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Are suspension forks REALLY that bad for beginners?

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Are suspension forks REALLY that bad for beginners?

Old 01-21-16, 05:35 PM
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corrado33
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Are suspension forks REALLY that bad for beginners?

Reading one of the "Is this bike good for me (beginner) threads recently, I noticed it almost devolved into a front sus. fork vs. rigid fork discussion.

As experienced bicyclists, we all know that cheap front forks are terrible. However, the technology has come a long way since they came out. Yes, they rob energy. Yes, the don't last very long, a rigid would be a better investment.

But... hear me out.

For an absolute beginner, someone who doesn't know how to avoid rocks and potholes and other trail irregularities, would a squishy fork be a bad thing? Let's address the comments above against sus. forks for beginners.

1. They rob energy: Yes, they do, but how much is a beginner really going to be hammering on the bike? Front forks rob the most energy when you're standing and really getting at it. Is a beginner really going to be doing that? Doubtful. I'd bet they'd spend 80-90% of the time in the saddle, where you'll almost never waste that much energy to the front fork. If a beginner notices that the fork is robbing energy, they've probably progressed to the point of needing a better bike anyway.

2. They don't last long: Again, this is probably true. Cheap forks aren't great, but one on a $400 bike should be plenty adequate. (I mean honestly, it's a coil with some elastomer, not that complicated.) Does the fork NEED to last long for someone starting out? They're either going to really like biking and eventually buy a better bike, or not like it and the bike will sit in a garage. Neither of those require a long lasting fork. Either way, the fork will almost definitely last a few years, much longer than most people would ride a single bike. (Most people, not us...)


3. A front suspension fork, regardless of the above, would save a beginner from wrist and shoulder jolts, possibly allowing them to ride further and in more comfort. Is that a bad thing?

I'd say no. Let the beginners have their front squishy bikes. They'll know better if/when they go to buy a better bike.
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Old 01-21-16, 08:02 PM
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Thanks for your post.

I'm giving advice to a guy who's buying his first bike as an adult. He saw a bike with front suspension and asked me about it. I told him it's a good concept but in real world riding it just doesn't work out that way. It's just a means of enticing someone who knows little about bikes to buy that bike.
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Old 01-21-16, 08:50 PM
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In the thread you mentioned, the question I asked was whether he would actually be hitting a lot of bumps, or just riding packed earth and gravel.

Everything about bike technology has improved amazingly but the facts remain: the forks are heavy, they need to be set up to work, and they need to be hitting some serious bumps to justify their presence on the bike.

Hitting the occasional pothole once every month isn't a good reason to get a suspension fork, IMO. Unless he is riding roots and rocks, the kind of terrain on most paths won't even get a suspension fork really working ... but the rider will be working to drag it along.

If he wants to do serious trail riding the sort of stuff where mountain bikers ride--he will want a suspension fork. If he is riding what are basically unpaved pedestrian paths and rails-to-trails paths, the fork won't be earning its keep.
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Old 01-21-16, 08:51 PM
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Nah, not bad as long as it's a decent fork. Go back 20-25 years and watch some videos of the earliest mountain bike events. Crashes galore over seemingly minor bumps and ruts. Those early mountain bikers with rigid forks would have loved even the simplest Suntour spring suspension fork, which is pretty much what the first generation of suspension forks offered.

I rode a typical rigid fork steel frame bike for years in the 1970s-early '80s, including on gravel. Tricky as hell on rough roads. The only unforced crashes I experienced that were completely my fault - no other rider or vehicle involved - were on gravel roads and open fields, and not even on serious mountain trails.

The used Globe Carmel I got last year has a simple Suntour spring suspension fork with something like 63mm or 70mm travel, and I've never felt more confident on gravel roads, rough pastures and lumpy busted up pavement. Huge difference. Yeah, the wider all terrain 700x40 tires help, compared with the skinny road tires I used to ride.

Nowadays I'd suggest a suspension fork to a new rider for the same reason I'd recommend a digital camera over film for a new photographer. I used film for decades and as a kid I'd have learned a lot more, a lot faster, with digital because it's more forgiving - mistakes cost nothing but a fraction of a second. They can always move to film later after grasping the basics cost effectively.

Even if you believe in using the arms and legs as the "suspension", that works only with good physical conditioning. A newbie needs time to get into shape. Rubbery arms and legs make for lousy suspension. Even a basic suspension fork offers a good transition toward a "better" bike, whether that's a rigid frame or more advanced suspension.

