Öhlins RXF 36 EVO Fork

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Vital Rides the New Öhlins RXF36 EVO Air Fork

Updated RXF EVO delivers long-awaited performance from Öhlins.

Rating: Vital Review
Vital Rides the New Öhlins RXF36 EVO Air Fork

Another new Öhlins fork, you say? Yes, and no. While the RXF 36 Trail fork that launched earlier this year was a whole new, bottom-up redesign, the RXF 36 EVO is actually where a lot of the ground work for that fork was laid down. Building on the strengths of the original RXF 36 while addressing some of its weaknesses, the RXF 36 EVO looks set to finally deliver the kind of fork performance we would expect from the Swedish squish masters. The EVO officially launches today – dig into the review below to learn more and to get our first ride impressions.

Note: we are aware of the recent announcement regarding Tenneco’s acquisition of a majority stake in Öhlins. At this point, Öhlins will continue to operate as an independent entity under the Tenneco umbrella, and remains committed to

Another new Öhlins fork, you say? Yes, and no. While the RXF 36 Trail fork that launched earlier this year was a whole new, bottom-up redesign, the RXF 36 EVO is actually where a lot of the ground work for that fork was laid down. Building on the strengths of the original RXF 36 while addressing some of its weaknesses, the RXF 36 EVO looks set to finally deliver the kind of fork performance we would expect from the Swedish squish masters. The EVO officially launches today – dig into the review below to learn more and to get our first ride impressions.

Note: we are aware of the recent announcement regarding Tenneco’s acquisition of a majority stake in Öhlins. At this point, Öhlins will continue to operate as an independent entity under the Tenneco umbrella, and remains committed to continuing to support and grow its mountain bike business.

Öhlins RXF 36 EVO Highlights

  • TTX-technology (twin tube damping)
  • Travel: 120-170 mm (air), 140 -170 mm (coil)
  • 36 mm stanchion diameter
  • 3-chamber independent air spring system (re-tuned)
  • Independent damper system
  • Retuned air spring system
  • Overall improvements for reducing friction
  • Offset 27.5: 46 mm
  • Offset 29: 51 mm
  • A-C: 563 mm @ 170 mm travel
  • Max tire size: 27.5x2.8
  • Weight: 2115 grams (as tested, 27.5” Air @170mm travel w/ uncut steerer)
  • MSRP: $1100 USD / 1035 EUR excluding taxes (US sales tax, EU VAT)
  • Availability: End of November 2018

Earlier this year we tested the World Champs winning DH38 fork as well as the all-new RXF Trail fork, with excellent results. At the time, the Öhlins crew also walked us through a number of improvements they had been making to the original RXF 36, which were the result of some of the issues that fork had seen when it was launched back in 2016. This was all going on in parallel to the development work on the new 2018/2019 products, and a few delays in production as well as an issue with the air cap on the original RXF 36 (and 34) that led to a recall explain why we are now seeing both the all-new RXF 36 Trail and the RXF 36 EVO come to market at about the same time.

When the RXF 36 was first launched, it was universally lauded for its stiffness, as well as the performance of its damping. However, it lacked small-bump compliance, and bushing bind and sticky seals were also an issue on many samples. To right the ship, here is what Öhlins did to the new EVO Air:

  • Bushing play has been optimized following race team feedback, while SKF wiper seals provide less friction and better performance in wet conditions
  • The air spring now features a larger negative air chamber
  • New lubrication
  • A change in design and materials used for the main piston ring
  • Dividing piston changed from “stud” to “cup” design to help reduce internal friction and twisting

It is quite an impressive list of changes, and our first experiences with both the DH38 and the all-new RXF Trail forks showed that Öhlins is definitely back on track. It may seem a little strange for us to be testing the EVO fork now, because the RXF Trail will certainly be the go-to enduro fork going forward, but that one will only be available to the public in March of 2019 while the EVO is available now (end of November 2018). The modifications made to the EVO are also important for another group of riders: those who own an original RXF 36, because all of the improvements made to the EVO can be retrofit to older, non-EVO forks and will be available as a kit. In fact, the recent air cap recall is almost a blessing in disguise for those riders, because Öhlins is actually offering the EVO upgrade kit for free as compensation to anyone affected by it (they would still have to pay the labor cost of the upgrade, but the parts will be provided for free - details and registration at ohlins.com).

Looking through the list of changes of the new fork, “larger negative chamber” on the air spring stands out as a move that the big players in the market have already made for their 2018/2019 product, although Öhlins told us that they “didn’t go crazy with it” as they feel a happy medium is what is needed here to meet the requirements right across the travel range (they settled on a 30% increase for the final product). In terms of adjustments, the air spring offers a self-equalizing negative chamber and an extra ramp up chamber that helps tune the spring curve at the end of the stroke (similar to adding or removing tokens in many other forks).

For those who want to go beyond the standard tune, the air volume of both air chambers can be further adjusted with spacers (requires opening up the internals). On the damping side, the EVO still uses the old 22-mm piston platform (the new DH38 and RXF Trail forks have moved to an 18-mm architecture), which features external high- and low-speed compression adjustment as well as rebound. The last step of adjustment on the HSC lever also closes off the LSC circuit to act as a pedaling platform (a little bit confusing, but it make sense in use, as there are far less clicks on the HSC lever and it is very easy to operate).

