How Much Suspension Travel Do You Need On Your Mountain Bike

How much suspension travel do I need for my bike? This is a question most aspiring cyclists ask before purchasing mountain bikes.

And that’s exactly what we are going to talk about today,

How much suspension travel do you need?

A very frequent question that no one, including the bike engineers, can answer. In cycling, accuracy has been hard to achieve, but we do have our estimates. Suspension travel is estimated by the terrain your bike is going to ride on.

All bike manufacturers make their mountain bikes with estimated suspension travel. There are no rules that dictate what suspension travel a particular bike should have. Manufacturers only strive to build the most comfortable and race-winning bikes to boost their sales.

To answer your question, there is no particular suspension travel that you should have. It would be best if you were only worried about having a bike with suspension travel that’s perfectly suited to your style of riding and trails.

It’s the bike that will cruise on the roughest parts while feeling stable in your hands.

That said, what’s your discipline? Cross country? Well, you’ll need a bike with about 100 mm of travel, and you can use a hardtail or a full-suspension bike. Are you a trail rider? Anything between 120 mm and 140 mm is suitable.

Enduro riders can ride any bike with 140 mm to 180 mm of travel, while 140 mm may seem the least incapable in this discipline.  

Most of the downhill bikes I’ve seen are between 180 mm and over 200 mm of suspension travel. The bottom line, the amount of suspension travel you need is determined by your style of riding.

The different styles of riding

Cross County (XC)

Cross country is among the most popular MTB forms or styles. It features normal trails with small obstacles such as logs and rocks. XC requires the rider to pedal and utilize their power about 80 percent of the ride.

Cross country bikes are short-travel bikes with 100-120 mm of travel. They are light and built with a frame geometry that is comfortable for pedaling. The full suspension was unpopular until recently, but some special events feature hardtails only.

Trail

Trail bikes usually have between 120 mm and 150 mm of travel. They are not built for the toughest trails but trails that are worse than XC trails. Therefore, they have more travel than any XC bike and are mostly full suspension bikes, though you can find a few hardtails in this category.

140 mm travel is the most common, and the bike’s weight is minimized with the shorter travel shocks. However, the suspension will make your ride comfortable after the terrain turns rough. The forks and rear shock will keep you in control and save you from crashing.

Enduro

Enduro refers to a discipline or style, a bike, event, and merchandise related to it. Many leisure riders ride enduro-style without knowing it. It’s all about riding all the way up to the top of a mountain and racing down the descents.

Riders are timed down on the marked courses and tracks. They take less than 20 minutes to complete. The best bike for enduro racing or riding should have between 140-180 mm of travel.

Downhill (DH)

Riding downhill is enjoyable because you don’t need to put in much power. Gravity plays the crucial role of pushing you to the finish line on the feet of the mountains. However, this type of bike is very different from other types.

These events usually take place in bike parks and where riders can chair lift their bikes as they are not required to ride uphill. The trails usually have berms, jumps, roots,  and many obstacles, and so the bike is equipped with between 170 mm to over 250 mm of travel.

Those four are the most common mountain biking disciplines. More include;

  • Fat Biking
  • Free Riding
  • Dirt Jumping
  • All mountain
  • Slope Style

Besides fat biking, which might not require a suspension, the rest coincides with the four disciplines and styles discussed.

Freeriding is just like downhill enduro, while all-mountain relates to enduro riding. Dirt jumping works with a 100 mm suspension or rigid.

Differences between the bikes

Frame Geometry, Material, & Weight

The frame has a lot to say about the type of bike. The amount of travel in the rear determines the way the frame will be constructed. The geometry, ad weight are other factors that will influence the design of the frame.

Another thing is the bike’s intended use. With these factors put to use, and XC bike will look different from a downhill bike.

Bikes with longer travels are more expensive ad heavier because they are built to withstand extreme levels of punishment.

The longer the travel, the more the frame seems to slant backward. That’s because of the geometry. The more travel a bike has, the slacker the head ad seat angles get. They also have longer reach figures.

