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EXT ERA Fork

Vital Rating: (Outstanding)
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New Tunable, High Performance Fork - EXT ERA Long Term Review

Supple and supportive, EXT's first-ever mountain bike fork is impressive in action.

Rating: Vital Review
New Tunable, High Performance Fork - EXT ERA Long Term Review

EXTis an Italian suspension company with roots in automotive racing. They have also been making coil shocks for mountain bikes since 2014, and we had very good results testing their Storia V3 enduro shock last year. When they decided to try their hand at making a fork as well, we knew we had to give it a spin – and after running two different travel options on two different bikes over a period of 6 months, we’re here to let you know how we’ve been getting on. You can watch the review in video form below, or keep reading if you prefer that format.

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Highly adjustable
  • Very stiff and robust construction
  • Great sensitivity
  • Rides high in travel
  • Extremely well suited to aggressive riding
  • On the pricey side
  • Slightly heavier than the main competition
  • Not the easiest to set up
  • Stingy with travel (might be seen as a plus)

EXT ERA Highlights

  • HS3, Hybrid coil and air spring: with 2 adjustable positive air chambers and high volume negative chamber
  • New crown design: forged AL 7050 T6 to substantially increase stiffness
  • 36mm stanchions
  • High volume cartridge with Ø22 mm piston, separate compression and rebound oil flow
  • HDRV unique compression valve system Ø24 mm piston
  • IFP reservoir Ø24 mm piston
  • Dropout 15QR Boost Torque Cap® compatible (15×110 mm)
  • 3 way adjustable, low- and high-speed compression and rebound
  • DU bushing material derived from EXT’s WRC technology combined with dedicated EXT oil
  • Cartridge and air spring low friction system: innovative floating shaft guide combined with the EXT proprietary coating and "superfinish" chrome shaft.
  • Available travel options: 140-170 mm
  • Wheelsize: 29”
  • Offset: 44 mm
  • Weight: 2280 g (29” 170 mm with uncut steer tube, axle and lube)
  • US MSRP: $1950 USD
  • EU MSRP: EUR 1480 + VAT

Initial Impressions

Pulling the ERA from the box, you’re met with a sturdy looking piece of kit with a subtle black color scheme.

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From the outside, it’s just another fork, but digging into the details there’s a lot going on here. Starting with the air spring, EXT gave the ERA a three-chamber system further augmented by the use of a small integrated coil spring. The air spring features the usual main positive chamber and a self-equalizing negative chamber, but then there is also a third chamber that can be used to tune mid- and end-stroke support independently of the main air spring. Think of it as adding or removing tokens, only here you make those adjustments with a shock pump. The small integrated coil spring sits between the air spring and the lowers, its job is to provide extra small bump compliance. 

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On the compression side, EXT uses a large, 22 mm diameter piston with independent adjustment of high and low speed compression. Low-speed rebound is also externally adjustable of course. An internal floating piston is used to compensate for the oil volume that is displaced during fork movements. There is also a High Dynamic Response Valve – or HDRV – the features two separate shimstacks for mid- and high-speed compression damping. The fork features a standard tune that is shipped out to all riders, if you want something special you’ll need to work with an EXT service point (who will have access to other tunes developed by EXT’s R&D department). The small inline coil spring is also of the same spring weight regardless of rider weight, EXT says they chose it to work right across the rider weight spectrum.

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A variety of special surface treatments and bushings that benefit from the company’s World Rally experience are used to minimize friction wherever possible. The fork’s crown is also a bit different from what we are used to seeing, with an extra length of casting protruding from the crown, providing a wider area for the steerer tube to be pressed into – the goal here being to eliminate the dreaded creaking crown syndrome that plagues so many forks these days.

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On The Trail

We started off testing the ERA with 140 mm of travel, mounted up to our Nukeproof Reactor 29er with 130 mm of travel out back. Our first impressions were of a fork that was clearly built to handle whatever you can throw at it. We set it up close to the recommended air pressures, but found ourselves lowering both the main air spring and the ramp-up chamber pressures quite a bit to get anywhere near full travel in normal use. When EXT stated that one of the goals with the ERA was to provide mid-stroke support, they weren’t exaggerating – it has that in spades. We also noted that even with higher pressure, the fork would not really feel harsh – just very firm. We don’t know if it’s the small inline coil spring in play, or just the way the main air spring and the damping feel, but even when delivering just 50% of travel the fork was still usable, somehow.

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As the speeds pick up, so does the ERA’s game. Big landings or really rough trails allow it to shine, with lots of poise and comfort. The adjustments provide a good usable range of settings, and we never really struggled to get the hydraulics dialed in – except for the actual low-speed compression dial itself, which is a bit sticky and lacks definition in the clicks. The air spring was another story, as we found it quite sensitive to the pressure chosen. A few PSI in either direction has a notable effect on how the fork feels, and it took us a while to really find the happy place. To really get the fork working well for the shorter travel trail bike setup, we opted to further reduce the pressure in the ramp up chamber as well, which left the fork feeling more linear and more willing to use travel – which is what we wanted on the shorter travel bike.

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To test the fork on a bigger bike, we swapped the 140 for a 170 and mounted it up on our YT Capra 27. The ERA is made for 29-inch wheels, but with 44 mms of offset it’s not a problem to run it with 27-inch wheels, as long as the bike’s geo can handle the extra length. In the case of this YT, a 170 mm 29-inch fork gives about the same A-to-C as a 180mm 27-inch fork, and that is how they configure some of the 27-inch models out of the box.