Due to physical disabilities from a car wreck 15 years ago (busted up back and neck, permanently splintered C2 vertebrae), I don't see myself ever going to a rigid frame for anything other than smooth pavement. The only time I ever notice the bike feeling a bit squishy is when climbing out of the saddle to mash uphill. But even if I did get a rigid frame bike for the road I'd prefer an old style curved steel fork, comfy wheelbase and geometry for a personal compromise between efficiency and comfort.
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Old 01-22-16, 07:35 AM
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As I wrote in the other thread, I could not discern any difference between a locked out and an 'active' fork on the Specialized Crosstrail.

From my experience:

The sprung fork is heavier than a rigid one.

You do get some give when you get off the saddle.

The 'energy robbing' under normal conditions is infinitesimal or undetectable whichever term you prefer...

Riding on chip-seal or cracked pavement the sprung fork absolutely shines. Absolutely!

On smooth pavement it just sits there, it doesn't do anything.

I would posit that to get the same ride smoothness with a rigid fork you'd have to under-inflate the tires to a degree that may cause pinch flats, but definitely will impose real energy losses (sidewall deformation).

In closing, I would not hesitate to recommend a sprung fork hybrid to a beginner. Eventually he may grow out of it for other reasons, but (s)he needs to get there as a growing process.
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Old 01-22-16, 08:15 AM
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Every once in a while I take my Giant Cypress comfort bike for a long road ride, maybe 40 miles. The whole time I am awed at how smooth it rides with the springy forks and seat post spring. Yes, it is heavier than my Roubiax and far less aerodynamic but, it isn't objectionable as you are riding because comfort isn't over rated, esp to a beginner.
Between the wider tires, suspension and upright position, it's a perfect bike for a beginner to learn the sport before advancing (if ever) to a road only bike that is anything but comfortable and subject to flats on rough roads. We may not suffer flats as often as a beginner due to experience in reading the road.
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Old 01-22-16, 08:57 AM
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Suspension forks are excellent for many riders. People who put them down out of hand, are trying to sound hip and superior IMHO.
A quality hybrid like the crosstrail can handle most situations that a 29er mtb can. Yes, there are times like mud and soft sand
where the extra wide tires are essential, but for hard packed trails with some roots or rocks etc. the crosstrail can take it.
Also, there are those of us for medical reasons really benefit from the front suspension. I have arthritis in my neck. I ride with the suspension unlocked at all times with no lose of anything.
But if I get a sudden jolt from e.g. an accident avoidance move that drives me into a curb, or I come up on pot hole I didn't see for some reason, then the suspension literally keeps me from
severe, long lasting pain.
If you like rough trails/roads and/or have back, neck or arm issues, then a suspension hybrid is probably for you
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Old 01-22-16, 09:23 AM
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I fooled around on a full suspension MTB and didn't like it that much, but I recently got a Dutch trekking bike with front shock, and have found the objections some have to them are simply not a issue for how and where I ride.
The basic bike is 28 lbs, and with lights, rack, fenders, bottles, pump, ect its in the low 30's, the extra weight isn't really noticeable. The shock fork doesn't have a lockout, but is adjustable to the point it effectively is. I quickly found a setting that firms it up enough to not waste energy, while still smoothing out the rough stuff.
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Old 01-22-16, 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
Reading one of the "Is this bike good for me (beginner) threads recently, I noticed it almost devolved into a front sus. fork vs. rigid fork discussion.
If the discussion is about suspension forks for mostly road applications, then a rigid fork would be better than a suspension fork. Many hybrids and comfort bikes don't need a suspension fork and the rider's legs and arms absorb more impact than even an expensive, sophisticated can.

But if the discussion is about riding off-road, then even a cheap fork is far superior to a rigid fork.

Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
As experienced bicyclists, we all know that cheap front forks are terrible. However, the technology has come a long way since they came out. Yes, they rob energy. Yes, the don't last very long, a rigid would be a better investment.
There's a few problems with this statement. Cheap forks aren't necessarily "terrible", they are just uncontrolled. They are about as good as a first generation Manitou or Rock Shox which were both elastomer forks. Also the technology for cheap forks hasn't gotten better. It's the same technology as forks for 25 years ago. Technology for the more expensive forks has changed radically and those forks are a wonder to ride. But they are also 5 to 7 times the cost of a cheap elastomer fork.

F
Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
or an absolute beginner, someone who doesn't know how to avoid rocks and potholes and other trail irregularities, would a squishy fork be a bad thing? Let's address the comments above against sus. forks for beginners.

