EXT is ready to disrupt the mountain bike suspension game with its Aria Air Shock

Ok, I admit the headline I chose is not entirely correct. EXT isn’t ready to upset mountain bike suspension—it already has. The Italian boutique suspension manufacturer, whose dampers can be found in much of the elite motorsport world, has been slowly shaking us bike nerds for a number of years. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to ride the stuff, you know exactly why the small manufacturer met with some of the biggest and most influential mountain bike companies in the world to discuss OE-spec deals. Everyone calls EXT these days. Just a few years ago nobody had heard of EXT and now it’s hard to find a product manager who hasn’t started testing bikes with their shocks.

The aria is based on the E-Storia

The release of EXT’s Era air-sprung fork a year and a half ago was a signal that they could double in the mountain bike world and become a real threat to the big players in top-tier builds. Just like the first time I rode a Storia V1 shock in 2014, the Era felt like nothing I’d ridden before. Its ability to feel soft and supportive at the same time (the holy grail of suspension feel) is simply unmatched. No joke, my Era fork feels like it handles terrain better than the big, honking forks on my 2022 Husqvarna dirt bike.

They do good things, I say.

And while coil spring shocks are a lot more mainstream than they were a few years ago, you can’t really make a splash until you offer an air shock. I remember saying something along those lines when speaking to EXT Technical Director Franco Fratton in 2014 when he invited me to visit his company’s fledgling mountain bike operation outside of Vicenza, Italy. Make a fork and an air shock and you could mess up the market. But that is easier said than done. Others have tried and failed to break into a market that is largely dominated by two brands, so I remember quite doubting that Franco and his team would actually be able to succeed where many have have failed.

But the team put their heads down, learned all about the mountain bike market, began adapting their existing product to meet riders’ needs, and immediately started making a fork and air shock. And they’re not just releasing flashy versions of Fox or RockShox suspension, they’re introducing first-to-market technology, developed for forty years of on- and off-road racing, and manufactured and tested to the highest possible standards became.

Compression knobs, lockout and hydraulic bottom controls are all housed in a remarkably compact layout.

And now, here at Sea Otter 2022, EXT is showing its very close-to-production Aira air shock. Well, I’m not one to talk about products long before they hit the market. I actually hate the spy shot culture. But the Aria is no longer a rumor or early prototype. This thing will be available. It might not be until later this year, but it’s real. And I’m just too damn excited about it to keep it any longer.

The Aria is based on the E-Storia, with the same shock architecture and characteristics. It has the same high- and low-speed compression and rebound shifters, same not-too-firm lockout, adjustable bottom-out hydraulic controls, and all the other great stuff you can’t really see but can definitely feel. And it’s sprung with air instead of steel. But EXT wasn’t content to “simply” air their coil shocks, they wanted to design a measurably better air spring, so they took the twin positive air concept they had developed for the Era fork and adapted it for the much smaller air at spring on the aria. This allows for a tremendous range of ramp settings without having to take the shock apart to mess with volume spacers. I absolutely love this feature on the Era but think it could be even more awesome for the shock where many riders just don’t bother tweaking their air spring curve because it’s too much of a hassle. To be fair, it’s usually pretty easy, but using a shock pump is a lot easier.

EXT aria
Two positive air chambers allow for broad control of shock feel throughout the stroke.

Also, EXT’s two positive air chambers are much more than a replacement for volume spacers. Volume spacers reduce the volume of an individual chamber, affecting the feel throughout the travel. Adding volume spacers to a Fox 36 will only reduce air pressure because the fork will become harder to bottom out. You can make the top more supple as the bottom is harder. The EXT setup essentially consists of two springs – one for top travel, one for mid-travel and one for end-travel. So you can adjust one without affecting overall travel. This control allows me to keep my Era feeling incredibly smooth for small and medium sized chatters while never using too much travel and never feeling too harsh on those white-knuckle hits.

If the Aria’s air spring does something like that while offering the same level of damping control as the coils, it’s going to be truly unique. I for one can’t wait for it to be available later this year. Stay tuned for a review whenever we have time.

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