Picture yourself racing down a bumpy trail, feeling every rock and root as it jolts your body. Now imagine gliding effortlessly over those same obstacles, with your bike absorbing the impact like it’s nothing.
This is the power of bike suspension – a technological wonder that can turn a bone-rattling ride into a smooth and exhilarating adventure.
In this article, we’ll dive into the basics of bike suspension and how it can revolutionize your cycling experience. So, get ready to discover a whole new level of riding!
What is Bike Suspension
Bike suspension refers to the system of shocks, springs, and linkages on a bicycle that helps to absorb shocks and vibrations from the terrain. The suspension system allows the bike to maintain traction on rough or uneven terrain, providing a smoother and more comfortable ride for the rider.
Bike suspension systems can be adjusted for different types of terrain and riding conditions. The suspension can be made stiffer or softer, depending on the rider’s preference, and can also be adjusted to accommodate the rider’s weight and riding style.
A well-designed and properly adjusted suspension system can greatly improve a rider’s control and confidence on the bike, particularly when riding on technical terrain.
Tracing the Thrilling Evolution of Bike Suspension Technology
Bike suspension has come a long way since its inception in the late 1800s when early bicycles featured solid rubber tires and no suspension at all. As roads and trails became rougher, cyclists sought ways to cushion themselves from the jarring impacts of uneven terrain.
In the early 1900s, several inventors experimented with various forms of suspension, including spring-loaded forks and even pneumatic tires filled with air. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that bike suspension truly took off, with the introduction of the first full-suspension mountain bikes.
Since then, bike suspension has continued to evolve and improve, with advancements in materials, design, and technology leading to lighter, more efficient, and more effective suspension systems.
Today, bike suspension is an essential component of modern cycling, enabling riders to tackle a wider range of terrain and ride with greater comfort and control than ever before.
Discover the Diverse and Dynamic Types of Bike Suspension Systems
Front / Hardtail Suspension
Front suspension is a common feature found on mountain bikes, as well as some hybrid or ”comfort” bikes and kids’ bikes. However, the level of sophistication in suspension systems can vary significantly across different types of bikes.
In the case of mountain bikes, the suspension system offers a wide range of adjustments to fine-tune the riding experience. This includes variations in the type of suspension, the amount of travel, robustness, and method of bump absorption.
Additionally, there are many adjustments that can be made to the suspension system to ensure optimal performance for different riding conditions.
On the other hand, the suspension found on hybrid and kids’ bikes is typically more basic, offering minimal or no adjustment. This is because these types of bikes are not intended for the same level of off-road or rough terrain use as mountain bikes.
The most common type of front suspension found on mountain bikes is the “fork,” which is comprised of two struts that connect the front wheel to the frame’s head tube.
However, there are exceptions to this design, such as Cannondale’s proprietary “Lefty” single strut suspension system. While this design may initially be met with skepticism, it has proven to be a reliable and effective alternative to the traditional fork design.
Components of Hardtail Suspension
- The steerer tube links the fork to the frame.
- The crown connects the two stanchions of the fork.
- The stanchions move in and out of the sliders and include a spring or air chamber, damper rod, oil, and valves in their internal workings.
- The sliders or lowers connect to the front wheel and brakes at the bottom.
- Brake mounts are included for rim, disc, or both types of brakes.
- Dropouts are present to hold the wheel axle in place.
“Travel” in this context refers to the distance the suspension can move before it reaches its maximum compression.
|Type of Bike
|1 – 2
|30 – 50
|20″ and 24″ kids’ bikes
|2 – 3
|60 – 80
|24″ kids’ bikes, hybrid bikes
|4 – 5
|100 – 120
|“Cross country” and “trail” mountain bikes
|5 – 6
|120 – 160
|“All mountain” mountain bikes
|7 – 8
|180 – 200
|“Freeride” and “downhill” mountain bikes
The suspension travel of a bike can be categorized as short or long. A short-travel suspension system provides a balanced ride for smooth trails and uphill riding. It is typically less than 120mm in length.
On the other hand, a long-travel suspension system is best for rough terrain and downhill riding at high speeds. It is typically greater than 120mm in length.
Some front forks can be adjusted to change the suspension travel length, which provides greater versatility for riders. Shortening the travel is ideal for uphill riding while lengthening it is ideal for downhill sections.
Note: The length of the travel not only affects the bike’s ability to absorb bumps and impacts but also affects steering and control.
