27.5 (650b) RockShox Pike and X-Fusion Sweep tested head-to-head.
Four days of testing the RockShox Pike and X-Fusion Sweep for 27.5 (650b) wheels in Hafjell, Norway, punishing the forks on technical backcountry singletrack and the best of Hafjell’s bikepark: Buldre, Rollercoaster and Røbolstien trails plus the 2013 World Cup DH track.
After getting my hands on a brace of 2014 27.5 forks – the X-Fusion Sweep (read my first ride, first test article here) and the RockShox Pikes – I was desperate to escape my family beach holiday, get to Norway and put the forks into some real action.
Hafjell is a truly amazing place, a Norwegian wonderland for mountain bikers and a bikepark with progressive well-maintained trails and a World Cup DH track. Above the park there’s Hafjelltoppen with its endless high fells. The fells are a secret singletrack heaven with some of the best and most technical trails you’ll find in Northern Europe, all this with an amazing panoramic backdrop that stretches for miles.
RockShox Pike – The re-invented Pike seems to be the new (self proclaimed) king of enduro and is tipped as the fork to have in 2014, with its new charger bladder system. In effect it is a closed and pressurized damper that is full of oil and has no air in it, so there is less chance of it foaming during hard, extended use. In short this translates into the damper riding high in the travel where it’s the plushest and that equals a smooth and firm ride which is still able to soak up bigger trail hits at will without ghosting through the travel.
Visually RockShox have hit a home run with the Pike’s styling. In a world of slippery gold the black stanchions really stand out and make the forks very distinctive.
Early reports of the stanchions discolouring certainly aren’t apparent as yet, albeit after only 65 hours of hard action.
The finish is matt black with some sci-fi sticker graphics flying around on the legs.
Initially the fork crown looked a little too skinny but after a while it has grown on me and doesn’t look so anorexic now.
X-Fusion Sweep – The Sweep is a new fork for 2014, but utilises X-Fusion’s excellent and well-proven RL2 damper. The RL2 system can take a short while to get into its ‘plusher’ sweet spot but once it’s there it has a great feel around the mid-stroke.
The Sweep forks use a more conventional nickel colour stanchion, which seems a bit pedestrian compared to the Pike, but on the upside the styling of the fork legs and bridge is much smoother and tapered and feels more modern than the Pike.
Finish is painted gloss black with a few neo modern stickers.
The plan was to take a friend (and very talented rider) Danny Sørensen, ex Danish BMX champ and DH guide at Switchbacks, along to help test the forks. Danny likes to go big and the perfect person to really push the boundaries of these forks.
I put the forks on two identical full suspension bike set-ups, using a titanium all mountain 27.5er with 145mm of rear travel as the test bike. I added a dose of Hans Dampf Super Gravity tyres into the mix as well to help maximise grip and enable us to focus on exactly how the forks performed.
In total we would spend four days in Hafjell riding the trails in the bike park and the backcountry singletrack. Riding back-to-back, swapping the bikes for each ascent and descent so we could gauge exactly how the forks handled against each other.
I decided to divide this into three categories: Coincidentally Climbing, Trail and Descend. (I’m not sure where I heard this great way to define suspension into three disciplines must have been online somewhere, maybe I should patent it.)
Climbing – The AM terrain around Hafjell is very unforgiving up, over and down, with huge sputnik-sized rocks strewn all over the trail, making climbing super technical with very little let up, it requires constant picking, changing and correcting lines.
Both these forks were outstanding under this pressure and it was virtually impossible to separate them on the climbs.
Steering was quick and precise, with the low weight of both these forks making the front end light and ‘pop-able’ over rocks that would normally stall you on a climb.
Nobody likes out-of-the-saddle hulking on a bike that weighs 29lbs, and the short climbs the Pike felt marginally better than the Sweep. However, with the lockout mode on full the Pike still has a little sag, whereas the Sweep is fully locked. So for seated/lockout climbing the Sweep edged it.
The flow of both these forks was immense, repeated mid-size boulder bashing is par for the course in Hafjell and both the Pike and Sweep’s damping had an uncanny ability to cope with these repeated hits while remaining seated in the mid travel ready for the next batch of boulders.
Stanchions. Cornering under fast and heavy loads with the 35mm stanchions on the Pike felt slightly more stable, but only very marginally over the 34mm on the Sweep.
The one thing we both felt would’ve been a bonus at times would’ve been a 20mm axle.
Descend – In the AM descents around Hafjell I felt the Pike was slightly more supple, with the rebound sitting higher in the travel and in a softer part of the spring curve, which suited my ‘heavy handed’ style of riding. Whereas in the faster aggressive bikepark descents (Buldre/Røbolstien trails) Danny felt the way the Sweep handled the brake bumps, corners, jumps and berms was more compliant and processed than the Pike.
Incredibly for two forks with different damping but aimed at the same market they have very similar ride characteristics. It would seem RockShox and X-Fusion have both done their homework.
This test was never really meant to be a shoot out, but the fact remains these forks are so closely matched in performance it forced the inevitable question, ‘Which is the best?’
I decided the easiest thing would be to summarise in a scorecard…
Looks – With its black stanchions and stealthy anorexic looks the Pike definitely wins the aesthetics, but how important are looks? Well most of the ‘stop and point’ in the bike park was aimed towards the Pike. Win Pike.
Performance – Both forks performed so well that neither of us could define any one distinctive benefit that made it stand out, both forks do some things better than the other but they’re so closely matched it’s hard to name a clear winner. Draw.
Specification – 1905 grams vs. 1861grams, 34mm vs. 35mm stanchions, trail 46mm vs. 42mm, post mounts 180mm vs. 160mm, blah vs. blah. There are subtle differences between the forks, but they’re so small that none of these specifications play any noticeable part in their individual performance. Draw.
Reliability – This one is a bit hard as the RockShox charger bladder system is new, so there are no confirmed reports on how long it will ride before needing a service or how durable it is. Whereas the Sweep’s RL2 system is a known commodity, it’s been proven to need very little maintenance and is reliable, in fact I think it gets better with age. But I have to call this a draw, as only time will answer the Charger damper question properly. Draw.
Cost – Here we have a clear winner. The Sweep will retail for £454 and the Pike for around £800. Now in my world that’s a saving of £300 or a new dropper post and a carbon bar! Win Sweep.
The Score: Three draws and a win each.
Conclusion ‘which fork is better?’
Both the Pike and the Sweep are outstanding pieces of kit and, for anyone wanting long travel on 27.5 wheels, ultimately either is a great purchase. What it seems to boil down to is what kind of person you are: A or B?
A person = Performance, reliability and value – Sweep.
B person = Performance, looks and new technology – Pike.
Lastly, this fork test is only for 27.5 (650b) forks, the Pike is available in many different flavours (albeit with the same trail) 26, 275 and 29.
Sweep RL2 275
Weight: 4.2 lbs/1905 grams
Travel: 120, 140, 150, 160mm (other custom travels achieved with travel spacers)
Stanchion: 34mm Aluminum
Damper: Sealed RL2 Cartridge w/ Mid Valve
Adjustments: Lockout, Rebound, Air Spring
Axle: LockX 15mm
Brake: 180mm post
Axle to Crown: 551mm
RockShox Pike RCT3 27.5
Weight: 4.10 lbs/1861 grams
Travel: 150 or 160mm
Stanchion: 35mm Aluminum
Damper: Sealed Charger damper cartridge
Adjustments: External rebound, low speed compression, 3-position compression (Open/Pedal/Lock)
Axle: Maxle Lite 15mm
Axle to Crown: 552mm