X-Fusion Trace 36 NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG
REVIEW

X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR Fork

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Apr 11, 2019

Tracing Riders

My X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR review started as expected. The teardown at SuspensionWerx revealed an internal level of manufacturing that is easily the best in its price range and much nicer than most forks that cost more.

Coupled with a well-earned reputation for crown steerer units (CSUs) that don't creak,* chassis stiffness is excellent. I thought the Trace 34 chassis was plenty rigid, but the Boosted Trace 36 is more in line with the modern carbon Enduro bike riders' expectations.

Over the course of this review I've ridden the Trace 36 HLR as a 140mm, 160mm, and 170mm 29" platform on both hardtails and full suspension bikes.

*Or at the very least go comparatively longer without creaking when dueled against competitors.

XFusion Trace 36 NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

The Trace 36 slows up in the cold to a similar extent as a RockShox Charger or Fox FIT damper. Riding in the cold all the time I'd be tempted to try a lighter oil in the damper.

Out on the trail, unfortunately, all was not roses. I struggled from ride one to get the Trace 36 set up so that I wasn't thinking about it every ride. A 185lbs+ rider who likes a lot of mid-stroke progression from their suspension fork probably won't love the Trace 36 HLR.

Fortunately there are plenty of forks at each price point that work great for me and where I'll buy a Suntour Durolux or a Manitou Magnum Pro IRT, I can think of a couple categories of rider that are going to prefer a fork like the Ohlins RXF or this Trace HLR.

X-Fusion Trace 36 NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

The carbon Chameleon over-forked with the Trace 36. One of many bikes I had the Trace 36 HLR mounted on - thank goodness for split crown-races.

First up, riders who really love a coil-like-feel, not just the idea of a coil-like-feel, but don't want to lose the end stroke progression of an air fork* will probably also love the Trace. The bled-cartridge HLR Roughcut damper has a wide degree of tune-ability and I never managed to bottom the fork with two tokens but I never felt like I was losing a lot of travel.

In this case, the Trace will pair best with a bike designed to run in the 30%+ sag range out back either with a coil shock or a high-volume air shock. Setting up the HLR damper is very similar to a Fox FIT fork where the optimum settings will feel 'slow' on the shop floor and then open up nicely on the trail.

*Or can't spring the $$$ for a tunable coil system like the PUSH ACS3

Race Face Vault J NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

For my 185lbs the linear Trace 36 performed best on a full suspension bike. It was a great match for my coil-shock equipped Rift Zone.

Lighter riders are also potential Trace customers. With modern air systems, even with their self-adjusting negative springs, many light riders find it difficult to ever come close to full travel because of the amount the forks ramp and find themselves pushing through a 'shelf' around the mid point of the fork travel at the pressure they need to run.

Take a Trace 36, remove the volume spacers, and be welcomed to a fork that works very well at lower pressures, will use most its travel in bottom-out situations, and does all that without requiring any custom valving or other tuning tricks. Light riders take note, this one's for you.

It's quite possible that this would be worth revisiting if X-Fusion would offer a wide range of negative spring rates but at this time I'd target the fork to those two groups.

Trace Teardown

Build quality of the Trace HLR is as good as anything on market, as you can see in the teardown piece. The seals and internals are all well lubricated right out of the box.

There was a surprising issue with my original damper that didn't seem to affect performance but resulted in an annoying squeak during some compression events. The folks at X-Fusion in Taiwan were flabbergasted and wanted the damper back right away - SuspensionWerx is a warranty center for Canada so they took care of the process.

I've had no issues with the new damper and I continued to run the same settings - hence my thinking that the annoying noise was not actually affecting fork performance. I haven't been able to find anyone with a similar issue and in my experience if anyone experienced a similar issues X-Fusion would take care of it ASAP but it of course bears noting all the same.

X-Fusion Trace HLR

Little details: the air system seal head is on a ball-joint to decouple it from the chassis.

X-Fusion Trace HLR

James at SuspensionWerx ran me through the X-Fusion Trace 36.

X-Fusion Trace HLR

That chassis is as nice as anything on the market. And this is a 900 USD fork.

The one little detail internally that impresses me the most is independent movement of the air seal head vs the chassis thanks to the decoupling effect of a ball joint on the comp rod. I don't pretend to be an engineer but I can't comprehend why every brand isn't doing this to prevent internal wear issues that are common with some makes.

