I am old and young enough to remember a time when if you were looking for a fork with anything between 100 mm and 150 mm the answer would be a Fox 32. You could pick a Talas (3 Position external travel adjustment) or Float (fixed travel), but the 32 mm chassis was used throughout that travel range. At 100 mm travel it performed well, at 120 mm it was okay, but when pushed hard it started showing signs of flex. At 150 mm, the fork tried its best to keep things under control but at times resembled a Sky Dancer air puppet.
Okay, not that bad, but you get my point. Fox has since launched the 34 (with a 34 mm chassis) to bridge the gap between the XC focused 32 and Enduro monster 36, and it makes all the difference. With the 34 Step-Cast, they have spent all their time, effort and R&D to optimize the fork around 120mm and 120mm only. No, you can't increase the travel, that will bring on the flex in the chassis. To stop the flex, they would have to add weight again. Fox had a focus with the 34 Step-Cast and they stuck to it.
Although both the existing 34 and new 34 Step-Cast share the same crown, steerer tube, and adjusters, the 34 Step-Cast comes with a completely new chassis. Compared with the existing Fox 34 Float, the Step-Cast model sees lighter upper tubes, new internals and lowers with the "step" in the casting near the dropout. The floor or bottom of the Step-Cast design sits higher up in the lower leg, which not only saves weight in the lowers by allows for the step design. It also shortens the upper tubes, air spring, and FIT4 damper which further adds to the weight saving over the standard 34 Float.
Fox's FIT4 (Fox isolated technology) damper is used on the 34 Step-Cast Factory as well. Another familiar face is their EVOL (extra volume) air spring with additional negative air-spring volume, which lends faster initial movement, greater mid-stroke support and a more linear spring curve during initial travel. End-stroke ramp-up is still tunable with Fox air-volume spacers. The air spring is tuned specifically for 120 mm of travel (it's a bit firmer), and the FIT4 damper is unique to this chassis and features an 8 mm shaft like the 32 Step-Cast fork to save weight, compared to the standard 34 that uses a 10mm shaft.
The fork comes in 27.5 and 29" wheel sizes, both with 120 mm travel. The 27.5" chassis fits up to 2.8-inch tyres, while the 29" can take up to 2.6-inch tyres. will be available with both a crown-mounted three-position damper control and a handlebar-mounted remote lockout lever.
Specifications and features:
- Dedicated 120 mm
- Adjustments: air pressure, air spring volume, 3-position Open/Medium/Firm compression lever, low-speed rebound & low-speed compression
- Offset: 37mm & 44mm (27.5in), 44mm & 51mm (29in)
- Same stiffness as 34 140 mm, nearly 0.23 kg lighter
- 15% stiffer than 32 long travel and 0.14 kg lighter
- Float EVOL air spring
- Dedicated air spring and damper tune
- 120 mm travel only
- 27.5 chassis fits up to 2.8” tire, 29 chassis fits up to 2.6” tire
- Gloss Orange or Matte Black paint options
- Factory Series models feature Genuine Kashima Coat
- Dropouts: 110x15mm
- Actual weight: 1650g (uncut)
- Approximate Price: R18,500
On the Trail
First it should be said that the fork we had on review belongs to Fox's South African brand manager, Steve Bowman. Those (who are older than me) will know that he is no stranger to the ways of a bicycle and it showed with the set up of the fork and the bike that it came on. It brings me pure joy when we get a bike to review that doesn't have to go through the initial set up phase that takes up valuable riding time. And even though I had to change the suspension settings a bit for my weight, it was easy to do as the fork was already bedded in and running silky smooth.
All the marketing talk does not mean much if it the product does not match the claims or expectation on the trail. This is not the case with the 34 Step-Cast as on my first ride I already knew that Fox was onto something special here. The 34 SC is beautifully controlled all the way through its travel. After initially experiencing the small bump plushness on my first ride, I assumed that it would surely blow through its travel quite easily, but the additional negative air-spring volume does wonders for both the initial travel and mid-stroke support.
Pushing it hard through rougher sections and around berms shows no signs of flex. The fork handled whatever the 120 mm bike felt comfortable doing. Drops and jumps were soaked up with confidence and control - the fork using full travel on bigger sections with composure. In fact, I only realised that I had used full travel when I checked the o-ring around the stanchions. If not for that I wouldn't have known that all the travel was used, that's how smooth and controlled the fork is.
General riding is also well looked after with enough support to not wallow or bob as you pedal along. On longer climb sections, I experimented with the three-position damper. For my type of riding, I only used the middle setting when out of the saddle and never used the full lockout as it was not really needed as I prefer suspension to stay active. For sprint finishers, it is nice to know you have the option to firm it all the way up for that last bit of marginal gain to the line.
If you are in the market for a light and capable 120 mm fork, then you should definitely look at the 34 Step-Cast. Through their uncompromising approach, Fox has given us a perfect piece of kit that is light enough to race, yet controlled enough for bigger trail rides. A perfect fit for today's new breed of XC bikes that will happily take a 120mm fork. At least with this model, you won't have to sacrifice on weight or performance.
Seems you can eat your cake and have it. As long as the cake is 120 mm.