Mountain bike suspension setup: video guides to help you get the most from your bike

Suspension setup and adjustment from beginner to expert

Getting your suspension setup right can make all the difference. Most modern suspension units can work brilliantly if adjusted correctly, but with so many adjustments and dials, finding the right settings can be a minefield.

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Getting it right for you allows your bike to work at its best, improving the handling, comfort and grip.

To help explain how to do this as clearly as possible, we’ve made two videos. The first shows you how to get a good baseline setting in just a few minutes, while the second explains how to fine-tune this baseline setup to suit your riding.

Even if you’re already happy with your setup, we strongly recommend watching the baseline video first. This should get your suspension in the right ballpark. The second video will make a lot more sense having watched this.

How to set up the suspension on your mountain bike

Step 1: How to get your suspension set up in ten minutes

This is how our resident suspension guru Seb sets up his test bikes. It should get your suspension performing well before you even leave the car park.

This video explains how to set your sag, test how progressive your suspension needs to be, and how to fine-tune your rebound damping.

If, after doing these tests, you decide you need to add or remove any volume spacers, take a look at our videos on changing spacers on Fox shocks and changing spacers on forks. Alternatively, talk to your local suspension service centre.

Step 2: How to fine-tune your suspension for maximum performance

For most riders, the first video should get a bike’s suspension sorted for the trails, and you may find this is all you need to do.

In this second video, we look at what to do if this setup isn’t right for you or if you want to tweak your setup further to suit your specific riding style and terrain.

This is all about finding the right compromise between support and sensitivity, by fine-tuning the spring-rate, number of volume spacers, low-speed compression and high-speed compression (if your bike has it), as well as adjusting the rebound damping to find a balance between calmness and liveliness.

What are the effects of different suspension adjustments?

Increasing spring rate (related to air pressure or coil spring stiffness)

+ More support, less diving/squatting, higher ride-height

+ Harder to bottom-out

– Harsher over bumps

– Less sag, less traction, higher ride-height

Adding volume spacers

+ Firmer end-stroke

+ Harder to bottom-out

– Harsher on medium-large hits where less travel is used

– Only adds support towards the end of travel

More low-speed compression

+ More stable and predictable feel as the bike is slower to dive or pitch as rider weight shifts

+ More to push against in corners and jump faces

+ More muted feel as more energy is dissipated in the damper rather than the spring

+ Suspension stays higher in its travel during rough sections

– Reduced sensitivity, particularly over small-medium bumps

– Less traction

– More fatigue, particularly hand pain

More high-speed compression

+ Less travel used during large impacts

+ Harder to bottom-out

+ Suspension stays higher in its travel during rough sections

– Harsher ‘spikey’ feel, particularly over medium-large impacts or landings

More low-speed rebound damping

+ Calmer, more predictable feel

+ Rear suspension more settled on steep descents

+ Less chance of bucking on jumps or bouncing on landing

– If set too slow, sensitivity and traction can be reduced

– Suspension may ‘pack down’ during high-frequency bumps

More high-speed rebound damping

+ Calmer and safer feel, particularly when using lots of travel, e.g. jump take-offs and landings

+ Firmer HSR allows the LSR to be set faster (for better small-bump sensitivity) without getting bucked on jumps

– Slower to recover, especially from deep in the stroke

– Lighter HSR allows the LSR to be made firmer without the shock packing down. This will make the rebound slower in the beginning-stroke, so can feel calmer on steep descents.

What about coil-sprung suspension?

To make things simpler, in these videos we’ve focused on air suspension because it’s far more common than coil-sprung suspension these days. If you have a coil fork or shock, most of the advice still applies.

The main difference is that instead of adjusting spring rate by changing the air pressure, you’ll need to swap the coil spring.

Also, if your coil suspension is bottoming-out too easily, you can’t just add volume spacers to increase the end-stroke spring force like you would in an air spring.

Instead, either swap to a firmer spring rate (resulting in less sag), or increase high-speed compression damping, if possible.

Don’t be tempted to use preload to make it firmer. Preloading the coil will result in less sag because it raises the ride-height, but it will not affect the spring rate.

Preloading the shock also ruins the beginning-stroke sensitivity of the suspension and can cause it to top-out. The preload collar should be just tight enough to stop the spring from rattling.

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We hope these videos help you get more from your mountain bike. Let us know how you get on in the comments section below.