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Existentialism-- Just a bloody good excuse to go riding...

Monday, December 6, 2010

X-Fusion Vengeance HLR

Disclaimer: This could sound like a real bias piece and I am having a hard time trying to be objective here. The often drawn comparison to an 09 TALAS is simply because this is the other fork that I am really familiar with and apart from swapping the adjustable travel for a fixed air cartridge, its essentially like a Float.. In my usual overzealous fashion, this probably covers more, making it another epic long post and lullaby read.

Apart from frames, forks usually represent the next biggest investment on a bike, The search for a new fork to replace the aging 36 TALAS had taken awhile.  Like most, I was sucked into the "longer the better" travel vortex. A 36 TALAS or FLOAT 180mm  seemed to be the most obvious choice for awhile...

...till one lazy afternoon over a bike chat session, things sidetracked to the Lyrik 170. Having tried last year's 160mm version and liking it, the 170mm looks to be a real contender.

However at the back of my mind another fork had been lurking. Having followed the development of the X-Fusion Vengeance HLR,  it looks right in just about every aspect.

By the time I was looking at the 170mm Lyrik, I reckon it wasnt really so much in the travel itself and has shaken myself out of the "longestest-possible-travel" stupor.

The TALAS had been a love hate affair. Travel adjust is a bonus on longer climbs yet the reduction throws the whole bike geometry off. Besides, 95% of the time I am on the full 160mm travel with the occasional drop to 130. So much so that the 100mm travel mode is never used. Like most, my TALAS exhibited the usual issues associated with this fork even after servicing and change of oil. The sensitivity of the dials and tracking of the fork was never stellar. Striking a balance between sensitivity and brake dive is a never ending affair.

What I really wanted apart from good tracking was a slightly slacker head angle than the 68 degrees on my bike, hence a longer A-C measurement. 170-180mm would make that slight change which is all that matters on the bigger descending charge or lofting over a big rock and have a more surefooted feel when the front falls over the other side.

Readied the bike for the change with a different bar/stem setup to achieve the same bar height in the event of a fork change. This way (hopefully) it doesn't displace my usual body positions but only have a slacker HA. The anality of this exercise is pinpoint to within ~3mm of all my other bike settings.

So why the Vengeance? As said the actual increase in 10-20mm in travel wasn't the key. Seriously if the whole 180mm travel gets dunked--its can get pretty scary. Furthermore 180mm would really test my bar-stem setup to the limit in trying to get the bar height back at the original 160mm level with the TALAS without the levers hitting the top tube as the front end turns. Things would have been much easier on this last aspect except that the sexy curve top tube on the EG also happens to be sitting pretty high compared to many other frames.

Axle-Crown Measurements
160mm Talas A-C of 545mm (as the benchmark for changes)
180mm Fox A-C of 565mm
170mm Lyrik A-C of 555mm
160mm Vengeance A-C of 557-8mm.

Last but not least, after weighing all the price : weight : performance (read) ratios-- The Vengance just puts a smile on my face. Other brands of overpriced forks just don't even come close. With a 5 day turnaround  time dealing direct with the factory...all that's left now is to check out the performance......

Not something I ever give much thoughts to...
Left: Vengeance with uncut steerer @ 2298gm.   Center: Cut to 185mm @ 2270gm  Right: 09TALAS 2282 gm

Without stripping the fork and having a comparable model of other brand(s), there is no way to really tell where all the weight differences are accounted for. Except that the Vengeance runs a negative coil spring with a smaller top out coil nestled within the bigger negative spring. This no doubt would have accounted for a small amount of weight from within. But the fork in general runs alot less oil inside compared to most others in the market. The open bath isnt really "open" as the cartridge sits within another tube which according  to X-fusion also helps to keep contaminants out.

A cursory inspection however immediately yields some interesting observation. If any additional weight is on the outside, then its at all the right places shoring up and reinforcing where it matters most.

Still, what mine weighed in was 100gm lighter than some other much better written reviews (those probably were earlier protos sent out before actual production lots were refined further?)

