Need parts for your new bike?14. September 2023
Frame Building Course Q & A – Pia4. October 2023
Most people build a fillet brazed Road or Gravel bike (frame) in our frame building course. Generally you don’t have time to build a fork, even if you would like to, as you need the full 5 Days for just the frame. Fortunately, there are many options available for forks that should suit your needs. Most people look for a carbon fork, as they do have some big advantages. They are quite a bit lighter than their steel counterparts. Carbon forks generally weigh around 350-500g, compared to over 1kg for some steel forks. Most people also want to build a more modern looking road or gravel bike, and the wider fork blades of the carbon forks generally fit to the larger diameter tubing that most people choose. But if you prefer steel, there are some options here as well, and we will try to cover all the bases in this post.
How to choose a fork
When thinking about choosing a fork there are a few simple things to consider, regardless of which material you might prefer.
Tire Clearance – this is the first question you need to answer for yourself. How wide should the tires be on your new bike? All forks are designed around a maximum tire size that will fit. You can always run smaller tires, and sometimes a bit larger tire will fit in your fork than is actually specified, but usually not too much. There is no right answer to this question. It depends on where you want to ride, and how you ride. Normal road bike forks usually have clearance up to 28mm, a few go a bit wider. Then there are ‘Gravel’ forks that go to around 40mm, which can also work well on a ‘Road’ bike where you would like the option of going a bit wider. Then there are many forks that top out at around 47 or 48mm, usually have eyelets for racks and fenders, and perhaps an internal guide for a dynamo cable. Or, if you plan to do mostly off-road touring on variable terrain, there are also options for MTB width tires of around 55mm or even a bit more.
Cable routing – internal or external? Most people prefer the look of internal cable routing. It comes at the expense of increasing the complexity when you need to work on the bike. If you need to remove the brake, and the brakes are hydraulic and internally routed, you have to cut the brake line. When you put the bike back together, you will need to bleed the brakes. With external cable routing you can simply remove the brake and levers, and re-install them. Much easier. Finally, there are also a few forks available for fully-integrated cables. Fully integrated cable routing means that the brake cables run from the levers, into the bars, through the stem, and into the head tube, usually by way of a special headset. The rear brake line enters the down tube via a large hole in the head tube – down tube joint, and the front brake line enters the fork through a hole in the steerer tube. Interested in building a frame for fully integrated cables? Read our article on this topic here.
Extras – some forks have a few extra features that you may or may not be interested in. The first is eyelets for a fender. Most road forks do not have these. Most gravel and bike packing or trekking forks do. Some forks have mounts for a lowrider front rack, some forks have three extra mounts for large bottle cages (anything cages from Salsa, for example) where you can attach lighter weight items like a sleeping bag, small tent, or a sleeping pad, without an extra front bag. Finally, some forks offer internal routing for a front dynamo.
For you tall guys and girls out there, one thing to consider is that most carbon forks have a steerer tube that is 300mm long. That is long enough for most of us, but if you are scratching the 2m mark or more, and want to have the bars relatively high compared to the saddle, the 350mm steerer tube length of the ENVE forks or the Cinq Touring Fork could be helpful to fit you on the bike the way you want to sit. This starts to be an issue if your head tube is longer than around 220mm. Once we have a drawing for your new frame, we can see whether or not you would require a 350mm steerer tube.
The last item to consider is the brake mount standard. Most forks these days are flat mount, as for road and gravel bikes the IS or Post Mount standard has mostly been replaced by the flat mount brake mount standard. However some forks do still exist with an IS or PM standard.
From here on we have organised our discussion according to the type of bike you’d like to build. Road or Gravel….
Columbus has pretty much everything you might want here. For the most part I would recommend the Futura Disc SLX. The brake cable is routed internally, which most people prefer. Tire clearance goes to 30mm. The fork steerer is tapered, 1 1/4, which looks better with the 44mm head tube which most people choose. The only disadvantage is the head set options for an 1 1/4 tapered fork are comparatively limited compared to an 1 1/2 tapered steerer. If you prefer a 1 1/2 steerer, Columbus also offers the Futura Disc which is almost the same as the SLX version, but with 28mm tire clearance. Finally Columbus also offers the Futura Disc Integrated fork, which is the same as the Futura Disc, but made for fully integrated cable routing.
