Mountain Bike Suspension: Forks, Parts, and Servicing

Explore our ultimate guide to mountain bike suspension including forks, parts, and servicing. Shop a huge selection of suspension forks to improve traction and keep your wheels in contact with the ground. Order now for free returns!

Pumping up mountain bike tire

Mountain bike suspension: the ultimate guide (MTB) suspension, has revolutionised how we ride, providing comfort, control, and traction over rough terrain. Whether a front suspension fork or a full-suspension setup incorporating both front and rear shocks, these systems allow the wheels to move up and down and absorb the bumps along the trail.

This ability to maintain contact with the ground ensures better traction and improved control, essentially transforming how a mountain bike handles and performs.

The bike's suspension compresses and rebounds as it hits a bumpy trail, the shock absorbers and springs working to smooth out the ride

Mountain Bike Suspension is available in various types, from widely used air-sprung systems to durable coil springs, each with unique qualities catering to different types of riding. Air springs are known for being lightweight and easily adjustable—a few pumps from a shock absorber can change the feel of the ride.

Coil springs, on the other hand, offer a plushness that many riders prefer for their consistency over demanding terrain. No matter the type, adjusting the bike suspension to match the rider’s weight and riding style is crucial for maximising performance.

Key Takeaways

  • Bike suspension systems are essential for improved traction, control, and comfort on rough terrain.
  • Various suspension types, such as air-sprung and coil, are available, each suited to different riding styles and conditions.
  • Properly adjusting suspension settings according to rider weight and preferences is essential for optimal bike performance.

Types of Mountain Bike Suspension

A mountain bike with front and rear suspension rides over rocky terrainMountain Bike Suspension:

Mountain biking can feel like a bumpy adventure, but the right suspension type not only smooths out the ride but also offers superior control and traction. Let’s look at what setup might suit a rider’s needs.

Full Mountain Bike Suspension vs. Hardtail: Choosing the Right Setup

Riders must consider the terrain they intend to tackle and their riding style when deciding which type of mountain bike suspension to choose.

Complete suspension bikes provide comfort and control on rugged trails. In contrast, hardtails, often lighter in weight, may be favourable for those who enjoy pedalling efficiency and speed on less technical courses.

Full Mountain bike Suspension (Front and Rear)

Full-suspension mountain bikes are equipped with front and rear shocks, which absorb bumps on both ends of the bike.

This dual suspension system helps maintain contact with the ground, improve traction, and deliver a less jarring ride. They are the go-to choice for enduro and downhill riders encountering rough terrain.


  • Enhanced comfort
  • Increased traction
  • Better handling on technical terrain


  • Typically heavier
  • It can be more expensive

Hardtail (Front Suspension Only)

bike suspension

Hardtail mountain bikes only come with front suspension forks, which means the front end can absorb impacts while the rigid rear stays put.

This setup results in a bike that’s more efficient to pedal, especially when climbing or on smoother trails.


  • Lightweight design
  • Greater pedalling efficiency
  • Usually more affordable


  • Less forgiving on rough terrain
  • Lower traction on the rear wheel

Both full-suspension and hardtail mountain bikes have their place in the world of mountain biking. Riders should consider the suspension system that best aligns with the type of terrain they ride and the kind of experience they aim to have.

Whether you prefer the plush comfort and technical capability of a full suspension setup or the responsive, energetic nature of a hardtail, there’s a mountain bike suspension type to suit every trail and preference.

How Mountain Bike Suspension Works

The bike's suspension compresses and rebounds as it rolls over rough terrain, absorbing shocks and maintaining stability

Mountain bike suspension is a marvellous feature designed to cushion riders from the jolts and jars of rough terrain. It ensures the wheels maintain contact with the ground, boosting traction and comfort. Here’s a look at its components, how they work, and how they can be tweaked for an optimal ride.


The suspension on a mountain bike comprises a fork at the front and a shock at the rear. These fundamental elements absorb the impact of the trail, offering control over the bike and a smoother ride. The fork connects the front wheel to the frame, whereas the shock allows the frame and rear wheel to move independently.

