DSC05764-denizmerdano tim coleman ext aria shock
REVIEW

EXT Aria Shock

Photos Deniz Merdano
Reading time

EXT has been building high-end motorsports suspension since 1986. They make trick dampers for everything from from F1 to WRC rally cars, ATVs, quads, motos and more. In 2014, EXT got into making mountain bike suspension, and all EXT forks and rear shocks are made by hand, in Italy.

DSC06068

The EXT Aria air shock. Aria means Air in Italian. Makes sense.

EXT makes a number of coil-sprung Storia dampers, but the shock being tested here is the air sprung Aria. The Aria uses the same LOK 2.0 damper as the Storia shock, but instead of a coil spring, the Aria has a unique AS3 dual positive chamber air spring.

EXT Aria Notes:

  • AS3 technology: the dual positive air chambers +/++ (low/high) with endless adjustment potential via 2 separate air valves to fine tune the spring characteristics.
  • Unique air seals design that EXT claim are based on aerospace technology.
  • Adjustable High Speed Compression (HSC), Low Speed Compression (LSC), Rebound (R) and Hydraulic Bottom-Out Circuit (HBC).
  • Measured weight 666 grams (205 x 62.5 mm Trunnion Mount).
  • Available in all usual Standard and Metric Trunnion sizes.
  • Limited 2 year warranty.
  • Price; 1,500 CAD or 1,150 USD.
  • Available in Canada through Alba, or one of the dealers on their website.

DSC05632-denizmerdano tim coleman ext aria shock

The black valve has a relatively standard air pressure. The other silver valve however requires a pump provided by EXT to achieve higher fill pressures up to 600 psi.

Setup of the Aria was relatively easy. The shock comes with a good guide to set the two positive pressures to achieve an equivalent coil spring rate. So if you know the rough spring rate you like on your bike, getting the air pressures in the ball park is easy. The guide also comes with a suggested position for all the adjusters. The fit and finish of the shock is excellent, so installation on the Transition Spire was easy too.

DSC06069

The EXT Aria was tested on a Transition Spire.

Once the Aria was on the Spire, I went for a pedal around the driveway. This isn't a shock that feels amazing in the parking lot. It doesn't feel bad either; it just doesn't feel special or different in the parking lot test. There is clearly a lot of oil moving around, making the Aria a bit vocal as it cycles through its stroke. There is also a perceptible knee in the air curve (I think happens as the + chamber reaches the ++ chamber pressure), which feels a bit odd on flat pavement, but I never noticed it while riding on the trail.

First Impressions

My first ride impressions of the Aria were excellent. The recommended air pressure and damper settings felt pretty much spot on. Before the next ride I noticed the bike felt a bit softer. I checked the ++ Chamber first, and while pumping the chamber back up, the hose blew off the end of the pump. F! I was at Transition HQ in Bellingham and was luckily able to borrow a high pressure pump to get the ++ Chamber back up to 480 psi. EXT replaced the faulty pump, which failed in the same way on its second use. It's likely a bad batch of pumps, and EXT is aware of the issue, so hopefully this doesn't happen to any future customers. Luckily I have a hydraulic crimper at work, and I was able to repair the pumps and I haven't had any issues since.

DSC05675-denizmerdano tim coleman ext aria shock

First snow on the Shore this year. Traction was at a premium. The EXT Aria didn't disappoint.

More on the Trail

On the trail the EXT Aria felt fantastic. The Pedal Mode lever is easy to reach and actuate. In Pedal Mode the Aria is firm, and provides an excellent platform. While firm in the Pedal Mode, the Aria is not locked out, and still generates decent climbing traction.

Once out of the Pedal Mode, and aimed downhill, the Aria continued to impress. The shock has great low speed compression, giving a supportive feel, but seems to open up effectively in rough terrain. The result is good pop off jumps, and a lively ride feel, but also suppleness over rough terrain, and good traction over square bumps. The rebound tune felt perfect, recovering from deep in the travel quickly without feeling unsettled.

