Dual Suspension – Mountain Bike Suspension Explained

by Robb Sutton

With all of the new dual suspension mountain bikes on the market, how are you…as the recreational mountain biker…supposed to pick out the best mountain bike for your needs as a rider? It seems like their is a new dual suspension platform for mountain bikes released every week that promises to bring your riding to a completely new level and be the best mountain bike for you in the years to come. In reality, all of these new mountain bike suspension designs are trying to tackle the same set of issues that you are seeing on the trail as you ride. I wanted to take a second and try to explain why there are so many dual suspension mountain bike suspension designs and the problems these mountain bikes are trying to tackle.

Dual Suspension Mountain Bikes – The Fight

So what is the fight with dual suspension mountain bikes and what does it mean to you? It would be incredibly easy for the mountain bike manufacturers to throw on a single pivot swing-arm like we are used to seeing on motorcycles and call it a day. You would have an extremely plush, active mountain bike suspension platform and there would not be as many options in your quest for the best mountain bike. However, there is two drastic differences that changes everything for the mountain bike suspension setup.

  1. The obvious absence of a motor to carry your ass up the hill.
  2. Pedal induced forces that play against the mountain bike suspension, but propel you forward on the trail.

These two factors make designing a mountain bike suspension much more difficult than a motorcycle suspension. Your body is giving more counteractive feedback to the mountain bike suspension because you are the motor. Your legs and body are what send the mountain bike into forward motion…not a motor. As you mash down on the pedals of your mountain bike, you are creating a downward force on the mountain bike suspension that sucks up efficiency. There is a constant fight between the mountain bikes suspension and your body as they try to react and work together on the trail.

What is a mountain bike suspension trying to accomplish?

Turner 5 Spot DW Link Rear TriangleWhen a mountain bike is heading down the trail, what is that suspension design trying to accomplish for the rider? Your mountain bike suspension design is trying to give you a lot of different riding features without compromise…and that is not an easy thing to do.

  • An efficient pedaling platform that resists pedal induced feedback on the climbs that robs potential energy that moves the bike forward.
  • An active mountain bike suspension that is plush in all conditions…including during hard braking (very hard for most mountain bike suspension designs).
  • Have a stiff suspension platform at a low overall frame weight.

The fight between plushness, active braking and pedal induced feedback is the core reason behind the multitude of different mountain bike suspension designs on the market. Now…there are times that marketing takes over and there is a need for something new on the table to increase sales. It would not be a retail sale without that aspect, but…for the most part…each of these new mountain bike suspension designs that hit the market are on the quest to provide the best mountain biking experience possible.

As you see the new DW-Links, VPP’s, Horst Links, Single Pivots, Faux Bars, LC2R’s, ITC’s, etc. hit the market, each of those mountain bike suspensions are on a quest for the same result…a mountain bike that climbs like a mountain goat but descends like a DH bike on a mission.

Which mountain bike suspension design is best for you?

I wish I had a answer for that question. In all reality, you need to get on as many mountain bikes and test out these suspension designs yourself to see which mountain bike suspension design is going to best fit your needs and riding style. The mass amount of options gives us a vast range of possibilities when choosing our next mountain bike suspension that is going to carry us to new riding heights, but it also creates a need to prolong the buying process a little bit further. By knowing the goals of mountain bike suspension design, you can single out the features that are most important to your riding and choose a suspension design that best fits your needs.

For this rider, I like a little bit more travel and I can give up some climbing pedaling efficiency for better small bump compliance. For another rider, they might just want to take the edge off and have the mountain bike’s suspension act like a hard tail on the climbs. As you start to get a better idea of your specific needs, you should be able to tell those needs to a couple of local bike shops and find a mountain bike suspension design that will be your next perfect mountain bike (until the next latest and greatest comes out of course!)



AsInTaDo January 18, 2010 - 9:54 pm

I hope there is at least a technical comparison of different suspension technology. The actual riding choice differs and depends on the riders and how it was tuned.

A technical explanation of each design would be helpful.

AsInTaDo ( Sharp Shooter )

Andrew Clayton August 28, 2009 - 8:55 am

Great article, what we need is a massive out doors centre who hold all brands so that when you up for purchasing, you can try all the different models out and see what really works for you.

I really wish this was available becuase articles and talk is great but nothing beats trying things out !

Any idea on this – I am in the UK and I hear Evans may have a big shop near Gatwick but I am talking something where demo modles can really be put through the paces from all brands !

That would be awesome !

Dave P August 23, 2009 - 2:51 pm

OH!! I forgot to mention a very important point! I also don’t know the woe’s and concerns of the “Pro Pedal” feature other bikes need to compensate for lack of performance in this area. Haro effectively eliminates it!!!

Dave P August 23, 2009 - 2:34 pm

At the risk of sounding like a shameless plug, but having read a lot articles on this subject,it never ceases to amaze me about how little to no recognition is given to the _Virtual Link_ suspension system on HARO’s Sonix (VL120)and Xeon(VL160)! HARO addresses this point of contention head on. I’v sampled alot of “high end” bikes and scrutinized their performance in these areas w/ varying results, but none compare(IMHO) to the performance in pedaling efficiency than my Xeon VL160 S has, well, except for my old hardtail! Although HARO is _not_ a nobody in bikes by a long shot!, I pay for performance not a name. At HARO they have a tag line that goes…BE BOB FREE.

Troy August 19, 2009 - 11:42 pm

Would’ve been nice to see a bit of detail about the specifics of each suspension. As someone who rides both a Kona and a DW-Link equipped Iron Horse, it never ceases to amaze me just how differently the two perform.

Rebel August 28, 2009 - 8:00 pm

Troy hits the mark. I would have liked a breakdown of the designs of the different suspensions and their relative strengths (or proposed/claimed strengths) and weaknesses.

Jamie Hamilton August 18, 2009 - 5:06 pm

Great article!

I’ve been riding since 1988 and have been through the full gamut of bikes and styles. As the technology has changed it’s amazing to see how my own riding style, wants & needs of a bike have evolved over the years.

Personally my riding has progressed as I’ve gotten older rather than regressed! And I know that this has a huge amount to do with the advancement of bike and suspension technology.

If I look at the type of terrain I ride these days on my 6 & 6inch air shocked stead, there’s no way I would’ve considered that type of terrain 20 years ago!

It’s interesting to note as the suspension designs get better my focus has shifted from how fast I can ascend to how much fun can I have descending!

And at the end of the day, for this guy anyway it’s all about the smile dial.

Doug Brummett August 17, 2009 - 2:58 pm

I think we need another poll. Instead of the what is your next bike 26v29 this poll would be a what suspension platform will be on your next bike purchase (rigid need not respond).

Personal preference is a huge factor. There are distinct differences in the feel of the different suspension designs. About the simplest comparison I can come up with is a Heckler vs. a BlurLT. Similar bike geometry-wise. Take them and run straight over a 3-4in log at speed. The Heckler has a bit of a recoil to it where the BLT feels like it rolls through the log. In the end is one better than the other?


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