How to get your suspension setup dialled

The best guide to suspension set up from our resident tech guru, Seb Stott

How to set up the suspension on your mountain bike

Suspension tuning may seem like a dark art, but we’ve picked up a load of handy tips and tricks to get your suspension setup right in a really methodical and straightforward way.

This is how our resident suspension guru, Seb, sets up his test bikes. It should get your suspension performing at its best before you even leave the car park — giving you more grip, confidence and comfort when out on the trails.

This video will explain how to set your sag, test how progressive your suspension needs to be, and fine-tune your rebound damping. All in, it should take you about 10 minutes.

If, after doing these tests, you decide you need to add or remove any volume spacers, take a look at these links: (this one for shocks) and (this one for forks) for advice on how to do this. Alternatively, talk to your local suspension service centre.

In this video we’ve focussed on air suspension, as this is far more common than coil sprung suspension these days. If you have a coil fork or shock, you can measure sag in a similar way, but to adjust it you'll need to swap the spring.

Don't be tempted to try and use preload to make it firmer — this ruins off the top sensitivity, can cause top-out and won't affect the spring rate at all. The preload collar should be just tight enough to stop the spring rattling.

We’ve tried to keep this video as general as possible, but do bear in mind that it’s still worth experimenting with your setup from the base-setting that this method gives you.

For example, if you want to ride cross country or favour climbing over descending confidence, you may want to set 25 percent rather than 30 percent sag in the shock. After adjusting the air pressure in your suspension, remember you’ll need to adjust your rebound damping to compensate.

This video should help get your spring rate, progression and rebound just about spot-on for most people. But once you get out on the trails, the next thing to experiment with is low speed compression adjustment (if your bike has it).  Low speed compression (LSC) can help fine-tune the level of support to suit different terrain, and is something that can’t easily be set up in these 'car park' tests.

After doing these tests, we’d generally advise setting your suspension with minimal compression damping (fully open) to start with. Out on the trails, if you find your fork is riding too low in the travel over rough terrain, or is diving too easily, try winding on some LSC. If it feels too harsh, wind it off.

Similarly, if your shock is wallowing in corners, your bike will get slacker as you load the bike, and this can cause you to run wide in turns. In this case, you may want to wind on some LSC on the rear (again, if your shock has this feature) to get the suspension more balanced and help preserve the bike’s dynamic geometry.

Compression is something you can adjust to suit individual trails: for slow, steep and technical terrain, firming up the fork’s compression damping will provide a more composed, supportive feel; but for faster, rougher tracks, you may want to wind it off to provide a more comfortable ride. It pays to keep experimenting.

We really hope this setup advice helps you get the most out of your riding. Happy fettling!

Seb Stott

Technical Writer, UK
Seb is a geeky technical writer for BikeRadar, as well as MBUK and What Mountain Bike magazines. Seb's background in experimental physics allows him to pick apart what's really going on with mountain bike components. Years of racing downhill, cross-country and enduro have honed a fast and aggressive riding style, so he can really put gear to the test on the trails, too.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Steep!
  • Current Bikes: Focus Sam 3.0, Kona Process 111, Specialized Enduro 29 Elite
  • Dream Bike: Mondraker Crafty with Boost 29" wheels, a 160mm fork and offset bushings for maximum slackness.
  • Beer of Choice: Buckfast ('Bucky' for short)
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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