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RockShox Domain RC Fork

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RockShox Domain RC Fork <br>(Model number: FS-DOMN-RC-B1)
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First Ride - RockShox All-New Domain

RockShox new $549 budget brawler is here!

Rating: Vital Review
First Ride - RockShox All-New Domain

All hail the e-bike. You may not own an e-bike, you may even hate the idea, but we all have e-bikes to thank for big, tough, durable products like the 2021 RockShox Domain. The 38mm stanchion Domain is great for big heavy riders like me, but in the grand scheme of things, riders like me are a pretty small subset, and we aren’t a major consideration for product managers at RockShox and FOX. If it wasn’t for the massive interest in e-bikes, I’m fairly confident this product wouldn’t exist. Without e-bikes, big heavy riders like me would still be riding flexy long-travel forks like the 36, Lyrik, and Yari instead of the Domain, ZEB, and 38.

So how is the new Domain? It’s a great product. It’s not a ZEB Ultimate, but considering it’s almost half the price, it delivers a pretty incredible level of performance. The original Domain was billed as a freeride fork, and while the new Domain is still ready to party on step downs and hucks, it’s also a great budget enduro fork and phenomenal on the front of an e-bike. Read more to hear our first impressions after a little over a month on the new Domain.

Highlights

  • Wheel size: 27.5-inch and 29-inch
  • Travel: 150mm, 160mm, 170mm, 180mm
  • Damper: Motion Control RC
  • Offset: 44mm (27.5 and 29)
  • 200mm direct-mount rotor, will fit 220mm with adaptor
  • 1.5-inch tapered steerer tube with 1.8-inch for e-bike applications
  • 38mm chassis for increased stiffness and rider confidence
  • Motion Control RC damper featuring low speed compression adjust with externally adjustable dual flow rebound
  • DebonAir air spring
  • Maxima Plush damping fluid
  • Short fender compatible (RockShox premium fender sold separately.)
  • Fits tires up to 2.8-inches without fenders - use of a short fender may reduce tire clearance
  • MSRP: $549 // €594* // £530* // *INCLUDES VAT
  • RETAIL: July 2021 Available to Riders

Strengths

  • Crazy stiff for a long-travel single crown
  • Low price
  • Plush
  • Great traction
  • Phenomenal on the front of an e-bike

Weaknesses

  • Extremely progressive air spring makes it hard to use full travel
  • Motion Control RC damper can feel harsh on normal bikes
  • More stiction than a Zeb
  • Weight

RockShox Domain RC - $549

What's New

The name is familiar, but other than the fact that it’s a long travel single crown, it really shares nothing in common with the Domain of years past. The 2021 Rockshox Domain RC is essentially a cheaper, entry-level ZEB alternative, and it borrows heavily from the ZEB chassis. It has the same 38mm stanchion diameter and nearly identical magnesium lowers, and unlike the old Domain, the new fork is available in all the new-fangled wheel sizes. If you’re looking for a 26-inch Domain…probably check the “used” section of your local classifieds.

RockShox keeps the price down by forgoing some of the luxuries of the ZEB. The Domain uses different (cheaper) bushings, a basic Motion Control damper system, and 6000-series aluminum in the stanchions instead of the stronger 7000-series stanchions of the ZEB. Cheaper aluminum requires thicker stanchion walls to match the stiffness and strength of the ZEB, and as a result the Domain weighs in at about 250 grams more and is not compatible with the ZEB Debonair spring. The new Domain also features Maxima Plush oil in the damper, the same bolt-on mini-fender as the ZEB, and OEM e-bike forks will have the option to come with a 1.8-inch tapered steerer tube.

Robot's trail smasher with the new RockShox Domain

Initial Impression

My first impression of this fork was also my first ever e-bike ride, which just so happened to be on a $15,000 2021 Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo. It might seem strange to put a $550 budget fork on the front of the most comically expensive bike I’ve ever ridden, but that only served to illustrate the point. To the untrained eye, the new Domain looks like a ZEB with a different sticker kit. I checked sag and ran the recommended compression and rebound settings, and that was the last time I thought about the fork all day. The new fork looks stout, substantial, and confidence-inspiring, and after the first ride it was hard to tell I wasn’t on a ZEB.

