by Brandon Turman
Every year it seems like we hear same thing from suspension manufacturers: "Our new (insert product here) weighs less, is more sensitive, has refined damping, and provides more control." Sounds great, doesn't it? To be honest, we take it with a grain of salt, just as you likely do. There's only so much Coolaid a guy can drink, but occasionally a company truly does hit a home run.
We had the opportunity to get some trail time on FOX's latest products - pre-production samples of the all-new 2016 Factory Series Float DPS shock and Float 34 fork - to see if the claims are true. Today we'll take a look at the shock.
2016 Factory Float DPS Shock Highlights
- New Extra Volume (EVOL) air can
- New Dual Piston System (DPS)
- New Open/Medium/Firm on-the-fly compression adjustment
- New adjustable Open compression mode with three positions
- Kashima coating
- Remote compatible
- Sizes: 7.5 x 2.0, 7.875 x 2.0, 7.875 x 2.25, and 8.5 x 2.5-inches
- Available May, 2015
- MSRP $450
FOX is continually working with their Racing Application Development (RAD) program to improve products by subjecting them to abuse under some of the fastest Pro riders in the world. Those who follow the UCI World Cup Downhill series will remember seeing prototype FOX air shocks featuring a modified air can with increased negative volume at the Leogang World Cup in 2012 under the Santa Cruz Syndicate. Today a similar can is ready for production on the Float shock.
Similar to the much loved RockShox Debonair upgrade, the new FOX EVOL air can reduces the force to initiate travel, providing better small bump performance and traction at a slight weight penalty of just 30 grams. The increased negative volume contained within the black sleeve also provides a more linear spring curve, increasing mid-stroke support as shown in the graph below. The blue line represents the 2016 shock with an EVOL can, and the red line a shock with a standard LV can.
A quick look around the pits at the opening round of the 2015 Enduro World Series shows that the EVOL can will be available in the Float X variety as well.
Don't expect to be able to easily upgrade your existing Float shock right now, however, as FOX says your damping tune will likely need to be updated too. (Update: We've just received word that upgrades will be available, though availability and pricing are to be determined.)
A less visible change comes in the form of the new Dual Piston System, or DPS for short. Both externally and internally the design varies from the previous CTD Boost Valve System. The shock still has a three position on-the-fly compression adjustment lever, but the function is different. Previously Float shocks were only adjustable in the Trail setting. Now, the black "1, 2, 3" knob adjusts compression in the Open setting. The Medium and Firm modes are not adjustable, and are intended to add a pedaling platform for bikes that need it.
While relatively simple on the outside, internally the shock has five damping circuits. The new dual piston valve design separates low and high-speed compression from the lockout circuit, something Boost Valve did not do. Because of this DPS provides a firmer Firm (lockout) mode than CTD without compromising performance in the more often used Open and Medium modes. It's also now possible to tune the compression and rebound circuits without affecting each other.
On The Trail
Testing grounds included some of the rockiest trails in Southern California, as well as several rooty and challenging locations spattered across New Zealand. From a few days in the Queenstown Bike Park to full-day backcountry adventures, we've ridden a lot of terrain aboard the new shock over the course of one month.
Our test mule was a Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon. The shock was paired with the new 2016 Factory Series Float 34 fork, which features the updated FIT4 damper and a similar but more refined external compression adjustment system. You'll learn more about the fork in an upcoming feature.
We initially spent some time on the Bronson with a 7.875 x 2.25-inch 2015 Factory Series CTD Float shock with the standard Santa Cruz tune to get a baseline impression. With that shock installed, the relatively linear bike suffered from pretty harsh bottom outs on the medium to big hits scattered across California's rougher trails, and lacked enough mid-stroke support for an aggressive rider. Even with a sizable volume spacer installed, the use of the Trail 2 or 3 compression setting, and reduced sag in the 20% range, we found ourselves banging off the bottom end often and pushing through the travel a bit too easily - so much so that we actually smashed the bottom out bumper to bits inside the shock. A quick look inside revealed that a large air volume spacer was already installed. Traction was decent in most situations, however, even in Trail mode.
Moving to the Float DPS with a similar tune, we set the shock up to the bike's recommended sag point of ~25%. It takes a bit more pressure to achieve this as a result of the new air spring, but the negative volume in the EVOL can helps overcome the added pressure without feeling harsh.
Nothing reveals the relative strengths and weaknesses of a product better than a back-to-back comparison, so setting out on the trail a few things were readily apparent. The rear wheel was able to move up and out of the way quicker, the bike felt smoother over sustained chatter and small bumps, and the rear end felt more active, even with a similar rebound speed. The end result was more traction and improved control, with the bike remaining more planted at all times. Perhaps the most notable improvement was while unweighted over rough and rocky sections. In these instances it was plainly clear how supple the new shock is, as it removed any sense of bucking when only the rear wheel would contact a rock.
The air spring offered more support when pressing into turns and jump faces, and with the addition of a slightly larger volume spacer and a bit of compression damping the bike no longer bottomed harshly.
Trail/Enduro/All-Mountain bikes these days are pretty awesome in that many of them don't require the use of a shock's platform setting to achieve suitable pedaling performance, allowing riders to leave their shocks wide open whether climbing or descending. Doing so gives the best traction while climbing, and the bike's anti-squat properties help it stay up in the travel when putting the hammer down. The Bronson is one of those bikes. Because it doesn't require the use of FOX's new Medium setting to climb well, we feel FOX's decision to have an adjustable Open mode is a wise one. Switching between the 1, 2, and 3 micro-adjustments in Open provides less of a platform feel than moving all the way to Medium, giving more usable damping but less of the sometimes notchy platform feel. For those that feel the need, the Medium setting does noticeably stiffen the rear end off the top, but it does so in a smoother fashion than the previous Trail setting.
For the reasons above we rarely feel the need for the Firm mode, though it does work as claimed by pretty much locking things out for arduous road climbs. There's a blowoff valve should you encounter and unexpected big hit while in the Firm setting.
Long Term Durability
To date we've experienced no issues. The recommended service interval is pretty generous, requiring an air sleeve cleaning/lube right along the same time as the previous CTD version. Just be sure to wipe down the shock before rides to ensure better longevity.
What's The Bottom Line?
FOX's new Float DPS shock is another step back in the right direction. The added negative volume of the EVOL air can helps suspension designs that aren't notoriously supple off the top, and the DPS design is a nice improvement over the previous CTD damping system. Will it help your ride? There are suspension designs out there that will greatly benefit from the upgrade, while others won't see as big of an improvement. On a Santa Cruz Bronson we noted improved sensitivity, better traction, and less unwanted chassis motion through rough terrain, which all added up to more control - just as FOX claimed.
This model year is an exciting one for FOX, and they'll be unveiling the entire 2016 product lineup at the Sea Otter Classic. Keep an eye on www.ridefox.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.