DSC05792-denizmerdano tim coleman ext aria shock

Such a beauty shot from Deniz, it just had to be included.

Settings and Adjustments

The hydraulic bottom out circuit works really well, so well that I was seeking out every huck to flat I could find. I played around with each of the damper adjustments, but settled on a setup that is very close to those recommended. The air curve with the recommended + and ++ pressures felt nicely progressive in the latter stages of travel, while feeling linear and supportive through the initial portion of the stroke.

Final Settings on the Transition Spire:

Air Pressures; + 260 psi, ++ 500 psi

Low Speed Compression; 6 clicks out

High Speed Compression; 8 clicks out

Hydraulic Bottom Out; 0 clicks out

Rebound; 5 clicks out

DSC05684-denizmerdano tim coleman ext aria shock

The bottom out control of the EXT Aria is excellent. The hydraulic bottom out and dual-chamber air spring do a good job of damping big impact events.

Unfortunately, as the review period progressed, it was clear the Aria was losing pressure from the + Chamber, and needed to be pumped back up after sitting for a few days. Maybe this is a design feature from EXT that forces you to check and set your pressure before each ride? Or maybe it's intended to replicate the charm of owning a manually wound watch, where you have to breathe life into it before each use? Either way I determined it was the Schrader Valve that was leaking. EXT sent me a replacement, and this fixed the issue ... for a couple weeks until it started leaking again. For some strange reason the part holding the Schrader Valve had started leaking. I was able to pull that part out, regrease the o-ring and put it back together. Now the shock has held air without issue for a month or so. Fingers crossed.

DSC05769-denizmerdano tim coleman ext aria shock

Throughout the test period, and through a wide variety of temperatures, the EXT Aria always felt great on the trail.

Final Analysis

So, conclusions time then: how was the EXT Aria? Well, simply put, it's the best performing air shock I've ridden. The air spring feels great, I like the tunability of the air spring curve without needing to rebuild it, and the damper on this Aria is fantastic. I like the Pedal Mode too, with the Aria providing a firm pedaling platform. All that performance does come with a minor weight penalty, the Aria coming in 184 grams heavier than the Rock Shox Super Deluxe it replaced. Then there's the price of $1,500 CDN, which is a lot. When spending that much on a high-end piece of kit, I'm expecting a flawless user experience. I'm a bit disappointed to have had issues with two shock pumps, a leaking Schrader Valve, and a leaking Valve Housing. I was able to rectify all the problems, but it feels a bit like owning an Italian supercar; flashy, fancy, fast and loud, but you're probably going to need to fix it. And maybe that's part of the charm. I almost feel more emotionally attached to the EXT Aria because I've put effort into pumping this shock up every ride and fixing its leaks.

I'm conflicted on recommending the EXT Aria. Performance has been excellent but it's had some issues along the way. With the weight being somewhere between a Rock Shox Super Deluxe and a coil Fox DHX2, I'd be personally inclined to go with a premium coil shock, and spend the $500 left over on whisky. But then the damper really is excellent on the Aria, so maybe the coil version, the EXT Storia LOK V3, is the answer?

More on the EXT Aria Rear Shock

Trending on NSMB

Comments

craw
+7 Kenny JT Vik Banerjee Cooper Quinn Heinous DancingWithMyself Larrabee Spencer Nelson GHOST-D

EXT is one of those expensive brands we like to give a pass for fails that would have condemned a comparable product from just about anyone else.

Reply

T-mack
+7 GHOST-D GB AndrewR Raymond Epstein holmesslice Vincent66 Suns_PSD Tim Coleman gubbinalia

Kind of like a really really hot girlfriend

Reply

mhaager2
+5 Timer Briain Kos Larrabee GHOST-D

You do have to wonder about how much those pressures contributed to the problems.  500 psi is insane, but even 260 PSI in the main chamber seems high. I have zero engineering background, but intuitively you‘d think that high pressures like that would be hard on seals etc. Any idea why they require such high pressures?  Would re-engineering the shock to work with lower pressures result in significant performance compromises?

