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Floor Test

On the floor, Psylo SL will catch your attention the most.  The U-Turn travel adjustment is just amazing and irresistible.  Watching the travel changing anywhere between 80mm and 125mm just by turning the semi-translucent orange knob on the left leg drives most people crazy, dreaming of setting 80mm on steep climbing, 125mm on scary descending, or anything in between.  Isn't it a DREAM-COME-TRUE time?  Look on the right leg, the red Climb-It lock-out control works effectively from wide-open to totally lock-out the fork.  And we must admit Rockshox's exterior/shape design might not be the best, but it looks the most "advanced" and "modern" in three. 

Looking back to Black Comp, the "Reversed Anchor" takes more time (that won't be too long, OK?) to get used to.  The WHITE color is not bad, but does not match most bikes' color scheme.  The pop-up "BLACK" sticker looks cool, but seems to pop-off frequently.  Located as the "most basic" model of BLACK series, Black Comp does not look as high-quality or offer as many adjustments as the other two "top-end" forks.  The plastic knobs delivers some cheap feeling.  But noteworthily Black's travel feels immediately smooth right out of box.

Fox Forx Vanilla RLC looks, well, the most "modest".  It does not have Psylo's astonishing look, or Black's odd reversed anchor.  Every thing just looks no more than it should be.  Few could detect the beefy 32mm stanchions but regard the high lower legs make the fork look less travel.  Most are confused with its "adjustment shims" (including rebound damping, low-speed compression damping, and lock-out lever) on top of the right leg.  Everything on Forx just looks too normal and modest, no exciting and no passion.  But if you look closer, you will find everything is in better quality than Psylo or Black: all adjustment knobs are CNC machined from bullet aluminum, and Forx's painting and assembling are impeccable.  However, Forx's travel feels the harshest on a "floor test".

So, which fork you should buy?  Until now, I think most people will pick Psylo SL for U-Turn's infinite travel adjustment and its cool appearance.

End of story? Not yet.

Dirt Test

The excitement of being able to adjust Psylo SL's travel from 80 to 125mm is hard to beat.  You see your front end grow up or shrink down by 2", and your bike's geometry is from a steep die-hard XC machine to a slack leisure all-round carpet.  WOW! What a magic!!  The U-Turn knob does not turn lightly; actually it is on the hard side.  I bet you won't like to play it too many times in a ride, even if your wrist is powerful enough.

Setting at 125mm to get the maximum travel, the stock spring feels way too soft.  Obviously Rockshox likes to woo the consumers by using a lighter spring rate for a more lively beginning travel feel.  Just a little force makes the fork "dive" endlessly.  U-Turn travel adjustment is not compatible with preload adjustment, so the latter is sacrificed on Psylo.  Therefore, there is NO WAY to increase the spring rate unless you change out the whole spring.  The Climb-It control helps a little on this (makes the fork feel a bit stiffer), but thus you have to sacrifice more small-bump compliance.   

Rockshox knows people would prefer a higher spring rate on 80mm than on 125mm, so they put a MCU inside the coil spring.  But to tell the truth, this helps very little.  The fork's spring rate does not change enough (or noticeably) when on 80mm and on 125mm, unfortunately and pitifully. 

Well, so the light spring rate helps liveliness?  Sorry, NO.  U-Turn's mechanism is also not compatible with "negative spring", so Rockshox has to sacrifice this magician of liveliness.  Psylo SL's beginning travel is the harshest one of these three.

OK, I know we should not ask so much from a fork.  Because of the amazing U-Turn travel adjustment, we should learn/try to tolerate Psylo's so-so-but-acceptable travel quality (after aided by Climb-It control), right?  At least, the travel adjustment is much more practical and helpful on real riding... SORRY!!  Psylo is not a fork but a noodle when travel is set above 100mm.  The flex results in incredibly and unbearably imprecise and slow steering.  I have NEVER felt a fork flex like this, even a cheap RST performs and steers better than this.  The flex scares me on every turn and bump-eating action.  The steering of my bike becomes so imprecise, slow, and dangerous that I have to step down to turn the travel back to 100mm or less. Unfortunately, this time, the Climb-It control could not help anymore.  The noodle feeling is really a ironic joke to U-Turn's long travel.

On 100mm or below, the fork's stiffness finally comes to real world.  But still not too good, just acceptable.  

Pure-Damping is good but not great.  The rebound damping is easy to access and works effective.  A wide range from rabbit-fast to turtle-slow, just as the sticker on the bottom of the right leg says, but the adjustment only takes effect in the last few clicks.  

Climb-It control is more than needed on this fork.  It not only dutifully locks out the fork when fully activated, but essentially helps somewhat on the light spring rate and flex issues.  Unlike Forx, which separates low-speed compression damping from lock-out lever, Rockshox puts both in one.  But it is OK and convenient in a real ride.  HOWEVER, on four of five Psylo SLs I ever tested the Climb-It control lost its most functions after a period of time.  I must point out this is either Rockshox's major QC problem, or Pure Damping's not-enough-thought-out design/mechanism.  And I have to remind anyone who plans to buy Psylo SL that without Climb-It Control the fork is not rideable because its light spring rate and noodle stiffness could not be any aided, unless you weigh lighter than 50kg/110lbs.

Black Comp, dusked by Psylo's overwhelming hype on the market, surprisingly outperforms Psylo SL on the two most  "radical" performance aspects: stiffness and travel quality.  Reversed Anchor does, just as Manitou mentioned, provide a significant improvement on stiffness over its predecessor (X-Vert) and better than most "conventional-type" (i.e. brake anchor is on the front) forks (the only exception is Forx, which is also in this test).  Travel quality is just smooooooth, and the spring rate is progressive enough for both small bumps and big hits.  The spring rate is, like Psylo, a bit on the soft side, but, at least, Black's Preload adjustment is there and proves its value at this moment.  Most average-weighed riders could work well with Black's stock spring.

