This idea was born from the desire to make my short-travel trail bike feel as close to a DH rig as possible. The trickle-down of race parts off the ski hill and onto local trail networks is nothing new, but the way bikes are being designed these days, that trickle is netting some interesting stylings of bikes. No longer are the lines between XC, Trail, All Mountain, Enduro, and DH so clear cut. The variation of riding types has become a spectrum or Venn diagram, rather than a definitive chart. My personal riding style has always been that of a DH racer plunked down on whatever bike was presented, so it’s fair to say that I’ve struggled to find an XC/Trail bike that fits my needs for quite some time.
This was especially true with suspension, as air shocks had become the defacto option for all bikes, except DH, for quite a few years. The problem though, for me, is air has a very specific feel, a poppy, lively ride characteristic… which I find to be irksome, my “A to B” riding style is better suited to the damp, more mechanically controlled coil shocks I grew up racing on (my heyday being the one where we all owned a DH bike and a DJ bike, XC/Trail cross-training was not quite a thing at the time). I also really desire my suspension to be excellent when it comes to small-bump compliance, as I ride flat pedals on some of the roughest trails around. So when racing took a backseat and I began my journey into the world of also riding uphill, I quickly found that the bikes I kept riding were woefully under-gunned for how I was trying to ride them.
Once I upgraded to a 27.5 bike, a first-gen production 160mm Zerode Taniwha, I threw a Fox DHX2 on it, because I wanted a DH bike I could pedal around and one that would be as fun as possible when the going got fast. That DHX2 ended up with a custom “MOG Tune” on it [aka an extra-firm tune for a 200lbs+ bear-on-a-bike], which truly made the bike feel like an actual DH race bike. It was amazing, a sublime change and one that opened my eyes to what a trail bike was capable of doing. After my days of traveling around to World Cups/New Zealand had concluded in 2018, I sought after a more reasonable bike for the local trails, something more trimmed down than an alpine shredding machine like the Taniwha. It was during this hunt that I discovered several companies were producing short-stroke coil shocks which could be spec’d on shorter-travel bikes. To me, seeing this felt like vindication for all the years I talked down on air shocks and how they were lacking of features and performance I desired. The industry had heard mine and many others’ cries for coil on all of our bikes, not just the 200mm beasts reserved for descending; after all, trail bikes have fast-become mini DH bikes with their speed-oriented geometry.
The MTBJesus Edition XC/Trail bike I built over the Winter of 2019 was a lean, mean, race-looking machine ready for a summer of shredding, suspended on a coil shock. It’s a very unique Marin Hawk Hill build, in that it is not light [read: overbuilt], is rife with DH-spec parts, and basically just straight up looks insane considering it is a 140/125mm travel bike. I bought a Cane Creek Double Barrel CS for the build, opting for the piggyback version based on my size and propensity for rowdy riding. As the season got underway and I was riding as much as I could, I started to really analyze how my build was holding up so far – I had a few thoughts… then, Fox released the MY2020 suspension on June 1st, which meant there were then four manufactures producing easily-purchasable 210×50 sized coil shocks, giving me an idea base on those aforementioned “thoughts”; the concept for the Short Shock Shootout was born!
I reached out to Fox Racing Shox, Öhlins, and MRP to see if they would like to participate in this project. I was met with a lot of enthusiasm from the three companies, which was a great start. My main goal was not to declare a winner, but rather highlight and discuss the different shocks after spending about a month on each, roughly 12-16 rides (3-4 rides a week). As things tend to go, a few shipping delays, work, and poor weather meant that equal time wasn’t quite achieved, but that didn’t end up being an issue, as each shock was easily set up and very quickly revealed itself on the trail. I took this project very seriously, so this is a hefty read. The shocks are written about in order of testing, I hope you enjoy it!
Cane Creek Double Barrel CS
The Double Barrel sprang onto the scene in 2005, jointly designed by Cane Creek and Öhlins – a piece of trivia often forgotten. The other offerings of that year were shocks like Manitou’s Swinger, Fox’s Vanilla, Progressive Suspension’s 5th Element shock, Elka’s Stage 5, and of course Avalanche Racing’s array of custom offerings. The DB was a departure from the shocks of the day, which were only externally tunable within a very finite window. So, when Cane Creek unveiled this Twin Tube Damper sporting High and Low Speed Compression and Rebound, backed with Öhlin’s credentials, the local race community lost their minds – so many adjustments! What do they mean!? How do I tune it? It’s the best thing ever! Mixed reviews would be a good summation of what quickly became a notoriously finicky-but-it-works-when-you-get-it-right piece of aftermarket suspension. The Double Barrel has yet to see a real update outside of the introduction of the CS model [Climb Switch] in 2015, the guts remain the same as the original. The DB Coil CS quickly became the defacto coil shock for trail bikes, as it was the only short stroke shock officially being produced i.e. non-custom at the time, with the climbing switch bumping up its value as it meant it would climb as well or better than many other air-based options. DH-quality bump-eating capability descending, but XC-ish climbing… a revolution was in the making.
