By Ed Pavelka
- 100% carbon
- high strength-to-weight design
- excellent ride quality
- precise handling and tracking
- effective “Bear Trap” headset adjustment
- graphics a bit overcooked
- blade shape may complicate computer installation
Source: bike shops, mailorder catalogs, websites
Size: 700C wheel, 1- or 1 1/8-inch steerer
Weight: 350 grams (RBR measurement)
Construction: high-modulus carbon monocoque blades, compression-molded carbon dropouts, carbon steerer tube
RBR advertiser: no
How obtained: cold cash
Tested: 86 hours
There’s lots of technology in modern road fork design. There needs to be. A rider’s bike-handling ability and even his or her safety depend on it.
Think about the surreal fork failure that left George Hincapie without a handlebar in Paris-Roubaix ’06. The aluminum steerer tube on his carbon fork broke. Suddenly he was going 30 mph on cobblestones with no way to control the bike. He was lucky to come out of that crash with only an injured shoulder.
Here in Pennsylvania, I don’t have cobblestone roads but some are nearly as rough and the descents are steep. More than once while banging down a hill at 40 mph I thought about the painful consequences if the fork failed. It was on my mind because I was still riding the stock Kestrel EMS carbon fork (steel steerer) that came on my 1995 Litespeed Vortex. After 10 seasons of hard use, any strange click or creak coming from the front end made me that much more apprehensive.
It’s no fun pussyfooting on descents, so I invested in peace of mind — a fork about as high-tech as they come — the Easton EC90 SL. It’s all carbon from the top of the steerer to the tips of the dropouts. And importantly, Easton claims it’s nearly twice as strong as any fork of equal weight.
I chose the straight-blade version of the EC90 rather than the one with traditional curved blades, which produce a 43-mm rake. I wanted to give the Vortex a different look and also experience the ride of a fork that has its offset built into the crown, a style seen on an increasing number of high-end road bikes.
Along with the new fork, mechanic Mark Taylor at South Mountain Cycles in Emmaus, PA, installed a Ritchey WCS alloy stem and handlebar and a Cane Creek S6 threadless headset. These ancillary parts were a couple of dozen grams lighter than the old stuff while the fork itself saved a ton. The EC90 SL tipped the shop scale at 350 grams; the ol’ EMS registered 570.
The Vortex feels lighter and more nimble with the new front end, so right there is a big benefit. Handling is quick but predictable, which is exactly what’s wanted. Ditto for the neutral cornering. There is no understeer or oversteer that I can detect. Riding no-hands is no different than with both hands on the bar — the bike tracks steady and true.
On rough roads the EC90 SL is adequately compliant without any tendency toward softness, let alone mushiness. The fork is light, yes, but it does a decent job of damping vibration and chatter. It manages to feel lively in a solid sort of way, erasing apprehension that it’s on the borderline of “stupid light,” something I feared when considering going all-carbon.
So far, so good. But it’swhen I stand to climb or sprint that I like this fork best. It feels stable, strong and efficient. There’s no flex or wandering when weight goes over the front wheel. At 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, I’m able to put a good deal of pressure onto the fork when standing on steep climbs. The EC90 SL accepts it without apparent strain.
Now for the technology part. I’ve trusted Easton to get it right. I don’t want to do a Hincapie some day and the company says not to worry — the carbon steerer on the EC90 SL is strong enough that no rider weight limit is imposed. Further, Easton uses what’s termed Relief-Area Design to protect the steerer against clamping damage when the stem is installed.
The blades are described as a “high-modulus Carbon Nanotube Technology monocoque, single lay-up design with EMC compression-molded carbon dropouts.” Among other things, this means that the EC90 SL is 100% carbon, one of the few forks that doesn’t plug in alloy dropouts. The threadless steerer comes in 1- or 1 1/8-inch diameter. (My Vortex uses 1-inch.)
Easton ingeniously eliminates the need for a star washer or other internal headset parts that could stress the carbon steerer. Once the headset bearings are installed, but before you attach the stem, you slip a serrated “Bear Trap” headset adjuster (supplied) over the steerer tube as you would a spacer. It’s a simple device, just 8-mm tall. Then after the stem is attached, you turn a small recessed bolt on the Bear Trap to make the angled teeth of the upper half move against those on the lower half, adding or easing the tension that puts the headset into adjustment. It’s simple, it saves weight, and it works.
The curved crown hugs the front wheel but leaves room for a 700x25C clincher. The blades taper back to a pointed edge from the rounded front (like an airplane wing). This design can make it challenging to install some types of pickups for cyclecomputers. You may need a bit of creativity, as I did with the Cyclomaster CM 215A I use.
Both versions of the EC90 SL come in the same matte black finish with a subtly visible carbon-fiber weave. The graphics on the fork are ample but on the right side of distasteful. Besides “Easton” on the front, the Easton logo and other info appears on each side in red, white and silver.
The EC90 SL has lifted my Vortex into a snazzier league of looks and performance, and it should do the same for any good road bike. To back up strength claims and give riders confidence, Easton provides a five-year limited warranty.