Any occasion of getting in touch with a fork which is not so much known by riders can only be appreciated. There are always people looking for alternatives, even if these alternatives haven’t always enjoyed the respect they deserve. This is the case with RST, which doesn’t quite benefit from the best brand image, due to the variety of low quality entry level forks which can be found on many low cost bicycles. However, RST First Air is a different product and you’re about to see why.
As we also had the occasion to test the 2011 model, I can already come up with a conclusion: in one season only, the new First Air has gone through major improvements, now reaching a high level of quality, better finishes but keeping relatively the same level of functioning.
Competing with Rock Shox Reba, the new First Air now offers the option of selecting one of three different travels: 80 mm, 100 mm and 120 mm. And this makes it suitable for XC but also for All Mountain. If you have to deal with steep ascents you can utilize the 80 mm travel while more difficult tracks can be tackled without any problems with 120 mm travel. In point of rigidity, it flexes more than a Rock Shox Reba but a 15 mm QR should solve this issue. Generally speaking you can feel it flexing more than other competitor forks when braking very suddenly.
In those fast and tight corners, the fork manages to successfully keep the front wheel to the ground, even if it’s a different story when you meet bigger roots, as the front of the bike is pushed into the air. In comparison, much more expensive forks, such as Fox’s F Series spare you such troubles. You can notice this if riding races, when every second counts. But, if you only ride on Sundays, these details are really not that important.
As compared with Suntour Raidon which has the same functioning principle, RST First Air feels safer, and the main reason why is its superior rigidity. First Air can also be bought without V-Brake mounts, offering a much sleeker look.
The right arm (seen from the pedaling position) bears the travel setting, in the form of a very precise knob, which doesn’t require too much effort to be turned. I have to say this, because forks as Rock Shox Recon 351 (working on coil) offer a similar adjustment, which is in fact very hard to twist. In order to correctly set the air volume in the room, there is a valve on the left arm, while the Rebound setting is on the bottom of the right arms. Same as for Fox forks, it is impossible to be actuated while riding, but it does its job and it does it good. This is to mean that, depending on the track you ride, you can adjust the speed at which the fork comes back after taking a hit.
Finishes are well done and they make me think of X-Fusion or Manitou forks. The effort made by the RST engineers to improve the materials used is more than obvious. This is an important aspect, because the previous model had a lot to suffer in this respect.
To sum up, I can say that the 2012 RST First Air may be your first option if you want an air fork ready to offer you the best performance/price ratio. This is better than Suntour Raidon but it doesn’t succeed, at least not for the moment, to reach the refinement of a Rock Shox or Fox fork. The good news is that those who aren’t looking for ultimate performance, but rather for a more than decent product, can now find it, ready to satisfy their basic needs, when riding in the mountains. And, don’t forget, it weighs only1.85 kg!
Weight: 1.850 grams