X-Fusion Trace HLR
First Impressions/Teardown

X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR Teardown

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Aug 7, 2018

Trace 36 HLR

When you reflect on how impressive bikes are these days, it's easy to lose sight of how great they have been for some time. I'm a fan of the geometry evolution and, as an aggregate, components are better, but there have been powerful brakes, superb suspension forks, and sticky tires for years. With the 2019 models arriving I'm reminded that it's been seven years since my first Kona Honzo changed 29'ers and hardtails for me.  

My Honzo was equipped with a 2012 Fox 34 RLC. It delivered 140mm travel from a FIT damper and Float air system with the same basic architecture Fox had used since the original 36 Float was released in 2005. It was a great fork and in various ways it's better than a lot of products Fox has released since. 

The 170mm, 160mm, or 140mm travel 29'er X-Fusion Trace 36 HLR bears an uncanny resemblance to those excellent forks of yesteryear. It combines high manufacturing quality, a bladder-style damper, a basic air system with a coil negative spring* and a crown steerer assembly with a strong reputation for creak-free performance. 

*As opposed to the self-adjusting negative air spring with a transfer port that many companies now use

X-Fusion Trace HLR

X-Fusion's proven HLR damper with high and low speed compression adjustment. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The all new chassis uses Boost 110x15mm spacing and 36mm stanchions. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The rebound knob is recessed into the lowers to protect it from rock strikes. 

My expectations are high thanks to my outstanding experience with the Trace 34.  X-Fusion has been perfecting this stout-chassised  fork since I first saw it at Interbike 2016. I'll be riding it on multiple bikes starting with the travel set at 160mm but also experimenting with the and feel of the air system in both the 170mm and 140mm travel settings. Having run the Trace 34 at 140mm, I'm curious to evaluate the relative stiffness of the two platforms. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The Roughtcut damper side of the Trace 36 HLR still uses a 26mm socket for removal. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

I hope that all brands switch to using the Shimano cassette standard for both airside and damper side top caps. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

I prefer bolt-on axles, so I'm happy to see the change from the QR thru-axle on the Trace 34

X-Fusion Trace HLR

Compression and rebound knobs and mounting hardware for lowers is all quality stuff. 

For the sake of comparison, with an SRP of 900 USD the Trace 36 punches in a couple hundred (USD) less than the equivalent Fox 36 or RockShox Lyrik. At 2150 grams (my scale | uncut steerer | includes axle), the Trace 36 weighs under 100 grams heavier than the 29" versions of either of those forks. 

X-Fusion has positioned the Trace HLR as a high-performance long-travel 29'er fork and there are a lot of great horses in this race ranging from the 750 USD Suntour Durlox RC2 I've been testing to more expensive, and excellent, fork options from DVO, Ohlins, and Formula. It's an exciting time to be in the market for a long-term fork purchase and I'm thrilled to see where the Trace 36 ranks. 

Air System

A big thank you to my friend James at Suspensionwerx for this teardown in between packing the truck for Crankworx and keeping up with service work. James did the Trace 34 teardown as well, so we have consistency. 

As with the smaller Trace, the assembly quality of the Trace 36 is as good as any fork I've seen. The seals are well lubricated, everything is tight, and the fork is smooth right out of the box. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The new top cap uses a Shimano cassette tool for removal. Two volume spacers come installed. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The coil negative spring and top out spring where well greased. Build quality is superb. 

I like the simplicity (design, service, travel adjust) of the coil negative spring and X-Fusion's rate works excellently for my weight (185 lbs) but I would like to see multiple spring rates offered. Negative springs are cheap those in the Trace 36 are very easy to replace. 

This is one place I give props to Suntour. While they need additional rates for heavier riders, they sell replacement springs for 10 USD and they take less than ten minutes to change, including finding my tools, opening a beer, and putting on a little Gordon Lightfoot.

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The air chart is just a starting point and will depend on rider preference, bike, whether it is being ridden at 170mm, 160mm, or 140mm travel. 

Travel adjust on the Trace is accomplished by removing the lower air system assembly, tapping out a pin, repositioning a Delrin spacer and then reinserting the pin either with a vice or by tapping it back in with a punch.It's a job that's easily accomplished without any special tools and it doesn't require sourcing and purchasing any other parts, be they clip-on spacers, thread-on spacers, negative plates, bumpers, or air system shafts.

X-Fusion Trace HLR

This is the 170mm travel setting. To start off I'm riding the fork at 160mm. It's relatively quick to change in a shop setting. 

With the help of a bike stand, travel can be adjusted without removing the fork from and with minimal loss of fluids. Remove the front wheel and brake, pivot the bike so the fork is horizontal, let out the air, remove the lowers, and voila - access to the lower air system.

Damper

The HLR damper architecture has not changed significantly since X-Fusion switched over to a bladder-style damper for top-end forks. At the top of the fork, on rider's right, there's a gold adjuster for high-speed compression and a blue adjuster for low-speed compression. At the bottom, there is a red adjuster that controls rebound damping. All the adjusters have obvious detents, offer good grip with a bare or gloved hand, and feel solidly manufactured. The high-speed and low-speed adjusters are individually bolted into place. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

James removing the bled HLR damper to test it independently from the fork. The verdit is it's bled perfectly from the factory. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

Removing the high-speed compression adjuster. 

XFusion-Fork-Trace-NSMB-Andrew-13-1.jpg?resize=1600%2C1083

We didn't take apart the HLR damper of the 36, but here's the strip-down from the 34. 

