Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hey, Jon ... Why Don't You Have a Suspension Fork?

There's a question I hear more than a few times a year. And, I understand why.

The current State Of The Art in mountain bikes includes not only a long-travel suspension fork on the front, but equally long travel on the rear end of the bike. According to the pundits, you simply must have the springs if you are a "serious" mountain biker.

So, I guess the easy answer to the question of why no "sproinger" for Jon would be that I am not a serious mountain biker. The problem with that is that I do, oddly enough, consider myself serious about mountain biking. What I am not serious about is mountain bike racing.

 How serious am I about racing? This is the bike I used for the Golden Giddyup Enduro, last year...

Regardless of what the bicycling industry and press might lead you to believe, suspension components are not a necessity for enjoying a mountain bike on the trail. They are only necessary to stay competitive in racing.

But, you say, suspension allows you to ride farther with less fatigue. And, that is somewhat true. I personally think that subtracting the added weight of the suspension components, on climbs, removes a bit of fatigue from the ride, as well. Fatigue is part of riding off-road. If your riding partners are suspended, and wearing you out, then you are back into the racing mentality of keeping up with others. At that point, yeah, you need to buy some plushness. Or, maybe, ride with other people...

I know that a lot of my old group no longer even considers inviting me along for rides, since I don't have a "serious" bike. They feel that I won't be able to keep up with their rigs. The truth is, I wouldn't keep up with a lot of them, on any bike, just because I have slowed down quite a bit, these last few years. 

As I tell people, my brake levers slow me down a lot more than my rigid fork does. I just don't have the desire to experience (or ability to recover from) high-speed crashes on the downhills, any longer. My collar bone has been broken enough for one lifetime ... or two.

That's why bikes like this appeal to me so much, nowadays. This bike is all about getting away from pavement and enjoying the ride, not about getting somewhere in the shortest time possible. The big tires allow me to ride though conditions that would leave me pushing the bike with 2.3" tires, and they also take up a lot of the small shocks you encounter on the trail, alleviating a little of the fatigue. (Of course, they add back the weight I lost by eschewing suspension. But, you can't have everything.)

If I want to ride (relatively) fast, this is the bike I reach for, currently:

Actual upright bars! Speedy 650bx2.3" tires!  Chromoly steel frame and fork!

You have to realize that when I started mountain biking, in the late 1980s, there were no commercially-available suspension forks available, and we rode our bikes off-road just as seriously then as now. It amuses me when people comment that my rigid bike is probably just fine for the more mellow trails. I wonder where they think it is that all of the "serious" trails came from. The majority of the trails in Moab and Crested Butte and any other long-term mtb destination site you can think of were built by guys on rigid bikes, with 15 or 18 speeds and crappy brakes.

 When I started working in a bike shop, in 1993, we all would sit around and debate the need, or lack thereof, for suspension forks. I maintained then, as now, that you only "needed" suspension if everyone else had it and you wanted to compete with them. That got me labelled as a "Retro Grouch" by the group.
I wonder what they would all call me now!

During my tenure working in shops, however, I did run suspension; at first on the front, then on both ends of the bike. I was, at that point, fairly serious about racing, even though I knew I would never win a race. Still, I wanted to be competitive. Plus, as a shop employee, I needed to promote the products we were selling.
It's somewhat telling that, toward the end of my time working in shops, I mostly rode my cyclocross bike on mountain bike rides, with 700x35c tires. That was about the time that I started realizing that I enjoyed "under-biking" more than I enjoyed keeping up with the mtb arms race that was ramping up, even then.

I graduated to Monstercross, eventually (700cx2.0" or bigger tires, with drop bars on a rigid bike). Nowadays, Monstercross has morphed into, simply, drop-bar mountain bike, since 29er (700c) wheels are now the norm for mountain bikes. Most of my bikes, now, fall into that old Monstercross setup, but are now what we call, simply, drop-bar mountain bikes. Twenty-nine-inch tires have become the norm for mtb, so 700x50-60c (2.0-2.3") tires are no longer considered large cross tires but, rather, normal mtb tires. And, old-school 26" and 650b/27.5" tires work just as well with the drop-bar setup, for me.
Budgetary constraints come into play, as well, of course. The cost of a decent suspension fork, on the aftermarket, nowadays is more than the cost of any of the bikes I currently own. The only way to affordably get a decent fork is to invest in a new bike, which would cost at least 150 to 200% of my current most-expensive bike. Even if I wanted to add the complexity and maintenance to my ride, I really don't feel like it's a good investment, anyway.

So, why do I not not have a suspension fork? Basically it just boils down to not wanting/needing one enough to spend the money and time it takes to buy one and set it up.  For those of you who do run them, rock on! Build up and ride the bike that works for you, and I'll do the same.



At 12:18 PM , Blogger Steve A said...

Currently, the only bike I've got with a front suspension is the one I inherited from my dad three years ago. It is a "Schwinn Ruler" with a springer front fork. Somehow, I think it would not have been competitive even in the earliest days of mountain bike racing. What's in the bottle in the top photo?

At 12:45 PM , Blogger Jon said...

Laws Whiskey was a race sponsor. Finishers of the long course got a commemorative 375ml bottle of their 4-grain bourbon. We all referred to it as "the participation trophy", but I am pretty darn proud to have it on my bar.

At 7:00 AM , Blogger arnaud said...

Hello Jon, i'm Arnaud from France.
I'm happy to discover your blog this week.
i was looking for Fat bike commuter on the web, building low price bike (moongose etc); i've find my fat in french low cost shop and try to modify it for "gravel" and touring,and maybe winter commuting in the country.
i used to have a blog and thank you for your blog which help me to see evolution of a fat bike commuter.
thanks a lot


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