Best Rigid Mountain Bike Forks: Side-by-Side Comparison and Buyer’s Guide

Rigid mountain bikes are making a comeback, and with them, rigid mountain bike forks. If you’re looking for mountain bike geometry with a rigid front end you have plenty of options available, including nearly every drop bar mountain bike on the market.

Perhaps you already have a hardtail mountain bike that you want to convert to rigid. Though suspension forks are a fabulous invention, they add weight and complexity. If you’re mostly riding mellow trails, a good-quality rigid MTB fork will be lighter and more efficient and require less maintenance without sacrificing much in the way of ride quality.

Perhaps I’m biased; I’ve ridden rigid mountain bike forks back and forth across large parts of the western US. The terrain needs to get pretty rough before I consider a suspension fork to be worth its weight. While they won’t soak up the hits from large rocks and drops, modern rigid mountain bike forks are surprisingly good at absorbing chatter on rough dirt roads and mellow singletrack.

If you’re in search of a rigid fork for your mountain bike, you’re in the right place. This post has two parts:

  • An overview of what to look for in a rigid MTB fork, including geometry considerations and compatibility checks to make sure it works with the rest of your bike.
  • A roundup of the most trusted rigid mountain bike forks available today, from top-of-the-line carbon to affordable steel.
Bikepacking in Idaho with a rigid steel mountain bike fork.

Why Put A Rigid Fork on a Mountain Bike?

If you already have a suspension fork, why would you replace it with a rigid one? Isn’t the whole point of a mountain bike to smooth out rough trail? Why would we go back to the stone age when we have all this great modern tech?

Sure, suspension forks are a fabulous tool for mountain biking on rougher terrain. But rigid forks, especially the latest and greatest, have advantages too:

  • Lighter, sometimes by as much as 2-3 pounds
  • No maintenance or adjustments required
  • Simpler: fewer moving parts that can fail in the middle of nowhere
  • More efficient: stiffer than a locked out suspension fork
  • Easier to attach stuff to. If you’re into bikepacking, many rigid mountain bike forks come with gear cage mounts.
  • You can “feel the trail.” While some consider this a downside, you’ll learn to pick your line more carefully and get immediate feedback on technique with a rigid fork.
A lightweight carbon fork can make for surprisingly fun riding on mellow trails.

Swapping between forks is a fairly easy DIY job, especially once the initial installation has been done (steerer tube cut, crown race installed, and star nut or compression plug in place). So having both a suspension fork and a rigid MTB fork can be almost like having two different bikes. Add a second wheelset and it’s almost like you have both a hardtail and a gravel bike, depending on the week.

Now that you’re hopefully convinced by the benefits of rigid mountain bike forks, let’s talk about how to choose the right one for your bike.

What to Look For in a Rigid MTB Fork

You’ll have to consider several important factors when choosing a rigid fork for your mountain bike. If you have a newer mid-to-high-end mountain bike it will be easy to find a fork that works. If your bike is older or lower-end there may be some compatibility issues to watch out for; a local bike shop can help you sort through the options.

Suspension Corrected: When replacing a suspension fork with a rigid fork, you want a rigid fork that is “suspension corrected.” That sounds fancy, but it simply means the fork is longer. Suspension forks are generally longer than rigid forks to account for the amount they shorten under load. So a suspension corrected rigid fork is long enough to replace a suspension fork without changing the bike’s geometry too drastically.

Some rigid MTB forks list the specific amount of travel they are corrected for in the spec (longer travel suspension forks are taller when uncompressed, all else being equal). Others just list their axle to crown length and let you decide the suitability.

Axle to Crown / Fork Height: This is the key number to consider when choosing a rigid mountain bike fork. To preserve the bike’s geometry and thus its handling characteristics, you want a rigid fork with similar axle to crown measurement as the suspension fork it’s replacing. It doesn’t have to be exact, but try to get close. A difference of 10mm isn’t a big deal for most riders; you might not even notice it.

