The conquering Swedes.
If you're into any kind of extreme motorsports — enduro, MotoGP, Rallycross — then you're all too aware of the mystique enjoyed by Ohlins Racing. Like many of the top cycling products, Ohlins' suspension products are often used clandestinely by non-sponsored athletes because, simply put, they're pretty much impossible to beat. The 29in RXF 34 160 Fork brings the Swedish brand's expertise from the motorized enduro world to the self-propelled one, outfitting the new breed of hyper-aggressive 29er enduro sleds with a fork that's versatile and stiff enough to take advantage of every opportunity to gain seconds. In terms of world-class enduro racing, Swedish is the new breed.
There's a reason why we were compelled to cite Ohlins' innovative dominance in different sports to whet your appetite, and it manifests in the fact that the fork's design is, well, dominantly innovative. The RXF 34 is the only fork on the market to feature a twin tube damper, which separates the rebound and compression oil flow. Since the twin tube design lets the oil flow parallel and independently, the fork maintains optimal pressure at all times, riding higher with a smoother initial stroke. It maintains consistent, predictable small bump compliance across successive hits to leave you more in control of your lines and with more responsive traction.
The damper is an obvious improvement across the line, but the 160mm RXF model may benefit even more than the shorter travel models from the air spring. It's got an additional positive chamber, adding a third member to the typical air spring loadout of one negative and one positive that effectively replaces the need for internal spacers. The presence of two positive chambers means that the resistance can be dialed to alter the compression curve without adding spacers, so the fork can be set to maintain its initial suppleness but ramp-up harder to avoid bottoming out on big hits. Externally. No spacers. Can we stress that enough? No, we can't. Given that new breed of 29er mentioned above, this added versatility in fork suspension is not only a plus, we suspect it'll become a necessary feature by the next product cycle.
And now we get to the elephant in the room: those 34mm stanchions. When we first saw a spec sheet for the 160mm RXF, we scrolled through looking for a 35 or a 36mm model and were surprised when the only models we saw were 34s. Up until today, we would have cried blasphemy and broken out the torches and pitchforks; however, Ohlins claims that its forged unicrown design is actually stiffer than the current crop of all-mountain 35mm models and on par with the latest generation of 36mm models — you know which forks we're talking about — all while benefiting from the reduced weight of 34mm stanchions.
The RXF doesn't feature a proper lockout switch, but the high-speed compression adjustment will effectively smother travel when cranked all the way. It's also built with an integrated crown race, so the list of compatible headsets isn't as long as with forks that make you supply your own race. Given those limitations, lower headset bearings with a 40mm internal diameter (52mm external) and 45-degree bearing angle are the only compatible option. Finally, the fork has a recommended tire clearance of 2.35in, which puts it squarely in line with the happy-medium of mid-sized tires that — we think — provide the best balance of cush, traction, and non-mushy trail feel.