A mountain bike is an ideal bike for riding off-road, on trails, on hills, and on rough terrain. However, as with anything, not all mountain bikes are made for the same purpose. Some are more adept to different situations.
One of the aspects that makes a mountain bike so ideal for off-road riding is the suspension travel it offers. A dual-suspension mountain bike (or full suspension bike) is one that has a shock-absorbing mechanism built into both the front and rear wheels.
Basics of Suspension
The suspension is a mechanism on a bike which allows the bike to absorb the impact of various uneven terrain, allowing the rider a smoother riding experience, and the ability to ride over various terrain with ease.
Suspension in a bike is given by a spring mechanism that bounces the air back once it is compressed because of the bike hitting certain terrain. The spring will “bounce” the bike back into position after being compressed, and is made up of either air pressure or an actual coil of spring. Typically, the more expensive the bike, the more advanced the spring and suspension system.
Dual (or full) suspension refers to a bike that offers suspension from both the front and rear of the bike.
The front of the bike contains the suspension fork, which is the part of the bike that supports the front wheel. The suspension in the fork braces the rider from impact when the front wheel hits uneven terrain or any sudden drops.
In the rear of the bike, the type of suspension can vary, but it all serves the purpose of bracing the rear of the bike from impact. The suspension is meant to brace the impact which is located in the rear bike triangle, which holds the back wheel of the bike. The rear suspension is typically only found on dual suspension and not a full-suspension mountain bike.
There are various designs available for the rear suspension, and it might even depend on personal preference as to which is best for you. Basically, they all achieve a similar goal, so as long as your bike is well-made, it is hard to go wrong.
Benefits of Dual Suspension – Why You Might Require It
So, now that we have gone over the basics and the mechanics of mountain bike design, let’s jump into why this might be relevant to your buying decision. In this section, we’re going over the top benefits to choosing a dual suspension bike, and how to determine whether it’s most suitable for your type of riding.
First Thing – What Type of Riding Do You Do?
In order to decide whether you will truly benefit from a dual-suspension mountain bike, you have to consider what you will actually be using the bike for. After all, these benefits are only relevant if they are catered to your specific type of riding.
Full-suspension bikes are most definitely suitable for advanced level riders. The full-suspension makes them most capable of handling advanced terrains such as rocks, hills, drops, and jumps. To really feel the difference from a full-suspension bike, you are probably going to need to be an advanced level rider. If you aren’t riding technical downhill mountain bike trails, then the extra suspension provided by a dual suspension bike probably won’t make a big enough difference to justify the increase in price.
Aside from being the most capable bikes for handling advanced off-roading, the suspension also offers another unique advantage – comfort. Let’s face it, there’s nothing really “comfortable” about flying through trails, going over bumpy rock gardens, and hitting huge drops. Fun, yes, but not comfortable.
But if we’re talking about degrees of comfort, then any bike that does a better job absorbing impact will make for a more comfortable ride. Full-suspension bikes absorb the harsh impact that you experience countless times over during a mountain bike. The result is a smoother, easier, and more comfortable ride.
Another benefit of full-suspension bikes is speed! While these bikes aren’t built to be as naturally aerodynamic as a road bike, and they aren’t necessarily the fastest on straightaways, the speed component is very relevant when you consider how easily you can fly over obstacles on a full-suspension bike. When we talk about speed in mountain biking terms, it’s all about how fast you can get through a trail. That being said, it’s tough to do it faster than on a full-suspension bike.
Finally, putting all the above factors together, we have competitiveness. If you’re a competitive mountain biker, a dual-suspension mountain bike is pretty much a must. You’ll find it difficult to put up your best times without a quality, dual-suspension bike. It offers the speed, flexibility, maneuverability, and suspension to ride with the top riders.
Drawbacks of Dual Suspension
We want to help you make an informed decision. That means that we’re not only focusing on the advantages of a dual-suspension but the disadvantages as well. You’ve seen so far that there are quite a few performance advantages offered by a dual-suspension bike. But let’s take a look at some drawbacks so you can make a real decision about which bike is best for you.
First thing’s first, the most obvious drawback of full-suspension is the price. These bikes are quite a bit pricier than other mountain bikes, or even most bikes in general. A quality full-suspension bike can cost close to $10,000 and can be way more expensive than that.
The cost is due to the additional complexities involved in manufacturing the full-suspension, and also the fact that these are top of the line bikes. In order to justify the price, you really have to be doing the type of high-intensity, off-road riding required of a dual-suspension MTB.
Next up is maintenance. While these are typically quality bikes, sometimes there are no escaping maintenance issues when it comes to mountain biking. These maintenance issues are only amplified with full-suspension, for the simple reason that there are more moving parts. There is additional suspension at the rear of the bike, which presents more opportunities for issues with the suspension.
While this certainly depends on the quality of the bike that you purchase, and how well you take care of your bike, it is a simple fact that full-suspension bikes can have rear suspension issues that wouldn’t be possible on other bikes.
Next up is the weight. This consideration is mostly a thing of the past, but still can be relevant in some cases. Due to the additional suspension, certain full-suspension models of bikes end up heavier than other mountain bikes. High-quality bikes forgo this problem with a lightweight aluminum frame and components, but it’s still possible for the suspension to add extra weight to the bike.
This is of particular concern in mountain biking, where the extra weight can make it harder to maneuver the bike and to climb hills.
Your Riding Style
As with our “benefits” section above, your riding style can actually be a drawback to this style of bike as well. Simply, if you don’t do the type of riding that a full-suspension bike is meant for, then you probably won’t see the additional price as justified.
In fact, if you are using your bike to commute or to ride simple trails, you might find the additional suspension actually adds an element of “bounciness” that you don’t really need.
Alternative: The Hardtail Bike
Hopefully, at this point, you know whether a full-suspension bike will fit your riding style or not. It is certainly a bike for experienced mountain bikers and those that like to hit the trails with energy and intensity. But what if you still have an interest in mountain biking, but don’t need all the extra functionality of a full-suspension? This is where the hardtail bike comes into play.
The hardtail bike is the alternative to a full-suspension, and it is perhaps the most popular type of MTB among beginner, intermediate, and even some advanced riders! While a full-suspension bike has front and rear suspension, the hardtail has only front suspension (thus making the tail “hard”).
Hardtails are very capable mountain bikes on their own, and more than adept at handling anything from beginner to very difficult trails. They are more than enough for almost all mountain bike riders. And some riders even prefer hardtails because they lack the “bounciness” of a full-suspension.
The number one advantage of a hard-tail is probably the price. You can get a quality hardtail MTB for around $1500! Of course, the price can get much higher than that. But compared to full-suspensions, the hardtail is definitely the more economical choice. If you’re looking to get a new bike, do your research on what works for you and visit your local bike shop.