Exclusive One Ride Review: The Italian Stallion Returns with the Marzocchi 350 NCR Fork
For many celebrities on the rebound, Las Vegas has been the perfect place for staging their comeback tour. So while work is beginning on the brand new Britney Spears theater, Marzocchi brought a few preproduction riding samples from the boot shaped motherland to the sweltering desert.
Over the past few years a botched sale to Suntour, poor quality control, and warranty issues plagued the legendary manufacturer of bomber forks, but the Italian stallion has recently debuted two new gravity forks that are packed with tried and true motocross inspired technology.
The entry level CR and R Models receive the Gold Race Coating. Only the top of the line NCR gets Marz’s trademark nickel coated stanchions.
The new Marzocchi 350 will be available at two different price points but both rely on the same basic miniaturization of a hybrid open bath/closed system found in their elite motorcycle forks. The company calls this tech DBC (Dynamic Bleed Cartridge) and it works by utilizing a spring actuated compensation reservoir to maintain the proper levels of oil in the damper. As high pressure develops, excess oil flows out through a circuit to prevent hydrolocking and lubricates the sliders. This oil can then be pulled back into the damper via a one-way seal as needed.
The top of the line model has various external adjustments but you can easily pull the cartridge from the top of the fork and customize the shim stack for the ultimate race feel. The other fork leg houses an positive air spring and negative coil spring.
The forks will be available in 140, 150, and 160mm travel options but are internally adjustable via spacers. The 20mm camp will be disappointed but Marzocchi has made the choice to go with a 15mm axle, which is in line with current industry trends. Claimed weight for the burly 35mm fork is 1.9 kg (4.19 lbs) thanks to redesigned lowers and 15mm qr and hollow crown. For a company with a reputation for heavy products, they’ve really turned things around considering their upcoming coil DH 380 fork and Moto C2R shock are comparable in weight to the majority of competitors current air offerings.
On the Trail
My ride time on the new Marzocchi 350 was limited to a quick and dirty loop in Bootleg Canyon on a preproduction unit shipped from Italy expressly for the event. After Interbike, Marzocchi USA would be shipping the fork back to Italy for further testing. As a result, the steerer tube on our demo bike provided by Giant Canada was nearly a mile long and the fork seals and bushings had probably not had sufficient ride time to properly break in.
Despite all the complications, the Marzocchi 350 still retains that plush feel and supple ride characteristics over chatter that had earned the company a legion of devoted fans. There are 18 clicks of low speed compression and each makes a noticeable impact in the way the fork rides. Our loop was filled with little high speed drops and rock gardens which gradually transformed into ridgeline sand berms. With the compression dialed all the way out, the fork dived relentlessly, but ramping up the LSC provided a firm platform for cornering. There is enough adjust-ability built in to dial this fork in whichever way you please.
I’m a mediocre climber at best, so the “lockout” switch or LSC knob has always been my best friend on sustained climbs. While several companies have moved towards on the fly compression adjustments for climbing and descending, Marz went the opposite route and gave riders an LSC for tuning and a separate “lockout” switch for climbing. In their version the “lockout” switch creates more of a platform. In practice, the lockout gives the the rider a small amount of travel but pumping around the convention and on a brief section of trail, it felt clunky. The fork we rode wasn’t a production models so this could be remedied when production units churn out, but I felt that the short travel in lockout mode was too easy to top out and rougher on the hands than the more aggressive tune offered by simply cranking the LSC dial to the max.
Despite the hiccups in recent years, Marzocchi has always produced solid performing forks and the new 350 NCF is no slouch. The aggressive fork felt smooth and plush even in pre-production trim and we look forward to spending time on a production model in the future.
For more info on their entire lineup, check our Eurobike Coverage here