Out of the box it is a distinctive looking fork. The reverse break arch looks really good, and yes, the fork is more than stiff enough.
It also comes in a 20mm thru-axle option, the version reviewed here, more commonly found on long-travel bikes.
This seems a little overkill. I wonder would the 9mm version have suited me better (I weigh about 155 pounds) although for heavier riders this is definitely an attractive option.
Manitou are also thankfully producing a 15mm quick release adapter which will make the fork more upgradable as you may not need to change your wheel package. This is a big bonus as the 20mm system requires five bolts to be loosened to remove the wheel, a bit of a drag if you are a racer and nowhere near as quick as the offerings from its main competitors.
The graphics leave something to be desired and are more in tune with a dirt-jump fork. That being said, they are easily removable and I suppose this allows you to customize it to your taste – either the more conservative stripes or the more aggressive TOWER graphic. Personally I am for the former.
Back to the spring system. Here is where the fork really differentiates itself.
The MARS Air system incorporates a coil spring and an air cartridge, a highly unusual combination in a cross country fork yet the result is very smooth travel that performs really well. The air cartridge comes into play at the latter half of the travel to ramp things up nicely and springs can be changed to match rider weights.
As someone used to riding mainly air sprung forks it was a bit of a revelation, if a little bouncy at first, but I soon adapted. Perhaps here is where the 20mm axle proves itself as the extra bounciness doesn’t result in tracking problems under side loading in corners.
Damping is provided by Manitou’s TPC+ platform which has independent compression and rebound adjusters at the top and bottom of the right fork leg. The bottom adjuster controls rebound and is easily changed, allowing for a quick and easy setup according to riding style.
Compression damping is sorted through a short throw adjuster on the top of the leg. This goes from full lockout to fully open in a seven click cycle. This was really useful for setting the fork’s characteristics while riding on the trail.
If you were racing and wanted a slightly stiffer fork add a click or two and the fork firmed up nicely. When you are out on a more relaxed ride you simply open it up for a more active playful feel.
Similarly you can adapt it to the riding conditions – dry/wet, smooth/technical. The clicker allows you to quickly find your position again if you lock it out on a climb and the lever is easy to operate on the fly too with no stiction.