Fox 36 TALAS 160 FIT RLC Review

by Brian Mullin on December 13, 2010

I have been thoroughly enjoying the last couple of months testing the new 2011 Fox 36 TALAS 160 FIT RLC fork. It has been bashed, trashed and tossed into as many rugged conditions as possible, and it has turned out to be a light, stable and stout beast, that thrives in technical terrain. The features make it terrific package, and include adjustable travel (TALAS), the slippery Kashima coating on the stanchions, the new FIT RLC damper and a lighter crown.

Fox 36 Forks
For 2011 the Fox 36 has two versions, a 160mm (All Mountain) and a 180mm (Freeride) fork. The 36 160 comes in three flavors: the TALAS FIT RLC, FLOAT FIT RLC and the VAN RC2 (coil). The 36 180 also comes in three flavors: the FLOAT FIT RC2, TALAS FIT RC2 and VAN RC2. A slight change to the TALAS, 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 in contrast to the RC2 (except for VAN), while the 180 is all RC2. RLC trades the RC2’s high speed compression for a lockout with threshold adjustment. The FIT RLC damper has gotten a revamp this year, and it’s lighter and has been inverted to mimic the 32 series. The 160 series went on a diet itself, with a new light crown and upper tubes.

The Fox 36 TALAS 160 FIT RLC fork, has 36mm stanchions, a 20QR thru axle, either 1-1/8″ straight or 1.5″ tapered steerer, post style disc brake mounting, two-position TALAS (160-120), FIT RLC damper, Kashima coated stanchions, Black Diamond color scheme, and adjustments for low-speed compression, lever actuated lockout, lockout force, air spring pressure and rebound.

Technical Features
TALAS
The new Travel Adjustable Linear Air Spring system (TALAS) on the 36, has two positions, allowing the fork to be dropped from its fully open 160mm down to 120mm, using the knob on the top of the right fork leg. The travel adjustment gives the fork good versatility, offering climbing efficiency, or copious plushness and full travel. A pop up cap for the air pressure resides in the middle of the TALAS lever.

FIT RLC
The FIT RLC damper is located within the right fork leg, and offers a wide range of low-speed compression and rebound adjustments, along with a lockout, and lockout threshold adjusts. The rebound knob is located on the bottom, while the other adjustments are reside on 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.

Kashima Coat
The Kashima Coat technology has been used for years across the motorcycle and automotive industries, and Fox has 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 MoS₂ adds better lubrication characteristics, higher hardness and abrasion resistance (durability), and a significant decrease in friction.

Impressions
I have been riding the 36 TALAS 160 for a couple of months now, and I am really liking it, as it has some unique properties and features that benefit the type of riding and terrain that All Mountain riders will usually encounter. It took a long time to break in, which is an oddity for Fox forks that I have ridden, and it only recently came into its own.

The Kashima coating is an excellent feature, and offers a buttery smooth ride, decreased friction, less stiction, and a wonderful tactile feel through the handlebars. The coating notably increases durability, showing up as fewer abrasions and gouging on the tubes surface, and it certainly looks pretty sweet in its subtle gold color. I have ridden the same fork, with and without the coating, and there is a perceptible difference.

The small bump compliance is superb, which has always been a hallmark of Fox’s suspension products. It takes the perfect edge off the little bumps, stutters and rocks, giving a smooth ride, and lets it float along the trail. Once the fork rolls into its mid stroke, it really stiffens up considerably, and gives a somewhat harsh ride, especially on mellower bumpy terrain, and you feel as though you battle the handlebars around, and get pulverized through the wrists. At first I found it a hindrance, but when riding into more technical terrain, through rock gardens, up and down ledges, and ugly stair step climbs, the stiffness really helps keep the front end down and planted, giving it excellent traction and offering paramount stability and steering control. Once the travel veers past the mid stroke and ventures into the large bumps and big hits, the fork becomes quite plush, and has a silkiness to its feel, without any sensation of being overly squishy. I really enjoyed the plushness at the tail end of the travel, as it made jamming through rock gardens, flying off things and blazing down steep sections enjoyable, and much less fatiguing. I can’t comment on big hucks since I don’t do any of that, but on small jumps of 3-5 feet it did just fine. It still ramps up when you get towards the bottom out bumpers, but you really need to be slamming the fork hard to access the section of the travel. Like any fork, it was difficult to extract the full amount of travel on a normal daily ride, unless it was tossed off some big stuff, and I would usually get an average maximum of 140mm.

