In our final part of our 6 series analysis on Carbon Fiber, we’re going to look at Forks. Carbon fiber can be incorporated in different ways in forks, from carbon crowns and uppers on MTB forks like the Rockshox RS-1 to full carbon from steer tube to dropout like the ENVE Carbon Road 2.0 Fork. So is Carbon a good idea in forks? Mostly yes, with a few caveats.
In Road biking, Carbon Fiber is almost ubiquitous in every component. Because it’s stronger, lighter, and can be made into aerodynamic shapes, carbon forks have largely replaced alloy forks even on lower end bikes. Since carbon fiber also has different dampening abilities, riders also report less buzzing on rough surfaces when compared to alloy forks. On the budget end of the spectrum, you will see forks with carbon legs but alloy steer tubes and dropouts like the Lynskey Sport Road Fork (2017). This is a great way to get much of the benefit of carbon without breaking the bank.
On the higher end of the spectrum, you will see forks that are completely carbon from steer tube to dropout like the ENVE Carbon Cross 2.0 Fork or 3T Leuteus Team Stealth Disc fork. If it’s in your budget, upgrading to a carbon fork for your road bike is a great way to save weight, improve your ride, and get a little more aero.
In Mountain biking, Carbon fiber is less common in Forks. In downhill, enduro, or trail biking there are currently no forks that use carbon fiber. Whether this is due to structural concerns after continual big hits or budget concerns, the industry has just not used carbon for those applications.
For Cross Country and Rigid forks there are a few options that use carbon fiber in a variety of ways. Two of the top Cross Country forks on the World Cup circuit, the Rockshox SID World Cup and DT Swiss OPM O.D.L 100 Race, use Carbon crowns and steers. These forks are very light (1366g & 1410g, respectively) and have enough durability to end up on the podium in short and marathon XC races including the Rio 2016 Olympics with Nino Schurter and Jaroslav Kulhavy. However, the current lightest XC fork, the Fox 32 SC Factory, is entirely alloy and under 3# (1355g). For suspension mountain bike forks, Carbon Fiber isn’t quite as clearly an upgrade as it is in Road biking.
With regards to Rigid Mountain bike forks which are often used on Single Speed or bike packing rigs, Carbon Fiber forks are more prevalent. In these applications, you are often looking for something stiff and light, which is exactly what a carbon fork will give you. An added bonus is the ability to shape a rigid fork differently than a suspension fork often gives you extra tire clearance for “plus” tires like the Bontrager Chupacabra 29×3.0.
So is Carbon bad for forks? Mostly no: if you can afford it, a carbon fork will be a great upgrade over your existing alloy fork depending on your application.