First Ride: 2014 FOX Talas CTD Fork and Float X Shock 20
Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Colin Meagher and FOX
Welcome to Hood River, home of the first stop of the Oregon Enduro Race Series, hundreds of incredible trails, several delicious breweries, and the perfect location to try the all-new 2014 FOX Talas CTD fork and Float X shock. As part of FOX's "Ultimate Enduro" Product Launch, several journalists from leading magazines and websites were invited to experience the new products in a race setting, and we jumped at the opportunity to go against the clock while trying out the new goods.
Why host the launch at an enduro race? Because FOX's latest designs were made with enduro racing and aggressive all-mountain riding in mind. They were also developed in conjunction with FOX's RAD (Racing Applications Development) program. Previously, the RAD program focused on cross-country and downhill racing, but the enduro boom has provided a new setting to advance their product line. With guys like Lars Sternberg, Dan Atherton, Jared Graves, Greg Minnaar, Tracy Hannah, and Mark Weir at the helm, you know that products are seeing some serious abuse in the field. Even though we may not all ride like them, we all benefit from the feedback the Pros provide and the features and performance their speeds demand.
While the Enduro World Series has only just begun, we're already seeing improvements gained from the RAD program through the freshly revamped CTD line of products. One of the overriding improvements gained through rider feedback was the need to increase the damping and progression in the 2013 product range. We're happy to report that the 2014 line has addressed the dreaded dive and ride height issues (hooray!), and we can now endorse the products with certainty that they'll work for the most aggressive of riders. The new fork and shock bring factory level tuning options, spring curve changes, and progression changes to the consumer level.
Most of FOX's Pro enduro racer lineup will be running 2014 Float Forks and Float X rear shocks. Others, like Lars 'n Bars Sternberg, may opt to run the production 2014 Talas fork instead. Both forks offer the same updated spring curve.
Before jumping into our ride impressions, let's have a look inside the fork and shock to see what has been improved and how.
2014 FOX Talas Fork Highlights and Technology
Now in it's fifth revision, the 2014 Talas brings about several improvements demanded by enduro racers and all-mountain riders. The one and a half year development timeline yielded several updates including a new air spring with fewer seals, revised FIT CTD damper, and an entirely new hydraulic travel adjust system that is key to improving the fork's performance. Perhaps the greatest piece of news is that the 2014 Talas system is retrofittable into old Vanilla, Float, and Talas forks, making this update relevant to just about everyone. Note that the 2014 32, 34, and 36 models see no chassis changes from model year 2013, having already been lightened and strengthened in the prior year.
Mounted and ready to race, this Santa Cruz Bronson equipped with a Talas fork and Float X shock served as our test bike for the weekend.
Float Performance Meets the Talas with New Air Spring
The original Talas fork was first and foremost designed as a climbing tool - with the flip of a switch you lower the fork's travel, decrease bar height, steepen your head angle, and improve handling while going up. Over the years as head angles slacked out and larger wheel sizes became more prevalent, FOX saw more and more riders using the short travel mode on fast, flowy terrain, preferring the snappy handling offered by lowering the front end. Unfortunately the old system didn't perform very well in the short travel mode, so when FOX began designing the new Talas, they set a goal to make both the long and short travel modes usable. To achieve this goal while simultaneously improving performance in the long travel setting, FOX decoupled the travel adjust system from the air spring. We'll dive into the new hydraulic travel adjust later. For now, let's look at the updated air spring for 2014.
The all-new cartridge system is essentially a repackaged 2014 Float air spring that has been shrunk down to fit in the Talas. This complete redesign offers improved ride performance in both travel settings, much of which can be attributed to the reduction of friction in the system.
By going from a total of three dynamic seals on the travel tube, air negative spring, and air piston down to just one seal on the air piston, seal friction is a fraction of what it was. A new coil negative spring paved the way for one seal loss, as did the new air spring which no longer requires a seal on the travel tube. Previously the Talas didn't use a cartridge assembly. This change makes service easier by eliminating the need for unique tools.
The proof is in the numbers, and these Talas air spring curve comparisons show substantial improvement in many ways.
On the left graph, note that much less force is required to activate the 2014 fork due to lower breakaway friction. This creates a smoother, more supple ride with much more traction. As you move further into the travel, lower dynamic friction allows for performance that more closely matches a coil spring in the first 2/3 of travel before ramping up at end for bottom out support. This is the same type of spring curve found in 2014 Float forks.
