Mountain Bike Suspension Explained

What is Mountain Bike Suspension?

Mountain Bike Suspension is the combination of components used to suspend the frame and rider above the wheels of a bicycle. On the most basic level, the purpose of suspension is to insulate the rider from unevenness along the riding surface.

Credit Australian Mountain Bike
Credit: Australian Mountain Bike

The Importance of Suspension

Mountain bikes enable us to navigate uneven terrain. As riders become more experienced, they tend to seek out more and more uneven and challenging trails. However, this can lead to bone-rattling jolts caused by various obstacles such as roots, rocks, drops, and branches. Suspension is designed to act as a shock absorber, providing a smoother ride on that new bike. Suspension also allows the wheels to move up and down, allowing the bike to maintain better contact with the ground, and giving you more or less traction as your terrain and riding style demands it.

Suspension is integral to the sport of mountain biking as we know it. Without fine tuned modern suspension systems, the average rider would be incapable of descending even intermediate-level ‘tech’ trails. Suspension allows us to experience drops, jumps, rock gardens, and rough terrain earlier in our progression. Moreover, it enables expert riders to continue their progression in the sport, taking on bigger and burlier trails and features at incredibly high speeds.

It took me years to accumulate a working knowledge of mountain bike suspension. I wish I had read a comprehensive guide such as this one. It would have saved me countless hours, thousands of dollars and allowed me to maximize my bike’s capabilities earlier in my progression. In this guide, I will explore every aspect of mountain bike suspension. You will have a working knowledge of suspensions, maintenance, and techniques to properly tune your setup based on your size and riding style.

Suspension Types


Kate Courtney photographer is Bartek Wolinsky
Credit: Kate Courtney photographer is Bartek Wolinsky

Hardtail mountain bikes are equipped with a front suspension fork but have a rigid rear end. Because hardtails don’t absorb inconsistencies in the terrain as well as full-suspension bikes, they are utilized predominantly in cross-country and trail riding. They are also cost-effective due to their straightforward design and reduced suspension.

As with other mountain bike types, fork travel depends on discipline. Cross-country hardtails typically have 100-120 mm of travel, but more aggressive hardtails can have suspension travel of up to 160mm. While compatible front suspensions of up to 180 mm are possible, they result in a skewed geometry with most hardtail frames.

Some manufacturers incorporate flex points into the rear triangle of their frames to provide vertical compliance in the bike, enhancing comfort while seated and, to a lesser degree, rear-wheel traction while climbing. Moreover, many hardtail frames are coupled with plus-size tires, which can contribute significantly to a suspension-like feel.


Credit Bicycles Online
Credit: Bicycles Online

A full-suspension mountain bike features a front suspension fork and rear shock. Cross-country and downhill bikes feature 100 mm of travel on both front and rear. Trail bikes and enduro rigs occupy the middle ground at around 150 mm.

Full-suspension mountain bikes excel in challenging terrain. The increased traction offered by the rear suspension helps the rear wheel maintain better contact with the ground. As a result, the bike can better absorb bumps and impacts, providing a more comfortable and controlled rider experience. The absorption also improves the bike’s ability to descend steep and rough trails, allowing riders to take on more challenging terrain.

Confidence plays a significant role in mountain biking at all levels of the sport. Full-suspension mountain bikes can help boost confidence by providing a more forgiving ride and reducing minor accidents and scares that impede a rider’s progress. However, these benefits come at the expense of extra weight, increased maintenance, and higher costs.

