April 4, 2023

DVO Onyx Vorsprung Smashpot Review

Words and Images by Jake Hood

It’d been years since I’d ridden a coil-sprung fork. The last one was a Marzocchi 66 RC3 EVO Ti; a behemoth that smoothed out even the roughest of trails, its sensitivity was unmatched. It was a fork that I’ve never forgotten; the buttery feeling it delivered has been seared into my brain.

Since then, huge leaps have been made in spring technology. The marketing will have you believe they’re now close to coil-like performance, but are they really? After years of riding air-sprung forks, I thought it was about time I went back to coil to see if my Marzocchi memories were just rose-tinted reminisces.

It seemed fitting that my first ride back on a coil-sprung fork was on a DVO, given the bloke behind the Italian bump-eater’s glory years founded DVO. Technically, this isn’t an off-the-shelf DVO Onyx, but a DVO-Vorsprung Smashpot package that DVO NZ will sell you.

The bundle will set you back $2620 installed, which is on par with a Fox 38 Float Factory, and only a couple hundred dollars more expensive than a Rockshox Zeb Ultimate. And, unlike other suspension brands, the Smashpot installation won’t void your warranty.

So, why coil?

Well, coil springs have a lot of benefits over air springs. All those seals needed to keep the air in your fork add up to more stiction, so losing those seals makes your fork more sensitive. Also, coil springs are linear, which means more mid-stroke support. The flipside is that coil springs have less bottoming resistance than air-springs.

Here’s where the magic of the Vorsprung Smashpot comes in. Knowing that coils lack this bottom-out resistance, the clever chaps at Vorsprung came up with a coil-sprung, speed-sensitive hydraulic bottom-out control, which effectively gives you the best of both air and coil.

The Onyx D1 is DVO’s most aggressive single-crown fork. Available for 27- and 29-inch wheels and boost only, the Onyx features 36mm stanchions and beefy magnesium lowers that come in three colours: DVO green, electric blue, or matte black.

The damper uses a compression bladder system with high- and low-speed compression adjustments and a low-speed rebound adjustment.

The DVO air spring is helped into its travel by a coil negative spring system called Off The Top (OTT). This feature, which balances the air spring and helps overcome the friction of its seals, can be adjusted with an Allen key at the bottom of the left leg. Travel can be adjusted from 180mm to 160mm with the stock OTT air spring, or from 180mm to 150mm with a Smashpot installed.

Smart features like bleeder valve and fender mounts have also been built into the lowers. DVO NZ builds and checks each fork to order so they perform at their best out of the box.

The Smashpot Onyx tips the scales at 2550g, about 300g more than the stock fork. That’s not light, but let’s face it, this is an aggressive coil-sprung fork with a hydraulic bottom-out. Don’t think about it too much, and you’ll forget about it after the first ride. For reference, a stock Fox 38 Float Factory weighs about 2400g and a Rockshox Zeb Ultimate is slightly lighter at about 2300g.

Testing on the Trails

The first thing I noticed after I installed the Onyx Smashpot on my bike was just how little force it took to get the fork moving. On the trail, the high-frequency chatter just melted away and traction was at an all-time high. However, I felt that the fork was riding a little low in the travel.

I messaged DVO NZ owner, Jesse Patel, and he sent out a 55lb spring to replace the 50lb spring the Vorsprung calculator recommended for me. The 50lb spring would’ve been spot-on for most people my weight, but I tend to ride my forks on the firmer side of recommended settings. The 55lb spring gave me the ride height I was looking for while keeping the bump-melting qualities of the lighter spring.

Over the next couple of rides, I really started to get a feel for the DVO Smashpot. Nothing fazed it. It muted a lot of the trail chatter and gave me the confidence to plow straight through sketchy lines, rather than wiggling around them.  There was also more mid-stroke support, so I had more to push against when preloading the fork, and it didn’t have that wallowing feeling you sometimes get with air springs.

I was struggling to reach full travel, though, often leaving 30mm unused, even with the bottom-out control at its lightest setting. To solve this, I whipped the Smashpot out and rearranged the bottom-out valve shim stack. It’s a fairly easy process and there’s a full instruction manual on the Vorsprung website. With the Smashpot revalved, I was able to dial in the bottom-out resistance to just about get full travel during those “OH SHIIIIT” moments.

With the spring side set and feeling how I wanted, I set about dialling in the damper. It didn’t take too much puzzling to find a good spot. The damper didn’t seem to have any nasty spikes and kind of just did its thing, allowing me to focus on the trail ahead.

The chassis wasn’t overly stiff, like I’ve found with other big stanchioned forks, and it did a good job of holding a line without translating too much feedback through the bike. You really can just smash through stuff with this fork, but it will still find traction you need it most.

I’ve had the DVO Onyx Smashpot on the front of my bike for almost 11 months now, and I’ve put it through hell. I’ve thrown all sorts of terrain thrown at it in some of the worst conditions. I haven’t treated it well, either. I didn’t always keep up-to-date with my 50- and 100-hour services, often blowing way past them (even though it was my job to service suspension). I just kept on hammering it and it just kept on performing. The DVO Onyx Smashpot is kind of like a Toyota Hilux fitted with trophy truck suspension—it just keeps on eating up the terrain, ride after ride.

So, had I been looking back at coil forks through rose-tinted glasses? I think it’s safe to say I hadn’t. All the feelings I had with the Marzocchi 66 came back pretty quickly, but the DVO Onyx Smashpot is more controlled and composed. It’s a fork that just gets on with it. Yeah, it’s a bit on the porky side, but you’ll forget about that after the first ride. The worst thing about DVO Onyx Smashpot is you’ll never be able to run an air-sprung fork again.