Lowers are definitely burly starting right off the crown. Big and broad with stiffness written all over. Matches the 1.5 headtube well too. Sliding downwards on the lowers, a non-descript bulge much like some of the RS forks Power Bulge can be seen.  Where the stanchion uppers are pressed in, this is another significant area with more material.

 Measurement from top, width of crown on the Vengeance nearing steerer measured ~51 - 45mm (towards the dials). In comparison the TALAS is ~45mm tapering down to ~38mm. Where the stanchions are pressed in, its an additional 5mm more than the TALAS. Accounting for more stiffness? but no doubt surely contributed to part of the A-C increase

Trace it down further, the reinforcement at the dropout area is well thought out. Where the forces of impacts are great, lots of materials are in place to cater for those forces generated.

Left: 36 TALAS  Right: Vengeance HLR

Overall from top to bottom I thought it was more like a 38mm stanchion fork if there ever was one and had to take out my calipers to phyiscally measure to get that thought out of my mind.

Knobs and Dials
Big and the clicks are very positive. Easily adjusted with gloved hands for all 3 from rebound on top to the high and low compressions below. Protective capping for the compression is the nicest I have seen on any fork. Some have commented that the adjustment between rebound clicks is too wide. Maybe it matters to the pros but with 21 clicks, its more than plenty for me to dial in the rebound.

I was simply awed by the finishing on the compression knobs and if you can call it the "ergonomics". The positive indentation of each click takes out any guesswork if you are ever sweating, puffing and making adjustments on the fly in the trail.
really need to get a real camera and not rely on the phone-cam!

First ride out... Sun 28 Nov

Time and again reviews have mentioned how the recommended air settings are pretty much spot on as printed on the lower left fork leg. It worked well enough for the first ride though some fine tuning will be done real soon. At 160-175lb its 60-67 psi for me

Pinned it to 63psi at my geared up weight of ~170lb. Lo-comp 5 out of 15 clicks and Hi comp at 7 out of 14. Rebound set at 15 of 21 clicks were adjusted to 17 on the trail.

(Tire pressure on the 2.4 Ardents at 20 and 23 psi front and rear respectively).

Time was short, by the time everything was set up it was late afternoon. Off I scooted to the nearest trail.. Tampines. Havent been back since it was re-opened. Though short, but was a little surprised as it's actually pretty smooth and flowy. Nice little berms to carve into and undulations that can test out if the suspension works well enough at speed to float off the top of the soil with the right momentum. Perfect.

No significant dive or excessive bob upfront where most of the ups were squared away with pedaling standing up in the roller coaster trail. None of those XC ass to the saddle spinning needed even with a big fork.

Passing mark with one of my initial concern- rounding a switchback climb. With long travel and burly bikes the last thing is to bleed speed to a crawl during the switchback turn and in turns loses all the momentum to roll up the climbing portion. Problem is the potential to approach too fast and unable to turn in time with a front that starts skipping. Key is the combination of right tire/pressure and good working suspensions to track as one leans the bike without excessive braking.

Next up the series of camel humps. Fork was nice with a firm feel, cresting each one, it takes no effort for the front to lift and put the entire bike into the air. After that it didnt take much for me to ride at the fastest and take every small little undulation to pop the bike into the air and dropping right into the wider berms instead of just riding through them.

In between, the little rock gardens was another good test. Bike goes through everything at speed without the slightest hesitation. Touchdown was surefooted and yes, the slight increase in the A-C making an ever small correction to the HA on the bike was definitely what I was looking for going down. Mentally extrapolating the feeling here to those km long rocky DH lines, reckon I just found my pot of gold boink in this fork.

Throughout, the front was feeling "bottomless" though like any air fork the degree of progressiveness can be felt as it eats into more of the travel. Launching off a rock drop during a descent that usually require more effort and mentally prepping the preloading to lift off was a no brainer here. The front has a mind of its own and just did everything right leaving me to focus ahead on landing. Was definitely going way smoother, akin to skipping rock on water surface. I dont remember having it so easy on the TALAS previously.

The closest in feel would be like Marz smoothness when those suckers don't get stuck down or start crapping oil all over. Comparing it to the Float or Lyrik "feel", somehow those forks while buttery smooth, do impart a somewhat hollow airiness. None of that here. I don't know if having a coil negative spring made things a little different and better. Fork internals are still a relatively complex subject for my understanding.