The diameter of the stanchion tubes affects the amount of air volume in the fork, which impacts the overall performance of the suspension system.
A larger stanchion diameter allows for more air volume and can provide a more supple and responsive suspension feel. However, this can also make the fork more difficult to tune and can result in a heavier overall weight.
In general, larger stanchion diameters are preferred for more aggressive riding styles and heavier riders, while narrower diameters may be suitable for lighter riders or less aggressive riding styles.
Ultimately, the choice of stanchion diameter depends on a rider’s specific needs and preferences, and it is important to consult with a knowledgeable bike technician or manufacturer to determine the best option for a particular bike and riding style.
|Type of Bike
|Stanchion Tube Diameter (mm)
|Cross country (XC) and Trail
|Free ride and downhill
The fork utilizes two primary methods to absorb impact and return to its original position:
One method involves a coil spring made of wound steel that offers a consistent, linear compression rate over the range of spring travel.
These springs come in different resistance rates and are generally matched to an average rider for a given frame size. If the coil spring feels too soft or too firm for a rider’s weight or style, the bike shop may be able to replace it with a version that is better suited.
Alternatively, an air spring utilizes pressurized air in a chamber, resulting in a progressive compression rate that becomes stiffer as more compression is applied. This option offers a lighter weight, making it easier to pedal uphill.
|Good to very good
The fork’s performance is determined by various factors such as material selection, design, and manufacturing quality. A low-budget coil-sprung fork is unlikely to offer the same level of ride quality as a more expensive coil fork.
Forks can have various degrees of adjustability, ranging from no adjustments to multiple knobs and dials for tuning.
1. Lockout: Some forks have a lever at the top of the stanchion that allows the rider to lock out the fork, which eliminates the travel. This is useful for conserving energy on smooth surfaces or during long uphill climbs. Higher-end forks may have a handlebar-mounted remote lever for more convenient lockout control.
2. Preload: Coil-sprung forks often have a knob on the top of one of the stanchions that enable riders to adjust the unweighted tension on the spring. Increasing the preload can help to eliminate sponginess in the fork.
3. Air pressure: Air-sprung forks do not have a preload knob but rather feature a Schrader valve for adjusting the air pressure, which affects the firmness of the fork. A shock pump, not a regular tire pump, is required for this adjustment. The valve may be located at the top of a stanchion or at the bottom of a slider.
4. Damping: In addition to a coil or air spring, forks include a damper rod and oil bath that help to moderate the speed of compression and rebound to smooth out the ride. Some forks allow for adjustments to both the compression and rebound damping.
Proper damping adjustment is referred to as “tuning the fork” and is crucial for a comfortable and controlled ride. Poor damping adjustment can make the rider feel like they are bouncing uncontrollably.
Compression damping controls the speed at which the fork absorbs an impact, while rebound damping controls the speed at which the fork returns to its extended position after being compressed.
By adjusting the damping settings, riders can fine-tune the feel and performance of their fork to match their preferences and riding conditions.
The rear suspension is a type of suspension system used on bicycles that provides shock absorption at the rear wheel. It typically consists of a shock absorber or suspension unit located near the rear wheel and connected to the frame by pivots or linkage.
The rear frame triangle, which houses the rear wheel, contains one or more pivot points that enable the wheel to travel through a range of motion.
The shock is typically positioned inside the main frame triangle, with one end attached to the main triangle and the other end attached to the pivoting rear triangle.
There are various designs and configurations for rear suspension pivots, each with its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of ride quality. However, all of them are effective, and most recreational riders are unlikely to notice significant differences in suspension performance.
In general, the rear suspension is an essential component of full-suspension mountain bikes and is responsible for absorbing impacts and providing a smooth and controlled ride over rough terrain.
When choosing a full-suspension bike, it is crucial to consider the rear suspension design and adjustability options to ensure that the bike can be fine-tuned to match a rider’s preferences and riding style.
Similar to front forks, rear suspension systems come in different models with variations in travel, spring system, and adjustments.
Stroke travel: It refers to the amount a rear shock can compress, which is typically between 1.5 to 3 inches. However, the actual wheel travel will be greater than the stroke travel due to the rear wheel’s position on the long end of the lever.
Wheel travel: In contrast to stroke travel, it is similar to the front wheel’s travel and depends on the type of bike. Full-suspension bikes typically have similar front and rear wheel travel.
