You decided to buy a bike but don’t know if you need a suspension fork or not. After having read multiple forums the only thing you are certain about is that there is a big debate in the cycling community whether a suspension fork is useful or not. So the question is still unanswered:
Do I need a front suspension on my bike? You need a front suspension for your bike if you prefer a smoother riding experience on rough roads and some relief for the wrist and arms. You don’t need a front suspension if you ride mostly on reasonably smooth surfaces. Front suspensions typically weigh 4-6 pounds more.
Suspension forks are sometimes very useful and sometimes more of a burden to carry around. Let’s find out together if it is it useful for you!
The quality of the road
To decide whether you need a suspension fork you should first take into consideration the quality of the road where you ride your bike.
If you ride off-road or on low quality, bumpy roads and you don’t like to feel the vibration of the road it makes a lot of sense to have a suspension fork.
Suspension forks absorb the shocks of bumpy roads and offer relief to the wrists and arms improving the riding experience a great deal.
Riding on the same roads with a rigid fork will feel much shakier because of the stiffness of the fork.
On the other hand if you plan to ride mostly on good quality paved roads a rigid fork is a better choice as a suspension fork will not improve the riding experience at all but you will carry extra weight.
Your riding style
Another good reason to choose a suspension fork is if someone has a riding style that is more demanding on the bike: if you are a fast rider and don’t like slowing down at potholes, when crossing tram or train tracks or when getting up and down curbs.
Or if you are one of those who likes challenges and thinks that anything that gets in his way shall be conquered: jump up and down rocks and tree trunks and take all kinds of shortcuts even if it means you need to cycle off road.
If you feel that the one of the above fits you, a suspension fork could definitely make your ride smoother and more comfortable.
The quality of the fork
The quality of the fork can also help you to decide. If you find it only slightly advantageous to have a suspension fork but you are on a tight budget and can buy only a low quality one, it might be better not to buy one at all.
Low quality suspension forks can cause headaches: more maintenance, higher costs, more weight to carry around.
It is rare but some entry-level suspension forks come without lockout knobs that can make going fast and climbing hills really hard since they absorb valuable energy that you spend pedaling.
When is using a front suspension Bike worth it?
It is worth using a front suspension bike if you want to have a smooth ride and superior control on bumpy roads and if you want to avoid wrist and arm pain due to shaky rides.
If you want a less shaky ride a suspension fork can smoothen the ride.
Front shocks can be useful in the city too if you need to ride on cobblestones or you ride in a city without dedicated bike lanes and so you have to constantly go up and down the curbs.
If you are unsure try both. Ride on a bumpy road first with a rigid fork bike and right after with a bike that has a front shock: you will notice the impact a shock absorbent fork has on the ride.
If you still find the ride too shaky even when using a front shock it might be worth checking a suspension seatpost or a full suspension bike.
A suspension seatpost as its name suggests is basically a seatpost that has a shock absorbing mechanism. A full suspension bike on the other hand has a rear and front suspension which makes even the roughest rides smooth.
Another reason to opt for a front shock is the superior control it offers over the bike. For urban cruising or bike commuting purposes this isn’t something you need to worry about.
However if you like off road cycling and you intend to ride fast on technical trails this is something worth considering.
The bike is in contact with the ground on two points: the front and rear tires. Through those two contact points the rider controls the bike.
When riding fast on a bumpy road the tires are constantly bouncing thus the rider has less control over the bike. A front shock essentially absorbs the bumps and enhances the tires to be more in contact with the ground and thus provide superior control to the rider
Again, this is not something an average cyclist should worry about because the difference is so small that you won’t notice anything on casual weekend rides or weekday commutes.
Using a rigid fork essentially means more vibrations and shocks and less comfort. As the fork is one solid piece all vibrations and shocks of the road are felt way more intensely by the rider.
Front shocks offer relief to those who are prone to experiencing pain in their limbs and joints after a rough ride. If you want to avoid all that you should try a bike with front suspension.
However if you are 100% certain that you won’t need front suspension it is completely useless to have it as it adds only extra weight to your bike.
Do suspensions slow you down?
Suspension forks slow down the bike because of the extra weight added and also because they absorb some of the pedaling energy when the rider steps out of the saddle to place his weight to the front to exert greater force either to achieve faster speed or to climb a hill.
They slow you down a little, but that is something that most cyclists won’t even notice because the difference is so slight. A few seconds only even on longer rides.
Front suspensions add extra weight (4-6 lbs) to your bike. This something to keep in mind especially if you live in an apartment without an elevator and you need to carry the bike upstairs.
It is more noticeable that suspension forks slow you down when you pedal stepping out of the saddle. You can notice the front of the bike moving up and down as you place more or your body weight to the front. The same thing happens and becomes even more noticeable when you climb up steep hills.
If your front suspension has a lockout knob you can block it completely to prevent energy loss this way.
Typically mountain and hybrid bikes come with suspension forks which are slower due to their more relaxed geometry.
Most commonly hybrid and mountain bikes come equipped with front suspension forks. None of them is designed to achieve high speeds.
Road, fitness and gravel bikes are faster than mountain or hybrid bikes because of a more aggressive frame geometry and not so much because of the rigid fork itself.
If you are in the process of deciding whether you should buy a front suspension or a rigid fork bike I think it is a good idea to try both of them (if you can borrow from a friend or relative) and test it for yourself to find out what is more comfortable and fit for your rides.
If you feel you can decide based on this post which one is better, go ahead and pick. Just make sure you get one and don’t get caught up in this or any other question. At the end of the day what’s important is to get out there and ride your bike