The Double Barrel became a fast classic. After the CS model was released, a smaller friend the Inline, would round out the brand’s offerings for coil dampers, each still fitted with the “Puzzler’s Delight” adjustments of High and Low Speed Compression and Rebound. What was once the most confusing thread online about suspension adjustment has now become the norm, but Cane Creek was there first, offering the knowledgeable a refined product, or the less-informed, a near-impossible task of no-indent/click, infinite-adjusting.
The appeal of the CC DB for my current project/build was two-fold: it was the most affordable at the time thanks to some industry support, plus it was full of all of those adjustment options I like. In 2018, I had the Inline model, which was ok, but I felt the lack of piggyback really affected the feel of shock. I’m big, I need more oil in my shock. This was a notable change in feeling when making the switch to the piggyback, as the shock just seemed less overwhelmed and a bit more compliant on the trail. Oddly though, I found the action of the shock similarly stale. I would not say it’s sticky, it definitely oscillates smoothly; the issue I found was that it felt sluggish as if the oil was very viscous – the break-away of the spring didn’t seem to be an issue, it really just came down to something in the damper. Frustratingly, this was actually an issue I encountered with the Coil Inline in 2018, and I sent it back for warranty thinking I’d blown the damper; they said it was working well within spec when it was returned. It was for this reason, I opted for the piggyback in 2019… strangely not finding a remedy in that specific feature. After this project is complete, I am going to try one of Fox’s SL springs in a #500 that I have on hand to see if that changes the feel. With that in mind, the Vault spring is a nice touch with Cane Creek’s shocks, they are a bit lighter which goes a long way with a #550 spring in particular, which is what I had mounted.
A strong note for the DB CS, is the CS itself; the Climb Switch does an excellent job of firming up the CCDB for ascents. It was very useful on long fire road climbs and road traverses. With its light action and ease of access, I used it constantly. It’s a terrific addition to the shock, one worth having on there for sure. I did and continue to struggle to remember which way to flip the lever because the action for On and Off feels the same. I got it backwards more times than care to remember, mostly due to me leaving it in “Climb” post-ride and then at the start of the next ride thinking I needed to put it in “Climb” most again… I finally took a sharpy and drew on arrows denoting which way to flip it for “Climb”. A directional lever or indent would be a solid remedy I think, but it’s really a “me thing” and the switch is otherwise flawless. Unfortunately and problematically, a real issue worth noting is that the high-speed compression knob could be unwound past a point of useful adjustment, in that it will actually flex the knob cover and interfere with the climb switch, which was quite peculiar.
Food for Thought
With regards to final settings, I had the HSC wide open, LSC -16 clicks from closed, and both rebounds wide open. Setting up the shock was not a particular challenge due to my familiarity with the system. What was challenging was finding a sweet spot. While the shock performed as one would hope a shock to perform on a whole, I can’t help reiterating a noticeable lack of off-the-top feel. The shock seemed to need a bit more “oomph” to get going. I am unsure if it was the oil weight, the shim stack, or just the nuance to the shock. As said, there was just a sluggishness to the feel of it. My conclusion with that is, the shim stacks must be super firm, which is great because I could run into things really hard, but it also meant the shock didn’t have the subtle flutter over rough patches, which often manifested in my feet getting jostled and a generally choppier ride. The shock internals/spring weight is what Cane Creek had suggested for the purchase, but perhaps a lighter weight oil or coil would be a solution, though unfortunately, you’d have to send it back to Cane Creek to get it re-tuned.