To determine your suspension fork’s effective axle to crown, you’ll want to measure and account for its sag. Sag is the amount of compression in the fork caused by your weight when you’re just sitting on the bike, with the fork tuned to your liking. Subtract this from the unloaded axle to crown (measure or check the spec) to get the number you’re trying to match with the rigid fork.

Can’t find a good match? Not a huge deal. Handling is a matter of personal preference and you might even prefer the new handling. A longer fork slackens the headtube angle, which generally leads to more stability at speed at the expense of nimble maneuverability (think of aggressive downhill bikes). A shorter fork steepens the headtube angle, making for quicker steering at the expense of stability (think cross country bikes).

Small differences in fork length aren’t likely to make a big difference, but if you’d like to move your bike’s handling slightly in one direction or the other, it’s worth considering.

Axle to crown measurement shown on two forks. The rigid fork on the right has a shorter axle to crown measurement than the unsagged suspension fork on the left, but once the sag is taken into account they’ll be similar enough.

Hub / Axle Compatibility: Your rigid MTB fork needs to be compatible with your front wheel, specifically the length and diameter of the axle. If you don’t already know, figure out which of the MTB axle standards your bike uses. Most modern mountain bikes use a thru axle with boost spacing (15x110mm), but older or cheaper bikes may use a non-boost thru axle (15x100mm) or quick release skewer.

Generally the fork’s axle type (length and diameter) needs to match your wheel’s axle, with one exception: it’s easy to use a non-boost thru axle wheel with a boost fork by adding a spacer kit.

Wheel Size and Tire Clearance: A fork’s axle to crown length is related to the wheel size it’s designed for. Many modern forks will work with either 29″ or 27.5″ wheels, with minor geometry differences. Forks designed for 26″ wheels may not even fit a 29″ wheel, and while a 29″ fork might technically fit a 26″ wheel (if the axle type were compatible) it would change the geometry quite a bit.

Fork shape and width, along with your wheel size, determine the max tire width that can fit. Most rigid mountain bike forks have generous tire clearance of up to around 3″.

Material and Weight: A fork’s material influences its ride feel, weight, and cost. Most rigid mountain bike forks are made from either steel or carbon. Steel is the lower cost option and does a decent job of absorbing road chatter, but it’s heavier. Modern carbon forks, especially higher end ones, are very light and have excellent ride feel, but they’re much more expensive.

Fork weights generally include the entire uncut steerer and, for thru axle forks, the axle. This means the actual weight of the fork, once installed, is a bit less.

Brake Type, Mount, and Rotor Compatibility: Most modern mountain bikes with disc brakes and rotors up to 180mm shouldn’t have issues here, but it’s worth checking the brake mount type and max rotor size of the fork and making sure you have any adapters you’ll need. Rim brake users, unfortunately your options are much more limited.

Steerer Type: The fork’s steerer tube needs to be compatible with your headset and headtube. Modern steerer tubes generally follow the 1-1/8″ to 1.5″ tapered standard (sometimes just written as 1.5″ tapered), which you can recognize by its wide-to-narrow profile as the tube extends upward from the crown. The straight 1-1/8″ standard is older, but can still be used in place of a tapered steerer with an adapter for the lower bearings.

Offset / Rake: The fork offset, also called rake, is related to the headtube angle discussed above. More offset / rake leads to more stability at speed, while less offset / rake leads to faster steering and more agility. Most rigid MTB forks fall within a fairly standard range here, but if you’re on the fence between two similar forks you might compare the rake numbers and see which best matches your current fork and handling preferences.

Accessory Mounts: Since rigid mountain bike forks are so popular with bikepackers, many come with bottle bosses and eyelets on the blades. There are other ways to attach cages to fork blades without any built-in mounting options (hose clamps and zip ties for example) but the bosses definitely make it easier.

A rigid mountain bike fork was a great choice for this bikepacking trip in Central Asia thanks to its light weight, simplicity, gear mounting options, and efficiency on long sections of gravel and pavement.

