The new 2023 Fox Float rear shock is not any flashier than its predecessor. In fact, it’s less flashy. Fox abandoned the blue lever’s not-too-hard, not-too-soft “Middle” setting, leaving riders the simple, classic choice between “Open” and “Firm.” Travis Engel loved the idea, and could gush all day about its implications for the future of trail bikes, and how it relates to their past. Now, he’s finally ridden the new Float so he could make sure of it. And he’s talked to some folks at Fox so he could make sense of it.
Photo: Jean-Paul Van Swae
Fox had a head start when they entered the mountain bike market in 1992 with the Alps 2 air shock. Their legacy in air-sprung rear suspension goes back to motocross in the mid ‘70s. The Alps 2, debuted on the three-inch-travel Cannondale Super V, would essentially make Fox the default brand for rear air shocks during suspension’s formative years. RockShox would introduce a coil-sprung shock in 1995, but wouldn’t have an air shock until the SID shock came out a few years later. That’s nearly a decade of Fox sitting in the driver’s seat, helping create what we expect our rear shocks to do. And back then, sometimes we expected them to do absolutely nothing.
The Cannondale Super V was a bit of a mess to pedal. There was so much chain growth that you’d sorta inchworm your way up the hill. But if you could keep the power cranking, the bike might stay high, stiff and quick. GT, Trek and Litespeed offered bikes with similar quirks at the time. Then, suspension pivots lowered, and we traded a lot of bounce for a little mush. With the industry still dominated by XC, and with XC still dominated by hardtails, the lockout was the answer. It turned a bug into a feature.
The lockout was a mark of sophistication, and as bikes evolved, so did the lockout. 2013 brought Fox’s “CTD,” or “Climb, Trail, Descend” system, which essentially offered firm, medium, and soft compression damping options. The “Trail” part of CTD came from the fact that riders wanted the suspension to be supportive on mixed or undulating terrain, and at the time, a lot of linkage designs weren’t great in that department. But as that began to change, and preferences shifted towards more suppleness, the next generation of Fox Float swapped to a dual-piston system (and to the name “DPS”) which separated the Firm mode from Medium and Open modes to disencumber the oil as the shock compresses.
Then in 2021, Fox’s more aggressive trail shocks took it a step further when the piggy-back-equipped DPX2 gave way to the Float X. Most of the updates were aimed at allowing oil to move more freely, while also adding a wider adjustment range for riders who still want some support from low-speed compression damping. One of the ways Fox pulled this off was by eliminating the DPX2’s Medium mode. And it worked well enough that it’s one of the changes made to the new Float, which I’ll now finally talk about.
As if it were a movie or video game reboot, the new Float was given the name of the original. Like Halloween  or Doom . It’s got a larger-volume air spring, allowing for lower pressures and a more linear feel. But you can still keep it progressive with volume reducers, which now come in smaller increments. But really, it was the damping updates that got me all excited. The piston that houses all the valves and shims and whiz-bangs to control oil flow is now larger. Presumably, that should serve folks like me who prefer lighter damping. And then there’s that move to a two-position lever. Seemed like a fine idea. On modern bikes, whose straight progressive leverage curves and steep seat angles make them plenty efficient, I no longer see the need for a “Middle” mode. But beyond that, Fox claimed that eliminating it allowed for “zero preload on the shim stack…”
Now, I’m not gonna lie. Certain aspects of suspension still make my head spin sometimes. I had to dig a little deeper about what a “preloaded shim stack” was. I do know what shims are. They’re thin washer-like rings that sit on top of the piston that can flex out of the way to allow oil flow. A flawed comparison would be an umbrella turning inside-out in the wind, and then popping back in shape. Compared to widening or throttling a simple valve like a kitchen faucet, shims allow for more granular oil control at various shaft speeds. They can be stacked in different shapes and quantities. And, as Fox explained to me, they also can be given a “preload.” This is a trick that requires the oil to hit the shim stack at a higher speed to open it up. Once that happens, it behaves somewhat like a non-preloaded shim stack. But not quite. Although the Open mode allowed the oil to flow more freely, that oil was still flowing past a preloaded shim stack that wouldn’t initially deflect quite as freely as it would if there were no preload. But now, without the need to provide a Medium mode, the new Float is allowed to do its thing.
To be fair, this is not unprecedented. And it’s not the only way to achieve what the new Float is going for. The recently updated RockShox Deluxe is also a two-mode shock. And it orients the valves on the piston to keep one mode from getting in the way of the other. For another example, to optimize shallow-bump performance, RockShox’s new Vivid shock is designed for the compression damping to barely even kick in for the first 20% of the travel. Plus, this is all just damper talk. There are a lot of factors, like bushing configuration and air-spring design. But bottom line, the new Float rides really well.
Ok, so here we are. I ran the new Float on my 130mm-travel Guerrilla Gravity Shred Dogg [sic]. It was a bit of a risky maneuver to try pairing that bike with a lightweight trail shock because it’s not like other 130mm bikes. It’s sort of a mini enduro rig, with mixed wheels, a 36mm-stanchion fork, long wheelbase, and until now, a coil-sprung Cane Creek IL shock. But the goal with this new shock was suppleness, so what better way to compare it.