Reply

GrundleJ
+2 Mammal Briain

A lower pressure would require a larger piston area for the same spring rate and typically that translates into a larger/heavier shock.  That may be even more of an issue with two chambers/pistons depending on the packaging solutions that were used, which might be why even the main chamber is on the high side when compared to similar air shocks.  This is all speculation, of course.

Reply

lkubica
+1 Suns_PSD

When you pump your shock for say 150PSI at full extension, it will have ~1500PSI when compressed 90% This 500PSI is simply a second chamber. So no, all your air shocks go waaay beyond 500PSI when compressed. The only difference is time, but I don't think it matters.

Reply

just6979
0

I don't think there are many MTB shocks with 10:1 compression ratios. Fox's charts for volume spacers indicate a range of 2-4, maybe 4.5 with max spacers in a shortish shock.

That said..m I run 310 psi in my DPX2, with the second biggest spacer, almost 4:1 ratio, so around 1200 psi at full squish. (Maybe, it also has the LCR (low compression ratio?) aircan that Spesh specs, but I don't see that on the chart).

Reply

just6979
0

260 is not crazy high, most bike shocks max out at 300-350. It's all about surface area of the piston: a Float X has piston area about 2 and a half square inches, so 200 psi gives a starting spring rate of around 500 lbs (super simplified, ignores negative spring, but you get the idea hopefully that the pressures aren't insane. And the second chamber is extra high to start because it is designed to only move later in the stroke, when the main chamber has increased in pressure, effectively growing the volume of the air chamber to keep the spring rate closer to linear.

Reply

kos
+3 Martin Timer GHOST-D

Sounds like an astounding damping system, and.......that EXT is still finding its way w/r/t air springs and the attendant sealing challenges they can pose.

Give them a year, or maybe, with luck, the next production run?

Reply

Kenny
+2 Kos GHOST-D

Yeah they do seem good about making updates as they go, maybe wait for version 2.3.6. 

Seriously though this seems consistent with most stories you hear about EXT. Their stuff is going to be amazing, eventually, but in meantime reviews sound almost like beta tests. 

Ohlins took a few years to figure things out on the MTB side of things. I have a current model RXF36 which has a similar air spring setup and I love it. I do wonder if the concept is practical for a rear shock though since the "++" aka "ramp up" chamber needs so much pressure...

Reply

just6979
0

Static air seals at these pressures in these applications have been solved well for a while. If they were having issues with the "aerospace inspired" dynamic seals, you might have an argument, but the leaks in this sample were from the valve parts, the simplest parts re: air springs. Especially at this price, they should not be screwing up that part. Points to a QC issue, and draws attention to the quality and longevity of the rest of the system.

Reply

Briain
+2 Cr4w GHOST-D

It is a great review and I think the acceptable amount faffing around with products decreases as the prices goes up. Because at least for me without an EXT service center nearby I don't think I'd buy this shock off the back of your review. Also do you think some of your leaky air issues were caused by having 480psi in the shock

Reply

Timmigrant
+2 Briain Mickey Denoncourt

Thanks for the compliment on the review. Weirdly all of the air leaks I had were on the low pressure side. The only issue I had with the high pressure side were the pump failures!

Reply

Onawalk
0

Quick question Tim,

I have a Spire with the RS SD rear, love it, but I've never had a bike with such an unusable rebound damping range in the rear shock.  Everything except the last two clicks before full closed seem redundant.  Howd the Aria compare?

Did the Spire feel a bit more controlled with a shock with a more usable range of rebound damping?

Reply

T-mack
0

Sounds like you have the incorrect tune for that shock. Did it come on the bike as specced by the manufacturer?

Reply

Onawalk
0

Sure is,

Its called, and get this....."Hotdog tune"

I have a couple buddies with the same bike, theyre all the same, its a very light rebound tune, which helps keep the Spire feeling very lively, for a very long, slack, low bike...

Reply

just6979
0

Pretty sure the "hotdog tune" is a piston update (hotdog shaped extension to the compression ports) to reduce high speed compression (with the same shim stack?) while keeping low speed the same. Doesn't have anything to do with rebound AFAICT... 

