First published in Singletrack Magazine issue 99
Back in the late nineties, arguably one of the best forks to own was the Marzocchi Bomber Z1. Lurid orange, with a bolted on fork brace, and a seemingly infinite amount – 100mm! – of incredibly plush, coil sprung travel. It wasn’t the lightest fork by a long stretch, but it in my neck of the woods it seemed to be the best performing by a country mile. And it was one of the most desirable for the same reason; it was perhaps one of the few components of the time which were coveted more for their function than their lack of weight.
And the very obvious orange legs spoke of the kind of rider you were. Not a weight-weenie; not a gram counter. You were a proper trail rider. A (prototypical) schralper of gnar. A hucker-off steep things (even if you weren’t). There was a certain *cachet*. And, perhaps lamentably, that’s dwindled somewhat. The glory days of the Z1 are distant, and the redoubtable spirit of the Marzocchis of years past has faded in the all pervading light of the mighty Rock Shock, the mighty Fox and the (slightly less) mighty Manitou.
The 44 is, perhaps, one attempt to regain the crown of the ultimate trail fork. How we define what’s possible in mountain biking has changed somewhat, but the requirements of the trail fork have remained constant. Obviously, over the years, the requirements and performance of trail fork technology has grown. Literally, in that the 44 offers 140mm of travel, which locks down to 110mm at the flick of a lever. The stanchions are anodised in what Marzocchi call their ‘Espresso Coating’, Marzocchi eulogises about ‘increased stanchion durability and stiffness’ (stiffness?) and the roughness of the terrain being ‘washed away’ by suspension possessing ‘tolerances as tight as never before’. Okay.
The 44 has 32mm stanchions, which is perhaps on the slender side for a 140mm fork. That 30mm travel reduction comes courtesy of Marzzochi’s TA Travel Adjust hydraulic cartridge system, housed in one stanchion, which purports not to affect the damping or the preload. In the other stanchion, there is the TST Micro system, which is essentially a closed hydraulic damping system, with a bladder which inflates to accommodate the increase in volume caused by the extension of the damper shaft. There’s an adjustment knob for compression damping on the top, which also controls lockout. You can set the compression wherever you like, and there’s a similar rebound damper adjustment on the bottom. The whole thing is intuitive, and seems to work flawlessly.
Upon first using the fork, it immediately became obvious that there was a considerable amount of stiction, which made determining the remaining characteristics of the fork tricky. It made damping adjustment somewhat difficult, but the stickiness began to dissipate to an extent with repeated riding. An email to Windwave suggested that perhaps the seal toerances on this one were a little too tight, and the fork was exchanged. It was then immediately noticeable that the new fork had vastly less stiction than the original one, and a few hours of riding had the fork performing with something much more akin to the buttery smoothness on which Marzocchi have built their reputation.
It’s actually surprisingly stiff for a 32mm stanchioned fork. It proved to be tricky to get the fork to bind noticeably in hard cornering, which is something I’ve noticed in other longer travel narrow stanchioned forks, and it appears admirably composed in more technical situations. Tracking was also impressive, all things considered. There was flex, to be sure, but it never seemed to put the fork off its stride. Stiffness is aided by the 15mm through axle, which is clean and simple to use.
The lockout works perfectly; the damping intuitive and effective. I did notice a certain amount of slurping from the damping cartridge in hard use, although this never affected performance.
Once the initial stiction issues were resolved, the fork was an impressive performer. Its relative simplicity belies a creditable stiffness, and the damping and travel-adjust circuits have worked without incident throughout. If Marzocchi survives the current uncertainly enveloping the company, there is no reason why forks such as this should not help restore it to a position close to the top of the mountain bike suspension tree.
|Product:||44 Micro Switch TA 2015|
|Tested:||by Barney for Two months.|