How much suspension do you need on your mountain bike

Choosing how much suspension your bike should have can be confusing. There are a couple of thought processes you can experience when asking the question of how much suspension do you need? In this post, we will go through everything you need to think about when it comes to suspension travel.

Choosing how much suspension your bike should have can be confusing. There are a couple of thought processes you can experience when asking the question of how much suspension do you need?

Some riders will be looking at the bare minimum suspension travel they can get away with, while others will be looking for the maximum squish. How much suspension travel your mountain bike has, makes a massive difference in how it performs.  

In this post, we will go through everything you need to think about when it comes to suspension travel. We want you to be able to have as much fun as possible by choosing the perfect bike.

MOUNTAIN BIKE SUSPENSION OPTIONS:

Before we go into the nitty-gritty of bike suspension, we will go into the basics of what is available to you:

1. Rigid Bike

 

Rigid bikes have no suspension at all. These days, you will struggle to find a fully rigid mountain bike. These bikes will be at the very bottom of the price scale, as they have fewer components. Rigid bikes are also straightforward to maintain due to their simple design. You will see that most commuter bikes are rigid, as they are only really used for whizzing around smooth paved roads.

‍However, there is an exception in the form of fat bikes. Fat bikes have giant tires and are used for riding off-road, but they are often rigid. One of the jobs of a fat bike’s tires is to act as the bike’s suspension. The high-volume tires are squishy, which soaks up the bumps in the terrain.

2. Hardtail Mountain Bike

2018 Specialized Epic Expert
2018 Specialized Epic Expert

Hardtail mountain bikes only have suspension on the front wheel. This comes from suspension forks, either with air or coil springs. These do a great job of absorbing bumps and vibrations from the terrain. Hardtails are more pricy than rigid bikes but are less expensive than full-suspension bikes in most cases.

A good hardtail mountain bike is suitable for most trails, making them a good buy over a full suspension bike for many riders. A hardtail’s design and simplicity make them easier to look after too.

If you are not planning on riding anything too gnarly, a hardtail is probably ideal for you. Also, a hardtail is the better choice for beginner riders, as you can learn fundamental skills that you can transfer onto a full-suspension bike later on. If you plan on riding technical terrain and can afford to, you should go for a full-suspension bike.

 

3. Full Suspension Mountain Bike

2016 Ibis Mojo HD3
2016 Ibis Mojo HD3

A full-suspension mountain bike has a suspension fork on the front and a shock absorber on the rear wheel. A full-suspension mountain bike has a few advantages over a hardtail. The first benefit is that a full-suspension bike is more comfortable to ride. The second benefit is that you get much more traction, allowing you to ride more technical terrain. These bikes are much more forgiving, as the shock and impacts are absorbed before transferring into your body. With the correct technique and setup, you can ride much faster on a full-suspension bike.

There are a few different types of full-suspension bikes; keep reading for the full low-down.

WHAT IS YOUR FLAVOR OF RIDING?

When you try to work out how much suspension your bike needs, you need to think about what kind of rider you are. You also need to look at where you ride.

We have already discussed what a hardtail is good for, so we will concentrate on full-suspension mountain bikes.

A. Your Local Terrain

Your local trails’ characteristics will determine the type of bike you choose and how much suspension travel you need. The things you need to be aware of are:

  • Elevation – How much climbing will you need to do?
  • Uplifts – Do you ride somewhere with ski lifts or uplifts?
  • Trail distance – Will you be riding massive loops or short distances?
  • Terrain type – Will you encounter lots of big roots and rocks, or are your trails relatively smooth?

There will always be compromises, so don’t look into these things with a microscope. But, having a general idea of what your local area is like will give you a good idea of what bike to buy. A good tip here is to look at the type of bikes that other local riders use.