Spring system: This option for rear suspension includes either coil or air, which is similar to front suspension systems. Air-sprung shocks are often found on cross-country and trail bikes, while coil-sprung shocks are more commonly used on freeride and downhill bikes. All-mountain bikes may feature either style.
Adjustment options: Choices for rear suspension vary depending on the specific model. Older models may have experienced “pedal bob,” where pedaling activated the suspension, causing a cycle of compression and rebound that decreased pedaling efficiency.
However, design advances and multiple settings for ascending, descending, or general riding have largely addressed this issue.
Full / Dual Suspension
Full suspension is a type of bicycle suspension system that uses both front and rear suspension to absorb shock and provide a smoother ride. Unlike a hardtail bike, which only has a suspension fork in the front, a full-suspension bike has a shock absorber in the rear as well.
The primary benefit of a full-suspension bike is increased comfort and control on rough terrain. The suspension system absorbs the shock from bumps and rough terrain, allowing the rider to maintain better control and stability.
This makes full-suspension bikes ideal for off-road riding, especially on technical and rocky trails.
There are several types of full suspension systems, including single-pivot, multi-link, and linkage-driven. Single-pivot systems use a single pivot point to connect the rear triangle to the front triangle, while multi-link systems use multiple pivot points.
Linkage-driven systems use a link between the rear triangle and the shock absorber to control the suspension.
Full suspension bikes do have some disadvantages, including added weight and increased complexity, which can make them more expensive to maintain. However, for riders who prioritize comfort and control on rough terrain, a full-suspension bike is an excellent choice.
Elevate Your Riding Experience with These Suspension Upgrade Tips
If you need to replace your bike’s suspension system due to wear or damage, it’s important to choose the right replacement based on your bike’s specific requirements.
Here are a few key specifications to consider when upgrading your suspension:
Suspension systems are designed for specific wheel sizes, so it’s essential to choose a replacement that matches your bike’s wheel size. Common wheel sizes include 26″, 27.5″, and 29″.
The amount of travel, or suspension compression and rebound, required will depend on the type of riding you do and the terrain you ride on. Typically, more travel is required for more technical terrain and downhill riding, while less travel is sufficient for smoother trails and XC riding.
Suspension systems come with different types of axle configurations, such as quick release, through-axle, or Boost, so it’s important to choose a replacement that matches your bike’s axle type.
Steerer tube diameter
The diameter of your bike’s steerer tube will dictate the size of the fork that you can install. Common sizes include 1-1/8″, 1″, and tapered, so it’s essential to choose a fork that matches your bike’s steerer tube diameter.
Nowadays, disc brakes are the most common type of brake found on mountain bikes. If you plan to replace a fork that has rim brake mounts, you may be restricted to choosing only basic suspension models unless you are willing to upgrade your brakes and wheel system as well.
Explanation of How Suspension Tuning Works
Suspension tuning is the process of adjusting the suspension components on your bike to optimize its performance for your riding style and terrain. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how suspension tuning works:
Sag is the amount of suspension compression that occurs when you sit on your bike. Setting the proper sag is critical to ensuring your suspension works effectively. Typically, you want to set sag at around 25% of the total travel for a full-suspension bike and around 20% for a hardtail.
To set sag, adjust the air pressure in your suspension system or add/remove spacers to adjust the spring rate until you achieve the desired sag.
Rebound controls how quickly the suspension rebounds after compressing. Too little rebound will cause the suspension to pack down and feel harsh, while too much rebound can cause the suspension to bounce and lose traction.
Adjust the rebound damping by turning the rebound knob on your suspension components, typically located on the bottom of the fork or the shock.
Compression damping controls how quickly the suspension compresses and can be adjusted to improve ride quality and control.
Too little compression damping can result in a “mushy” feel, while too much can make the suspension feel harsh. Adjust the compression damping by turning the compression knob on your suspension components.
Once you’ve set sag and adjusted rebound and compression, you can fine-tune your suspension settings based on your riding style and terrain.
For example, if you ride steep terrain, you may want to adjust your fork’s low-speed compression to prevent dive. Similarly, if you ride technical trails, you may want to adjust your rear shock’s high-speed compression to improve stability on big hits.
Test and adjust
After making adjustments to your suspension settings, take your bike out for a test ride to see how it feels. If you’re not happy with the performance, make further adjustments until you find the right settings for your needs.
