Mountain Bike Suspension Fundamentals | REI Co-op

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Full Suspension or Hardtail?

If a motorbike (normally a mountain bike) affords suspension, then it has 1 or 2 shock absorbers designed to melt the impression of tough terrain by compressing and rebounding.

Shopping for a brand new mountain bike? You will need to select between bikes with entrance suspension solely (a “hardtail”) or full (entrance and rear) suspension. Some factors of comparability:


Full Suspension

Upfront value

Upkeep value

A bit heavier
A bit lighter

Path suitability
Rougher trails with roots, rocks and drops
Doubletrack, smoother singletrack, pavement, fireplace roads

Finest for
Laborious rides on tough trails;
riders with again or joint points; tough, high-speed descents
All-purpose use (path and pavement); environment friendly hill climbing; comparatively easy trails

Notice: Bicycle producers don’t make their very own suspension merchandise. As a substitute, they flip to main suspension manufacturers corresponding to Fox, RockShox, Marzocchi, Manitou, DT Swiss, SR Suntour and X-Fusion to outfit their bikes.

Upgrading Your Suspension

In case your present entrance suspension wants changing as a result of non-serviceable put on or injury, you want to know these 4 specs to interchange it:

Shopping for a brand new bike? Suspension high quality has a serious impression on its worth. Changing your current fork? You’ll discover a vary of choices and costs. Here’s what could also be price paying extra for:

Much less weight: That is primarily achieved by shifting from a coil to an air spring.

Extra changes: Compression and rebound changes allow you to fine-tune your suspension to fit your weight, driving fashion and terrain. Such “adjustable journey” permits you to regulate to shorter journey for climbs and fewer tough trails. A lockout function is often included; one improve is a handlebar-mounted distant management for the lockout.

Construct high quality: Excessive-end fashions have superior technical design and development and supply an extended life with common upkeep and servicing.

Journey high quality: Hunt down a responsive suspension system providing a easy journey. How will you recognize? Evaluating costs is a fairly dependable information. A pricier fork goes to supply a superior expertise in comparison with a cheap one. 

Entrance Suspension Defined

Nearly all mountain bikes are geared up with entrance suspension, in addition to some hybrid or “consolation” bikes and children’ bikes. Variations:

The commonest kind of entrance suspension is the “fork.” It’s comprised of two struts that join the entrance wheel to the body’s head tube. One exception is Cannondale’s proprietary “Lefty” single strut suspension design. The Lefty usually garners appears to be like of disbelief and skepticism, however it’s a longtime and confirmed design.



Steerer tube: connects the fork to the body.

Crown: connects the two stanchions collectively.

Stanchions: every travels out and in of the sliders; inner workings encompass a spring or air chamber, damper rod, oil, valves.

Sliders or lowers: every connects on the backside to the entrance wheel; it additionally connects to the brakes.

Brake mounts: for rim, disc or each.

Dropouts: to carry the wheel axle.


This refers back to the quantity of distance the suspension will transfer earlier than it’s absolutely compressed.  As a result of the entrance suspension is telescoping, the suspension journey equals the resultant wheel journey.

Some entrance forks function adjustable journey to offer extra versatility: You’ll be able to shorten the journey for going uphill and lengthen it for sustained or steep downhill sections. Adjusting the journey not solely impacts the bump-softening capability of the bike, it additionally impacts the steering and management. A brief-travel bike is extra aware of steering enter, which might translate to twitchiness going downhill. An extended-travel bike has slower steering which feels extra secure when descending.

A super fork absorbs impacts vertically with out undue lateral flex which might detract from the steering and management of a motorbike. The diameter of the stanchion tubes impacts this lateral stiffness. A slim tube will flex extra below the identical power than a wider tube. Conversely, wider tubes shall be heavier and stiffer to soak up the larger impacts generated from excessive speeds on tough terrain and soar landings.

Bike producers will select a fork that gives the suitable diameter and stiffness for the meant driving function of a selected bike mannequin.

Two widespread strategies utilized by a fork to soak up impression after which rebound again:

A coil spring (wound metal coil) supplies a linear compression charge, giving easy, constant impression absorption over the vary of spring journey. Coil springs can be found with completely different resistance charges and are matched to an “common” rider for the scale of body the fork is on. In case your coil spring feels too mushy or too agency in your weight and driving fashion—and the accessible changes haven’t corrected the difficulty—your bike store might be able to exchange your present springs with a softer or firmer model (if one is out there for the mannequin).

An air spring (pressurized air in a chamber) has a progressive compression charge, which means it’s softer within the first a part of the journey after which will get stiffer as extra compression is utilized. The primary benefit of an air-sprung fork is its lighter weight, which interprets to much less effort when pedaling, particularly uphill.


Coil Spring
Air Spring

Good to superb

Much less


Materials choice, design and manufacturing high quality all contribute to a fork’s efficiency. For instance, a low-budget coil-sprung fork shouldn’t be going to offer the identical journey high quality as a costlier coil fork.

A fork could supply no adjustability, or it could have a number of knobs and dials to tweak.

