How do you want to ride?
When you want to challenge harder lines, try more technical sections, or just plain be comfortable on a bike, you don’t have to look further than a full-suspension bike. A lot of rider’s assume that comfort is the deciding factor in full-suspension, but the reality is how much you can improve the control and handling of the bike. Acceleration and braking ONLY work when the tire is on the ground. To do that well, you’ve not only got to have tires with good traction for the terrain, but also a way to keep the wheel on the ground. On a bumpy trail, its possible to have one or both wheels in the air at the same time. With full-suspension bikes, the goal is to minimize the bounce and keep the rubber on the road so to speak. Suspension bikes differ in the amount of travel they have. Travel is a measurement of the path of the wheels – basically how much they move up and down.
How Much Suspension?
There are a number of options in the category of full-suspension bikes. While exact amounts differ, it’s easiest to break them into 4 categories. The first is 100 mm (4″) bikes: these are cross-country (XC) rigs tailor made for most Midwest trails. 4″bikes include the Epic from Specialized and are ideal for many riders who want a little more cushion but still a lot of efficiency. This is also the primary choice for those who race.
The next category is the 120 mm bikes (roughly 5″). These are best for all-around use. Not necessarily a racer, but like to go fast. Still, a rider on a 120mm bike (like the Camber from Specialized) doesn’t like to be limited in where they ride.
140 mm bikes (5.5″) are the top end for most riders in the Midwest, though as trail design becomes more technical, there is a home for these and more for riders who want it. 140 class bikes are the true jack of all trades. This is a bike for riders who like to travel for riding, but don’t want to invest in separate bikes for different terrain. Fully capable pedaling uphill and a blast on downhills, bikes in this category include the Stumpjumper FSR from Specialized.
The final category of bikes are those at 6″ of travel and more. If you’re looking for one of these bikes, you’ve typically had some time riding, you know how you ride and where you ride. There are tradeoffs for more travel like less efficiency climbing for a bigger smile descending. Erik’s stocks a few of these bikes such as the Stumpjumper FSR EVO models, but other models like the Enduro and Demo fall into this class as well.
Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes
Full-suspension bikes ride best when set up properly – knowing rider weight (dry weight plus gear on ride) is important to setting up the suspension to get the most out of it. There’s a lot of tuning that can be done to improve the handling, but before test riding any bike, make sure it’s set for you.
Surface: Unimproved, trails can be made of dirt, gravel, rock or loose surface. Single track or wide open fire roads.
Riding Style: Riders who want to go faster, further or just to ride more comfortably.
Ride distance: Dependent more on rider ability and experience. A properly fit bike is the most important part in performance.
Extras: Suspension set up is key. The bike should squat slightly (what is called ‘sag’) when you sit on the saddle.
Fit Notes: Rider position differs from model to model, with bikes like the epic being more forward – as the suspension increases in travel, the rider position will generally become closer to vertical (though never straight up and down).
Examples: Specialized; (by travel from short to long) Epic, Camber, Stumpjumper FSR, Stumpjumper FSR EVO, Enduro, Status and Demo for men; Myka FSR and Rumor for women.
In the next installment we’ll discuss the place of “Fat” bikes in mountain biking.