One of the main differences between road and off-road cycling is having bike suspension.
Mountain biking is fast, dirty and seriously fun. There's nothing quite like ripping down a forest trail, over roots and rocks, hanging on for dear life as your bike flies you to the bottom of a run.
Other than your guts for glory, one of the main reasons why you can get away with this fast and loose style of riding is down to your bike. More specifically, the genius engineering behind suspension.
Suspension settings are down to each individual rider, but they require checking from time-to-time to ensure optimum performance.
What is MTB Suspension?
Suspension is a mountain biker's comfort. It's the spring in our pedal. It dampens the harsh thuds, bumps and knocks you encounter on a trail ride. Having suspension helps to anchor us by providing enough stability to not get bounced and bucked around like if you were on a mechanical bull.
A majority of mountain bikes will have front suspension, called forks. These absorb shock on the front end to take away some of the impact your body will suffer when you hit a feature. The amount of shock absorption you have in your forks is called the "travel", which is measured in millimetres. The more travel you have, the more impact your bike can take.
More aggressive and all mountain riders will opt for a full suspension bike which will have front forks, as well as a rear shock. The rear shock can also absorb a lot of impact, and adds greater flexibility to the bike.
Equipped with a tape measure, shock pump and a helping hand, it's very simple to set up your MTB suspension. Although you do you need to re-visit, and re-calibrate your settings every so often.
Here are some of the key reasons you might need to make adjustments...
New Bike and New Forks
There's nothing more exciting than getting a new bike, or new presents for your bike. Shiny, new and pristine, it's so easy to get carried away and climb aboard without setting up correctly.
In order to get the best performance from your new steed, it's important to set the sag and damping on the front and rear shock so you don't cause damage to yourself, or your new beauty.
All manufacturers of forks and shocks will recommend varying periods for servicing and maintenance. It really depends on how often you ride, and how aggressive you ride.
It's important to clean and lube your forks regularly to prevent grit and grime seeping in and causing wear and damage internally.
Similar to tyre pressure, air sprung suspension pressures can diminish over time, so it's best to give your forks and shocks a re-visit every 25-35 hours of ride time.
Whether it's illness, injury - or God forbid - boredom, if you've been off the bike for a prolonged amount of time, it's a good idea to check your suspension pressure.
Any amount of long inactivity can lead to your suspension and tyres settling which is when air can escape. If it's been far too long without riding, it may be an idea to book your bike in for a full suspension service.
Your weight plays an important role in setting the correct suspension on your mountain bike. Naturally if you lose weight or gain weight, this will affect the feel and response of your bike as you ride.
Although it isn't something we all care to admit, weight fluctuations may be attributed to a variety of things: pregnancy, illness, hormones and heartache. Whatever the reason, it's important to ensure your bike is set-up correctly for each rider, otherwise you may not get the best performance from it.
It's not just you either, but trail conditions can play a role in how you set your bike suspension too.
Depending on the nature of the trail you ride, some riders prefer a softer setting with a slow rebound, and others will prefer something a little more snappy.
When riding technical sections with uneven and sketchy looking rocks and roots, it's often favoured to soften your suspension settings to dampen the impact blow for your body. Having the bike deform to the terrain gives you a more ground control over the bike also, without enduring an uncontrollable bouncing rear end.
Although there are guides for setting up your mountain bike suspension, it always comes down to rider preference.
It's important to regularly check the air pressure in your suspension, especially if there are changes to components, weight and riding style. This is to ensure you're getting the most from your off-road ally.
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