RockShox was founded by Paul Turner in 1989 in Boulder, Colorado, USA. When Paul was a teen he was fond of motorcycles and everything connected with them. In 1977, at the age of 18, he founded a company selling motorcycle parts and components.
Later, he worked as a mechanic at the Honda Motor Company maintaining the tech of a professional motocross team in perfect technical condition. This allowed him to establish contacts with well-known developers of suspension systems for motorcycles and other experts in the industry.
Where it all begun
In the late 1980s, Paul became interested in mountain biking. Having a great experience in managing motorcycles, he felt the shortcomings of bicycle bike design and wanted to change the suspension. So the young man began developing his first suspension for the bike. In 1989, a fork for mountain bikes was produced, and a while later, in collaboration with Keith Bontrager, Paul developed and produced a bike with front and rear suspension, which he presented at an exhibition in Long Beach.
Two years later, Turner and his wife, Christie, started producing the suspension using parts purchased from the then-famous company Simons Inc. This company became a partner of RockShox several years later. By that time, Paul and his wife had pledged their house to buy “Dia COMPE” and expand production.
In 1995, the Turner family decided to move to San Jose, California and establish a manufacturing facility there. They worked with Thomas Dooley, who was the creator of the current Rock Shox logo and was a creative director, working on all marketing campaigns.
Later Turner signed a contract with the famous racer Greg Herbold, who was testing RockShox products. He became the first world champion in downhill mountain bike racing.
Greg Herbold took part in the competition on a bike equipped with a suspension, produced by the RockShox. In August of the same year, the company released its first popular RS-1 forks.
Bankruptcy and takeover
By the end of the 1990s, competition in the bicycle industry market was fierce and the company’s profits began to decline sharply. Rock Shox was one of many brands who were making suspensions, which is why the company attracted attention of other giants in the industry.
Despite the incoming proposals, Paul Turner hoped to stay afloat, but by 2001 companies losses amounted to more than 10 million dollars. In 2002, Rock Shox failed to meet its debt obligations to SRAM. As a result, a larger enterprise, SRAM, taken over RockShox. At that time, the companies debt was around six million dollars. In 2002, production moved from Colorado to Taichung, Taiwan.
Nowadays, this brand produces high-quality and affordable spare parts and components for bicycles, which are used by the most famous manufacturers.
Known problem of cheap Rockshox forks is a damper with a manufacturing defect, which occurs even in expensive Reba forks, and there are cases when the fork began to leak again a year after repairs.
Nevertheless, RockShox offers good forks for reasonable money, without excessive markups for exclusivity and brand.
Versions of forks for cross-country have letters and words, for more extreme disciplines – 3-digit numbers.
Designations of cross-country forks:
2010 and earlier: XC, SL, Race, Team, XX, World Cup.
2011: Silver, Gold, RL, RLT, RLT Ti, XX, World Cup
Cheapest model of the company until 2011 inclusive – “Dart” (stands apart from the older ones and is indicated by numbers: 1, 2, 3), this model is installed on many inexpensive bikes. These forks are heavy, don’t work well and they are not reliable. They are not very strong mechanically, in general, their purchase separately from a bicycle is unjustified. Top model “Dart 3” has a relatively advanced damper, but still not very durable due to 28-mm legs.
The first “proper” fork with 32 mm legs – “Tora” (2011 inclusive). This is simplified and rather heavy (about 2.2 kg) fork with steel legs and a stem, but at the same time it has parts same as its adult relatives, and can be recommended for purchase.
In 2011, more advanced versions of “Tora” air suspension became “Recon Silver”, while Tora itself remained in the simplest versions with a steel spring.
In 2012, “Dart” and “Tora” were replaced with a new budget version – “XC” forks. These forks are indicated by the number 28, 30 or 32, corresponding to diameter of forks legs. You can draw parallels with the old models: XC 28 = Dart 1/2, XC 30 TK = Dart 3, XC 32 TK = Tora SL (respectively, the last two have TurnKey dampers).
Recon 2009-2010 is a full-fledged mid-level fork with aluminum legs (the stock can be both steel and aluminum) and a weight of just below 2 kg. It works good and has acceptable reliability. Expensive options have an advanced damper from older models, but there is little difference in quality.
Recon 2011 was divided into two branches:
- Silver – has steel legs and weighs more than 2 kg. In fact, it is the same “Tora” model, but has air suspension and aluminum rod.
- Gold – has aluminum legs, doesn’t look a lot different from the 2010 model.
Reba is a fork for advanced riders and tourists. Relatively lightweight (about 1.65 kg), with good dampers, branded “Dual Air” air suspension, is very popular among those who buy a medium-high level fork.
