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First Ride: RockShox’s New Zeb Fork

Happy Riding

Zeb? Yes, that’s right, RockShox’s new, extra-beefy single crown fork is called the Zeb. That name comes from Zebulon Pike, the explorer who was traipsing around in the mountains near RockShox’s Colorado Spring, Colorado, headquarters in the early 1800s.

Unique name aside, the Zeb is positioned between the Lyrik and the dual-crown Boxxer, and it’s designed for use on enduro and e-bikes. Available travel amounts range from 160mm all the way up to 190mm, in 10mm increments, for either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels.

RockShox Zeb Ultimate Details

• Travel: 160, 170, 180, 190mm
• Wheel size: 27.5″ or 29″
• Stanchions: 38mm
• Damper: Charger 2.1 RC2
• Offset: 38mm (27.5″), 44mm (27.5″, 29”)
• Optional mud guard
• Actual weight: 2250 grams (170mm 29″)
• MSRP: $999 USD
• More info: www.rockshox.com

There are a total of five different models, with the top spot occupied by the Zeb Ultimate that’s pictured here. That fork gets all of the bell and whistles, including a Charger 2.1 damper with externally adjustable rebound and high- and low-speed compression. Next comes the Zeb Select+, an option that’ll only be available on complete bikes. It too uses the Charger 2.1 damper, but loses the high-speed compression adjustment.

The Zeb Select is the next option down the line, which, like the Select+ has adjustable low-speed compression and rebound, but via a Charger RC damper.

The two least expensive (and least adjustable) options are aimed more at the e-bike crowd. The only adjustments on the Zeb R are air pressure and rebound – it doesn’t get much simpler than that. There’s also a dual position version of that fork that can be switched from 180mm of travel down to 150mm with the turn of a dial.

Details

Increased stiffness was the driving factor behind Zeb’s larger stanchions and new arch design, but within reason – a fork that’s too stiff can feel harsh and difficult to handle on long, rough tracks, no matter how good the internals are.

So exactly how much stiffer is the Zeb than a Lyrik? According to RockShox, it’s 21.5% stiffer torsionally, 7% stiffer when it comes to side bending, and 2% stiffer fore / aft. Those numbers are comparing a 180mm Lyrik to a 180mm Zeb.

Extra stiffness usually comes with a little more weight, and my 29” 170mm Zeb Ultimate test fork weighed in at 2250 grams. For reference, that’s 250 grams more than a Lyik, and 180 grams less than the recently released Fox 38.

The Zeb’s arch is tipped slightly forward in order to provide a little more head tube clearance. Extra-girthy head tubes are apparently becoming more common, although it’s happening more in the eMTB arena. Speaking of e-bikes, there’s a 1.8” tapered steerer option. 1.8” steerers first popped up at Eurobike last year, and at the moment, it still seems like the 1.8” steerer is going to remain in the motorized realm. Of course, when a company as big as RockShox gets behind something it’s probably only going to become more common in the coming years.

Other external details include the ability to run a bolt-on fender (finally) using the three holes on the back of the arch, and to run a 200mm rotor without needing any adaptors. No tiny rotors allowed here – 200mm is the smallest you’ll be able to go. The Zeb uses a 15mm thru-axle, so 20mm thru-axle fans will need to keep on waiting for that standard to make a comeback in the single crown world.

Side note: I really wish brake manufacturers could settle on either 200 or 203mm rotors. Pick one or the other, please; there’s no need for both to exist. It’s great that a Code caliper can bolt right onto the Zeb without needing to dig for an adaptor, but riders in the Shimano camp will still need to run two 1.5mm washers to get their brake caliper to align properly.

What’s Inside?

Inside of the Zeb Ultimate you’ll find a Charger 2.1 damper, which uses the same expanding bladder design that’s used in a Lyrik or Pike. They’re not cross-compatible, though, because the Zeb’s damper has been designed to fit those 38mm stanchions.

The same goes for the DebonAir air spring. It’s similar, but not identical to the recently updated spring found in the Lyrik and Pike, which positions the spring on the stanchion dimple that allows air to pass from the negative to the positive chamber, allowing the fork to ride higher in its travel. The Zeb’s negative air volume is larger in order to give the fork an even more supple initial portion of its travel.

Thanks to the increased air volume in the Zeb, the recommended air pressures are relatively low. Those lower pressures mean that changing adding or subtracting a pound or two of pressure makes a more noticeable difference than it would on a fork that requires higher pressure.

Ride Impressions

I have about a dozen rides on the Zeb so far, plenty of time to experiment and find the settings that work best for me. At 160 pounds I’m currently running 55 psi and no volume spacers, while in a Lyrik, I’ll typically run 1-2 spacers and 80 psi. Even without any volume spacers there’s a nice smooth ramp up at the end of the stroke, and despite my best (or worst) efforts I haven’t had any nasty bottom outs.

The Zeb’s damper and air spring are very similar to the Lyrik, but the two forks do feel different on the trail. The Zeb has a more muted feel than the Lyrik when faced with repeated impacts, as if a thin layer of memory foam was laid over the ground. It’s similar to the difference in feel between running a DH casing versus a single-ply, trail casing tire. The Zeb seems to filter out the small vibrations differently than the Lyrik, transmitting a little less trail feedback to the handlebar. There’s still a very usable range of high- and low-speed damping, it just that even all the way open the Zeb seems like it takes the edge of sharp hits a little differently than a Lyrik.

I’ve taken the Zeb on multiple 3,000 ft descents and haven’t had any issues with it being too stiff. The extra stiffness is noticeable, although it is worth mentioning that I don’t have any complaints about the stiffness or damping performance of a Lyrik. With the Zeb, that extra stoutness can be felt on steep, sharp turns, the type where most of your weight is directly on the fork, and on rough straightaways, when letting off the brakes and blowing through is the best option, or at least the most fun.

How does it compare to the Fox 38? Well, the Zeb is less expensive by $200, and it wins in the weight game, coming in at 2250 grams compared to the Fox at 2430 grams. The 38 does have independently adjustable high-speed rebound damping, plus it’s got those nifty air bleed ports on the back of the legs, and a pinch bolt axle system.

I’ve been very happy with the performance of both forks so far, but since both are brand new options this season it’s worth taking an even deeper dive into their handling to see if there are any areas where one really stands above the other. Pinkbike’s Dan Roberts has been putting both forks to the test on the steeps of Champéry – look for an in-depth head-to-head comparison later this summer.




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