Spring Types

Springs in the suspension world can be either coil springs or air springs. The former uses a metal coil for resistance and is renowned for its durability and consistent feel. On the other hand, air springs use compressed air in a chamber and are lighter and easily adjustable to an individual rider’s weight and riding style.

CoilDurable, ConsistentHeavierLow
AirLightweight, TunableLighterHigh


Adjustability is a crucial aspect of bike suspension, allowing riders to tailor their setup according to weight, riding style, and terrain. The two main adjustments are:

  1. Preload: Dictating the initial tension on the spring, affecting ride height and sag.
  2. Damping: This controls the speed at which the suspension compresses (compression damping) and returns to its original position (rebound damping).
  3. Rebound damping is especially critical, as it keeps the suspension from bouncing back too quickly after absorbing a bump.

Tuning these settings usually involves a shock pump for air pressure adjustments and dials or levers for damping. It’s essential to use recommended settings as a starting point and then fine-tune from there to achieve your preferred level of performance.

Adjusting the sag, the suspension’s slight give when the rider is on the bike is pivotal for balancing traction and efficiency. Measures are typically in the region of 15% for cross-country riding to 30% for downhill.

Remember, getting suspension right dramatically improves the mountain bike experience. So, take the time to understand these components and their functions. Tuning according to individual needs can lead to an exceptional ride, enhancing both comfort and control on the trails.

Suspension Quality and Price

A mountain bike with high-quality suspension is displayed next to a price tag. The suspension system is highlighted, emphasizing its importance

Mountain bike enthusiasts understand that the quality of the suspension system can make or break the cycling experience.

\Investing in a high-quality suspension fork and shocks is critical for those looking to traverse rough terrain with comfort and control. But how does the calibre of these components affect the price of a mountain bike, and what should one consider when looking to upgrade?

Impact on Bike Price

The suspension system of a mountain bike, comprising the suspension fork and rear shock, plays a significant role in the overall price.

Higher-end models often come equipped with sophisticated suspension systems that utilise air-sprung mechanisms or advanced coil springs and are designed to provide smoother rides and enhanced traction.

  • Air-sprung suspension: Typically lighter and adjustable, catering to different terrains and riding styles. Price range: Higher due to intricate design and technology.
  • Coil-sprung suspension: Often seen in entry-level bikes, it is heavier but known for durability. Price range: More affordable but less customisable.

MTB forks alone can range from basic budget bike versions to sophisticated, lightweight forks in expensive, high-end models. For example, air forks may include lockout capabilities, adjustable rebound, and compression settings that correlate with a higher price point.

Suspension Fork TypePrice Range (GBP)Features
Basic Coil Fork£100 – £200Simple design, low adjustability, heavier
Entry-Level Air Fork£200 – £400Weight-saving, initial adjustability
High-End Air Fork£400 and upAdvanced adjustability, lightweight, increased comfort

Upgrading Existing Mountain Bike Suspension

When contemplating an upgrade to an existing suspension, one must weigh the value against the cost of new components and the potential service charges. Riders can considerably transform their ride with upgraded suspension forks or shocks, enhancing responsiveness and trail feedback.

  • Upgrading forks: Swapping out for higher-end models offers improved front wheel traction and handling. Cost varies depending on whether one opts for a more premium air-sprung fork or a robust coil option.
  • Upgrading rear shocks Can lead to better rear wheel contact with the ground, optimising traction and control during climbs and descents. However, a new rear shock may come with a hefty price tag, especially if features like remote lockout or adjustable dampers are included.

Before upgrading, they should confirm compatibility with their bike’s existing frame and components. It’s essential to balance the desired level of performance with the investment required for such enhancements.

Choosing Mountain Bike Suspension: Setup

A cyclist adjusts their bike's suspension, carefully selecting the right setup for their ride

When aiming to conquer the trails, mountain bikers know that a well-tuned suspension setup is critical for the ride. It impacts everything from traction to comfort.

Terrain Considerations

Mountain bikes are designed to tackle a variety of terrains, from gentle dirt paths to aggressive downhill tracks. The type of terrain they will navigate powerfully influences the suspension setup:

  • Smoother Surfaces: A shorter suspension travel may suffice for trails with fewer bumps and obstacles, improving efficiency and weight.
  • Rough Terrain: More suspension travel helps absorb the more significant shocks in aggressive off-road conditions, providing better control and reducing fatigue.