Note: Suspension tuning requires patience and experimentation, but the results can be significant, improving your bike’s performance, comfort, and control on the trail.
Common Suspension Problems and Solutions
Bike suspension systems are designed to absorb the impacts of rough terrain and provide a smoother, more controlled ride. However, like any mechanical component, they can experience problems that affect their performance and require attention.
One common suspension problem is sag, which occurs when the suspension compresses too much under the rider’s weight, resulting in a lower-than-normal ride height.
This can be addressed by adjusting the air pressure in the suspension or by adding or removing suspension spacers to fine-tune the spring rate.
Another issue is stiction, which is the resistance felt when the suspension compresses and rebounds. This can be caused by dirt and grime buildup, worn or damaged seals, or improper lubrication.
Regular cleaning and maintenance can help prevent stiction, and replacing worn components can restore proper function.
Leaking oil or air is another common suspension problem, which can be caused by damaged or worn seals, or a loose valve stem.
Replacing the damaged seals or tightening the valve stem can fix the problem, but it’s important to address the issue promptly to prevent further damage to the suspension components.
Lastly, suspension noise can be a frustrating problem that can be caused by loose hardware, worn or damaged components, or contamination. Identifying the source of the noise and tightening or replacing the affected parts can help eliminate suspension noise.
Overall, proper maintenance and timely attention to suspension issues can help keep your bike suspension performing at its best, delivering the comfort and control you need for an optimal riding experience.
Essential Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Bike Suspension Running Strong
Maintaining your bike’s suspension is essential to ensure optimal performance and longevity. Suspension components undergo a lot of movement and can be prone to wear and tear, making regular maintenance necessary. Here are some tips to help you maintain your bike’s suspension:
Protect the stanchions
The stanchions, or tubes that slide up and down inside the fork or shock, can get scratched or nicked by rocks or tools. These scratches can damage the dust seals and bushings, leading to reduced performance and lifespan of the suspension.
To prevent this, avoid hitting your suspension against rocks or other hard objects, and consider installing protective tape or guards.
Cleaning your suspension after every ride with a soft cloth and mild cleaning solution can help prevent dirt and grime buildup, which can affect the suspension’s function. Use a toothbrush or other soft brush to clean around the stanchions and down to the seal on the top of the lowers.
Follow the owner’s manual
Check your bike’s owner’s manual for any specific maintenance recommendations, such as lubricating the dust seal at the top of the sliders. Following these instructions can help prolong the life of your suspension.
Have periodic services performed
Suspension components are expensive to replace, so having your suspension serviced annually or after 100 hours of riding time can help prolong its lifespan.
A suspension specialist can perform the necessary maintenance, such as changing the oil, replacing worn seals, and adjusting the damping settings.
Seek professional help when needed
If you notice any issues with your suspension, such as excessive oil leak, loss of air pressure, play or knocking between the stanchions and the lower sliders, or any unusual collapse or resistance to normal function, seek professional help from a suspension specialist.
These issues can indicate more significant problems that require expert attention.
Explore the Incredible Advantages of Bicycle Suspension for an Adrenaline-Fueled Ride
Bicycle suspension systems provide several advantages that can enhance the riding experience and enable cyclists to tackle more challenging terrain. Here are some of the main advantages of bicycle suspension:
Suspension systems absorb the impacts of bumps and rough terrain, reducing the amount of shock and vibration transmitted to the rider. This can make for a more comfortable ride, especially on long rides or over technical terrain.
Suspension systems help keep the wheels in contact with the ground, providing greater traction and control. This can make it easier to navigate rough or loose terrain, such as rocks, roots, and sand.
With improved comfort and control, cyclists can ride faster and more confidently, pushing their limits and tackling more challenging terrain. Suspension systems also provide more predictable handling, allowing riders to make quick adjustments and react to changing conditions.
By absorbing shocks and vibrations, suspension systems can reduce the amount of fatigue and strain on the body, enabling riders to ride longer and with less discomfort.
Suspension systems can be adjusted to suit a variety of riding styles and terrain. By adjusting the suspension settings, cyclists can optimize their bike’s performance for their specific needs, whether that’s fast and smooth XC riding or technical and challenging downhill riding.
Rough Roads Ahead: Navigating the Bumpy Downsides of Bicycle Suspension Systems
While bicycle suspension systems offer several advantages, they also come with a few potential disadvantages. Here are some of the main disadvantages of bicycle suspension:
Suspension systems add weight to a bike, which can reduce its efficiency and make it more difficult to ride up hills or accelerate quickly. For this reason, suspension systems may not be ideal for all types of cycling, such as road biking or racing.
