FOX Factory 36 Vs. RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 10

It's a classic shootout from the future, 2023 was yesterday!

It may still be the year 2022 but when it comes to the two biggest names in mountain bike suspension, 2023 is already passing us by. In April, FOX released its revised 36 fork and dubbed it the All-Mountain Champion of forks. A little bit later, RockShox overhauled much of its line, namely, the Lyrik. From the ground up, the new Lyrik is all-new and proved an immediate and worthy contender. It was unavoidable, we had to pit these two mainstream rivals against one another to declare who would be the winner.

Highlights FOX Factory 36

  • 36mm Kashima coated stanchions
  • 150mm or 160mm travel (as tested)
  • Float Evol air spring
  • Grip 2 VVC damper
  • New crown promises lighter, stiffer fork performance
  • Bolt-on fender available
  • Air bleed valves on fork lowers
  • Pinch bolt and threaded 15mm Kabolt X axle
  • Weight, as tested: 4.6 lbs (160mm, 29-inch wheel)
  • MSRP $1,139 USD

Highlights RockShox Lyrik Ultimate

  • 35mm tapered wall aluminum sanctions
  • 140mm, 150mm, or 160mm travel options (as tested)
  • DebonAir+ Air spring
  • Buttercups technology
  • Charger 3 IFP damper
  • Bolt-on fender available
  • Air bleed valves on fork lowers
  • Threaded, 15mm Maxle front axle
  • Weight, as tested: 4.41 lbs (160mm, 29-inch wheel) 
  • MSRP $1,107 USD

We know there are far more than two suspension manufacturers and a much larger shootout would be really nifty. If you'd like to see more forks compared to one another, Brian Cahal did a great job as part of his Let's Go Racing series. With that said, there are no two brands as common as FOX and RockShox, and not since Coke battled Pepsi has there been such a rivalry (at least among riders and lawyers.)

We would also note that in the 2022 Vital Audience survey, readers have cited RockShox (33%) and FOX (28.4%) as the top two forks they are likely to purchase in the next year. Interestingly, FOX and RockShox were reversed last year, 32.3% and 27.7%, respectively. Third place is consistently "Undecided," at 12.6%, leaving every other brand in the single digits.

The Lineup and Initial Impressions

Each of our test forks is the top offering from each brand. Both of these 160mm travel, single crown forks are aimed at the all-mountain crowd. From all-day adventures to enduro racing, to bike park laps, each of these forks should be able to provide riders with a broad spectrum of performance. Moving in either direction in either of the two lines will garner a more specialized experience. FOX has the 34 and 38 for those wanting more trail or more gravity (respectively.) RockShox has the Pike and Zeb for the same purpose.

Our FOX Factory 36 is full of shine - the shiny orange (shiny black is available) lowers are mated to the parking lot lusted gold Kashima uppers. Around the back of the fork is the bleed ports for equalizing air pressure in the fork lowers. Observing these will also bring to light the ridges running down the lowers - the lower leg bypass channels. It is easy to miss the updated crown on the 36, the change is very small from a visual perspective. As we noted in our initial launch feature, the crown is indeed 5mm taller.

FOX uses its Grip 2 damper, a system we have become intimately familiar with given all of our test bikes over the past two years. As an aside, it seems that nearly every test bike that came through our offices has been equipped with FOX. The Grip 2 damper is a variable valve control (VVC) damper with both high and low-speed compression damping and high and low-speed rebound damping adjustment. For both high-speed compression and rebound, there are 8 clicks of adjustment and both low-speed adjustments have 16 clicks.

To adjust the air spring (beyond air pressure) FOX does feature volume reducers. These are installed by removing the air cap and interlocking the reducers. Adding more reducers increases the overall ramp of the fork and increases the resistance to bottom out.