Those bikes might come a light rebound from the factory, but that's not the hotdog part, it's just a high flow stack on the same rebound ports.

Timmigrant
+1 Suns_PSD

I was running only about 2 clicks out from closed on the RS SD as well. I thought it worked well enough though. The Aria is a step up in every way over the RS SD. I like how the air spring ramps, I like the hydraulic bottom out, and the damper provides more support, but also better square bump compliance. But the Aria is heavier, and much more expensive.

Reply

Onawalk
0

Good to know,

I do get along with the RS SD quite well, makes the Spire, which on paper looks like an absolute monster truck of a bike, feel very playful. 

I feel like being concerned about the weight of the Spire is like stepping over a puddle in a torrential downpour, prolly not too worried

I've been meaning to reach out to Transition to ask about what they feel is the optimum setup for it, but then I get on the bike, and just go boost every side hit nad janky rough section, and cant wie the smile off my face...

Local shop here had both a Storia and Aria on the counter, they are beautifully machined pieces of kit.  Some of the edges need to be "broken" as they are left very sharp for such an expensive shock.

Reply

jt
+2 DancingWithMyself Vincent66

Each review of an EXT product reminds me of when BOS entered the sphere: Whole lotta fanfare, maybe above average performance when working. At this price point that is simply not acceptable.

Reply

morgan-heater
+3 GHOST-D Timer Tobias Wildebeast

My used frame came with an EXT coil shock. It's been pretty bomb-proof. This is pretty early days for the air version.

Reply

jt
0

Sure, but is it $500+ better than anything else? Their product commands a healthy bit of coin for initial purchase and upkeep, just like BOS did, and doesn't seem to do anything truly remarkable compared to the competition. One could get a comparable shock with more robust service options and parts availability. In the end, it seems the value proposition is missing from their product line.

Reply

morgan-heater
+1 Timer

I think that's partly an issue with the NA pricing, they are actually pretty equivalent to Fox in Europe. Butter Suspension does sell/service them in Seattle.

Reply

kos
0

Interesting. I'm a bit of a sucker for cool new stuff. If price were in line with Fox and RS, I'd probably dive in for grins and giggles, despite a few "challenges" with Tim's fine test.

But near 2x is a tough sell.

Reply

Timmigrant
0 holmesslice Vincent66

I rode the BOS fork and shock back in the day, and those were about equivalent performance to the incumbents at the best of times ... with the reliability issues. The EXT Aria has potential, it is an excellent air shock. Whether it's worth the extra money, and potential issues for that performance benefit is a tougher equation to settle. Fox and Rock Shox make excellent performing shocks these days, so I feel the performance is incremental rather than revolutionary.

Reply

Vincent66
0

I still have a combo Deville+kirk2 on my bike.

BOS had some serious problems when they started to come stock on YT bikes ; my opinion, is that such a big market was too much for a small company.

Customer service was a crap ; Since then, they recentered on european boutique market and everybody seems very happy.

BOS Stoy is still seen as reference coil rear shock.

Every time I ride my Deville RaRe, i'm impressed by how it goes thru rock gardens. The faster you go, the better it works !

If I were living in Europe, I would definitely try a deville 35mm.

Reply

ohio
0

The pricing on the Aria and Era is ludicrous. The Arma and Storia coils ($1,000 w/ 2 SL springs) are much closer to a DHX2 coil ($680 + $130 SLS spring), and are light years better performing IME, not to mention close in weight to an X2 or a Vivid Air.

Reply

Timer
0

Their coil shocks have been around for a while and are not known for any reliability issues. 

At least in Europe, EXT is no more expensive than Fox at retail and no less reliable (looking at you, X2).

Reply

hotlapz
+2 Kos ohio

EXT products take a couple of iterations to get good. CF the Era. I have a V3 Storia and it's fantastic.

