Coil Shock vs. Air Shock

Coil and Air shocks have come a long way and have their own benefits and drawbacks. So which type of suspension is best for you? It all depends on the type of riding you like to do, so there isn’t a quick answer to this. But in this post, we will highlight the differences so you can see what will work best for you.

Previously coil shocks were only used on the downhill and freeride mountain bikes. However, in recent years, suspension manufacturers have been developing coil shocks for trail and Enduro bikes. This comes from the rise in popularity of Enduro racing, as Enduro race rules state that racers need to finish an event with the same frame, wheels, fork, and shock that they started with. Therefore, more robust and reliable components were needed. The result of this is that manufacturers have put a lot of time and effort into improving coil shocks. The advantage for us is that the improved technology has trickled down to mountain bikes that we can ride. 

But, this doesn’t mean that coil shocks are better than air shocks. Air shocks have also come a long way and have their own benefits. So which type of suspension is best for you? It all depends on the type of riding you like to do, so there isn’t a quick answer to this. But in this post, we will highlight the differences so you can see what will work best for you.

DON’T THEY DO THE SAME JOB?

Coil and air shocks have some similarities. Both absorb energy from impacts when riding the trails. They both store the energy in the damper, ready for the next impact. But, after this, they start to show their own characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.

A coil shock gives you a linear spring rate. This means the compression force increases linearly along the length of the spring. An air shock’s compression is different, as it is progressive. This is because the force needed to compress the air spring increases exponentially through the length of its stroke. Therefore, the closer it is to the end of the stroke, the more force it needs to continue compressing it. So, yes, they do the same job, but their characteristics are generally suited to different riding styles.

Most trail bikes are designed to be versatile enough to cope with all types of terrain, and the progressive nature of an air shock compliments this. If you were to replace the air shock with a coil on one of these bikes, it would use up all its travel too easily. There are two different types of frames because it is challenging to design a frame that can accommodate both types. 

There are exceptions, as some mountain bikes do allow you to swap your shock. You would switch between the different types to suit different types of terrain and riding styles.

AIR SHOCK

Pros

•           Extremely tunable

•           You can adjust the spring rate

•           Lightweight 

•           Progressive feel

 

Cons

•           Heat build up on bumpy terrain

•           Lots of seals to add friction

IS AN AIR SHOCK RIGHT FOR ME?

Trail riding is varied; therefore, air shocks are generally fitted to trail bikes. This is because their versatile and adjustable characteristics make them perfect for most types of riding.

The most significant benefit of an air shock is that it is very tunable, as you can adjust everything. One way you can do this is by altering the progression of the shock by adding or removing volume spacers.

If you are using your bike to lose weight and plan on being much lighter, an air shock is the best choice. This is because you can easily adjust the sag to compensate for your change in weight with a shock pump. Additionally, if you need to add clothing layers, wear a back pack or hydration pack, you can ensure your shock performs accordingly. The adjustability of an air shock also makes it easy to dial it in to suit the terrain you are riding.

An air shock’s design makes it ideal for people that need to keep their bike’s weight down. Therefore, if you ride terrain that involves lots of climbing, an air shock would be best. This is why they are popular with cross country riders.

Air shocks give bikes a playful feeling, as you can preload the shock to pop off jumps. When landing big jumps, the progressive spring rate stops you from bottoming out when you land hard. This characteristic makes bikes with air shocks fun to ride, but they may not be as fast as bikes with coil shocks.

COIL SHOCK

Pros

•           Sensitive to small bumps

•           Increased grip

•           Little heat build-up

•           Less to go wrong

•           No friction from seal

Cons

•           Doesn’t work on all bikes

•           Heavy

 

IS A COIL SHOCK RIGHT FOR ME?

Coil shocks are ideal for riders that spend most of their time riding bike parks. They are also suited to downhill riders, thanks to their superior heat management on long descents. This is because their performance doesn’t deteriorate under prolonged stress due to heat build-up.

Coil shocks don’t have seals, which means they need less force to start working. This means that they are more sensitive when riding over small bumps. Good small bump sensitivity keeps the wheel on the ground more, giving you a more planted experience and better control.

But, if you like to jump and pop over features, a coil shock won’t give you the playfulness you require. They can often give you the feeling that you are stuck to the ground compared to an air shock.

If you ride terrain covered in lots of roots and rocks and want a supple and comfortable ride, a coil shock will be a good choice. This is because it will give you a softer feel than an air shock, as it reduces trail chatter more effectively.

A coil shock requires very little maintenance, so it is a good choice if you want the most straightforward option. However, they still leave you with plenty of opportunities to dabble by fitting different springs, etc.

 

COIL SHOCK VS AIR SHOCK: FINAL THOUGHTS

As you can see, both types of shock have their own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, you need to think about what kind of terrain you ride and what style of riding you want to do. By considering everything above, you will be able to ensure your bike has the perfect suspension setup for you.