There is no denying that general cross-country and trail riding is a lot rowdier these days. For this reason, many riders are turning to slightly bigger travel forks with burlier stanchions to stabilize the bike and take on the A-lines.
In reality, most riders will be better off with a more stable front end and it’s only the superbly skilled and front of the pack racing weapons who can afford to sacrifice handling for grams. I spent a few days riding the 34mm stanchion Marzocchi Z2 and found that despite its wallet-friendly price point (and partiality to an Italian diet of pizza and ice-cream) it is a real player offering a combination of good handling with buttery smooth performance.
THE STORY OF MARZOCCHI
The brand dates back some 60 years to the Marzocchi brothers, Stefano and Guglielmo, who began producing suspension for motorcycle brands BMW, KTM, Cagiva, Aprilia and Ducati. Moving forward, into the late 80’s when mountain bikers first started asking for front suspension, the Marzocchi brothers responded and by the mid-1990s the first Bomber had arrived.
Marzocchi went on to design and produce the first upside-down full carbon single crown fork in 2000. They also developed the first 29″ fork with Gary Fisher himself. Then, late in 2015, Marzocchi mountain bike products became a sister brand of Fox.
Throughout those early years of mountain bike suspension development, Marzocchi influenced the path of the industry by applying its lessons learned from the motorcycle world. The Italians pushed the envelope in terms of travel, stanchion size and always prioritized handling and performance. Their hugely reliable open bath oil design allowed for compression and rebound damping adjustability, whilst delivering an extremely consistent feel. In summary, Marzocchi showed the mountain bike world that ride quality, reliability and consistency of performance were just as [if not more] important than the nett weight of the fork or shock.
- Wheel size: 29er
- Travel: 120mm (tested), 130mm & 140mm options locally available
- Intended use: Cross-Country / Trail but also Down-Country and E-Bike
- Offset: 44mm
- Stanchion: 34mm, black anodized, 6000 series aluminum
- Tyre compatibility: Up to 2.6″ wide
- Internal adjustments: Travel and air volume spacers to alter progressivity.
- External adjustments: Single rebound and a single compression dial.
- Post mounts: 160mm
- Weight: 1991g
- Retail: R9 995
SETTING UP THE Z2: Marzocchi recommends choosing either a 15% sag for a firmer ride or a 20% sag for a plusher experience. I ran the fork at exactly 15% sag with the rebound set at 7 clicks from fully closed. I generally ran the compression in the fully open position but did run it at around 70% ‘on’ for descents and technical trails. The Z2 fork is shipped with 2 volume spacers and can take a maximum of 5 which would deliver a lot of bottom-out support. Remember, if you find you are bottoming out excessively or feel like you want to use more of the travel then you should either add or subtract air volume spacers to achieve that, not psi! The air volume spacers make a significant impact on the forks tune.
RAIL DAMPER: For the Z2, Marzocchi developed a new simplified damper which is an external infinite adjust from open through to firm compression settings. The Rail Damper is adjusted via a sweep lever which tweaks the high and low-speed compression, simultaneously. All the way in the anti-clockwise position is the open [soft] setting and all the way clockwise is the firm [almost locked out] setting. The damper is a closed system up top and an open bath system in the bottom section.
THE LOWERS feature Marzocchi’s signature ‘M’ shaped arch which offers tyre clearance up to a 29 x 2.6″ but you could definitely go bigger than that. The fork bushings, seals and chassis are directly from the successful Fox 34 line. The Z2 uses the Boost 15x110mm QR axle with a 4mm Allen bolt inside the axle’s drive side to adjust the position (or bite point) to optimize the closed position of the QR lever. To drive costs down, Marzocchi uses a slightly lower grade aluminum on the stanchions as well as plastic top caps.
TRAVEL OPTIONS: Borrowing the 34 Rhythm air piston assembly from sister brand Fox means that the Z2’s have the same travel adjustability and can be tweaked from 120mm down to 100mm or all the way up to 150mm (27.5) by using alternate air springs. Currently, within South Africa, the fork is available as a 120mm, 130mm or 140mm, 29er option.
UPSIZING FROM A 100mm FORK? …. As a rule of thumb, for every extra 20mm that you increase your fork’s travel by, your head angle will slacken by 1 degree and your BB will lift by about 8mm. Whilst some may advise not to fit a 120mm fork to a bike that was designed around a 100mm fork, the reality is that in most cases it will actually improve the dynamic handling, rider safety and overall experience. A testament to this is there are multiple brands that offer the same chassis with a 100mm fork and a 120mm fork. Remember that your seat angle will also slacken a bit, so you might want to slide your seat forward on the rails by a few millimeters to put your hips back into position. Likewise the stack height increases so you might feel the need to drop some stem spacers, run flatter bars or look at various stem options to return the bars to their original height – but this is perhaps a little pedantic and you really should just get on it and ride it for a bit before looking into all these tweaks. Whatever your riding style, the downsides of a couple of millimeters lost in the BB drop are minuscule in comparison to the benefits that a slacker head angle and more travel bring. For more content and opinion on this see: Marathon racer Katie Lennard weighs in on 120mm forks and our 100mm Vs. 120mm XC Bike comparison.
The best way to test a fork is to ride it multiple times across a wide range of familiar terrain experimenting with different settings on the fork but keeping everything else on the bike consistent, and that’s exactly what I did. With the Z2, I didn’t have to experiment much with the settings, if at all. The end settings I settled on, for the ride feel I prefer, are very close to where I started off. This fork is extremely easy to set-up and dial in.
Granted, the Z2 is not the lightest whippet in town. It tips the scales around 280 grams higher than say the top of the line (and almost double the price) Fox 34 Step-Cast. So ja, if you are inside the top 10% of your cross country racing category and place racing as an absolute priority over everything then you are likely looking at saving every gram and might very well look for something more feathery.
On the trails, the chassis of the Z2 delivers a very direct, precise and planted ride feel which stabilizes everything. There is very little flex in those stanchions and the fork eats small to medium-sized hits like they are velvet. Onto the bigger hits and even though I tend to run my forks a little on the hard side, I never felt any harsh spiking on big drop-offs or flat landings. I run the rebound on the faster end of the spectrum and found recovery from deep in the travel is prompt and without any ‘top-out’ or nasty episodes. The mid-stroke support is surprisingly good.
On steep seated technical climbs with the damper open the fork is supple and doesn’t wonder or ping around. On longer smoother climbs, firming up the compression with the Rail damper lever naturally improves efficiency without giving a fully locked out ride.
There is something very special about this Z2. It might be that the burlier build delivers a more planted and precise feel. It might be that it is very easy to set up and dial in. It might be the buttery smooth damping characteristics. Maybe it’s the comfort in a trusted brand with it’s low maintenance and predictable performance qualities that I recall. Maybe it’s all the PR’s I achieved with it. Maybe it’s the sure-footed and confidence-inspiring ride feel. Maybe it’s all of the above. It’s just special.
The new owners of Marzocchi have done good by the iconic brand with this all-new Z2. It is a high-performing fork which punches far above it’s middle-of-the-market price point. It has great damping, good adjustability, a clean finish and a stable confident ride feel.