front suspension – TriSports University The place to learn about triathlon. Tue, 20 Jun 2017 19:17:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 front suspension – TriSports University 32 32 Mountain Biking for Dummies: Suspension Fri, 14 Apr 2017 04:05:52 +0000 Written by James Haycraft Now that we’ve had ourselves a chance to explore the dipping-your-toe-into-the-mountain-bike-world level of research in our previous post (Mountain Biking for Dummies: The Frame), we can begin to delve into some of the more specific questions and functions of mountain bikes and what those mean for you, the rider, out on […]]]>

Written by James Haycraft

Now that we’ve had ourselves a chance to explore the dipping-your-toe-into-the-mountain-bike-world level of research in our previous post (Mountain Biking for Dummies: The Frame), we can begin to delve into some of the more specific questions and functions of mountain bikes and what those mean for you, the rider, out on the trail. Our first area of exploration will be one of the most critical and amazing components of a mountain bike: its suspension.

Suspension Defined
Suspension is truly a glorious thing; it can turn tragedy to triumph, it can make something out of nothing, it can absorb blows that would likely crush important parts of a rider’s body…in short: it’s amazing. First of all, let’s define suspension, shall we? Suspension is basically a thing on a bike (in our case anyway) by which vibrations are absorbed or dampened, whatever you want to call it. Road going bicycles actually do have a form of suspension that is most often overlooked: the tire and tube. But that’s a whole extra ball of wax that we’ll have to dig out of our ears at another time.

Suspension Varieties
Suspension on a mountain bike basically comes in two forms: fork suspension and rear triangle suspension. A bicycle that ONLY has a suspension fork is most commonly referred to as a “hardtail.” The nomenclature should seem relatively self-explanatory, as a hard rear end means no suspension. As an aside, some people choose to ride trails on mountain bikes that are “fully rigid,” meaning they have no suspension at all. Those brave souls deserve commendation, as they are surely tougher than I am. A bicycle frame that has a suspension fork AND a shock connecting the rear triangle to the main triangle is a full suspension bike, as both wheels are able to travel independently of the frame; although both travel on a pre-determined path, as defined by the suspension system itself. In general, you should also refer to the rear suspension as the shock, and the front suspension as the fork.

But within those two categories there are an absolute and overwhelming multitude of different types of mountain bikes including, but not limited to: rigid, hardtail, enduro, all mountain, trail, downhill, gravel, cyclocross, dirt jumper, fat bike, plus bikes, the list goes on.  Most of those are categorized by their frame, hardtail or full suspension and the frame’s geometry, and by the width of tire they can accommodate (fat bike, plus bike, also called fattie by some manufacturers).

With so many choices, which bike is right for me? 
How can you possibly know which bike is the best for you right away? Well, it’s almost impossible.  But if you’re TOTALLY new to mountain biking, the most likely answer is going to be something that’s relatively inexpensive. Most people when they’re getting involved in a new sport or hobby start low, in the sense that their investment is at least initially relatively small. If you fall into that category, you are most likely going to end up with a hardtail as your first mountain bike. It is intuitive that hardtailed bikes are the least expensive to produce, although you can buy some REALLY expensive hardtails, as there are less expenses in making those frames and equipping those complete bikes with parts. Suspension is very expensive. For reference, you can buy suspension forks ranging in price from a bit over a hundred bucks to forks that are about two thousand dollars. That’s JUST the fork, so keep that in mind.

Hardtail vs. Full Suspension 
So the tl;dr version of that paragraph was that entry level mountain bikes are generally hardtails, and that’s totally fine. It will be capable of doing most things you want a mountain bike to do and there are only certain areas in which the bike itself will feel out of depth, but I can guarantee you that as the rider you will feel far out of YOUR depth before the bike begins to play a role in that mental game. As you grow more confident, however, you may find yourself wanting to explore areas that you now feel are open to you, if you were on the right equipment. That’s where full suspension bikes come into play.  They can lower the “oh crap” factor as they frequently offer a little wiggle room, so to speak, when it comes to making errors out on the trail. Even a full suspension cross country bike, which is generally saved for courses that are designed to be fast and/or have lots of climbing, can be capable of many more trails and features than a hardtailed cross country bike.

Suspension and its travel
When you start getting higher up the mountain, however, you may find yourself wanting something that can absorb hits on which a puny little cross country bike’s suspension would bottom out.  Bottoming out is what happens when suspension runs the full course of its travel and reaches its mechanical limit. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not something you want to do over and over to suspension, as the wear and tear on the pistons and seals will shorten its lifespan. As bike’s suspensions get bigger and bigger (as you travel from 90mm XC bikes to 150mm all mountain bikes) the geometry of the frame itself also changes.  A cross country bike is very “road-like” in its position, as the bike is kind of designed around the premise of traveling, well…traveling across country; up the mountain, down the mountain, across the ridge, along the flats, through the valley, and so it goes. It’s designed to go there and do it pretty quickly. As a consequence, the road-like geometry (it’s more upright than a road bike) is most apparent on these bikes. As you move up the travel range, the bikes get shorter horizontally and taller vertically.  Think of it as if you’re sitting in an office chair at a desk with your hands at a keyboard.  With cross country bikes, the chair is a bit higher than the keyboard and your “wheel” is closer to underneath the keyboard (in our hypothetical world). On an all mountain bike the keyboard is higher than the chair and is closer to you and the front wheel is sitting out in front of the keyboard a bit.  The position is far more upright, which aids the rider in managing the bike underneath them and consequently in attempting features that would be far more difficult on a XC bike, where your weight is more forward.

Working your suspension
Further complicating the matter is the way in which you can interact with your suspension. However, none of what I’m about to say would really dictate which TYPE of bike I would buy, so keep that in mind (most of these features are determined by the brand of suspension the bike manufacturer chooses to stock on their bike). Suspension forks and shocks can be regulated by the user in a few ways: you can change the amount of air pressure you pump INTO the fork/shock chambers (using a suspension pump), you can lock out the suspension completely either using a switch mounted on the unit itself (you have to reach down and turn the switch, which can be complicated while riding trails), or a remotely mounted switch (mounted on your handlebars and actuated via a hydraulic or mechanical system, but you basically just flip a switch), or you can adjust the “mode” the suspension is in via a multi-position switch.  For example, some shocks have climb/trail/descend selections, where climb has basically no travel, trail has most of the suspensions travel available to use, and descend has as much squish available as the bike allows. Many riders have their opinions and may say certain systems are better than others, but you are best off deciding for yourself once you have a better idea of how you ride the bike.

Let’s talk about rebound
Suspension also has one other very important way in which you can regulate its behavior beyond setting the pressure and squishiness of the suspension: its rebound. Rebound is how fast the suspension wants to travel back to its normal position. When I first started riding, I thought: “Why would I want to adjust that? I want it to rebound as quickly as possible, right?” No sir. Rebound can dramatically affect the feel of the suspension, and it depends (as I’ve been saying a lot, haven’t I?) on the type of riding you’re going to be doing. Almost inevitably though, no matter what bike I get on (be it my cross country bike or my all mountain bike), I generally slow down the rebound a bit. The bigger the hits my suspension will be absorbing, the slower I want the rebound to be. Think about it: if my 150mm (six inches) of travel is soaked up in one big hit all at once, I don’t want all six inches springing back to its original position as quickly as possible as that will tend to “buck” me off the bike. But, I don’t want the rebound set slow enough to where the hits bottom out the suspension if they come in relatively quick succession.

Don’t forget the seatpost
Phew, had enough?? Well, let’s talk about one more thing that’s sort of suspension related and then we can be done with this little infusion of knowledge. Everyone generally knows what a seatpost is, right? Pretty straightforward. Well, certain mountain bike types, usually all mountain and trail, may come with what is called a dropper seatpost.  Essentially, the seatpost is like a piece of suspension in that it can be manually “dropped” into itself (thereby lowering it temporarily) where it will stay until it is released (usually by a trigger on the handlebar, actuated mechanically by a cable or hydraulically like a brake) and pop back up to its original height. Dropper seatposts are incredibly useful in certain situations, as they get the saddle out of the way so you can move your body around much easier on the bike. If you’re going down a steep downhill it is nice to get behind the saddle and distribute your body’s weight much further back and this becomes significantly easier when you can move your saddle down quite a few inches.

All of these things add together to create a bike that is adaptable to the way you want to ride it. The bigger the suspension (i.e. more travel it has) the more forgiveness you get and the more capable your bike is of absorbing big hits and/or absorbing mistakes you make.

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About the Author: James is a recent transplant to the southwest who has spent more money during his time in triathlon than he’d care to admit. An adult onset triathlete, he has had the privilege to race in the professional field before realizing that they are simply too good for him and is now back to the age group ranks, where he has discovered a love for all things off-road and has (temporarily, most likely) forsaken his road-going ways in favor of getting dirty.

Mountain Biking for Dummies: The Frame Fri, 04 Nov 2016 22:45:13 +0000 Written by James Haycraft I’ll start off on a personal level so we can relate nicely right from the get go…I have been cycling, mostly competitively, for 14 of my 32 years of life. Of those 14 years, only the past three or so have involved riding on stuff other than the pristine smoothness of […]]]>

Written by James Haycraft


I’ll start off on a personal level so we can relate nicely right from the get go…I have been cycling, mostly competitively, for 14 of my 32 years of life. Of those 14 years, only the past three or so have involved riding on stuff other than the pristine smoothness of concrete and asphalt. All of that is to say that when I first dipped my toe into mountain biking as an adult after a brief flirtation in college, I felt like a complete noob. All of the knowledge and experience I had built up to that point was essentially out the window.  My road-going concerns like frame choice (aero or traditional), components (9 speed, 10 speed, 11 speed, 105/Ultegra/Dura Ace/Rival/Force/Red), wheels (aerodynamic or lightweight or…gasp!, both?!), cost (obviously a big deal), and many more were now concerns that no longer directly related. I needed to learn, so learn I did. Let me preface this series on mountain biking by saying that I have completely fallen in love with the dirt. I still ride on the roads quite a bit, but getting out on the trails feels most similar to when, as a kid (okay and maybe as a young adult), I headed out in the back yard or some woods to just…well, play. It’s plain fun getting off-road, once you get over the intimidation and newness factor. Trust me.

While many of us are at least basically familiar with the tenets of road biking and the equipment involved in that genre of two-wheeled sport, many of us are equally unfamiliar with the off-road world. So let’s dive in to some basics to get our worldview better situated around mountain bikes.

First & Foremost: The Frame
Let’s start at the most basic, the bicycle frame itself. Like road bikes, you can find mountain bike frames that are made up of different materials. Also like road bikes, these materials play a certain role in determining the ride characteristics and, perhaps more importantly, the cost of the bicycle. The two main frame materials found in modern “off the shelf” mountain bikes are carbon fiber and aluminum alloy. There are other materials, as with road bikes, but the bulk of what you’ll see in your local bike shop will be made of one of those materials.

Aluminum: Aluminum alloy is, generally speaking, a less expensive material with which to build a bicycle frame. It can actually be quite lightweight, so don’t always assume that a carbon fiber bike is lighter than an aluminum bike, and can also be quite stiff. That stiffness, however, is frequently considered relatively “harsh” stiffness. Aluminum does not have a lot of compliance as a material; there isn’t a whole lot of “give” to it. Bicycles with aluminum frames are, generally speaking, going to be less expensive than bicycles with carbon fiber frames.


Carbon: Carbon fiber is becoming more and more prevalent among even (relatively) low-cost mountain bikes. The “lay up” of carbon fiber bicycles plays a huge role in determining how the frame “feels” and how it performs. The “lay up” is basically how the company has deemed it best to place pieces of carbon fiber to change where and how the bike is stiff and/or compliant. At first, carbon seemed an unnecessary luxury to me when I got into mountain biking because I told myself that there are so many bumps and variations in surface that I wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between frame types. I was completely wrong because the greater density of frame vibrations on the trails (think roots, rocks, drop offs, etc.) actually make a carbon frame “feel” significantly smoother than an aluminum one; even more so than on the road, in my opinion.

A Frame for Every Occasion
Now, let’s head into some more specifics by examining the different types of frames that you can find in the mountain bike world. The main categories that we will use for this discussion are: cross country, trail, all mountain, and downhill. You can find other categories of mountain bikes, but for most of the trail riding population…that terminology is sufficient.

Which bike “type” you choose really depends on your projected use. Some have the luxury of owning several different types and their choice for the day is determined by which trail they are going to ride.

Cross Country: Cross country bikes are typically meant for the fastest riding and/or the least rambunctious trails. They are designed to travel long distances at relatively high speeds and in some ways their geometry is reminiscent of a road bike. They are almost exclusively hard-tail, no rear suspension, or short-travel full suspension, less than 120mm of travel, generally. These bikes typically feature most of the “entry level” bikes, which are frequently hard-tailed, as it is less expensive to produce short-travel, hard-tail bicycles.


Trail: The next category, “trail” bikes, are generally always “fully suspended;” full suspension and dual suspension all mean the same thing. These bikes have a slightly “slacker” geometry (think more laid back than cross country bicycles), which makes them slightly less quick-handling, but also less responsive to non-rider input. This can be a good thing considering the number of rocks, roots, and so on that can surprise you on the trail. Generally trail bikes have 120-140mm of suspension travel and function mostly as your “do everything” bike. They can generally get on most types of trails and kind of be a jack of all trades.

All Mountain: “All mountain” bikes further the specs that trail bikes have, usually having suspension that is up to about 160mm of travel, even slacker geometry, and bigger brakes and other assorted features to accommodate the likely trail options those bikes will see.  All mountain bikes are generally more refined at going downhill and can absorb big hits and drops to the suspension but still head uphill pretty darn good.

Downhill: Downhill bikes are really meant strictly for those that wish to point their bike downhill. They’re not really meant to be pedaled for anything for than a brief spurt and have HUGE suspension and brakes that are more reminiscent of motocross bikes than regular bicycles.

So choosing a type really depends entirely on what you see yourself doing. Most people, it would seem, get a cross country bike first. They discover that they really enjoy riding trails and realize that some of the most “epic” trails have bigger “features” than their skills, confidence, and bike can handle. So they then buy a new category bike with different features, and so forth and so on. Remember, the correct number of bikes to own is N+1, where N equals the number of bikes you currently own.


Exploring Suspension and Brakes
Features and specs to look out for really depend on personal preference and use case scenarios. The most important parts of a mountain bike are the suspension and brakes. You will love those two things for what they do more than you love most other features of your bike. Brand preference will play a large role in your choice, as with road bikes. SRAM vs. Shimano, RockShox (a SRAM company) vs. Fox, and so on. However, the standout performer is getting hydraulic disc brakes, as opposed to…well, as opposed to anything else. V-brakes or cantilever brakes or mechanical disc brakes are all big sacrificers of performance (stopping power and modulation) compared to current (even inexpensive) hydraulic disc brakes.

I might go so far to say as the brake decision is probably one to take as a high priority.  Because buying nice, modern brakes will also mean that you have an accompanying bike that is also well-suited to your tasks.

But Which Wheel Size Will Suit Me?!
The last thing to consider that would be a major over-arching decision when it comes to buying a mountain bike is the wheel size. Anytime you see a 26” bike in the modern world, it is likely going to be a complete entry level hard-tail mountain bike. More often your decision will turn on the 27.5” vs. 29” debate. There are arguments and articles written ad nauseum about this decision, but in general, it comes down to preference. I would relate the wheel size choice more to bike size choice, as the pros and cons of each are so minor and personal that it likely won’t make much difference to you as a new rider, and wouldn’t to me as a somewhat experienced rider either. If you start getting into decisions about all mountain bikes with lots of travel and corresponding long wheelbases, having the 27.5” vs. 29” discussion is worth bringing up for sure, but until you reach that point…I would relate it more to bike size.

Bike Sizing
Speaking of bike size, the lingo is a bit confusing for those of us that are used to road going bicycles. Mountain bikes are either measured in inches (14” + 17.5” + 19”, etc.) or in sizes (S, M, L). There are, generally speaking, fewer sizes available per bike, but that is simply because there isn’t really as much a SET position on a mountain bike as compared to a road bike. While on the trail, we are constantly moving our body around, switching hand positions and grip positions, getting in and out of the saddle, and so on. This movement means our fits on these bikes are “looser,” so to speak. So with sizing it’s more important to feel comfortable with the bike underneath you. For example, at 5’11” I could ride a Medium or a Large on a cross country bike, but I prefer to ride a Medium, as it feels easier to manipulate and adjust underneath me as I ride along. So, standing over something and riding it around a bit is a better way to determine size than by simply looking a size chart.

But ultimately, in this modern day (vs. the old ages of 5-7 years ago) technology has gotten to a point where even “entry level” components and equipment are far, far better than advanced level equipment of those times. So priorities would be: decide on your budget, test ride interesting models if possible (many dealers will have demo days associated with certain bike brands throughout the year), select the type of bike based on intended use, and go shred!

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james-haycraftAbout the Author: James is a recent transplant to the southwest who has spent more money during his time in triathlon than he’d care to admit. An adult onset triathlete, he has had the privilege to race in the professional field before realizing that they are simply too good for him and is now back to the age group ranks, where he has discovered a love for all things off-road and has (temporarily, most likely) forsaken his road-going ways in favor of getting dirty.