This spring, RockShox launched a ground-up new line of Pike, Lyrik, and Zeb forks. Much of the tech is the same across the line but for our purposes, we'll be speaking to just the Lyrik line. In particular, the Lyrik Ultimate that we received for testing. From the crown, stanchions, and lowers, the Lyrik now runs a completely new chassis. There are also new bushings, dubbed the Ultimate Bushing Package and it is only available on Ultimate level RockShox forks.

Those familiar with the prior Lyrik will swiftly take in the new lines and overall look of the 2023 model. One needn't be current to notice the pressure relief valves on the back of the Lyrik. While the finish and execution are visually different from the 36, their intent is the same.

Our test fork is sporting some gold B's at the bottom of the fork legs, signifying the incorporation of RockShox's Buttercups. These are a set of rubber dampers housed in alloy bodies that act as an interface between the fork lowers and damping rods. RockShox states a 20% reduction in trail chatter which reduces hand fatigue.

RockShox's new Charger 3 has an independent floating piston (IFP) with high- and low-speed damping adjustments. There is a single adjustment for rebound. There are 5 clicks of adjustment for high-speed compression and 15 clicks for low-speed compression damping. There are 18 clicks of rebound adjustment.

Lastly, the new Lyrik has a revised air spring, dubbed DebonAir+. The design and intent of this revision was to offer more mid-stroke support to riders while still allowing for full use of the fork's travel. Prior RockShox had a reputation for needing a number of Bottomless Tokens or higher than recommended pressure (leading to harshness) to not dive in the steeps, the new air spring promised to do away with that.

On The Trail

Both of our test forks were mounted to the same 2021 Santa Cruz Hightower MX test mule. All of the components remained the same for the duration of our test period. For the past three months, we rode the exact same test loops, and thanks to the drought, conditions were always hot and dry. Both forks were sent on local cross-country loops and were tossed into the Northstar bike park.

Setup

Both of our test forks were set up with the manufacturer's recommended settings as a baseline. With respect to air pressure, we deviated only slightly by a few PSI (softer and firmer) in the name of testing. We also tinkered with volume reducers, but only by one additional for each fork. We did spin away on the compression and rebound damping and will discuss all these areas later.

RockShox offers its Trailhead tuning guide to get riders started. Upon entering your serial number, riders will see the scope of features and stats for the given fork. Punching in your rider weight will net a recommended fork pressure and rebound setting. RockShox recommends starting with the compression in the 0 setting. For reference, this is the middle. Adjusting from here is stated as + or - from this point. For example, if a rider wanted more low-speed compression damping, they would go to +1 or +2 and beyond. The maximum is +7. Conversely, riders can move in a minus, -1, -2 direction down to -7. The same reference is used for rebound damping.


FOX offers riders the same level of detail on a fork's given model and features. While there is not an app to punch in numbers, FOX's tuning guide does have tables to guide riders to a baseline setup for air pressure and rebound damping. Compression damping is also recommended to be set in the middle, though all the reference points are from the fully closed, most damped, position.

DH/Technical Performance/Fun Factor

Let's get this out of the way, right away. In nearly every aspect, these two forks are highly competitive with one another. There are benefits to one of these units that we can legitimately call out as being objective, giving it the edge. Which fork that is will become clear but we'll give you a hint - it's the Lyrik.

Neither the 36 nor the Lyrik should be put in a box. If riders are wanting a supple, trail paving suspension fork, both of these will do the job. By bumping down the pressure by 3-5 PSI and opening up the compression damping, we could make rattly sections of trail all but disappear beneath our hands. The tradeoff was that even with the improved mid-stroke support of both forks, they were a bit too glued to the trail. Less aggressive riders or those that prioritize traction will likely appreciate such a setup.

Moving to the other side of things, tossing an extra volume reducer in each fork brings about another character. For the Lyrik, that was a move from 0 tokens to 1 and for the 36 it was a bump to 2 from 1. In truth, for our given size, this bump in tokens did generate a firmer ride but also meant it was very rare for us to use all of our travel in more natural terrain. Where might this setup be useful? To start, heavier riders will benefit for obvious reasons. Additionally, those that more frequently ride flow trails or jumps will like the additional ramp. Trails and parks in the Boise, ID area for example are an excellent use case.

