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Differences Between Air Suspension and Coil Suspension for Mountain Bikes

January 29, 2024

Mountain bike rear suspension systems come in various shapes and sizes, tailored to the specific needs of riders in different disciplines such as XC or DH. Choosing between air suspension and coil suspension for the rear shock can be a daunting task, involving mathematical considerations and extensive research to find the right fit for individual preferences and riding styles.

Benefits of Air Suspension:

Air suspension is commonly used on short-travel bikes and offers several advantages. It is generally lighter than coil suspension, and its progressive nature means that more force is required as the shock compresses, reducing the likelihood of bottoming out—a crucial feature for short-travel bikes.

However, air shocks may have more friction points due to internal pressurized components, potentially causing slight binding during the entire travel. Additionally, the hydraulic oil inside air shocks can heat up during rides, especially in frequent and extended downhill sections, leading to decreased performance as the oil viscosity drops.

Fox shocks like the Float X and Float X2 address these issues with a piggyback-style oil circuit, mitigating friction and heat-related concerns. Nonetheless, this design is more suitable for longer-travel bikes and may not be ideal for short-travel XC bikes.

Applications and Riding Types Suitable for Air Suspension:

Air suspension is well-suited for cross-country riders and anyone looking to reduce overall bike weight. The adjustability of air shocks makes them versatile, catering to a wide range of riding conditions. Experienced downhill riders also appreciate air shocks for their adjustability, allowing for fine-tuning across different terrains.

Benefits of Coil Suspension:

While lacking the same level of adjustability as air shocks, coil suspension compensates with smoothness and responsiveness. Coil shocks typically have a linear stroke, requiring a consistent amount of force throughout the travel, providing riders with a uniform and predictable response.

Coil shocks offer less adjustability, and changing their spring rate usually involves purchasing new springs. Despite the complexity of adjustment, coil shocks avoid the friction and heat-related issues found in air shocks.

Applications and Riding Types Suitable for Coil Suspension:

Coil suspension shines in downhill applications, enhancing the rider's connection to the bike and delivering a more grounded feel. Enduro riders also frequently opt for coil shocks, prioritizing stability and plushness over climbing efficiency.

Maintenance Considerations:

Air shocks are generally easier to maintain and adjust at home. With the help of a shock pump, riders can fine-tune the air pressure based on their weight and quickly adjust damping settings for varying conditions. Features like rebound control and lockout switches further enhance the versatility of air shocks.

While coil shocks may require more effort to adjust, modern designs like Fox's DHX and DHX2 still offer adjustable features. These include dual-position open/lockout levers for climbing, as well as low-speed and high-speed rebound adjustments, providing riders with options for customization.

In conclusion, the choice between air suspension and coil suspension depends on rider preferences, riding style, and the specific demands of the chosen discipline. Each suspension type has its advantages and trade-offs, and finding the right fit requires careful consideration of individual needs and priorities.

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