FOX vs RockShox: The big debate amongst mountain bikers

We come across many product debates in our daily lives. Which is better: Mercedes or BMW, this diet or that one, this type of training vs. that type of training? The list is endless.

When it comes to mountain bikers and equipment, such debates are fierce. Frames, group sets, tires etc. – everyone has an opinion.

Lately, a heated topic of discussion has been about RockShox vs FOX. These two companies of course aren’t the only manufacturers out there, but they certainly are the dominating ones.

Before writing this article, I spent some time on MTB forums to gauge what owners are saying in order to try and identify some trends as to how perceptions are being formed and what patterns can be identified.

As a matter of interest, I researched the preferences of major brand manufacturers when it comes to choosing a weapon of choice for their top stock bikes. No doubt relationships, budgets, service and performance play a role in selecting suspension partners.

In doing this exercise the focus was on bikes suited to the kind of riding most popular here in South Africa, namely marathon racing and cross country.

As in many other industries, producers will manage to leap frog the competition at times as a result of a certain design philosophy or winning product (or sometimes both). Dominance typically lasts for a limited period only. The obvious fierce competition between manufacturers is generally a good thing but we all know how sometimes new products seem to be less reliable than previous generations as a result of producers pushing the limits in technology, design and time to market.

In such a comparison you should not only look at suspension forks, but also at rear shocks. Some manufacturers have opted for one brand of suspension forks and another for rear shocks.

What is interesting is how consumers sometimes have blind faith in their brand of choice without applying good common sense and logic.

The issues under debate…

RockShox was an independent company, bought into the SRAM fold some years ago. SRAM have invested aggressively in R&D with commendable results, but in the minds of some consumers who had a bad experience at some point, RockShox is still doomed.

On the other hand, following American forums about the topic, the RockShox brand seems to be getting much more favourable reviews at the moment, specifically in terms of ease to set up and maintain as well as good reliability ratings. This trend was clear from reading what is said on MTB forums.

Many riders are of course favouring FOX, but price tag is mentioned as a negative. A commercial MTB review site mentioned their scepticism about RockShox Monarch rear shocks, but report a pleasant positive surprise after testing the shock.

One can probably argue safely that both products have progressed to a point where functionality is not a limiter with either product.

Many local riders ask for CTD functionality (three settings of stages of lockout), which is a trademark in FOX shocks with similar functionality offered by RockShox in their lower models but not in the top RockShox products.

One can probably argue safely that both products have progressed to a point where functionality is not a limiter with either product.

With only two settings offered by RockShox rather than three, one has to ask why?

It seems that the RockShox engineers are of the opinion that a third setting is simply not needed – given the overall performance of modern suspensions and frames.

FOX offers CTD lockout functionality with either manual controls or cable lockouts whereas RockShox offer hydraulic lockouts on their top models, either open or locked out to a 95% level. Lockout position on RockShox still allows some damping.

Most interesting is that FOX has released electronic lockouts recently and in doing so, eliminated the intermediate lockout setting in line with the philosophy followed by RockShox with only two lockout positions.

A major advantage of hydraulic lockout is that it results in a sealed unit, free from the effects of dust whereas cables by their very nature allows for dust to accumulate and interfere with the system.

Electronic controls of FOX shocks seems great , especially when used  with Shimano’s latest electronic group sets , but comes at a price which is problematic. Top end MTB race bikes fitted with such equipment retails upwards of R 120 000!

Both companies seem to follow the philosophy of open or locked out for marathon racing and cross country with the intermediate setting a thing of the past. Cable lockout systems also seem to be on the way out. Thankfully so!

Hydraulic lockout systems from RockShox are practical given the fact that they work consistently well  once they “settle“ and come at a price which is relatively affordable.

Riders need to be focusing on setting up their individual bikes and suspensions for their personal style of riding and type of events they participate in.

RockShox has released a Full Sprint lockout lever which allows the rider to control both front and rear suspensions with one lever.

RockShox recently released their RS-1, a radical inverted design. This fork can only be used with a proprietary steered hub. Downside is the price and the proprietary hub but interested consumers should perhaps follow reports on this fork online.

What is clear when following philosophy, perceptions and facts about suspensions, is that riders need to be focusing on setting up their individual bikes and suspensions for their personal style of riding and type of events they participate in.  Both brands can and will do the job well, especially when maintained properly.

Summary of a direct comparison between the two products 

FOX:

34mm is slightly stiffer than the 32mm stanchions which is an advantage.

Longer intervals between services.

Electronic lockout seems an advantage.

More complex and not as easy to maintain.

High cash outlay for top models.

Heavier than RockShox.

RockShox:

Slightly cheaper.

Easier and simpler to maintain.

Simpler system is easier to set up.

Hydraulic lockout is much more affordable.

Tunable floodgate.

Major manufacturers’ choice of RockShox and FOX on their top models:

Specialized: RockShox front and FOX rear.

Connondale : RockShox rear and Cannondale lefty front.

Rocky Mountain: RockShox front and Rear

Scott: FOX front and Rear.

Trigon: RockShox front and Rear.

BMC: FOX Front and Rear.

Focus: RockShox Front and Rear.

Bulls: RockShox Front and Rear.

Etc…

From this list  it is clearly a matter of both can do the job well and consumers should look at price as the overriding criteria – especially with the performance of the Rand vs the Dollar.

Most importantly, any rider should invest in setting his suspension up to suit his individual needs!

Author : Willie Esterhuyzen

11 thoughts on “FOX vs RockShox: The big debate amongst mountain bikers

  1. I’m thinking of buying a Norco Charger 9.1. It has 30mm rock shox on the front. Hard tail.

    It is my first bike and my main concern is dependability. I’m going to be on paved or well groomed trails and only on nice days. I have no intention of getting my bike dirty. I’m actually thinking of getting solid tires purely so I can guarantee never getting a flat! My biking will be day off non competition for fun.

    With that in mind will rock shox suffice or is it worth spending more for fox?

  2. I just want to cruise worry free. I’m not concerned about a few extra grams or taking a little longer.

  3. Solid tires are a no go Ian, don’t do it. If your worried about flats just install some tire liners and or green goo. Solid tires are not fun, you’ll regret it and switch back soon after if you do go down that path.

  4. Sounds good. Thank you. I actually ordered it today. They didn’t have the one I wanted in stock. It will be here in approx 1 week. They are going to build it with extra thick tubes and puncture resistant tires

  5. I know that performance to price wise fox are expensive for but kashima coating just looks so much better than Rockshox silver coating

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