2021 Fox 38 review

Review – Fox 38 Factory Grip 2 does the burly chassis and new features make a better enduro fork?

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The Fox 38 launched last year right at the start of lockdown, but over the year we have ridden various models of this burly enduro fork and this is what we think.

There are trends that we can following depending on the market that we are watching. Smartphones are getting more powerful, with bigger screens and better cameras. Home computers are getting thinner. Cars greener and mountain bike suspension forks are getting fatter. Fatter isn’t the best description really, in actual fact stanchion diameters are growing, chassis are becoming tougher, but overall weight isn’t really increasing drastically.

2021 Fox 38 Grip 2 – The outside

But why are forks getting chunkier? Has anyone ever complained that a Fox 36 wasn’t stiff enough? Likely not, well no one on the consumer side of things, but as enduro bikes become more capable, racers faster, and with the rise of the Super Enduro bike not to mention eBikes, Fox wanted to offer something a little chunkier.

2021 Fox 38 review

The first benefit to a larger build is stiffness, and the combination of 38mm stanchions, a larger chassis, a new internally ovalized steerer, and an updated crown makes the new 38 stiffer than the Fox 36. According to Fox, the 38 is as much as 37% stiffer under bending loads, 17% stiffer under braking, and 38% torsionally stiffer! That’s a lot of %. Will you feel this extra stiffness on the trail is another matter. If you’re a 65Kg rider and ride pretty tame trails then no, you won’t notice, but if you’re an absolute beast and you’re smashing extreme EWS stages then more stiffness won’t be a bad thing.

The issue with making a stiff fork though is what happens if things aren’t aligned properly. What if, for example, the manufacturer of one hub has much higher tolerances than another? Clamping a hub that’s only fractionally shorter than it should be in a fork will cause the legs to bow and the internals to bend meaning all that work to make a stiff, smooth fork goes out of the window. Fox has solved this issue with a clever floating axle design which ensures that the legs are completely straight when installing the front wheel.

2021 Fox 38 review

There are 2 versions of the floating axle design available, a lightweight Kabolt-X version and a QR model. With the Kabolt-X bolt-on axle, it is suggested that the wheel is installed with the axle and the fork is compressed to ensure everything is lined up before torquing up the final pinch bolt. It’s a bit of extra faff but it ensures no binding. On the other hand, the QR version has a floating sleeve in which the QR axle sits. You’ll still need to go through the process of compressing your fork before pinching the sleeve in place, but it only needs to be done once (unless you change your front wheel to one with a different hub).

It sounds like a lot of extra messing about, but really it isn’t and you soon get used to installing your front wheel like this.

2021 Fox 38 review

The chunky new chassis also receives a chunky new fork brace boasting a round design and a placement that sits much further away from the stanchions than previous designs. Looking at bike design, especially e-bikes, it’s quite common now for the headtube to be fairly chunky. This over-engineering forced Fox to reposition the fork brace for clearance reasons. The update means that even on a bike with a massive head tube, you shouldn’t run into any clearance issues even at full compression.

As you look around the Fox 38 there are some similar features such as the air valve, the Grip 2 damper, the rebound adjustment cover, but there’s a surprise sitting on the back, two in fact.

2021 Fox 38 review

The rear of the new Fox 38, and the 36 and new 34, all have air channels. Under extreme testing, Fox found that as air pressure changes within the fork it can have an effect on the ability to reach full travel after consistent big hits. These channels also have the benefit of ensuring that there is a constant circulation of fresh oil making way to the foam rings inside the fork to keep those stanchions lubed up. You can also see on our Factory version of the 38 we have a couple of bleed valves on these air channels. Only mid to high-end 36 and 38 forks get the air bleed option, which can be useful for equalizing air pressure on huge mountain rides.

Another dazzling difference between our Fox 38 and previous Fox forks is the Pistachio Green colour. This is a limited edition colour that won’t float everyone’s boat, but Fox also makes the 38 in glossy black and Factory Orange colours too.

2021 Fox 38 Grip 2 – The Inside

Fox hasn’t kept all the changes externally, there are some big changes inside to both the air spring and the Grip 2 damper. For the new Grip 2 damper, Fox has included its VVC on the high-speed compression circuit. The change means that as the dial is adjusted the system now uses a leaf spring to add pressure on the shims, it might seem like a small change but this actually reduces how much force is needed to get past the spring threshold. The VVC system has also now been simplified so that there are just 8 clicks of adjustment.

The final change comes to the EVOL air spring. Generally, a suspension fork uses the inside of the stanchion as the air-spring, and in fact, this is still how the 2021 Fox 36 and 34 operate, but the 38 is different. Instead, there is a floating air spring inside the stanchion. The air spring is able to float slightly inside the fork so that even if there is any twist from the burly fork chassis, the air spring will still be free to move smoothly.

2021 Fox 38 – On the trail

While receiving the 38 at the start of lockdown wasn’t initially ideal, the additional time I’ve had on our test fork and subsequent forks delivered on test bikes has given me a much better understanding and impression of the ride. It also means that instead of a test sample of one fork, I’ve actually put many hours in on around five different Fox 38’s so far.

2021 Fox 38 review

Setting up a Fox fork is always pretty easy. I always go off what Fox recommends (as this is what any consumer would) then adjust from there. I found the stock settings pretty close to how I like the fork with just a click here and there to dial it in for my personal preference. I also tend to run slightly more sag than the suggested 25%, usually around 27%, but this is the same regardless of fork or brand.

I’m no enduro racer, but I do have some pretty challenging riding close to my home which I frequent on a bunch of different bikes. Our initial test fork spent time on a 2019 Commencal Meta AM 29, 2021 Commencal Meta AM 29, and Patrol E-Six eMTB. I have also tested other Fox 38 Factory Grip 2 forks on the Patrol 691 Evo, Nukeproff Megawatt, Nukeproof Giga, and Kenevo SL.

It’s clear from my time with the fork that its features and stiffer chassis certainly thrive when under load, hard braking or steep, fast, and rocky terrain. As I’m not an EWS athlete I found most of the benefit to be on heavier eMTBs. The overall extra weight, combined with the sheer grip and capability of these bikes had me riding at speeds where the stiffer chassis certainly comes into play.

2021 Fox 38 review

Under hard braking, the 38 remains supple and smoother with no noticeable flex, even when hammering through a rock garden on a 25kg eMTB. Fast off-camber sections are an area where all those neat touches come into play. There is no binding, and the 38 is as supple over off-camber root sections as it swallowing up rutted steeps.

The result is a fork that offers more grip and predictability, this, in turn, boosts confidence, and you’ll find you’ll be able to hold lines better and no longer worry about those nasty rocks in the runout of a landing.

Conclusion

The Fox 38 is around 200g heavier than the 36 and some riders will wonder if the extra weight is worth it. As I’ve mentioned above for myself I found clear advantages to the 38 on technical and fast natural trails on heavier bikes, but to on a muscular enduro bike, I’m just as happy on a Fox 36. This said if I spent more time at the bike park, riding at Revolution, or visiting the Alps then I’d plug a 38 into the front of my bike.


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Review Info

Brand: Fox
Product: 38 Factory. Grip 2
From: Silverfish
Price: £1250
Tested: by for
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