I opened the fork multiple times to change travel, which is accomplished by tapping out a pin to adjust the comp rod length. Even pulling the lowers off horizontally there was a bit of spillage and I had to top the bath oil up. All in all, thanks to the quality of the parts anodizing maybe, the bath oil stays surprisingly clean in the Trace lowers.

The HLR cartridge damper is still working great and has not been serviced to date.

Trace On Trail

I rode the Trace 36 HLR setup at 140mm, 160mm, and 170mm travel. Of those configurations, it worked best for me set up at 170mm travel when paired with a bike that can handle that travel. Running a bit more sag thean I'd normally go with, the 36 HLR demonstrated its potential for a lighter rider or possibly for a rider my size with a heavier negative spring.

My favourite setups combined a Works Angleset with my Marin Rift Zone and Kona Honzo ST. I rode the fork in all travel settings on the Rifty, at 170mm and 160mm on the Honzo, and at 160mm on the front of the carbon Chameleon and Rocky Mountain Growler.

In addition to the chassis, the bled HLR Roughcut damper is great. It offers a very broad usable range of rebound, low speed, and high speed adjustment and performance is as new. I'd still love to see adjustable hydraulic bottom out systems, a la Manitou, on all high-end forks but I'll file that under 'a person can dream right?'

X-Fusion Trace 36 NSMB AndrewM.JPG

I've ridden the carbon Chameleon in as broad a range of configurations as I could. Full review pending.

X-Fusion Trace 36 NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

The Trace 36 didn't hold me back per se. There are just other forks I'd rather ride, at my weight class, given the choice.

My past Trace 34 experiences, tested at 140mm travel on my older model Honzo and a Cannondale Jekyll, were so good it's hard not to be a bit disappointed by my months on the Trace 36. It's not that the fork held me back on any of the trails I regularly ride, but I never had a magic ride where I wasn't thinking about it.

I'm positive it comes down to air volumes. I'd love to ride the fork with the air spring from my Suntour Durolux or, even better, a Manitou IRT system. Barring swapping out the spring, or at least a much heavier rate negative spring option, it's not a fork I can recommend for heavier riders unless they like to run a lot of sag and a very linear setup.

As mentioned earlier however, lighter riders will be in their happy place on the 900 USD X-Fusion Trace 36.

Comments

Lynx
+1 Andrew Major
MountainBikeBarbados .  - April 11, 2019, 5:19 a.m.

Hey Andrew, kind of surprised to read you didn't like this in the 36 iteration when you so loved the 34 version, kind of weird. Long for the days when people weren't thought as being so simple or plain stupid and there was the ability to choose your POS and NEG air pressures to suit you riding style.

Have a must be 7 year old Trace RL2 and was looking to upgrade to the RC HLR damper, so just wanted to confirm that this is this version of the fork, nothing to do with running it in the 34 version. BTW I guess I clas as a light rider, going about 180-185lbs kitted to ride.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - April 11, 2019, 6:02 a.m.

Hi MBB,

All comes down to air volumes. Trace 34 worked great for me; Trace 36 doesn’t work great for me - or at least doesn’t match my preference.

HLR damper is a notable improvement over RL2.

How much sag do you run normally? If you’re in the 25%+ range you’ll likely have a good experience with the 36 at your weight but I’d guess you’re on the cusp.

Having a range of (cheap) negative spring rates could help. The Manitou IRT system isn’t for everyone, but with some faffing about I think any rider could find settings they love. Some riders (many riders) do not want two air valves.

Anyways, to reiterate - the Trace 36 is one of the best values on the market with top end construction for its price but in its current form I think it’s optimized for lighter riders. Which is okay, most forks aren’t.

Reply

IslandLife
+1 Andrew Major
IslandLife  - April 11, 2019, 9:44 a.m.

I hear ya... and it's why I'm on an MRP Ribbon.  That tune-able negative air spring is just so nice to have.  Not sure why anyone would bother with any other fork... light weight but just as stiff as the big boys, twin tube damper, ramp control (no more faffing with tokens), great price, parts available from their online store, travel adjustable with included spacers, pressure relief valves (no more burping seals), engineers from their Colorado HQ are just a phone call away happy to chat about anything from settings to switching oil weights, and, if you're so inclined you can switch out the air spring for one of their 5 different weight coil spring conversions.