Hardtail vs. Full Suspension

Advantages of a Hardtail

  • Lightweight: Hardtail bikes have a more basic mountain bike suspension designs with fewer parts, making them lighter than full-suspension bikes. This lower weight can be advantageous for riders doing a lot of climbing or covering long distances. However, it’s worth noting that higher-end full-suspension bikes can also be relatively light. If you’re willing to spend a lot of money, the weight difference between the two types of bikes can be minimal.
  • Low-maintenance: Fewer moving parts means less frequent and expensive maintenance. However, like any bike, some essential maintenance is still required to keep a hardtail in good condition.
  • Less expensive: On full-suspension bikes, the rear shock alone costs at least $500, and that does not include the added cost of a more complex frame with many pivot points. In addition to the upfront cost, not having to service a rear shock and pivot points will save you at least $200 annually.
  • More pedal efficiency: The advantage of pedal efficiency outweighs lightweight when climbing on a hardtail. On full-suspension bikes, the frame bounces up and down with each pedal stroke, significantly reducing the amount of power transferred to the ground. Many rear shocks feature a ‘lockout’ mode that restricts movement, but forgetting to switch back during the descent can cause hundreds of dollars of damage to your components. For myself and many other riders I’ve spoken to, it’s not worth the risk.

Advantages of a Full Suspension

  • More comfortable: Full-suspension bikes can absorb many jarring bumps and impacts that would otherwise be transmitted to the rider’s body. Absorption can prevent the rider from being thrown off the bike and help reduce fatigue by reducing the physical stress on the rider’s body. As a result, full-suspension bikes can help riders ride faster, for longer, and with greater comfort.
  • More technical terrain at higher speeds: A full-suspension bike helps to maintain traction, stability, and control, making it easier to navigate technical terrain. The full suspension’s overall advantage also allows riders to tackle the rougher terrain at higher speeds. With a hardtail, the rider must slow down to avoid bouncing around, whereas a full-suspension rig enables riders to maintain speed and momentum even on technical trails.
  • Jumps and drops are possible for the average rider: Before suspension, riders needed advanced technique to land jumps and drops with their bike. Among other things, takeoffs and landings involved flexing the body to provide both boost and shock absorption. Modern-day suspensions make airtime much easier, less dangerous, and a whole lot more fun.

How Mountain Bike Suspension Works

Suspension Diagram Credit Hank and Frank Bicycles
Suspension Diagram Credit: Hank and Frank Bicycles

Basic Principles

Front Suspension

Front suspension or front shocks are known as forks. There is a wide variety of options and brands to choose from, and swapping them is relatively straightforward as long as you ensure that travel length and wheel size are compatible. The fork consists of two struts that link the front wheel to the head tube of the frame. The struts, known as ‘stanchions’ in the bike world, move up and down within their housing to provide absorption.

Rear Suspension

Rear suspension, known as the ‘shock,’ is designed to be built into the bike frame. Shocks are often tailored for compatibility with different frames. As a result, shocks are generally less interchangeable, and in some instances, they are exclusive to the frame and are not compatible with any other bike.

The shock is composed of a shock body casing, which encloses two telescopic tubes that slide into each other. Like the front fork, the amount these tubes compress under a load is called stroke travel. The shock absorber is linked to the frame through a system of pivot linkages built into the frame. Therefore, full-suspension frames generally consist of three parts: a main triangle, a rear triangle, and a linkage.


Suspension travel refers to the distance that a front suspension fork or rear shock can move in response to external forces – namely, the rider’s weight on the bicycle. Therefore, suspension travel is a measure of the range of motion that a suspension system provides. It is the most crucial factor for most riders in determining a mountain bike’s overall performance and comfort. Besides the brand, most riders only know one thing about their suspension system – the amount of travel.

The amount of suspension travel can vary anywhere from 80 to 200mm depending on the intended riding discipline. Although more suspension travel can be advantageous, it may not be beneficial if your riding frequently involves climbing or prefers a lightweight, responsive bike. Additional suspension travel can create unnecessary weight, reducing efficiency and responsiveness during climbs.

The Function of Damping and Rebound

Finn Iles Corninger Credit Red Bull
Finn Iles Corninger Credit: Red Bull

Compression Damping

Compression damping is one way to fine-tune the suspension to better suit the rider’s needs and preferences. This setting refers to the rate at which your suspension compresses. The total amount of compression will remain the same regardless of the damping settings, but the time it takes to reach that point will change. In practice, compression damping settings dictate how much travel you will use in a given situation. Adjusting the compression will alter the suspension’s feel to make it softer or firmer without adjusting the spring rate.

