When I first got on EXT suspension, the company was totally unheard of in the bike industry. Oh geez, now I sound like those annoying music fans, like that guy who was into Nirvana before they got popular, ever since he “saw them open for Butthole Surfers one time at Union Station, man. It was sick. There were like 50 people there, tops, and I wound up taking shots with Kurt at the bar after the set. That’s just, like, how it was back then, man.”
Anyway, what I was going to say was that whenever I used to review EXT suspension, I’d always say something like: “the best suspension you’ve never heard of,” or “you probably haven’t heard of EXT before, but …”
It seems like perhaps the time has passed on those types of openers, though. EXT has been in the boutique mountain bike suspension game long enough now that most core riders know the name. You still don’t see a ton of it out on the trail, but there’s a good amount of buzz around the brand nowadays, and it’s well-deserved. Simply put, EXT is the best performing suspension I’ve ever ridden. It’s not a small, nuanced difference, and I’m not just into them because the stuff looks appealing. It helps that the Storia shock is a work of art, but the real reason I keep putting these dampers on my bikes is because EXT suspension works extraordinarily well, in a way that you can feel immediately. It’s probably why EXT has been steadily gaining popularity over the past few years, despite an almost non-existent marketing strategy, a language barrier (the company is Italian), uncertain global purchasing, and a brand name (Extreme Racing Shox) that sounds like Randy Savage or the people who did Mountain Dew’s publicity came up with it. Marketing isn’t EXT’s wheelhouse, making custom, highly advanced suspension is, and that’s what the company is building its reputation—and demand for its products—around.
EXT’s history is entirely in motorsport racing. They make custom dampers for race teams, not retail shelves. They’ve never made stuff for a retail market like they’re doing with mountain bike suspension, so it’s no wonder that the marketing isn’t as flashy as Fox or RockShox. It’s also no wonder why they blow both those brands completely out of the water when it comes to performance, consistency, suppleness, and support. Fox and RockShox are huge. They design suspension to be mass produced and offer a certain level of user-friendliness that goes along with their products being spec’d on basically all mountain bikes. They can’t dyno test each individual damper they make, like EXT does.
Fox and RockShox make damn fine suspension, but EXT is at another level. The Storia shock is remarkably fast and precise in the way that it smooths out the trail beneath you. It has so much more pop and liveliness than other coil shocks out there, and the support delivered by the hydraulics is simply stunning. The Storia provides levels of traction that I’d never experienced prior.
So, it’s a damn good thing that EXT released its own fork last year, because running an EXT shock with anyone else’s fork just makes you wish you could get the front to feel like the back. Now it’s possible. EXT’s technical director, Franco Fratton had been teasing the release of the Era to me so much and for so long that I figured there’d be no way it could ever live up to the lofty anticipation-driven expectations I had for it. But unlike Alien 3, the Era delivered far beyond my expectations. I’ve never felt a fork with such a perfect blend of suppleness and support. The tune-ability of the Era’s spring rate is also industry-leading. Between the coil-spring beginning stroke and two separate positive air chambers, riders can dial in the exact amount of plushness and support they’re after—and it’s easier than you’d think it’d be to get familiar with the dual chambers. Plus, there’s only one rebound knob to mess with. I love Fox Grip2 forks, but even the most experienced fork tinkerers can have a hard time with high-speed rebound.
Same goes for the Storia V3 shock. Having high- and low-speed compression is key for performance suspension, but I actually do prefer just the one rebound knob. And while we’re talking about adjustments, the knobs on all the EXT suspension I’ve run really do offer a useable range of adjustment. With both Fox and RockShox, I wind up running most of the knobs almost all the way open. On the forks, I often just open both compression knobs up all the way and leave them there. The performance of the both RockShox and Fox’s high-end dampers is very good, but I’d like to be able to get them to feel too fast on the compression stroke, just to be able to dial it in for my liking. With EXT, all the way open actually feels too fast sometimes, which requires me to dial both high- and low-speed clickers in to where I like it, and it actually makes me feel like those adjusters are serving a more useful purpose.
Before EXT had its own fork, I’d recommend the Push Elevensix alongside the EXT Storia. Both shocks are superbly made and offer discerning riders that extra level of performance, traction, and control. It’s tough to actually say which is better, but the fact that EXT has its own fork now makes it an easy choice. Having such high-performance suspension at both ends of the bike creates a ride that’s really like no other.