Sounds like I'm selling the fork... but I really am just loving this thing.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - April 11, 2019, 2:02 p.m.

On paper, the new MRP forks offer a lot of features I like in a package with a designed-and-assembled in North America cache that fits with my personal purchasing goals (all things being ~ equal I ladder my discretionary purchase: 1) friends' businesses | 2) businesses that support my local community - riding or otherwise | 3) businesses whose philosophies aline with my own | 4) businesses who maximized North American content | 5) etc).

I think they're ahead of the curve with marketing 29" dual crown trail/Enduro forks. Wait a couple years and they'll be busy reminding riders they beat Fox / RockShox / DVO to the punch by years.

Most the folks I've talked to have been happy with the performance of their MRP purchases to a point that they'd buy the fork again. And I know a fair number of mercenary and/or fickle riders so that says a lot.

I should probably be careful here but, in the spirit of frank honesty, my personal experience communicating with the company keeps my wallet in my pocket and would bias me to the point that I wouldn't take on one of their forks for testing.

Buying a fork tomorrow, based on my experiences, I'd either pick up the super yet simple Suntour Durolux RC2 PCS again (it's an awesome package even aside from the price) or a Manitou IRD fork (kick it old school with a 29" Dorado on a hardtail?!). Both those companies have been awesome to deal with in my experience.

Maximizing North American products, I'm really drawn to the Cane Creek Helm (which works well for "larger" riders). Quality is excellent, I know a handful of folks with the forks who are all positive on them, and in my experience, the company is great to deal with. I do think Manitou's IRD is a better (the best) air system and the Durolux is super easy to work on at home hence why those two forks get the edge for my money.

I did try and track down a firmer spring with the right dimensions to crank up the negative in the X-Fusion Trace. That's the one thing holding the fork back from being awesome for a rider my weight.

Reply

Cheez1ts
0
Garrett Thibault  - April 11, 2019, 11:37 p.m.

Hard to beat Fox or Rockshox to the punch. I’m pretty sure Fox, at some point, had a 20mm spacer in the 40s positive spring that you could move into the negative spring to run it at 180mm. And I think RockShox BoXXers were coming at 180mm on Enduro Evos at some point. 

My biggest issue with swapping brands is it gets harder to track down parts, like your firmer negative spring for example. Everything I’ve ever owned has been RockShox, for better or for worse, and now I have a treasure trove of parts to tune my forks with as a result of all of the coil conversions and damper upgrades and just general spare parts that have accumulated over the years. 35mm stanctions on everything is great.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Velocipedestrian
Andrew Major  - April 12, 2019, 11:16 a.m.

I mean, technically the original Fox 40 could be easily lowered to 160mm travel and the Boxxer U-Turn Coil was freakin' awesome at the time.

Folks have been lowering (original and current) Dorados for aggressive 29" riding since 29'ers came out. 

I meant that MRP is actually marketing a production dual crown fork for Enduro usage. With long front-centers largely solving the knee-clearance issue and forks becoming the weak link in overly stiff systems (carbon wheels, carbon frame, super short 35mm clamp stem/bar), not to mention all the creaking CSU issues out there I think it's easy to imagine that some owners of long travel 160-180mm 29'ers  will be running production dual crown forks soon enough.

Reply

Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - April 15, 2019, 1:36 p.m.

Give me a 170-180 dual crown 29er fork with low offset and that 36 is coming off my bike in short order.

IslandLife
+1 Andrew Major
IslandLife  - April 12, 2019, 2:16 p.m.

Interesting... that's disappointing to hear, especially since my experience with the company (multiple times) has been the exact opposite.  I seem to have the same value structure you laid out and when building my new Knolly, I tried to follow this philosophy as much as I could (Knolly, Chromag, MRP, Oneup, etc), which is what initially led me to MRP.  Features and positive reviews led me further down the path, but then it was a couple conversations I had with a couple different people at the company over the phone that cemented the purchase decision for me.  My other option was the tried and tested Fox 36... but I am so glad I went with the Ribbon.

Must have been some "interesting" conversations if it led to you to not even want to take on a fork for testing!  I get it, I'm the same way, if a company turns me off by the way they act, I generally will not support them... just lucky I guess that my interactions have been beyond positive.