Right away from the first push, the fork is crazy supple. I don’t know how RockShox does it, but since the first modern Pike in 2013, their forks have always felt amazingly supple in the all important push-up-and-down parking lot test. On my new Domain, if I was really paying attention, I could detect the slightest sticking in the fork’s stroke. It was noticeable if you were already sagged an inch into the travel and pushed down gently- there’d be just the slightest stick before the fork would break away deeper into its travel. From conversations with RockShox’s product wizard Chris Mandell, this slight stiction is a result of the bushings they use on the Domain. You can’t do it all for $550, and one of the concessions RockShox had to make to hit the super low price point was forgoing the fanciest bushings they put in the ZEB. Fair enough.

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On the Trail

The fork was absolutely phenomenal on my first ride, but some of that is likely due to the weight of the e-bike it was attached to. Front end grip was crazy predictable throughout the ride, and the fork never dove or packed up in the 3.5-hour ride through some of Bellingham’s weirdest backwoods moto trails. Trying to keep up with the local pro population of Bellingham on the ride didn’t overtax the fork's abilities. My fork was set at 160mm with two tokens in it and 70 psi, with 3 clicks of compression and medium-ish rebound. My loaner S-Works Turbo Levo also had a 220mm rotor on the front, and now I’m hooked. There’s really no substitute for more braking power, and one of the benefits of the 38mm chassis of the Domain is not having to wonder if you can get away with the big rotor.

After my first ride on the borrowed e-bike, I replaced the 180mm ZEB on my Santa Cruz Megatower with a 180mm Domain RC. I ran the fork with zero tokens and 70 psi, 3 clicks of compression and quicker rebound. Other than feeling a little too soft, the fork felt great over small bumps and confidence inspiring through big compressions. All of my early rides were on wet, tight, rooty local trails, and the fork really impressed. I could not believe I was riding a $550 fork, and if you made me close my eyes I would have assumed I was riding my ZEB with a minor tweak to compression or air pressure. On all of the slower, techier, steeper local trails, the Domain felt amazing.

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Luckily, the weather changed in the last few weeks in the Pacific Northwest, and I was able to properly put the fork through its paces on a dry, rough, fast local downhill track. The performance differences between the ZEB and the Domain became more apparent once the speeds and impacts increased. In the wet it had felt like I could do no wrong, in the dry I had trouble finding a setting that worked. With 70 psi and 3 clicks of rebound, the softness of the fork turned into divey-ness under braking and heavy impacts. When I went to 75 psi in the fork, it stayed up in the rough stuff but was suddenly harsh over small bumps. I opened the compression to 0 clicks, which made the small bumps feel better but reintroduced the soft diving feeling from before.

I would have preferred to try removing a token and increasing spring pressure instead of adding compression, but I was already running zero tokens. This is a challenge with all long travel single crowns. With the way air springs are designed, as you increase fork travel the forks get more and more progressive. For instance, my 180mm fork was significantly more progressive than Domain I’d ridden at 160mm. For some riders, the long travel version of the fork may prove to be a little too progressive

This was also the moment in the test when I realized the rebound knob doesn’t seem to do anything. Okay, it’s not that bad, but as I opened up the rebound click by click, the fork kept feeling the same. I had to add or remove rebound two or three clicks at a time to feel a difference. The biggest difference you’ll notice as you turn the rebound knob on the new Domain isn’t the damping, but the noise. This fork has some loud squishy rebound noises, but a quick conversation with RockShox confirmed that the noise is normal and nothing to be concerned about. Again, one of the concessions to hit that lower price point. Luckily, the rebound range is good, and on either end of the range I was able to get the fork to be really fast or really slow, but if I were king of the world I would reduce the number of rebound clicks to create more distinct differences between settings.

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Finally, I settled on 73 psi and 2 clicks of compression with quick-ish rebound, but I never got it to feel perfect in the rough. It was still a compromise between a little bit divey and a little bit harsh. It’s possible that more time on the fork will allow me to sort out my settings a little better, but my sneaking suspicion is that a $550 budget fork is never going to feel as good as a $1000 halo product, and that’s okay. If you get to a similar predicament with the new Domain, you have two wonderful options. Your first option is you can just deal with it, because it’s not bad at all, it’s just a little less than perfect. I could happily ride this fork for the rest of my days. If you can’t tolerate anything less than perfection, your second option is to invest $325 in the ZEB Ultimate damper. The Charger 2.1 damper upgrade should alleviate most of your concerns.