On the right graph, the takeaway is that the short travel mode has a spring curve that is every bit as usable as the long travel mode. Note that it steepens earlier in the stroke as a result of the travel change and increased damper force in order to prevent bottom out.
FOX used their RAD program athletes to fine tune the curve throughout 2013. During racing and testing, FOX increased the compression ratio of the air spring more and more until the forks became unusable, then backed up to find the sweet spot. This, in addition to damping changes in the FIT CTD damper help eliminate the divey feel of the 2013 line.
FIT CTD Damper Improvements
FOX's 2013 CTD line of products, especially the forks, had a tendency to ride low in the travel and dive during compressions and under braking. For those unfamiliar with CTD, it is FOX's three (Climb, Trail, Descend) to five position (CTD + two additional Trail modes) quick-adjust compression system. To combat the dive, many riders (ourselves included) resorted to running the 2013 fork in the firmer 'Trail' mode and/or increasing air spring pressure. These makeshift solutions were merely a bandage over the real problem, and FOX openly admitted to needing to retune the CTD compression adjustment system for 2014.
As shown in this graph, the new tune adds low and high-speed compression damping to Descend mode, with more force generated by the damper in middle and end of stroke than both the 2012 RLC and 2013 CTD systems. Combined with the new air spring, the new forks offer more support (less dive) and better traction. Compression damping of CTD system has been increased in all modes on all models (Float and Talas), with the biggest improvements in the Trail and Descend modes for aggressive riders. Descend mode is finally usable without bumping up the air pressure, offering a smoother initial stroke and stable, controlled feel. The middle Trail mode received an all-around tune as well, and Climb has been firmed up substantially for a more efficient cross-country feel.
New Hydraulic Travel Adjust System
Up until now, Talas forks have used balance of air pressure to adjust the travel. For 2014, a new inline hydraulic adjust system is in place, which was inspired by the 2003 Talas rear shock. The addition of the new hydraulic system resulted in a slight 40 gram weight gain, but comes with the added benefit of fewer internal seals, greater reliability, and the ability to control the air spring in both travel modes.
Shown here in the long travel, transition from long to short, and short travel modes (left to right), the travel adjust uses a bypass-valve design. Regardless of the mode selected using the blue Talas knob, one of two check ball valves is open while the other is closed. Oil flow is indicated by the red arrows. When going from long to short travel mode, air pressure pushes the IFP up, forcing oil through the check valves, down a narrow path and into a secondary chamber. This results in the travel change.
Because the oil doesn't cycle except for during travel adjustments, it doesn't heat up during use, which ultimately means it should last a long, long time before service is needed.
FOX also tweaked the Talas lever design for 2014, making it easier to use on the trail with a short 55-degree lever throw, better ergonomics, and a reversed direction from 2013.
Adjustable Travel Range and Total Travel
The Talas adjustment range can be customized by the addition of 5mm clip spacers. For example, you could change a stock 150/130mm Talas to a 150/135mm or 150/140mm fork.
Adding the spacers is very easy to do, Simply remove the air from the fork, loosen the top cap, compress the fork a little, install the spacer, retighten the top cap, and refill the air valve.
It is also possible to adjust the total amount of fork travel by up to 20mm by changing the shuttle bumper in the lower portion of the cartridge. This procedure is a bit more involved and requires air cartridge removal. All told, the new Talas is more customizable than ever before.
2014 FOX Talas Lineup
What versions will be available for 2014? This chart gives a good overview. Retail pricing ranges from $880 to $1130, depending on the model. Weight is 4.33-pounds.
2014 FOX Float X Shock Highlights and Technology
FOX recently introduced the new Float X shock at Sea Otter, and only now have we been able to get a look inside. While this platform replaces the DHX Air, it's not intended for downhill use. Instead, it's geared towards the aggressive all-mountain rider and enduro racer with bikes in the 140-180mm travel range. While CTD adjustments offer an on-the-fly tuning solution, gravity riders may find the need for more precise tuning options. Will we see a downhill version in the future? It's certainly possible.
Key Float X Features
The design of the Float X offers advantages over both the DHX and Float shocks, including increased oil flow at the choke ports to address high-speed compression damping issues (spiking). Unlike the inline Float, the Float X incorporates a reservoir and dual valve design that distributes damping loads and improves damping control, making it better suited to aggressive riding.