The big 36mm stanchions, beefy arch and 20mm axle add up to an impressive front end, that gives excellent control, stability and inspires confidence. Plowing down rock gardens, technical terrain and pretty much anything ugly belays a great deal of control, and it just keeps the front end connected and glued to the ground. This beefiness, induces higher speeds, and more leaping off bigger objects, and general silliness.

Here is some videos of my local terrain where the fork was tested. The terrain in both videos is deceptively steep, with good ledge drops and fork slams:


The air is added on the travel adjust side, and you just twirl the TALAS knob clockwise and the cap pops up, and can be spun off, though it’s difficult using gloved fingers. The useful air pressure range for adjustments was very narrow, and anything outside the window made the fork either too harsh or wallow with a propensity to fork dive. I rode with the air pressure between 55 – 6o psi, and found that ideal for my 155 lbs. The sag is controlled by the air pressure, and Fox recommends between 25-40mm, but I rarely go by the book, and instead tweak it until it feels right on the local terrain and my riding style. I set the rebound slightly fast, but kept it pretty close to the middle.

The FIT RLC damper worked just fine, and I really liked the lockout on my local fire road or on the street, since it saved a lot of wasted energy. It was extremely easy to operate on the fly, with a simple turn of the lever clockwise for lock engage, and the reverse for fully open. I do wish it had an adjustable platform damper, so that you could play with the stiffness (supple to firmer to lockout), allowing you to run a lower air pressure, without adverse issues. I didn’t really use the lockout threshold adjustment, and left it fully open, so that I got an easy blow out on stutter bumps, meaning it gave me about 15mm of mini travel if I hit something hard. I rarely used the lockout on normal trails, since the fork’s mid stroke was quite stiff. If any fork dive reared its head at slower speeds, a slight increase of the low speed compression alleviated it, but it never really seemed to be much of an issue if the pressure was kept correct for my weight. Making any refinements using the low speed made discernible delineations to the fork, and I used it when required. I did miss the ability to do external high speed adjustments, but it wasn’t that big of an issue, and there will always be some sort of compromises with different features, and in addition the high speed circuit is pretty darn sweet as is.

I used the TALAS feature on every ride I did, and I found it to work nicely, and it was a welcome addition on a long travel bike, giving one the versatility of having a Cross Country or an All Mountain setups. When you can drop a fork on a climb, your weight is more balanced and neutral, with better steering and traction control, and less wheeling. The two position 120mm and 160mm travel settings worked well for the steep climbs that I deal with in Colorado, though on occasion, a 130mm setting may have been a more appropriate compromise? Both settings have a similar spring rate, sag and bump response, so they felt near identical throughout their respective travel strokes. Although Fox recommends not to change the travel on the fly, I did it all the time, as the ergonomic knob was easy to turn, though the engagement needs to be done quickly in a controllable section. To engage the lower travel position, reach down and turn the TALAS knob clockwise, and bounce your weight forward or push down hard on the handlebars, and it drops to 120. To disengage, and return to the full travel, reach down and rotate the knob counterclockwise, and do a mini wheelie, and it returns to 160mm. Though it was still slightly notchy compared to the Float, it is greatly improved over its predecessor’s.

Taking the front wheel off and on was an easy process, since the 20mm thru axle system was pretty user friendly, and bombproof. You simply flick open the QR levers at the bottom front of each fork leg, pop out the axle lever, and use it to unscrew the axle, which is threaded into the opposing dropout. Reverse the process for installation. With everything clamped down, I never felt any slop nor flex in the fork, and the legs were stout and stable beasts, and tossing them into the ugliest terrain I could find did nothing to their composure. The additional rigidity offered by the two clamps holding the axle is pretty amazing, and offers an excellent solid platform for the fork. I spoke to the Fox engineers at Sea Otter about their use of this somewhat primitive system, and in direct comparison to a Maxle type of QR, it provides greater rigidity.

I haven’t had any issue with the fork during my short period of abusiveness, and there has been no signs of any weeping nor leaking from the seals.