Best Rigid Mountain Bike Forks

Though you’ll find plenty of bargain-basement forks on Amazon, most serious riders choose from a handful of models by reputable brands. To be fair, I haven’t tried the budget offerings. But when I’m pedaling through the middle of nowhere I want to be absolutely sure my fork is strong and reliable!

To that end, here’s a selection of the most popular and well-regarded rigid mountain bike forks available today.

ENVE Mountain Fork

Price: $650
Material: carbon
Weight: 719 g (with fender)
Axle options: 15x110mm thru (boost), 15x100mm thru
Axle to Crown: 490mm (boost), 470mm (non-boost)
Tire clearance: 29×3″
Rake: 44 or 52mm (adjustable)
Steerer: 1.5″ tapered
Features: Adjustable rake (44 / 52mm), removable fender, accessory mounts on boost version

The ENVE Mountain Fork is often considered the cream of the crop when it comes to rigid mountain bike forks. In addition to its high quality and smooth ride feel it includes a removable fender, three-pack cage mounts, and clever reversible flip-chips allowing for two different rake settings. It comes in both Boost and non-Boost thru axle versions.

The ENVE Mountain fork in action during Katy McGuire’s Western Wildlands ride (photo by Katy McGuire)

Whisky No. 9 MTN Fork

Price: $565 (boost), $525 (non-boost)
Material: carbon
Weight: 680 g (boost), 730 g (non-boost)
Axle options: 15x110mm thru (boost), 15x100mm thru (non-boost)
Axle to Crown: 500mm (boost), 483mm (non-boost)
Tire clearance: 29×3″
Rake: 51mm
Steerer type: 1.5″ tapered
Features: accessory mounts and dynamo routing on boost version

The Whisky No. 9 MTN and Whisky No. 9 MTN Boost forks are another top-notch carbon option for riders wanting a lightweight rigid MTB fork with great ride feel.

The Whisky No. 9 MTN Boost fork in action during Pinyons and Pines.

Salsa Firestarter Deluxe Carbon Fork

Price: $599
Material: carbon
Weight: 620 g
Axle options: 15x110mm thru (boost), 15x100mm thru (non-boost)
Axle to Crown: 483mm (boost), 483mm (non-boost)
Tire clearance: 29×3″
Rake: 51mm (boost), 45mm (non-boost)
Steerer type: 1.5″ tapered
Features: accessory mounts and mid-blade rack mount, fender mounts, dynamo routing

The Salsa Firestarter Deluxe and Firestarter 110 Deluxe are classics – the 110 (boost) version comes on the well-known Fargo rigid mountain bike – but you can add them to your own mountain bike too. Each blade features not one but two sets of three-pack mounts for carrying gear, plus a mid-blade rack mount and fender mounts and internal dynamo routing; now that’s a full-featured bikepacking-focused fork!

Two bikes in front of Continental Divide sign at Red Rock Pass
Salsa Firestarter Deluxe Carbon (right) and Salsa Firestarter steel (left) in action on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Ritchey WCS Carbon Mountain Fork

Price: $530
Material: carbon
Weight: 625 g
Axle options: 9mm QR
Axle to Crown: 459 mm
Tire clearance: 29×2.9″
Rake: 45 mm
Steerer type: 1-1/8″ straight

The Ritchey WCS Carbon Mountain is one of the few rigid MTB carbon forks available for older bikes thanks to its QR skewer axle and straight steerer tube. It’s light on extra features and has a unique aesthetic among the carbon forks in this list, imitating the shape of a suspension fork.

Surly Krampus Fork

Price: $175
Material: steel
Weight: 1180 g
Axle options: 15x110mm thru (boost) or QR
Axle to Crown: 483 mm
Tire clearance: 29×3″
Max rotor size: 203 mm
Rake: 47 mm
Steerer type: 1-1/8″ straight
Features: accessory mounts, mid-blade eyelets, colors other than black!

