The buzzword on the pages and screens of the mountain bike media and forums this year has been ‘Öhlins’ as the motorsport suspension company launched new products for the ultra popular ‘Enduro’ sector. The all new RXF 34 front fork and STX22 air shock have blazed a new trail in this discerning world where specifications are pored over online and in the clubhouses of MTB courses. And crucially these products are available as aftermarket for any 29” wheel models which have the right axle dimensions...
The Swedish suspension connoisseurs first made headlines in mountain biking with their partnership with Specialized, as they created a cutting edge shock for the big hits of Downhill racing. The top of the range Demo8 models were adorned with yellow-springed TTX22M units as original equipment, built to withstand the massive jumps and high-speed compression that 200mm-forked DH bikes are thrown at.
So the next logical step was a foray into the new and exciting genre of ‘Enduro’ — a fast growing sport that attracted riders that wished to ride fast, jump but crucially still have to ride varied terrain and climb hills. This variation obviously brought its own challenges of performance versus weight.
First of all Öhlins had no history of air shocks. The STX22 was their debut and was chosen to be the OE equipment on Specialized Enduro S-Works/Expert models. The front fork was the next mission, another ‘first’ as their only MTB fork. Again a Swedish-American partnership programme was developed between the engineers at Öhlins and the R&D test team at Specialized in California.
The mountain bike project team of Team leader/Technician Terje Hansen and mountain bike engineer Emil Björk take up the story Terje explained, “So after the success of the Downhill shock, Specialized approached us about creating a shock and fork for their Enduro models. The air shock worked well and they used it on the Enduro S-Works/Elite model with the large weight saving it brings over the Downhill spec spring shock we’d previously developed.
When it came to the fork we worked extensively with the Specialized team in California and learned a lot about air spring behaviour and of course the crucial factor in Enduro: weight. You could have the best performing product in the world but if it was noticeably heavier than its competition you would not be able to go to market, so this is why only an air fork would do. So we worked on the balance between performance, rigidity and weight continuously.”
So the team created the RXF34 as the first ever trail fork that utilised Öhlins’ famous TTX Twin Tube Technology — giving ultimate MTB performance yet still within the target weight. The fork was used in stealth mode in the 2015 World Enduro series with riders using unbranded, all black forks. Test teams pounded the trails of the famous Whistler complex and Specialized’s local test grounds around Santa Cruz and Morgan Hill, CA.
Product Engineer Emil said: “The biggest comments we got from riders was that the forks had really nice initial ‘plushness’ giving feel and comfort but then crucially the more you push the better it functions and responds, effectively replicating the characteristics of the DH shock.
It’s easy to tune and there is a massive amount of adjustment which riders of these bikes love to fiddle with!
There is a wide adjustment range, not just through ‘clickers’ but it also features three chambers; the main, negative and a third ‘ramp-up’ chamber. You can set your ride height and ride characteristics of the spring curve using the main chamber and then adjust the ‘end’ of the stroke using two valves to pump in more air for those big ‘hits’.”
Another unique feature of the RXF is its ‘unicrown’ set-up; a one piece crown, steering tube and stem with no bearing races. Developed for maximum rigidity and for longevity, the process includes a one-piece forged unit which is then accurately CNC machined and finished.
As for competition Terje explains: “The top riders in the world command huge fees so we sort of went in under the radar with unbranded products and riding in the US and Italian Nationals but it got us great feedback. We have a great relationship with Hope in the UK and their project manager Woody Hole not only tested the product but will be running it in the World Enduro series in 2016 after winning the ‘Masters’ title last season.
Obviously we need to get people to try the products also, so we will be running demos at major events this year such as Crankworks Europe.
Ultimately MTB is a massively accessible sport and pastime which we want to be a bigger part of. We have already doubled our staffing in this division and I can see us progressing into other wheel sizes and maybe even the super lightweight world of cross country...”
Working at Hope you get used to standards and the RXF34 is a great looking, well finished, top quality fork. Once set up with the correct pressures for my weight and style of riding things felt good from the off, very stable for a 29er fork with very little flex which must be helped with the one piece crown and steerer. The 160mm of travel is ample and seems to handle all that is thrown at it whilst at the other end of the scale has the lock out for climbing which is easily adjusted whilst riding. One thing that is a nice feel is that it always feels like there is a bit left in the tank and it’s never over its travel limit!
STX rear shock
With the growing trends in off-road mountain biking it is very important to offer the complete package! So when the fork/shock combo was available it was a big thing for me. Having raced all year on the TTX coil spring I could not fault that shock but when the STX air was available it was an instant thing to move over to. With it being almost a third of the weight with all the same features it has been great to ride along with the forks making it a great all-round suspension package. For me throughout the season I will swap between the two rear shocks dependent on the type of course.