This year marks X-Fusion’s big push into the aftermarket. Their just-launched 2013 suspension line focuses on high performance and includes two new forks (Slant and Trace), a super-light rear shock (MicroLite) and a new, lighter, height-adjust seatpost (HILO SL).
The Taiwanese-American brand may not have the same profile as Fox, RockShox or Marzocchi but they've gained strong OE specification in the past few years (ie. their forks and shocks are supplied with a lot of complete bikes) and this has allowed them to invest heavily in technologies that position them to compete with the industry’s best known suspension makers.
For 2013, X-Fusion have four new fork features that, when paired with their relatively affordable prices, make for a compelling offer. Namely, a 34mm chassis for 26in, 650b and 29in wheels; a friction reducing stanchion coating called Gold Slick Ano; a one-piece forged aluminum crown assembly called Uni-Crown; and a new mid-stroke damping technology called Mid-Valve.
The company have updated existing products with some of these new features – the long-travel Vengeance gets the Gold Slick Ano treatment, while the shorter-travel Velvet and Slide get the new Mid-Valve damping (the Vengeance sticks with the heavier HLR setup) – and also launched two all-new 34mm stanchioned forks. There's a 26in/650b model called Slant, with 80-160mm of travel, and a 29er fork called Trace, with 80-140mm. Both offer a choice of two stanchion lengths: a longer option that allows maximum travel and a shorter version that limits travel to 120mm but saves precious grams for racers.
X-Fusion’s fully-featured 2013 Trace sports the company's new Uni-Crown, 34mm stanchions, Gold Slick Ano coating, Mid-Valve damping and recessed X-15 through-axle
These key design features are bolstered by a new Syntace X-15 15mm through-axle which is recessed for better clearances. X-Fusion continue to offer two types of travel adjustment – DLA (Down Low Adjustment), which adjusts travel by 30mm via a crown-mounted dial, and ITA (Internal Travel Adjust), which works via a unique internal push pin ladder system and allows travel to be adjusted in 20mm increments – along with the same damper and remote lockout options as 2012.
As for rear dampers, X-Fusion have launched a new, super-light rear shock aimed at cross-country racers. The svelte MicroLite weighs just 160g on our scale (165mm eye-to-eye, 38mm travel) and comes with the new Gold Slick Ano treatment, which is also available on the 2013 Vector Air. X-Fusion now offer a custom tune program for their rear shocks, which comes with a US$50 upcharge. It’s also worth mentioning the company's ‘all metal, all the time’ motto – they forgo using plastic parts in their dampers to save weight or cut costs in favor or more durable and expensive metal components.
The new MicroLite tipped our scale at 160g as pictured
Finally, X-Fusion are offering a new height-adjust seatpost for 2013, the HILO SL. It has 125mm of travel, will be offered in 30.9mm and 31.6mm diameters, and employs X-Fusion’s Gold Slick Ano surface treatment. The company claim it weighs just 1lb (454g) without the remote, making it 100g lighter than the original model; it was 520g on our scale, with cable and remote.
Said remote is also new, and recognizable as a Paul Turner (RockShox founder) design that was first employed on Maverick’s Speedball, then CrankBrothers’ Joplin. Turner is now part of X-Fusion’s development team. “He’s a full-time X-Fusion employee,” said general manager Joel Smith. “He’s working on all of our advanced development projects, which include two chassis, a new damper and this new seatpost. He’s been to Taiwan with me twice this year; for me he’s one of the strongest assets this company has.”
A look at X-Fusion's latest dropper post, the HILO SL
A breakdown of the new suspension technology
X-Fusion say the 34mm chassis used for the new Slant and Trace forks weighs 80-100g more than the 32mm version but adds more stiffness, increasing control, stability and steering precision, and thus confidence. According to the company's marketing manager, John Hauer, the 26in Slant weighs an even 4lb (1,814g) compared to the Velvet’s 3.8lb (1,723g). We weighed the Slant sample on hand at the 2013 launch at 3.9lb (1,770g), while the 29in Trace came in at 4.05lb (1,840g).