For initial setup, I plan to match the settings I ran with the Trace 34. I ran the low-speed compression at 5 clicks (from closed) and the high-speed compression at 6 clicks (from closed) with 20% sag - but the compression circuit on the 36 feels much firmer out of the box. Once the fork breaks in I'll follow up with updated settings. 

Service

Wherever you service the Trace 36, one of the true beauties of the air system is how simple it is to clean, lube and reinstall. There are no transfer ports to clog with grease, no issues with oil volume in the negative air chamber, and the components are all high quality and easy to replace. Likewise, the damper is either purged of air, or it isn't, and it's easy to test by hand when it's out of the fork. 

The seal configuration consists of the most commonly used combo oil-seal and dust-wiper sitting above a foam ring that's soaked in oil. Pack the seal in a light grease - Slickoeluem or equivalent - soak the foam rings and the fork feels buttery off the top. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

Foam rings fully soaked from brand new. New seals are said to last longer and run smoother. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

James prefers to insert bath fluid from the top rather than the bottom. 

The Trace 36 details aren't up on X-Fusion's service site yet; however, historically they are excellent about supplying tech guides and service videos. Speaking particularly about basic service, this is a fork that anyone with an interest, some patience, and access to a flush 28mm socket and a Shimano cassette tool should feel encouraged to tackle. 

Spare parts are widely distributed in North America and while it may pay off to keep a spare set of seals handy, any shop can acquire the parts and knowledge to service these forks. In Canada, there us factory service and parts support covered through SuspensionWerx and S4 Suspension. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

On a shop scale, SuspensionWerx uses a Walter Bio-Circle with oil-ingesting micro-organisms instead of toxic solvents. 

First Impressions

Out of the box, the X-Fusion Trace 36 has a firmer suspension feel compared to the Trace 34 but it's well within the range of other top end forks. I have it all ready to mount up and I'm excited to get a tonne of hours on the new platform soon. I'll jump into the comments with an update on base settings as soon as I'm through the break-in period. 

X-Fusion Trace HLR

The Trace 36 looks the business and manufacturing and assembly quality promise a top end experience. 

This is a premium product, despite costing less than the average suspension fork in the full-featured long-travel 29'er category, and I have premium expectations. On the basis of the design, manufacturing, assembly and my past experience with the smaller chassis Trace 34 29'er I'm keen to see what X-Fusion brings to the trail. 

For more information please talk to your local dealer or check out X-Fusion's site here

Comments

jt
+5 AlanB grambo Velocipedestrian Andrew Major Mammal
JT  - Aug. 7, 2018, 7:17 a.m.

First, I love these articles still. You may get bored reading that comment, but it opens one's eyes to what the heck is happening inside the goods. That leads me to secondly, and correct me if I'm incorrect here, that interface between the comp rod and the air piston appears to be a ball joint, and if so BIG kudos to X Fusion for designing their air piston to work with the inherent flex of a sus fork. I've wondered for a long time why manufacturers haven't taken that route to get rid of side load interference and friction on their air pistons. Might bit curious to see how it holds up.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 goose8
Andrew Major  - Aug. 7, 2018, 8:41 a.m.

Good eye! Yes, the air piston is on a ball joint. This should reduce friction, as you note, and potentially wear - I haven’t seen it with an X-Fusion fork but I have seen forks with coil negative and top out springs where there’s wear on the rod from contact with the springs. Either way it makes total sense to uncouple (or reduce-coupling at least) the air system from the chassis.

The same way that spherical eyelets make a lot more sense than hard mounting (yoke / trunnion) shocks into frames from the perspective of shock performance.

I’ll examine it further (and the ball joint) at wrap up.

Thanks for the props! It’s always nice to know that folks are still enjoying these pieces and getting value out of them!

Reply

jt
0
JT  - Aug. 7, 2018, 1:17 p.m.

Always happy to dole out kudos when deserved. You cats earn them often.

I was also thinking about wear I'd seen on comp shafts from the end nut used to hold the compression assembly inside the stanchion. Most forks have some sort of bushing in there, but not all. Decoupling the piston and the comp rod and allowing them to both remain parallel to their respective glide surfaces just seems so obvious.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 AlanB
Andrew Major  - Aug. 7, 2018, 10:02 p.m.

Thanks JT! 

Yeah, it seems a ball joint is a really simple way to prevent wear. It will be interesting to see if other brands adopt it.

Reply

Hayden.Cameron
0
Hayden.Cameron  - Aug. 8, 2018, 4:55 p.m.

Nice spot, I missed that ball joint initially. It's a pretty similar concept to that used on the pistons of hydraulic piston pumps too. AVE has a cool tear down of one

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IjrU5bUbUc

Second the kudos. Good articles.

Reply

jt
0
JT  - Aug. 7, 2018, 7:17 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

Lynx
0
MountainBikeBarbados .  - Aug. 7, 2018, 12:32 p.m.

Have to agree with JT Andrew, keep it up with these sort of articles, really lets us know what's inside and how easy/hard it is to service.
As to X-Fusion, I have an original RL damper Trace and I also have several Fox F34's I could choose, but have always kept the Trace on my personal bike because of it's performance, really would like to get an RC HLR version sometime in the near future.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Aug. 7, 2018, 10:05 p.m.

Thanks!

I had a Trace RL of my own years ago. The first version was okay but then they improved the mid-valve and it became a great basic fork.

This Trace 36 HLR is much stiffer out of the box comparatively. Had my first good ride on it today - and it's hot so I might have been hallucinating when that velociraptor passed me on his unicycle - and it felt much better by the end just with the ride time (break-in) and working on the settings. Excited to get it dialed. 

It's quite a change (not good or bad) going from a very open fork like the Suntour Durolux I've been running to a more damped fork like a Fox or X-Fusion.

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