Formula NERO R Fork

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Formula NERO R - Testing the New 3-Chamber Italian DH Fork in Val di Sole

This ultra-adjustable downhill fork is packed with standout features that will please the discerning rider.

Formula NERO R - Testing the New 3-Chamber Italian DH Fork in Val di Sole

Heritage is a strong base to build on when it comes to releasing new technology. Formula was founded in 1971 as AEM, manufacturing aftermarket parts for motorcycles, and success quickly followed as they became known for their attention to detail and a fastidious approach to winning. Fast forward to 1993 when Formula came out with the first mountain bike-specific hydraulic disc brake, and, as they say, the rest is history. Greg Minnaar used Formula Oro brakes during his years on Honda, Brook MacDonald won Junior World’s in Canberra with Oros too, and both Loic Bruni and Finn Iles have been running the new Cura brakes for the past two seasons. Read More »

Heritage is a strong base to build on when it comes to releasing new technology. Formula was founded in 1971 as AEM, manufacturing aftermarket parts for motorcycles, and success quickly followed as they became known for their attention to detail and a fastidious approach to winning. Fast forward to 1993 when Formula came out with the first mountain bike-specific hydraulic disc brake, and, as they say, the rest is history. Greg Minnaar used Formula Oro brakes during his years on Honda, Brook MacDonald won Junior World’s in Canberra with Oros too, and both Loic Bruni and Finn Iles have been running the new Cura brakes for the past two seasons. What Formula is less known for are their forks, but that is changing. After the successful release of a highly lauded enduro / all-mountain fork, the Selva, earlier this summer, they weren’t quite done and now are launching a downhill race fork called the NERO R.

The NERO R has some exciting attributes that left us impressed during a quick preview ride at the Val di Sole World Cup. The crowning features include the 3Air spring system and a flex-controlling bulge on the mid-lowers. The fork weighs a scant 5.7-pounds (2.6kg) with 35mm stanchions, and it is clever where it counts.

Highlights

  • 35mm stanchions
  • 27.5 and 29-inch wheel compatibility
  • 200mm (7.9-inches) travel // Additional 180 and 190mm options for 29-inch use
  • 3Air spring system: Gold (end-stroke progressivity), Silver (positive), and Bronze (negative) adjustments
  • Rebound: 21 clicks // Low-speed compression: 12 clicks // High-speed compression: 20 clicks
  • Internal Floating Technology (IFT): Free-floating piston head for less friction
  • Hexagon Design (HEX): Lower legs with engineered flex characteristics
  • Steerer Tube Diameter: 1 1/8-inch or tapered
  • FIRM locking system: Improved 20mm axle retention
  • Boost 20x110mm axle system // Comes with spacers to run traditional 20x100mm hubs
  • Fork Offset: 50mm, 56mm
  • Includes high-pressure shock pump with quick release value
  • Colors: Black, Ultraviolet
  • Weight: 5.7-pounds (2.6kg)
  • MSRP: $2,112 USD

3Air Spring System

There is smart and there is clever. This fork has a piece of tech that is both, and it has a huge impact on the ride characteristics. Having the ability to adjust three air chambers (end-stroke progressivity, positive, and negative) allows you to customize the fork's spring curve more than the vast majority of Formula's competitors. In addition to all the damping adjustments, you're able to tweak the bottom-out feel, ride height, and initial sensitivity. The Gold end-stroke chamber replaces the volume spacers found in a traditional design.

Silver and Gold air values for the positive and end-stroke adjustments.
There is a sequence to inflating all three of the air chambers in the NERO R.

That’s neat, but what’s really significant is the seal head is floating, which means it can pivot in relationship to the shaft and inner walls of the lowers. What this does is it removes binding issues normally incurred when the shaft flexes with the fork legs. This workaround allows for uninterrupted fork movement even when the fork is deflecting under harsh impacts, heavy braking, and/or hard cornering. With the freedom of movement provided, the amount of friction created is lessened too, reducing heat generation which is particularly helpful with an air fork. This same concept is found in the damper side of the fork, but it is much smaller inside the closed hydraulic cartridge.

Curvy Lowers

Bulging lowers aren’t a new thing; we’ve seen them on the RockShox BoXXer, FOX 40, and other forks, but the bulges on the NERO do more than create space for bushings. The material is added on the exterior of the lower with the intent to better control and tune flex. The mid-leg curves are a subtle touch, but needed, as a 35mm-stanchion fork isn’t stiff enough for many riders. With a little extra material in the right place, Formula has created flex characteristics that help keep the fork from feeling flighty, but also not like a piece of wood bolted to the front of the bike. Additionally, the NERO uses the new Boost 20x110mm standard for the front axle, and it can be run with either 27.5 or 29-inch wheels. There is also a spacer that comes with the fork for those who want to use traditional 20x100mm hubs.

Initial Impressions

Skepticism is a healthy way to approach the world of press camps; it helps keep the mind focused and acronym sensors on high alert. But, when we were asked to participate in the NERO R preview we were stoked, because this isn’t a company that turns out incremental improvements every six months just for the sake of having something new. Sitting down with Vittorio Platania, Formula’s marketing and video guru, we were given the full rundown on why this new fork was worth bringing to market and how it is different from what is currently available. Instead of throwing down a list of fun phrases and daft arrangements of capital letters, he handed us the fork internals and showed graphs detailing progression curves. If the actual ride matched up with what was on the screen and on the table then we were in for a really cool time on the trail.

