Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally featured on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast and is available to listen to in the player below.
Today I’m picking a fight with…Mountain Bike Suspension…because honestly, it’s pointless.
Ok, obviously there are types of mountain biking where suspension is borderline required. But to the vast majority of people who put rubber to dirt, suspension…DOES…NOT…MATTER.
A lot of people go through the following mountain bike evolution:
You start on a hardtail.
You graduate to a full squish.
You eventually find your way back to a hardtail.
The most hardcore of this crew keeps this journey going eventually ending up on a fully rigid bike and then the last step in this de-evolution of a mountain biker is a fully rigid singlespeed. I haven’t gotten to the singlespeed yet, but I’ve made it to a fully rigid and I can tell you that mountain bike suspension is at best overrated.
To explain, I need to tell you my personal mountain bike story.
After a few years riding mountain bikes procured from big box sporting goods stores I learned to actually ride dirt on a buddy’s hardtail. And then, I finally got my first “real” mountain bike:
A full suspension Rocky Mountain Element and I thought...that I was The Shit.
This new self perception was in part to simply what my new bike looked like. I saw the Fox rear suspension float as the difference between what I was doing before and becoming a “real mountain biker”.
But it didn’t take long before the upkeep bills started.
And the mechanical issues.
And the self discovery that for my riding preferences (flowy singletrack working hard to keep the rubber side down) my rear suspension wasn’t really doing anything except for adding weight and expensive complications to my mountain biking life.
So I went back to a hardtail, a titanium Lynskey PRO 29, with a front suspension fork and it was glorious.
After that, and some might view it as a downgrade, but not me, I replaced that Lynskey with Salsa Timberjack: a 27.5” all mountain rig that came with a front suspension fork and a dropper post which was a bigger deal than I was expecting because dropper posts eliminate the need for any rear suspension.
And then, in early 2022, I wanted to add a 29er back to the quiver. In the Covid decimated landscape of trying to find a bike that wasn’t a Giant or Trek, I finally found a local shop (Adams Ave Bicycles here in San Diego) who had a Surly Karate Monkey. I had them add 29” wheels as well as a dropper post and while my intent was to add a suspension fork, a little voice in my head, let’s call him Chuck, said:
…go with the rigid…just…try it.
And I haven’t looked back.
Here’s the thing, people! In the nine months since getting my rigid bike I’ve improved as a rider and I have yet to encounter a trail where I can definitively say “that would have been better with suspension”.
Riding this bike has proven to me that we are all riding at the whim of BIG SUSPENSION aka the mountain bike suspension industry! Expensive components that have been added for so long that we expect a mountain bike to look a certain way and never question their effectiveness!
Think about who you see on the trail when you’re out riding. In addition to other hardcore riders out there are the tons of newbs on mass produced mountain bikes, all with front end suspension. Most of those bikes are never going to see a rock garden or a strip of singletrack. They’ve been sentenced to a lifetime of fire roads and none of them nor their riders need the paltry and ineffective travel they have on their entry level bikes.
Need another example of how suspension is mostly bullshit? How about the rise of gravel bikes? The trails where I live are dusty and rocky and I see more skinny tires out there than maybe anything else. And when a spandex clad gravel biker is zipping by your full suspension tank, you know, maybe you’d be ok with less bike under you.
There’s a trend in the outdoor space at large that is as old as the industry itself to make technical features the main point of decision making when buying new gear.
The bottom line is that while yes, innovation has greatly benefited our quest to seek out sick new outdoor adventures, simplicity still has its place.
Cotton doesn’t always kill and mountain bike suspension doesn’t always make sense.
So go get yourself a rigid fork for that hardtail that’s collecting dust in your garage. The benefits you reap will be the knowing nods of your mountain biking brethren when you pass them on the trail…and maybe less time taking your broken bike to the local shop.
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