FOX uses a LV (large volume) canister on the Float X to give a more linear feel near the end of stroke. FOX says frame makers are adding progression into linkage designs more and more, so the larger can is okay and the boost valve adjustment is no longer needed. Even so, it is possible to add volume spacers to increase the progression of the shock.
Finally, thanks to larger choke points, oil flow is increased compared to the standard Float, allowing more fluid to reach the base valve and providing a larger range of CTD compression adjustment. The increased oil volume improves heat dissipation, making damping more consistent during long runs (less fade).
Float X CTD Modes Explained
From left to right, a visual of the base valve operation in Descend, Trail, and Climb modes. (Click to enlarge)
In Descend mode, the Float X base valve design allows oil to flow through all three damper circuits. In Trail mode, oil flows through the Trail circuit only, which is a low-speed damping circuit. The stepped taper on the plunger controls the Trail 1, 2, and 3 fine tune adjustments. Finally, Climb mode uses its own separate Climb circuit with the Trail and Descend circuits closed off by a valve plate. This is different than the standard Float valve design which has to balance lockout performance and compliance. Because the Climb is entirely separate from Trail and Descend, FOX can put a firmer tune on Climb without compromising Trail and Descend.
2014 FOX Float X Lineup
Float X sizes include 7.5x2.0, 7.875x2.0, 7.875x2.25, 8.5x2.5, 8.75x2.5, and 9.5x3.0-inches. Retail value ranges from $575 to $595, depending on the exact shock model and remote option. Weight is 365 grams for the 8.5-inch shock.
2014 FOX CTD Remote Highlights
The last product we were introduced to is a new bar-mounted CTD remote. The remote utilizes a single cable with a splitter to control the suspension mode of both the front and rear shock simultaneously. Note that the lever isn't retrofittable due to different throw requirements, and that it won't work with the FOX DOSS dropper post. The new lever is substantially smaller and easier to use than the old CTD lever.
While it isn't available yet, FOX is also working on a Float X iCD model (electronic remote control) that should be available towards the end of the year.
Initial Impressions and Setup
Using the new Santa Cruz Bronson as our test platform, FOX mounted up a 150/130mm Talas fork and Float X rear shock for some Hood River abuse. Our bike was setup without the bar-mounted CTD remote. This configuration allows for independent adjustment of the front and rear and the fine tuning of Trail mode.
Jeremy McGrath in the house! Even motocross legends can use some help with proper suspension setup, and Scott Papola was more than happy to help The King dial in his Specialized Enduro. As you'd expect, the guy shreds.
After setting proper air pressures and tweaking the rebound to preference, a few quick pushes on the fork revealed a lot. Out of the box, the new Talas felt incredibly smooth with noticeably less stiction compared to the previous system. We'd say it was even a touch more "plush" feeling than the 2013 Float CTD fork. The fork requires a good deal more pressure than the previous Talas due to the air spring change. Cycling through the various modes, we were surprised when switching to Climb for the first time. It's very much a lockout now, with little to no deflection. Adjusting between travel modes was quick and painless, requiring a flip of the lever and one compression of the fork to fully extend or reduce travel. The travel adjust lever is more defined than the previous generation, making it easier to grab and turn quickly without fiddling around.
The Float X took a bit more effort to setup due to a nearly hidden and hard to reach rebound adjustment knob. On some other frames it was barely even visible. Luckily setting rebound isn't a daily adjustment for most riders. The knob is slotted, allowing the use of a small allen key for adjustments. Some frames, like the Ibis Mojo HD, required some slight modification to the frame to allow the shock to fit, so be sure to check with FOX and your frame manufacturer before ordering or grinding away. The final clearance issue was with the water bottle. Because Santa Cruz designed the Bronson around the standard Float, they didn't consider the reservoir of the Float X when positioning the bottle mounts. The bottle still fit, but it was a very tight squeeze.
The Float X lever was easy to reach and easy to adjust, with very defined detents. Cycling through the CTD modes again revealed a very firm Climb tune, matching the fork well. Action in Trail and Descend was as smooth as can be.
Talas Ride Impressions
We put about 50 miles on the new suspension bits through Hood River's mix of terrain - some rocky bits, some fast and flowy sections, some jumps, some steeps… just about everything. That said, we were able to get a pretty good feel for the fork and shock over the course of the weekend. Beyond a long term durability test and maintenance, we're confident in what we have to say without further use.￼
While in Descend mode, two things were immediately apparent. First, that smooth, supple feel we discussed while setting the bike up translates to the trail in a big way, providing better traction, small bump absorption, and less hand fatigue. This is true of Trail mode as well. Second, we can confirm that the dive is gone. FOX's retuned damping keeps the fork higher in its travel under braking and while descending. The end result was more predictable handling and more useable travel. Improvements were most noticeable in loose, rocky, stepped sections, which were now very controlled. If you're the "set it and forget it" type of rider, chances are good that you'll choose Descend mode.
