Setting up MTB Suspension – A Quick Guide

First:

This guide is a condensed version of the total process of understanding suspension setup. For a more detailed explanation of each process – follow the links.

Don’t start with sag!

Sag can be a dangerous game of guess-and-check and for most people it’s not a good starting place. I know it’s what most people have been taught to start with for a long time, but be patient for a bit. For more details on why, read THIS.

It’s important to write down your progress. Keep in mind, setup changes over time as you make component changes, ride different terrain, experience temperature swings, etc. For these reasons and more, it’s important to keep baseline measurements for future use.

Rider_______________
Tire Pressure Front_________ PSI
Tire Pressure Rear_________ PSI
Fork Volume Spacers (qty)_________
Fork Air Spring Pressure_________ PSI
Fork LSC_________ Clicks
Fork LSR_________ Clicks
Fork HSC_________ Clicks
Fork HSR_________ Clicks
Fork Sag_________ %
Shock Volume Spacer (size)_________
Shock Air Spring Pressure_________ PSI
Shock LSC_________ Clicks
Shock LSR_________ Clicks
Shock HSC_________ Clicks
Shock HSR_________ Clicks
Shock Sag_________%
Use this setup chart to record all of your settings

Now: setup

  1. Turn all clickers fully open (counter-clockwise)
  2.  Set Spring Rate (air pressure) in Fork and Shock
    • Start with recommended air pressure settings
    • Bracket higher and lower and settle on pressure based on feel.  Set pressures and ride the bike around, pushing down on the bike, hopping around, turning, etc.
    • Pressure too low will feel soft, and will blow through the travel too easily – it will dive when turning
    • Pressure too high will feel harsh and will require too much effort to achieve full travel – it will push in turns
    • Trust your instinct here – what feels right usually is – suspension is highly individual

**If shock or fork has an adjustable negative air spring, start by matching the pressures in the positive chamber and experiment from there

**For coil suspension – mirror the process but start with a spring rate and then change spring rates as needed

3. Observe Sag – Note for reference only

  • Ride Height (sag)
  • Air Spring Volume Adjustment – add or remove volume spacers to achieve desired ride height (sag) at the pressures settled on in step 2
  • If changing dramatically, repeating step 2 may be necessary
    • If your fork has a custom secondary air chamber this is the time to dial this part in (MRP ramp control, DSD Runt, etc.)
  • Coil spring setups – add / remove preload to change ride height

**Sag is generally recommended to be in the 20-30% range, depending on desired handling and efficiency characteristics. This number is only a reference point. It’s less important to match this range perfectly than it is to achieve the right spring rate for your situation. The right spring rate will yield the best balance of traction / comfort, efficiency / support, and will still yield the ability to achieve full travel. Sag is a by-product of getting all of these things right.  

4. Rebound and Compression Adjustments (Shaft Speed)

  • Rebound
  • Set low speed rebound by adding clicks and test riding again.  Rebound that is too fast requires additional rebound damping to be added.  Too fast (too little rebound damping) will feel unsettled and bouncy.  Traction will be excellent but it will feel nervous on rough terrain.  Too slow (too much rebound damping) will feel dead and will push through turns.  It will pack up in rough terrain and offer poor traction at high speed.  Test on easy terrain and pump the fork as you ride.  If it cycles back too fast, add damping.  If it is slow to return and feels dead, decrease damping.  Test the rear shock by slamming into the seated position and observe how the shock reacts.  Too little rebound damping and it will bounce you up.  Too much rebound damping and it will sink deep into its travel and not return quickly enough.
  • High Speed Rebound (not available on most shocks/forks) – follow the same procedure on a fast + rough section of trail – observe / make changes accordingly.
  • Compression
  •  Test low speed compression by riding around and using the front brakes to test the fork and rocking back and forth to test fork and shock together.  Too little LSC and the bike will rush into its travel too quickly with no support in the first part of travel.  Too much LSC and the bike will feel harsh – LSC is a balance between comfort + support!
  • Test high speed compression on a fast + rough section of trail.  With everything else set properly, too little HSC damping will allow the suspension to blow through the travel on sharp hits.  Too much HSC will cause the suspension to feel like it’s locking up almost – unable to allow enough travel to happen on the sharp hits.
  • Record All Settings For Repeatability – check sag and record as a reference – now ride!  

Observations after test rides

  • Overall Travel – ensure that full travel is being achieved. If you’re not getting full travel, diagnose why and make the necessary adjustments. The most likely culprit would be too much air spring pressure. Too many volume spacers or too much compression damping could also contribute to this. Conversely, if you’re bottoming out too easily – go the other direction with these adjustments
  • Bike manners – is the bike balanced or using more/less of front or rear travel? Does it feel composed on rough terrain or does it pinball off of noise in the trail? Pay attention to how the bike reacts but also how the bike recovers.
  • Traction/Support – pay attention – especially in corners – to how the bike tracks the ground. It should keep wheels on the ground with good footing in turns but it shouldn’t be so glued to the ground that it bucks over choppy terrain.
  • Comfort – does the bike ride harsh or does it feel smooth and fast?

Continue to observe how the bike works and re-visit various steps of the setup process to correct any handling issues.

Have a specific question? Leave it in the comments below and we’ll make sure you find an answer!

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