For our part, the simpler route was to run the recommended pressure with the suggested number of reducers for our size. From here, we used the compression and rebound settings to create a more tailored feel given ride scenarios. Even within this scope, we got each fork to give us the feedback we were looking for.

When straying toward the extremes of damping, generally in the closed positions, we found each fork to produce its own noise. We're no strangers to the squishing of a FOX fork. This generally happens when things are closed off and honestly if we are pushing the rebound damping toward the slower end of the spectrum. We'll get similar "talk" from the compression circuit as well. We had the Lyrik set up rather aggressively for some laps at Northstar and in occasional instances when running headlong into large hits (see also: rocks) we could get the Lyrik to make a slight "chirp." It was rare, and only on the most severe of hits and in this very closed range of damping. Backing off a couple of clicks had us back to stealthy.

Aside from trail noise, there was only one area where the forks really separated themselves - trail chatter. On long, rough descents and particularly at the bike park, we were more prone to getting the claw hand when running the 36. RockShox and its Buttercups are the real deal and offered the one dramatically on-trail difference in this comparison. From harsh landings to softball-sized chatter, the Lyrik offered an improved ride feel over the 36.

Unique Features

FOX incorporated air bleed ports into the 36 with its last major revamp and the feature has been well-received. When RockShox launched its new line, they too, included bleed ports. Right now, the attorneys are sorting out if the update is legal.

The advantage, as it is stated, is that releasing or equalizing the air from the fork lowers to the outside allows for a more responsive ride. We won't call the bleed ports bogus or simple marketing. To start, does anyone recall the Pike, circa 2012? Riders would have to fish a zip tie between the dust seal and stanchion to release air due to the fork sucking down. Looking to our two test forks, whenever we hit the bleeders on either fork, there was some hissing and spitting going on.

Things That Could Be Improved

Wheel removal on a mountain bike (front or rear) shouldn't be so tough. Riders sometimes have to pull wheels to transport their bikes. Trailside flats are a part of life. So on and so forth. For whatever reason, the Kabolt axle on our 36 seemed to add complexity to a situation that should be simple. Sometimes things didn't line up or got wedged and it never made sense. We know there are supposed to be advantages here but they never came to fruition when riding.

It's a darn shame that riders have to pony up for the Ultimate level of suspension to get Buttercups and improved bushings from RockShox. We aren't product managers, so there is certainly sense to be made somewhere but as reviewers, we'll complain where we can.

Long Term Durability

Everybody has a buddy with a keyboard that has stories of catastrophic failures and fire from both of these brands. The thing is, there are a bajillion FOX and RockShox forks on the market, and neither one of these powerhouses are building trash. Both of our test forks performed admirably and we cannot directly report a single issue with either unit.

Lyrik
36

What's The Bottom Line?

Both of these forks and the brands that produce them support top-level athletes all over the world. To proclaim one as the absolute winner is bold. In sum, much of our riding experience was a draw. Without a doubt, the FOX 36 is a kick-ass fork ready to perform among the elite. With that said, speaking only to the facts, the RockShox Lyrik is lighter, costs marginally less, and does have a slight advantage in overall trail performance, particularly those chattery trail segments. For those of us on the trails every day, those are the elements that add up and have us giving the nod to RockShox.


About The Reviewers

Brad Howell- Age: 43 // Years Riding: 28 // Height: 5'9" (1.75m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

Brad started mountain biking when a 2.25-inch tire was large, and despite having threads, bottom brackets sucked. Riding in the woods with friends eventually lead way to racing, trying to send it at the local gravel pits, and working in bike shops as a wrench to fix those bikes. Brad has been fortunate enough to have dug at six Rampages, attend some World Cups, work in the industry for a few years, and become friends with some of the sport's biggest talents. These days, he just likes riding his bike in the woods with friends.

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