So, it’s not the 90’s anymore, but fashion and gravel bikes are in a renaissance period. Although our current gravel bikes are better than the 90’s mountain bikes, we can still learn from the past. I’m talking hardtail rigs with minimal suspension up front. The Fox 32 AX TC (Taper Cast) gravel suspension fork steps into the new era, alongside the RockShox Rudy (which will be reviewed in a future issue) and a whole array of ‘suspended’ parts to compensate for the rough terrain gravel bikes encounter. So, don’t get me wrong, rigid gravel bikes aren’t going anywhere. In saying that, good suspension forks make the gravel experience faster and, like I said, more comfortable and hopefully more fun. That’s what it’s all about right?!
Without further ado let’s dive into the tech – and fingers crossed you’re still here after these paragraphs. The 32TC comes in two travels, 40 or 50mm. The axle is 12x100mm, so many existing gravel wheels will slot right in. It takes a flat-mount calliper, the same reversible adapter found on many road and gravel bikes, and it fits either 160mm (minimum) or 180mm (maximum) rotor. These days we’re seeing more gravel bikes running 180mm rotors, so it’s good this fork has that capacity.
The standout detail of the 32TC is the reverse arch lowers. Placing the arch on the back of the fork lets them reduce its height, which saves weight compared to a front arch, claims Fox. The 32TC has shorter stanchions and less upper/lower overlap than a mountain bike, which lets Fox employ the tapered and trussed legs. This isn’t as stiff as a mountain bike fork, so the overlap isn’t really needed, as the 32TC runs such short travel. The tapered legs save weight and reducing their frontal area improves the fork’s aerodynamic profile. The ribs on the back of the legs are bypass channels. They prevent excess air pressure build-up as the fork compresses and help circulate oil to it, moving smoothly. You can run a lot of rubber, with the tyre clearance, 700 x 50mm, however the fork is not officially 650b compatible. And, as our country is often wet, there’s hidden/removable mudguard mounts (tyre clearance drops to 45mm with mudguards).
I installed the 32 TC on my Santa Cruz Stigmata. I should mention not all gravel bikes can take suspension forks but with time it’s becoming more popular. Initially, I didn’t experience much change to the rider fit or bike handling. Of course, this frame is designed around a shorter fork. I set it up with the recommended sag, which is 15-20 percent of travel with four air volume spacers. For those weight conscious folk out there, the 32TC is obviously heavier than a rigid fork, weighing in at 1.256g. But it shouldn’t be all about weight as the aim should be about comfort, performance - and bloody good fun! I have had this on my rig for a while now and had various versions of ‘suspension’ with gravel bikes over the past six years. That would mean I am somewhat predisposed to the 32 TC. I also publish our sister magazine, NZ Mountain Biker, and I’ve been riding with suspension on my mountain bikes for the last decade.
I’ve pounded my body on a rigid gravel bike through sections of gravel and trails for eons. But now I’m able to ride those gravel sections and trails with suspension, and it’s just as good as I hoped. Basically, with suspension, you can ride faster on those sections with comfort being enhanced along with control. You kind of change your riding style with a suspension set up – and start seeking rowdier sections. I was darting down and across some of the roughest technical terrain I could find, and light singletrack is probably where it leads to. This 32TC is all about intended purpose and for those that want to stray far off the beaten path, this could be for you. After several of these epic jaunts I returned home not as broken as I would have been with a rigid fork. Rough terrain does beat up the body and whilst I do lift weights, you can’t strength train enough for all those impacts.
When you’re transferring to the gravel from the tarmac the lockout is super firm. There’s little mush or noticeable play in the fork, even when pushing maximum out-of-the-saddle efforts on the tarmac I like that you can have the 32TC either fully open, half open (medium) or locked out. The half open, or medium, is good for rougher tarmac and light gravel; just taking out some of the harshness but still allowing responsiveness. Then when you hit the rough terrain, just open it all the way and get rowdy. This is all done easily on-the-fly - just reach down and dial in your preference on top of the fork.
I think the longer you have a suspension fork for, the more you come to like it. It encourages you to search out harsh terrain and, for me, the ability to take this bike anywhere really appeals. There’s always going to be new innovations within the cycle industry, but suspension is no fad within the mountain bike scene - and one would presume it’s not going to be a fad within the gravel scene either. Of course, this isn’t for everyone - nor any bike - but as the lines between mountain biking and gravel get more and more blurred, this could help solve some issues for riders. I think nowadays, riders will think about whether they want a suspension fork on their new rigs. Now that I have it fitted and really like it, I can assure you the Fox 32 TC fork won’t be returning to the wholesaler.
Distributed by Blue Shark
Reviewed by Liam Friary