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Getting the most out of your suspension

The right setup will let you ride at your best

by Andrew Randell and Steve Neal

Evan “McSneaky” McNeely keeping his sock game fresh while charging through the rock garden at Mont-Saint-Anne. Photo: Matt Stetson

Dual suspension is becoming more the norm on the trails these days. And not only dual suspension but longer, 130–150 mm travel bikes. Many riders say that these bikes are more fun to ride, allowing them to complete sections of trail they wouldn’t normally attempt. Getting the suspension right and understanding how to use it is sure to improve your trail-riding experience.

One thing we have seen at the gym is the variety of setups that riders choose for their suspension. A common theme though has been many riders running their suspension without enough sag, which means they don’t get the full experience of the extra travel they have on their bikes. Why carry that extra weight around and not use it?

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The amount of sag you run is important as it affects how well the wheels stay on the ground as you ride over varied terrain. The more contact the wheels have with the ground, the better your ability to control the bike. Run the shock too stiff (less sag) and your bike will become like a pogo, bouncing you along with it. Many riders who run their suspension too stiff think that they don’t have good technical skills. In fact, it’s their bikes that are working against them. Set your bike up properly and you may feel much more in control through rough terrain. If you are riding a longtravel bike, be sure to try it with more sag that you think you need.

Check your shocks before each ride. Note the pressure you like in the shocks and make sure it is consistent ride to ride. Make sure to cycle both the shock and fork every time you add or remove air prior to setting sag.

A final piece of the suspension picture is using your lockouts properly. It takes some practice to master the setting that makes the suspension inactive. Using the lockouts means that you can have the benefits of the suspension over rough terrain and downhills, but then lock the suspension and avoid bleeding power when climbing. You can have the best of all worlds.

SAG 101

A 100mm RockShox Sid WC with Charger remote lockout system on Canadian Champion Peter Disera’s bike. Photo: Matt Stetson

When setting up suspension, we talk about sag, which is how much the shock compresses when you sit on it. Think about how you sit on your bike. Do you stand a lot or stay seated? Use your typical riding position to set your sag. Also put on what you will wear on the trail – helmet, hydration pack, shoes, etc. – as you want to set your sag with the weight of your riding gear on. The recommended sag usually runs in the 15–25 per cent range. Many riders using longer travel shocks are now choosing to run their sag at 30–35 per cent. If you have your suspension set up well, you might find that when you take a big hit through rough terrain, you bottom out your rear tire to the rim. This will only happen once in awhile, but it means you are riding your bike to the limit and that the suspension is set up perfectly.