This isn’t to say the shock performs poorly, as it functions just as expected, I simply am looking for a little more nuance to the feel of the shock – which is what started this project along in the first place. Riding flat pedals in rooty, rough, rocky New England, one’s feet tend to be frequently put to task trying to staying in place. I was challenged on really technical climbs and rough pedaling sections with regards to feet stability and traction; the shock simply lacks the off-the-top suppleness I seek from coil shocks. It would be fair to say that this is an aspect of the shock I more than others would be most bothered by, as I run an 11-46t cassette on a 32t chainring. I don’t have the super-spin gearing, thus relying on the shock to help me find traction and stability under heavy torque load around the punchy trails found regionally.
On a whole, the CC DB is a strong contender on the market for coil shocks, as they always have been. The shock performed well on a whole, being predictable and effective, which was most appreciated on a 30-minute high-speed, semi-blind descent in the White Mountains. The shock did not overheat, it saved my ass several times, and stayed consistent start-to-finish. That particular ride was borderline dumb on the way down, but I had confidence in the CC DB and it held up its end of the deal. I would recommend it based entirely on that experience. While I may have some gripes about the small-bump/traction performance, the shock works as expected and hoped otherwise. My set up might have just been a bit too pedantic for what it was interested in dealing with, being a flat pedal rider who actually enjoys the true XC part of a trail ride, not just the descents and hucks. The rider that will benefit from and enjoy the CC DB is a rider who wants coil performance and tends to do less technical climbing followed by big and fast descending. Using degrees of adjustment instead of clicks, an and easily accessible climb switch, plus a really strong range of spring weights/shock sizes make this offering from Cane Creek widely appealing to both the puzzlers and set-it-and-forget it types. Thanks to a phone app, it’s now more user-friendly via the new set-up guide, which will further boost the DB into the limelight for many riders.
Dynamite, zippers, and the adjustable wrench – Sweden is to thank for these inventions. The crafty Scandinavians have been producing innovative and creative solutions to the world around us since, well, just about always it seems! The country’s illustrious reputation for progressing humanity’s interests continues through Öhlins, the legendary suspension manufacturer with an exhaustive list of automotive and motorcycles wins, titles, and championships. For many years, they were an outlier in the damper market, one of the last holdouts not producing a scaled-down version of their engine-powered offerings for pedal bikes. They teased the industry when they helped Cane Creek develop the Double Barrel, but never offering their own all-gold option.
Finally, in 2013, the MTB community rejoiced as Öhlins entered the market – but with a semi-questionable decision to do it exclusively with Specialized. Scores of riders were let down by the initial lack of access to the Gold Ö products, but it didn’t take long for the company to start making a wider variety of size and tune options for other bikes on the market. It was a slow burn, many riders questioning if the slight price increase over the competition was worth it… especially because “Where are all the adjusters!?” Those who bought a Specialized with the stock Ö-gold shock were savvy to the performance gains, but the masses were a little slow to embrace the Swedish tech, and even now the TTX22M is still an uncommon sight. That commentary might be different in a year’s time though, as the aftermarket segment of the sport is well on its way back to glory as many Weekend Warriors are starting to seek out normally-for-the-Pros performance for the Sunday Afternoon Power Hour.
As we dive in, let’s just get this out of the way: “Wow, just wow.”
I adhere to the mantra of, don’t believe the hype. However, I leave room to be impressed nonetheless, and boy howdy was I blown away by the TTX22M. The mythical nature of Öhlins is something to behold in the first place, but to have “the gold” in your hands/on your bike and to immediately feel the magic of the Ö… it was worth the wait. Öhlins was actually the first and fastest supplier of the test shock – I guess their service is like their suspension, performance-driven. The TTX22M is a no-frills beast packed with secrets that creates a fantastically sensitive shock. Off the top, the shock is all about traction. The chop and small bumps are notably muted, the trail you’ve ridden countless times suddenly feels unfamiliar, fresher. Under power, it’s wild how well the wheel is kept on the ground. Pedaling performance is only increased with the TTX22M, hammering a rooty, uphill pinch climb that normally ends with a dab or stall very immediately becomes just another “up” in the trail. One needs to ride the shock to truly understand its prowess, words really don’t do it justice.
