Review: X-Fusion Velvet RL 130 suspension fork
- 130mm travel.
- 15mm thru axle.
- An actual weight of 3.8lb (with thru-axle).
- External Lockout.
- External rebound damping adjustment.
Checks all the right boxes, doesn’t it? When looking for a not too long, not too short fork for my 5in trail bike, I came across the longest-travel version of X-Fusion’s Velvet cross country fork and decided to drop the company a line. After all, it looked on paper to be exactly what I was looking for. But how would the Taiwanese company’s flagship compare with the Fox, DT Swiss, and Rock Shox forks that had graced the same bike previously?
Really, amazingly, well as it turns out. Read on to find out more.
Note yet well known in the US, X-Fusion haven’t just come out of nowhere. As the house brand of the manufacturer behind forks most of us have ridden and owned, X-Fusion have a long history in building bicycle suspension, and have clearly incorporated lessons learned on others’ dime in to their own line, which also includes rear shocks and a dropper post. Aimed at both the cross country market (with a 3.25lb, 100mm travel version) and the trail market, the Velvet is X-Fusion’s bread & butter fork.
Out of the box, the Velvet makes a very good impression. The adjuster knobs are all nicely machined and laser etched and the casting is substantial without adding unduly to the fork’s weight. The lowers’ arch will even accommodate 650b front wheels (with an internal travel reducer). The included Syntace X-15 thru axle is a wing bolt like DT Swiss’ RWS- set it once with an a 4mm hex wrench and the lever always lands in the same spot when tightened. There’s even a screw-in hose guide to keep brake hoses from rubbing or catching on the front tire. A substantial shock pump, which looks strikingly similar to Rock Shox’s, is also included. On the scale, the Velvet undercuts not only my 15QR Fox Float 140 RLC by .2lb, but also my (previous generation) 9mm QR RockShox Revelation U-Turn by about the same amount.
Not bad for $410, eh?
While the Velvet lacks some forks’ externally-adjustable compression damping and others’ dual air springs, it can be hard to complain for just over half those forks’ asking price. Setting the air pressure to about 48psi for my 140lb weight means giving up a few mm of travel to an overly stiff (for light riders) negative spring- something that X-Fusion have addressed for 2012 forks. On the trail, the Velvet does an excellent Fox impression: a little bit reluctant to move over gravely bits (making it feel racy or a little bit harsh, depending on your preferences) but very smooth once in motion. A mildly progressive spring curve means that I’m able to get full travel without blowing through it. While I’m not big enough to really test a fork’s torsional stiffness, I was surprised to find the Velvet’s fore-aft stiffness to be among the best I’ve ridden.
Though it can’t match a modern Marzocchi’s hovercraft impersonation or the small-bump sensitivity of some dual air RockShox forks, the gap with the latter is surprisingly small- and may well not be noticed by riders packing another 20lb. For anyone who isn’t, my hope is that the lighter negative spring coming for 2012 will help improve small-bump sensitivity at low pressures. A self-adjusting rebound adjuster healed itself before I could fix it- X-Fusion thought that my experience was the result of an unusually loose detent spring and would have been easy to remedy if needed.
Remarking to a local shop owner, former suspension engineer, and riding buddy on just how impressed I was with the Velvet, he asked “would you be as blown away if it cost $800?” The answer, of course, is no- $800 is a lot of money, and there are some very good options at that price. That said, X-Fusion are punching well above their weight with the Velvet. Sure, the etching on the X-15 thru axle is upside-down and the lockout lever’s implies more adjustability than its two available positions, but nothing that I’ve ridden within $200 even comes close- and ultimately the Velvet feels every bit as good as some forks costing a good deal more than that. The 130mm travel option is an unusual one (80, 100, and 120mm configurations are also available), but would be a great upgrade for 120mm bikes like Trek’s Fuel EX or Giant’s Trance X, allowing the rider to take advantage of the current generation of 15mm trail wheels. It’s light, too, for a trail fork, helping to keep all-day bikes’ weight under control and making the shorter travel and QR versions a good way to shave some serious weight from almost any sub-$2k bike. Given my experience with the Velvet, the big guys had better look out..