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On the bigger bike, the ERA really came alive. We still ended up playing with air pressures quite a lot to find our sweet spot, as the fork remains very supportive in the mid-stroke and quite unwilling to give up the last few bits of travel. For most trails, we ended up running 70 psi in the main chamber and about 100 in the ramp up chamber, which is on the lower side of the recommended range for this 88 kg tester. Once again, the fork doesn’t feel harsh, it just takes a lot to get it to go deep in its travel. The steeper and rougher the trail, the better the ERA works. Braking bumps all but disappear, and with the fork always wanting to ride high in its travel, you never really run out of reserves no matter what the trail throws your way. Once you get used to this firm feeling, it becomes a fun game to see how hard you can push through rough turns and still have the wheel track the ground the way it should. Needless to say, jumps and drops will not phase the ERA no matter what, so if there’s a lot of those where you ride, it’s definitely one to consider.

Things That Could Be Improved

So it’s all good then? In terms of performance, EXT has definitely hit it out of the park. However, it’s not all that easy to get the set up right, and the price tag also puts it firmly in the realm of a premium product. If you set it up for more aggressive trails, it will likely not feel as plush as your mate’s RockShox Lyrik or ZEB in the parking lot, but the small bump compliance is there on the trail and the ERA does a phenomenal job of delivering grip and control when it needs to.

Long Term Durability

We had the 140 fork running for 4 months without any notable issues, except for a spring guide inside the inline spring housing that worked itself loose and made a bit of noise in some situations. The 170mm version has been trouble-free for 2 months now, and both forks feel the same on the trail as they did when they were new. The quality and workmanship seem first rate, and going by our long-term experience with EXT’s coil shocks, we expect the ERA to deliver in the reliability department.

What’s The Bottom Line?

At a time when there’s no shortage of quality fork choices, it takes a lot to really out-perform the competition. Compared to the ZEB, FOX 38 or the latest Öhlins fork, the ERA definitely holds its own. It demands that you spend more time perfecting the set-up, but once you get it right for your riding style and your trails, it really delivers an intoxicating riding experience for those who like to go hard. Compared to the other options we just mentioned, it is probably the fork with the most mid-stroke support and bottom out resistance, certainly when comparing recommended factory settings. RockShox might still have the small bump edge while the FOX 38 will take on any comers when the going gets rough. As for the Öhlins, it’s incredibly well-rounded and confidence inspiring in every scenario and it’s also quite easy to set up, much like the RockShox ZEB or Lyrik. These are all high-end forks of course and they all provide top-notch performance on the trail - if you’re in the market for such a product, you’ll be stoked to know that EXT just delivered another impressive option that is well worthy of your consideration.

More information at: www.extremeshox.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 48 // Years Riding MTB: 16 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos and Video by Johan Hjord / Additional Video Footage by Nils Hjord

Specifications

Product EXT ERA Fork
Riding Type Enduro / All-Mountain, Trail
Wheel Size 29"
Travel
  • 140mm
  • 150mm
  • 160mm
  • 170mm
Spring Type HS3, hybrid coil and air spring
Damping
  • High-volume damper cartridge with floating internal shaft guide and "Superfinish" shaft
  • Complete separation of the hydraulic circuits between compression and rebound
  • HDRV (High Dynamic Response Valve) with 2 different shim stacks for mid- and high-speed
  • External Adjustments
  • Low- and high-speed compression
  • Rebound
  • + chamber air valve for the main volume of the HS3 system
  • ++ chamber air valve for inflating the high pressure chamber
  • Crown Forged AL 7050 T6 with a patent pending design for increased stiffeness
    Front Axle 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
    Brake Mounts Post mount standard (180mm min / 203mm max)
    Steer Tube Diameter Tapered
    Steer Tube Construction
    Stanchion Diameter
    Colors Black
    Weight 5 lb 0.4 oz (2,280 g)
    Miscellaneous
  • 2020 product year release
  • HS3, hybrid coil and air spring: with 2 adjustable positive air chambers and high volume negative chamber
  • New crown design: forged AL 7050 T6 to substantially increase stiffness
  • High volume cartridge with Ø22mm piston, engineered circuit to separate bump and rebound oil flow
  • HDRV (High Dynamic Response Valve) unique compression valve system Ø24mm piston
  • IFP reservoir Ø24mm piston
  • Main strut low friction system: new DU bushing material from our WRC technology combined with dedicated EXT oil
  • Cartridge and air spring low friction system: innovative floating shaft guide combined with the EXT proprietary coating and Superfinish chrome shaft
  • Fork includes: EXT special lube (100 mL), EXT high-pressure pump, and a M5 star nut for steering tube
  • Weight listed is for a 170mm fork with uncut steer tube, axle, and lube
  • Offset: 44mm
  • Max tire size: 29"x 2.5"
  • MSRP: EUR €1480+VAT
  • Warranty: 2-year limited
  • Price $1,950
    More Info

    EXT Introduces the ERA Enduro Fork (press release)

    New EXT ERA Fork - Tech Talk (video)

    www.extremeshox.com (Europe) or www.extusa.bike (USA)

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