1. They rob energy: Yes, they do, but how much is a beginner really going to be hammering on the bike? Front forks rob the most energy when you're standing and really getting at it. Is a beginner really going to be doing that? Doubtful. I'd bet they'd spend 80-90% of the time in the saddle, where you'll almost never waste that much energy to the front fork. If a beginner notices that the fork is robbing energy, they've probably progressed to the point of needing a better bike anyway.
In answer to your question: no, a squishy fork isn't a bad thing. If it were, suspension forks never would have gotten off the ground. But I think you logic is flawed. If you have a suspension fork you ride differently than you do with a rigid fork. You don't have to know how to avoid rocks, potholes or my personal favorite trail irregularity - ruts. Even an elastomer fork will help with control in those situations. With a rigid fork, you have to learn how to avoid all those kinds of trail hazards because the bike just can't handle them as well.

As for robbing energy, any suspension fork that isn't locked out is going to rob some energy when the rider pedaling. The rider just gives up that energy to gain more control.

Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
2. They don't last long: Again, this is probably true. Cheap forks aren't great, but one on a $400 bike should be plenty adequate. (I mean honestly, it's a coil with some elastomer, not that complicated.) Does the fork NEED to last long for someone starting out? They're either going to really like biking and eventually buy a better bike, or not like it and the bike will sit in a garage. Neither of those require a long lasting fork. Either way, the fork will almost definitely last a few years, much longer than most people would ride a single bike. (Most people, not us...)
I don't think elastomer forks are any less durable than an air/oil fork. They may be a bit more durable but it would depend on the fork. I've seen a lot of old Manitous and Rock Shox still in service after 10 to 15 years. Some of the Suntour elatomer forks are built just as well. A Helmart chromed steel fork isn't worth a warm bucket of spit but there are some pretty good inexpensive suspension forks around.

Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
3. A front suspension fork, regardless of the above, would save a beginner from wrist and shoulder jolts, possibly allowing them to ride further and in more comfort.
This is a common mistake I see people make about suspension. Suspension is only marginally about comfort. Front or rear suspension is more about bicycle control than it is about comfort. I noticed this with my first Manitou shock 20+ years ago. Linear ruts in the direction of travel were always a problem with a rigid mountain bike. If I found myself in one, it was nearly impossible to steer out since I'd have to countersteer to move the wheel. Trapped in the rut, I couldn't countersteer and was likely to crash if I couldn't stop the bike. If I did manage to stop the bike, I had to physically lift the wheel out of the rut.

The first time I hit one with my new suspension suspension fork, I was amazed that I could climb out of the rut. The fork had enough give that the side knobs would catch on the rut and lift the wheel out of the hole. That fact alone was worth the weight, bounce and bother of a suspension fork.
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Old 01-22-16, 10:00 AM
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My biggest objection is based on the assumption that suspension forks must cost more. I think that when you have budget limitations it doesn't make sense to squander part of that limited budget on a more costly component that doesn't do much. As much as I love properly damped suspension forks, the cheapest sprung forks seriously offend me.
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Old 01-22-16, 10:19 AM
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Ask 10 different doctors what is wrong with you and you will get 10 different opinions. That's not to say that any or all are correct and/or wrong, they will just be different. Let a doctor know what another one said, and they will argue that they are right.

I think a few members here would have made great doctors,
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Old 01-22-16, 10:48 AM
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The forks at the low end of the parts spectrum wont have the lockout feature. rebound damping, etc.

Still a YGWYPF situation..
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Old 01-22-16, 11:24 AM
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The real problem is that most suspension forks aren't capable of being setup properly. I'm a lighter rider, and most stock Suntour coil forks have far too stiff a spring (to prevent a 240 lbs rider from bottoming out), to do anything. So basically, the bike has an 8lbs suspension fork with the same shock absorption as a 2lbs rigid fork.

I have a Yeti 575 with Fox 36 RC2 and its incredible, seriously, I had no idea suspension forks could be that good. But cheap ones with limited preload are typically just boat anchors.
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Old 01-22-16, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by corrado33 View Post
For an absolute beginner, someone who doesn't know how to avoid rocks and potholes and other trail irregularities, would a squishy fork be a bad thing? Let's address the comments above against sus. forks for beginners.
I guess it depends on where you're riding, but how does someone not know how to steer around an obstacle?
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Old 01-22-16, 12:07 PM
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You are assuming that they are paying attention to the road and not the surrounding sights. I see far too many cyclists, newbies to experienced riders just "zone out" and become oblivious to their surroundings.
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Old 01-22-16, 01:13 PM
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It really depends upon the rider and the intended usage (we all know this already, of course.)

For packed dirt/gravel I would not recommend the added weight, cost, and complexity for a new rider. As mentioned, if the fork is not properly adjusted (or sufficiently adjustable) then it is a loss overall--more weight, more cost, no real benefit---and if not maintained, a potential failure point, but likely the new rider won't be beating it that hard on packed dirt trails.