Lacking fiddly adjustments, it’s easy to keep the TTX22M out of the weeds and feeling its best: Three-position High Speed Compression adjustment, one Low Speed Compression knob, and a Rebound knob; that is it. I ran the HSC in the middle (2) or firmest setting (3). Towards the end, I switched a bit less between the two, most often staying in the third position, the firmest, as the small-bump compliance wasn’t deterred too significantly, yet the big-hit confidence was upped by a lot. I never used the first position, as that was just too soft for my liking, though many riders will likely enjoy its uber-plush feel. I had the LSC set at one click from wide open, and the rebound all the way closed. The big swings in settings I believe are due to the #571 spring fitted to the shock, which is why the rebound was turned all the way down and LSC was nearly wide open. Ohlins was generous enough to send along a few other lighter springs for the test, but seeing as the #571 was the recommended one for a 215lbs rider, I used that off the bat, and stuck with it, as it felt spot-on. A point to note, there isn’t technically a Climb Switch – the third compression setting is the firmest one and thus does, in practice, work particularly well as a substitute for a dedicated lever aimed at prolonged uphill riding.
What was most interesting about the TTX22M, was how there was no harshness about it, ever. The bottom-out bumper did an amazing job with the final push, and the different positions in the shock’s stroke never made themselves known, it cycled beautifully. In 2019 that is expected of most shocks, but I suppose that comment is just reassurance that the price tag is worth admission with this particular unit, there is a buttery quality to the action. The fantastical element of Öhlin’s image is surely mostly derived from this very feeling, one of uninterrupted excellence. After my first ride, my initial thought was, “why do I not see these on more bikes?” and that was still my thought after putting in close to 100 miles on it. From long XC jaunts to post-work hot laps, the Öhlins TTX22M continued to impress and remained unflappable.
Food for Thought
I climbed, I hucked, and I even did a photoshoot ride, through it all, the Ö-gold never lost its shine. A specifically notable aspect of this shock is something I am struggling to describe because it really is a feeling one needs to experience to understand. The small bump compliance is truly excellent, which is sort of a given as this shock is billed as thoroughbred race equipment, so traction is the name of the game – but it is the ever-sought-after mid-stroke support that really caught my attention. I always noticed it when was hammering on the pedals through super rough sections e.g. short connecting uphills or flat eroded sprints. Putting the power down hard, the suspension didn’t oscillate all over the place (a good part in thanks to the bike’s kinematics) but the wheel tracked over all the chop smoothly, not getting kicked offline and delivering the power to the ground, even while mashing through a hefty compression at the same time. The shock’s ability to multitask the forces it encountered was remarkable.
I think it’s hard to explain in whole, as it isn’t normal, the TTX22M is literally doing something I’ve never experienced with other dampers. The harmony the HSC/LSC, and Rebound have is truly special. The balance the twin-tube design delivers is a brilliant achievement. There is only a single rebound adjuster, Ohlins figured out the relationship of the HSR and LSR for the rider, and it works sublimely – no bucks, no unexpected change in the speed of return. Again, this shock is tremendously composed. The bottom-out bumper actually has its own spring curve, which is why it looks more like a tiered cake than a tea saucer/UFO. The unique feeling of the TTX22M isn’t due to any voodoo magic, but rather clever design learned through the decades of motorsport experience and engineering developments that occurred in those realms. Customers fill out a small informational piece, which creates a user-driven base tune. I learned that the dynamic range of the standard tune is vast and can handle springs from 345 to 750 without any significant changes. Most riders fall within a simple range, but there are actually 8 different coded tunes in total.
Discussing the TTX22M with friends, their main concerns are having to send it back to Öhlins for any sort of fine-tuning or maintenance, that they can’t just send it off to a local tuner like with Fox, MRP, or Rock Shox. This is a valid concern, but I think that trade-off is perfectly acceptable. High performance means high maintenance, and while this shock doesn’t need much attention when using it, if I had to send it away for a week to maintain the level of performance it provides, I wouldn’t even think about complaining.
Who is this shock for then? Well, clearly the World’s best based on the summer of 2019, but also the discerning rider who trusts a company to set up the shock before sending it off. There isn’t much fiddling to be done once the shock on the bike, it is a little bit set-and-forget. The shock comes alive when things get wild; it’s super damp, forgettable even, but that’s the hope when speeds are high and the trail is rugged. As a damper, it takes the trail ahead and makes it feel like a maintenance crew is cleaning it up right underneath the bike. I’d call it the magic carpet effect. Öhlins has been making elite-performance race equipment for decades, and with the TTX22M, it is wholly apparent that all those years and pedigree are packed away inside.
