Ok, I admit it, the title I chose is not quite accurate. EXT isn’t about to disrupt mountain bike suspension, it already is. The Italian suspension maker, whose shocks are found in much of the elite motor racing world, has been slowly shaking things up with us bike nerds for several years now. If you’ve ever had the chance to ride it, you’ll know exactly why the small manufacturer has had meetings with some of the biggest and most influential ATV companies in the world to discuss OE spec offerings. Everyone calls EXT these days. Just a few years ago no one had heard of EXT, and now it would be hard to find a product manager who hadn’t started testing bikes with their shocks.
EXT’s release of its air-sprung Era fork a year and a half ago was a signal that they were doubling down in the mountain bike world and could become a real threat to big players on top-level builds. Much like the first time I rode a Storia V1 shock in 2014, the Era was unlike anything I had ever ridden before. Its ability to simultaneously feel plush and supportive (the holy grail of suspension feel) is simply unmatched. No kidding, my Era fork feels like it handles the terrain better than the big honkin’ forks on my 2022 Husqvarna dirt bike.
They do good things, that’s what I say.
And even though coilover shocks are much more marketable than they were just a few years ago, you can’t really make a splash until you offer an air shock. I remember saying something to this effect when I spoke to EXT Technical Director Franco Fratton in 2014 when he invited me to check out his company’s brand new ATV operation outside from Vicenza, Italy. Make an air fork and shock, and you could shake up the market. But that’s easier said than done. Others have tried and failed to break into the market, which is largely dominated by two brands, so I remember having a good deal of doubt that Franco and his team would be able to succeed where many had failed.
But the team put their heads down and learned all they could about the mountain bike market, began adapting their existing product to better meet riders’ needs, and immediately began working on producing a fork and an air shock absorber. And they don’t just offer flashy versions of Fox or RockShox suspension, they bring first-to-market technologies developed over forty years of racing on and off the road, and manufacturing and testing to the highest standards. highest possible.
And now, here at Sea Otter 2022, EXT is showcasing their very near production Aira air shock. Now, I’m not one to talk about products long before they’re released. In fact, I hate the culture of spy photos. But, the Aria is no longer a rumor or an early prototype. This thing will be available. It may not be before the end of the year, but it is real. And I’m just too excited about it to keep it around any longer.
The Aria is based on the E-Storia, with the same architecture and shock characteristics. It has the same high and low speed compression and rebound circuits, the same not-too-firm lockout, adjustable hydraulic bottoming control, and all the other rad stuff you can’t really see, but can definitively To feel. And, it’s suspended by air instead of steel. But, EXT wasn’t happy with “just” airing out their coil shocks, they wanted to develop a noticeably better air spring, so they took the dual positive air concept they did for the Era fork and tweaked it. adapted for the much smaller air spring on the Aria. This allows for a huge range of ramp adjustments, without the need to disassemble the shock to play with the volume spacers. I love this feature on the Era, but I think it could be even more awesome for shock, where many riders just don’t bother messing with their air spring curve because it’s too painful . To be honest, it’s usually pretty easy, but using a shock pump is a lot easier.
Plus, EXT’s dual positive air chambers are more than a substitute for volume spacers. Volume spacers reduce the volume of a single chamber, so they affect feel throughout the range of travel. When you add volume spacers on a Fox 36, you can only reduce air pressure because the fork becomes harder to reach. You can make the top softer because the bottom is harder. EXT’s setup is basically two springs – one for the top of the stroke, one for the middle and the end of the stroke. So you can adjust one without affecting the entire range of motion. This control allows me to make my Era incredibly smooth for small to medium chatter, while never using too much travel and never feeling too harsh during those white shots.
If the Aria’s air spring does something like this, while providing the same level of damping control that coils offer, it will be truly unique. I, for one, can’t wait for it to be available later this year. Stay tuned for a review whenever we’re able to get some time on it.