that it's sealed away from air and crud, so that fluid aeration and contamination won't occur, which causes damper performance degradation. The new FIT damper design reduces oil volume, which helps lighten the fork. The cartridge uses a rubber bladder, which provides low friction, and allows fluid expansion as the suspension system's temperature fluctuates (heats up) during usage, creating a linear damping throughout the travel stroke. Fox has tweaked the FIT damper with new internals, and the new seal head has less stiction at the start of its stroke, and in direct comparison (on a simple test unit at Sea Otter), it was definitely a noticeable feel, and felt much smoother, without any notchiness.
The Kashima Coat technology has been used for years across the motorcycle and automotive industries, and Fox have teamed up with the Miyaki Company of Japan, to add this slippery coating to their forks. The hard anodized aluminum tubes are sent to Japan, where they add molybdenum disulfide via an induction process that deposits the material into pores of the anodized surface at 70 billion pores per cm². The MoS? adds better lubrication characteristics, higher hardness and abrasion resistance (durability), and a significant decrease in friction (stiction-free). The Kashima coating has been tweaked for 2012, and it appears as a darker color, and is slightly more slippery.
SKF Wiper Seals
Fox has partnered with the giant Swedish firm SKF, who is famous for their motorcycle seals, to use them on their forks. The seals use a different compound, shape and height, which greatly reduce friction and stiction. This new seal lip design and contact geometry works in synergy with the Kashima coating for a smoother and plusher stroke.
Fox teamed up with Shimano to create a strongly performing 20mm thru-axle. The axle is lightweight and stiff, and uses a tool-free design for ease of use. The screw-in axle uses clamps on each leg, to increase stiffness, and make sure that the fork has maximum rigidity in adverse conditions.
Testing was performed on my medium Ibis Mojo HD, predominately using the 2012 RP23 with Adaptive Logic rear shock, and lately with the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air. I used a set of Easton Haven wheels, and a slew of fat tires, including the Schwalbe Hans Dampf and ultra sweet Continental Trail Kings (2.4"). I am 5'9", weigh in at 155 lbs and have been riding since the inception of the RockShox RS-1, and started out on a Bridgestone MB-2 for my first MTB steed. I have mostly ridden in the West, including vast portions of the Colorado Front Range, Sedona, Moab, Fruita/GJ and many parts of the Colorado mountains. I tend to frequent extremely technical terrain, with rock gardens, slabs and rock ramps, and love exposure, tricky climbs and descents, and trials like maneuvering.
I have gotten close to a year of testing on the fork, and it has turned out to be a phenomenal technical fork, which likes to play rough! The fork is one stout and stable beast master, and I never felt any flex or sloppiness in the front end, no matter how much torture and abuse I toss at it. The stiffness at the lower end of the forks is greatly enhanced by the double clamped 20mm thru axle, and the elongated bushing overlaps. I have used and abused the fork through some heavy duty local technical terrain, such as Colorado Springs Palmer Park, Buffalo Creek's Blackjack, Pueblo South Shore and the Monument Preserve, and it has come through with flying colors, which is admirable due to the continual heinous nature of my favorite trails.
Its travel pattern throughout the stroke is different than other coil forks I have ridden, including the older Vans, and it's greatly due to the new SKF seals, updated FIT damper and Kashima coating. It has exquisite small bump compliance, and firms up slightly on small/small-medium stuff. It's quite plush and liner throughout the small-medium to medium-large section, and then stiffens up moderately towards large bumps and obstacles, and ramps up significantly at the end of its stroke.
It's difficult to give a clear picture of how the fork feels, since it's more complex than one realizes, and it must be ridden to be appreciated, but I will do my best to convey its uniqueness. It doesn't have the buttery feel of the Zocchi coil, or the mid-range plushness of the TALAS/FLOAT, but it has some properties that set it apart from the others. It sits up high in its sag, so it feels tall in the saddle, and it doesn't wallow, even when setting things pretty soft. Although it has plushness outside of its sag point, it likes to remain statically sitting at the sag, unless the fork needs to respond to the terrain, and this firmness offers incredible stability and control. When it does need react to obstacles, the fork offers excellent compliance and ride quality.