One thing noticed was the cavitation coming out of the fork. A little distracting but doesnt seem to be affecting performance in any way. I was deducing if the oil level was just that wee bit off and hence the noise. Later a check in a few forum threads shows that this was common and doesnt seem to be an issue in any way.

Overall I think I stumbled onto more of a jump setting although it does ride well enough. But this was a relatively smooth flowy trail with not much in terms of chatter bumps or technical climbs except on the few purpose built rock garden sections.

Second ride out... Sun Dec 5
Everyone was bitching about the slickness in BT from a whole week of heavy rain. A climbing nightmare as usual on SG's oldest official MTB trail.

Observation from last ride says the most logical setting for today's trail is to back off both compressions.
Did that and tracking on slow tech climb was better. Added 2 clicks halfway in to the lap to the rebound making it 19 out of a max of 21 was the biggest positive change. "Lightens" up, making for more positive steering control. I was able to pump the fork more effectively on the faster down and stay in better control. Already mentioned was how positive the dials are but the difference in actual change to the rebound in  1-2 click on this fork is really night and day compared to similar changes on the TALAS.

Nothing negative to comment when the bike is pointed down. Met all my expectations and more. Easy to preload even when coming down fast and let fly on a couple of small drops that usually was just drop in when on the old TALAS.

On the up, the effect of that 1.5cm higher A-C meant having to adjust my weight a little more than usual even though bar height remained as before. Could partly be a case of again changing too many things at once. The 760mm flat bar had been mated to a 70mm stem before. Today its on the new Po1nt Split Sec stem. 20mm shorter.

My heavy overbuilt, low tire pressure setup, a curse when dry is the XC guy's nemesis in the wet.

Didnt meet too many spinning lycra boys today but all the ones I past heaving as their bikes probably went slipping and sliding on the way up probably wondered if there was a Gruber Assist in the EG. Overtaking some of the other bigger bikes in today's ride meant having to get out of the best line and just tear at whatever opening there is. Front tracking was great matching the dialled in rear but the increase A-C effect was really noticeable. More dialling in with the comp settings on next ride to see if that will help.

Let's see what happens 6 months down the road and a couple of trips on bigger course brings. Fork search ended for now.....until the need for a dual crown arise.

Update 23 May 2012: After 20 mths of of trashing around on this fork I have to say it has not really disappointed. From flattish xc in Singapore to mountains in Chiang Mai.. basically I never once had a thought of changing to another fork. As to things like tuning with a different weightof oil and things like that-- I guess this is best left to the home wrenching freaks to figure out what works for them. A change to10w was awesome for a friend but not for me which worked just fine with the stock oil of the damper cartridge. Slick Honeyed inside out was proabably the best thing I did to make everything work as smooth as possible could.

Just that since the new Vengeance Coil is out earlier this year,I decided to go for it and have a full rebuild on this Vengeance Air. Had a bit of a creaky problem (I wouldn't exactly pin it to manufacturing faults-- fact is with bigger stiffer fork, there is a great chance creaks will come along, sooner or later. TO be frank I have been smacking the fork pretty hard with my less than skilful riding)  Sent for a new CSU... waiting out for it to arrive and should finish the rebuld here.


  1. This review was well thought out and really answered some questions about the X-Fusion.

  2. it is an awesome review. makes my talas 36rc2 feels like an antique...

  3. well priced, engineered and designed

  4. Thank you for writing such a great review. What size EG frame should a 5'11" guy ride?

  5. Hi Richard I'm 5'9, short on the inseam and having a med EG. Could take a small though. but would be a little more upright... not necessary a bad thing as upright on long travel is less stressful on the the back and joints when climbing and going epic rides. Even now my med is setup with super short reach...saddle fore and 35mm stem.

    I put 5'11 right smack as the "correct" size of a Med EG...

  6. i was looking at buying the X-Fusion Vengeance HLR Fork but was a little unshore. Now im going to buy them after reading your review . FOX you have problems now