Not sure which fork is right for your bike? Read this starter-for-ten guide to helping you choose with confidence.
Splashing out on a new suspension fork for your bike can cause you headaches. Forks vary massively, depending on the type of bike, the amount of movement allowed, the shock damping ability and the weight.
The amount of cash you could be required to spend can run into hundreds of pounds, or even top a thousand. It’s important you select the right fork for your bike, and that you know what to look for when you’re buying one.
Choosing The Fork
Naturally the fork you’ll need will depend on which bike you have. You’re going to look pretty silly riding a road racer with MTB forks. The general rule – the faster you go, the less suspension you need. The rougher the terrain you frequent, the higher the amount of shock absorption you’ll require. If you’re not sure, always seek expert advice.
Your first consideration is likely to be budget. Cheap forks tend to be heavier and have simpler damping circuits, which means you have less control when it comes to high impact situations.
If you’re willing to pay a little extra you’re likely to receive a decent return as the overall reliability and performance of basic forks has improved in recent years. The best news is that you no longer have to spend close to £1,000 to obtain decent, high-performance forks.
Your budget also relies upon what type of rider you are. If you’re likely to just slot in your new fork, perform just enough tweaking to gain a smooth-enough ride then cycle day-in, day-out with minimal service considerations, then something simple yet reliable is the right choice for you.
If you attend to the tuning in the same way a safe-cracker attends to breaking open bank vaults, then upping the ante when it comes to cost is likely well worth your while.
For mountain-bikers, one of the main considerations is balancing strength with weight. If you’re just a casual climber or a cross-country rider, then light forks will do the business for you. If you use your bike to scale cliff faces with all the audacity of a mountain goat then you’re going to be rewarded with heavier forks that will give you the strength you need.
The next question you’ll need to answer is the amount of movement the suspension mechanism on your proposed new forks allows. This is known to bike enthusiasts as “travel”. The more travel your fork has, the smoother it’ll handle and the better it will absorb impacts. However, high amounts of travel come with a price, and that price is weight. Forks that are longer-legged need to be heavier in order to deal with these bigger impacts and extra leverage.
Adding an extra centimetre of travel will tip your seat angle back by about one degree, making steering slower and increasing stability. However, too long a fork can cause your frame to over-stress, so you need to check the amount of travel your bike can cope with before you take the plunge.
Some forks you can buy allow you to adjust the travel. You can tweak your bike’s handling by dropping the amount of travel in gradual steps.
The greater the amount of travel you have though, the harder the control required. This makes control of your dampeners crucial. Choose adjustable rebound dampening so that the fork returns smoothly to the natural ride height, rather than stiffly bouncing back into position. If you can afford it, consider a fork with compression damping. This helps slow down the spring and makes impact absorption more efficient.
If you’re prepared to push the monetary boat out, forks at the high end at the market split their compression damping into separate circuits. One is at low speed for braking and cornering, whilst the other is at high-speed for climbing and landing. Make sure you get your dampening properly tuned though.
One definite recommendation is a fork with a tapered steerer tube if your bike can handle it. These types of forks improve stiffness with little in the way of weight penalties. Make sure your current front wheel is compatible though, as it can add to the whole replacement cost if you’re going to need a new front wheel as well.
Those are our considerations, but if you have any handy tips you’d like to share be sure to let us know in the comments section below.