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. Again! Because well, I have more to say.
On December 20, 2022 the first 3 episodes of THE ROCK FIGHT went live and that included one called Mountain Bike Suspension where I posit that suspension on a bike is pretty useless. And as it turns out our outdoor community is pretty divided when it comes to bike stuff. I got as many ‘fuck yeahs’ as I did ‘I will burn your house to the grounds’ and upon reflection I shouldn’t be surprised.
Biking is the one activity that we all do. Who reading this doesn’t like riding a bike?
Everyone likes riding bikes in some form even if it’s just to cruise around town and given the amount of ways you can enjoy riding a bike it creates the opportunity for a lot of preferences and opinions to be formed.
With other outdoor sports it’s pretty binary. You either like skiing or you don’t. You either like rock climbing or you don’t. Biking is the one sport we all do in some capacity. And I mean all. There are a variety of cycling options from a basic cruiser bike to recumbents to handcycles which allows biking to be the activity with the most access points to the outdoors for abled and disabled individuals. And the places you can go on your ride of choice are seemingly endless.
There are roads, dirt roads, gravel paths, decomposed granite paths, single track, rail trails, velodromes, boardwalks, beach paths, pump tracks, races, gran fondos, meetups, group rides, strava challenges and I’m sure like 500 other options as well.
You could argue that there is a similar variety with other sports. Like trail running for example and you’re not wrong about that, but the barrier to entry is the difference. Most other outdoor activities require some level of fitness or a developed skill set. Biking is the most universal activity we’ve got.
Two year olds ride bikes. 100 year olds ride bikes. You can get off of the couch and start riding today.
So it shouldn't have surprised me that there were plenty of opinions when I made my sweeping statement that mountain bike suspension is pointless. In fact, the host of the Out of Bounds podcast Adam Jaber came on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast just to tell me how dumb I am.
This is where you probably think I’m going to reverse course and announce my acceptance of suspension for all mountain bikes. Yeah, no, I’m not doing that. I am in fact going to expand on my opinion, but not before I double down on how I feel about the subject.
My desert island all time favorite, strip the quiver to just one bike selection is still my fully rigid Surly Karate Monkey. She is my rock, my love, my cycling everything. The bike I had been in search of and found. And I would like to take this moment to announce something very exciting about Kimmy The Karate Monkey…she’ll soon be a singlespeed. Yup, that’s right, we’re taking the plunge. Fully rigid, singlespeed. That’s the dream isn’t it? We both can’t wait.
Now before you think I’m doing this simply to be a hipster cyclist, that’s not true. There is a good reason why I feel comfortable making this change. And that reason is my Salsa Timberjack.
My Salsa Timberjack is a dropper posted hardtail with a suspension fork. Once my Karate Monkey entered the picture (followed by my gravel bike) I started to wonder if I would ride the Timberjack ever again given how much fun I was having on my new rigid bikes. I’m aware of how well Timberjacks do on the resale market so before you start pinging me at email@example.com to try and buy this bike, which is a 2019 model in Pink aka the best color Salsa has ever done and I don’t understand why they don’t offer it anymore, just know that this bike is not for sale.
The trails that run behind my house go up to a ridge that connects two peaks and the trails up there are loose and technical. There is some single track and there are also jeep roads and all of the trails are mostly covered in a lot of loose rock. There is one particular section that I have dubbed baby head alley. One of those sections that on any given day make it hard to clean because the errant rock can just throw you.
For whatever reason not that long ago I rode the Karate Monkey up there one day and then the next day I pulled the Timberjack out of moth balls and took it up.
It had been a while since I rode technical trails with any suspension and you know what? It was super fun. Especially with the rigid ride in my head from the day before it was great rolling over obstacles I had to be careful with or missing my line on a rutted trail and not being worried about an imminent crash. I was able to turn my brain off a little bit and rip a little bit more.
This is where all the Jaber-ites out there are nodding condescendingly, feeling like they’ve just won something. Well, as Bob Slydell famously said: justa second there professor.
Simply because I had fun on a different bike doesn’t mean anything. Polyamory is totally permissible and in fact encouraged when it comes to bicycles.
My original argument is that we are overvaluing suspension and that argument stands. We have a generation of bicycle riders who believe you can’t go on a trail without it; like your bike will break in half the second you ride over a rock or something. We have others who believe that suspension is mostly responsible for their good time on a bike. How could it possibly be fun without it?
Well here’s what I’ve learned after all of these different experiences on a variety of bicycles.
The joy of riding a bike comes from riding a bike. We get so hung up on geometry, tire pressure, front fork PSI, rear suspension PSI, chain rings, cassette types, drivetrain upgrades like electric shifters or doing everything we can to eliminate derailleur hangers…it’s all just too much.
My comments on suspension aren’t to make newbies feel like they’re doing something wrong if they get a bike with suspension, it’s to fire some rocks at those who think you can’t have anything but a bike with suspension.
The journey is long my friends. Taking some time off from my Timberjack and then rediscovering it has been as much fun as discovering how much fun my rigid bike is to ride. Just like I can’t wait to ride it as a singlespeed. And once that happens, does that mean I’ll exclusively ride a rigid singlespeed forever? I don’t know. Maybe? Maybe not?
Biking may not be number 1, 2 or even three on your favorite thing to do outside list. Maybe you prefer skiing or kayaking or hiking. But if you’re listening to this, you ride a bike in some form.
So let go of your biases and just enjoy the ride, with or without suspension…except gravel bikes with suspension. Gravel bikes with suspension are a crime against humanity subject to war crime style prosecution. Don’t ever ride a gravel bike with suspension.
Everything else though? It’s on the table. So, go forth and ride my rock throwing friends.