When you break it right down, the main job of suspension is to keep your wheels on the ground. Being up in the air is fun, but we can’t decelerate, accelerate, or change direction in the sky. The more time our wheels are on the ground, the more control we have. Suspension keeps us grounded by absorbing bumps and by sinking into holes.
Finding the right setup takes a while and everyone likes something a little different, so we’ll help you get to a good baseline and from there you can tinker to your heart’s content.
The first thing we need to set is sag. Sag is how far the bike sits in the travel with you on the bike in a neutral position. Instead of giving you a long list of steps on how to set sag, just watch the video below:
As far as sag settings go, we recommend 20% for cross country, 25% for all mountain/trail riding, and 30% for enduro/downhill as starting points. From there, tweak sag as needed. Adding pressure (decreasing sag) will make the bike more lively, whilst taking pressure (increasing sag) will make the bike more plush at the expensive of agility. For reference, we don’t suggest running more than 35% sag, or less than 18%.
If you have a coil shock, setup is a little trickier. You’ll have preload adjuster on the coil on your rear shock, tightening this will decrease sag. Consult your owner’s manual first, as many springs can only take a turn or two before dampening is affected! If you still can’t achieve your desired sag, you’ll need to buy a heavier or lighter spring, dependent on if you need to increase or decrease sag. Coil sprung forks are the same process, however spacers are used instead of a preload ring.
Next, we set our rebound. For this, we fully open our rebound (making it as fast as possible with the adjuster) and ride at a medium speed, down a curb. Being fully open the bike should bounce back and bob up and down a few times. Close the rebound dial a click at a time until the bike returns to its sag point without bobbing afterwards. On the trails, if the bike feels like it’s pogo-sticking and bouncing around the trail, your rebound is too fast and needs to be slowed down (closed). If the bike feels like it’s packing down and not absorbing continuous impacts (think rock gardens, roots, braking bumps) your rebound is too slow. The bike will feel more and more dull as you progress through these impacts, and the impacts will feel sharper and sharper.
Not all forks or shocks have compression adjustability; some have pre-set settings for descending, climbing and general trail riding. Just put it in the mode that feels best and start riding. Too little compression makes the bike dive through the travel on descents and bigger bumps, as well as braking. Too much compression makes the bike feel stiff and bouncy, and it won’t absorb bumps properly. If the suspension unit has a low-speed compression setting, this is used for setting slower impacts from pedalling or more gentle absorption of bumps. High speed compression (not many shocks have this adjustment) is used for setting the fast speed impacts. If your suspension has these settings, to be honest you’re best off setting them in the middle, sessioning a trail, and making adjustments each run.
If the above sounds like too much work for you, there’s always the option of buying a ShockWiz. A ShockWiz installs onto the air valve of your fork or shock and will analyse your suspension as you ride. With this data it’ll make setup recommendations via the ShockWiz phone app and take the guess work out of setup for you!