Preload: A coil-sprung fork usually has a knob on prime of one of many stanchions to permit for the unweighted stress on the spring to be elevated or decreased. Improve the preload if the fork feels too spongy.

Air strain: An air-sprung fork doesn’t have a preload knob; as an alternative it has a Schrader valve for adjusting the air strain, and subsequently firmness, of the fork.  A particular “shock pump” is required for this; don’t use an everyday tire pump. The valve could also be both on the prime of a stanchion or on the backside of a slider.

Damping: Along with a coil or air spring, forks comprise a damper rod and oil tub that reasonable the pace of the compression and rebound to easy out the journey. Changes could also be accessible for each the compression and rebound. Adjusting damping settings are known as “tuning the fork.” With out right damping, you might really feel like you might be astride a pogo stick on wheels.

Compression damping controls how rapidly the spring absorbs an impression.
Rebound damping controls the pace at which the fork re-extends after compression. This reduces overly quick bounce-back. 

Rear suspension is barely discovered on full-suspension mountain bikes, and is often known as the rear shock, or “shock” for brief. The shock permits the rear wheel to take in impacts, serving to to maintain the tire involved with the bottom, growing rider management and lowering rider fatigue.

The rear body triangle, which holds the rear wheel, may have a number of pivot factors to allow the wheel to journey by a spread of movement. The shock itself is situated inside the principle body triangle, with one finish connected to the principle triangle and one finish connected to the pivoting rear triangle.

Varied pivot designs and configurations can be found. Every has its professionals and cons on the way it impacts a motorbike’s journey high quality. Backside line: All of them work properly, and the typical leisure rider is unlikely to note important variations in suspension efficiency.

As with the entrance fork, rear suspension fashions function variation in journey, spring system and changes.

Stroke journey: That is how a lot a rear shock compresses.  It’s comparatively quick: 1.5” to three”. The shock is on the quick finish of the body lever, and the rear wheel is on the lengthy finish of the lever, so the precise wheel journey shall be a lot larger than what’s indicated by the stroke journey.

Wheel journey: In distinction to stroke journey, the precise wheel journey shall be just like that discovered on the entrance wheel (the quantity is determined by the kind of bike). On a full-suspension bike, look forward to finding related journey for the entrance and rear wheels. 

Spring system: That is both coil or air, as per the entrance suspension. Air-sprung shocks are widespread on cross-country and path bikes; coil-sprung shocks are sometimes used on “freeride” and downhill bikes. “All mountain” bikes are within the center and should function both fashion.

Changes: Just like the entrance suspension, adjustment choices rely on the mannequin.

On older fashions, rear shocks produced “pedal bob,” which means that the pedaling exertions of the rider activated the suspension, inflicting an ongoing cycle of compression/rebound that decreased pedaling effectivity. This situation has been largely addressed by design advances and a collection of 2 or 3 settings for ascending, descending or normal driving.

Be certain your suspension is correctly adjusted. Understand that not all of the settings described right here can be found on all suspension items. Verify the producer’s handbook (normally discovered on their web site) in your particular mannequin.

Sag permits the wheel to comply with undulations within the floor extra successfully, permitting the suspension to increase in order that the wheel can drop into depressions within the path. Extra sag equals a softer journey.

Rebound damping is crucial damping setting. Again all of it the best way out, then progressively add extra till the suspension compresses and bounces solely as soon as because it returns to regular sag, when driving off a curb.

Low-speed compression damping holds the suspension greater up in its stroke vary to maintain some compression in reserve when doing berms, G outs or stair-step drops. That is additionally what a platform setting does on rear shocks.

Excessive-speed compression damping is greatest set all the best way out except you expertise bottoming out or touchdown jumps.

Something that strikes wants periodic upkeep, and suspension can do a number of shifting.

Our ideas:

Stop or cut back scratches to the stanchions. If these get nicked from a rock or device, the tough edge can tear up the mud seal and bushings because it slides previous, diminishing the efficiency and lifetime of the suspension.
Clear the stanchions after each journey with a mushy fabric and delicate cleansing resolution, flossing across the tube and all the way down to the seal within the prime of the lowers.
Verify your proprietor’s handbook for some other common upkeep that may be carried out by the proprietor. Some will advocate a mild lube across the mud seal on the prime of the sliders.

Tip: Finishing a dismantle/inspection/rebuild is normally not for the overall rider, notably as suspension designs have change into more and more subtle.

Suspension items are costly to interchange; suspension lifespan could be prolonged by having periodic service carried out by a suspension specialist. If you happen to journey commonly, have your suspension serviced yearly or after 100 hours of driving time. Common service will even delay the lifetime of your bike body.

Knowledgeable suspension service can be extremely beneficial everytime you expertise the next:

Extreme oil leak onto the stanchions across the prime of the sliders.
An air-sprung unit not holding air and dropping all journey.
Play or knocking between the stanchions and the decrease sliders.
Any uncommon collapse or resistance to regular perform.

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Mountain Bike Suspension Fundamentals | REI Co-op  
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