Fatto a Mano: Producing the Formula Nero

Mar 12, 2018
by Matt Wragg  



While they may better known for their brakes, Italy's Formula have been quietly developing an impressive line of suspension forks over the last few years. When Aston tested their 35 single crown fork last year he described it as "one of the best forks out there in terms of suppleness." No small feat for a small, family business entering the ring with the 400lb gorillas that are Fox and Rockshox, not to mention the more established niche performance options like Ohlins, DVO and Bos. As a company, Formula has a long and storied history in the downhill world, so it should come as little surprise to most that a downhill fork was always on their mind. In the second half of last year, it finally arrived: the Nero. While Pinkbike hasn't yet had the chance to put the fork through its paces for a full review, there is one thing about this fork that makes it stand out from its competition - it is handmade in Italy. A quick look at MSRPs will tell you that despite this, the Nero retails for several hundred Euros/Dollars/Pounds less than the Fox 40, the current benchmark for DH race performance. We went to Formula's headquarter's in Prato, Italy to find out more about how this intriguing fork is made.


Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Meet Francesco and Leonardo, the machinists responsible for production in Italy. Francesco is actually the son of Andrea Becocci, Formula's founder and is responsible for their production facility just down the road from their HQ, while his brother, Giacomo works on the commercial side of the business.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
This is where each crown begins its life - as a 2kg block of aluminium.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
The first step uses a single-axis CNC machine to create the initial shape of the crown from the block of metal - the process is the same for both upper and lower crowns, they just run slightly different programmes to create the different shapes.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
The half-machined crown is then flipped and mounted on a custom fixture and the process is repeated for the other side.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
For the third step, the crowns move to a slightly more complex machine to have the threaded holes for the bolts cut and the stanchion holes cut so the pinch bolts can tighten the crown onto the stanchions.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
The final step is polishing. The crowns are kept in these baths for 3 hours to remove any imperfections (and, sadly, the beautiful machining lines).

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
A crown ready to be shipped to HQ for assembly. The 2kg block of aluminium has been drilled, cut and polished down to just 120g. The first round of drilling takes around an hour, although they can mount 6-10 in the machine at one time and leave it to run without supervision, the second round takes another hour and finally around 10 minutes for threading and cutting.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Lowers arrive at Formula in boxes from Taiwan. They are candid, admitting that they would prefer to keep production in Italy, but the capacity and knowledge just does not exist in Europe at the moment and to get the volume and quality they need Taiwan is the only place to go for them because it's the world leader in high-end forging.
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
The stanchions also arrive in a box, however the supplier for these is nearby in Italy. Unfortunately, it's not a process Formula have the capacity to take on in-house.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Meet Valeria, she is one of the technicians responsible for the assembly of the internals of both the damping and spring legs. As this was their first week of production for this fork, she could not accurately say how long it takes to assemble them. But at the moment she is able to put together 100 of their Selva enduro forks each week, to give you some sense of how much goes into each one of these forks.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Next up is Adriano, who takes the assorted components and pulls them together into a usable fork. The damping and spring legs are mounted in their stanchions, then the lowers are prepared with the bushings pressed in by a four stage process. Firstly the bottom-out bumper, then the lower bushings inside the legs, then the top bushings and finally the fork is calibrated to make sure the tolerances strike the perfect balance between sealing and ease of movement. Too tight and the fork doesn't slide freely, too loose and it is too easy for what is inside to get out and what is outside to get in.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Samantha meticulously places every adhesive by hand to finish the preparation.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
For a percentage of the forks produced there is one final stage - quality control on a dyno to make sure the fork performs exactly as it was supposed to.

Nero fork production Formula. Prato Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg
One of the first batches of the Nero ready to be shipped out, a fork ready to compete on the world stage proudly carrying the mantle: "Handmade in Italy".



121 Comments

  • + 45
 damn... I want it
  • - 69
flag Rasterman (Mar 12, 2018 at 6:31) (Below Threshold)
 It looks like a fine fork, but the term handmade is not relevant. There is not a single piece that appears to be handmade. Assembly is not making.
  • + 100
 @Rasterman: should they do it all with a chisel? It's 2018, this is handmade.
  • + 16
 This piece is amazing! correct level of detail to keep you scrolling! Nice @mattwragg
  • + 49
 @flipsk12: Hipster would get wet over a frame labeled as "Hand Chiseled in Portland".
  • + 6
 They could use their beard to clean up the mess@Caiokv:
  • + 6
 @Rasterman: True! but what makes the difference is the care in the assembly and the quantity and quality of the checks that are carried out. I'll tell you more, the total quality is not in totally work in-house, but the skill is in selecting the top among the producers of that article.
  • + 7
 @Caiokv: Get wet? Are you kidding? The hipster would turn into a waterfall
  • + 1
 @Caiokv: baaahahahahaha
  • + 2
 @Caiokv:
A hipster on a bike that has suspension, gears AND brakes? I'm not sure that exists...
  • + 27
 Nice to see photos.
I love the cracked skin and dirty finger nails assembling a high end product, without PPE and with grease and oils that will have MSDS's which will no doubt stipulate gloves!
You can tell that this is not assembled in China at a mass manufacturer, it would be in a controlled environment with gloves worn. I bet their PFMEA is an interesting read too...

