First Look! 2013 X-Fusion Forks, Hilo SL Dropper Post and the 165g Microlite Rear Shock!
X-Fusion’s 2013 lineup covers all of their mountain bike product lines with either entirely new products or significantly updated technology and features, plus a very sweet taste of things to come for the range.
A couple of highlights are a new forged one-piece alloy crown-and-steerer combo and the 165g (claimed) Microlite rear shock shown above. If you’re keeping track, that’s only a few grams heavier than the claimed weights for DT Swiss’ XR Carbon shock and about 100g lighter than Rockshox’s new carbon Monarch XX, though that one does include a hydraulic remote lockout.
Across the line, the focus was on making the forks stiffer and better performing in the early and middle range of travel.
“In 2012, we realized riders are riding harder, more aggressively, and that current suspension wasn’t meeting their needs,” said John Hauer, marketing manager. “Really, we create products for ourselves, and as we rode harder, it wasn’t meeting our needs. We developed Mid-Valve, a secondary shim stack compression circuit that manages oil flow throughout the entire stroke. It reduces things like brake dive and keeps compression consistent. Even with that, we were looking for better performance.”
For 2013, they developed their 34 line (34mm diameter stanchions), and improved durability, stiction and weight. For the first two, they developed their new Gold Slick Ano coating that’s impregnated with Teflon. It’s a non-porous hard anodized coating that improves lubrication movement. Hauer says non-porous nature of the coating means it’ll last longer than some competing coatings, and the small bump compliance is improved. Compared to their standard stanchion, it reduces breakaway force by about 14lbs on the forks and about 8lbs on shocks. They say test results show it’s just as slick at Fox’s Kashima coating, and they’ve tested it to hold up for more than five year’s worth of riding. This will be available on the Slant, Trace and Vengeance forks, the Vector Air and new Microlite shocks (shown above), and their new Hilo SL dropper post.
The larger stanchions let you throw the bike harder into rough sections and sharp corners. Hauer says this translates to more confidence and control on the bike, which benefits both advanced riders and newbies. The larger stanchions only add about 80-100g over the 32 lineup, which keeps it competitive in the trail suspension category.
Perhaps the most innovative new features is the Uni-Crown, a forged single-piece aluminum crown and steerer tube assembly. It’s forged first, then machined and stamped before the stanchions are pressed into it. X-Fusion says it improves rigidity there by 40% over a standard two-piece crown/steerer tube and saves in the neighborhood of 80 grams.
In fact, Hauer says it was originally so much stiffer than the original design that they could take more material out, saving weight, and still have a better product. It’s tested by putting the forks in a machine that tries to move the steerer in one direction and the lowers in another. At present, it’s the only fork we’ve seen with this. It’ll only come in anodized black, and only on the Trace 29er forks for 2013.
Not new, but something most of us probably didn’t know (I didn’t) is that their suspension is built with the “All Metal, All the Time” motto. Internals are CNC’d alloy parts with no plastic to wear out. Another interesting feature about their forks is that all air forks that aren’t DLA (Down Low Adjust – ie., external travel adjust) have their ITA (Internal Travel Adjust, shown above) air sleeve inside that allows very quick, easy travel changes by any rider that’s comfortable pulling the lowers off their forks…and has a punch tool. Other than the Vengeance and, travel changes are in 20mm increments, and spacers allow for 10mm fine tuning (or less if you feel like cutting them). It’s a very cool feature, and they have a simple shop tool available that makes it easy to change travel using a common vise.
The DLA is essentially a longer travel fork that’s designed to drop down for climbing, but Hauer says there’s very little change in suspension feel because it’s a hydraulic adjustment with minimal effect on air volume. So, you could run it as a shorter fork that goes long for big descents, but that’s not it’s original intent. It’s a 30mm travel change on any fork with it.
One more change across the line is that the Syntace X-Series tool-less axle system is now lighter. They saved about 5g by shortening the width and taking a bit of material out of the lever. Besides a couple grams, it offers more clearance because it’s slimmer overall.
2013 X-FUSION FORKS
VELVET – Their oldest fork model, it gets a new compression tune to be more supple off the top and through the mid-stroke. It’s a 26″ fork, but is convertible to 650B by popping a 10mm travel limiting spacer on the inside. We’ll be testing one of these soon.
SLIDE – Introduced as a 2012 model, it’s essentially hitting the market as a 2013 model soon and is their first 29er fork. It has ITA travel adjust in 80, 100 and 120 lengths and remote lockout options. It’s offered with their X-Series thru axle system or standard 9mm QR. Claimed weight is 4lbs (1814g) standard and 4.2lbs (1905g) with remote lockout.
TRACE – A completely new 29er fork, it’s the only model that gets the Uni-Crown for 2013. It’s a 34mm 29er fork that’s only offered with a 15mm thru-axle. Travel is 80, 100, 120 or 140mm with the base RL2, which comes . There’s a DLA model that’s externally adjustable from 110-140mm travel. Claimed weights range from 4.0lbs (1814g) for the RL2 to 4.38lbs (1990g) for the RL2 DLA. They’ll be offered with standard 1-1/8″ straight, tapered or the Uni-Crown steerers.
SLANT – New 34mm fork that’s good for both 26″ and, like the Velvet, works with 650B by inserting a 10mm travel limiter. It’ll come in travel options from 80mm to 160mm with two different sets of stanchions depending on stock length. Longer travel forks will get longer stanchions and can run the full range of travel options. The shorter (slightly lighter) forks run from 80mm to 120mm. Shorter stanchions on the shorter travel forks save about 0.2lbs (65g). Claimed weights are as low as 4.0lbs (1814g) maxing out around 4.4lbs (1995g) with the DLA model (160mm to 130mm).