Rebound Damping

Rebound damping controls the rate at which the suspension returns to its full length after being compressed (it’s like the opposite of compression damping). Higher-end suspensions may feature position-sensitive damping, which slows down the rebound damping after a bottom-out situation. This feature is helpful after hard landings, as it prevents the rider from bouncing over the handlebars. Rebound set too fast gives the suspension an undesirable ‘pogo-stick’ feel. Conversely, a setting that is too slow will cause the suspension to feel dead and unresponsive, especially after successive hits.

High-Speed vs. Low-Speed

Nearly all mountain bike suspensions feature user-adjustable compression and rebound settings. Higher-end suspension systems also feature high-speed and low-speed compression adjustments for both compression and rebound damping and compression damping controls.

‘Low-speed’ damping pertains to how the suspension of a mountain bike responds to actions such as pedaling, the rider’s weight distribution, braking, cornering, and any other movements that result in a relatively gradual compression of the suspension. ‘High-speed compression’ situations include rough landings, abrupt and sharp bumps, and other impacts encountered while moving at a high velocity.

Differences in Suspension Design

  • Air Springs: Air springs have almost wholly replaced coil springs in the MTB world and are featured in bikes ranging from entry-level to high-end. Air springs’ primary benefits are their lightweight nature and tunability. With a shock pump, the rider can precisely adjust the resistance of the air spring depending on their preferences. Some newer air spring models are beginning to rival the performance of traditional coil springs. However, despite recent technological advances, air springs do not provide the same level of sensitivity and performance as a coil. As a result, coil springs are still favored by downhill riders looking to take their suspension to the extreme, regardless of weight.
  • Coil Springs: Like with cars and trucks, a metal corkscrew coil is the primary component providing resistance in a coil shock. Steel is the most common material, but higher-end models may feature titanium springs. Compared to air springs, the main drawback of coil shocks is their weight – they can weigh up to a full pound more. Additionally, coil shocks may have a narrow adjustment range compared to air shocks. However, their performance is unparalleled, and it is unlikely that air shocks will ever truly surpass the raw feeling of a coil.

Optimizing Suspension for Your Riding Style

Properly tuning your suspension will enhance the performance of your bike and significantly improve your riding experience. Conversely, a poorly tuned setup can make even the best bike feel subpar. In this guide, we’ll discuss the steps you can take to ensure top performance from your suspension system.

Factors to Consider

Setting up your suspension is a dynamic process and is influenced by numerous variables, including your weight, preferred riding terrain, type of bike, and riding style. Therefore, merely replicating your friend’s or a professional rider’s suspension setup is unlikely to result in optimal performance. Most manufacturers now provide printed guidelines that offer a solid foundation for setting up your suspension. However, this guide will give you the tools to customize your suspension to your exact specifications.

Ultimately, any competent rider knows how to adjust their suspension to their personal standards rather than a manufacturer’s recommendation.

It’s also essential to understand that no universal “perfect” suspension setting can accommodate every rider and riding style. Optimizing your suspension to provide maximum support on large hits can come at the cost of compromising small bump sensitivity and vice versa. Setting up suspension is always a matter of balancing sensitivity and support. Therefore, it is crucial to determine the suspension balance that is best suited to your individual riding style and preferred trails.

