We got our first ride on the Rockshox Monarch XX shocks at Roc d’Azur when they launched the new SRAM Rise mountain bike wheels, with the opportunity to ride it back to back with the Monarch RT3 on the same Rocky Mountain Element.
On my Niner, it replaced the stock Fox RP23 (pre-CTD), and the effect was not dissimilar. In both cases, the change in performance was immediately apparent and dramatic: The Monarch XX is meant for racing.
Introduced in August 2011, the Monarch XX originally came with both carbon fiber (aftermarket) and alloy (OEM) canisters, the latter of which is what’s tested here, and the carbon version has been discontinued. The damping is limited to two positions, essentially on and off, rather than three functional positions in the RT3, with compression settings tuned for firmer, more race oriented performance. Rockshox said it’s built on feedback from sponsored pros that wanted a hardtail feel during lockout, and they achieved it. Push the hydraulic X-Loc remote button, and it changes the character of a full suspension bike completely, giving it near-hardtail stiffness in a split second.
Is this a good thing? Click through for the full review…
ACTUAL WEIGHTS & BOX CONTENTS
The Monarch, like all new Rockshox products since last September, come with a complete seal/wiper rebuild kit in the box. It also comes with zip ties, mounting hardware and various other bits and pieces to fit it to your bike and a very nice high pressure shock pump. Claimed weight for the alloy shock in its smallest shaft size is about 290g. Ours came in at 322 with the full length X-Loc hydraulic hose and remote. That’s a bit heavier than the Fox it replaced, and about 100g heavier than a stock RT3, so you’re getting this for the performance, not the weight savings.
You can get high volume cans and leverage-ratio-based tunes as options, but ours was a stock item. One thing that would be handy is a rod that guides the mounting hardware into the shock…there’s a special tool, but none of our local shops had it, so we used a number of hands, slow movements and a table vise to drive them into place.
Sag gradients on the shaft make setting it up a breeze.
DETAILS & REVIEW
Other than on/off and air pressure, your only external tuning is beginning stroke (small hit) rebound, handled by the red dial. The shock uses their Dual Flow Rebound, with ending stroke (big hit) rebound set at the factory. The range is effective, particularly for the type of terrain most XC racers will get into, and the knob is easy to turn even with gloved or bare fingers. It uses their Solo Air design, so one valve fills both positive and negative thanks to a small check valve inside the canister. The hydraulic hose swivels 360º around the rebound knob, making it very easy to route the cable anywhere your frame dictates without creating severe bends.
The Niner Jet 9 Carbon/RDO doesn’t come with shock remote/dropper post cable routing, so those included zip ties came in handy. I simply clipped it along the rear brake cable and looped the hose directly up to the shock, keeping it out of the way of all moving parts.
The X-Loc hydraulic remote remains the best, easiest remote I’ve used for anything. I haven’t ridden Fox’s iCD, but that one’s also insanely expensive. Against cable actuated remotes, there’s no comparison, these are awesome. They can also hold your shifters/brake levers, too, keeping your cockpit tight and clean.
Functionally, it all works as promised. The lockout is quick and smooth, and it really does lock it out. There’s a tiny bit of movement to prevent damage to the internals, and it’ll blow off and move through a bit of travel if you hit something big or forget to unlock it before hitting the descent, but for all practical purposes it really does lock out.
Compared to the RT3 or other normal shocks, the overall feel is a bit firmer, but the bike will maintain traction very well. Standing and hammering yields a bit less bob than with others, something racers should appreciate. On drops or big hits, it’ll feel slightly less plush or bottomless, but it still soaks up the hit well enough that you maintain complete control. In other words, it’s not bouncing you around like a Honda Civic with the springs cut in half. It’s tight, but without rattling your teeth loose.
When I hit the lockout, it really does make my bike feel like a hardtail. Not that the Niner is inefficient, but it adds another level of sprinting efficiency. I felt it on the Rocky Mountain, too, and I suspect it would do the same for any other full suspension bike.
I like full suspension. My days of owning or riding a hardtail for long distances are mostly over (though I do enjoy racing one now and then for review). I also like going fast. The Monarch XX provides the right damping and tune for going fast without overriding a bike’s ability to smooth the trail. It’s not something I’d put on a trail bike, but for an XC weapon, it provides the right blend of suspension and firmness with a super quick, easy lockout.
Check out original post on the Monarch XX for complete tech details and Rockshox.com for options. Retail is $358.00. In case you’re wondering, the carbon fiber version was removed from the line because it was a lot more expensive for minor weight savings, and it was very difficult to manufacture.