I enjoy this fork so much that I'd encourage you to try them out again.  I think we can both agree they're doing some really cool shit and punching far above their weight.  And as you mentioned, they are designed-and-assembled in North America... I think quite a few NSMB readers would love to hear more from the NSMB team about the ribbon... or even the Bartlett which, as you say, is a really intriguing fork.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - April 12, 2019, 2:55 p.m.

Yes, I think the Bartlett is their most interesting product - and my gut feeling (I'm wrong regularly) is that it's the harbinger of where aggressive long travel 29" Enduro forks will go. There's an additional degree of adjustment (raising/lowering forks in crowns), 1-1/8" steerer opens up the option for greater angleset adjustment options, there's more room for damper, air system, etc, and the axle to crown height can be short without compromising the insertion depth of a pressed in steerer like on single crowns.

Generically, I recognize that folks have all different standards for communication and it occurs to me that bike industry businesses seem to often get a pass from a lot of folks who expect more from every other business/institution they deal with in their lives. In my career in bikes I think I've matched the highest customer expectations to the extent that I can justify having very high expectations myself. I recognize that everyone (myself included especially) has a miss now and again, but I think there are always ways to address that if folks choose to be proactive.

I'm glad you've had what sounds like an A-1 experience, and I think it's awesome that you choose to support a brand that supports you instead of chasing the hot trend and then wondering where they went when the doors close.

Reply

jt
0 Andrew Major JR
JT  - April 11, 2019, 2:14 p.m.

I love the machining work of the damper and that ball socket is simply brilliant on the comp rod/piston interface, but I just have a hard time fathoming the one negative spring to rule them all. The quality looks to be there, and then such a trite but meaningful component gets overlooked in the SKU count. Total shame. I definitely like what MRP has done, but it would be a hard, hard sell for me to pass up another Mattoc. The bang for the buck is so high with that fork. I'm curious to see what the big reveal at Sea Otter is for Manitou. I've a hunch the long legged 29er crowd is gonna finally get their due.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 JT
Andrew Major  - April 11, 2019, 2:22 p.m.

Yeah, for the fork-faffer I don't think IRD can be beaten. At least not by any fork I've touched. I love the adjustable hydraulic bottom out too. I do understand why many riders prefer a simpler set-and-forget fork and obviously the Manitou 'look' isn't for everyone. Excited to see their next generation forks. 

If X-Fusion included a couple of additional rates of negative spring in the box, or had them available for purchase as SR Suntour does I think this review process would have been a lot more fun and this review would have been wholly positive. The nice thing with swapping a coil negative spring is it's super simple (inexpensive to design | never has an issue with say a transfer port being plugged with grease) and not something that needs to be maintained once the correct rate is in place. 

Given the choice, I'd also prefer swapping a spring rate over a preload system like DVO's OTT - although, that said, the couple examples of Diamond 110 I've ridden have been really good.

Reply

jt
+1 Andrew Major
JT  - April 12, 2019, 6:12 a.m.

Did you experience the fork extending beyond set travel due to the negative spring compressing as the fork was inflated? We had a guy on a Suntour who was rather.... stout.  At the pressure he was running he was having the neg spring compress so mush that the fork was over extending. It felt and sounded terrible. A quick order and install and it was a night and day difference for him. unfortunately haven't had any hands on/trail time with any DVO product. Would like to, but their wares just aren't around in the Midwest.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 JT
Andrew Major  - April 12, 2019, 11:07 a.m.

Set up for a full suspension bike I was seeing about 5mm more stanchion with the standard negative spring than one level heavier. I run more sag on the front of a hardtail so there it makes a notable difference in performance but no difference in ride height. 

If your customer is significantly stouter than me and you only went up one neg spring rate you could blow their mind by bringing in another rate firmer. The good folks at envelo stock a heavier rate for sure and other Suntour suppliers can likely bring them in.

Reply

jt
0
JT  - April 13, 2019, 1:47 p.m.

Yup, gotta ride that front wheel on the hardtail. The folks at Envelo sold us the XF spring and it was a world of difference for sure. He was able to hit a proper 25% sag without blowing through the travel or spiking hard. I hope this proves a point for XFusion to increase the SKU count just a bit. Guessing I'd be fine on their fork, but I'm just not the type to open my wallet with that kind of unknown variable hanging out there.

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