Setting Sag and Pressure

Travel Recommendations Credit REI
Travel Recommendations Credit: REI

Setting sag requires two people. Start by setting your shock sag:

  1. To charge the negative spring and increase the suspension travel, bounce up and down firmly while your assistant holds the bike.
  2. Once you are seated, wait for at least five seconds before asking your assistant to move the rubber O-ring on the shock stanchion either up or down to the rubber wiper seal. Ensure that you dismount from the bike carefully without disturbing the O-ring.
  3. Measure the distance the O-ring has moved from the wiper seal in millimeters.
  4. Divide this number by the total shock stroke (which may be less than the physical shock shaft length, so consult your bike manual), then multiply by 100 to determine the percentage sag. For example, (30 mm / 100 mm) x 100 = 30%.
  5. To achieve the desired sag, adjust the air pressure accordingly and repeat the process.

Next, continue to the fork:

  1. Start by ensuring the suspension damping is fully open and adjust the air-spring pressure according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Ask your assistant to support the bike as you climb on.
  2. Firmly bounce up and down to activate the negative spring and loosen the seals.
  3. Assume your regular standing attack position and let the bike settle for at least five seconds before requesting your assistant to move the rubber O-ring on the fork stanchion down to the rubber wiper seal.
  4. Carefully shift your weight back and dismount from the bike without interfering with the O-ring.
  5. Measure the distance the O-ring has moved from the wiper seal in millimeters. Determine the percentage sag using the same formula for your shock above.
  6. To achieve the desired sag, adjust the air pressure accordingly and repeat the process.

Adjusting Damping and Rebound

When the rebound damping is set too low (denoted by a – sign), the suspension will extend too quickly, causing a bouncy and unstable feeling. On the other hand, if the rebound damping is set too high (denoted by a + sign), the suspension will not recover quickly enough after repeated impacts. This can result in the suspension sinking lower and lower into its travel. Ultimately, this will cause the suspension to perform poorly on more demanding terrain. Rebound can get confusing: the ‘minus’ actually increases the perceived rate of rebound, because it lowers the rebound damping.

To adjust rebound:

  1. To establish a baseline setting for the fork rebound, begin with the rebound fully closed (denoted by a + sign).
  2. Stand beside your bike and compress the fork using your body weight. Release the fork quickly and allow it to bounce back.
  3. Adjust the rebound until the fork rebounds as quickly as possible without causing the front wheel to lift off the ground.

Once you have established the baseline setting, ride an entire section of trail at this setting. Then, try riding the same section of trail twice more, adjusting the rebound two clicks in either direction. Pay attention to which setting provides the most control and the best grip. By experimenting with these settings, you can find the optimal rebound damping for your fork.

Getting the Most Out of Your Suspension

Greg Callaghan Enduro World Series
Greg Callaghan Credit: Enduro World Series

My advice for getting the most performance out of your suspension is simple:

  1. Adjust your suspension settings and gauge the performance. Find custom settings off of your baseline for different types of trails. There’s no magic life-hack here. Playing around with your settings and getting to know your suspension will allow you to choose the right settings at the right time.
  2. Keep your suspension clean.
  3. Have a professional regularly service your suspension.

Maintenance Tips

Maintenance on your bike is the best approach to guarantee maximum performance. Taking a few moments to examine your suspension periodically can help prevent expensive repairs or replacements in the future. I spent thousands (yes, thousands) of dollars in the summer of 2022 paying for repairs to several components of my suspension that could have been prevented with better maintenance on my part.

Cleaning and Lubrication

Dirt is the primary adversary of suspension systems. It is important to wipe down the seal area and the stanchions of your fork and shock after every ride. Try a horizontal motion to avoid pushing debris toward seals. Use a clean microfiber and don’t apply too much pressure; avoiding scratching the stanchions is critical.

Lubricate the stanchions regularly with an approved suspension lubricant like Fork Boost. Fork Boost and similar products are designed to reduce friction and wear on suspension seals, helping to extend their lifespan and efficacy. Their formula is compatible with most seals and can be used in a wide range of temperatures. In the short term, these lubricants give your fork and shock an extra plush feel for a few hours.

