We've all been there - sore hands, tired arms, fingers feeling like you've got arthritis, thumb feeling sore in a spot you didn't even know could hurt.
Dealing with a harsh suspension can be a frustrating experience for any rider. Not only does it make for an uncomfortable ride, but increased rider fatigue is straight up increased rider risk.
Fortunately, there are some simple and cost-effective ways to optimize your suspension for a smoother and more enjoyable riding experience. In this blog post, we'll explore three actionable tips that you can implement without breaking the bank.
- SET YOUR FRONT TIRE PRESSURE CAREFULLY.
The single biggest factor in small bump harshness isn't even your suspension. It's your tire pressure - especially the front one. You can adjust that one for free. You think you need 35psi in there because you just corner so hard that nothing else could cope? You definitely do not!
Here's some tire pressures that top world cup riders actually use:
Loic Bruni: 23psi front, 29psi rear
Andreas Kolb: 24psi front, 29psi rear
Greg Minnaar: 24psi front, 26psi rear
Luca Shaw: 22-23psi front, 26-27psi rear
How do you determine an appropriate pressure?
Running 30+psi in your front tire? Your hands are gonna hurt, end of story. Get it as low as you can without the tire rolling/squirming too much on the rim, and without constant rim strikes. Run inserts or thicker casings if you have to. Use a real gauge.
Here's some good starting points for your tire PSI, assuming you're running a reasonably tough casing like Double Down or Supergravity:
Front tire PSI:
Metric weights: [combined bike + rider weight in kg] divided by 4
Imperial weights: [combined bike + rider weight in lbs] divided by 8.8
For example, a 180lbs rider on a 35lbs bike (215lbs/97kg combined) should be running about 24psi in the front tire.
Rear tire PSI:
Metric weights: [combined bike + rider weight in kg] divided by 3.4
Imperial weights: [combined bike + rider weight in lbs] divided by 7.5
For example, a 180lbs rider on a 35lbs bike (215lbs/97kg combined) should be running about 28.5psi in the rear tire.
These are good starting points - you may have to go up or down a couple of psi depending on your casing thickness, terrain and insert selection.
- Get your fork & shock air pressure dialled. ACTUALLY dialled.
Too high of an air pressure seems obvious in how it'll create problems - but too low (especially combined with lots of volume spacers) can mean running into a sudden wall of progression deep in the travel. Start with the fork manufacturer's PRESSURE recommendations for the fork (add 10% if running a Luftkappe, add 15-20% if running a Secus), and start with the frame manufacturer's SAG recommendations for the rear.
Wait - why are we using pressure for the front and sag for the rear?
- Shock manufacturers have a lot more difficulty determining the required pressure for any given rider weight, because the frame's leverage rate affects it enormously. It's easier to measure sag on the rear, and it's usually the frame manufacturer (not the shock manufacturer) who has a good recommendation for sag.
Conversely, fork manufacturers have a good idea of what air pressure is appropriate in the fork, because the actual spring rate at the wheel isn't being changed by a leverage rate.
- Fork friction and variations in body position throw off sag measurements on the fork immensely - you can measure it 5 times in a row without ever changing the setup, and still get 5 wildly different measurements.
- Sneakily cut down on friction wherever you can
Air springs and wiper seals in particular cause a lot of the friction in your fork. Friction is the number one enemy of suspension performance - the ideal amount is zero. Unfortunately, here in the real world, that never happens, so here's a few quick ways to improve friction in the short term:
- Turn your bike upside down for a minute or so. It might sound dumb, but the bath oil in the lower legs can then migrate up to the wiper seals & the foam rings that keep your bushings lubricated. Voila, instant reduction in friction... for a while.
- Pop your air spring top cap off (depressurize the air spring first obviously!) and take a quick look at the state of lubricant on top of the air piston. A couple of drops (ie a tiny amount) of a thick oil (eg Fox 20wt Gold, RSP Airfluid or Rockshox 0W30) down on to the air piston can help refresh the lubricant. You can really only do this once or twice between air spring services, or the amount of oil that eventually migrates to the negative chamber will cause more problems than it solves. Again - instant reduction in friction... for a while.
- Lubricate your dust wipers. Clean off your stanchions with a shop towel or clean rag, then put a ring of lubricant around the stanchions. There are a few suspension-specific stanchion/seal lubes out there, such as WPL's ForkBoost, RSP Hyper Wiper, but Tri-Flow also works well. Bounce on the fork a few times, and the oil will not only lubricate the dust wiper, it'll pull dirt out of the seals. Wipe the dirt and excess oil off, then repeat the bouncing and cleaning until no more dirt or oil shows up on the stanchion.
- Learn to service your fork! It's worth remembering that in order for suspension to work well, first it has to work at all - the tips above are no substitute for regular servicing and maintenance. Lower leg services are actually very easy to do, and all the manufacturers provide good documentation how to do them. They require a minimal amount of tooling, a few dollars worth of oil, a bucket or pan to drain into, a syringe and a bit of suspension grease - a small price to pay for a massive refresh of performance. Buy the tools and lubricants once and you're set for years worth of lower-leg maintenance. Eventually however, the wiper seals will need replacing, the air spring will need a full service, and the damper will need servicing too - those are typically a bit more involved than most people want to tackle in their garage.
By following these simple tips, you can significantly improve your riding experience without breaking the bank - in fact, in most cases without spending a cent. Good maintenance (for lower friction), proper tire pressures, and appropriate spring rates are key components in achieving a smoother ride.
And once you're done there, let us show you just how good it gets...