Reply

GnarlsNishi
+1 ohio

This seems like a great review... for a Storia or an Arma. 😜

Reply

GrundleJ
+1 Velocipedestrian

Nicely written review, Tim.  

Have you ridden the comparable CC Air shock?  If so, how would you compare them, especially with respect to the damper side of things?

Reply

ohio
+1 Velocipedestrian

My Storia Lok V3 in the same 205mm trunnion weights about 700g with a 425# spring, which is also about the same weight as the new RS Vivid Air in that size. Unless you really need the tunability of air (or dual pos air), I'm not seeing a reason to switch from Storia, or buy the Aria to begin with? 

Weight difference between coil and air becomes more pronounced with heavier spring rates, but how much does a 100kg rider care about another 100g of steel - plus the Aria would start needing ludicrous levels of air pressure.

Reply

andrewbikeguide
+1 Tim Coleman

A Vivid Ultimate 205 x 65 Trunion, with bearing adapter, is 579 grams (no "about" about it). And there is no chance I could ride a 425 lb spring. 

As a 98 kg rider I need 275 psi, in the Vivid, to hit 30% sag (on an Arrival 170) so well within the 320 psi maximum. 

The SDLX Ultimate Coil equivalent with a 550 lb spring is 1070 grams.

The Storia with 525 lb spring is in the range of 720 grams, so 141 grams heavier, but you only need to make that decision three times on a bike and it is 'suddenly' a pound (why do we measure parts in grams and bikes in pounds?) heavier all the time, every pedal stroke of every minute of every ride.

@Tim: thanks for your set up figures but it would be more helpful if we knew your riding weight so we could math the difference. Only saying as I have a EXT Aria sitting on my bench which is going on the Arrival as a comparison to the Vivid Ultimate.

Reply

just6979
0

It would also be useful to see the settings with their range. "5 clicks out"  doesn't indicate if it's a lot or a little.

Reply

ohio
0

@AndrewR, have you confirmed that weight for the Vivid? The press releases on the Vivid had the 230 x 65 at 670g (Fox X2 is real world of 680g), so in my head I subtracted 20-30g for a trunnion rather than eyelet mount and assumed ~650g. Could be way off though...

Reply

Timmigrant
0

Damn, sorry about that, we normally include a reviewer profile at the end of the article, and forgot to add it this time. I'm about 192 lbs out of the shower.

Reply

Larrabee
+1 Suns_PSD

The commenters here really add to the review. Thanks to all. 

“…and all EXT forks and rear shocks are made by hand…”

Surely the components are machined on exquisitely-programmed CNC machinery from CAD files?  How on earth can they be described as hand-made?

Assembled by hand?  I’d believe that. And that’s the case because there’s no other practical way to do so, isn’t it?

Tim’s wording implied an advantage here. How can a method be said to be better if there’s no alternative?

It strikes me as a product that wouldn’t sell as well at 1/2 or 2/3 its current price.

Reply

just6979
0

"made by hand" is such a diluted phrase already. It's almost always implied to be better, with no justification (good QC matters more than whether something is made by hand or machine), and very often as an excuse for higher cost. 

When really it just might be the only viable technique (as you said) or it's just a way to get production started without a huge outlay of capital to acquire/build machinery.

Reply

Briain
0

I agree hand made is an overused trope but made inhouse has value to me at least. It means the design team and manufacturing teams are actually in the same building. Fox and RockShox can't even claim  there on the same continent. If it means they can resolve your problems quickly there's value there but if they have lead times for parts like the big guys(I've waited 3 months for parts for a fox fork). Then I don't think the shock is worth the premium

Reply

Suns_PSD
+1 Tim Coleman

Some of the best reviewers in the business here.

It seems what you are paying for with this product mostly is the dual positive air chamber design, which gives you the ability to tune the air spring curve better for many suspension designs.

Tim said this in the comments: "The Aria is a step up in every way over the RS SD. I like how the air spring ramps, I like the hydraulic bottom out, and the damper provides more support, but also better square bump compliance. " That last part is no doubt helped by the air spring design.