ENVE also offers two forks for Road, they have the advantage of offering a bit more tire clearance. The first is simply called the Road Disc Fork. Tire clearance is 32mm, and the steerer is 1 1/4 tapered. If the 30mm of the Futura SLX isn’t enough for you, then this is another option. The only disadvantage of the ENVE Road Disc fork is the price, it costs a bit more than the SLX fork from Columbus. ENVE also has an integrated version of the Road Disc fork, with tire clearance to 35mm. However, if 28mm tires are wide enough for you, we actually recommend the Columbus fork for your fully integrated bike, as the form of the fork where it meets the head tube fits the round head tube of your frame more beautifully. The crown of the ENVE fork is formed to fit to their own carbon frame, and it is not round. It is a minor detail, but something we wanted to point out, as you wouldn’t notice the difference from seeing the pictures of the forks on-line.
One final consideration, for bikes with fully integrated cables, which just came out in the fall of 2023, is the Futura Trefoil Road Fork from Columbus. The steerer tube of the fork is 1 1/2 tapered, like all of the fully integrated forks, however it has a special shape towards the top that allows the cables to be threaded between the steerer and the top bearing of the head set. The shape of the steerer allows you to run a normal 44mm headset, and you don’t need an even larger IS52 headset with the huge 56mm headtube for your bike with fully integrated cables. For more on head tubes and headsets see this link here, and more on bikes built for fully integrated cable check out this link here.
If you want to build more of a road bike, but want the possibility of running wider tires than is typical of a road bike, consider the Futura Gravel fork from Columbus, or the ENVE All-Road fork. The Futura Gravel fork fits tires to 40mm wide, and also has mounts for fenders (though you will then only fit a 35mm tire). The ENVE fork fits tires up to 38mm, or 35mm with a fender. Both forks have 1 1/4 tapered steerers. The Columbus fork has internal cable routing, and the ENVE fork is external. Generally I would recommend the Futura Gravel, as I prefer the internal cable guide, however some prefer external cable guides for the ease of maintenance, then the ENVE fork is the way to go. Finally, the ENVE fork is designed to work with a removable fender from ENVE. You can mount any fender you like on the Columbus fork.
Gravel and Adventure Bikes – for tires wider than 40mm
The main question here is how much tire clearance do you need. Columbus offers the Cross and Cross+ models, which fit tires up to 47mm without a fender in 700c. The forks are the same, except that the Cross + fork has eyelets for cage mounts and an internal guide for a dynamo cable. In the past the brake line routing was external, however we have already seen the Cross model available for sale on-line with internal brake line routing in the fall of 2023, even though this hasn’t yet been announced by Columbus. The steerer is 1 1/2 tapered.
Sour Bicycles also recently released a carbon fork similar to the Cross +. It has all the features you need, rack mount, internal wiring and brake line, and has the special feature that the fork can be used with a low rider front rack, and can hold up to 7,5kg per side. Some of the carbon forks are not designed for a low rider front rack, and can only hold a couple of Kgs per side. It fits tires up to 55mm.
If you plan to do mostly off-road touring, on rougher terrain, the Seido MGV fork is a good option. In 700c you can fit tires to 58mm (2,25”) which is as much as many mountain bikers feel they need to run. The routing for the dynamo cable and the brake line are both internal. This fork is also ready for fully internal cable routing. Another option is the ENVE Adventure fork, it pretty much has the same specs as the MGV fork, but does not have the hole in the steerer for fully internal cable routing.
One final option in carbon to consider is the Cinq Touring Fork II. It has all the features of the MGV fork, except for the hole in the steerer for fully integrated cables. It differs itself however in that it has a straight 1 1/8 steerer tube. This makes it a good choice for those that build a lugged frame with a straight head tube for a standard 1 1/8 Ahead style headset, and prefer a carbon fork.
What if you prefer a steel fork to match your steel frame? We have a few options for you. Ra-co offers a steel fork that has most of the features you need. It, like most steel forks, has a straight 1 1/8 steerer tube, flat mount brake mount, mounts for a low rider, and an internal dynamo cable guide. Up to 55mm wide tires will fit. It is also more affordable than most of the carbon forks with a price of just 109 Euro.
Surly is also a good source for steel forks, as they specialise in steel frames for adventure bikes. In particular the Disc Trucker Thru-Axle is a great option for gravel bikes, with a flat mount brake mount, external cable routing for easy maintenance, lots of options for attaching racks and bags, and clearance for 47mm tires including fenders. It is also a lugged fork which would fit well to a lugged frame.
One final steel option is the Brother Cycles Steel fork. It is a welded segmented style fork, with tire clearance to 50mm, flat mount brakes, and even more options than the Surly for bags and racks.
Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Take a look at this list of forks. Frank, a former course participant, compiled it in early 2022, and you might find it pretty useful if you are looking for something that we haven’t covered here. If you have any questions or need a recommendation, just get in touch!
Please support Big Forest Frameworks and order your fork from us! We can usually offer you the same prices as you can find on-line, and your order helps us to keep doing what we do! Just send us a mail and let us know which fork you would like.