An Interesting Side Note
It’s helpful that the Golden Ö spent most of the summer of 2019 in the MTB headlines for the DH scene with Loic Bruni winning both the DH Overall and World Champs – a feat last achieved by the great Sam Hill. If a further visual analysis is of interest, regarding what sort of performance one gets from buying into the Öhlins ethos, go watch any of Bruni’s runs… or Finn Iles for that matter, their bikes look like they are doing something different; other riders were trying to mimic their setups too and said so on camera (Loris Vergier for example). Interesting to note, with the regards to the professionals on the suspension, Loic Bruni’s shock setup is nothing outside of the normal range of tunes according to Öhlins. The TTX22M just performs as well as it does, which is then aided by all of the testing Loic and his mechanic Jack have accomplished. The one slightly different aspect of the suspension on Loic’s bike is the air spring in the fork, which was modified slightly to keep it from diving, which is something that Loic cannot stand. I can vouch for that both in theory and in person – I pushed on his fork at MSA after his winning run, and whoa was it stiff. Yes, the top-level riders run stiff setups, but that fork was not out-of-the-box and certainly had some extra jazz going on inside – which, as stated, was confirmed by Öhlins staff as well.
There is a lot to be said about a company’s heritage. Few brands within mountain biking have such lauded prestige as MRP. The brand was a paradigm shift in DH racing in the heyday with their chain guide: the alloy backplate, bash ring, and oh-so-in-vogue orange rollers. Similarly, around the same time as MRP was keeping chains a-fixed to chainrings, a small Quebecois company was producing an “it-factor” shock, in red no less, that was something of a legend… Elka and their Stage 5 shock. It was rare, it was visually striking (big ol’ piston and hearty CNC’ing), and because the internet was just a humble cobweb at the time, little was known about the company – ironically so, as the HQ for the company is only a 4-hour drive from where most of the races happened in that era. Elka was competing mainly with Avalanche at the time in terms of price and performance, but the maple-red piece of suspension was far rarer. As an up-and-coming Jr.X racer, it was a mythical upgrade.
Fast-forward a decade or so, it’s a whole new world of MTB, even on a personal level as I finally have an MRP chain guide, plus MRP has expanded their offerings to a full line up of suspension goods. It is kind of old news but still not super common knowledge that MRP purchased a part of Elka, the American brand bought the Canadian company’s MTB branch in 2013 – the same year they officially re-branded the White Brothers forks to create the MRP Ribbon and Stage. Six years later, MRP is still fighting for space against the other entrenched suspension makers, but in an elbows-out kind of way, jockeying for space in the room. Their space in that room of shims and oil is well-deserved, they have done a great service to riders by bringing the trail-oriented Hazzard shock to life – the Elka Stage 5 reborn with a climb switch. Using a tried-and-true design steeped with motorsport trickle-down tech, the Hazzard is a serious contender. [the Raze is the DH-oriented coil option, the Stage 5 in its rebranded form]
MRP provided two springs to try with the Hazzard, as they have some unique offerings. I opted to run the 550# progressive spring over the regular spring, as the progressive coil was a strong part of the interest in and attraction of the Hazzard from the start. Being able to run a coil on a bike regardless of the leverage curve is exceptionally appealing. So, to say I was excited arriving home from World Champs at MSA and finding a package with the orange livery Hazzard inside would be an understatement. Out of the box, the shock looks robust and ready to get wild. The race-designed bloodlines easy to see in the piston size and dial placement. The tool-free, easy to adjust High and Low Speed Compression and Rebound dials are a big bonus, with the climb switch having a very clear on/off thanks to a shaped lever which has a really smooth action.
Bolting the Hazzard onto the bike had me stoked to ride. The progressive spring was really on the front of my mind, as that was something new to me on a whole and a piece of kit I’d been wanting to try for a long time. To start, I opened up the HSC and LSC all the way. The spring, while labeled as the “#550+” is actually a 525-to-650 on a 2″ stroke shock. This meant that I had the initial small-bump sensitivity of a lighter spring, but the bottom-out resistance of a much, much bigger spring. I set the Rebound to taste and started off. My immediate impression was that the Climb Switch worked very well– riding up the roads (paved and Class 4 logging) was done without a single bob, but the suspension remained active all the same for the water bar dips and scattering of rocks; the #525 starting weight of the spring was a serious boon, as the CS stiffened up the shock massively without the sacrifice of traction.
The real fun began after dropping into the descending part of the ride, the ramp-up of the shock with the progressive spring immediately noticeable. Smashing through several g-outs and smaller jumps the bike felt like it was a lot more than a 125mm travel frame. It wasn’t just the harsh hits that the shock ate up, the small-bump compliance/traction was fantastic as well. The progressive spring made me think the shock might be a bit stiff over rougher parts, that it might pack up early in the stoke – and I was dead wrong. The wheel tracked smoothly and the shock transitioned from little-to-big impacts without me noticing; I noticed in the sense that the bike was holding speed all over the place, staying more composed, and my feet didn’t struggle with the change in terrain. This was run one, I was fired up.
