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Nonton MotoGP Sepang Malaysia 02 - 04 Nop 2018

First Ride: Öhlins Downhill Race Fork

Öhlins released their DH38 Downhill Race fork last week and you can read all about it in the 'First Look' article. More importantly, I managed to bust out a number of laps on the new fork during Crankworx in Les Gets, France, and rode with the Öhlins engineers to give you some early impressions. For those of you who missed it, the fork is available for 27.5" or 29" wheels, and with four different offset options from the crowns.

Travel can be adjusted by switching air assembly shafts (€20 each) from 160 - 200mm, there's a three-chamber air spring and TTX18 twin-tube damper inside of it. The price is $1,600 USD / €1,392, plus $350 USD / €305 for the offset crowns of your choice.

Test Fork Setup

We mounted the Öhlins on to my trusty Commencal Supreme V29 (review coming very soon) as it's the downhill bike I have put the most hours on recently. It was previously equipped with a Fox 49 and DHX2 coil rear shock. 

Thanks to the offset crown options, I was able to try the shortest 46mm option. I did plan to also test the longest 58mm option to double check the extremes of the handling, but was more than happy with the short crowns. 

Öhlins DH Race Fork Details:

Intended use: downhill 
Travel: 160 - 200mm
Wheel size: 27.5" or 29"
Offset: 46 / 50 / 54 / 58mm 
Spring: three-chamber air
Adjusment: independent HSC, LSC and LSR 
Weight: 2,825g (27.5" with uncut steerer tube and all hardware claimed.)
Pricing: 
fork: $1,600 USD / €1,392 
crowns: $350 USD / €305 
More info: ohlins.com

Settings:

Rider Weight: 75kg
Main chamber: 110psi
Ramp up chamber: 212psi
Negative chamber volume: standard
Shim Stack: C40 R25
LSC: -8/15
HSC: -3/4
Rebound: -7/14
Offset: 46mm
A2C: 610mm

We started with the recommended stock settings on the fork for my weight, which happened to give exactly the correct suggested sag of 15% without having to adjust the ride height of the front of the bike from the previous Fox 49. The shim stack was the standard C40 / R25 which is the base setting stack. The C40 compression stack is right in the middle of the range, and the R25 rebound stack is the second lightest out of six options. 

The Ohlins Settings Bank is a result of years of testing and data collection. This chart shows the different shim stack options, but professionals can still customize these further with the correct knowledge.

The damping range of adjustment is narrow on both the compression and rebound. We left the LSC and rebound halfway out, and the HSC was left -3/4 out. Öhlins talk about a 'usable range' of compression and rebound settings which seems narrow compared to other brands of suspension. In saying "usable range," they mean that riders should be able to use most of the clicks and fine-tune settings rather than having a broad range that will work for every rider. 

For example, many forks barely return if the rebound is completely closed or feel locked out with all the clicks of LSC dialed in when set for my 75kg weight.

If you are outside of the usable range, you will need to change the shim stack, but by providing your weight and riding information, you should get the correct stack from the start from an Öhlins expert. The good thing about starting with the correct stack is that it's difficult to set up completely wrong - I tried with everything both fully open and fully closed and it was completely rideable in both scenarios, albeit harsh when closed.

Riding Impressions

Until now, in the MTB world, Öhlins have generally made fairly heavily damped suspension that some riders either loved or hated – a feeling that full-speed racers and bigger riders get on well with but some lighter riders can be out of the usable range, and people who tackle long alpine descents or people that hit one-minute bike park trails will want a different feel. This is a huge generalization as Öhlins (like many other brands) have a vast range of tuning possibilities if you have the units tuned for you when buying from an authorized suspension expert or direct from Öhlins. 

However, if you're a 70kg rider who bought an off the shelf Specialized complete bike in XL size, you might be out of range and need a new shim stack.

The world of offset needs plenty of exploring and is a tough project to find a definitive answer with so many variables, and I am not going to say that putting the shortest offset on the biggest fork is the perfect solution, but I had no interest in trying out the longer option after trying the shortest. There are three completely unscientific tests that I use: the gripped wobble, the handsfree wobble, and the flat corner push. The 'gripped wobble' can be done rolling fast down a road, seated, and take off one hand a wiggle the handlebar with the other, the longer offset seems to upset the bike more and is slower to stabilize and continue riding straight. The second is a similar test but done no-handed and by wobbling your hips to upset the bike - in this test, the headtube of the bike moving less side to side and the fork rotating more in the headset and stabilizing and returning to straight faster.

The third test is more difficult to replicate and involves pushing hard into flat and loose corners. The longer offset seems planted then pushes and breaks away (understeers) in a more abrupt and less predictable way. The shorter offset seems to be more predictable and does not break away abruptly or as far, then is easier to micro-manage the grip on the front wheel. In theory, a longer offset increases stability as it lengthens the wheelbase, but on the Commencal (longest mainstream DH bike in the world) I haven't had any issue with stability and I prefer the more subtle feeling of the steering. The other thing a longer offset should do is speed up the steering, but I think this makes it more twitchy and unstable at anything over walking pace - proven by the wobble test.

The Öhlins DH38 seems to do everything you could ask from a fork. With my setup, it was not heavily damped, was responsive to small trail inputs, rode high in the travel, and midstroke through repetitive impacts, and ramped up for big hits when I needed it. The chassis is definitely not overly stiff and can be felt tracking and twisting through angled roots and rocks.

Because of the Öhlins name and it's heritage, part of me expects to shout "it's the best forking thing in the world" from the rooftops, and it is exceptionally good, but so is the modern competition. The DH Race fork's main strength is the performance and usability from the start, followed by the potential to go in deep with the settings if you have the time, knowledge, and experience to benefit from it. If not, you're likely to gain little except a lighter wallet and attention in the car park. 

I would say it easily outperforms the old BoXXer and beats the Fox 40 RC2 in terms of suppleness and controlled damping. But, I have a new 2019 BoXXer and a 2019 Fox 49 with a Grip2 damper on other test bikes, and both of those have been fantastic from the start, although much more testing is needed on all three to provide a definitive answer. 

Is it better than those two main contenders? Well, it's surprisingly close regarding pricing, around €2,060, with a 2019 BoXXer World Cup retailing around €1,980 and a Fox 40 Grip2 around €2,400. It is very difficult to say who's best as they are all unbelievably good forks and they are all so new that commenting on durability is not possible at this point.

Source: https://www.pinkbike.com/news/first-ride-ohlins-downhill-race-fork.html

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