Suspension forks give your off road bike improved handling as they absorb the trail shocks. Suspension forks now come in many different types and sizes. For example, a cross country mountain biker may want a short travel fork for smoother terrain at high speeds, and a downhill rider will require longer travel forks often with a triple clamp fixing for added stiffness and greater shock absorbency again at high speeds.
Another great feature that comes on some suspension forks is the ability to 'lock out' the suspension fork and this helps preserve energy wasted by 'bobbing' on climbs or smoother terrain. The lock out can be positioned on the top of the fork crown itself or operated remotely by a lever on the handlebar meaning your hand needn't move from the bar to lock the fork out.
Suspension forks can make use of air chambers within the fork legs or springs and elastomers. Air forks require a special pump to inflate or deflate depending on rider weights and riding style. Due to the legs being full of compressed air these forks weigh less than the sprung equivalents but many say they aren't as smooth.
A sprung fork uses different weight steel springs in the fork legs with rubber elastomers to help control compression. These springs can be changed for different rider weights and styles as with the air versions but there is some tool work to do this.
Hybrid bikes also have suspension forks. These rarely have air forks due to cost and actual suspension requirement. A hybrid needs to take the odd bump out of the road or track for comfort instead of control at high speeds so the use of the fork is actually different to when used on a mountain bike. So hybrid bikes usually have between 40mm and 80mm of travel on them using elastomers and springs.
Rear shocks work in much the same way as a suspension fork. Some are air sprung and others coil sprung although on a rear shock the two can be combined. Rear suspension is only really found on mountain bikes in a big way. As with forks the rear suspension can provide anything from 60mm of travel upto 10" of travel for downhill bikes. Fox and rockshox are market leaders for both types of suspension and are fitted on most new bikes.
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