(Thanks for the negative props in advance)
  • - 1
 PFMEA is just a terse English translation of "fatto a mano".
  • + 45
 @betsie
This is just a photoshoot. Probably the photogtapher idea not to include gloves.
They do use gloves, see pics here:
www.mtb-mag.com/visita-a-formula

Do not compare european manufacturing standards with china please.

Go and see it for yourself, how they “control the enivroment” i.e. dump everything in the river and somebody else use the same water to irrigate the vegetables factory next door.
  • - 18
flag WAKIdesigns (Mar 12, 2018 at 4:46) (Below Threshold)
 @Betsie - you mean that China has higher standards than facilities protected by Italian mafia?




Booooooom!
  • + 3
 @RedRedRe: I work with a small to large manufacturing companies in China daily from here in Scotland so have a rough idea, we have a supplier quality department to ensure that companies meet our quality, regulatory, ethical requirements etc.
Our Chinese manufacturing partner is very good and heavily regulated. I wouldn't compare UK manufacturing to Chinese, having worked for a small UK design house and manufacturer and worked with small to medium volume, high quality UK manufacturers in Scotland, our Chinese manufacturing partner is far superior in every respect.
  • + 12
 Totally agree. I manage an industrial environment but I'm also the SME so I have to get in the trenches, and seeing that made me cringe. I have been an avid gloves/eye protection/hearing protection advocate for decades but the old timers just don't care... even though they are already deaf with metal shavings in their eyes and permanent lesions on their hands.
People forget about how years of exposure to even seemingly benign chemicals screw you up for life. My dad had no feeling in his fingers in his 60s because as a sign painter he cleaned his hands with thinner for years.
  • + 4
 @skidrumr: Also hairnets... cuz seals don't work if they have hair in them.
  • + 2
 Isn’t it funny how quick some people are to shout for sweatshops in Asia (gathering massive props) and then this...

@Mandell - I remember Cane Creek putting fault on hair and and dust with their Inline mess
  • + 0
 Glad I'm not the only one thinking "no gloves?! seriously?" The idea of 'hand-built' is great, but not so much when you're trying to crank out large batches of product.
  • + 5
 @RedRedRe: No, it was not a photoshoot, this was during production. I interfere as little as possible with workers and it would be unethical for me to ask them to remove PPE.
  • - 1
 @RedRedRe: Chinese manufacturing looks so backwards!

www.uscnpm.org/blog/2014/09/22/the-new-chinese-factory
www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iR0eNuyUKI

Look at who Flex manufacture for and although they are based globally, China is still one of their primary manufacturing locations.
Companies in emerging provider countries like Vietnam are not there yet, but who knows what will happen i the next 5 to 10 years.
America producing some cheap and not so environmental friendly energy is bringing some manufacturing home, even with Flex. If you want to look at the whole supply, look at energy where China is the leader in clean, renewable energy for the world!!!
  • + 1
 @betsie: from what they let you see. Regulation and health and safety are seen as a pantomime in China. Still, not as bad as Indian industry where sandals are worn in foundries. Yes, I too have experience of both.
  • + 1
 Lack of ppe explains why it cost less than a 40.
  • + 1
 @ermoldaker: I wasn't comparing India and China (let alone what happens outside of these countries). Dealing with Flex and HCL regularly (both daily at the moment) there is a difference in the 2 companies. People have looked at moving from China for manufacture but there are currently too many gaps for us to move.
We regularly have people at the manufacturing plant as you would expect.
  • + 19
 Made by hand in small batches by Italians and still cheaper than the big guys! LoL How's that for 'economies of scale' LoL
  • - 3
 Handmade in italy does not speak to quality, durability etc. all it means is that is handmade.
  • + 15
 @biker245: Why am I not surprised you missed the point and went off on a tangent?
  • - 8
flag YouHadMeAtDrugs (Mar 12, 2018 at 10:15) (Below Threshold)
 @m1dg3t: its not really off point. If it's a shit product, it's going to be cheaper. Nobody can deny that the big boys mass-produced components are extremely high quality. If the formula stuff turns out to be better performing and more reliable, then you can comment about price disparity!
  • + 9
 @YouHadMeAtDrugs: And you've taken the proverbial ball and ran with it. Congratulations, you win 1 internet cookie! Smile
  • + 4
 I like it how it went from overblowing Formula to overblowing Rockshox... that sums up humans using internet I guess...
  • + 1
 How is it cheaper? I'm seeing all their forks retailing online for around $1000, and I can't find the "MSRP a counple of hundred dollars cheaper than a Fox 40" anywhere online for this fork.
  • + 9
 @YouHadMeAtDrugs : "If it's a shit product, it's going to be cheaper." this is absurd. There was never a direct correlation between the quality of the product and its price.