Measured Specs:

  • Total weight – 2158.2 grams
  • 20mm axle weight – 62.2 grams
  • Crown to Axle – 546 mm
  • Average max travel – 142mm
  • Lower travel setting – 122mm
  • Sag – 28-37mm

Nitpicks:
Although the stiff mid stroke was appreciated in technical terrain and on some flat sections, it does tend to take it abuse on your wrists, and after a hard day of riding, and sometimes felt like you were beaten up, so a slight softening of the stiffness would be appreciated. Although the lower travel setting of 120mm worked well for steep terrain, it was a bit extreme for most situations, and a 125 or 130mm would be a better compromise. This fork took an extremely long time to break in, and some consumers might be upset with the fork’s performance until that time period is accomplished.

Bottom Line
The 2011 Fox 36 TALAS 160 FIT RLC is an excellent fork, that is highly engineered, and nice set of features and functionality. The TALAS can change from 160mm to 120mm of travel on the fly, for great versatility, between steep climbs and bombing downhill. The new FIT RLC damper is light, with low friction and linear damping properties, and offers adjustments for low-speed compression, rebound and lockout, which is useful for smooth trails and fire roads. The slippery Kashima coating offers an excellent ride, with a noticeable buttery feel and an increase in durability. The stout 36mm stanchions and the QR20mm system combine to give an impressively rigid front end, with precise control and no discernible flex. The travel stroke offers a nice small bump compliance, a stiff mid strike for great technical control, and a plush big hitter for an enjoyable flight down obstacles.

It would be nice if the stiff mid stroke could be softened slightly, since it was often fatiguing. The 120mm lower travel setting seemed somewhat extreme in most climbs, and a slight increase would be a welcome compromise. Some may find the switch to RLC instead of RC2 unwanted, and though it does make some minor compromises, it can delve into X-Country, All Trail and All Mountain usage, and remain a light fork with excellent climbing characteristics, and still take a licking on technical terrain, and I think this fork does a great job melding those multiple worlds?

The 2011 Fox 36 TALAS 160 FIT RLC is a pretty sweet fork, that is well made, with plenty of great features that are suited to technical riding in All Mountain conditions.

Strengths

  • Stiff: 36mm stanchions, 20mm axle
  • TALAS adjustability of 160-120
  • Excellent large bump plushness
  • Lockout
  • Light
  • Slippery and durable Kashima coating

Weaknesses

  • Expensive
  • Overly stiff mid stroke
  • 120mm setting is too extreme for most climbs
  • Unable to extract full travel (common to most forks)

MSRP: $1035 – 1050

Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

Purchase FOX 36 TALAS FORK ’11 Black, 160mm, 20Qr, Rlc Fit, Disc: $1,035
From: Jenson USA

Visit the Fox 36 TALAS 160 website at http://www.foxracingshox.com/bike/11/forks/36_TALAS

36 TALAS 160 FIT RLC Specs

  • Travel: 2 position 120mm / 160mm
  • Spring: Air
  • Adjustment: Low-speed compression, lever actuated lockout, lockout force adjust, Travel TALAS two-position, air spring pressure and rebound
  • Steerer: 1 1/8″ straight and 1 1/8″ to 1.5″ tapered
  • Inner Stanchion: 36mm Kashima Coat
  • Brake Mounting: Post style
  • Dropouts: 20mm Thru Axle
  • Damper: FIT – Fox Internal Technology
  • Weight: 4.67 lbs / 2.12 kg

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

kochi December 13, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Hmm I wonder if my new ordered Norco Range 1 (due feb. 2011) will be fitted with that 2011 Fork? … looks promising anyway I guess 😉

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet December 14, 2010 at 3:04 am

All the bikes released from now on should have the 2011 Fox forks, but the Kashima coating isn't on OEM forks.

Reply

kochi December 14, 2010 at 8:02 pm

@Brian

Thanks for the reply … what a pity for the Kashima coating … but I'll probably not notice the difference 😉

Reply

stoked247 July 20, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Hey, this is a great fork, i have the 2012 version on my new yeti 575. i have noticed a little bit of oil weeping from the top of the talas leg, has enyone else had this? is it normal during break in? or should i send it back to the lbs to get serviced?

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet July 20, 2011 at 9:02 pm

A small amount of weeping is normal as the fork breaks in, but if there is an excess then have the LBS check it

Reply

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