The softest Trail mode (Trail 1), gave a good boost of low-speed compression, helping to keep the front end up even higher and provide a firmer front end to push against in turns. Trail 2 was used sparingly, simply because it tended to provide a tad too much trail feedback for our tastes through the rough and chatter. Riders that really get over the front end and push hard will appreciate it on flowy, bermed descents and rolling sections. Finally, we felt that Trail 3 verged on too stiff for most descents and swoopy trails. While we can't see ourselves using it very often, it may become our new go-to mode for climbs. Here's why...
In our opinion, Climb mode is now too firm for practical use. The fork is just about completely locked out, and as a result it no longer traces the terrain when weighted. Paved roads may be the one exception, and cross-country converts may appreciate it. Also note that you can't go into Climb mode and then switch over to the short travel setting because you can't compress fork, something required by the new hydraulic travel adjust system.
In the short travel setting, all modes continued to work as noted above, with an ever so slightly firmer feel to them. The fork is still exceptionally smooth in short travel Descend mode, which certainly couldn't be said for the 2013 Talas.
Chassis wise, the fork remains the same as 2013, and is still sufficiently stiff under all but the most discerning of riders.
If you read any of our 2013 Test Session reviews, you're likely to see a statement saying that we would have preferred a Float fork over the Talas. Considering the improvements we saw on this new version, we'd like to take that back. Everything about the Talas is better, and it now offers very comparable performance to the Float line. All said and done, we have to wonder why, aside from weight and price, anyone would want to run the Float anymore. With stiction free performance now available in the Talas package, you also get the travel adjust option which is truly useful for extended steep climbs and gently rolling terrain.
Float X Ride Impressions
Considering that the Bronson was designed to use the standard Float shock, the choice to use it as a Float X demo bike intrigued us. Would a bike tuned specifically for a lower volume shock feel as lively and fun with a higher volume, higher flow shock in place?
In Descend mode, the short answer is no, but it did bring some coil-like performance to the rear end of the bike. While the bike seemed to lose some of its playfulness and support in the turns, steep, rocky, and chatter-filled sections were noticeably better. Initial sensitivity is improved compared to the standard Float, again helping with traction and small bump performance. That coil-like feel also gave much better control and a faster response when smashing into repeat square-edged mid-sized hits and rocks. Combined with the Talas in Descend mode, the bike felt very balanced.
To really make the Bronson come alive on Hood River's smoother and faster trails (most of them), we had to switch to the Trail 1 setting. We'd equate this mode to the old Float's Descend mode in terms of general feel and support, though it is a tad harsher. Trail 2 was great on the fresh man-made jump trail, making the bike a bit snappier out of the turns and while pumping.
Just like the fork, Climb mode is now essentially a proper lock-out, which worked well on the fire road transfer stages. Some may prefer to use Trail 3 for climbs since it offers some compliance.
While we're certainly pleased to see a wider range of adjustment covered by the CTD settings, some racers may still wish for more fine tuning adjustment (aka independent high/low speed compression settings), especially in a proper enduro race scenario where the stages are essentially mini downhill courses ridden at comparable speeds. CTD offers just five settings from open to lockout, which is a big range to cover.
Because most of the Hood River enduro stages were relatively short (3-10 minutes), we can't really speak to the claimed improvement in the fade department, though it's pretty obvious that it'll be improved thanks to the additional oil capacity and reservoir.
What's The Bottom Line?
FOX has made several big improvements with the introduction of their 2014 line, and to us it felt like a night and day difference in many ways. Most of all, we're glad to see the improvement to the CTD damper across the entire Float and Talas line. We truly appreciated being able to finally run the suspension in Descend mode, and felt far more confident blitzing sections without fear of the dreaded CTD fork dive. The new Talas system is better in every way, once again making it an instant contender in the fork game. Not only do you now get smooth, controlled performance, but you get it with two travel settings that can now be easily customized. The Float X gives a bike a more coil-like feel in a lightweight package, and can be quickly adjusted when trails don't demand that level of plushness.
For more on FOX's 2014 lineup, visit www.ridefox.com.
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 13 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 time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.