This is a good opportunity to clarify that, no, the extra 250 grams of fork weight didn’t bother me at any point in the test, except maybe when I was putting my bike on my car’s roof rack.

Things that Could be Improved

There are no real complaints here, because the only thing RockShox could do to make this fork better is to make it more like my ZEB. It would be great to have a more usable damping range, more slippery bushings, a more linear air spring, or lighter weight, but if you find yourself needing those features, there’s a simple solution: buy the nicer product.

If you do end up wanting a little more performance out of the fork, particularly for fast and rough downhill-type tracks, consider buying the $325 ZEB Ultimate damper instead of selling the fork. I actually have an extra ZEB Ultimate damper sitting around, and that’s my next test for this fork. My hunch is that the Charger 2.1 damper will bring the Domain to about 90% of the ZEB’s performance in fast chunk, which is close enough to remove any excuses.

Durability

The fork only has a little more than a month of riding, but so far, so good. It looks stout and it feels stout. I haven’t heard any creaking or popping from the fork so far, which is a refreshing surprise given my previous experience with long travel 29er forks. We will continue to beat up on this fork to see how it holds up over the long haul.

RockShox short fender - $20.00 (€ 23.00 // £ 20.00)

What's the Bottom Line

For $550, this fork is tough to beat. It’s stiff, strong, and confidence inspiring. For e-bike users, this might be all the fork you ever need, because the extra mass of the bike seems to overcome the fork's shortcomings. If you’re a hard charging rider on a regular bike, this fork is the best you’re going to get at this price point, and if you don’t fall in love with the fork’s performance in rough terrain, upgrades are available. RockShox had to make some concessions to hit this price point, but we think it’s a home run to get this sort of big bike performance at this kind of price.

Head to SRAM.com to learn more.

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About The Reviewer

Charlie Sponsel - Age: 32 // Years Riding MTB: 19 // Height: 6’3" (1.91m) // Weight: 190-pounds (86.2 kg)

Charlie aka TEAM ROBOT is a former pro downhill and enduro racer with strong opinions about the design, performance, and durability of modern bicycles. He loves building jumps and berms, he likes smashing rocks in a straight line, and he’s really good at breaking bikes. He always sounds grumpy when he talks about the state of the bike industry, but we swear he’s a happy guy underneath it all.

Specifications

Product RockShox Domain RC Fork
Riding Type Enduro / All-Mountain, Freeride / Bike Park, Other (E-Bike)
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b), 29"
Travel
  • 150mm
  • 160mm
  • 170mm
  • 180mm
Spring Type DebonAir
Damping Motion Control RC
External Adjustments Low-speed compression, dual flow rebound
Crown Single
Front Axle 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
Brake Mounts 200mm direct mount
Steer Tube Diameter Tapered 1.5"
(1.8" tapered available for OEM E-MTB models)
Steer Tube Construction Alloy
Stanchion Diameter 38mm, 6000 series aluminum
Colors Black
Weight 5 lb 9.6 oz (2,540 g)
Miscellaneous

2022 product year

RockShox model number: FS-DOMN-RC-B1

DebonAir – highly tunable air spring offers a consistent feel throughout the travel

Maxima Plush damping fluid reduces friction and quiets damper noise

Lower leg arch – designed to provide the clearance needed for mud guards and headtubes at bottom out

Fender – short fender compatible, RockShox zip-tie fender included with aftermarket purchase (RockShox premium fender sold separately)

Max. Tire Size – fits tires up to 2.8" without fenders (use of a short fender may reduce tire clearance)

Offset – 44mm

Bottomless Tokens – available for tuning Domain DebonAir spring, 3 tokens max
- from factory: 180mm - 0 tokens | 170mm - 1 token | 160mm - 2 tokens | 150mm - 2 tokens

Upgrade Kits:

  • Motion Control RC Damper | $42 – low speed compression, lockout (includes compression damper) - Domain 38mm (B1+/2022+)
  • Charger 2.1 RC2 Damper | $330 – crown high speed, low speed compression (includes complete right side internals) - ZEB (A1+/2020+)
  • OneLoc Remote | $98 – right/above, left/below, 10mm MC RC damper push to lock (includes remote, comp damper, cable, and housing) - Domain (B1+/2021+)
  • RockShox MTB Short Fender | $20 – ZEB (A1+/2021+)
  • Price $549
    More Info

    RockShox website

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