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Increasing Cycling Comfort... Suspension Forks and Frames

Basic Cheap Full Suspension Mountain Bikes

Pictured above is a basic "full suspension" bike. Ranging from as little as £50-£60 and sold by many a supermarket and catalogue, these are often truly the worst of the "Bicycle Shaped Objects". Sadly, such low prices act as magnets and often the temptation to believe that "it can't be that bad" overcomes the pure logic that it must be nigh on impossible to assemble over 1000 individual component pieces into a bicycle so cheaply. The inclusion of both front and rear suspension on bikes of this type is almost impossible to comprehend.

So what draws so many people to buy these lumps of steel?

Perceived Comfort

When you look at this bike with its chunky shock absorber and that big fat spring at the back and telescoping suspension forks at the front, it is easy to think of a lovely soft ride, with all the bumps of the road (or whatever track) smoothed out... the bike simply gliding over it all and absorbing the sharpness of potholes and the unevenness beneath the wheels. Sit on one, and they "settle", with a good amount of give as you lower your weight onto it. You then bounce up and down on it and, sure enough, it bounces with you. Wow, this is great!

So, off onto the roads you go and before you know it, this lump of steel has turned into a bucking bronco. It bounces all over the place, bobbing up and down every time you pedal! Sure, the bumps don't feel as sharp so you're willing to put up with the bouncy ride because you're more comfortable. But, it is taking more energy to ride because so much of your effort is wasted as the bike bobs up and down. This bike weighs 3 times more than it needs to aswell, so you are pedalling the bicycle equivalent of an 8 ton waste skip. Then, as inevitably occurs with these bikes, the pivot at the back end starts to wear and come loose, or, it rusts and starts to seize up, the forks rust and jam and the litle ineffective suspension you had gradually fades away leaving you with just the skip.

Suspension is a relatively simple concept. But, unlike on a car where the weight of the suspension components represents a relatively small proportion of the overall weight of the vehicle, on a bike, adding suspension has far more impact. The engineering in a car's suspension involves the suspension mechanism itself and a shock absorber which acts to control the way in which the springs act. On a bicycle, both these functions have to be performed in the one component and making them in such small sizes, and making them work efficiently cannot be achieved on a shoe string budget.

Conclusion

If you are looking at suspension on a bike, front suspension forks are a fairly reasonable addition BUT watch the price. Realistically ANY bike fitted with suspension forks that is going to have the desired effect and be reliable is going to set you back a minimum of about £250, but rather than waste your money on a full suspension bike at the bottom of the scale, pay more attention to hybrid and comfort bikes fitted with front suspension and a suspension seat pillar. If you absolutely "must have" a full suspension mountain bike, take a deep breath and be willing to part with at least £400-£500 for the suspension to actually serve any real purpose.
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