The steel Surly Krampus fork, used on the rigid versions of the Krampus and Karate Monkey, offers great value for riders seeking an affordable rigid fork for their mountain bike. It has plenty of bosses and eyelets for carrying gear and comes in a number of fun colors. It’s available in both boost thru axle and QR configurations to accommodate a range of hubs, and its straight steerer can work as-is with older headsets or be adapted to replace a tapered steerer.

Salsa Firestarter Fork

Price: $139
Material: steel
Weight: 1190 g
Axle options: QR
Axle to Crown: 483 mm
Tire clearance: 29x?
Rake: 45 mm
Steerer type: 1-1/8″ straight
Features: accessory mounts, mid-blade eyelets

The steel Salsa Firestarter Fork, not to be confused with the carbon version above, is an affordable rigid MTB fork originally spec’ed on older Fargo bikes. With three-pack mounts, rack and fender mounts, plus mid-blade eyelets, it’s made for carrying gear in a variety of ways. It’s compatible with quick-release axles, and its straight steerer can work as-is with older headsets or be adapted to replace a tapered steerer.

Salsa Firestarter steel fork in action in Montana

Salsa CroMoto Grande Fork

Price: $130
Material: steel
Weight: 1080 g
Axle options: QR
Axle to Crown: 463 mm
Tire clearance: 29x90mm / 3.5″
Rake: 45 mm
Steerer type: 1-1/8″ straight

The steel Salsa CroMoto Grande stands out as a steel fork without all the mounts and eyelets, making it appealing to non-bikepackers (though you never know, you could get into bikepacking later…). It’s also a bit shorter than the rest in this list, so it’s a good option for replacing lower travel forks; Salsa says 80mm is the sweet spot. Like the Firestarter above, it has QR dropouts and a straight steerer tube.

Dimension 26″ Mountain Fork

Price: $90
Material: steel
Weight: 1105 g
Axle options: QR (9x100mm)
Brake type: cantilever
Axle to Crown: 395 mm
Tire clearance: 26×2.4″
Rake: ?
Steerer type: 1-1/8″ straight

The steel Dimension 26″ Mountain fork is one of few options if you have an older 26″ mountain bike with cantilever rim brakes. It’s basic but will get the job done.

Final Tips

When you first install a new fork, the steerer tube needs to be cut to length (not something you want to mess up) and a star nut (or compression plug, for carbon steerer tubes) and crown race installed. While you can learn do this yourself, you’ll need a few specialized tools. It might be easier to have a local bike shop do the initial install, but after that you can swap between forks yourself with some allen wrenches and 30 minutes or less.

If you’re going the DIY route, note that carbon forks with carbon steerer tubes (including several in this list) are not compatible with star nuts. You’ll need to use a compression plug instead to avoid damaging the steerer tube.

Hopefully these rigid MTB fork options point you in the direction of a lighter, stiffer, simpler ride. I think you’ll be surprised at how capable a rigid mountain bike can be!

More Bike Resources

If you’re into mountain biking, you might also like these:

Or, visit the cycling and bikepacking category page for lots more!

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve traveled over 17,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more or say hi.

Bikepacker’s Companion eBook

Your experienced riding buddy in eBook form: 140 mobile-friendly pages packed with how to’s, problem solving tips, and hard-earned wisdom from the trail and road.

Excited to try bikepacking but need help getting started? The Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook can help you take the next step.

Bike resources in your inbox?

There’s more where this came from! Sign up here for occasional emails full of inspiration and information about bikepacking and bicycle touring.

Share the Adventure

If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing so more people can benefit from it:

You might also like my other project:

Town Day Checklist!

Sign up to receive the free downloadable bikepacking town day checklist to help with your resupply stops:

    You’ll also receive occasional emails with other bikepacking and touring resources. I think you’ll like them, but you can unsubscribe at any time.

    2 thoughts on “Best Rigid Mountain Bike Forks: Side-by-Side Comparison and Buyer’s Guide”

    Leave a Comment

    Item added to cart.
    0 items - $0.00

    0 Shares
    Pin
    Share
    Tweet