Tested: MRP Stage Fork
MRP has been in the bike game for a long time. Mostly known for their chainguides and drivetrain components, MRP has taken their White Brothers suspension division and re-invented themselves with their latest technology under the MRP name. Aimed squarely at the enduro and all mountain shredders, the Stage has been designed to go for the throat of the single crown market's current top contenders. We had a chance to log some serious miles on the 26/27.5" model and put it through the wringer the past few months to see just how it stacks up.
MRP Stage Highlights
WEIGHT: 4.3 lbs. for 26/27.5" 4.4 lbs. for 29" AXLE-TO-CROWN HEIGHT: 553-mm for 170-mm travel 26/27.5"model, 558-mm for 150-mm travel 29" model SPRING SYSTEM: EQUALair EXTERNAL ADJUSTMENTS: Air spring pressure, 8-position compression, Ramp Control, rebound INTERNAL ADJUSTMENTS: Travel STEERER OPTIONS: Tapered (1.5 - 1.125") OFFSET:43-mm (26/27.5"), 51-mm (29") BRAKE MOUNT:180-mm PM (Disc only) WHEEL SIZE: 26”, 27.5”, 29” AXLE:QTAPER 15-mm MSRP: $969 USD
- 140, 150, 160, or 170-mm (26/27.5")
- 120, 130, 140, or 150-mm (29")
Taking the Stage out of the box revealed a good looking product overall. With an all black finish the MRP stays pretty stealthy, offering only subtle branded logos on the legs. The magnesium lowers feature a beefy, rounded arch that has threaded holes on the back. According to MRP, these could someday be used for a bolt on fender. The back of the lower leg offers a tuning guide decal that gives users a quick reference for setting up the fork.
What grabbed my attention with the Stage after first reading about it was its external adjustability - mainly the ramp control. By turning this 16 position knob (located on the top of the left fork leg), the fork's progressiveness can be adjusted as desired. In the center of the ramp control knob is a bleed button that allows you to very slowly and precisely bleed the air spring chamber. The compression adjustment knob is located on the top of the right leg and offers 8 clicks.
The Stage came set at 160-mm of travel from the factory. While this amount of travel was initially preferred, the lower axle to crown dimension on this fork in this travel length (543-mm) meant that my current geometry would change. I made the decision to increase the travel out to 170-mm to put me at 553-mm, much closer to my 160-mm Pike geometry.
Changing the travel on the Stage is easy and takes about a half hour if you are proficient at bike work. You pull the lowers and simply remove (to increase) or add (to decrease) the provided spacers, re-lube the seals and add oil to each leg and re-assemble. The Stage offers 180-mm brake post mounts, so caliper install was a snap with no required hardware or adapters needed for my XT caliper and 180-mm rotor.
MRP's 15-mm axle system uses an axle that slides through the lowers/hub and threads into a free spinning knurled knob located on the outside of the dropout. Once threaded in, the cam lever is flipped to secure the wheel.
On The Trail
After installing the fork on my 27.5" Nomad 3, I began adjusting settings to get things dialed in. Recommended air pressure for a rider weighing 180-195lbs is between 95 to 105-psi. I found myself running 90-psi for my 185 pound weight to attain a 20% sag setting with my slack, 65-degree head angle.
The first day on the Stage was a heavy day of downhill shuttle run abuse. No better way to test the bump eating and technical descending capabilities of this fork right off the bat. While I was the only rider on a single crown fork that day, the steep trails soon showed how impressively this fork could hold its own on the big stuff at speed. The fork did an excellent job of staying high in the stroke while resisting diving in steep chutes and tight corners. Even when sending a few miscalculated drops to leg-buckling, g-out landings, the Stage would soak up the impact without bottoming out harshly. Despite a fairly firm fork setup for the day, front wheel traction was good and kept smaller bumps and chatter surprisingly smooth. Another thing to note was the Stage's stiff chassis. The fork never felt flexy under braking and provided solid tracking through rock gardens and rough sections. Steep, gnarly enduro stages be damned - the Stage is a stout fork ready to play hard.
After setting up the fork a bit softer and grabbing the half shell helmet, it was off to the trails. One thing to note on the MRP was the fork's adjustability and response to the changes.
The compression adjustment offers 8 clicks, and is very effective in changing how the fork feels in even, incremental steps. While it is not specifically labeled as "low speed compression", it is best used as such. With the compression turned all the way in, the fork becomes very stiff and provides an almost locked out pedal platform feeling - but, thanks to MRP's magnetic blow-off valve, it still allows the fork to compress once a big enough force is encountered. The magnetic blow-off valve is designed to only come into play in the last few firmest compression settings. In settings 1-6, there is enough oil flow through the damping circuit to never pop open this blow off circuit. The "lock out mode" could be a nice feature for those grinding up long sustained fire roads to get their descents, but I honestly never used it besides bouncing around the driveway playing with settings. I rarely use my bike's lockout modes as I feel it doesn't need it and I don't find myself on many smooth climbs. On the flip side, the fork is very soft and plush in the softest, fully open position - another side of the adjustment spectrum that probably won't be used much. For trail riding, I found myself settling at 5 clicks out from full in. This position kept the fork firm enough to stay up in its travel in big g-out berms, jump faces and heavy braking, but supple enough to smooth out chatter, roots and maintain great traction.
