FOX 32 TAPER-CAST GRAVEL FORK REVIEW

The Fox Factory tries again with gravel suspension

It was back in April 2017 when we headed to the northern California coastal town of Watsonville to pay a visit to Fox Racing factory to get our first peek and ride of their 32 Step-Cast AX gravel fork. With a celebrated legacy as a two-wheeled suspension pioneer that began in the mid-’70s when brothers Geoff and Bob Fox brought their engineering prowess to the local motocross races, Fox has gone on to become the preeminent suspension brand in both mountain bike and off-road car circles.  

What we saw at Fox five years ago was essentially a shortened 40mm-travel version of Fox’s 100mm cross-country mountain bike fork. To us, it seemed more like a rush-to-build/proof-of-concept effort than a truly thought-out product. Eventually, that first version found its way to the general public through a few brands, most notably Niner and their full-suspension MCR.

As a testament to weight, we recall seeing a few Fox R&D riders using the fork at the rough (mountain bike intended) Leadville 100 race last year before opting for a standard carbon fork the next day when they competed in the Steamboat GRVL race.

Eventually, the Open Project transformed into Fox’s RAD (Racing Application Development) program, which over the course of the last five years engaged in the ongoing design and testing of gravel-specific designs. The end product is an all-new, design-specific gravel fork that, in our opinion, leaves its predecessor in the dust. 

Now available in three models—Factory, Performance Elite and Performance series—and while the new Fox 32 Taper-Cast shares a similar name, it performs on an entirely different (and improved) level.

THE TECH

Where the original AX fork didn’t accommodate many drop-bar standards, the new Taper-Cast fork does with a 12x100mm thru-axle, flat-mount caliper compatibility, and a slimmer crown and leg design that accommodates more frame designs. What remains are the 32mm stanchions and 1 1/2- to 1 1/8-inch tapered steerer tube.

We were happy to see Fox pass along some of the proven technologies from their mountain bike forks, like the FIT4 (Fox Isolated Technology) closed-cartridge system and GRIP damper to include on the Taper-Cast. 

“At the end of the day, if a suspension fork can provide a rider with added comfort and safety, then we feel it is a worthy effort.” 

Additionally, you can choose between two (40 or 50mm) travel settings and either a 45 or 50mm rake option. The fork can accommodate up to 700x50mm tire max and even has integrated fender mounts. If a fender is used, it limits the max tire size to 45mm. The axle-to-crown on the 40mm version is 435.5mm and 10mm more for the 50mm fork. Our 40mm Factory version with FIT4 damper hit the scales at 1278 grams, and the original AX Step-Cast version was 1446 grams.

Back in 2017, the thought of a suspension fork on a drop-bar bike was too extreme for most.

THE SETUP

Like the previous version, the new Taper-Cast fork will only fit on a frame that can accommodate a 1 1/2-inch lower steerer. While this frame spec is slowly growing in use, it is still not the standard for most gravel bikes. Our fork has the FIT4 closed-cartridge system with three compression damping positions—Open, Medium and Firm. The Factory version also has an additional 22 clicks of low-speed compression adjusted for the Open mode. 

There are 15 clicks of tool-less rebound adjustment, and Fox supplies a very easy-to-follow setup guide. The 40mm version recommends 6mm of sag for a firm ride and 8mm for a firm fork. We opted for the suggested air settings for our weight, which put us at about 7mm of sag. The final setting relates to the number of volume spacers that can be used. In stock form the 40mm has three spacers installed, and the 50mm fork has two (both with a max of four).

We received the pinnacle model, the Factory Series, that will set you back $949. Fox is also offering a Performance Series Elite version for $859 as well as a Performance Series for $769.

THE RIDE

With its sleeker lines and tapered fork legs, unlike the original, the new design falls more in line with a drop-bar aesthetic. The fork-leg bridge has moved to the rear, setting it further apart from the older version.

“With the stock three volume spacers, the fork has a very progressive feel, which we struggled
to achieve on the original version.” 

For us, the damper lever is easy to reach and identify which position you are in while riding. We were impressed with Fox’s suggested settings; we didn’t feel like we needed to make any immediate changes on the first ride. With the stock three volume spacers, the fork has a very progressive feel, which we struggled to achieve on the original version. The top stroke is plush and is very active over small bumps and imperfections. Only a few millimeters into the travel, it ramps up and is very supportive.

Thanks to the large dial on the FIT4 cartridge, changing damper settings is easy while riding.

On significant impacts and not gravel-rated drops, the fork was hard to bottom out. It was only on intentional front-heavy maneuvers that we stroked through the 40mm. We like that under heavy front-wheel braking there is minimal dive. Most of our testing was done in the Open position, and because of the progression, we rarely felt the need to move to the Medium or Firm position. The only time we thought it might help were on long, smooth climbs where we were out of the saddle. Otherwise, even on dirt climbs, the suspension “bob” didn’t hinder our performance.

If you use the Medium or Firm position, Fox has included lower-leg air/oil-bypass channels that allow it to open under extreme impacts. The Firm setting is substantial, and we would even consider it akin to being “locked out.” The fork is stiff, so you should expect road imperfections to transfer straight to the bars if you opt for the Firm setting.

THE VERDICT

We aren’t going to beat around the bush; at just under 3 pounds, the 32 Taper-Cast is heavy compared to the standard rigid forks. However, it is a massive improvement over the original AX version and, in our opinion, a much better offering than their biggest telescoping competitor, the Rockshox Rudy. 

As a testament to weight, we recall seeing a few Fox R&D riders using the fork at the rough (mountain bike intended) Leadville 100 race last year before opting for a standard carbon fork the next day when they competed in the Steamboat GRVL race. 

While most gravel riders will find the Fox fork overkill, beyond the more intrepid and adventurous gravel riders, we think the fork is a natural for the emerging market of e-gravel bikes. Clearly, the added weight of the fork is much less of a penalty owing to the aid of a motor. This is probably the most significant market that should jump on the new Fox fork.

The fork also offers a great platform for a monster gravel bike with a dropper post and maybe 650b wheels with 2.1-inch knobby tires that could be as effective as a pavement pounder for commuting to the ride as much as when things get off-road rowdy. 

For the debate that will inevitably arise over the question of the fork’s necessity, no, it is not a necessity for a gravel bike. But then, no less so than a carbon frame and wheel package is for a road bike. At the end of the day, if a suspension fork can provide a rider with added comfort and safety, then we feel it is a worthy effort. One takeaway is for sure—the new 32 Taper-Cast is a considerable improvement over the original offering.

PUNCH LINES

  • The progressive fork we always wanted
  • An excellent option for e-bikes
  • Plenty of tuning options

STATS

Price: $949

Weight: 1278 grams

www.ridefox.com

Long before Fox became the top name in mountain bike suspension back in the late ’70s, they were best known for the privateer motocross team that Bob and Geoff Fox sponsored. Initially, the brand produced both suspension and clothing before the brothers eventually split the company, with Bob taking the Fox “tail” for the suspension and Geoff taking the “head” for the clothing business. Best known for their revolutionary air shocks, Fox also made their own forks (although pictured here on team rider Pat Richter’s bike are Simon’s forks, which were developed by Steve Simons, who later co-founded RockShox.)
Photo: Motocross Action archives

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