More time on the Hazzard continued to yield stoke and admiration for it. It’s all-around prowess on the hill make it exceptionally capable and highly versatile. When climbing with the shock open there was minimal pedal bob and finding traction was never a problem, the wheel stayed down and tracked the trail with precision. On one particular ride in Lake Placid, NY, the Hazzard really shone bright, tackling one of the roughest singletrack loops I’ve ever ridden… it honestly felt like the Erzberg Enduro event, but shorter and not motorized. The bike’s ability to stay up in the travel while tracking over odd-spaced compressions and undulations made a ride that would have been miserable on any air shock and even perhaps a regular styling of spring, which would have wallowed heavily. The amazing tuning inside the shock added together with the progressive spring meant the chatter was flattened and the momentum-killing mini-compressions were filled in because the spring’s mechanics kept the bike up in the travel and moving forward. This punchy loop, more than any rowdy descent or other rides, truly highlighted why the Hazzard is underrated and highly capable.
The mix of having a consistent feel at the top and bottom of the stroke, as well as sensitivity off the top with a super supportive mid-to-end stroke, gave the bike a very well-balanced feel. Sensible design with a mechanical aid for progression (taking a lot of strain off the damper) is a wonderful combination. Some riders will ask about only having one rebound knob in a market overflowing with all of the knob options… I can say with confidence that the HSR/LSR relationship is dialed, having “moto-bounced” i.e. pulling a manual into a large object/compression/undulation a number of times, the bike stayed composed without a wild buck or strange destabilization. Across the adjustments, a single click of an adjuster is noticeable, it doesn’t take a lot of spinning to find the right setting. The Hazzard is built-to-order as well, MRP takes down a similar kind of info like Öhlins. My final settings were HSC 1 click from open and LSC 2 clicks from closed, with Rebound set at 5 from closed.
Food for Thought
I can’t say it enough: the progressive spring is a brilliant feather in the cap for MRP. The mechanical ramp of the spring kept the bike up on the mid-stroke and gave the feeling of a bigger cushion when things got wild. The Hawk Hill plays well with a coil, but for those seeking a super-progressive feeling shock, linkage design notwithstanding, will really appreciate the spring and damper working in tandem to provide a ride with great traction off the top, an often-quested for supportive mid-stroke, and bottom-out feel rarely found outside of a full-on DH bike. The large and ergonomic dials make any on-the-fly adjustments easy, even in gloves. All told, too many people are sleeping on MRP right now regarding their suspension offerings, the package they have assembled in the Hazzard is just flat-out fantastic.
Visually encouraging, mechanically inspiring, and built to huck, the Hazzard is a work-horse shock that is a real joy to ride. Aiming to deliver race-bred performance for whatever bike it is paired with, it is filling a gap in the shock market by being highly adaptable via not only a large array of tunes, but with regular, SL, and progressive spring options. Its intuitive setup and general feel on the bike give the rider a good sense of what to expect from the Hazzard right at the trailhead. MRP bought into a shock that withstood the test of time and has a legendary pedigree; we now get to enjoy that brilliant capability on any bike we so choose, which I for one, am thankful. The Hazzard delivers a remarkable ride across the board, adding immediate performance advantages and confidence to any ride.
Fox Racing Shox DHX2
Fox Racing Shox has been a staple of two-wheeled off-road-racing for 45 years. With humble beginnings in motocross in 1974 as a distributor for European parts, the Fox brothers (Bob and Greg) began down a path that would eventually have each of their respective brands at the top of the game. Shortly after starting their brand Moto-X Fox, Bob and Greg split off to purse the two companies we now know as Fox Racing Shox (Bob’s side) and Fox Head (Greg’s side). Bob grew from selling other people’s goods, to producing his own products for the discerning racer. Since that era, the ethos of [what became] Fox Racing Shox hasn’t changed one bit; the fork volume reducers have, “Good Luck and Good Racing – Bob Fox”, etched into the plastic, a subtle reminder that all Fox products are in fact built to be raced. It is for this reason that I bought the 2nd gen Fox 40 in 2006 and have run been running a DHX since the 5.0 days. The brand has grown to be the go-to suspension brand for a staggering percentage of the Elite mountain bike race community, specifically the gravity-fed segment (8 Men’s and 7 Women’s DH World Championship titles since 2008 and 4 Men’s and 3 Women’s Enduro World Series Overalls). I have always been a fan of their products, using them through the entirety of my DH racing years, and continuing to now. Now though, there are more suspension contenders in this current epoch of MTB, which is what has made this Shake Down series possible and really exciting – it’s no longer a choice of option A or B!