When it was time to ride, we gave them our weight and how we wanted the fork to feel as well as a desired progression curve – one that is light at the beginning of the stroke to dampen the chatter and aid in traction, and then has a strong ramp-up through the mid-stroke to a strong bottom-out. Vittorio recommended 130psi for bottom-out (Gold), 120psi for positive (Silver), and 150psi for negative (Bronze), as well as 0 clicks of high-speed (fully open), 10 clicks of low-speed, and 8 clicks of rebound. 

The guess work of starting pressures has been alleviated. For aggressive riders, Formula suggest selecting one or two weights above those listed.
High-speed and low-speed compression adjusters.
The arch has room for the new era of wider tires and two different wheel sizes.

During setup it is best to start from 0psi in all chambers, and following the Gold, Silver, Bronze filling sequence is key (just like a World Cup podium). Those curious about the setup process can learn more in this video.

After an initial cruise, the only adjustment made was slowing the fork's rebound down two more clicks. The fork was mounted to a large DeVinci Wilson that was hankering for a serious shakedown with an EXT ARMA shock and Maxxis DHR II tires. The track was on a decent grade, nothing too flat or too steep, but it was all really rough and fast – this was Val di Sole after all. Big fat roots crossed the trail whenever there weren’t rocks or rain ruts, and the loam was light as can be, a top-notch piece of trail to test on.

Despite the challenging terrain, the fork never was never overwhelmed or missed a beat. The air settings worked well without a pause for concern, as the platform maintained its composure and took the good with the bad like a champ. Being that it is an air fork, you can really hear it working. As a 210-pound dude who rides in straight lines, rigidity – either a lack of it or excess – never caused any complaints riding the NERO R. The precise and predictable handling inspired confidence and encouraged us to push the bike for more. Even after the first run we were impressed, and although a long-term test will be needed to confirm, it’s possible the NERO R could be a new high mark in fork performance. When raging rough bits, the fork never packed up, dove, or deflected, it just maintained its composure whether we were punching corners or foolishly gapping into rocky sections.

Although the air spring has three separate chambers, the transitions between them were seamless and behaved like one, which is the whole premise of the 3Air system. We never got kicked off line from the fork deflecting nor did the front end wander away from being too compliant. Only having one day to test this fork makes it premature to place significant judgment, but a new piece of equipment that is badly tuned or designed can quickly turn a good day into an unpleasant one. Thankfully for everyone involved, that latter was not the case. The positive performance traits were notable; there were few, if any, faults to find with the system and the fork performed exactly like the Formula crew said it would. The NERO R delivered exactly as promised, which is to say it met a very high standard. 

What’s The Bottom Line?

At the end of the day, the real point to make is that the NERO R is a lot of fun to ride. The fork's wide range of tuning options mean that for a professional racer this fork could lead to faster times and an advantage over the competition. Given Formula’s racing heritage, we’re excited to see which World Cup racers, or teams, might be on the NERO for 2018 – getting this new utensil under the right riders could possibly thrust it quickly into the limelight – we’re sure Formula would like that too. Formula is also releasing a heavier, more affordable, $1,640 coil-sprung version called the NERO C that is targeted at the bike park crowd. We didn’t get a chance to ride that fork, but hopefully will later. Stay tuned for a long-term test where we report back on service intervals, maintenance, and performance on a broader range of settings and terrain.

Visit www.rideformula.com for more details.


About The Tester

Zach Faulkner, aka #MTBJesus, looks like a circus bear on a bicycle. His riding style has been compared to a landslide, complete with sounds of destruction and debris chasing his rear wheel down the hill. His zeal for riding is life-long, having been astride a bike since before he was forming memories. Bikes kept him in the woods and out of trouble through his teenage years, resulting in some notable race results in what was known as "Junior X" at the time. Zach moved away from racing in the Pro category a few years ago and can usually be found lying in the dirt next to race courses around the world holding a camera and hoping the auto-focus didn’t drop on that last shot. He also moonlights as a writer and product tester.

Photos by Alex Luise (action) and Zach Faulkner (product)

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Specifications

Product Formula NERO R Fork
Riding Type Downhill, Freeride
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b), 29"
Travel
  • 200mm
  • 180mm
  • 190mm
  • 200mm
Spring Type 3Air System
Damping Drop-In Cartridge with Internal Floating Technology
External Adjustments Rebound - 21 Clicks // Low-Speed Compression - 12 Clicks // High-Speed Compression - 20 Clicks // Air Spring: Progressivity (Gold), Main (Silver), Sensitivity (Bronze)
Crown Hollow Forged Aluminum
Front Axle 20mm x 110mm, Other (20 x 100mm with included spacers)
Brake Mounts 160mm Post Mount // Max Rotor Size 203mm
Steer Tube Diameter 1 1/8" Straight or Tapered 1.5" (Optional)
Steer Tube Construction
Stanchion Diameter 35mm
Colors Black // Ultraviolet
Weight
  • 5 lb 12.1 oz (2610 g)
  • 5 lb 12.4 oz (2620 g)
Miscellaneous Fork Offset (Rake): 50mm or 56mm
Price
  • $2,112
  • $2,165
More Info

www.rideformula.com

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