Fox F130 RLC
For a number of years now, the Fox name has been synonymous with performance and quality. Fox also continues to strive for a position on the cutting edge of technology and at the forefront of innovation. I kept these points loosely in mind when it came time to upgrade my old Talas fork to something new.
I had no shortage of all mountain forks vying for attention when it came time to look for a replacement. My criteria were simple: air sprung, 125+ mm of travel, quick release style dropouts, not overly heavy and rebound adjustable on the fly. Any other features that may come on the fork were simply bonuses to sweeten the deal.
As such, the process of elimination resulted in two final contenders: The RockShox Revelation and Fox F130RLC. The Revelation was brand new, U turn adjustable, dual air, poploc compatible and rebound adjustable. I had a few complaints, however, mainly in that I donít particularly care for a dual air setup (just not my tub of butter), and Iím not thrilled about buying a first run of ANYTHING, let alone something that could fail and end up throwing me over the bars. Ugh. Superficially, the Fox was a good looking fork, beefy enough, and came with a free Chris King headset. Score!
Installation and initial set up
Installation was quick and painless. My old headset cups were pressed out, new ones were pressed in, the crown race was installed, steerer tube cut and the fork was seated in the frame and installed. The front wheel was placed in the dropouts and the quick release was tightened down, securing the wheel very nicely. The brake housing was routed across the front of the arch, and around the inside of the lower left leg. The brake caliper was bolted in place and centered over the disc without problem. This particular model fork includes a built in hose guide which is really just a pair of molded plastic links secured to a threaded port on the fork by use of a 3 mm allen key. This assembly is less then friendly, and I found that a third hand made the job much easier. There is also a prominent warning about not cross threading the hose guide (which seems to be a common installation error).
Initially, I dialed all the settings to the factory recommendations in the Fox ownerís manual. This meant that the forkís air pressure was set to 20% sag with the riderís weight on board, the rebound adjuster was adjusted to 6 clicks out from full fast rebound, the compression set at 5 clicks out from full damping and the blowoff backed one click down from full hard. This gave me a decent starting point from which to work with, so off to the trail I went.
The F130 is a fairly plush fork, settling nicely into its sag as the rider climbs on. I noticed that on flat smooth pavement, the fork was relatively quiet. Standing and pedaling would elicit a bit of a response from the fork, but it was rather inconsequential. Braking did elicit a fair amount of brake dive out of the fork, but again, I chalked this up to initial, pre-break-in condition. The use of some sort of stable platform damping or pedal platform would make a world of difference in this department.
Out on the trails, the 130 sucked up small chatter pretty well, but seemed to pack up a bit on repeated harder hits. Making a note of this, I continued with my evaluation. I also continued to note that there was a fair amount of brake dive, although it was somewhat harder to detect on trails than it was on flat pavement. The lockout, when used, lived up to itís billing, and the blowoff worked as advertised as well. In fact, it worked almost too well. The fork only blew off when hitting something extremely hard, and anything less would be just short of bone jarring.
Refinements and tuning
After about 50 miles of break in, I made quite a few adjustments from the manualís suggestions. I moved the compression to 3 clicks out of full damping and the rebound adjuster was moved to 3 clicks out from full fast rebound. I also backed the blowoff threshold 2 more clicks towards soft. More miles on the trail confirmed that this was a more acceptable setup. Blowoff from lockout required a smaller hit, and thus saved poor line choice while riding locked out. The fork no longer packed up on repeated hits and it felt quite lively but not pogo stick-ish. Increased compression damping reduced brake dive somewhat at the cost of some small bump compliance. The 130 still handles small chatter admirably, but with the increased damping the fork jumps less over such small chatter. A bit more air and a bit less sag (about 5 mm less) stiffened things further, making the fork feel a little less wallowy and a little more progressive.
The F130RLC is a great all around fork. While you do pay for the name, you also pay for quality construction and excellent service (should you require it). For a trail bike itís hard to go wrong with the 130, but it is far from being perfect. Weight was a touch lighter than some other forks on the market, but incrementally. The integrated brake guide is fiddly to deal with, but it works well once installed and snugged down. Perhaps the most glaring problem is the lack of any stable platform damping which hurts this fork (both in small bump compliance and by allowing some noticeable brake dive.) The fork also has moments of instability on repeated hits. I have found that compression damping can somewhat rectify this, but does so at the expense of small hit compliance. After exploring some options, it seems that sending the fork to PUSH for some custom valving and tuning may alleviate the issue. For big hits, the 130 performed as expected, with no problems or issues appearing. The fork was plenty springy enough to preload and get a decent burst off of during bunny hops or wheelies as well.
Overall, Iím pleased with the choice made, and Iíd go with Fox again in the future. I do wish for a stable platform damping during braking and out of saddle hammering, but itís not so noticeable that it hurts handling or braking performance. I would have liked to have ridden a Revelation to give a fair comparison, but since one was unavailable, and considering it was new to the market I decided to let others work the kinks out first before I put one beneath me. Until that point though, Iíll put the Fox through its paces and make it earn its keep.