The new Fox 34 SC offers a raft of improvements over the old model.
Words: Mike Blewitt
Photos: Gerard Lagana
The Fox 34 SC (Stepcast) was released in 2018, adding a lighter option than the Fox 34, but a stiffer fork option than the Fox 32 SC (limited to 100mm travel). The fork was immediately a popular addition to many cross-country bikes, giving a bit more confidence and steering precision – as well as dialling the head angle back about a degree if running the fork at 120mm. Fox also had 110mm and 100mm air springs available.
Earlier this year, Fox released a whole new 34 range, keeping in step with the increasing capabilities of modern bikes, and the growing technicality of the trails we ride and race on. The update made both the 34 and 34 SC lighter, but also stiffer. The new Fox 34 has a new crown, that matches head tube sizes better, a new arch for greater stiffness, oil flow and head tube and tyre clearance and a few other changes. The changes the the 34 SC were just as important. The original Fox 34 SC was a good fork - but probably not light enough. The first iteration saw the SC (Stepcast) element as having materials removed from the outer of the lowers, with slightly shorter stanchions. The new 34 SC has design cues from the 32 SC - a narrower crown, and the Stepcast coming on the inside of the fork. This physically limits the fork to a maximum 180mm rotor.
The result is a fork that weighs 1.49kg out of the box with an uncut steerer. The previous Fox 34 SC weighs 1.61kg cutdown and with a starnut. For reference, my Fox 32 SC weighs 1.43kg cut and nutted, and the 2021 Fox 34 GRIP2 I tested last year (in 140mm travel) weights 1.98kg cut and nutted. Once I cut the steerer to size (-36g) and added the star nut (12g) I had a fork weighing 1466g, for 120mm travel. This is barely anymore than the 32 SC I took off. No wonder we saw riders like Mathieu van der Poel, Milan Vader, Victor Koretzky and Ondrej Cink racing World Cups (and the Olympics) on the Fox 34 SC – albeit likely in the 100 or 110mm variant.
The Fox 34 SC has 44mm and 51mm offset options and comes stock as 120mm. Beyond the narrower crown and stance, and the internal Stepcast feature, the 34 SC also gains the oil channels on the back of the legs. This helps the oil pass to the seals to keep the fork running smoothly.
Inside, there is more going on as well in terms of how the air spring can be set up. On the Fox 34 SC, you can tune the negative air spring with a spacer, to get the fork feel just right on your race bike. If you use the spacer you'll keep a racey and firm feel off the top of the travel. Without it, it's a little more supple and therefore you'll have more of a trail feel to your Fox 34 SC. Suitably, the 120mm forks won't have the spacer as stock, but 100mm Fox 34 SC will.
The Fox 34 SC Factory model that I have on test uses the FIT4 damper with 3 positions: Open, Medium and Firm. There is rebound adjustment at the base of the fork, plus low speed compression adjustment that works in the Open position. You can also get the FIT4 equipped fork with a 2-position remote lock out.
On the trail:
When I received the test model from Fox Australia, I had recently put the original Fox 34 SC back onto my bike, taking off my usual Fox 32 SC. My bike can be run at 100mm or 120mm both front and rear, and it's not always about the extra travel, or even the geometry change – but the greater stiffness with the Fox 34 SC is certainly appreciated. Funnily enough, one of the key things I noticed was the slender crown when looking down!
I fitted two volume spacers and set my preferred air pressure, rebound and compression settings. Heading to the trails, the fork felt really good – although it did tend to sit higher in its travel than the older Fox 34 SC. I actually like this as I prefer to forego a super supple feel for more midstroke support. Even though this fork doesn't have the extra negative spring spacer, it's still a fork that's aimed for going fast in a cross-country sense. If you want a short travel trail fork, the Fox 34 is where you should be looking.
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For the tiny weight difference, the fork is noticeably stiffer than my usual Fox 32 SC. And this is something you notice on just about any aspect of riding. Be it climbing out of the saddle, braking hard, cornering, pushing out of a berm, jumping, over a rock garden... it's just stiffer, and therefore more confidence inspiring.
While Fox state the tyre limit is 2.4” for the Fox 34 SC, I still had ample room in there with a 2.4” tyre on a wide rim. Of course, you would want to deflate the fork and check for bottom out clearance on anything larger, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't fit something a little larger in.
I certainly expected a change in the ride feel from a Fox 32 SC to the new Fox 34 SC, and I got that. But I didn't really expect a change from the original Fox 34 SC, but I did get one. Without even having the racier option with the 100mm version, the new Fox 34 SC feels like it has more support, despite running the fork with the same settings. I can access the travel I need, but overall the fork feels like a Fox 32 SC in terms of suspension action, but with much more lateral and fore-aft stiffness. And there's nothing wrong with that!
It's hard to say whether I noticed a difference with the oil channels, the forks feel great and have continued to do so. This fork is a great example of continual refinement from Fox. They have managed to take the very light Fox 32 SC and put that into a 34mm legged package, with about a 30g weight penalty.
I think the new Fox 34 SC might be the death nell for 32mm legged forks. Sure, the 32 SC is still a little bit lighter and it is an excellent fork for the purpose. But I hope to see the Fox 34 SC on more bikes on shop floors, be it in a Performance or Factory model. RockShox offer the SID Select with 35mm legs and Suntour have had a range of high-end 34mm legged forks for a number of years – we just don't tend to see them much.
In my mind, the Fox 34 SC is the leading cross-country fork from Fox, with the lighter weight 2022 Fox 34 (available in 120-140mm travel) taking the place for people who want a light trail bike or downcountry bike. The Fox 34 SC may limit your tyre and rotor size, but as a race-spec fork, I think the limits are well within the range of what you would want to use. The next step for Fox will be if their FIT4 cartridge gets an upgrade. It offers more damping and tuning than the RockShox Charger Race Day damper (at a heavier weight) but I do wonder when we will see a move to electronic remote lock out – which is surely the next move in this area.
If you have a current Fox 34 SC, a saving of about 160g to upgrade to this fork is a value proposition you need to make yourself. However, if you have a Fox 32 SC, then I think there are true performance benefits to be made – and it's not about travel, but about how the stiffer Fox 34 SC will improve your bike's handling, and therefore speed. And if you're focused on going fast, improvements to how your bike rides for such a minimal weight increase is exactly what you should be thinking about.
- Lower weight than previous model
- Good tuning and adjustability (internal and external)
- Excellent cross-country weight:stiffness
- When do we get a damper upgrade?
RRP: $1639 (Factory), $1389 (Performance)