VENGEANCE – Introduced in 2008 as a 160mm fork, it’s been their long-travel big fork since. Comes with high- and low-speed compression external adjustments and DLA options. For 2013, they’ve adjusted the compression tuning with different low- and mid-speed valving to improve small bump compliance and make them a little more plush during normal riding. Stanchions are 36mm and weights range from 5.3lbs (2404g) to 5.5lbs (2494g), the latter being a coil fork rather than air.
2013 X-FUSION SHOCKS
MICROLITE – A new super lightweight shock built to offer “high performance for the lightweight cross country market.” It has the Gold Slick Ano with their RL damping adjustment and comes in at a claimed 165g (165×38 size, their test sample came in at 170g on our scale which is actually printed in their catalog). While they’re claiming it’s built just for XC, Hauer said they’ve tested it on 10-20 minute rocky descents and it handled the heat just fine. Two sizes will be offered at launch: 165×38 and 190×51 sizes offered (length x stroke).
I rode one of these (pictured at top of post) on a Tomac Diplomat 29er on some of Santa Cruz’s area trails. It’s a 120mm travel bike that had a pre-production Trace fork on the front and it did pretty well over the roots and bumps. There were some gnarly descents and it never felt overwhelmed. Compression adjustment is open or locked, and there’s a blowoff when locked out with a bit of movement. On a climb it worked pretty well to keep the rear end of the bike firm but not bouncy. Rebound adjustment is pretty broad, letting you go from really slow to really fast…a broader range than I’ve seen on competing brands’ shocks.
VECTOR AIR – Their top of the line shock, it has a bored out canister to hold more air volume and increased oil reservoir size. It’s aimed at the Vivid Air (Rockshox) and Double Barrel Air (Cane Creek) market. The increased size and volume means better heat management. For 2013, it gets the Gold Slick Ano and new compression and rebound circuits. The low speed circuits were opened up across the line for better small bump compliance.
CUSTOM TUNING – New for this year is the option to select one of six “custom” tunes. Usually, if you’re ordering aftermarket, often you’re picking off the shelf tunes rather than the custom tunes that come on most bikes now. Where most manufacturers offer an expensive custom tuning process to match it up to your particular frame, X-Fusion will do it for $50 if ordered when you purchase the shock (it costs more if you send it in for custom tuning after purchase). Stock, you’ll get about a 2.5:1 leverage ratio tune that’s right in the middle of the range of custom tunes. For the $50 upcharge, you get one of six “custom” tunes offered, including one slope style tune, and X-Fusion will recommend a tune based on the bike it’s going on and rider experience and style. Further tuning can be made by ordering one of their AV (Air Volume) canisters that adds a bit more air volume for longer travel bikes. Joel Smith, X-Fusion’s general manager, says the instances where a rider would really need the AV can is rare, that their range of custom tunes has something to fit most everyone. They’ll have full info with the shock rates and other tech specs in a couple weeks on their website.
Just to recap:
2013 X-FUSION HILO SL ADJUSTABLE HEIGHT SEATPOST
HILO SL – New model that gets the Gold Slick Ano coating. It uses a new two-bolt design that’s lighter, but it comes at the expense of having a post-mounted activation lever. This means it uses a remote lever only, but their joystick remote can be mounted on either side of the bar on top or bottom. It’s designed by Paul Turner (of Rockshox fame, and this isn’t the only project he’s working on for them. Been working with X-Fusion for about a year now and he’s already working on new piston designs for the rear shocks and other suspension projects.) It has 125mm travel and will come in 30.9 and 31.6 diameters.
It weighs in at a claimed 450g for the 30.9 without the remote and cable. The one above is the 31.6 with the required cable and remote and came in at 533g. Their original Hilo dropper post also has a 27.2 diameter option and will still be offered. Hauer says it’s easily shop serviceable.
COMPANY NEWS & PHOTOS
Reviewing these new products, there’s a lot of innovation and features that look top shelf. This makes X-Fusion’s current position all the more interesting in that their OEM placements on Specialized (they also made Specialized’s BRAIN suspension products), KHS, Jamis and many others (including some major Euro brands like Ghost) is mostly the middle market. From a business standpoint, it makes sense in that that’s where the volume is. But it’s clear from the product tech and weights they’re aiming much higher than that for the aftermarket.
Their California facility does initial product concepting, then it’s sent to their eight engineers in Taiwan for development. Final spec and refinements are finished back in their Santa Cruz office, then it’s sent into production. Shown here is their workshop…I’m thinking they cleaned up quite a bit before inviting the press in for show-and-tell, but Joel says they keep it pretty tidy, that most of the dirty work is done overseas. Suckaz.
Joel says their pricing makes them an attractive proposition when riders are looking to upgrade. Should X-Fusion products make it on your shortlist? We’ll see… Look for some product tests soon. Today’s test rides were my first bits of time on any of their products and it was good. The Trace fork needs some time spent getting the right air pressure dialed, I played with a few different pressures but wasn’t finding my sweet spot yet. The 34 stanchions were stiff and the fork tracked well even without being one of the new UniCrown models. The Microlite definitely has promise, but until I can ride it on my own bike for a direct comparison to, oh, say a Fox RP23, I can’t make definitive conclusions.
All of these new products will be available aftermarket at the end of summer. Pricing should be set in a couple months once final specifications are set and mass production begins.