The updated MRP Baxter 2 suspension fork offers a range of adjustment potential, with multiple travel options available. The fork can increase comfort and control over rough ground, although there are times when it can feel harsh. Ultimately when the going gets rough the Baxter 2 gives incredible performance and can help make you faster.
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Adding suspension forks to gravel bikes has caused major debate in and around the cycling world with some pundits going as far as to liken them to early mountain bikes. Several suspension fork options are now available from all major manufacturers including the RockShox Rudy, Fox 32 Taper-Cast (a more recent version of the Fox AX), Cannondale Lefty Oliver, and the glass-fibre leaf-sprung Lauf Grit.
MRP Baxter 2 - Stats and figures
Before jumping in and fitting a suspension fork to a gravel bike there are a few key factors to be aware of, including potential changes to geometry. The Baxter 2 is available in either 40- or 60mm travel configurations but these are not interchangeable. MRP produces the fork in 16 colours, with full customisation possible for an extra $150. This includes personalised crown, leg and decals options. That said, the fork is only available in black in the UK.
There are several models available, which can create some confusion: MRP produces the fork to play nicely with both a standard 100x12mm axle and Boost 110x12mm. There is also the option to have an adjustable offset chip in the axle mount, giving two different fork-offsets (40.5/47.5mm), or a fixed version at 44mm offset.
The steerer tube length is 280mm, which can be cut to length. Axle-to-crown measurement is a very important factor with 40mm version measuring in at 430mm and the 60mm, 456mm. If you were switching from a bike that doesn't have a geometry designed around a suspension fork, this is the most important measurement to consider.
Tyre clearance is reasonable. At 700x45mm on the shorter 40mm travel version and 700x50mm on the 60mm travel Baxter 2. Should you wish to run 27.5/650b wheels, the maximum for both is 61mm (2.4in). The fork is designed to fit flat-mount brakes, using a supplied adapter. The 40mm travel fork will fit a 160mm brake rotor as standard, with an adapter available to fit a 180mm rotor. The longer-travel, 60mm version will fit a 180mm rotor out of the box.
MRP Baxter 2 - Setup
The fork's adjustments will be familiar for those who ride mountain bikes or are used to suspension fork setup. The Baxter 2 is air-sprung in application with both positive and negative air adjustment via a Schrader valve - and there is a 20-point rebound adjustment.
For those unfamiliar with these settings and how they might affect performance and feel, MRP has a 'recommended settings' chart which is based on rider weight. You will need a shock pump to inflate and adjust the air chambers.
Unlike many suspension forks, the MRP Baxter 2 is designed to run with higher pressure in the negative pressure chamber over the positive chamber, which MRP says will increase the suppleness of the fork.
The fork has a three-position compression adjustment dial, which switched between 'max' (locked out), 'open' and a 'mid' setting that will keep the fork active and reduce some 'bobbing' when climbing.
One feature that sets the Baxter 2 apart from its gravel suspension fork rivals is the bottle/accessory mount on each fork leg. For those who are interested in bikepacking or simply the ability to carry more on the bike, these represent a crucial deciding factor. Each has a load limit of 1.36kg, which might seem limited but it would be enough to fit a large water bottle or a cargo cage with a lightweight sleeping bag for example.
For UK riders who have the front brake lever mounted on the right, the cable routing isn't the greatest with the hose clamp that is placed inside the fork arch area. To be able to use the routing you will also need to remove the hydraulic brake hose from the caliper, which would require a re-bleed and makes it a much longer process. Should you wish to swap between a rigid and suspension fork it will add time and complication. Because of this, I chose to hold the hose in place with a zip-tie throughout, which is functional, but not as neat.
The fork model tested was the 40mm version, with 100x12mm axle, offset chip in place, and set to the maximum 47.5mm setting.
MRP Baxter 2 gravel suspension fork - Riding performance
You may think that 40mm of travel is not very much and that the potential benefit might, be limited but that simply is not true. A useful comparison is tyre width and for riders who may have tried different sizes, increasing by 10mm can make a huge difference - the same is true when adding a suspension fork.
With the firmest setting selected, it felt pretty harsh on less-than-perfect surfaced roads. On perfectly smooth roads this was less of an issue but when riding over smaller bumps things felt quite jarring - even in comparison with a rigid carbon fork.
On rougher roads and lanes, I chose to ride with the fork in the 'mid' setting, and this makes a substantial difference to comfort, although it does impact the feel when climbing out of the saddle with some bob occurring. Because of this, I found myself swapping between modes quite frequently. The lever to switch between the settings is mounted on the top of fork leg and operated with your left hand. There is a small notch designed to assist with movement, and also to show the selected setting. In use, I found it was too small and when trying to quickly switch modes it was easy to miss which added to my frustration when quickly needing to flip between modes.
It isn't all bad news. On what would be typical British 'gravel' surfaces, including forest roads, tracks and byways it feels very supple and really improves comfort and fatigue over long-distance rides. The fork achieves the performance without detracting from the feel and levels of grip. It really shines over washboard-style tracks, which are often found on forestry road descents and also around the edge of some fields that have pronounced tractor tyre tracks. It's on this type of terrain where the extra pressure in the negative spring has the most notable effect - it's super supple.
When riding off-road, it gives a noticeable improvement over in-built systems, such as the Specialized Diverge and its Future Sock or the Redshift ShockStop stem. The difference only increases as the terrain gets rougher, and the Baxter 2 moves in a way that feels more than the 40mm of travel suggests. I found myself taking on rougher tracks with increased confidence on all types of surfaces and tracks. The confidence also showed against the watch, setting times that were faster than that of rigid gravel bikes.
Riding in dusty conditions clearly gave an idea of how much travel was used without relying on the sag indicating o-ring and it wasn't a lot even after what felt like larger impacts. The way in which the travel ramps up is progressive with no signs of bottoming out.
MRP Baxter 2 - Weight
With the steerer cut to 200mm (including the axle), the fork weighs 1,414g, which is a significant amount of extra weight. Rigid forks such as the ENVE G-Series is a claimed 520g and the Ritchey Adventure Gravel fork would be almost 1kg lighter at a claimed 445g. It also adds weight against other gravel-specific suspension forks at the same price point. The Fox 32 Taper-Cast is 1,226g and the RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR is 1,300g. The Lauf Grit SL is the lightest suspension fork at 920g, although this has no form of adjustment or damping but it does handle high-frequency vibrations very well.
Personally, I don't think the fork is going to appeal to riders - especially those who are too weight-focused and, despite what MRP says, it is unlikely to appeal to racers as the terrain at typical gravel races would not usually be technical enough to give an advantage.
MRP Baxter 2 - Verdict
The Baxter 2 is not perfect and the cable routing and compression adjustment dial are two bugbears that stand out. I am already a suspension convert on gravel bikes and the extra comfort and control make for a more enjoyable and capable bike on technical trails. There will undoubtedly be some riders who are skeptical and depending on where you ride the difference might not make a change that is significant enough to warrant the high price.
The performance and comfort on offer are impressive and with the accessory mounts on each leg, it will appeal to bikepackers or riders who need to carry more. The array of settings might be confusing for some but will allow you to tailor the performance and add confidence and speed for rougher downhills.