Manitou Circus Expert Dirt Jump Fork Unboxed, Weighed, and Installed at Rays MTB!

Boom! The new Manitou Circus expert. Sadly, no clown nose.

After a long absence in the dirt jump world of suspension, Manitou is finally back with a fork that they claim is the best yet. Shortly after Interbike, Rich from Manitou and I had been kicking around the idea of getting us a Circus Expert DJ fork to review. We were both stoked on the idea, but due to the impressive demand for the forks before they were even officially released, and the insanity of both of our schedules, traveling, and the holidays, we hadn’t worked out an ETA for the fork’s arrival.

Rewind to last week, when all of a sudden I find the time and the opportunity to make a trip up to Rays MTB Cleveland, only I don’t have the fork. Out of the blue, Rich says, “no problem, I’ll ship it to Rays,” how’s that for customer service? Eventually, we show up to Ray’s two days later, and sure enough there’s a hot new Circus Expert walking up in the FedEx guy’s arm. Thank you Rich.

As soon as the fork was in my possession, I wasted no time stripping down my bike so that I could get the new Circus loaded up, all of this right in the middle of the Ray’s MTB lounge!

Curious what the new fork really weighs? How about what makes it different from the old Gold Label 2? Answers to all of this and more, after the break!

My bike shown with a Gold Label 2, anxiously awaits the Circus Expert

Inside the fork box you won’t find much, just a light fork and 4 different color sticker sheets. I’m not sure if my fork was missing some things because it was a rushed sample, but inside there was no suspension pump, starnut, or sadly, the clown nose. While the suspension pump isn’t a big deal as I have plenty, and most shops (including Ray’s) would let you borrow one in a pinch, the lack of a starnut could have been a problem if it wasn’t for the staff at Ray’s coming through, again, with the goods (Thanks Jeff!). So remember that, when you order up your Circus, order a 1 1/8th star nut!

Installation of the Circus was business as usual, with the help of the tools from Riley’s Park PK-63 Tool Set. Front wheel installation was also extremely easy, as the circus utilizes Manitou’s familiar Hex-Lock 20mm thru axle. While not as quick and easy as, say, a Maxxle QR20, I actually prefer the Hex-Lock as there is nothing that sticks out from the fork to get damaged as you repeatedly drop your bike trying to 3 that ledge.

With the Circus bolted up in no time at all, it was time to go destroy test it. You may notice that the decals that came stock on the Circus match the paint of my bike almost perfectly. It worked out really well, but I swear it wasn’t on purpose!

Unlike the old Gold Label, there is actually some set up required for the Circus Expert, although thanks to the recommended setting sticker on the back of the fork, it couldn’t be easier. Inside the Circus is an ACT Air Preload Cartridge, which is a hybrid coil/air spring. The ACT Air system consists of a coil spring inside an air chamber, although the energy of an impact is primarily absorbed by the coil spring. The air chamber provides enough adjustability to set the proper amount of sag for a given rider weight, and also contributes a certain amount of bottom-out resistance.

On the opposite side of the fork is the ABS+ adjuster, for the Jumpstack damping system which is basically Absolute + tuned for dirt jumping. The 9 position platform damping offered by the Jumpstack actually makes a huge difference on how the fork performs, and is a feature not previously found on the Gold Label. Did I mention that it works? I found myself constantly adjusting it, as I wanted it nice an plush for the rough Northshore style stuff, and yet stiff enough so that I could get the pop needed off of jumps.

Once home from an excellent trip to Rays, the Circus was removed to compare it to the old Gold Label 2 and to get a weight for both. As illustrated in the photograph above, the Circus has some dramatic differences from the Gold Label, with a smaller chassis in almost every regard. Every regard except for the Reverse Arch, which to address the issue of broken arches on the Gold Labels, has been put on a diet of steroids and  Muscle Milk. The new arch is absolutely more stiff, and it is clearly illustrated by trying to flex the fork legs inwards without the axle in place. While the Gold Label flexes quite a bit, the Circus doesn’t budge.

Other big changes for the Circus, include the move from steel stanchions and steerer tube on the GL, to much lighter aluminum stanchions and steerer tube on the Circus. While these were the big hitters in dropping weight, smaller efforts weren’t overlooked as weight was dropped from things such as the axle. The Gold Label axle on the left came in a 99 grams, while the Circus axle on the right is not only 26 grams lighter, but seems to be machined to a higher quality as well.

One interesting design change is the disparity between the length of the fork lowers. While both forks are 80 mm travel models, the Gold Label lowers extend well past the pinch bolts for the Hex-Lock. It was for this reason, that the Gold Label needed the protection of the Grind Bolt and rebound adjuster to protect the lowers from damage on ledges, lips, etc. The Circus, on the other hand, has the lowers tucked up nice and neat behind the axle, which supposedly eliminates the need for additional protection while surely dropping weight at the same time.

Circuse Expert on left, Gold Label 2 on right

Whether for dropping weight, or just the fact that the Circus doesn’t need the reinforcement, the bracing at the dropout is different. It seems that with the new Circus, Manitou did their homework, only subtracting from areas that were overbuilt, and beefing up the few areas that weren’t as strong.

Looking from behind at the Reverse Arch, the amount of work done to making the Arch stronger is a little more apparent.  The point where the arch connects to the lowers sees an increase in size and diameter, and the center of the arch is thicker, with triangulated reliefs to keep weight low. Another nice touch, is the attention paid to the controls on the top of the fork in order to give them a low profile and keep them out of the way of any down tube. By this point, most people who would consider spinning their bars for one trick or another, have seen forks that have not cleared the down tube of someone’s bike. Not here.

So after all of that, what end result does it have on the weight of the fork? Well, all of the weight cutting measures add up to an impressive 3/4 of a pound! Coming in at just over 4.5 pounds on my scale, that puts it very close to its closest rival, the Rock Shox Argyle RCT (which is an air spring only, no coil), with a claimed weight of 4.4 pounds. Hopefully, our long term testing will show that this weight reduction does not correlate to a reduction in durability. My gut feeling is that the new Circus Expert, is the strongest Manitou DJ fork to date, but for our final answer you’ll have to wait for our full review!

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