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Gravel Gear

The Grind: Geoff Kabush races Kokopelli, White Rim FKTs on prototype Fox RAD gravel fork

The three-time Olympian shares his thoughts after months of testing a prototype gravel suspension fork.

The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

In the span of a week, Geoff Kabush completed flat-out Fastest Known Time efforts on the White Rim Trail and the Kokopelli Trail, both 100-mile-plus challenges that most riders would call mountain bike courses without hesitation. The three-time Olympian rode them on his Open gravel bike — with a prototype Fox RAD suspension fork.

He took the Strava KOM on Kokopelli at 10 hours, 27 minutes, and 54 seconds, under his Dean Murdoch alias.

I caught up with Kabush back in Truckee, where the Canadian spends his winters these days, and where this winter he had been testing the Fox fork quite a bit.

Since Fox has not yet publicly named the fork, much less launched it, Kabush couldn’t give any details.

“All I am allowed to say is that it’s a prototype I have been testing all winter,” said Kabush, whose 15 national titles include cross-country, cyclocross, and marathon. “I was definitely a skeptic at first, but I have really been enjoying it. It makes a gravel bike pretty capable.”

Fox launched its 32 AX gravel fork in 2017. Built largely from a repurposed 27.5 mountain bike chassis, the 32 AX (adventure cross) offers 40mm of travel and weighs 3lb/1.36kg. Maximum tire clearance on the 32 AX is 40mm. It is still available, and comes stock on Niner’s MCR RDO.

This new Fox RAD fork has substantially slimmer legs, is presumably lighter, and appears to have greater tire clearance. Kabush has a 40mm Maxxis Receptor on his Open in the photos from Utah, and there appears to be plenty of room for a beefier casing. RAD stands for Racing Application Development.

Colorado company MRP also has a new gravel suspension fork that is about to be launched.

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Although Kabush has raced plenty of mountain bike forks in his long professional career, he had never ridden a suspension fork on a gravel bike. He called the 32 AX “a little ahead of its time.”

“Gravel bikes and tire technology have evolved,” he said. “Bikes now have more tire clearance. Also, tire inserts — I have a partnership with CushCore — that has been a game changer for me on gravel and cross-country, even more than gravity. And now, suspension can open up even more doors as to what’s possible on a gravel bike.”

Like other pros who sought FKT and adventure rides amid the COVID-19 racing shutdown, Kabush said he was interested in going for the records on the White Rim and Kokopelli trails as a way to challenge himself.

“For me it was this last year through Covid looking for some fun projects, and in doing some testing of gravel stuff, looking for fun rides to push the limits of gravel bikes and see what’s possible,” he said. “White Rim, in all the photos that I saw, I thought, man, that looks good for gravel bikes. But everyone I talked to said, ‘aw, it is so bumpy.'”

Kabush called his friend and fellow mountain biker Barry Wicks to ask him if Kokopelli would be possible on a gravel bike. “He said, ‘well, you could…’ which always means that it’s questionable.”

So, Kabush did some research and made some notes, paying attention to posted fastest times.

Last Tuesday he tackled White Rim. “I started too late, and I should have taken a bit more water. Around four hours in I definitely hard to nurse it to the end; I was dehydrated. That took way more out of me.”

He finished fourth on the Strava leaderboard at 5:43:38, behind KOM Keegen Swenson’s time of 5:28:17. (Pete Stetina and Payson McElveen are now second and third.)

He hung out on Moab the rest of the week doing dog walks and easy rides. Then on Saturday, he blasted through Kokopelli.

“I had some notes on pacing. Early on, I was way behind. That made it exciting. It I did it again I’d ride my 2x gravel bike. I had a 42×10-40 that made me go hard and use up matches just to ride some of the power sections. But I felt great all day.”

Kabush also knew going into it that Pete Stetina had set a new FKT but hadn’t yet published it. Both Fish and Stetina had ridden mountain bikes.

“I came up a bit short of Stetina’s unreleased time, but the goal for me was to see if it was possible,” he said. “My body actually felt fine the next day. I was definitely interested to see how close I could go to some of the FKT guys on mountain bikes.”

Going forward, I asked Kabush if he’d see the new Fox fork as advantageous in some of the country’s biggest gravel races like Unbound Gravel.

“It all depends on how groomed the courses are,” he said. “Just like with tire selection, gravel suspension is something for everyone to try out and see. It’s pretty dramatic, the comfort and confidence, when you switch back and forth between riding suspension and rigid.”