"Nobody can deny that the big boys mass-produced components are extremely high quality" lol. Why do they recall some of their products of "extremely high quality" then? As a person who has moved from the "big boys" to Formula I would be inclined to deny that assertion.
  • + 3
 @Skinnyman: Causation correlation; The fallacy of human logic.
  • + 6
 @Skinnyman:
The “Big BoyS” spend more money on curating the image and the way the product is percieved by consumers. And market research.
They save money on the quality of the actual product.

When I bought my Pike, it came with a full printed shiny box that looked very fancy. The pump was shiny and black. Etc.
After two weeks, the stanctions were stuck. When I tried to change the tuning I figured the fork was very limited.

When I got the Formula, it arrived in a nude cardboard box with their logo printed on it. It had two service oils and a silver pump (same exact pump as RS but without the fancy paint, handle and dial design).

What does it mean?
RS spent more money/time to:
Design the box
Print the box
Produce the pump (same pump) in black with fancy dials.


Saved money on:
Not providing any service oil.
Assembling materials: there was actually very little oil in the fork when I opened it!
Quality control
Finishing
Quality of raw materials
Engeenering
Etc. Etc. It gets very long and boring to go into details...
  • + 1
 @mattwragg: I meant that I can't find the formula Nero for sale anywhere, and the 35 (which I'm more interested) is also very hard to find in the States.
  • + 2
 @hamncheez: Nero’s are just starting production now, maybe try Alba distribution in Canada?
  • + 1
 @hamncheez: a fox 40 is nearly £2000 in the UK. I would bite formula's hand off for a $1000 fork
  • + 3
 @Skinnyman: exactly. In fact, rockshox have absurdly variable quality, which is way worse than poor quality in terms of manufacturing
  • + 0
 @ermoldaker: I must be an extremely lucky man then, because I haven't had a faulty Rockshox... And I had at least 12 forks from them since 2009, which I consider to be a lot. That is maybe because I don't behave like a bitchy whiny wendy and send the fork away on warranty as soon as something is wrong - I give it an overhaul. And unfortunately a lot of people are c*nts, which was the main issue with Pike and the air spring "failure". how about you get the finger out of your arse and open it and give it some love instead of riding it straight out of the box.

RS aren't the best, but out of 0-10 I'd give them 8, whereas i wouldn't give Suntour more than 6, considering Fox R2 Fit 4s are 9-10.
  • + 2
 @ermoldaker: True, practically everybody has heard about somebody getting a Rock shox with little or no oil.
  • - 1
 @Flowcheckers: yes and if you buy a HQ motorcycle it often comes with "transport oil" in it, so you change it right away.

No smart person in their right mind would ride ANY fork (Fox, Ohlins, DVO or whatever is your Virgin Mary) without changing oil to fresh right after purchase since you have no clue how long it's been laying on the shelf. Any good mechanic would advise that.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Have you ever tried using automatic transmission fluid instead of super expensive fork oil? Its what my moto buddies do, and I rebuild a used pike I bought that was roasted, and it felt a ton better. I don't know what it would feel like being professionally rebuilt with dedicated suspension oil though.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: function and performance are two different things.
  • + 1
 @ermoldaker: I don’t know how does that relate to what I wrote. All forks from rst to Ohlins have the same function. Keep the front wheel on the ground and absorb impacts...
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Any good mechanic would advise that? What about the 99% of mechanics that don't check the fork oil on new bikes delivered to their shop? Shops don't have time to do that, they pump up the shock and if it feels good it goes on the sales floor.

You act all condescending and then rely on evidence that directly refutes your own claim.
  • + 1
 @Flowcheckers: what? Just because they don’t do it doesn’t mean they don’t advise it. If you don’t service any fork out of the box, you can only put it on your ignorance, which may be fine but your fork still can be fkd
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: True, but there is no excuse for RockShox not putting oil in forks and it speaks to their lack of quality control. When you buy a fork you should be able to be confident it is ready to go! Mountain bikes don't need no transport oil, that's irrelevant.

