Conquering the Mountains? What to Know About Bike Shocks

Summer is fast approaching and for many people that means getting their bikes out and hitting the mountains. To get the most out of the riding season you will want to make sure your bike's shocks are in good working order.

Likewise, if you’re shopping around for a new bike you will want to know how to spot one that will provide the best shock absorption for the type of mountain biking you plan on doing.

When should you replace your shocks?
If you’re new to mountain biking then it may be difficult to know when the right time is to replace your bike’s shocks. One telltale sign that your shocks are nearing their end is if they are making unusual noises, like grinding, barking, or squeaking noises. If the shocks are not holding air then either the piston seals or the medal sliding may be damaged. If your bike’s shocks are leaking oil then it could be that the damper seals are totally worn out. While some of these problems can fixed by simply getting your shocks serviced, in other cases you will need to get them replaced entirely.

What to look for in new shocks
Whether you are upgrading your current mountain bike’s shocks or looking for a new bike altogether, it is important to know how to spot the shocks that will best absorb rough terrain while also giving you greater control. Here are some basic elements to look for when shopping around for bike shocks:

Damping system
Most bikes will have a damping system. The damping system controls how fast the spring compresses and rebounds. Some very basic bikes, however, may lack a damping system, which results in an uncomfortable and uncontrollable bounce. Unless you are in the market for an entry-level bike, you should look for a shock absorber with a decent damping system.

Air vs. Coil
Most mountain bikers prefer air springs because they are lightweight and are easier to adjust for different riders. If you are planning on doing cross-country or marathon biking, then you should be looking exclusively at air springs.

That said, coil springs definitely have their advantages. While they are heavier, that isn’t really an issue if you are planning on doing more downhill racing. Coil shocks have also tended to give a smoother ride than air shocks, although this isn’t really an issue anymore with newer air springs. Finally, a major benefit of coil springs is that they tend to be cheaper than air shocks.

Compatibility
While this won’t be an issue if you are buying a new mountain bike entirely, if you are upgrading your shocks then you need to make sure your new ones are compatible with your bike’s frame. Frame and suspension designs vary quite a bit, so it’s difficult to give much general advice here. The most important things to keep in mind is to make sure that the eye-to-eye measurement fits your bike and that the stroke length of the shock can be used on your frame.

The shocks are an essential component of your bike’s overall suspension system. Keeping your shocks well maintained and replacing them if needed will give you a smoother and more enjoyable ride, which is just what you need to conquer the mountains this summer.