The Trace serves to debut X-Fusion’s one-piece Uni-Crown with 1-1/8 to 1-1/2in tapered steerer. This is claimed to increase stiffness by 40 percent (fore-aft) compared to a traditional press-fit two-piece steerer and crown assembly, while also being lighter. The crown is first forged, then machined and finally stamped into the final shape before being anodized and the stanchions being press-fit.
While the Uni-Crown will only be offered with the Trace 29er fork in 2013, X-Fusion say they plan to "go big" in future. “Bigger riders and taller forks put the most stress [on the crown assembly] and will see the biggest benefit from the new design,” said Hauer. “We wanted to put the new crown in the scenario where it would benefit the most.”
Front and back of the new Uni-Crown; X-Fusion say it increases fore-aft stiffness by 40 percent
X-Fusion’s Gold Slick Ano is an alternative to Fox’s Kashima coating and RockShox’s BlackBox-athlete-only DLC treatment. It's a non-porous, hard anodized surface treatment that’s claimed to decrease stiction and increase stanchion durability. X-Fusion say breakaway force is reduced by 14lb on forks equipped with the coating and by 8lb on rear shocks. The coating can be found on 2013 Slant, Trace and Vengeance forks, and MicroLite and Vector Air rear shocks.
The Mid-Valve is a secondary, position-sensitive, preloaded shim stack that helps support the mid-stroke of the fork. X-Fusion say it allows them to keep the first 30 percent of a fork’s travel supple, while combatting brake dive and giving aggressive riders more of a platform to push off when cornering. The 2013 Velvet, Slide, Trace and Slant all employ the new damper.
X-Fusion's RL2 damper has the new Mid-Valve for mid-stroke support against brake dive during aggressive descending
A day on the new Trace and MicroLite
After launching their 2013 product line in Santa Cruz, California, X-Fusion let us loose on some pre-production models. We rode the new Trace fork, set at 100mm to match the 100mm rear travel of our aluminum Santa Cruz Tallboy 29er test bike, though without the Uni-Crown or Gold Slick Ano, and the MicroLite rear shock.
With just two sub-10-minute downhill runs on the fork, we’ll reserve final judgment. However, our initial impression was solid. It felt stout, despite the conventional crown. We bottomed it once, but we did detect and seemed to benefit from the Mid-Valve platform. The initial action wasn’t super-supple, but that's understandable considering it was a brand new, pre-production fork. We came away with high hopes for the production product; X-Fusion have promised us a test sample for June.
In the cross-country travel configuration, we felt the fork offered a solid and stout platform
The rear shock seemed solid too, especially if used as it’s intended, for cross-country racing. It’s minimalist in weight, size, features and oil volume, which is fine for competition but limits its versatility. The simple compression lockout offers a solid feel that’s sure to please most racers. Rebound control is good too, and the range of the 13-detent adjuster is fairly wide.
We were able to heat the shock up fairly quickly, and noticed a slight amount of fade in terms of rebound control. However, the terrain we were riding fell more into the all-mountain than cross-country category; on the racecourse, it'll likely keep its competitor happy.
Even the MicroLite’s adjustment is straightforward and minimalist: a usable range of rebound adjustment and a simple on/off lockout
X-Fusion 2013 provisional pricing (all in US$)
- Velvet (XC/AM, 26in/650b, 80-140mm): $475-$575
- Slide (XC/Trail, 29in, 80-120mm): $425-$500
- Slant: (Trail/AM, 26in, 650b, 80-160mm): $600-750
- Trace: (XC/AM, 29in, 80-140mm): $700-$850
- Vengeance (AM/FR, 150-170mm): $675-$1,000
- MicroLite (XC): $450
- Vector Air HLR (Trail/FR): $575
- HILO SL: $400
- HILO 125: $300
- HILO 100: $275
All of the new products are slated to be available for sale in late summer 2012.