I had ordered one of these Aria's for my Relay reasoning that such a progressive rear suspension design needed a linear spring (similar suspension design to the Spire) and that the dual chamber design would allow this. Then I snapped to my senses and realized that I should buy the right shock for my progressive rear suspension and have more reliability to boot, and so I cancelled the Aria and ordered an Avy coil.

If I was building something like an SB160 that doesn't have so much progression built into the rear suspension design and in fact weight does matter a bit, I'd likely buy the Aria.

Thanks for the review.

Reply

tdmsurfguy
0

Great read! EXT stuff looks amazing and I think they make a great product. But for the price it seems like getting a custom PUSH or  buying the cheap marz bomber and having it custom tuned would be cheaper. Granted the bomber isn’t as sexy as the EXT.

Reply

Sebov
0

I was on a EXT Storia V3 equipped Stumpy Evo with Cascade for 2 years. 

Same experience. Nothing special in the parking lot. Works awesome on the trail. Completely blew up after 1,5 years just before the planned service - X2 blew up after about 6 months for reference. 

Was really happy with it.

Reply

Heinous
0

Works great, but you wouldn’t want to take it on a trip or multi day enduro is unfortunate, and a lot like the ERA when I was released. 

I was super disappointed with the ERA reliability and performance. as mentioned above with BOS, I think it reflects automotive expertise disregarding mtb experience…

Reply

Inki31
0

I had such a bad experience with ext, took 2 months to fixe a faulty storia……never again!

Reply

kos
0

"Weight difference between coil and air becomes more pronounced with heavier spring rates, but how much does a 100kg rider care about another 100g of steel"

Well, not at all, and I'm still barely 90 kg (but the winter burger belly will be threatening soon).

Reply

lkubica
0

I don't get this "I'd be personally inclined to go with a premium coil shock", AIR and Coil are not mutually replaceable, your bike or rider preference is either with air or coil. They behave very differently. So much that in fact creating air shock which mimics coil is rather pointless (especially since we have Sprindex), but Aria is something more, it's tuneable. But if you tune it to mimic coil, then it makes zero sense really.

Reply

Kenny
+1 Suns_PSD

The idea of the dual air chamber setup is primarily about reshaping the air spring curve to be something more coil-like (linear), so yeah, that's what he was saying, rather than buy an air shock trying to be like a coil, maybe just buy a coil.

Reply

just6979
+1 Mark MacNab

Maybe your frame has a leverage ratio that doesn't change much, or a long effective eye-to-eye (ie: a yoke), such that a coil shock isn't a good fit. With something like the dual chamber you are more likely to be able to tune that frame to feel like it could with a coil's spring rate without the deficits of a coil shock on such a frame.

Reply

trumpstinyhands
+1 PowellRiviera

I've ridden my bike with an Aria and E-Storia. The Aria felt like a really good air shock. The E-Storia feels like a really good coil shock ;) Both were super planted yet supportive when smashing chunder at high speed but I think it's impossible for an air shock to be as 'supple' as a coil shock.

Reply

just6979
0

Odd that you call out the build quality but then dedicate a couple paragraphs to how you had to fix it yourself. And then say it's part of the "charm"?

If it has enough flaws to be "charming", is it really actually well built?

Reply

trumpstinyhands
0

"There is also a perceptible knee in the air curve (I think happens as the + chamber reaches the ++ chamber pressure), which feels a bit odd on flat pavement, but I never noticed it while riding on the trail."

If that's what I felt, it's just the piston travelling through the transfer / equalization ports on the inside of the air can. The ports look quite a bit bigger than other brands. For a brief moment the shock goes through its travel faster, then slows down / stiffens up again when the piston goes beyond the ports. Yes, I never noticed it on the trail.

Reply

Vincent66
0

> With the weight being somewhere between a Rock Shox Super Deluxe and a coil Fox DHX2, I'd be personally inclined to go with a premium coil shock

Or you could also give a try to FAST FENIX ; I've been riding this shock on my knolly then retro-fity it to my RAAW Madonna ; I've never looked back !

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.