X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR Fork

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X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR Fork
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Tested: X-Fusion's All-New Trace 36 HLR Fork

With 170mm of travel and 36mm stanchions, the all-new Trace was made to challenge some of the best forks on the market. How does it stack up in the highly competitive mountain bike fork space?

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: X-Fusion's All-New Trace 36 HLR Fork

Suspension manufacturer X-Fusion has quietly been reorganizing behind the scenes over the last 12 months, closing down their Santa Cruz based US headquarters, moving customer support to Reno, and building a new, dedicated factory in Taichung, Taiwan. The fork, shock, and adjustable seatpost company is transforming into a more vertically-integrated suspension manufacturer and looking to improve their product along the way. New manufacturing capabilities means new product, and X-Fusion recently came to market with the all-new Trace – a 36mm stanchion fork boasting up to 170mm of travel for 29-inch wheeled bikes.

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Durability
  • Great attention to detail
  • Superb build quality inside and out
  • Steering precision
  • Big hit composure
  • High and low-speed compression

Suspension manufacturer X-Fusion has quietly been reorganizing behind the scenes over the last 12 months, closing down their Santa Cruz based US headquarters, moving customer support to Reno, and building a new, dedicated factory in Taichung, Taiwan. The fork, shock, and adjustable seatpost company is transforming into a more vertically-integrated suspension manufacturer and looking to improve their product along the way. New manufacturing capabilities means new product, and X-Fusion recently came to market with the all-new Trace – a 36mm stanchion fork boasting up to 170mm of travel for 29-inch wheeled bikes.

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Durability
  • Great attention to detail
  • Superb build quality inside and out
  • Steering precision
  • Big hit composure
  • High and low-speed compression adjustments
  • Two offset options
  • 29-inch only
  • Suggested air pressures can feel excessive
  • Coil negative spring isn't ideal for riders outside 140-170 pounds

Highlights

  • Wheel Size: 29-inch
  • Travel: 170mm (internally adjustable to 140/160/170mm via air rod push-pin system)
  • Stanchion: 36mm Aluminum
  • Spring: Air with Coil Negative
  • Damper: Roughcut HLR Bladder Cartridge
  • Adjustments: High & Low-Speed Compression, Rebound, Air Pressure
  • Wiper Seals: Nvolve
  • Steerer: Tapered
  • Axle: Bolt-On, Boost 110x15mm
  • Axle to Crown: 581mm at 170mm travel
  • Offset: 44mm or 51mm
  • Rotor Size:180 to 203mm (XF adaptor only)
  • Color: Flat Black
  • Weight: 4.4-pounds (2.0kg)
  • MSRP: $949 USD

Initial inspection of the X-Fusion Trace 36 left us impressed, with strong attention to detail throughout. Aesthetically it's an incredibly clean fork, and the crown-steerer assembly complements the fork’s matte black paint job and purpose-built lowers. The anodized adjustment knobs, machined air cap, and even brake cable guide gave us a feeling that X-Fusion sweated the small stuff – something we appreciate in any mountain bike product.

Under the hood, the fork relies on a bladder-based damper the company has dubbed the Roughcut HLR. This damper is akin to the RockShox Charger 2 damper or FOX’s FIT-based damper. The sealed, airless cartridge allows the user to adjust both high and low-speed compression as well as rebound. It also has a new mid-valve for improved control.

On the spring side of things, X-Fusion suspends their fork with air, utilizing a coil negative spring to bring breakaway force to more manageable levels. Removing the top cap to access/change the positive air spring volume with spacers is done with a cassette tool, which we appreciate. Two volume spacers come installed.

Weight is on par, coming in just over 4.4-pounds (2.0kg). Maybe not the lightest fork on the market, but considering its “extreme enduro” billing, we’d say this is about right. We’ll happily take an extra few grams in the suspension department, especially at this amount of travel, for better durability, steering precision, and overall performance. 

The fork is offered in both 44 and 51mm offsets, so those looking to utilize it in a reduced-offset application have another viable option. 

Depending on where and how you ride, you may find the absence of any form of a lockout to be an annoyance. Any bike with a 170mm fork is clearly not billed for uphill efficiency, so this shouldn’t be of great surprise or worthy of negative marks, just something to pay attention to if you are the type to commonly ride on paved ascents or fire roads where extended out of saddle efforts are complimented by a lockout. You can of course spin the low-speed compression all the way in for a near-lockout. Just count those clicks if this is something you want to do from time to time.

On The Trail

Now for the million dollar question, how did the fork work on the trail? That question is a bit trickier to answer than the standard “it was awesome and you should go buy this” moniker some might be accustomed to in suspension reviews.