Identifying and Fixing Issues

Periodically check your suspension sag, rebound, and compression settings every few rides, and adjust if necessary. If these settings have changed or are no longer working effectively, it is likely time for some maintenance. It is important to note that when attaching a shock pump to your suspension, approximately 10-15 psi of air pressure is typically transferred from the suspension to the shock pump, resulting in a lower initial PSI reading. These are all easy steps for self-maintenance that any rider can tackle.

A small amount of oil on your stanchions is normal after a ride. Slight discharge is sometimes called a witness mark. However, if oil droplets are dribbling out of your seals, it’s time to swap. Some riders change seals themselves, but it’s much more involved than most other forms of bike maintenance.

I advise leaving suspension services to a seasoned mechanic. You need specialized tools, knowledge, and a clean workspace. Because suspensions are such sensitive components, I am happy to leave this bit of maintenance to an industry professional. Besides, if you have the skill to take apart your suspension, you won’t be reading this article.

Look at the Troubleshooting section below for a more detailed analysis of common issues on suspensions.

Recommended Maintenance Schedule

Regardless of the mileage you’ve put in on your bike, it is crucial to service your suspension at least once a year. Conducting a service helps maintain optimal performance and reduces the likelihood of replacing the entire system. Having a properly functioning suspension will also enhance your riding experience.

Over time the oils within your suspension system will eventually break down, the seals will dry out and crack, and dust and debris will accumulate inside. A ‘service’ can be anything from swapping out seals to damper tuning to a complete rebuild and parts replacement. Having a properly functioning suspension will enhance your riding experience.

Of course, a ‘once-a-year’ service is the bare minimum standard of maintenance. Folks who ride often need to service their suspensions more often, especially when riding at downhill mountain bike parks. Each manufacturer has a recommended maintenance schedule (usually a service every 50-100 hours of ride time).

Troubleshooting Common Suspension Issues

Adjusting air pressure, compression, and rebound are all easy tweaks any rider can do at home. However, anything that involves taking the suspension apart is far more complicated and should be left to a professional.


  • Bad Seals: The tell-tale sign of rotten seals is excess oil on your stanchions after riding. Finding some residual fluid after a ride is normal, but when the oil drips down your stanchions or lowers, it’s time to check out those seals.
  • Stanchion Damage & Scoring: Stanchion scoring symptoms will resemble old seals; a bit of oil beading up on the stanchions or lowers. The difference is that swapping seals will not fix the problem. Generally, you can see the scoring with the naked eye.
  • Lowers Bushings: Say you’ve changed the seals, and there is no sign of scoring or damage to the stanchions, but the suspension is still leaking. It could be a problem with the bushings within the lowers. Bad bushings are a serious problem; even an experienced mechanic may be unable to service them. Sending the suspension back to the manufacturer may be the best idea.


  • ‘Squelching’ Sound: The most common suspension vocalization is a soft squelching sound. When a fork or shock compresses, air and oil move around, and hearing a bit of noise is normal. If your fork or shock’s performance feels okay, I wouldn’t worry about these sounds. However, there can sometimes be air stuck in the wrong places. It is worth bringing the component to a professional if the performance feels off.
  • Lack of Oil: If all of your oil has leaked out, your suspension is already a total mess. It will probably feel terrible. However, just in case you don’t notice the lack of performance, there will sometimes be a persistent, high-pitched whistling sound when you compress and release the suspension. The annoying nature of this sound will assuredly catch your attention.

Stiffness and Unresponsiveness

  • Too Much Air Pressure: The suspension will feel stiff and uncomfortable, and you won’t utilize the entire travel. It’s easy to adjust air pressure with a shock pump.
  • Damping Too High: The suspension will feel stiff and uncomfortable, similar to too much air pressure. However, it’s still possible to utilize the entire travel, it just takes longer to get there. It’s easy to adjust compression.
  • Rebound Damping Too High (Slow Rebound): If your rebound is too slow, it will feel like you are running out of travel after taking repeated hits to your suspension. This can happen on technical trails where there may be several big features, one after the other. When the rebound is too low, the suspension does not have time to return to its extended position between hits. On the other hand, a slow rebound is great for beginners and intermediates because it removes the jolting sensation of the suspension rapidly expanding. It’s easy to adjust rebound.
  • Coil Spring Too Stiff: When your coil spring is too stiff, it feels similar to having too much air pressure in an air shock. The suspension will feel stiff and uncomfortable, and you won’t utilize the entire travel.

