28 October 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: DT Swiss EXC 150 15QR suspension fork

If you haven’t already figured it out from reading my reviews, I tend to be attracted to bike components that are often times prohibitively expensive. I don’t look at the price of something and say “that’s expensive, I must have it”; I usually look at the product and say “that is awesome, I gotta get it”. Then I look at the price and realize I've done it again- picked out something at an absurdly high price. The DT Swiss EXC 150 fork fits in this category with a whooping retail price of $1,200.

For those of you who aren’t aware of it, DT didn’t’ just start making these forks from scratch. They bought the design from Pace. Pace is a forward thinking British company that makes some cool mountain bikes, components, clothes and until recently, forks. I have owned two of the Pace-built suspension forks: One, I still have and it still works, and other, I still have and it never worked that well. DT knew what it was doing though- it only moved forward with the design that worked (both designs were very similar, however, the one that sucked was the attempt to have a travel-adjust fork, which it seems was over Pace’s engineering head). The Pace versions were expensive too, but when DT took over, the price went up even more because DT spent a lot of time and money to bring quality control to the next level. One of the most telling changes was moving the production of the forks in house to Biel Switzerland from Kirbymoorside, England.

The EXC is one of the only suspension forks around with carbon lowers (excluding other DT forks). This too, is one reason that these forks are so expensive. As we are seeing across the industry, carbon isn’t just about weight savings- it’s also about stiffness. Yes the DT forks are very light, but not that much lighter than the top alloy or magnesium-legged models that are coming out right now. They are noticeably stiffer than those competitors though. I actually weighed the DT next to a 2009 Fox 32 Talas 150 15mm and it was only 80g (.18lb) lighter. That isn’t much weight in the grand scheme of things, but the DT is stiffer than the Fox. It’s a subjective assessment, I admit, but I rode them both on the same bike and I can feel the difference. I will also admit that most of the time I’m riding, I can’t feel the difference- but when I can, it’s usually at a time that I’m very glad to have the extra stiffness.

The DT line uses a reverse arch design on the lowers (similar to Manitou) which makes good sense from an engineering standpoint, but it always looks like the top of the arch is going to slam into the down-tube. It never does though. The EXC features compression adjustment, rebound control, and a lockout/climbing mode which DT calls “Launch Control”. Launch Control is pretty clever, but may not be for everyone. It basically closes the rebound circuit which not only locks the fork but drops it a bit. DT claims that you can lower the front to the “desired level” but this is only partly true. In actuality, I tended to end-up a bit lower than I wanted, but a small range of positions does exist to play with if you’re careful how hard you push down on the fork after initiating the lockout. In an even cleverer move, the Launch Control has an automatic release feature which returns the fork to normal if you hit a bump with enough force. This is great if you forget to change the fork back to normal after starting the downhill, as you don’t have to take your hands off the handlebar. To top it off, there is a threshold control for the automatic release function- you can dial it up so that only really hard hits release the fork, or you can dial it down so that it releases on almost any impact. This control is very well executed and effective at its intended purpose. The rebound control works well but the knob is so easy to move and exposed enough that brush along the trail can grab it and change the setting. I don’t think this happens very often but I will occasionally look down and notice it is in a slightly different position. The 2010 forks have a less exposed knob (no jokes please) so this should be less of an issue now.

Since I’m mentioning the 2010 forks, DT have also made some changes to the damper assembly in the right leg. I don’t know how it affects the ride of the new fork but the changes were “minor” according to the company. It does mean you can’t get the new knob and retrofit it to the old fork however. The compression damping adjustment doesn’t do that much on my fork. It doesn’t bother me too much though because the compression damping is right where I want it to be, but this is kind of ridiculous considering the price the EXC150. Maybe it’s malfunctioning and I just never bothered to check because I liked the setting the way it was. To be sure, I will contact DT (and my local suspension guru) to find out if the fork is working properly. I will post an updated review when I find out.

The ride, you ask? Like butter. The EXC is smooth and linear. In the recommended air chamber setting, expect a bit more sag than you’re used to, but the fork is smooth, and soft, and smooch-a-licious. Steep, rough downhills are its weakness with lower pressure (read: too much fork dive) so I played around with the air pressures a bit. With a little more air the fork's downhill performance increased to the expected awesomeness. The fork sags is less than usual with higher pressures but most people will probably like it this way better, since they can drop the fork on the climbs using the Launch Control.

All in all, this is exactly how I like my forks. I usually don’t mind some fork dive as a tradeoff for the smooth climbing performance, and the DT is that kind of fork. You can mitigate the dive quite a bit with just a little more pressure in the air spring, but if you like a bit more compression damping (like you see on Fox forks), this probably isn’t the fork for you. This fork is a trail rider's dream though: light, stiff, and smooth. After 5 hours in the saddle, anyone will appreciate its smooth and linear nature. DT has a bunch of forks available for most types of riding and most share the same features and carbon lowers. However, DT just came out with a number of more-affordable forks with magnesium lowers (like other brands), with all the same features as the carbon models. They aren’t much heavier either- imagine that. Pricing on the magnesium-legged forks will be comparable to Fox and high-end Rock Shox models. DT offers the EXC150 fork in a 15mm version and a standard QR version. They used to do a 20mm thru-axle, but dropped that version, feeling that the 15mm axle will help communicate that theirs are trail (rather than downhill/freeride forks). I have a feeling it won’t be long until the QR version is gone too.

charlie

www.dtswiss.com

3 comments:

Dan said...

The EXC would look killer on my bike! It sounds like it handles a bit like the maverick forks, pretty sensitive to bumps (and brake dive)but overall nice and smooth. Do you have any experience with the DUC32? I'd love to read your comparison of the two.

bikefix said...

Dan,

I do have experience on the DUC32 but not much recently (probably 4-5 years ago). Gosh that is a hard comparison. I liked the DUC a lot and the only reason I stopped using them is because I have enough bikes that it was getting in the way of swapping wheels around between them. I guess that I would say they are very similar in the smoothness of their travel. I think the DT ramps-up more towards the end of the stroke so it doesn't feel quite as bottomless. The Maverick fork is probably stiffer in the front to back dimension too- maybe. The DT is probably stiffer laterally (not as important) and every other possible way. The DT has more external adjustments. In the end, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't give up a DUC that I already had to buy a DT- unless you are just tired of it, or if you don't have a competent mechanic for the DUC. If you have neither and are just shopping, I would lean towards the DT. FYI, the new Carbon 36 DUC should be available in January or February and it is going to be cool. I hope that helps

Charlie

Anonymous said...

I had the Pace rc 41 previous to now having the dt xmc 130.
Love the fork, but sometimes a feel the diving on steep downhills can be a problem. If it gets steep the fork seems to be rammed down to the bottom of it's travel all the time. The upside is that for general trail riding etc it's the dogs. What would be cool is if you could buy a better replacement damper in the future.
DM