Buying A Shock Absorber For Your Mountain Bike

Choices to consider when looking for shock absorbing systems for your mountain bike and how they work in the front and rear of your bicycle.

Before shock absorbers were developed for mountain bikes, it was how you road the bike that gave the shock absorption needed when trail riding. You used your arms to absorb the shock in the front and your legs for the back. By bending your arms at the elbow and letting them act like springs, you allowed your arms and the bike frame to take the shock. You raised your butt off the saddle, leaned over for balance and let your legs and knees act as the shock for the rear. Sure you lost fillings, your bones rattled and Ibuprofen was passed around after a ride, like mint fresheners at a prom.

Today you can't find a mountain bike without some type of shock system. Mountain bikes today are either soft-tailed: meaning the bike is equipped with both front and rear suspension; or hard-tailed: meaning the bike is equipped with front suspension but not rear suspension.

If you have an older model bike, you might have a threaded headset. Today's mountain bikes are almost all equipped with a thread-less headset. You need to know which kind your bike has to know what fork is compatible. A thread-less headset would allow the fork's steerer tube to come up through the head tube and the stem attached to it. A threaded headset would have the stem itself going into the head tube and tightening inside, against the steerer tube of the fork.

The wave of the future is with thread-less headsets, so if you have threaded and you're looking at front suspension forks, you might want to consider purchasing a new mountain bike. They make conversion kits, but you have to match your old tube width to the newer products.

The suspension works in two ways: a spring type of system, either with the common spring, a wound up piece of steel or a chamber of pressurized air, even a kind of bungee type of elastic band. The second part of the system is the damper, the most common being oil-filled. If you just had a spring, it would bounce up and down. You need a damper, like the shock absorber in a car to absorb the energy. It works by forcing oil through a small hole. In this way, the spring is not allowed to spring back quickly.

When you look at the large amount of suspension forks available it's hard to judge which is right for you. They all promise great suspension. Look for a fork that you can adjust. By adjusting the amount of tension the spring has and how much dampening effect the fork will have, you can adept the suspension to your own needs. If you're looking at oil v/s air, air has greater leakage problems than oil. It's a good idea to carry with you, the injection device needed for your suspension system, if you have an air chamber system.

You don't want to bottom out the spring, this can damage the suspension, causing gaskets to rupture and leak from heavy, abusive use. This is important to remember if you have a suspension system that allows you to adjust the spring and dampening action. Make sure the suspension system is something that can be worked on by yourself, or a local bike mechanic. Some are sealed units and must be sent back to the manufacturer for repair, making for a long delay.

The rear suspension is pretty much decided by the manufacturer of the bike. There are about as many rear suspension systems as there are bikes and because they are part of the design of the bike, you may be stuck with one particular type. If you want a very satisfactory rear suspension, without the expense and the confusion of which will fit on your bike, go for the simple seat post suspension. It works with the seat post having a spring that absorbs the shock and at a considerable savings in cost and weight.

It's important to keep in mind, that when you add these types of suspensions to your bike, your adding weight. The more weight, the harder it is to go uphill. Therefore, if you are only a downhill rider, using a downhill mountain bike and suspension system, you aren't worried about weight. If you want speed and agility, the cost for lightweight suspension systems can get very expensive. Those watching the weight of the bike might want a hard tail, saving in the cost and weight of rear suspension. Remember, you can always get a seat post with suspension.

Most of the rough action takes place in the front, where you're hitting rocks and holes, that's the brunt of the force. Many riders feel rear suspension takes more energy to pedal the bike, because the action of the rear suspension is robbing the energy placed in the drive system from your pedaling. They make a rear suspension that has a switch to either have the action of the suspension working or not, so that the rider, while climbing, can put all his energy in the bike and at the downhill, click on the suspension. It's a great idea if you can reach down and click it on and off during your ride.

My personal experience with any bicycle equipment is to be wary of any new component. If you ask around, I'm sure you or friends have bought equipment that was advertised as a must have, if you want the best. Only to find out it breaks constantly, repairs are expensive, if not impossible and the company is out of business in a year, or they stopped making that model. Look for warranties, for a company that has been in business for a while. Ask around before buying and check the reputation of the company. You could save yourself some money and a bad experience like a friend of mine had in his first race. He had the lightest, the newest and the best on the market. He also had to walk to the finish line when the front and rear suspension broke before he reached the mark.

© High Speed Ventures 2011