Suspension Options


The suspension travel can range from 80 to 200mm, depending on the intended discipline. Cross-country riding on smooth surfaces demands less travel, while rough terrain demands more. Although greater travel may appear advantageous in absorbing uneven surfaces, it could be an impediment if you frequently pedal or prefer a nimble and agile bike.

Stanchion Diameter

Forks are available in various stanchion diameters. Larger diameters increase surface area and improve the ‘plushness’ of the suspension. Typically, larger diameters enhance fork stiffness but add to the overall weight. Thus, downhill-oriented forks feature the largest stanchion diameters. Cross-country fork stanchions measure around 32mm, and trail forks are 34-36mm. Meanwhile, downhill forks can range up to 40mm in diameter.

Stanchion Coating

In certain high-end forks, stanchions may feature a coating that helps to minimize stiction, such as Fox’s Kashima coating. This slippery coating enhances fork performance by reducing friction between the stanchion and the fork’s seals.

Air vs. Coil Springs

Earlier in this guide, we discussed the differences between air and coil springs. As a quick review, the primary advantage of using an air shock is its lightness, as air weighs considerably less than steel. A coil spring can often add about 400 grams of extra weight to the shock.

Bikes designed for downhill riding commonly use coil shocks. Lower-end bicycles may sometimes use cheap coil shocks as a cost-saving measure. The coil design is only used on the shock, while all modern front forks use air.

Remote Lockouts

Lockouts offer a clear advantage – by making the suspension extremely firm, the bike can feel like it has minimal or no suspension. This approach substantially increases pedaling efficiency on smooth surfaces by reduced ‘pedal bob’. Nowadays, it’s uncommon to find shocks or suspension forks that offer a “true” lockout feature. While some models may include a lever that stiffens the shock, there is usually a “blow off” mechanism that permits the shock to compress under load.

Different Shock and Fork Models

Fox suspensions have historically been the ultimate squish machine. However, their performance dominance has been challenged in recent years by Ohlins. Many riders claim that Ohlins feels as plush as Fox with a better maintenance schedule. I have not yet tried an Ohlins fork or shock, so I can’t comment directly on the feel. RockShox suspensions are the least expensive to maintain but noticeably lack the plush character of a Fox.

In order of popularity from what I’ve seen at bike parks in the US: Fox, RockShox (close second), Ohlins, and DVO. Most other brands are very niche and not often spotted.

If you are new to mountain bike suspension, you will be blown away by the prices of these components. Price also depends on the build and model. For example, the Fox performance series is much more affordable than the Factory series, and the smaller diameter forks are cheaper than larger diameters. Like most components, pricing varies between the Americas (USA/Canada) and Europe. Ohlins, which is far and away the most expensive of the major brands in America, is actually cheaper than Fox in Europe. Of the major performance brands, RockShox is the most affordable because its components don’t require as much regular maintenance.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the popular offerings from the top brands in the industry:



  • 32: Gravel.
  • 34: Cross-country and trail.
  • 36: Trail and enduro.
  • 38: Enduro
  • 40: Dual crown, downhill only.


  • Float DPS: Cross-country and trail.
  • Float DPX2: Trail.
  • Float X2: Enduro.
  • DHX2: Coil spring, mostly downhill, although serious enduro riders have been using coils more lately.



  • Lyrik: Taril or enduro (35mm diameter).
  • Yari: Enduro or E-MTB (35mm diameter).
  • ZEB: Long-travel, 38mm diameter. Enduro, but can handle downhill.
  • Boxxer: Dual crown, downhill only.


