Duration of test: Feb 2011 - present

Cost: £350 (Circus Comp £250)

Options: Black/ white 80/100/130mm travel



Overview


Pro

  1. -Strength

  2. -Price

  3. -Stiffness

  4. -Damping

  5. -Adjustment

  6. -low axle to crown height


Fail

  1. -Noise

  2. -Hassle to take wheel off

  3. -no 60mm option



Spec:

- 4.7lb (2.1 kg)

  1. -Spring: coil

  2. -Steel steerer

  3. -20mm Hex TA axle

  4. -32mm 7050 Straight wall Alu stanchions

  5. -Damping: Jumpstack (Absolute tuned for dirt jump)

  6. -A2C height: 458/478/508mm

  7. -Brake mount: Post mount

  8. -Adjustment: Rebound, compression to lock, ABS (air)

  9. -Post mount

Manitou Circus

Expert

I haven’t had much luck with suspension forks, having snapped a Manitou Sherman, two sets of Manitou Gold Label’s and bending two Rock Shox Pike’s. Each fork had a lifespan of around 6 months.


The Gold Label had been my favourite due to its reasonable weight, low axle to crown (A2C) height and general feel. Unfortunately they both snapped at the arch on spins (the first was replaced for free under warranty), but these were the 9mm axle versions.


When I first heard about the Circus I was excited. This was a fork which promised to address the weaknesses of the Gold Label with a beefier crown, more adjustment, a stiffer spring and a slightly lower weight. Mike Montgomery put it through hell during a long period of testing in an attempt to iron out any problems before it went to production. Manitou didn’t have a great reputation so a lot was riding (pun intended) on the Circus.

First impressions

It was a pleasant change to switch from a bent Pike to a brand new Circus. The first thing I noticed was how solid the front end of my bike felt; this is the stiffest fork I’ve ever ridden. Set up was a simple affair of dialling in the rebound and ABS adjusters and adding 10psi to the air chamber. I ran the ABS at it’s firmest setting to mimic the feel of a rigid fork to gain maximum pump off lips and from landings, but by turning the adjuster you can create a softer feeling. The Circus is obviously no Fox or Lyric when it comes to plushness but this fork is for trails riding, not trail riding. On heavy hits it’s there to soften the impact.


The rebound adjuster is a flimsy piece of plastic, but it only needs to be used once or twice so it’s not a big issue.


Manitou place the axle on, rather than at the bottom of, the lowers. This results in a lower A2C height than other manufacturers forks at the same travel. This is particularly noticeable on a dirt jump bike where a lower front end increases the head angle improving agility.

After the honeymoon

The first problem I encountered was a rattling sound. This turned out to be the spring wearing thin of grease. A generous smothering of grease solved the problem.


The second issue with the fork is creaking from the crown/stanchion area that developed after a few months. I’ve had this with most forks I’ve owned; and annoying crackling sound when doing a disaster or casing something badly. Curiously though the creaking has not progressed and since I don’t do disasters it’s a rare occurrence. When I searched through forums I only came across one other person with the problem, so it is not widespread.


There have been a few cases of cracked lowers around the pinch bolts by the axle, caused by over tightening the axle. Reframe from going wild when doing up the pinch bolts and you won’t have anything to worry about.

What else? Well the Circus is pretty maintenance free; I haven’t touched mine other than putting some grease on the spring and I ride at least three times a week, pretty much everyday in summer. A 60mm option would be nice given the trend of short travel forks.


In 2011 these were a bargain. £270 retail for the expert and £225 for the Comp (the Comp is slightly heavier with steel stanchions and doesn’t have the air preloud assist). Unfortunately in 2012 the price increased substantially despite the fork remaining unchanged so they are only a little less dollar than a Marzocchi Dirt Jumper 1 or a Rock Shox Argyle. The Circus however is lighter, lower, can be run firmer and is arguably stronger.


Overall the Manitou Circus is a dependable fork for dirt, park, street and slopestyle. If you don’t want to splash out over £800 on a Fox 831 then I strongly recommend the Circus. I doubt you will be disappointed.

Overall

The fork was hammered for over one year. It endured numerous cases, flat landings, nose bonks and crashes at skateparks and trails all over the UK.


Other than the occasional creak I have nothing to complain about. The Circus offers the best range of adjustment I’ve encountered on this kind of fork. The ABS system is brilliant, enabling the fork to be run as firm as you like.


The weight is good at 4.7lb; lighter than other dirt jump forks other than the sickeningly expensive Fox 831. The stiffness is reassuring, which in part is due to the 20mm hex axle. It is certainly a pain fiddling with five bolts to take your wheel off but then it’s stiffer than a Maxle. Every system has its pros and cons.


Manitou claim that the reverse crown increases rigidity. This may be true as the fork is supported both from the front (from the axle) and the back, but I doubt it makes much difference. Some people say that the Manitou crown helps with footjams, but the ’your forks are on backwards’ comments do get annoying.

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Review date: 21 Feb 2012