What struck me first was the setup process. I played around a bit with volume-spacer settings and I gotta say, I don’t think I’m sensitive enough to need the new smaller 0.1 cubic-inch increments. But to each their own. It’s nice that I could pull the compatible reducer out of a Float X to do my experiments, but I ended up back at the 0.2 cubic-inch spacer that Fox recommended. Dialing in my damping felt a bit more unique. Again, I like light damping, so even at 190 pounds, I tend to start the rebound at the wide-open end, do some bounce tests at one click in, then maybe two clicks, and I usually go back to wide open. I’m an outlier here, so take this with a grain of salt, but I actually ended up two clicks from open / 11 clicks from closed. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but this made me feel seen. Also, it’ll be a better option for lighter riders who are actually supposed to run light damping.
Then on the compression side, my shock was the Factory model, with a three-level low-speed-compression damping adjustment in the shock’s Open mode. I never felt the need to go through the slightly fiddly procedure of swapping between the three settings to suit my mood. Of course, for the purposes of testing, fiddle I did. And I found it offered a very wide usable range, just like in the rebound adjustment. It didn’t feel as subtle as the difference between the three compression damping levels in the DPS’s Open mode. And I actually did see the merits in the “3” setting. During my time in the most firm configuration, I found myself wanting to push the pedals a bit more. On trails that require you to provide your own momentum, I could see it being a worthy trade-off to lose the bump sensitivity of the lighter “1” setting. But most of my trails provide their own momentum, so, after putting my time in at “2” and “3,” “1” is where I kept it.
I probably could have saved you all a bunch of time and said this seven paragraphs ago, but the new Float succeeds at porting what I think are the most important aspects of the Float X into a lighter, more compact package. I usually run a coil shock on my Guerrilla Gravity because, until recently, my main ride was an enduro bike. If I was gonna be on moderate travel, I wanted to hold onto all the traction and stability I could. Sure, I’ll have a blast when I’m playing with something quicker, lighter, and livelier. The Yeti SB120 I just reviewed was a firecracker whenever I stepped on the gas. But in my world, and on my bike, I’ll give up on some of that responsiveness in the interest of small-bump sensitivity. And I’m not exaggerating when I say the new Float, on a few occasions, had me forgetting I wasn’t on my coil shock. Most notably, on the shallow, quick successive hits. It took very little force to get into the shock’s initial travel. That’s a huge perk on steep trails where there’s less weight on the rear wheel. It also helps when I’m leaning forward to maintain steering traction, which I’ve finally gotten the nerve to do pretty much all the time.
My coil shock still does a better job of making mid-sized hits disappear, but I don’t think that’s necessarily better or worse. If I really wanted to give the Float even more of that coil-like aptitude, I could have ditched the volume spacer. But I’m starting to like the natural air-spring progressivity it offers my little pig of a trail bike, especially when there’s no consequence in sensitivity at the shallow end of the stroke. In a way, it reminded me of what I liked about the Canyon Spectral 125, which is equal parts responsive and planted. It’s a shock you can enthusiastically mash against while pumping or pedaling, which is nothing new. But that now comes at noticeably less cost to speed and stability.
And I haven’t even talked about the blue lever, which is what got me all excited in the first place. So much of the story of this shock is that trail bikes have evolved beyond the need for blue levers. But don’t get me started on that word, “need.” My Guerrilla Gravity doesn’t “need” a Firm mode. And the Yeti SB 120 definitely doesn’t need one. But I like having it. Not because pedal bob is sucking the power from my legs. It’s geometry that’s sucking the power from my legs. Especially as a relatively tall, heavy rider, my weight forces me particularly deep into my sag as a climb steepens. The Firm mode helps keep me on top of the pedals during long climbs, which offers me more benefit than active suspension can in most situations. It’s easy and positive to get into and out of, and the effect is not subtle. It’s not the sort of lockout that you’ll forget you left on until halfway down the hill. It’s Firm with a capital F, and not just ‘cause it’s technically a proper noun.
So, this shouldn’t be that revolutionary. Air shocks have been improving for thirty years. But it feels like the new Fox passes a threshold that edges towards mini-enduro capability. And it does it in the moderate-travel trail-bike market. It’s almost a shame that all the sexiest shocks are concentrated at the long-travel end of the spectrum. That’s where brands like EXT and Push put their focus. But bikes that spec the humble Fox Float tend to reach a wider audience, and span to wider price points. This new version will bring more of that beyond-category capability to more people. And we won’t have to listen to them say “the original one was better.” It’s not like we’re talking about The Thing .
- Wide range of damping adjustability
- Outstanding small-bump sensitivity
- Will see a lot of OEM spec in the coming years
- At $500, there are less expensive options out there
- External compression damping adjustment limited to top-end, Kashima-coated Factory option
- Some riders will miss the three-position option of the DPS
See more at Fox