Even though this might look like a message from the Stone Age, once upon a time, there was a planet without any suspension forks at all. Mountain biking was rigid and riding did hurt for real. While some attempts to design a suspension stem turned out to be a disaster, the first prophets of suspension led us out of the darkness. Since then, many kinds of constructions were invented and so today, we have a variety of models to choose from. Which one would fit your demands the best? Let us guide you through the menu where forks are not the tools used for eating. Before acquiring a suspension fork, you should consider these features to make the right decision.
In general, the longer the travel, the better the fork deals with big bumps and impacts. So, why doesn’t everybody just buy a fork with 170 mm of travel? It’s simple – such a fork would be too heavy and, also, longer fork alters the frame geometry making steering slower and less agile which is fine for fast descents, however, less for the climbs. Installing an overly long fork would also overstrain the frame and could void the claim of warranty if something goes wrong. That said, you can choose from forks designed for different purposes – from cross-country (80 to 120 mm of travel), trail bikes ranging from 120 to 140 mm, enduro and all-mountain up to 170 mm and DH forks from 180 to 200 mm. Usually, you won’t make any mistake when replacing the new fork for the old one with similar size.
Unfortunately, money matter even when buying a new suspension fork. Good news is the progress of engineering made a great step in terms of suspension forks construction, delivering budget goods of reasonable quality. You can hardly expect a super smooth travel, stiff axle structure and light weight for a bargain, though. The prices of acceptable forks start at 400 EUR and could rise to astronomical heights according to the material used in construction.
The more travel you have, the more sophisticated control it should bear. It’s not only a question of the damping itself, but also a matter of the rebound, which is how fast the fork returns from full compression to its normal height after the impact. Normally, you’d prefer it slow and smooth, rather than with a bang. The more advanced forks also offer a compression damping, making the damping even slower. The really expensive forks have compression damping split into two circuits that are able to distinguish between gentle loads caused by braking and small bumps from big loads.
This column goes mostly along with the price. While climbers and distance chasers will appreciate super light forks, bike park enthusiasts would prefer something that would carry them all the way down the hill without falling apart at the end of the first season.