SID – is the most lightweight (less than 1.5 kg) fork for cross-country racing, a kind of standard, sometimes used by advanced (and not poor) riders. Of course, the quality is top-notch, but for everyday rides and tourism, such fork provides almost no advantage over the “Reba” model.
An interesting feature of the RockShox forks is a high degree of unification between all models, each fork is similar in design and has the same basic modules, which can be combined in various combinations.
Rebound (R) – the simplest damper with blocking and rebound adjustment is installed on cheap forks only.
Turnkey (TK) – rebound damper with blocking.
Motion Control (RL) – platform damper with rebound adjustments and compression. Depending on the level of fork, the stiffness of platform can be adjusted.
BlackBox Motion Control – version of the damper with different rates of rebound for large and small obstacles.
The XX Motion Control in addition has a hydraulic compression-locking lever (XLoc).
Poploc – locking lever with a button-lock, can be combined with almost all dampers, might come with a wheel for compression adjustment (Poploc Adjust).
Pushloc is a more advanced locking mechanism in form of a “sticky” button.
Coil – simplest steel spring. Various spring options are available for stiffness, depending on the weight of the biker.
Solo Air is an air spring in which positive and negative pressure chambers are pumped through one valve.
Dual Air – air spring with separate pumping for both chambers, which gives additional room for creativity in setting up the fork.
U-Turn – for forks with the ability to lock externally, steel spring.
Air U-Turn -has external locking mechanism with an air spring.
Truth about forks
In this section, we will try to consider the market of suspension forks from a point of view of a rider who can already invest some funds in upgrading his mountain bike, but is not yet ready to choose his own complex and expensive components.
Why do you need a good fork?
Almost all cyclists at some point start wondering why they need to change their fork for something else. After all, their fork works, softens blows to hands on rough roads — its better than a rigid fork. And the cost of a new fork is terrifying — the idea of paying a cost of the rest of the bike for one “piece of iron” seems unthinkable. However, with the growth of riding experience, speeds and loads, it is gradually understood that it is impossible to save money on such an important part as fork — after all greedy person, as we know, pays twice. Chronically beaten and numbing palms, pain in shoulders and neck, and for those who are not lucky — fatal breakdowns of forks on the move and the incidents caused by this.
What is the difference between a good fork and a bad one?
To start, a well-working fork significantly increases riding safety on rough roads, ensuring that the front wheel is in constant contact with the road, improving controllability and reducing the risk that the wheel will get airborne on some stone during a turn, and the cyclist will end up in bushes.
Fork for cycling and tourism has to be comfortable, it works well on small bumps, and at the same time – does not bottom out on bigger ones. Forks for pro racers on the contrary, should be stiffer, should not eat up energy, should have a possibility of blocking and a sufficient number of adjustments. All forks should work equally good under a cyclist weighing from 45 to 100 kg for at least one year.
A good fork has to be light (up to 2 kg, for races closer to 1.5 kg), but at the same time strong enough to confidently withstand a 100kg biker, even if he participates in cross-country races on it. The fork should not wear out quickly, or require frequent reassembly. Spare parts and consumables are widely available and after-sales services are trouble-free. Of course, it is difficult to combine all these requirements in one fork, especially if you are trying to save some money. However, many modern medium level forks are noticeably better compared to their budget siblings in terms of reliability and riding sensations. Unfortunately, it is hard to find a good fork on a cheap bike. Why?
Forks on “store” bikes
On most inexpensive mountain bikes (approximately up to 200-300 USD.) low level forks are installed (they are also called “emulators”), their retail price does not exceed 30-50 USD, and some models of forks you won’t even find for sale separately.
Distinctive features of such forks:
- High weight (up to 3kg)
- Low durability and reliability
- They need regular lubrication (otherwise they rust or jam)
- Suboptimal stiffness (one fork might have no travel at all, and other one can bottom out on every bump)
- Absence of working settings and adjustments.
- In winter all these forks become rigid
- Internal friction — the fork is very reluctant to contract and unclench, especially if you don’t lubricate it every month.
- Or vice versa – the fork is easily compressed, and then shoots out in your hands.
With the increase of a cost of a bicycle, you can expect a “real” oil-spring fork from budgetary firms like RST and Suntour, or the cheapest models of more advanced manufacturers (Rock Shox, Marzocchi and others). These forks already look and work almost like higher level models, but the savings on the cost of production leaves its mark — after some time, hydraulic cartridges “die”, and insufficient mechanical strength becomes obvious.
Really good forks start to appear in configurations only on bikes above medium level, but their share is relatively small, since not everyone is willing to pay more than 1000 USD for their first bike, and advanced bikers prefer to build bikes on their own.