Interestingly, in 2013 Fox Racing Shox filed an IPO and became a publicly-traded company. They officially entered the corporate world, but with market share backed by results. Fox has been an innovating company from the beginning, continually producing engineering and design improvements for the past decade. They have carried Bob’s original mission of producing race-bred products, which has allowed them to share a performance-based niche normally reserved for boutique brands creating custom suspension.
The DHX2 that Fox provided took a slightly different approach than the other three shocks in the test: it ran a lighter 500# spring with the Firm Compression tune, instead of running the shock off the spring to create a stiffer setup. Every other shock had a much bigger spring. Granted, spring weight is a contentious topic, and I don’t have access to a measuring device to test the “actual” weight of the springs, but nonetheless, Fox opted specifically for the lighter-spring-and-firmer-tune route with the shock they supplied. I hadn’t had the chance to try a set up like this before on a trail bike and it delivered a super unique feeling. It actually took a full ride to dial in the shock thanks to the Firm tune, which was really encouraging, as it meant the shock had a truly usable range of clicks, not just a 2-3 click window for a hefty rider like me.
After bolting on the DHX2 to my Hawk Hill and pointing it down the rough, I was well-reminded of their design prowess; Planted and balanced was the first thought I had as I rocketed over some flat roots and smashed some compressions. It was immediately clear that I had a matching set of dampers i.e. a Fox fork and shock, as the bike felt specifically balanced, the front and rear didn’t have distinctly different feels, which has been the case up to this point – a simple footnote, not a positive/negative comment, I was just surprised that there seemed to be a “matching” feeling with the suspension. The DHX2 motored over the chatter, my feet always felt super planted, and I was able to pedal whenever and wherever I pleased. The bike definitely sat further into the travel due to the lighter spring, but I found that I was able to skim over rough patched more frequently regardless of how fast I was going, as the suspension seemed to be able to remain more active at the beginning and middle of the stroke. The DHX2 felt the most “Trophy Truck” of the test because of this, as it seemed to always be using the most, but correct, amount of travel. I was concerned the shock would wallow with the lighter spring, but the Firm Tune was really showing itself, and I was impressed that even with the great small-bump compliance, it still kept the bike up in the travel and managed bottom-out well too.
The Climb Switch Fox uses is a little twist dial instead of a lever. It works just as well, with a raised ridge making it easy to grasp when tired and an action that was assured and clear. When the CS was engaged, there was no pedal-bob, but it remained just active enough to keep the wheel tracking over the little speed-killers. Ascending had comfort and efficiency, which I appreciated. I accidentally descended with the CS on more than once, but nothing bad happened, and at one point it actually highlighted that I needed to firm up the HSC.
It was interesting running the rear suspension off of the compression tune instead of the spring. The shock had a more definitive feeling of being “open” and able to actuate more freely, as the spring was not “in the way” of the damping circuit and allowed the Firm tune to really shine. Having a bike that sat a little more into the travel did make for a smoother, more comfortable ride too. I found on some of the notoriously rooty and rocky trails my hand fatigue was lessoned, and line choice was able to be a bit more aggressive even when I was tired because the suspension tracked over the rough and didn’t dance around as much. On larger hits and compressions, I only found the bottom of the stroke a couple of times. There was a noticeable feeling when the bottom-out bumper was reached, just this subtle blip in stroke as it would get smushed. It wasn’t distracting, but it was interesting to know when the whole stroke was in use.
I’ve always enjoyed that with Fox each click can be felt. Dialing in the notoriously daunting High and Low Speed Rebound was actually really simple and sensible. Granted, I had settings in mind having spent time with the shock before, but I only had to adjust them by one or two clicks to find the sweet spot – it’s an intuitive feel and range of adjustments, so you can actually get a reasonable starting spot with a “parking lot test” before hitting the trails.
