Bike Suspension Buying Guide
Here we cover some of the technical and practical considerations for when you are buying suspension forks, whether its for road racing, cycle touring, cross country mountain biking or other types of cycling competition.
Suspension fork travel
This is probably the most important assessment you have to make in buying bike suspension forks, particularly if you are downhill mountain biking. You don't want the forks to bottom out, so if there are likely to be big impacts in your ride, you need plenty of travel.
If you are planning on a mixture of road and mtb riding, then you should also consider whether you need lockout on your forks, as its not much fun bouncing along a road when you really need rigidity.
Some forks also provide external travel adjustability, again important if you have variety in your rides.
This changes the feel of the suspension and is the rate at which the shock bounces back, so you can adjust to feel firmer or softer. Usually this can be adjusted via a knob at the top of the fork.
Choosing forks for cycling to work
If you're commuting or cycling regularly but not in competition then your bike suspension simply needs adaptability. For smooth roads, you may be able to put up with the hard ride that rigid forks give, in return for quick response and positiveness. On the other hand, if you take a few rough paths or bumpy roads, it can be a lot more comfortable to have a fork with limited travel which will also lock out when you're on a longer smooth ride.
Touring and longer leisure rides
Once you are into slightly competitive cycling or longer touring and you are used to being in the saddle, then you'll need the rigidity that a solid fork gives. Maybe you just use the lockout on some short travel suspension, but in most cases there is still some give in the fork, plus you will lose out completely on the lightweight design used for racing.
As you get more serious, you'll need rigid forks.
Choosing suspension for road racing
If you are in competition, then you're going to have to put up with road bumps and have solid forks. Depending on budget and the type of cycling you are involved in you can then look at the weight, strength and aerodynamics of the models available.
You'll find that some manufacturers specialise in particular types of fork for the different cycling competitions.
Suspension for general mountain biking
For just biking around in trees, parks, forests and general mtb activities, you may find full suspension more fun, partly because on bumpy ground its a lot more comfortable.
However, when it comes to competition there are very good reasons for having hard-tail bikes.
Choosing suspension for competitive mountain biking
This is a much more complicated decision. For instance, if you need speed and lightness, then you should probably choose a hardtail, because there is generally more Bob and weight in a full suspension set up. The latter is more suitable where you are going seriously off the beaten track at speed, where the back wheel will keep more contact with the ground instead of jumping around.
Then you have the question of suspension travel. Generally the rougher the terrain, the more travel you'll need to stop you being thrown all over the place. However, as you increase the travel, it becomes more difficult to push uphill as the shocks absorb your energy.
At the extreme, for downhill rides, travel can be around 10 inches, to absort extreme shocks.
Types of mtb suspension forks
Cross country forks are usually short travel and light.
All mountain and freeride have a bit more travel than xc and are also heavier, so a lockout is useful.
Downhill and freeride forks often have double crowns with big travel and coil sprung to take big impacts. You need a strong frame for these !