Review by Ian Collins // Photos by Fred Robinson and Ian Collins
Over the last decade or so downhillers haven't exactly had an excess of stellar options when it comes to forks. There were the two solid options that everyone knows about; the RockShox BoXXer and the FOX 40. Marzocchi and Manitou have won a few hearts over the years and despite some struggles they've remained alternative contenders as well. It's only in the past couple of years that the competition has really started to heat up with the arrival of companies like BOS, DVO and even SR Suntour. Under the Pivot Factory Race Team, X-Fusion has spent the time, money and effort to develop another viable contender: the RV1 HLR. Short for Race Version 1, the RV1 is X-Fusion's long-awaited first downhill fork. I was lucky enough to spend the last couple of months on one - let's see how it fared...
RV1 HLR Highlights
- Wheel Size: 26 or 27.5-inch
- Travel: 200mm (internally adjustable 180-200mm)
- Stanchions: 36mm Aluminum
- Spring: Coil
- Damper: Twin Tube HLR Cartridge
- Adjustments: High and Low Speed Compression, Rebound
- Steerer: 1 1/8-inch
- Axle: Bolt-On 20mm
- Features: Neutra Valves, Fork Guards
- Colors: Matte Black, Smoked Chrome
- Axle to Crown: 569 or 579mm at 200mm of travel
- Offset: 42 or 46mm
- Max Rotor Size: 203mm
- Weight: 6.1-pounds / 2,767-grams (claimed)
- MSRP: $1,299
Out of the box, the first thing I noticed was the clean design and solid machine work on the adjustment knobs and the end caps that protect them. Removing the lower cap on the drive side reveals the high and low speed compression knobs, and the rebound knob is always accessible at the top of the same side. Rotating the knobs was nice and smooth. The detents on the low speed compression adjuster were slightly faint, but still audible. Not a big deal considering how much easier they were to turn compared to other offerings.
After further inspection I began to appreciate the finish on the fork. The carbon guards that protect the lowers are light, smooth and quite an interesting idea given the tendency for DH forks to get beat up. The graphics on them are quite garish in my opinion, but I'm sure some will appreciate the artwork. Also worth mentioning are the clip on fork bumpers, made to be easy to pop on and off (more on this later).
The next feature that caught my eye was the Neutra Valve on the backside of each fork leg. X-Fusion was kind enough to include a pair of “motion pro” micro bleeders. Common in the motocross world, these nifty little things allow the rider to relieve and neutralize internal air pressure caused by elevation and temperature changes with the push of a button. Doing so helps the fork perform as stiction free as possible, removing any excess pressure on the seals. I'm a sea level beach rat, but a great deal of the downhill riding I do in SoCal is up near 6-7,000 feet so these were a welcome addition on my bike.
After pulling the fork apart to cut the steerer and fit it to my bike, I noticed that everything lined up correctly! Yes, unlike some other $1,300+ forks I have owned in the past, the stanchions slid smoothly through both sets of crowns, and when I cycled the damping side there was no initial binding through the bushings. This is the first step in designing a buttery fork with ample traction and smooth action.
Before cutting the steerer I weighed the fork. It deviated quite a bit from X-Fusion's claimed weight of 6.1-pounds, coming in at a devilish 6.66-pounds on my scale. This isn't heavy by any means, but it's worth pointing out the rather large spread between claimed and actual weights.
Installing the wheel was a breeze, the 20mm axle threads into the non drive side and has a single pinch bolt that secures it on the drive side, beautifully simple.
Once I got the fork bolted up I began twisting some knobs and cycling the suspension. I quickly realized that the stock medium spring wasn't going to cut it for my 175-pound beer and burrito fueled frame. This wasn't a huge surprise as with many coil sprung forks I've found myself sitting between medium and firm spring offerings. I dropped the firm spring in (an easy thing to do) and measured my sag, which was sitting just over 20% and right where I typically like it. The fork will come with only the stock medium spring, but the other spring rates are readily available. When I asked X-Fusion why the extra springs weren't included, they said by not including all 5 of them it helped them bring the fork in at a much lower price, as well as creating far less waste. When you really stop and think, it would be a bit ridiculous to have each consumer just toss 4 springs aside. Fair enough.
On The Trail
After a few initial laps it was clear that this is a competent fork and that X-Fusion is onto something. The traction this fork offers through chassis stiffness and its damping characteristics is quite good. Stiffness in turns, under braking, and through rough off-camber sections struck a perfect balance that kept me tracking straight with little extra effort. I personally find a BoXXer to be slightly too flexy and a FOX 40 too stiff with a bit more deflection than I like. The RV1's chassis feels like it’s happily in the middle.
Even with the firm spring installed and the low-speed compression nearly maxed, the fork still seemed to dive a bit and support wasn't quite what I was used to, so I decided to throw in the extra-firm spring. While it alleviated the diving I was now a bit over-sprung, and the fork would beat me up and blew me off the trail on occasion. As a solution, X-Fusion sent out a 5 and 10mm preload spacer. The bigger spacer did the trick and put me right where I needed to be as far as ride height is concerned. It allowed me to use a few less clicks of low-speed compression as well.