Food for Thought
The number of rides I got on the DHX2 were not quite as many as the others, but considering I started this project in July and wanted to try and ride each shock for around a month, I think it worked out pretty well. The test loop I rode for this shock was in Keene, NH after moving out of East Burke, VT where the other testing has taken place (the other three shocks saw a slightly greater number of trail networks as well). The riding, while lacking the same gross mileage as The Kingdom Trails, is super varied and likely had a lot more bang-for-buck in terms of changes of terrain per trail, so I believe that I certainly experienced the whole range of what the DHX2 had to offer. One note I have is I would have liked to try a 525# or 550# spring, just to see what that was like, but like with the other shocks, I ran what was recommended by the company – and I think it was still excellent. I really liked the DHX2 for its ease of tuning with a 6mm and 3mm hex key, though I know some folks like to be able to use their hands. I don’t mind the wrench-style adjustments because it means I can’t just change something willy-nilly; I have to make a conscious decision about the changes, which I then remember better but am also more careful about – no spinning dials in frustration! The settings I finished with were HR -9, LR-15, HC -7, LC -8 (measured from closed, as Fox does).
This offering from Fox delivered the refined feel of a custom-tuned shock while allowing for the end-user to fiddle to their heart’s delight if that’s what they enjoy doing, or it can be a set-and-forget shock. It won’t quite have the same magic as a TTX22, but it’s no slouch and without a doubt a proper, race-ready piece of kit. Plus, it remains serviceable by any local shop or tuner with the proper tools and know-how, not needing to be sent back to the factory for a touch-up or change. The MRP progressive spring is also the same size as Fox’s, so using that is also an additional possibility for refinement, expanding the DHX2’s range even further. Fox Racing Shox continues to keep its promise of high-performance products that are aimed at anyone who wants to have competitive suspension with sensible and wide-ranging adjustments.
Data Logging Sheet + MSRP
The Grand Conclusion
Bike suspension has never been better. Choosing which shock is right for you is made even harder because of this fact. After I took all of the shock portrait photos, they were laying on the kitchen countertop, and I realized that I would be hard-pressed to pick my favorite. All four are similar in what they aim to achieve, but the way they do so is very different, which also yields very neat and different riding characteristics.
The best way I can break it down would be like this:
The Hazzard is the heaviest with the progressive coil spring, the DHX2 and TTX22M are nearly identical, and the DB is somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe that the weight of the shocks should bear any weight in the decision as to which one is the right one. The performance gains of a coil are not measured in how many grams are saved.
The two shocks with the fewest adjustments are the TTX22M and the Hazzard. There is a big weight difference, but not a significant price difference. The performance gains are a little different in action, the TTX22M being a little more sensitive overall, the Hazzard with the progressive coil has an over-all stiffer feeling while retaining great traction. The ramp-up of the Hazzard is hard to beat, while the buttery action of the TTX22 is second-to-none. The Hazzard has the dedicated CS, which is a big plus; the TTX22 basically has on-the-fly compression tuning. The Hazzard has a range of spring styles available, the TTX22 uses a hyper-precise proprietary spring. I imagine for a lot of riders seeking the level of performance these shocks deliver, the deciding factor will be the overall application of the bike the shock will live on and overall riding style.
The two shocks with the most adjustments are the DB and the DHX2. Both achieve their tuning through similar designs, but with very different adjustments. The DB is a degrees-of-a-turn style adjustment, the DHX2 has more traditional indented clicks. Both shocks have light-weight spring options and can actually use each other’s, as well as MRP’s and several other after-market spring options. Each has a strong range of shock sizes available and are easily accessible for purchase. There is a small price difference between the two as well. An important detail is that the DB needs to be sent back to the factory for any servicing, whereas the DHX2 can be serviced by any shop with the right tools and a qualified technician. The deciding factor between these two shocks will likely come down to the level of puzzling a rider is interested in dealing with and ease-of-service when it comes to maintenance.
If you like to puzzle with your suspension, searching for the perfectly refined balance for your riding style, you’ll be happy with the DB or the DHX2. Precision-puzzlers should seek the DB, those who like to count should consider the DHX2. If you trust the people building the shock’s tunes, the TTX22M or the Hazzard are for you. If you want spring options and a few clicks instead of a lever, aim for the Hazzard; for a very-simple-yet-exceptionally-effective range of adjustments the TTX22M would be the pick.
Thank you for reading, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments!
A big thank you to the participating parties, without their contributions, this wouldn’t have been possible. Putting these pieces of engineering through their paces was a real treat!
In order of appearance, here are the links to the different shocks: