Tony Nolan

Öhlins RXF34 Fork [R]eview

Öhlins is a name at the absolute pinnacle of moto suspension tech and they’re no newcomers to the game, with around 40 years of suspension experience. Coming into the 2016 MotoGP season, every bike on the grid is running Öhlins, a feat never achieved by any suspension manufacturer in the premier class. That racing pedigree started back in the early 90’s under the legendary Wayne Rainey who was keeping his wheels on the ground and getting the power down (amid the odd high side) on his highly strung 2-stroke weapon of choice, the YZR500. Anyway, enough of the moto heritage, what you want to know is how do these guys step from the manicured asphalt onto the mess of rocks, mud and dirt we know and love?

Much like their partnerships with Ducati and Lamborghini, Öhlins decided that to make real headway into the MTB scene, a collaboration was in order. While they have indeed worked with Fox and Cane Creek, bringing early renditions of their twin tube tech to our grubby hands with the 40 cartridge and the Double Barrel designs, it wasn’t until they partnered with Specialized in 2012 that the real advances were seen. The release of the TTX rear shock on the Specialized Enduro EVO and Demo 8 models was to widespread critical acclaim and the yellow springs became a thing of legend almost instantly.

So, the RXF 34 fork is primarily designed for use on the Specialized Camber, Stumpjumper and Enduro models, coming in 120mm, 140mm and 160mm versions respectively. But the big news is that the RXF will be available as a standalone product for a price not too far removed from similar RockShox and Fox offerings.  Although here’s the kicker, for now it’s only available in 29 inch. Bear with me though, this fork is worth the read. And you know I sized this set up onto a 27.5 bike with a big bag front tyre. No one in their right mind wouldn’t….

While Öhlins has made its mark across motorsport with the gold and yellow highlights, the RXF is an understated, stealthy, satin black. From the crown to the dropout, only a hint of gold and blue on the adjusters and seals give hint to the Swedish origins. Their use of 34mm stanchions seems like a step not far enough up when up against its 35mm and 36mm competition, but its Öhlins take on the crown that makes it all possible. Its one piece forged steerer and crown, is machined down to a precision piece of alloy that gives one of the stiffest front ends I’ve had the pleasure of riding. The beautiful machining also allows you to ditch your lower bearing race and run a 40mm ID/45° cartridge bearing straight onto the crown. Pulling it all together down below is the simple and clean dropout. No quick release. No proprietary axle. Just a simple, threaded 15mm through axle with a 5mm pinch bolt that offers serious bottom end stiffness.

Underneath that silky black exterior is where the real action happens. The TTX twin tube damper is a sealed in-leg cartridge. It’s a twin-tube design, which separates rebound and compression oil flow, which in turn reduces internal pressures, smart right? Öhlins claim this ensures initial smoothness and also allows you to ‘ride high in the travel while maintaining bump absorption, traction and stability’. Pretty much everything a fork needs to do right? Not blowing through travel fast is a bonus, especially if you like to push through corners hard or pump a transition for your share of air for the weekend. The air spring set up ain’t too shabby either with three chambers. Two positive and one negative allowing you not only to control how much force it takes to get the fork moving into its travel, but also to control the spring rate. Sweet small bump sensitivity, progressive feel plus ballsy bottom out resistance anyone?

The RXF is extremely smooth from the first mm of travel. No matter how hard you run the air pressure or damper settings, it feels so planted.

The harder you push into the travel, the more feel you get, remember what springs felt like? The rebound and LSC settings are both simple to dial in, despite a huge range of settings, you definitely find that each click makes a small but consistent change to the fork’s feel. And should you forget your set up pressures, a handy guide is located on the back of the fork leg. Their recommended pressures aren’t bad at all, but depending on terrain, you’ll want to spend a little time on reading and set up. Guaranteed you’ll get them feeling how you want, without the need for additional plastic parts….

That aforementioned ability to tune bottom out resistance, spring pressure and initial suppleness independently, allows such a supple, yet solid feel through any terrain with a confidence that breeds pushing harder. A confidence that leads to more front tyre pinch flats than I’ve had in a few years thanks to carrying more speed through both corners and rocky sections alike.

While the forks come tuned for their Specialized stable mates when in complete form, setting up the fork to work in conjunction with any bike/rear shock combination should be a breeze thanks to their ease of adjustability. With 100 hour service intervals, very simple cleaning and servicing thanks to the removable cartridge, plus straight up pro level handling, the RXF is definitely a fork we’ll be seeing on more than a few bikes this year…

Pro’s: Elite moto heritage, incredible feel.

Cons: 29er only. Please Norse God Öhlin, bring a 27.5 fork out!