DVO Sapphire 34 D1 29 Review
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
What it is: A 34mm stanchion 'trail' fork from DVO that combines wide range of adjustment and great performance with ease of service, albeit with a minor weight penalty.
There isn't a ton of information on this fork out there in terms of reviews, so I ended up spending a few days looking at reviews for bikes (e.g. Giant) that shipped with the fork OEM. It got confusing, because DVO had a previous generation Sapphire fork that had 32mm stanchions and is different than the 34 model.
I ended up taking a leap on it (it'd be my first DVO fork), but I was really happy with the way the fork felt and some of the features. For forks in it's mid-travel 'trail' category, it's one of the best stock forks I've ridden.
The fork is a 34mm stanchion fork that appears oriented towards trailbikes, with an internally adjustable travel range of 120-140mm (for the 29er version I owned). It appears aimed as a competitor to the Pike and 34, offering a bit of a lower weight than DVO's more aggressive Diamond, but similar features.
Aside from internally adjustable travel, the fork has high speed compression, low speed compression, low speed rebound, positive air pressure, OTT (more on this later), and air volume via three threaded pucks. There is also a very nice, albeit a bit small, integrated fender that can be installed.
At claimed weight of 1900gr, there is a weight penalty over the Pike or 34, but it's small enough that I wouldn't consider it concerning especially considering the improved performance and customer support you get with either of those brands.
I know it seems silly, but I really appreciate when fork manufacturers label their steerer tubes with length markings, as well, which DVO has done here.
The other nice feature of this fork is the ease of service, where DVO sells full seal kits and has detailed rebuild instructions. They also have a very nice setup guide. I've looked at a lot of other rebuild or setup guides and theirs is by far the most intuitive and thorough.
If you look at the disassembly instructions, one nice feature is the ability to pull the compression assembly out of the damper without disassembling a cartridge. That allows for easier access to the compression shims, which allows you to adjust the damper internally if you find it over or under damped.
The setup process, especially using DVO's guide, is fairly straightforward for the Sapphire, especially using their guide. The fork does have one additional adjustment that is uncommon in other forks: OTT ("Off The Top").
The OTT adjuster preloads a negative coil spring, which pushes against the air piston to provide better sensitivity and overcome seal friction. In most forks, this negative spring is air and either auto equalized (Fox, RS, Manitou) or explicitly set (Cane Creek, MRP). Basically, this allows you to adjust the air spring based on the mid and end stroke, then use the OTT adjuster to provide better small bump sensitivity.
There are limits to the adjustment, if you wind it in too far then the fork will start to suck down into it's travel or blow through the earlier part of the stroke too easily. You'll need to experiment with it, but what I ended up doing was running an air pressure that sits the fork higher than it normally would to provide support, then cranked in the OTT until it felt like it was tracking over small bumps well. If that's too much or you don't want to mess with it, the DVO settings were pretty close for me, although I leaned towards the 'Firm' side of all settings in their setup chart.
The only issue I ran into here was with the volume spacers. Apparently, one of them is supposed to be shipped with a round hole in the center, but none of mine did. If you look at the shape of the air cap, it meant that threading the spacers into the cap wouldn't work:
After a quick phone call to DVO, who promised to take care of it, I ended up drilling out the center of the volume spacer to make it fit. I think this was largely an oversight on the packaging, so it shouldn't be an issue for everyone, but it's worth pointing out in case someone had the same problem. The puck is made of fairly soft plastic and it was pretty easy to get it to open. It is nice that the others use an allen key center, for easier removal in case they get stuck.
For the damper adjustments, I'd stuck with their recommended from the setup chart.
I will add that the HSC adjuster is a bit hard to discern the clicks, the detents are really subtle, so you have to be real slow to feel out where it is or you may end up adding more than you expect.
I ended up fiddling with the settings a fair bit, but as a 220lb rider, I had the fork set at about 15% sag, with two volume spacers, OTT almost entirely closed off. I ran about 8 clicks (from open, ugh) of the HSC adjuster and around 2-3 on the LSC adjuster, depending on where I was. For rebound, I ran the recommended number from their chart, towards the 'Fast' side.
My suggestion would be to use their setup chart, but aiming more towards the 'Firm' and 'Fast' side of the settings. I found anything else and the fork was too soft and unsupported.
I ran this fork at 140mm on my Transition Smuggler Carbon for around 5 months, mostly riding in Brevard, NC area Pisgah.
We have a fair bit of varied terrain here, ranging from fast and flowy to fairly technical or chunky, which provides a great place to test suspension in varying conditions.
After riding the Sapphire, I found of all the 'trail' forks I'd tried (Pike, 34, arguably MRP Ribbon), the Sapphire performed better than all of them. The fork tracked very well, it wasn't stingy with it's use of travel and it would soak up features readily that other forks would not, and it was responsive. There was no wallowy or dead feeling from deep in the stroke, it returned to full travel quickly and rode fairly high given it's purpose and my weight. The fork remained free of stiction and very smooth the entire time I owned it.
The one question that seems to come up pretty frequently with this fork is the chassis stiffness. It was a concern for me, but one that ended up being unfounded, because despite the terrain we have here and my weight, it didn't seem overly flexy. There are definitely stiffer options, especially towards the 140mm travel range, but it was on par with or better than the 34/Pike I'd owned. It reminds me a bit of the Auron in that regard. If you are a lot heavier and pushing the 140mm travel range on the fork, then a stiffer option may be merited, but I found myself surprised at the stiffness of the fork despite being well over 210lbs.