  • Deluxe: Air or coil, this is RockShox most accessibly-priced shock.
  • Super Deluxe: Air or coil, this is RockShox mid-range shock.
  • Vivid: Air or coil, this is RockShox high-end shock.



  • RXF34: Trail
  • RXF36: Trail and enduro.
  • RXF38: Enduro.
  • DH38: Dual crown, downhill only.


  • TTX Air: Trail and enduro.
  • TTX22: Coil spring, downhill and enduro.

Other Brands

DT Swiss, Manitou, Marzocchi, Cane Creek, DVO, MRP, Cannondale

Pros and Cons of Upgrade Options

Choosing the right suspension upgrade involved similar trade-offs to other mountain bike components. As usual, there is a balance between performance, weight, and price.

In my experience, adjusting sag, compression, and rebound settings produces a near-perfect bike configuration. With a decent fork such as a RockShoc Lyrik with the Motion Control damper, you will obtain about 95% of the maximum possible suspension performance. Naturally, basic dampers come at a lower cost. That’s why I ride some of the gnarliest enduro trails around using just a Fox 36 Elite fork and DPX2 shock. It’s far from a top-of-the-line enduro setup – it’s more of a trail build. I regularly see middle-aged dads with way more expensive setups than me, but my components are tuned, well-maintained, and work great.

Spending the extra thousand or two on the highest-end components will only get you that last 5% of performance. Do you really need it? Most likely not.

One caveat for downhillers: I advise using a dual crown and coil shock for frequent downhill riding, especially if you ride fast and/or have a rider weight of over 200 pounds. I know it’s hard to justify the cost of two bikes, but trail and enduro bikes are not meant for downhill parks. You will repeatedly damage your components, even if you have a burlier fork and shock.

Safety Considerations

Photographer Paris Gore
Photographer: Paris Gore

Importance of Proper Maintenance and Setup

Without proper maintenance and setup, your suspension’s performance will suffer, and you will spend more money in the long run. Moreover, subpar suspension performance can be a safety issue (like any faulty component).

Risks of Neglecting Suspension

Overall, the most significant risk of neglecting your suspension is a decline in ride quality and potential damage to the component. While a brake failure or handlebar snapping apart is potentially catastrophic, suspension problems are more subtle.

A neglected suspension is unlikely to cause the same risk of bodily injury unless you are already pushing yourself beyond your limit. First, even a poorly maintained suspension will not just break in half while riding. Secondly, any remotely cognizant rider will notice the poor performance of their bicycle before hucking their meat. As a bike coach and avid rider, I’ve seen my fair share of injuries, and I wouldn’t directly attribute any of them to poor suspension performance. Nevertheless, I’ve listed a few issues that could theoretically result in injury.

  • Suspension Bottoming Out: The biggest safety concern with suspension systems is bottoming out after landing a jump or drop. The jarring landing could cause the rider to fall and sustain an injury.
  • Rebound Too Low (Fast Rebound): Sometimes, when a suspension’s rebound is set too fast, the rider can feel as though they are getting bucked off the bicycle. Losing grip on the bars or pedals can result in injury. Once again, this would probably only be an issue if a rider turned their rebound damping down and then went to go ride trails at their limit.

It’s important to moderate progression through terrain so your gear can adapt according to your skill level. For example, a rider’s compression setting may be perfect for small jumps and drops. Yet, if a rider decides to progress to hitting 40-foot gaps within the course of a day (or a week), that same suspension will bottom out hard and potentially cause a crash.

Wrapping this one up

This guide contains all the information you need to begin your journey into the wide world of mountain bike suspensions. The ability to adjust and diagnose your suspension system will put you ahead of the vast majority of riders.

One word of warning: things are about to get expensive. However, if you enjoy the pursuit of mountain biking, investing in your suspension is mandatory.

Additional Resources


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Disclosure: Products are selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases from a link. “I can’t wait to get on the road

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