Rider Considerations

A great deal about suspension setup is also tailored to the individual rider:

  • Weight and Riding Style: The rider’s weight and style affect the suspension sag and air pressure. Heavy riders might require higher air pressure to prevent bottoming out.
  • Comfort vs Performance: Some riders prioritise comfort, opting for a plush ride, which means a softer setup. Others aim for performance with stiffer settings for better pedalling efficiency.

Suspension sag is typically around 20-30% of mountain bike suspension travel. It’s crucial because it allows the wheels to maintain contact with the ground, improving traction.

ComCallableWrapper Setting up the front suspension often involves incrementally adding air to the forks until the desired sag percentage is achieved. A table with recommended air pressures based on rider weight can provide a helpful guide.

Maintenance Tips

The bike suspension being adjusted with a wrench, while the bike is lifted off the ground. The mechanic is carefully inspecting the suspension components for wear and tear

Ensuring the health of one’s mountain bike suspension is imperative for a smooth and safe riding experience. They will want to perform regular inspections and servicing to maintain optimal performance.

Regular Inspections

They should inspect the suspension components before and after rides to check for damage or wear. Monitoring the suspension fork, rear shock, and seals for any signs of leakage is crucial. Frequent checks allow them to catch issues early.


Consistent lubrication of the moving parts, such as the stanchion and seals, is necessary to prevent friction and wear. Use lubricants designed for bike suspension systems to ensure they’re not damaging the components.

Seal Cleaning

After each ride, they must clean the dust wipers and seals to prevent dirt from entering the system. A soft cloth and a mild cleaner will suffice for this task. Dirt accumulation can lead to a compromised seal and potential damage to the suspension internals.

Professional Servicing

Lastly, despite one’s best efforts, there’s no replacement for professional servicing. Manufacturers usually recommend a complete service every 50 hours of ride time.

Therefore, schedules might vary depending on riding conditions and the suspension type, but one should never overlook the importance of expert maintenance.

By adhering to these guidelines, riders will maintain the bike’s suspension in top condition and thus will enjoy a safer and more controlled ride.(1) (2)

Frequently Asked Questions

A mountain bike with a visible suspension system, positioned against a rugged trail background

In this section, we’ll tackle some fundamental questions about bike suspensions to help you fine-tune your ride and keep things smooth on the trails.

What should you consider when choosing a bike suspension fork for different wheel sizes?

When selecting a suspension fork, the mountain bike’s wheel size plays a crucial role. It’s essential to match the fork to the diameter of your wheels—be it 27.5-inch, 29er, or even 700c for hybrid bikes. The suspension fork should correspond to the size to ensure proper clearance and performance.

How can one service a bike suspension fork at home, and what tools are required?

Servicing a bike suspension fork at home involves cleaning and lubricating the stanchions and replacing the seals if worn down.

What are the distinct types of bike suspensions available, and how do they differ?

Bike suspensions mainly comprise front, rear, or complete suspension systems. Front suspension, or a suspension fork, helps absorb impact on the front wheel, while rear suspension, or a rear shock, cushions the rear wheel.

How does rear suspension affect the performance of a mountain bike on rough terrain?

Rear suspension allows a bike to absorb significant bumps, maintain contact with the ground, and improve traction. On rough terrain, this leads to better control and decreased fatigue for the rider, as the shock absorbers do more of the work, allowing for more aggressive and confident riding.

What steps are involved in a typical bike suspension service routine?

A typical bike suspension service routine includes cleaning the entire suspension system, inspecting for damage or wear, changing the suspension fluid, replacing the seals, and checking the air pressure or spring rate for correct sag settings. Regular servicing ensures optimum performance and longevity of the suspension components.

How do you correctly use a suspension pump to adjust the air pressure in your bike’s suspension?

To accurately adjust the air pressure in a bike’s suspension, attach a suspension-specific pump to the air valve of the fork or rear shock. Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for the recommended pressure setting based on rider weight, and inflate or deflate the suspension to reach the desired sag percentage. Always check the air pressure with the same pump to ensure consistency.