If the rider expects ruts, roots, and rocks, then yes, suspension is reasonable, just as it is on a dedicated mountain bike riding tough trails. Having ridden rigid and F/S, I can appreciate how much more fun (and how much faster) the suspension bike is over that sort of stuff ... but if the person is riding a lot of roots and ruts, the cheap fork would be even more of a liability---potentially too springy, not set up right, not sufficiently adjustable to suit the rider ... If the rider wants a trial bike, s/he should buy a bike really suited for that use, and for a beginner rider (not a beginner trail rider but a beginner bike rider) trails with ruts and roots and rocks are not as good place to start riding.

If a person has specific health issues, then well ... those are specific situations and cannot inform comments about general situations. It is like saying a person with no legs should get a hand-cranked cycle. Yes, obviously, but the question is more general---should some generic "new rider" spend extra for a suspension fork? Assuming no special situations ... it depends on the rider and the application.

For cruising on generally smooth packed earth trails, I'd say "No." For anything more challenging ... I'd say buy a bike more suited to more challenging conditions. Not a cheap beginner's bike. If the rider never wants to ride a challenging trail, but just wants to gently cruise smooth bike paths in absolute comfort ... sure, get a cheap fork and a cheap suspension seat post, neither of which will probably ever actually do any noticeable work but won't hurt in low-load conditions for a non-demanding rider.
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Old 01-22-16, 01:53 PM
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I started with a FS, and going to rigid was a real eye opener, it's definitely the way to go for a noobie.
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Old 01-22-16, 01:55 PM
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Originally Posted by gsa103 View Post
The real problem is that most suspension forks aren't capable of being setup properly. I'm a lighter rider, and most stock Suntour coil forks have far too stiff a spring (to prevent a 240 lbs rider from bottoming out), to do anything. So basically, the bike has an 8lbs suspension fork with the same shock absorption as a 2lbs rigid fork.

I have a Yeti 575 with Fox 36 RC2 and its incredible, seriously, I had no idea suspension forks could be that good. But cheap ones with limited preload are typically just boat anchors.
In my experience just the opposite is true. Elastomer forks tend to be set up for "average" riders around 150 to 170 lbs and are mostly useless for heavier riders. Even good ones back in the old days required much stiffer elastomers for heavier riders.

Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I guess it depends on where you're riding, but how does someone not know how to steer around an obstacle?
I take corrado33's comments to be aimed more at off-road riders then on-road riders. Off-road, a rider is more likely to go over a trail obstacle rather try to steer around it. Often there isn't any "around" to go when an obstacle appears in front of you while trail riding. There is usually only a bad option and a worse option.
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Old 01-22-16, 02:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I guess it depends on where you're riding, but how does someone not know how to steer around an obstacle?
See Below

Originally Posted by NYMXer View Post
You are assuming that they are paying attention to the road and not the surrounding sights. I see far too many cyclists, newbies to experienced riders just "zone out" and become oblivious to their surroundings.
That's me, especially at night when I enter the ..............................

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Old 01-22-16, 03:00 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
If the discussion is about suspension forks for mostly road applications, then a rigid fork would be better than a suspension fork. Many hybrids and comfort bikes don't need a suspension fork and the rider's legs and arms absorb more impact than even an expensive, sophisticated can.
I have a couple of long, steep descents with pavement in very poor condition on my commute, and I find the shock fork on my Gazelle Golfo allows me to maintain better control and confidence at speed on them. While it's not the reason I got the bike, it does offer some benefits on the road in my area.
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Old 01-22-16, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by GerryinHouston View Post
As I wrote in the other thread, I could not discern any difference between a locked out and an 'active' fork on the Specialized Crosstrail.

From my experience:

The sprung fork is heavier than a rigid one.

You do get some give when you get off the saddle.

The 'energy robbing' under normal conditions is infinitesimal or undetectable whichever term you prefer...

Riding on chip-seal or cracked pavement the sprung fork absolutely shines. Absolutely!

On smooth pavement it just sits there, it doesn't do anything.

I would posit that to get the same ride smoothness with a rigid fork you'd have to under-inflate the tires to a degree that may cause pinch flats, but definitely will impose real energy losses (sidewall deformation).

In closing, I would not hesitate to recommend a sprung fork hybrid to a beginner. Eventually he may grow out of it for other reasons, but (s)he needs to get there as a growing process.
In full agreement here. I'm new, returning to cycling this past year. I bought a Specialized Expedition hybrid. It has some suspension in the forks as well as the seat post. We have roads of mixed conditions around here, I find the ride great. The suspension is not enough to lose the feel of the road, but it does take the edge off some of our terrain for sure.
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