Fox 36 Van 160 FIT RC2 Review

by Brian Mullin on June 16, 2012

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).

Technical Features

FIT RC2
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.

Kashima Coat
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
MoS₂ 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.

20mm QR
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.

Impressions
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.

Maintenance/Durability
I have used the fork three days a week for almost a year now, and I have
never had any maintenance or performance degradation issues with it.
The seals have been tough as nails without any leakage, and the Kashima
coated stanchions haven’t scratched. The travel has remained consistent,
and I haven’t performed any service, since it hasn’t been needed.

Measured Specs:

  • Weight (uncut) – 2429 grams/x 5.36 lbs (1 1/8 inch straight steerer)
  • Stanchion length – 164 mm/ 6.54 inches
  • Available Travel – 154 mm/ 6.09 inches
  • Axle to crown – 545 mm/ 21.46 inches

Tuning
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):

  • Low Speed – 19 of 26
  • High Speed – 11 of 22
  • Rebound – 15 of 17
  • Sag – 35mm
  • Purple – 40 lb/in spring rate

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.

Springs:

  • Purple => 40 lb/in spring rate, 115–155 weight range
  • Blue (default), => 45 lb/in spring rate, 150–180 weight range
  • Green => 50 lb/in spring rate, 175–210 weight range

Bottom Line
The 2012 Fox 36 Van 160 FIT RC2 is a impressive 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 fork has plushness, simplicity, stiffness and the 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.

Strengths

  • Incredible control and steering attributes
  • Excellent traction and braking characteristics
  • Stiff
  • Plush and linear in bottom 2/3rd’s of stroke
  • Simple tuning
  • FIT RC2 damper
  • Slippery and durable Kashima coating
  • SKF seals – low stiction

Weaknesses

  • Expensive
  • Sits high in the saddle
  • Not the plushest on large bumps
  • Heavy

MSRP: $949-955 (steerer dependent).
Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

36 Van 160 FIT RC2 Specs:

  • Factory family
  • Visit the Fox Van 160 website
  • Weight (w/ 20QR axle) – 5.13 lb / 2.33 kg (1 1/8″ steerer), 5.12 lb / 2.32 kg (1.5″ taper steerer)
  • Travel – 6.3 inches / 160 mm
  • Steerer – 1 1/8″ straight aluminum, 1.5″ tapered aluminum (optional)
  • Adjustments- Rebound, Low-speed compression, High-speed compression, Spring preload
  • Lower leg – 20QR thru axle system, post style disc brake mounting
  • Spring – Coil
  • Fork color – Black Diamond
  • Riding Style – All-mountain, Freeride
  • Kashima Coat
  • Damping – FIT RC2

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: