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Things to know about suspension travel

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The important difference between a road bike and a mountainbike is the suspension. Road bikes are designed for speed and covering long distances. Suspension elements would swallow up energy used by the cyclist for propulsion. A suspension fork or damper are therefore not used. In addition, very narrow, smooth tyres provide little resistance so that high speeds can be achieved. However, this means that only asphalted or very flat surfaces can be ridden on. Gravel bikes, with their tyres and more tread, also allow you to make progress on dirt and gravel paths. If, on the other hand, you want to roll over rooty forest passages, explore rough trails or even be prepared for deep drops in the bike park, you should go for an MTB. The demands on a bike change depending on the type of terrain. Different degrees of suspension travel support the intended range of use. Whether hardtail or full, e-bike or exclusively self-propelled: with the right suspension travel, every adventure off the road seems feasible. Find out here what suspension elements are all about and how much travel is suitable for whom.

  1. What is the suspension travel?
  2. What suspension travel do I need?
  3. How do I adjust my suspension?
  4. Is more travel better?
     

What is the spring travel?

Mountain bikes can be suspended in different ways. The suspension travel means the suspension depth that absorbs bumps and jumps. Suspension fork and shock are considered suspension elements. The distance the damper can compress is called the travel. Multiplied by the gear ratio of the rear triangle, you can calculate the suspension travel of the frame. For a better understanding, let's first take a closer look at the suspension elements and the types of bikes. Hardtail is the collective term for bicycles that are simply suspended. For example, dirt bikes also belong to the category of hardtails. A suspension fork is the connecting element between the front wheel and the handlebar. It allows the front wheel to compress. There are rigid forks with steel suspension or air suspension. In modern bikes, air suspension has largely prevailed in recent years over the heavy steel suspension, which has limited adjustability. Rigid forks are used on road bikes, cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes and BMXs. 

Air suspensions can be precisely adjusted by changing the air pressure they contain. This is relevant for adapting an MTB to the body weight of its rider. It also allows you to respond to your own needs during the ride. The condition of the ground on which one mainly rides plays a role. Certain riding techniques and tricks are easier to perform with a harder suspension fork. Up to 200 millimetres of suspension travel are common with suspension forks. This means that a maximum suspension travel of 200 mm is possible. Nowadays, the so-called lock-out system is widely used. The suspension fork can be locked. This increases traction. This refers to the bike's ability to convert drive power into propulsion, i.e. acceleration. On flat ground or uphill, energy is saved when the suspension fork is locked. The power applied goes directly into propulsion and is not swallowed up by the suspension fork. Fullys are mountain bikes with "full suspension". In addition to the front suspension fork, there is a rear shock. This can also be locked on many models in order to perform better uphill and on flat trails. All-mountain bikes or trail bikes, enduro or freeride bikes, for example, are classified as fullys. Rear shocks compensate for bumps and cushion jumps and drops. The spring and shock absorber combine to form the rear shock, which is often referred to as a damper. As with the suspension fork, there are two options. Suspension by air or by a steel or titanium spring. The material is of course also a question of money. Air suspension can also help to reduce the weight of the entire bike and is more precisely adjustable. This can pay off especially for riders with little body weight. Bikes with a lot of suspension travel that are built for particularly rough terrain tend to go for steel or titanium suspension. As the suspension travel increases, the frame geometry also changes.

What spring travel do I need?

If you want to buy a new bike, you should analyse its riding behaviour in advance. It is important to start from the real main area of use. If you like to go to the bike park once or twice a year, but are otherwise more at home in the forest, you will never really use a freeride bike. Staying realistic is the be-all and end-all here. 

Hardtail

Do you want to go on long tours on slightly uneven ground or reach the top of the mountain on your own? In addition, should the way down be fun and lead over rooty trails? Then the less expensive and less maintenance-intensive hardtail can be the perfect choice for you. It usually has around 100mm of suspension travel. There are trail hardtails and race hardtails. Manufacturers' specifications tell you what their models are suitable for. Hardtails are especially recommended for people with little riding experience. Since there is no built-in shock that could forgive many riding mistakes, you learn to ride very well. 

Fullys

Are you in the mood for adrenaline, bumpy descents and full-on fun in the bike park? Then take a look at the fullys from your favourite manufacturers. Fullys are particularly exciting when it comes to suspension travel. 

Cross country bikes usually have up to 120 mm of suspension travel. They are also called race fullys. If you ride a lot uphill but still want to perform on easy downhill trails, you can look for a cross country bike, also called an XC bike. 

All mountain bikes, also called trail bikes, have up to about 150mm of suspension travel. Some Enduro bikes are also in this range. They have a long frame geometry with a flat steering angle. The result is an upright riding position. Most people with an affinity for mountain biking are well served by this category of bike. Uphill riding can still be done well independently. The All Mountain Bike also compensates for rough trails and long jumps or smaller drops. It is the perfect compromise for people who, in addition to home trails, also want to visit a bike park from time to time. It is based on a lightweight construction, aluminium and carbon are common frame materials. You will mainly find it with 29-inch wheels.  

Enduro bikes with a little more suspension travel and freeride bikes have up to 180mm suspension travel on average. Not only the suspension differs, but also the steering angle, seat angle and thus the whole seating position are much more geared towards downhill riding. The wheel size or the mounting of the bike components also influence the seating position. The body is positioned more above the rear axle. In this way, large obstacles can be rolled over and long jumps are cushioned. Riding uphill independently is rather laborious with this suspension travel. In the bike park, on the other hand, this is the best position. Freeride bikes are worthwhile for people with a lot of experience on the bike or professionals. 

Downhill bikes usually have up to 180mm travel. They are primarily designed for downhill racing, i.e. speed on rough trails. Downhill bikes are also subject to high loads. With the high load capacity of the frame comes a lot of weight. The suspension fork has a double bridge. This provides stability. Riding uphill is hardly possible with a downhill bike. The frame geometry is even more oriented towards a recumbent riding position. 

Various types of mountain bikes are now available with an electric motor. This is particularly helpful uphill. E-mountain bikes are an excellent support for reaching unique mountain peaks and viewpoints that would require great effort under their own power. E-fullys are particularly popular. The walk to the gondola or the shuttle service can be saved by getting assistance uphill from the motor. This makes it possible to do a lot of downhill riding in a short time.

How do I adjust my suspension?

Suspension elements offer possibilities to adjust them. This can improve performance. In addition to the air pressure in air suspension, knobs and volume spacers, also called tokens, can be adjusted. Volume spacers are made of plastic or rubber and reduce the volume in the air chamber of the suspension fork or shock. 

  1. First, the negative travel should be adjusted appropriately. The negative spring travel is the compression of the shock by simply placing it on the MTB. This can be regulated by the air pressure or the spring. The more downhill the bike is loaded, the higher the negative travel in relation to the total travel. You should always take into account your body weight and the bike equipment such as helmet and protectors. It is important to adjust the negative suspension travel while standing, not sitting. Otherwise the suspension fork may be set too low for steep terrain. 

  1. Then you can take a look at the rebound damping. This refers to the rebound speed of the suspension elements after they have been compressed by jumps or bumps in the ground. A fast rebound setting is more playful. Too fast a rebound can give the feeling of flying over the handlebars quickly. A slow rebound setting makes the bike stick more to the ground. It is important to find a compromise that suits your riding style. 

Well-known suspension manufacturers such as Fox, Rockshox or Sram offer a setup guide. This helps you to orientate yourself with the correct setting.

Is more suspension travel better?

People often tend to aim for more suspension travel than they really need. However, more suspension travel does not only have advantages. It is true that a lot of suspension travel is very forgiving. Larger obstacles can be easily rolled over and high speeds are possible downhill without much technology. Here lies a problem. Technique is the most important factor in cycling. You are more likely to learn it properly with little suspension travel. It is helpful to start riding on trails with a hardtail. A full-suspension bike encourages a spongy feeling and you get less feedback from the ground. Certain riding techniques and tricks are also easier to learn and implement with less suspension travel. If, for example, you want to try a "bunny hop", i.e. take both tyres off the ground at the same time, you will have a hard time with a fully suspension bike at the beginning. Moving the wheels also works better when the bike has less suspension travel. An honest analysis of your own use of the bike and the terrain in which you feel comfortable will help you to choose the right suspension travel. In the end, however, it doesn't count to read endlessly into the subject. Time is better spent practising on the bike, trying it out and getting a feel for your bike. You can find a variety of potential dream bikes on buycycle. If you have any questions about suspension elements or travel, the buycycle team is there to help and advise.

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