The ramp control is probably the Stage's most unique feature, and one that really makes it stand out. This feature basically provides the rider with instant, tool free adjustment of the fork's progressiveness through the travel. The ramp control offers 16 clicks, and like the compression, the steps are even and incremental. This is a very useful feature for really dialing in the ride quality of the fork, and even more so because you don't even have to take it apart and add tokens. Big win for the Stage. I have been running my ramp control at 8 clicks out from full in, giving me a soft supple feeling at the top of the stroke but progressively ramping up in the second half of travel to provide great bottom out resistance off the big hits.
The center of the ramp control knob features a small pressure release button that allows riders to controllably release air from the air spring chamber. When depressed, a very small amount of air is allowed to escape, dropping a few psi of pressure at a time. This could come in handy if you were on a ride and felt that you needed to drop your air spring pressure slightly. Despite my initial concerns of accidentally bumping this small button, I never had an issue as it is fairly tucked in and protected by the ramp control knob.
Rebound damping is easy to dial in. The Stage has 20 clicks of adjustment here and again, the clicks are very even and incremental and did not leave me craving an "in-between" adjustment setting. I prefer to run my rebound a little faster, and found myself about 8 clicks out from full in on most my rides. One thing to note here on the Stage is a fairly loud rebound circuit. Now that we all are running stealthy drivetrains on our bikes thanks to clutched derailleurs, this is the loudest noise I hear on the trail when I am riding. Not really a complaint, but a pretty notable characteristic of this fork.
I had the chance to ride the original axle design that came with the Stage. A few riders had complained about binding in the dropouts during removal and installation and I was curious if I would experience this. After a few rides, I began to notice slight axle binding during removal. This was not a showstopper, as I rarely remove my wheel and when I did it wasn't too bad - it just wasn't as smooth as it could be. About halfway through the test, MRP sent out their new, revised axle that features a spring for the cam and cone. This revision has noticeably improved the smoothness in removal and installation of the axle and helps give the fork more of a refined feel.
Stiction is a big topic these days in the suspension world. The large negative spring in this fork helps free up unwanted friction during compression. While the Stage features a very supple and smooth action, my Pike might slightly take the cake in that department now that my Stage is nearing its lower service/bath oil change time. This has just been noted while handling the bike in the garage, but hasn't shown through on the trail while actually riding. Small bump sensitivity is excellent with the Stage, and it has left me very impressed with its precision over rooty and chattery lines.
Things That Could Be Improved
The Stage leaves little to ask for in the performance category. To get nitpicky, the small knurled knob that the axle threads into could use a little more aggressive knurling to offer more grip for your fingers while threading/unthreading the axle.
Long Term Durability
There have been no notable long term durability issues with the Stage. I am approaching a lower service/bath oil change soon with the time I've put on this fork, but as with all suspension components, this is par for the course after miles and miles of mud and abuse on the trail. At this point, I have little doubt that this fork will last for seasons to come.
What's The Bottom Line?
When MRP stepped into the ring with the top trail forks on the market, they sure took on a big challenge as the mark has been set high. I was skeptical that the Stage would be able to compete with my trusty Pike and I would end up missing it. I was completely proven wrong as the Stage turned out to be a stellar performer on the trail. The wide adjustability range, notably the ramp control, makes tailoring this fork to your preferences a breeze, while small bump compliance and stiffness leave little to be desired. MRP has come out swinging with the Stage and the result is an impressive fork that can proudly hang with the top dogs.
More information at: www.mrpbike.com.
About The Reviewer
Nick Zuzelski began riding motocross at a young age, a sport that would eventually lead him to the world of downhill. As a Colorado native, racing downhill, dual slalom, or a chill dirt jump session was never far away, and he eventually worked his way up the ranks to the Pro level. Now residing in Eastern Pennsylvania, he recently changed it up from the Rocky Mountain dust to East Coast loam, world class dirt jumps, and rocks... lots of rocks. If a trail has fast flow and some fun gaps, he is grinning ear to ear and getting after it. Living by the assumption that basically everything feels better with a short stem and wide bars, you can count on him keeping it real with a laid back attitude and flat pedals most of the time. Mechanical Engineer by trade, rider by heart, he enjoys riding it, finding out how it works, and making it better.