The RV1 uses X-Fusion's twin-tube HLR damper with a high-flow piston. In this tube-in-a-tube damper cartridge, oil flows down through the compression damping circuits into the outer tube. During rebound, the oil flows back through the cartridge and through the rebound circuit. This configuration separates lubrication oil from damping oil, which is said to yield less cavitation and help improve damping consistency. The range offered by the damping adjusters is really wide, which should suit a variety of rider weights and riding styles. In fact X-Fusion has run a dyno on all the competitors' forks, and claims to have the widest range in adjustment available.
The suspension action is smooth, stiction-free, and supple off the top, which keeps your front wheel planted. I never experienced any sort of stiction or binding while burying the front wheel in a turn. The RV1's action stayed smooth regardless of where it was being pointed. Small bump performance was top notch, and the fork did a really good job of taking the edge off chatter and staying planted in the loose bits. The performance was consistent even on longer runs on burlier tracks. Big hits were handled well without using excessive travel or spiking, and I didn't have any bone-crunching metal to metal bottom-outs. One area where the fork truly shined was charging at speed through successive mid-sized obstacles like large baby head rocks and whoops. The fork seemed to have endless travel and really impressed me in this type of terrain at higher speeds.
On the flip side, in typical give and take fashion, I felt like the fork could have gained from a bit more mid-speed support and had a tendency to not feel quite as poppy and lively as I would prefer. While high and low-speed compression damping had great range in adjustment and were easy to fine tune, I felt like the fork was a bit lost in the middle. During late braking at speed, rolling through big holes, and going up the faces of jumps the fork just seemed to get a bit too deep into its travel. It wasn't really bad, but it was noticeable and slightly unsettling during aggressive riding. When I asked X-Fusion about tuning such things out, they mentioned that the cartridge is fully tunable and a custom re-valve option will be available for $120. Again, not a big deal, but it was one of those factors that was hard to dial in with stock settings. With that said, after getting things dialed in and a fair amount of breaking in, I must say that this fork is a viable contender overall at its price point.
Things That Could Be Improved
It's difficult to find anything major to complain about with this fork. My one gripe is the way the spring rates are designated. At 175-pounds I've never before had to dabble with an "extra-firm" spring. Maybe if I was World Cup fast, but I am far from it. While I did find a good balance with a firm spring and 10mm of preload, the best solution would have been the proper spring rate, somewhere in between the firm and extra-firm. An external preload adjuster would also be nice, but that would add some weight. 5 and 10mm preload spacers will be available to consumers to help fine tune the spring rate, but even so, running pre-load isn't ideal because the fork then requires more initial force to compress the spring. This translates to a little more feedback in the hands when the fork hits bumps at full extension.
Also, one has to wonder if a 210+ pound pinner would require a special spring ordered at an additional cost. When all is said and done, perhaps X-Fusion should reconsider their spring rates. For the most part, this fork will work just fine for a wide array of riders of all shapes, sizes and ability levels after a little setup experimentation.
The other minor gripe was that the pesky fork bumpers slip constantly. I did get them to stay put by applying gaffer's tape over the stanchions where they sit, but this isn’t the cleanest solution. Again, a small matter in the grand scheme of things when talking about a downhill fork.
Long Term Durability
I've only had this fork for a few months, but during that time I’ve ridden it a good number of days. Time will tell how it holds up over the long run and in various weather conditions. At this point the chassis is solid and the adjusters appear well made so I don't see anything major failing any time soon. So far, not one drop of oil has weeped from the dust wipers and the bushings have not developed any play. From what I can tell the RV1 should be in it for the long haul. X-Fusion backs the fork with a two year warranty.
What's The Bottom Line?
If you're looking for a solid alternative to the traditional downhill fork offerings, the X-Fusion RV1 HLR may be your fork. The closest option in terms of price and quality would be a RockShox BoXXer R2C2. Coming off of that fork I can say that the X-Fusion RV1 HLR outperforms it by a nudge. It isn't a stretch to say that this could be the most bang for the buck you will get from the current crop of offerings. The fork is well priced and reliable. The chassis is stiff and well made. The adjustments and internals are smooth as could be. It offers a stellar range of damping and tuning options, but nothing excessive that will befuddle the end user. If you want a relatively simple yet surprisingly good fork for a reasonable price, there is no major reason not to give this fork a chance. You might be really surprised.
Visit www.xfusionshox.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Ian Collins grew up racing mountain bikes on the East Coast before moving to California in search of the never ending riding season. Although he's generally a fan of slick and steep riding conditions, Ian has gotten acclimated out west and loves its speed. Also an avid surfer, what's most important to him in a trail is flow. Known for being meticulous and borderline obsessive about bike setup, he aids in product development for local frame builder Turner Bikes when he's not out on a photo mission.