How to set up your mountain bike suspension: video guides to help you get the most from your bike

Suspension setup and adjustment from beginner to expert

Getting your suspension setup right can make all the difference. Most modern suspension units can work brilliantly if adjusted correctly, but with so many adjustments and dials, finding the right settings can be a minefield. Getting it right allows your bike to work at its best, improving the handling, comfort and grip. 

To help explain how to do this as clearly as possible, we’ve made two videos. The first shows you how to get a good baseline setting in just a few minutes, while the second explains how to fine-tune this baseline setup to suit your riding.  

Even if you’re already happy with your setup, we strongly recommend watching the baseline video first. This should get your suspension in the right ballpark. The second video will make a lot more sense having watched this.

Article updated 28 November 2018

How to set up the suspension on your mountain bike

Step 1: how to get your suspension set up in ten minutes

Get your MTB suspension dialled in only ten minutes

This is how our resident suspension guru Seb sets up his test bikes. It should get your suspension performing well before you even leave the car park. This video explains how to set your sag, test how progressive your suspension needs to be, and how to fine-tune your rebound damping. 

If, after doing these tests, you decide you need to add or remove any volume spacers, take a look at our videos on changing spacers on shocks and changing spacers on forks. Alternatively, talk to your local suspension service centre.

Step 2: how to fine-tune your suspension for maximum performance

Advanced MTB suspension setup

For most riders, the first video should get your suspension in the right ballpark, and you may find this is all you need to do. In this second video, we look at what to do if this setup isn’t right for you or if you want to tweak your setup further to suit your specific riding style and terrain.

This is all about finding the right compromise between support and sensitivity, by fine-tuning the spring-rate, number of volume spacers, low-speed compression and high-speed compression (if your bike has it), as well as adjusting the rebound damping to find a balance between calmness and liveliness. 

To make things clearer, the table below summarises the effect of each of the suspension adjustments mentioned in the video.

Adjustment 

Advantages of adding more 

Disadvantages of adding more 

Spring rate (related to air pressure or coil spring stiffness) 

More support, less diving/squatting, higher ride-height 

Harder to bottom out 

Harsher over bumps 

Less sag, less traction, higher ride-height 

Volume spacers 

Firmer end-stroke 

Harder to bottom out 

Harsher on medium-large hits where less travel is used

Only adds support towards the end of travel 

Low-speed compression 

More stable and predictable feel as the bike is slower to dive or pitch as rider weight shifts.  

More to push against in corners and jump faces 

More muted feel as more energy is dissipated in the damper rather than the spring.  

Suspension stays higher in its travel during rough sections 

Reduced sensitivity, particularly over small-medium bumps 

Less traction 

More fatigue, particularly hand pain

High-speed compression 

Less travel used during large impacts 

Harder to bottom-out 

Suspension stays higher in its travel during rough sections 

Harsher 'spikey' feel, particularly over medium-large impacts or landings

Low-speed rebound damping  

Calmer, more predictable feel

Rear suspension more settled on steep descents

Less chance of bucking on jumps or bouncing on landing 

If set too slow, sensitivity and traction can be reduced

Suspension may 'pack down' during high-frequency bumps

High-speed rebound damping 

Calmer and safer feel, particularly when using lots of travel, e.g. jump take-offs and landings 

Firmer HSR allows the LSR to be set faster (for better small-bump sensitivity) without getting bucked on jumps

Slower to recover, especially from deep in the stroke

Lighter HSR allows the LSR to be made firmer without the shock packing down. This will make the rebound slower in the beginning-stroke, so can feel calmer on steep descents.  

What about coil-sprung suspension?

To make things simpler, in these videos we’ve focussed on air suspension, because it’s far more common than coil-sprung suspension these days. If you have a coil fork or shock, most of the above advice still applies.

The main difference is that instead of adjusting spring rate by changing the air pressure, you’ll need to swap the coil spring. Also, if your coil suspension is bottoming out too easily, you can’t just add volume spacers to increase the end-stroke spring force like you would in an air spring.

Instead, either swap to a firmer spring rate (resulting in less sag), or increase high-speed compression damping, if possible.  

Don't be tempted to use preload to make it firmer. Preloading the coil will result in less sag as it raises the ride-height, but it will not affect the spring rate. Preloading the shock also ruins the beginning-stroke sensitivity of the suspension and can cause it to top-out. The preload collar should be just tight enough to stop the spring from rattling. 

We hope these videos help you get more from your mountain bike. Let us know how you get on in the comments section below. 

Seb Stott

Technical Writer, UK
Seb is a geeky technical writer for BikeRadar, as well as MBUK and What Mountain Bike magazines. Seb's background in experimental physics allows him to pick apart what's really going on with mountain bike components. Years of racing downhill, cross-country and enduro have honed a fast and aggressive riding style, so he can really put gear to the test on the trails, too.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Steep!
  • Current Bikes: Focus Sam 3.0, Kona Process 111, Specialized Enduro 29 Elite
  • Dream Bike: Mondraker Crafty with Boost 29" wheels, a 160mm fork and offset bushings for maximum slackness.
  • Beer of Choice: Buckfast ('Bucky' for short)
  • Location: Bristol, UK

Related Articles

Back to top