The only complaint I had about riding the fork was the '4' setting on the LSC adjuster, it was very noisy. The other settings were not, just the '4', which is a bit odd, I'd expect the 5 or 6 setting to be equally noisy, but they weren't.
I did find the fork was slighty underdamped at times for our terrain and my weight. It's subtle and easily addressed by adjusting some shims in the compression assembly, but I never got the chance to really experiment with that. It is ever so slight, though, and only really noticeable when I went off a feature wrong or made a mistake on my end, the fork tended to dive a bit more than others I'd ridden. If I had kept the fork, I think I would have talked with DVO about changing out some shims to get a bit firmer of a feel, but it was so subtle and uncommon of an issue that I didn't mess with it.
I did experiment with the adjusters some, I found that despite having a wide range of HSC adjustment available, anything above 10 clicks from open would spike. The 0-10 clicks of range is plenty, but it seems a bit of a waste to have almost 30 clicks of HSC and only 10 be really useful. I think I'd prefer to see 30 clicks of LSC and 10 of HSC, but the adjustments are all useful and impactful on the way the fork rides, so I can't complain too much there. I did appreciate the wide range of adjustments on the rebound adjuster, it seems they are either too granular (Fox) or too broad from some manufacturers, but the Sapphire provides a good number of adjustments to fit a wide range of riders/air pressures, while still being granular enough to provide fine tuning.
Overall, for a fork in the 120-140 travel range, these are minor gripes and the fork felt better than any other fork in that category I'd ridden. Who would I recommend this to?
Riders on trailbikes that require a shorter travel range than appropriate for more aggressive forks (e.g. 36) will find the Sapphire a great option, particularly since it has adjustments that are usually reserved for more aggressive forks.
More directly, if you are on a Fox 34 or RockShox Pike, then the Sapphire 34 D1 is very similar to the intent for those forks, however it provides more meaningful adjustments, more reliable chassis, better feel, and better customer support.
For pushing really aggressive terrain on aggressive 140mm bikes (e.g. Smuggler), it's more of a gamble between choosing a burlier chassis fork like the Diamond, Mezzer, or 36. I found the fork plenty stiff, but the lack of travel adjustments (e.g. if I wanted to raise it to 150) might push me to a burlier fork on those bikes. I'd say the decision there would come down to rider weight and likelihood of wanting more travel adjustments.
In any case, for bikes in the shorter travel range supported by this fork, it's a great option that is far better than any Fox 34 or Pike I've ridden. The question for me would be between choosing this fork over heavier, burlier options, and that's gonna come down to travel range, rider, and terrain.
vs. Fox 34 Performance Elite FIT4 : This is the most direct comparison that I can offer and I felt the Sapphire was better in every way: more reliable chassis, more adjustments, wider range of adjustments, better overall feel with the stock tune, user serviceable, and slightly smoother. The only edge I'd give the Fox is in weight and for riders that don't want a ton of adjustments to mess with.
vs. MRP Ribbon Air 29 : The Ribbon has a pretty wide range of travel adjustments, which means it could fall into the same category as the Sapphire. I found the Sapphire to be considerably smoother and with more meaningful adjustments, along with being quieter (aside from that LSC 4 setting). I didn't get on with the Ribbon very well, I found it sticky and harsh, going to the Sapphire was an immediate improvement in tracking, ride quality, reduction in arm pump, and reduced hand pain. If it's a toss up between these two, I'd take the Sapphire.
vs. Manitou Mezzer : I include the Mezzer because it can be trimmed down to 140mm, which means it has some overlap with the Sapphire. The Mezzer is a completely different fork for different purposes, but I included it here because heavier or more aggressive riders at 140 may want a comparison to something more aggressive. Overall, I found the tracking and performance between the two to be very similar, although the Mezzer is a bit more supportive and firmly damped. The Mezzer has a considerably stiffer chassis, which is to be expected, and a few features like IRT and HBO that the Sapphire doesn't have. Which I'd choose would depend on intent, if I was heavier and leaning more towards the enduro side of riding, the Mezzer is probably a better choice. If I was lighter and looking for something more 'all around', the Sapphire would perform very well, also. It's really a tough call, because they are both great forks from great companies, but for more aggressive riding, the Sapphire just can't hold up to the Mezzer chassis and support.
Numerous adjustments (HSC, LSC, LSR, OTT, progression) not available to many other 'trail' forks without modification
DVO has some of the best customer support in the industry
User rebuildable / serviceable with detailed instructions
Consistently smooth, stiction free performance
Tracks very well
Stiff chassis for a 34mm fork
Compression assembly is easy to access for internal damper tuning
Bolt on fender is a nice touch for a 34mm fork (even though it limits tire clearance)
Good tire clearance w/o fender (WTB Vigilante 2.5 fit with plenty of room)
The LSC setting '4' is very noisy (5-6 aren't, neither are 1-3)
Volume spacer had to be modified for installation due to error in packaging
Limited travel range of 120-140mm
Slight weight penalty
May be slightly underdamped for heavier riders on aggressive terrain (solvable with some damper tuning)
HSC adjuster detents are very subtle