B. Your Style Of Riding

  • The way you ride will have a massive impact on what bike you buy. By this, I mean your chosen discipline of mountain biking. Are you a downhill shredder with a gung-ho attitude, and the phrase “bones mend, press send!” is continuously circulating through your brain? Or are you more of an endurance rider that likes to shed weight by only filling your water bottle up halfway? Or are you somewhere in between?

 THERE ARE 4 DIFFERENT TYPES OF MOUNTAIN BIKES. UNDERSTANDING THAT EACH TYPE IS DESIGNED FOR A DIFFERENT TERRAIN AND RIDING STYLE IS KEY TO FINDING A MOUNTAIN BIKE THAT BEST SUITS YOUR NEEDS.

 

  • This is where you need to understand the different types of full-suspension mountain bikes. The different types are designed for different jobs, and part of their design is how much suspension travel they have.

1. Cross-country Mountain Bikes 

2019 Cannondale Scalpel-SI Carbon 3
2019 Cannondale Scalpel-SI Carbon 3
  • Cross-country bikes don’t have lots of suspension travel. Typically, they have 80 to 100mm of travel. These bikes are built for long rides or racing and challenging climbs. The disadvantage of a cross-country bike is that they don’t instill much confidence when descending tricky terrain. But, their lightweight and geometry make them super-efficient climbers.

2. Trail Mountain Bikes

016 Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 650B
016 Specialized Camber Comp Carbon 650B
  • Trail mountain bikes are considered to have a mid-range of suspension travel. Trailbikes have about 100 to 140mm of travel. These are the most popular type of mountain bike, as they offer a nice blend of climbing ability and downhill competence. Trail bikes are more capable than you may think. They are also super fun to ride, as they usually have playful characteristics and minimal compromise.

3. Enduro/All-Mountain Bikes

2017 Intense Tracer 275
2017 Intense Tracer 275
  • If you need a bike that will get you to the top of a mountain and is tough and capable enough to get you back down, an Enduro bike is for you. Enduro bikes are designed to take on big hits from very technical terrain while being efficient to pedal. Their toughness and versatility make them great all-around bikes. However, if your local terrain isn’t very technical, an Enduro bike may be overkill, thanks to its long travel. Enduro bikes have travel that ranges from 150mm to 170mm, which can dull the experience of less technical trails. If this is is the case, you will have more fun on a trail bike.

4. Downhill Mountain Bikes

2014 Specialized S-WORKS Demo 8
2014 Specialized S-WORKS Demo 8
  • Downhill mountain bikes have a tremendous amount of suspension travel, usually from 180to 210mm. Their big burly shocks and forks are designed to take massive impacts from big jumps and very technical terrain. These are great fun for riding down a mountain as fast as possible, but they are not much good for anything else. Their gearing, geometry, and weight make pedaling very difficult for riding uphill.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY BIKE HAS TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE SUSPENSION TRAVEL?

If you have too much travel, your bike has a bias that leans more towards downhill than you need. This will make your bike potentially a little boring for the terrain you ride, as it will isolate you too much from the terrain. There is a good chance that your bike will be unnecessarily heavy, meaning you will be moving around extra weight that isn’t needed.

  1. However, bikes with lots of suspension travel are more forgiving. Therefore, if you struggle with confidence on steep and techy descents, they can help you and make riding more fun. If pedaling efficiency isn’t an issue for you, a bike with more suspension travel will suit you if you want to push hard and ride fast on the descent.
  2. If you ride a bike that hasn’t got enough travel, you will find technical terrain difficult. The bike will be less forgiving on rocky and bumpy descents. However, you will benefit from increased pedaling efficiency, reducing how much energy you spend, especially as the bike will be lighter. Shorter travel bikes can give you a more engaging ride, as you will experience more feedback from the terrain. You will have less room for error, but you will probably enjoy it if your skills are good enough.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What we can take away from this is the amount of suspension travel you have should be based on your type of riding, where you ride, and what you want to get from your rides. Your skills play a big part in your mountain biking experiences, but having the right tool for the job is a good start.