As you may have guessed from the name, the RXF 36 is built around 36-mm stanchions, and the EVO chassis remains unchanged from the original version. It is available with “standard” offset for 27.5” and 29” wheels (with plenty of space for big tires), features a bolted through-axle (15x110 Boost) with a “floating leg” design inherited from the company’s MX forks. The 27.5”, 170-mm air sprung version tested here weighed in at 2115 grams with an uncut steerer.

On The Trail

Mounting up the new fork was easy, the brake caliper lined up with very minor adjustments needed if any. To really throw the new fork in at the deep end, we paired it up with the highly rated TTX22M coil shock out back. The TTX22 was the very first MTB product from Öhlins, and it has been a staple of their catalog ever since its introduction in 2013. We knew this shock to be an excellent performer from previous testing, so any shortcomings of the fork would really stand out here.

The RXF has always been a solid and stiff fork, but now it also has that smooth feeling over small bumps and chatter that the first version lacked.

To start out, we set the fork up as per the basic recommendations. We immediately felt a difference compared to the old version, with more general slipperiness but also the larger negative air spring doing its thing. The RXF has always been a solid and stiff fork, but now it also has that smooth feeling over small bumps and chatter that the first version lacked.

As we got deeper into testing, we started playing around with air pressures. We found that we could get away with running slightly less pressure in the main airspring, as the fork still holds you up in the travel and ramps up nicely at the end. The ramp-up air chamber is there if you really get into hucking your meat, but for the most part we’ve been happy running it at the lower end of the pressure spectrum for our weight as well. Going significantly over the recommended main air pressure left the fork feeling notably harsher, which is why it’s nice to have the ramp up chamber to balance things out across the travel instead. In other words, instead of immediately adding more pressure to the main air spring, dialing in a little extra bottom out support will give better results in most cases (or adding damping).

The damping adjustments on the RXF EVO provide a good, usable range, and we found ourselves pretty happy right in the middle of the clicks for most of our regular trails. Even with pretty significant amounts of support dialed in (both LSC and HSC), the fork still felt plush and sensitive in most circumstances. It could occasionally feel a little bit harsh over really fast chop, but playing with air pressure and damping settings really allowed us to dial in a sweet spot that covered 95% of trail conditions for our riding style. 5 psi more in the main spring and a couple of clicks one way or the other on LSC has quite a significant impact on the feel here, so it really pays to do some proper testing to figure out your optimum set-up (which of course also depends on what you might be riding on any given day). For reference, here’s where we ended up after a couple of weeks (this rider weighs 87kg/190lbs):

  • Main Air Spring: 115 psi
  • Ramp-up Air Spring: 190 psi
  • LSC: 5/15 clicks from closed
  • HSC: 3/5 clicks from closed
  • Rebound: 8-9/15 clicks from closed

The current suspension market is in a good place, with plenty of choice for the discerning buyer. The two main competitors for the RXF EVO are currently the FOX Float 36 and the RockShox Lyrik. Both of these forks have really shown what a high-performance fork should feel like over the past couple of years, and the 2019 evolution of both of those forks is impressive to say the least. With larger negative springs and updated damper tunes they both offer excellent performance on the trail, each with their own personality. The DebonAir Lyrik is incredibly supple off the top and offers plenty of plushness well into the mid stroke, with enough in reserve to deal with pretty much anything that can happen on the trail. The FOX 36 has now gained enough small-bump compliance to rival the Lyrik in that department, with a slightly more progressive feel towards the end of the stroke and tons of control in the rough. Both offer enough tuning capabilities to satisfy the most demanding of tinkerers. So where does the RXF EVO fit into this picture? Thanks to the extensive improvements, it is now at a point where it has pretty much caught up with the two other forks mentioned here. In terms of how it feels, it is slightly closer to the FOX than the RockShox. It is also a bit more sensitive to how you set it up, balancing the air springs takes a little more effort, and the EVO can quickly feel a little bit on the harsh side if you get it wrong. Once you get it right however, the damping is excellent and the fork offers massive amounts of poise and control when your trail speed picks up a bit. Your biggest problem now might be whether to wait for that all-new RXF Trail to become available in March or pull the trigger on an EVO today (we’ll be long-term testing the new RXF Trail in the coming months as well, so stay tuned for more).

More information at www.ohlins.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 45 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Weight: 190-pounds (86kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 190-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos and video by Johan Hjord

Specifications

Product Öhlins RXF 36 EVO Fork
Riding Type Dirt Jump / Slopestyle, Enduro / All-Mountain, Freeride / Bike Park, Trail
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b), 29", 27.5+
Travel 120-170mm
Spring Type Air or Coil
Damping Twin Tube (TTX) Damping
External Adjustments High and Low Speed Compression, Rebound, Main Air Spring, Bottom Out Air Spring
Crown Single crown
Front Axle 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
Brake Mounts Postmount 180mm
Steer Tube Diameter 1 1/8 - 1 1/4 tapered
Steer Tube Construction Alloy
Stanchion Diameter 36mm
Colors Black
Weight 4 lb 10.6 oz (2,115 g)
Miscellaneous Weight of 27.5", 170mm Air Fork:2115 (uncut steerer, verified)
Price $1,100
More Info

​www.ohlins.com

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