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120 mm Vs. 140 mm Travel (Is There a Big Difference?)

When I decided to go from a hardtail to a full suspension I was really confused about how much of a difference suspension travel makes. So I ended up spending weeks comparing different bikes and always consulting myself with my friends from the competitive scene ( yes, I know I was one of the lucky ones because I know many pro mountain bikers).

The 140 mm travel bike is much better on technical trails filled with big roots, rock gardens, and big drops but if you are a cross-country rider the 120 mm bike will be much more suited for you because it will climb better and on smooth trails will be faster.

Of course, there is much more to discuss on this matter so next, we will examine all the advantages of each bike and we will see where they truly shine. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the difference between the two bikes and you can make an informed decision on which bike will suit you better.

Advantages of 120 mm Travel Over 140 mm Travel Bikes

XC MTB race
Short travel MTB

Let us examine all the notable advantages of a 120 mm bike compared to a 140 mm bike:

  • Better at stiff climbs: a 120 mm bike will be better at climbing stiff hills because it has a less slacked head tube angle,
  • Better for XC: because a 120 mm bike is better for climbing and it is lighter you will be faster on XC trails,
  • Eats up less pedaling power: a smaller suspension will eat less of your pedaling power,
  • More suited for all-day long rides: if you like to go for long adventures the responsiveness and the better power transmission of the 120 mm bike will help you to maintain your stamina,
  • Enough for untimed, relaxed trail riding: if you don’t care for every second lost on the trails you can explore nature while having a relaxed trail ride, and if you encounter bigger drops or obstacles go around them.

As you can see 120 mm bikes are capable machines that truly shine when it comes to stiff climbs, but probably the best advantage of short travel bikes is that more of your pedaling power is transmitted to the back wheel.

Sometimes the 140 mm bike will feel a bit sluggish on a smooth trail compared to the 120 mm. So if you are a cross-country rider or you just want to enjoy occasional rides on the trails near you then a 120 mm bike wood be the choice for you.

Advantages of 140 mm Travel Over 120 mm Travel Bikes

Trail riding
Trail ride

Let us examine all the notable advantages of a 140 mm bike compared to a 120 mm bike:

  • Slacker: the 140 mm is more slacker because it has a longer travel fork, this makes it safer on technical descents,
  • Confidence builder: the increased suspension travel will give you a confidence boost because it is more stable riding over bigger obstacles,
  • Better for trail riding: a 140 mm bike will handle even the biggest obstacles that you can find on the trails, while the 120 mm bike may feel underbiked sometimes,
  • More adrenaline: you can ride it more aggressively even if the terrain becomes more technical,
  • More capable on descents: the most important advantage of a 140 mm bike over a 120 mm bike is its increased downhill capabilities, the more suspension travel you have the faster the better your bike will handle stiff descents,
  • Bigger drops: a 140 mm bike will be capable of handling much bigger drops than a 120 mm bike.

A 140 mm bike will be better suited for more experienced trail riders because it will allow them to maintain speed over more technical terrain and you can ride over bigger obstacles more easily, 1.4” obstacles are harder to ride over on a 120 mm bike while on a 140 mm bike you can fly over them if you have the necessary skill level.

So if you are a more experienced rider that wants to enjoy the downhill portions of your ride and have the necessary skill level to truly push a 140 mm bike (downhill and technical trails) over rock gardens, big tree roots and you enjoy landing those big drops than a 140 mm bike is for you.

Is 120 mm Enough for Trail Riding? (Or Do I Need 140 mm)

120 mm is enough for trail riding if you aren’t too competitive, for untimed rides a 120mm bike is ok but if you want to brag to your friends about your trail performance you need a longer travel bike.

If you time two riders (at similar skill levels) on technical trails but with different bikes, one on a 120 mm and one on a 140 mm almost always the rider with the longer travel bike will come on top.

A 120 mm bike will make you use the brakes much more often and more aggressively than a 140 mm bike will when you encounter obstacles bigger than 1.4″.

If you want to perform bigger drops (2 feet+) you will easily bottom out the 120 mm bike and you will feel the need to upgrade. If you want to know if bottoming out your suspension is bad I encourage you to read this article.

Is 120 mm Travel Good for XC?

A 120 mm is a good bike for XC on the more technical trails but for competitions organized on smooth trails a 100 mm hardtail will be the better option.

Not all XC trails are the same, some are on the technical side and almost resemble trail riding, for these trails a 120 mm XC bike will be the best option.

Now you can see that some professional XC racers will have two bikes, a hardtail for less technical trails, and a full suspension for the more technical ones.

A 120 mm XC bike will be the perfect bike to tackle technical climbs filled with roots and rocks but will fall behind a 100mm hardtail on smoother climbs.

If you don’t want to compete and you ride cross-country just for fun then a 120mm full-suspension will be the best choice because you will be able to enjoy technical and non-technical trails. You will not be affected by losing a couple of seconds on a smooth trail because you have too much suspension.

Conclusion

I think that by now it becomes obvious to you which one of the two bikes better suits your needs.

If you want to smash big obstacles at high speed on technical trails then a 140mm bike is for you but if you are a cross-country rider then it is obvious that a 120mm bike is the choice.

For casual trail riders that aren’t too concerned with the competitive side and are ok taking it slower on technical descents, a 120mm bike will be just fine.

Keep in mind that you need to be a good mountain biker to be able to push a 120mm bike to its limits, so if you are a beginner rider even a 100mm bike can be more than you really need.

I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.