The fork pleasantly spins along on normal terrain, whether it's flat, undulating or semi-rough, and its superb small bump compliance eats up things, so you feel like you are gliding along. Standing up and sprinting, or sitting and cranking out some power strokes, never causes any undue wallowing or energy loss. Since it sits pretty tall in the saddle, on occasion when encountering and steering through things on some terrain; boulders, rock steps, ledges, etc.; small wheel hop's or wheelie's greatly assist with overcoming the objects.
It's an amazing fork when slamming and jamming through rock gardens, technical terrain, and anything nasty, and that is where it seems to be the happiest. I love this fork when it's in my favorite heinous terrain, which is slower speed rock gardens and slab moves (super technical), as it just makes things a blast, and it offers incredible composure and control. I can feel the new SKF seals, as they have a lot less stiction, making things move along as smooth as silk.
It provides amazing traction as it follows the terrain, making it stick like glue to everything it encounters, and it keeps the rear end firmly planted, which means you usually need to roll down one gear lower to prevent the front wheel from lifting. I think the combination of the small bump compliance and staticness around the sag, work in synergy for the increased stability.
The fork isn't the plushest in ugly terrain on bigger bumps, so you slightly feel the burden of things sometimes, but being able to make precise steering and control corrections anywhere and at anytime more than makes up for it. This incredible control is amazing to have in super technical and heinous terrain, and allows one to make pinpoint steering alterations in a split second, no matter what the speed or obstacles being encountered. It's like you are automatically given extra sticky tires, giant brake rotors and ultra wide handlebars! It was nice to have a fork with plushness, compliance, stability and control, which also offered an added margin of safety. Braking and cornering was exemplary, with excellent traction, control and steering, and I didn't have any issues with diving.
I am not much of a huck master, but this fork loves to jump, and I found myself sailing off things more frequently, and choosing lines that result in air time. It was certainly a hoot on trails like Porcupine Rim, were air launches are the norm.
One of the great things about a coil fork is its simplicity, especially regarding tuning constraints. The fork came with three coil springs, and the medium one came installed. I like a softer fork, and I was right towards the coil weight limit, so I swapped out the default medium one with the lighter spring. Outside of the spring weight, you can adjust the low and high speed compression and rebound. I left the rebound slightly fast, the high around default, and cranked the low speed a couple of clicks positive, to help with some rare slow speed diving. Otherwise, I have never done anything else again in regards with tuning, which is quite pleasant, and no fiddling with air!
Settings (middle is default):
I swapped out the coil spring from the default Blue one with a 45 lb/in spring rate, to the lower Purple 40 lb/in version, so that I could get some additional sag and plushness, and it worked perfect for my tastes and riding terrain. It was a simple changeover, and required you to undo the cap on the top left leg, pull out the old coil, drop in the new one, and reinstall the cap.
The 2012 Fox 36 Van 160 FIT RC2 is a stupendous fork, with incredible control and steering attributes, especially in technical and adverse terrain. It has excellent small bump compliance, and functional coil spring plushness and linearity in the bottom two-thirds of its 160mm (6.3 inches) stroke. It rides high in the saddle and sits statically at the sag, and the latter offers incredible stability and maneuvering qualities, in both technical and normal terrain. One of the key characteristics of the fork is its ability to have supreme control in the ugliest, gnarliest and rockiest terrain, no matter what the speed is and command that it's asked to perform, giving extreme confidence, stability and performance. Tuning is quite simple, and once it's done, it rarely needs to be done again! If needed, small adjustments can be made to the rebound, high and low speed compression, or swap out the coil for a different spring rate. It has great features, including the slippery Kashima coated stanchions, beefy 36mm stanchions, double clamped 20mm thru-axle, low stiction and silky-smooth SKF seals and the much-improved FIT RC2 damper.
The Van 160 is a superb fork and its plushness, simplicity, stiffness and control it offers in technical and rugged terrain is amazing, making for a tried-and-true coil fork, which can be used for climbing to the top, and descending to the bottom.
Note: Unfortunately, Fox has dropped the 160 size variant from the Van lineup for 2013, which is a shame, since I think that travel range is perfect for AM riding.
Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers
36 Van 160 FIT RC2 Specs:
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