This is a common question in the cycling community and usually, it ends up being a neverending debate because the answer isn’t as simple as many think it is. But don’t worry I will make it simple enough!
The suspension will increase the bike’s weight and will absorb some of your pedaling power, so on soft trails and climbs the suspension will work against you and will slow you down but on rough trails filled with rocks and roots having suspension will help maintain traction and this will allow you to ride faster.
In this article, we will dive deeper into the effect of suspension on your bike, how can the suspension slow you down and why road bikes have no suspension so by the end you will truly understand how will suspension help or prevent you to maintain speed.
Does Bike Suspension Make a Difference?
The suspension makes a big difference on a bike because it will allow you to traverse bumpier terrain without losing too much of your forward momentum.
When you ride on technical trails and you need to traverse over rocks and tree routes if you have nos suspension your weels will lose more often contact with the grown and so you will lose traction, this will have a much bigger negative effect on your speed than losing some of your pedaling power (absorbed by suspension).
If you take a rigid bike on a technical trail you will have a difficult time riding with speed without taking a big risk of a crash because when you hit the bumps on the trails the shocks aren’t absorbed and this tend to throw you off the bike and you will have a harder time controlling your bike.
Practically you will be forced to ride slower because there is no suspension to absorb the shocks resulting when your wheels hit bigger obstacles.
The rear suspension will allow your rear wheel to maintain its contact with the ground and this will result in better traction and stability on technical descents, for this reason, downhill bikes will have as much travel as possible on both suspensions (front and rear).
The suspension will make rough trails easier to ride and will put less stress on your joints, riding a bike without suspension on rough trails will fatigue you faster and you may end up with lower back and joint pain at the end of the ride.
How Does Suspension Slow Your Bike Down?
The suspension will totally change how your bike feels and handles, it will make it more stable and more comfortable but it also comes with some disadvantages:
- Extra weight: suspension forks are 2 to 6 pounds heavier than rigid forks and a rear shock can add an extra 1 to 2 pounds but keep in mind that the full suspension frame is heavier due to the extra complexity,
- Less pedaling power: suspension will eat off some of your pedaling power, forks will have a very small impact but the rear suspension can eat up even 20% of the power transmitted to the back wheel.
The extra weight will slow you down when riding uphill and when sprinting, this is noticeable if you ride on pavement or on smoother trails but if you ride over bigger obstacles like tree rots the suspension will absorb the impact of your wheels hitting these obstacles and will make you go faster over them.
Keep in mind that this weight is important if you are in good physical shape, if you are overweight a few extra pounds here and there will not be noticeable.
When you ride on flat ground or downhill the extra weight of suspensions will not impact you by much, if at all.
The biggest drawback of suspension is that it will absorb some of your pedaling power, this is why it is recommended to lock your suspension when you ride uphill.
Suspension forks will have a small impact on your pedaling power but the rear shock will absorb a noticeable amount. If you go from a full suspension to a hardtail you will immediately notice the instant power transmission from your pedals to your back wheels.
Now you can understand why some professional cross country riders use both a full suspension and a hardtail mountain bike, the hardtail when the race is on smoother terrain and the full suspension when the race is on very technical terrain.
Why Do Road Bikes Have No Suspension?
Road bikes are meant to be ridden on the road and aren’t designed to have any off-road capabilities, the only focus here is speed.
The suspension will only add extra weight that will be detrimental to climbs and when sprinting. In road biking, the bike weight is very important, much more important than in mountain biking because you don’t need to overcome big obstacles or ride on bumpy terrain.
The main focus in designing a road bike is on reducing its weight and achieving the best aerodynamics, the suspension will be detrimental in this case.
Because road bikes are only meant to be ridden on pavement adding suspension to them will only increase the comfort of the ride but less comfort is an easy sacrifice to make when speed is the focus.
Is It Good to Have Suspension on a Bike?
If comfort is very important for you or you plan to ride on a technical terrain filled with obstacles then the suspension will be a big improvement on your bike. But if you only ride on smoother terrain and your main concern is speed, the more suspension your bike has the less efficient you will be.
The suspension will give a bike more stability, handleability, and comfort riding off-road but these effects are diminished when riding on the road.
One of the biggest advantages of having suspension is that your joints do not have to absorb the shocks from hitting the bumps on the road or trail, the rear suspension will make the ride much more comfortable because it will not put as much stress on your lower back.
So if you want comfort or a bike that can handle rough terrain then you need at least front suspension, having a full-suspension bike will be ideal here but this is a big monetary commitment (so it is not for everyone).
If your main concern is speed and you ride on pavement or smooth country roads then a suspension will probably slow you down on climbs and sprints.
Is the Rear Suspension a Good Thing on a Bike?
The rear suspension will give you much better traction and stability on technical trails filled with obstacles. Riding downhill over roots and rocks requires a higher skill level on a hardtail than on a full suspension.
The rear suspension will absorb the shocks from the unevenness of the terrain and will allow your back wheel to stay on the ground so you will not lose traction. This will make the bike faster and safer on technical descents.
If you are an adrenaline junky and you like to challenge yourself on technical trails then yes the rear suspension is a very good thing. If you want to know all the advantages of a full-suspension mountain bike, you can read this article!
Now to make things simpler if you want to ride on the road or on smooth country roads, yes suspension will slow you down (mostly on climbs and sprints).
If you are the adventurous type and want to ride the more technical mountain trails then the suspension will actually make you faster and will make your ride safer.
Practically suspension will make a bike slower on the road and faster on bumpy dirt trails.
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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.