RapidTravel travel adjustment could be set at either 80mm or 100mm.  But aware: RapidTravel's adjustment action is not as "trivial" or "user-friendly" as U-Turn: you have to step down your bike, put your right hand on the handlebar and left hand on the bottom knob, then say "One, Two, Three, GO!!" and press down the fork and turn the knob synchronously.  If you are lucky enough, you make it.  If not, do it again.  More miserable is the mechanism will take you a lot of "break-in" time.  You will battle with it until it becomes smooth and easy enough for your body's synchronicity.  Don't be afraid.  Do it more and it will become yours very quickly.  The other problem of RapidTravel is its spring rate.   Unlike Psylo's seemingly-unchanged spring rate, RapidTravel's spring rate, on the contrary, ramps up too quickly from 100mm to 80mm, or drops down too quickly from 80mm to 100mm.  Look on the bright side, on 80mm you won't like the fork too plush, right?  The damping also needs to adjust when the travel is changed.  To tell the truth, Neither U-Turn nor RapidTravel deliver the right spring rate change alongside with its travel adjustment.  RapidTravel's is even harder to use in practice.

QuickRange rebound damping control is not as sophisticated as TPC or TPC+ on Manitou's other high-end models.  But its works, and works very well.  In only half a turn you could dial the rebound damping from none to turtle-slow, and it is effective enough to fit every riding style. WARNING!! Due to some QC or design problems, the QuickRange rebound damping does not work on every BLACK Comp fork.  Some are ineffective, but could be repaired by a simple and quick disassembly.  Also be ware that the QuickRange knob will come loose and fall off during a normal off-road ride.

One more thing to mention, I NEVER appreciate Manitou's products because their performance always fades out after a time, like travel, stiffness, damping,...  BUT to my surprise, Lester's Black Comp performs as good after his a few months' merciless abusing.  This should be noted and applauded.

You could tell now that I am not too satisfied with either Psylo or Black.  To tell the truth, I lost my confidence and faith on these "new-century" "all-round" forks.  I hate hypes still dominate the market.  But there is still a fork called Forx, which looks very stupid and modest, and priced too high.  Will it turn the world over?  Especially it is from a 1st-year new comer of this industry?

To my surprise, Forx Vanilla RLC does not only perform well, but performs AWESOME.  The 32mm stanchions do not move smoothly enough on floor test, but moves flawlessly in a real ride.  32mm means more stiction than those 30mm competitors, but Forx is only a little shy of Black on liveliness.  Spring rate is a paragon: plush but progressive enough for big hits.  Small bumps to big hits are all too easy for this beefy fork.  I cannot say its plushness outperforms other best-performing FR forks like Z-1 or even its brother Forx Vanilla 125, but for 100mm, Forx's travel quality is hard to beat.

Fork's overwhelming feature is its superior stiffness.  It not only dusts the competitors but puts them a far far way behind (excluding Black).  From Psylo's flex to Forx's stiffness is like from hell to heaven.  Then you learn what stiffness is and how the stiffness benefits your ride.  Well, just so stiff, so solid, so precise, and so right.  Like Thomson Stem, you will be amazed in the beginning how big the difference it makes from others.  But as soon as you get used to it, you don't feel it at all.  The bike steers like part of your body, and you don't have to care anything else.  You just think "that is just handling".  But as soon as you come back on other forks, you find riding without it becomes a nightmare for you.  In every situation on the front, Forx dutifully does its job well and makes your bike even closer to you.  It is a dream.  On liveliness Forx is a bit shy of Black, but on stiffness, Black is a bit shy of Forx.  The reversed anchor still does not turn the world over.  A well-thought-out and great-executed design still could outperform an innovative concept.

Adjustment wise, there is no play on the travel, but A TON on others.  There are five adjustments on Forx: Preload, Rebound Damping, Low-speed Compression Damping, Lock-out Lever, and Lock-out Blow-off Valve.  These sound odd, complicated, and terrible in the beginning, but as long as you could calm down, learn and play them for a while, you immediately know who they are and how they benefit your ride.  Like the quality machined turning knob, each adjustment click is as quality and clean (absolutely not as blurred as Black or Psylo).  Then you push down the fork, your hands tell your the difference it makes.  The range is so wide, but Fox just could make each click/adjustment so clear and clean. You could dial everything to everywhere you want it to.  There is no word like "around" "nearly" or "mostly" on this fork.  Every aspect is just so accurate and right.  The only thing properly is its lock-out level is too short, which should be longer for easier access. 

I don't say too many words about this fork, because there is not too much to write about.  It is just a fork, of everything a fork should do for you.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I don't need any reason or excuse to hide its defect, and I cannot find any fault with it.  Maybe it looks too modest and maybe it is priced too high.  No compromise.  No complaint here.  The best fork I ever tested.

Conclusion:

So, which fork is for you? 

If you like the best-performing best-quality just-best fork in the world, save more money and get a Forx; it is more than worth the money and you won't regret.  Fox is a new comer, but it brings a true fork to true mountain bikers which is a still dream for its competitors.

If you are on a budget, Black Comp is a good choice, but don't expect too much on its travel adjustment. Check out the QuickRange damping's effectiveness before buying, and look for QuickRange knob during your every stop in a ride. 

If you cannot resist Psylo SL's infinite travel adjustment or beautiful look, don't turn it to the useless above-100mm travel, and check and pray the Climb-It Control won't die too quickly.

Daniel Lu

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