Choosing suspension forks for cycle touring usually involves a preliminary question — should I use forks at all?
The answer, as usual, depends on where you want to go on your fully-loaded bike. A tour on good quality asphalt doesn’t call for the control, comfort and arm/hand protection offered by a good pair of suspension forks. But if you know you’ll be spending weeks on end following gravel roads, dirt tracks or crumbling tarmac, front suspension suddenly starts to sound rather attractive.
The problem with choosing forks for touring is the limited options available to you. Expedition cycling is a niche. You can get expedition frames built for you; a rack can be chosen from the best of the standard touring carriers, and durable components can be easily picked from the otherwise shiny and expensive world of mountain-biking at affordable prices, no problem; but forks have always been a tricky one.
Mountain-biking is the natural domain of suspension forks. The trouble is these days that every year sees an increase in travel length, as the technology improves and frames change in geometry to accommodate them. Short forks of 100mm and less are now mainly aimed at ultra-lightweight cross-country racing, and prices are often astronomical.
Amidst the divergence of mountain-bike parts from standard specifications which have long been a good fit for the expedition tourer, Magura have brought out the Odur fork. At 2kg, it’s not flimsy, and the price is competitive at around 200GBP. In fact, looking through the specifications, it quickly starts to sound like the adventure rider’s dream. I’ve been riding with this fork since June 2007 when Magura supplied two sets for our expedition along with their Louise disc brakes, so lets have a look at the features, and see how the fork has fared on the road.
I’m using the 100mm-travel model of the fork, which suits my frame well. It is likely also to mate well with many of the mountain-bike frames that are converted for touring, as well as more specialised frames such as the expedition frames from Thorn, another popular if expensive choice. For older frames, Magura also produce the fork in an 85mm-travel version. This amount of travel is perfect for tackling the rougher roads of the world without affecting your bike’s ability to let you put in the miles the rest of the time.
The fork is V‑brake compatible, news of which will elicit cheers from those who have had to discard swathes of other forks because of the mountain-biking world’s love-affair with disc brakes. Most of today’s fork manufacturers have done away with V‑brake bosses completely, including Fox, whose Vanilla fork was for many years the tourer’s favourite, ticking off as it did the same requirements as the Odur now fulfils. Whether or not you’re using V‑brakes, the bosses enable you to mount a suspension-specific front carrier such as the Old Man Mountain Sherpa. It’s worth mentioning that the Tubus Swing carrier doesn’t fit this fork.
It’s a coil-sprung fork — another important consideration for touring. Air-sprung forks, in the majority these days, are more susceptible to catastrophic failure — if the seals blow or wear out, and you don’t have the spares, tools and oil to repair, fill and re-inflate the forks, you’re likely to be left with an unrideable bike. The simpler, albeit slightly heavier, mechanism of a coil in one leg of the forks is far less likely to fail, and if it does, you’re likely to lose no more than your rebound.
It’s built to withstand all the thousands of kilometres of abuse, with a dual-arch design improving the stiffness and durability no-end. It doesn’t have loads of fancy knobs and buttons, but one feature that will be appreciated by the tourer is the dynamic lockout, which is a fancy name for ramping up the compression damping, which is a fancy name for making the forks almost rigid. When you’re straining on the cranks on long flats or uphills, suspension forks absorb some of the downward force you’re applying to the pedals. Switch on the lockout feature on the top of the right fork leg, and you can be sure your exertions are going into making those wheels go round. This isn’t a gimmick; you can feel the difference instantly.
You can adjust the rebound if you wish, and swap the springs for firmer or softer models, depending on your weight and luggage set-up. Other small but thoughtful design features include replaceable drop-out tabs, if you wear them out from taking the wheel off one time too many, a hose guide on the left leg for disc brakes hose routing, if you need it, and removable V‑brake bosses, in case you don’t need them but want to bring them along just in case.
They aren’t light, at a fraction less than 2kg, but they aren’t meant to be: they’re tough, beefy forks, and their reliability is really the reason I can honestly recommend them for the long haul. Too often the potential for complicated problems is cited as a reason to go with rigid forks.
But my arms and wrists have thanked me so many times for going with the suspension option, and the tiny risk of complications is, in my opinion, worth it given the long-term benefits to your comfort and well-being. With the Magura Odur forks, all you need to do is give the stanchions a quick wipe every day to keep them maintenance-free. Since beginning the trip, I have had nothing to fix, service or even slightly adjust — quite boring, really.
I’d highly recommend these forks to anyone who is looking for a durable, low-maintenance, affordable and versatile fork for a rugged cycling expedition.
UPDATE: Unfortunately Magura have now discontinued the Odur. It’s still available as left-over stock if you look hard enough. I’ve yet to find a fork that’s better suited to hardcore off-road touring.