Fork Differences

The longer travel the bike has, the higher the forks are. Forks have components that contribute immensely to how the fork functions.  The steerer, crowns, and axle are crucial.

You expect a fork with more travel to be heavier ad bigger. It’s also stiffer as the chassis is built to serve the demands of this fork. The most capable forks on the descents are uncomfortable to ride uphill unless they come with travel reduction settings.

Costs

You probably thought that the longer the suspension travel, the more money you would have to spend. Contrary to that, an XC bike with 100 mm of travel may cost more than an enduro bike with 170 mm of travel.

What makes a suspension expensive is the technology used to make it. The more advanced it is, the more expensive it becomes, and not the travel length.

The lightness of the forks, the dampers, and adjustments or settings will determine the price of the suspension.

Components

Components vary from one MTB discipline to another. XC and trail bikes have the lightest components, considering that the rider does most of the propelling. They usually have the most lightweight tires and suspension.

Enduro and downhill bikes, on the other hand, have heavier components. The frames must be hardened to withstand the shock that comes with riding fast on descent. Also, the suspension and the tires are heavier.

When it comes to the wheels, enduro and downhill bikes have wider and stronger rims with thicker spokes, while XC and trail bikes get the lightest and thinnest ones. The brakes too, most enduro and DH bikes use double pistons while XC bikes use single pistons.

So, What’s the Perfect Bike for You?

I would say the perfect bike for you is what you would enjoy riding. For instance, if you love cross country or enduro, there are many bike brand options to go for.

However, going for a DH bike, yet you love riding trails, is not advisable as a DH bike can’t serve a different purpose.

If you are confused between trail riding and downhill, it would be best to get yourself an enduro bike since it sits in the middle of both. An enduro rig would serve both disciplines, although not perfectly. Here’s how to find the right bike for yourself and avoid making the mistake of choosing the wrong bike.

In the end, you are going to choose the bike that will meet your needs. You will also have to consider the wheel size and the frame material as well.

Here are the features of every discipline that you will consider before deciding which one is right for you.

A Cross Country Bike

This kind of bike is lightweight and with a long reach. It’s suited for rolling terrain, climbing, and descending. It also offers outstanding pedaling efficiency and rolls impressively on moderate trails.

The bike is also incredibly capable of transversing most dirt roads and suited for long and epic rides across the country.

This is your type of bike if you are a modest rider that loves exploring the woods. Most XC bikes are for fun riding.

A Trail Bike

The characteristics of a trail bike are almost similar to XC bikes, but a trail bike rides on tougher terrains.

Most trail bikes come with both front and rear suspension.  So, when choosing one, you may want to keep that in mind.

Trail bikes also have chunkier tires and more relaxed geometry because of the nature of the trails they use.

Do you like riding the whole day and exploring nature? Are you afraid of jumping rocks and roots? If not, then you deserve a trail bike.

Enduro Bike

Enduro is like a cousin to trail biking. An enduro biker can climb, but it’s not suited for that. Enduro bikes are bikes of gravity, which means that you’ll do little pedaling downhill, and gravity will do the rest.

An enduro bike is the right one for you if you like beating time, and you also like rewarding yourself after climbing up to the start line. The tires are aggressively tough and knobby to offer better gripping.

Downhill Mountain Bike

Downhill bikes have an aggressive geometry. They are designed to perform on steep and gnarly terrain at rocket speed. Big jumps and drops are regular occurrences in the discipline.

These bikes can’t ride uphill, and you might need to chairlift your bike to the top of the mountain.

If you have no interest in pedaling your bike but descending from the top of the mountain downwards, against time and at high speed, then you need a top-notch downhill mountain bike.

Wrapping Up

Before asking about how much suspension you need, you need to find where your heart belongs in the world of mountain biking.

After you do, find how tough and challenging the terrain you plan to ride. To be on the safe side, though, I would go with the longest suspension travel, depending on your type of riding. You can do the same. If you have any questions, please ask us.

From riding to school since the age of 13, attending BMX races and events with his dad to himself conquering 10+ trails across the globe, for Rob, his Giant Stance 29 2 2020 is the friend that makes everything better. He is also a proud member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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