By Vernon Felton
Curious web-troller that you are, you've probably already discovered that suspension manufacturer, X-Fusion, has unveiled a raft of new forks, an ultra-light rear shock and revised dropper post for 2013.
As impressive as all the new shiny widgets are, that ain't the big story here.
Nope, the real story is this: a company that few people took seriously as a contender in the suspension game just a few years ago is now positioned as a legit challenger to the likes of Fox Racing and RockShox. 2013 is cracking up to be the year that X-Fusion goes from skulking on the outskirts of the scene to duking it out as a real rival for your attention.
Santa Cruz is an amazing place to ride a bike, which is why X-Fusion ditched their Silicon Valley headquarters two years ago and moved their R&D center to Santa Cruz. X-Fusion realized that if they wanted to develop cutting-edge components they needed to be closer to the pulse….and that's what they get with some of the country's best trails just a few minutes' pedal from their shop floor.
That move, it's worth noting, signaled a massive investment on the Taiwanese company's part. Loading the corporate futon and fondue set, so to speak, into the back of a van and relocating their United States brain trust to one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country doesn't come cheap.
X-Fusion is also investing seriously in athlete sponsorships: Richie Schley, Anne-Caroline Chausson, Brian Lopes, Tyler McCaul, Andrew Taylor and Jack Fogelquist have all signed on as X-Fusion riders. Let's see…that's a freeride legend, two multi-time World Champions and a crop of young, new-school pros all flying their colors
Of course, all the fancy digs and big-name pros don't amount to diddly-squat if you don't actually offer consumers a wide selection of goods with your logo on them. 2013 marks the first year X Fusion can boast that they're fielding a truly impressive spread of forks and shocks.
Big Line Up: Slant and Trace
The obvious news is that X-Fusion will offer (late this summer) two new forks lines sporting burly lowers and big, 34-millimeter stanchions.
The Slant is aimed at both 26 and 650B riders (adding a 10-millimeter travel-limiting spacer enables you to run the larger wheel size) and comes in a crazy-wide range of travel options from 80 millimeters to 160 millimeters.
The Trace also features 34-millimeter stanchions, but is designed to work with 29er wheels (and will be available in 80 to 140-millimeter travel options). X Fusion will offer the Trace in several trims, including one with a single-piece, forged "Uni-Crown" that X-Fusion claims cuts fore-aft flex by as much as 40 percent (when compared to a conventional two-piece, press-fit crown and steerer).
What's the big deal with 34?
All things (stanchion and fork crown size) being equal, forks tend to get noodle-y as you increase their travel. When you start jumping off tall things or diving hard into corners and steep V-outs, you can feel longer-travel forks with smaller diameter stanchions and lightweight crowns flex backwards. This, in a nutshell, is why fork stanchion diameters have steadily increased over the years.
When you add more length to your lever, you need to add more girth to it as well in order to keep things tracking straight and feeling confident. The challenge, of course, is to maintain that steering precision while also keeping the fork's weight down; it's a balancing act that's been particularly tricky to maintain with the popular 140 and 150-millimeter travel forks.
Or to put it simply, a few of us (myself included) have spent the past four years bitching and moaning that if you're going to build a fork with nearly six inches of travel, it better have a hell of a lot more meat on its bones than the average "32" fork.
That, in a nutshell, is also what X Fusion is proposing with the Slant and the Trace forks. It’s really a spin on what Fox Racing kicked off last year with their 29er-compatible "34" fork.
I, for one, am stoked. If you're an aggressive rider, you're going to dig this.
Slick as Sh@t
X-Fusion is also applying a new stiction-reducing finish on some of their new forks, shocks and dropper post. They call it Gold Slick Ano and its basically a Teflon-impregnated finish that keeps the fork feeling smooth (while also adding a degree of durability to the stanchion finish). While it looks a good deal like Fox Racing Shox's Kashima-coat, both companies maintain that their finishes are unique. Time will tell which is the superior finish. Gold Slick ano finishes can be had on the Slant, Trace and Vengeance forks, the Microlite RL and Vector Air shocks and the new HiLo SL post.
Not all things are super-sized at X-Fusion. The company is also introducing the Microlite RL—a lightweight (170-gram) shock aimed at XC riders. X-Fusion claims that the MicroLite is far more rugged and downhill-capable than its miniscule size suggests. I rode one on a Tomac Diplomat (spearheaded by the Trace).
How did the new shock and fork fare? A few hours of trail time is too brief to say, but my initial impressions were of the "Hmmm….I'd like one of those" variety. Smooth compression stroke, just the right amount of progressivity to the spring curve… In short, it looks like X-Fusion has left the farm leagues and officially gone pro. We'll see if their goods are truly equal to the stuff leaving RockShox and Fox Racing—stay tuned because we will be testing the stuff.