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.
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.
This is where each crown begins its life - as a 2kg block of aluminium.
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.
The half-machined crown is then flipped and mounted on a custom fixture and the process is repeated for the other side.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Samantha meticulously places every adhesive by hand to finish the preparation.
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.
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".