The shock revolution – why fight it?
There’s nothing quite as thrilling as a nice, refined shock, most mountain bikers will say, and suspension technology has thrown out one spark after another over the past few years.
“So much has happened with bike technology in the last decade,” said Kris Carlsted of A Racer’s Edge in Breckenridge. “Everything’s changed. What we’re seeing is more technology coming from other fields – motorcycles, automobiles. You look at the parts of drag racing cars, and bike suspensions use some of the same linkage designs. With forks, nowadays, what we see is more similar to what’s seen in the motorcycle industry.”
Although there are still riders out there convinced that retro will always be the rage, most mountain bikers have rolled with advancements and gone from rigid forks, to front suspension, to full suspension.
When front suspension first emerged in the early 1980s, some riders argued that shocks are for sissies and stuck to the rigid forks. Now, even those who haven’t taken on the technology can appreciate the benefits of the softer, smoother ride and terrain-handling capabilities of front suspension.
The emergence of rear suspension has met with some of the same resistance. Some riders argue that rear suspension adds too much weight to the bike, and others say it’s not as efficient for climbing. But, according to local retailers, those arguments have become moot with advancements in full suspension over the last couple years.
“We do more full suspension sales than anything now,” said Hal Clark, bike guru at Great Adventure Sports in Breckenridge. “The weight in rear suspension is significantly reduced nowadays, and the prices are really competitive. Comfort is a pretty huge factor in buying a full-suspension bike.”
Bike specialists say that full suspension allows the rider to take on more rugged terrain, both up and downhill, and the technology allows the bike to take a blow instead of the rider, which can lead to much smoother, longer rides.
“You’re going to get a smoother ride downhill and better overall traction with full suspension,” said Will VanOverbeke, manager of Polar Revolution in Keystone. “Lighter parts are good to a certain degree, but when you go too light, you’re going to be breaking parts. There’s a fine line between light and durable. A lot depends on the rider. More aggressive-style riders don’t want a light bike. They’ll go through bikes too quickly that way. Sometimes, with rear suspension, you waste less energy trying to absorb the rocks. The bike will do that for you. On the downhill, you’ll definitely get more control. Every company has seen the benefits of front and rear suspension. For the past two years, everything’s been the refinement of the suspension design, smoothing out the ride for the rider, not for the bike.”
Some local retail stores like A Racer’s Edge no longer carry mountain bikes that don’t have full suspension.
“You have better climbing efficiency, better traction and better control because your wheels aren’t skipping around,” Carlsted said. “Really, the fully rigid bike thing is absolutely dead. There are still a lot of hard-tail holdouts that won’t go full (suspension). They say it’s heavier, but the weight’s come down now, so rear-suspension bikes weigh about the same as hard tails.
“Two summers ago, it was kind of 50-50 (buyers wanting front-only vs. full suspension). This year, that’s the way we’re moving. It’s like the shaped ski thing. Straight skis are out. It’s old technology. To a point, there’s definite uses for hard tail bikes. The hard tail is going to be lighter and more efficient on smooth, flat race courses.”
According to Clark, there are only three reasons why mountain bikers resist the upgrade to full suspension.
“The first reason is lightness,” he said. “Hard tails are still just a little lighter. Two, there’s just a hardcore group of people who want just that one suspension fork, because it takes a little more hard tail than something you can run over anything with. Then, a lot of people are doing single-speed bikes. It’s almost like a punk rock thing. It’s a movement.”
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