Steering precision of the Trace 36 is on par with any long-travel single-crown fork on the market, and perhaps a hair better, more akin to the SR Suntour Durolux, FOX 36, or RockShox Lyrik with Torque Caps installed. At longer travel values, a single-crown fork can be prone to “folding” under the bike when the front brake is applied, something the X-Fusion seemed to manage better than the competition. Lateral stiffness too was superb, with the fork giving no indication of sloppiness or undue flex. Chassis? Check. They nailed it. 

The fork's action is the tricky part of this review, as it was somewhat variable depending on air pressure in a way most other suspension forks are not. While many modern air forks use an auto-equalizing air negative spring, the Trace uses a coil negative spring to counteract the positive air spring and help pull the fork into the initial part of its stroke.

From the get go, this was the obvious shortcoming. When aired up to an appropriate pressure for our tester's 200-pound rider weight, the fork’s action off the top was very harsh and small-bump performance was poor. Combined with the stiff chassis, the fork was deflecting off every rock and bump in sight while using an appropriate amount of travel on larger impacts. This was with almost no compression damping.

Dropping from the suggested 90psi to 75psi drastically changed the way the fork felt off the top for the better, but created other problems with the fork now all too eager to use its travel. As a result, we increased damping to make up for some of these shortcomings, which worked, but was a band-aid to a spring problem. Simply, it was not possible to set the fork up for a rider of our tester's weight without either having diving issues, a harsh feel off the top, or utilizing excessive amounts of low-speed compression damping.

To make this review even trickier, once the fork did get moving it proved incredibly smooth. A lighter rider in the 140 to 170-pound (63 to 77kg) range really may get along with it quite well.

After this initial test period, X-Fusion heeded our feedback and came to us with a revised negative spring with a bit more oomph to it. We were informed this would be a production change. While this helped, it was not the revolutionary change we were hoping for at higher pressures. To add, swapping negative springs proved challenging as there are few instructions or schematics on the website, and part availability (say if you nick a seal) proved challenging. The opportunity to crack open the fork did again impress us with its build quality, however, as we noted a distinct lack of plastics bits and well machined parts inside.

As we alluded to above, the damping performance was very good with a broad range and discernible difference between high and low-speed compression adjustment. However, we did not get the opportunity to use it with a well setup spring, making for a slightly skewed review with respect to damping quality.

Long Term Durability

We didn’t have any real durability issues with the fork, and it remained smooth through the test, asking for very little love as far as seal or lubrication bath maintenance – a huge positive in our book. X-Fusion suggests a lower service every 25 hours, air spring lube every 50 hours, and seal/damper service at 100 hours. The fork is backed by a two-year warranty.

As we made mention of above, however, procuring small parts was challenging at the time. X-Fusion has since stocked service kits at their new facility in Reno, Nevada.

What's The Bottom Line?

Designing a standout suspension fork in 2018 is very challenging. Competition is tight, and the price point of quality functioning product gets lower and lower every year (FOX GRIP anyone?). X-Fusion has done some of the most challenging engineering very well with a good chassis, a good seal and bushing interface, and a proven damper. 

If you are under 170-pounds geared up, the Trace 36 in its stock configuration may prove to be an excellent fork on the spring side as well. For heavier riders, though, the combination of the positive air spring and negative coil spring needs to be improved. X-Fusion does not currently offer a range of coil negative springs which limits the riders this fork will suit. With a revised spring system and a slightly lower price, the Trace 36 could be a serious contender in the beefy fork world.

Visit www.xfusionshox.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines - Age: 32 // Years Riding: 18 // Height: 6'2" (1.88m) // Weight: 200-pounds (90.7kg)

Jeff didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. He lives in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.

Specifications

Product X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR Fork
Riding Type Enduro / All-Mountain, Trail
Wheel Size 29"
Travel
  • 170mm
  • 160mm
  • 140mm
Spring Type Air positive, coil negative
Damping Roughcut HLR system with a fully bled bladder and cartridge based damper
External Adjustments Independent high- and low-speed compression, rebound damping, and air pressure
Crown Single
Front Axle 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
Brake Mounts Post, 180-203mm max rotor size (XF Adaptor only)
Steer Tube Diameter Tapered
Steer Tube Construction One-piece aluminum crown steerer assembly
Stanchion Diameter 36mm aluminum
Colors Flat black
Weight 4 lb 6.5 oz (2,000 g)
Miscellaneous
  • A single wall bladder system completely separates the oil in the damper from air outside the cartridge.
  • Nvolve Wiper seals reduce seal drag and increase durability.
  • Brake-house guides for simplistic and easy brake line mounting.
  • Revised all CNC aluminum damper with mid-valve for improved control.
  • Push-pin system on air rod to adjust fork travel (140/160/170mm options).
  • Locking axle for all 15mm forks.
  • Price $949
    More Info

    www.xfusionshox.com

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