How to set up mountain bike suspension

Preload, compression- and rebound-damping and lockout explained

Most shocks will have settings that allow you to adjust how they perform, and getting these settings right can improve your speed and control.

Take a look at the video below, and watch BikeRadar's and we’ll explain how you can make sure your suspension setup is working for you, not against you. There's written instructions below too. 

Video: How to set up mountain bike suspension

How to set up mountain bike suspension

Before you start, make sure you have have your full riding kit to hand - as you’ll be setting the shock up to work based on your riding weight.

It’s a good idea to get set up before you ride - but take a shock pump with you so you can make further adjustments on the trail.

There are three main controls you’ll see on MTB suspension: preload, rebound, and compression -- sometimes split into low and high speed compression on top-end shocks.

[Preload Explained]

Preload is the resistance the fork gives against your weight. So the heavier you are, the more preload you’re going to need. For a shock with a coil spring this would equate to having a heavier, or thicker spring but for an air shock it’s simply a case of pumping in more pressure.  

[Compression Damping Explained]

Compression damping comes from the internals of the shock and works by regulating the flow of oil through small holes. Compression damping only affects the shock when it’s compressing - this doesn’t affect the preload but can appear to have a similar effect on the rear suspension.

The more compression damping you dial in (+) the slower the fork will move through it’s travel - this is good if you want a bike to pedal without bobbing, but the negative effect will be the limitation of the suspension’s movement when you hit a bump - making it feel a bit like it’s locked out. In fact suspension lockout out is simply an extremely high amount of compression damping.

[Rebound Damping Explained]

Rebound damping is a similar internal system to compression and only affects the shock when it’s returning to its natural position AFTER an impact.

The more rebound damping you dial in (+) the slower the fork will return to its natural position after an impact. A slower return - or more rebound compression - is required if the bike feels like it’s trying to buck you off - especially after corners or when you land a jump, but if repeated hits are causing the suspension to feel like it’s ‘packing down’ and not returning to it’s natural position, you’ll need less damping.

[Lockout/CTD Explained]

Your suspension might feature settings that are designed to give it different characteristics for different types of riding.

Lockout is the most common and when activated will use the compression damping system to effectively stop the fork from working.

Lockout is useful when you encounter prolonged climbs or flatter pedalling sections.

CTD or climb, trail, descend is a slightly more advanced form of lock out that gives a ‘tune’ that’s better suited to the type of terrain you are riding on.

Climb mode pretty much acts as a lock out, although typically will allow more movement; trail or ride mode is a slightly stiffened setting to allow movement, but with some resistance in order to give a good pedaling platform with a stiffer compression setting; while descent means the suspension is fully active and would offer little compression damping during use.

CTD is a Fox-specific term, but other manufacturers have comparable systems.

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