Bicycle suspension isn’t a new thing. It was originally designed for bicycles back in the late 1800s. At that time, the roads were pretty rough and pneumatic tires were still a little way in the future. Adding anything to soften the ride was about the only way to make cycling bearable.

Today we’ve re-invented suspension for bikes.

It began in the late 1980s when mountain bikes were taking people into new and uncharted territory. Since then, bicycle suspension has evolved and improved so that now there are many types of bikes for many types of riders on all types of terrain.

Kinds of suspension

Suspension has three main purposes:

  • Comfort
  • Control
  • Impact absorption

To understand how these differ, you must first understand how suspension works.

In very simple terms, a shock is two tubes, one sliding inside the other, with a spring between them. When you push down, it absorbs and then springs back like a pogo stick. There are two actions on a bicycle that cause a shock to move. One is a bump in the trail. The other is the riders pedaling motion. Because of this each of the three main purposes have specific accompanying suspension designs to do the best job for the rider.


On a comfort bike, the suspension is usually found in the front fork and the seatpost.

There will only be a couple of inches of travel so that you don’t waste too much of your energy moving the shock up and down every time you push on the pedals.

Most of the motion is caused by small bumps on the road or trail. On a well designed comfort bike the suspension will make you feel like you’re driving a Cadillac.


Control suspension is common on cross country mountain bikes. The front shock – the fork – sometimes corresponds with a frame-mounted shock that controls the rear wheel as well. The design goal is to keep the tires in constant contact with the trail. When riding over rocks and roots, without shocks, the tires are bouncing up and down constantly causing them to be out of contact with the ground for very short periods of time. If you happen to try turning or braking at one of those moments, things don’t work out so well.

When you ride the same trail with suspension, your braking and steering dramatically improve. And yes, it’s more comfortable too. This suspension usually has 3-5 inches of travel and while that will cause some energy loss, it is more than made up for in control and a smoother ride. This will feel more like driving a small sports car.

Impact absorption

Impact absorption suspension is for downhill and freeride bikes. Some riders will jump off drops over 20 feet tall and land at the bottom and keep on riding. This is only possible if they have up to 8 inches of front and rear suspension travel on a very strong bike. This kind of bike is very heavy and would be extremely slow to ride on the road because of all the movement in the shocks, but is absolutely necessary in its chosen career.

To make sure you get the right bicycle, first you have to decide what style of riding you will be doing, and then if suspension sounds like a good thing, trying a couple of bikes out will put a picture to these 1000 words.

At Goldstream Bicycles we’d love to help you find the perfect match.

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