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How to set up your mountain bike suspension

Want to ride trails faster and take harder lines on your mountain bike? Making sure your suspension is set up right is an essential first step toward this, and we’re going to tell you how it’s done.

There are two main steps to dialling in your mountain bike suspension:

Setting your sag – your ‘sag’ is the amount of movement in your suspension resulting from just your bodyweight on the bike.

Setting up your damping. ‘Damping’ refers to how quickly the fork or shock returns to its resting position after it has compressed.

To set your sag, you need a Shock Pump

Set up your sag

You need to rope in a buddy for this bit. (Buy them a coffee after to say thanks!)

  • Open up your compression damping knobs.
  • With your buddy holding the mountain bike upright, get on the bike and stand up in the pedals, Bounce your weight through the bike, to get the suspension ‘warmed up’ and moving.
  • While you stand in the pedals, ask your buddy to move the O-rings on the stanchions on your fork and shock all the way to the bottom.
  • Get off the bike and look at the stanchion to see how far the O-ring slid up the stanchion when you were standing on the bike.
  • You need to assess roughly how far the o-ring has moved down the stanchion, or there may be pre-printed graphics to guide you. You need the o-ring to have moved approximately 25% of the way down the stanchion. Less than 25% down? -> Too much air in the fork / shock. More than 25% down? -> Not enough air in the fork / shock

Now, go get your shock pump!!

Using the shock pump to adjust the air in your suspension:

  • Remove the dust cap from the shock and open up the valve.
  • Screw the shock pump head onto the valve, ensuring a safe and secure connection.
  • Take a look at the pressure on the gauge – that shows what the pressure is in your shock / fork.
  • Based on how far your o-ring moved in the step above, assess whether you need to add or remove air.
  • If you have too much air in the fork, you need to bleed a little out using the bleed button. If you have too little air, use the pump to get more in. Getting the exact right pressure that works for you requires a bit of trial and error but it’s not too tough!
  • When you’re happy with the sag, it’s a good idea to take a note of the pressure that you found to work – having this on record will make it easier to re-set your suspension if your bike is serviced.

Now to set up your damping

Don’t try this part unless you’ve set up your sag!

  • You adjust how quickly your suspension resets, or ‘rebounds’ using the rebound knob.
  • You can test for the speed of this process by pushing down with your bodyweight on the handlebars to check the forks, or by pushing on the saddle to check the shock.
  • The number of ‘clicks’ you turn the knob will relate to how much faster or slower the rebound will be after the adjustment, and getting this perfect involves trial and error.
  • The best way to check whether you’re happy with the damping is to go ride! If you feel the rebound is too slow – i.e., the suspension takes a long time to return to its resting position, you need to remove damping, that is, speed up your rebound. If the ride feels too jumpy and jerky, the rebound is too fast – so you need to slow down the rebound / add damping.
  • Remember, the type of terrain affects how much damping you want. For example, many people favour fast rebounding on their mountain bike for really rough rocky terrain, as it means their suspension is fully rebounded for the next rock.

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