I actually haven't heard of it happening in years, but for awhile it was bad.
  • + 12
 This Formula stuff is amazing. I absolutely love my Selva and i'm looking forward to see the Propain Dirt Sixpack Team go racing with that Nero.
  • + 2
 I've been interested in taking my pike off my enduro bike to build up a hard tail, and I'm thinking about what I want to replace it with. I'd love to put a formula fork on it, but on the practical side would I have any service or warranty support in the USA?
  • + 3
 @hamncheez: Just ask them, their service guys (and maybe girls) are great and always try to find the best solution.
  • + 4
 @hamncheez:
If you need anything just contact them on Facebook, they will reply right away or within few hours.
Don't bother with the website contact.

If you need to order parts, call the US distributor. They pickup right away.
I ordered a set of CTS valves and I received them within 5 days

I recently upgraded from a Pike and it is easily twice as good.
  • + 1
 @RedRedRe: Thanks for the response. My next question: wheres the best/cheapest place to buy one?
  • + 3
 @hamncheez: i don't know the sources for bike parts in the US.
Maybe just ask Prof. Dr. Google?
However, a friend of mine switched from a Pike with lot's of tuning, to a Formula 35 - and the 35 works better!
  • + 1
 @hamncheez:
I have been looking for this fork (and the 35 before) for over a year.
Within the States, I got mine from Universal Cycles, they have a 15% off coupon. $850.

Bike24 and Bikediscount.de may have slightly better deals (be sure they remove 22% taxes from euro price).

The cheapest I found was Alutech Cycles for 600€, but did not move quick enough.

Any videos/instruction for the Thirtyfive is good for the Selva as well.

Going back, I only regret getting it black instead than purple.
  • + 13
 Rated XX for Pure DH component porn. Love the finish, Black on Black crime yawl!
  • + 12
 Single-axis cycle machine? What a pillar drill?
  • + 1
 @fussylou Likely referring to number of spindle axes (just Z). There are two axes on the table, for X and Y.
  • + 10
 This is great, but it would have been nice to SEE A PICTURE OF THE GODDAM FORK.
  • + 6
 After Marzocchi in the 90's and 2000's is the turnover time for Formula, they are making really nice products maintaining the original made in Italy manufacture especially on this beauty!!
I'm proud of "fatto a mano" in Italy. Everybody may see and feel the difference.
  • + 8
 marzocchi is dead, but we get formula. Italians were always excellent into suspension. keep up good work
  • + 9
 That is some serious machining that goes into those crowns!
  • + 3
 Looks lovely but I'll play the devils advocate. I am curious about replacement part availability and service in good ol merica. Love one off stuff just sucks to be down for service for a month.
  • + 1
 Yes this. I was interested by their selva, but I'm hesitant to get something that might not have any support down the road.
  • + 2
 @hamncheez: Even across the pond in North America the customer service has been amazing. I had a summer job at a bike shop and Formula was always the best with warranties
  • + 1
 beautiful fork but I think it has too much adjustability. I find if a fork has to much adjustability and im having an off day they i start fiddling with the suspension instead of just riding! On the other hand Great engineering and hats off to Formula for coming out with innovative gear!
  • + 2
 from this you can understand why forks are so expensive.
beautifully engineered and finished components
did I read somewhere they are owned by fox ?
  • + 7
 Don't know about Formula but I know Marzocchi are owned by Fox
  • + 2
 Marzocchi are now under fox
  • + 1
 Fox owns Zoke
  • + 1
 Formula are family-owned.
  • + 2
 Beautiful fork but I would love it if one of thes suspension companies would offer a fork completely raw. I love that industrial look.
  • + 3
 damm, those pics are really under exposed. Take it as constructive criticism please.
  • + 2
 I appreciate Formula making something a little different here. I really hope these forks deliver in a big way.
  • + 2
 Certainly helps you to understand the price tags of these items a little more...
  • + 3
 Makes me Shiver with the idea of a hand built DH from Italy.
  • + 3
 Ohhhhh engineering 'n' stuff....cool.
  • + 2
 Again, beautiful products but impossible to find
  • + 1
 sweet...but how's their customer service??? I had a brake issue for my R1's and emailed a few time and got zero response.
  • + 1
 i want this!!! absolutely love my formula brakes so have great faith in this fork
  • + 0
 Two hours to machine one crown, and with an average finish, can’t see them staying in production long !
  • + 1
 Is Formula the new Marzocchi ..??
  • + 1
 I hope they make a dirt jump fork and call it The Flowcheck.
  • + 1
 Nice, I did not know Formula is making a new DH fork.
  • + 1
 Heck Yeah, makes me want to buy one!!!
  • + 1
 Reminds me of rocket espresso machines
  • + 1
 "single-axis CNC machine" I think that should be "three-axis".
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