Suspension systems require regular maintenance to function properly, including cleaning, lubrication, and periodic servicing. This can add to the cost and time required to maintain a bike.
Suspension systems can be complex, with many moving parts that can wear out or break over time. This can make them more difficult to repair or replace and can add to the cost of maintaining a bike.
Suspension systems can reduce the amount of feedback a rider receives from the terrain, making it more difficult to feel the road or trail surface. This can make it harder to make quick adjustments and can reduce the overall riding experience.
Suspension systems can be expensive, with higher-end systems costing several thousand dollars. This can make them prohibitive for some riders, especially those on a budget.
Why do Road Bikes have no Suspension
Road bikes are typically designed for speed and efficiency on paved surfaces, which is why they don’t have suspension systems. Suspension systems add weight and complexity to the bike, which would compromise its speed and aerodynamics. Furthermore, road bikes are equipped with thin tires that offer some cushioning and help minimize vibration.
Although road bikes don’t come with suspension, there are some models that feature suspension forks or shocks for riders who desire a more comfortable ride.
These types of road bikes are designed for rough roads and off-road riding, allowing them to handle bumps and vibration more effectively.
If you’re uncertain about the type of bike that best suits your needs, it’s always advisable to speak with an experienced salesperson who can help guide you toward the right decision.
They can provide you with valuable insights into the various features and specifications of each bike and help you find a bike that meets your specific requirements, whether it’s for speed, comfort, or versatility.
Are there any Alternatives to Bike Suspension
If you’re looking to improve the comfort of riding on a rigid bike but don’t want to invest in a full suspension system, there are a few alternative options available.
One alternative is a suspension seat post, which is a post that connects the saddle to the frame and is equipped with a spring or elastomer that can absorb shock and provide cushioning.
This can be an excellent choice for riders who want to add some extra comfort to their ride without having to purchase a full-suspension bike.
Another alternative is a suspension stem, which is a stem that connects the handlebars to the frame and is equipped with a spring or elastomer that can absorb shock and reduce the impact of bumps and vibrations.
This can be an excellent choice for riders who want to add some extra cushioning to their hands and arms without having to invest in a new frame.
It’s important to note that while these alternatives can improve the comfort of riding on a rigid bike, they won’t provide the same level of suspension as a full-suspension system.
Riders who frequently encounter rough terrain or challenging trails may still prefer to invest in a full suspension system for the best performance and comfort.
Bike Suspension — Final Words
Selecting the appropriate suspension configuration for your bicycle is a significant decision that demands careful consideration.
With an understanding of suspension fundamentals, you can make an informed choice about which suspension type is most suitable for your riding style, goals, and terrain.
Whether you opt for any suspension type, I am pretty sure that it will enhance your riding experience, making it more pleasurable and comfortable.
Please share your thoughts and feedback on the article in the comments section, and let me know how bike suspensions have impacted your life. Please like, share, and follow our Facebook Page for more guides like this. Together, we can continue to explore and enjoy the many benefits of bike suspension. Have fun riding!
Bike Suspension — Frequently Asked Questions
Does A Mountain Bike Need Suspension?
Suspension is essential for a mountain bike to offer control and cushioning on uneven surfaces. The level of suspension required would depend on the type of terrain one intends to ride on.
What Is The Most Common Type Of Bike Suspension?
Hardtail suspension is the most prevalent type of bike suspension, featuring a single spring at the front of the bike. It delivers ample control and cushioning for most trails and terrain while remaining cost-effective and lightweight.
How Do I Choose The Right Suspension For My Bike?
To select the appropriate suspension for your bike, it is essential to assess the type of terrain you typically ride on and the style of riding you engage in. In addition, take into account other factors such as budget, weight, control, and comfort.
Is Full Suspension Worth The Money?
The full suspension offers superior cushioning and control on challenging trails and terrain. Nonetheless, it adds more weight, complexity, and expense compared to other suspension types. Thus, it is important to evaluate whether it is worth investing in based on your specific riding requirements.
Are Carbon Frames Good For Suspension?
Carbon frames are an excellent option for suspension because they are rigid, lightweight, and sturdy. The stiffness of the frame positively impacts the suspension quality as long as the ride remains comfortable.