Taking time to adjust your mountain bike suspension will help you get the most out of it on rides. Read on to learn how to set up your suspension. Our advice applies to both front and rear shocks.
The first step is to dial in the preload for your body weight so that you get the proper amount of sag when your suspension is loaded under normal riding conditions. There are two ways to make this adjustment, depending on whether your fork is air sprung or coil sprung.
For air sprung shocks, which are a majority of current shocks, first consult your shock’s manual for guidelines about how much air pressure to put into your shock. Then use a shock pump to add or remove air as needed until it has the recommended amount of pressure. Consider this a good starting point; however, further adjustments may be required.
For coil sprung shocks, also check the manufacturer’s recommendations for your rider weight, and then swap out coil springs as needed per this recommendation.
For both types of shocks, test your setting by measuring your sag. Push the rubber wiper or O-ring down against the shock’s seal. Then softy climb onto your bike, being careful not to make it bounce. It’s easiest to have someone hold your bike for you, but if no helper is available, you can lean against an adjacent wall or table for support and balance during this process. Next, stand up on level pedals and weight your bars and pedals like you would if you were riding in this position. Now gently climb back off and check how much displacement there was of the rubber wiper(s). Recommendations of 15-30% of sag are typical but vary depending on how much travel your shock has and what type of riding you’ll be doing. It’s best to check the recommendations for your specific shock(s).
If you set initial sag to be more than recommended, you’ll run out of travel relatively sooner and perhaps “bottom out” your shock prematurely. If you set initial sag to be less, you may not be taking full advantage of the travel your shock does have. It’s common for cross country riders to set up their bikes with less sag (percentage-wise of total travel) than downhillers since cross country riders tend to want to maximize pedalling efficiency and downhillers tend to want to maximize their bike’s ability to soak up bigger hits.
Compression and Rebound Damping
Compression damping is about how fast your shock compresses when loaded. This is often controlled by adjusting the size of the hole through which your shock’s fluid can pass during the shock’s compression. Many shocks have a knob for adjusting compression.
Rebound damping affects how fast your shock extends back toward full length as it’s unloaded. Just like with compression, many shocks have a knob for adjusting rebound.
Compression and rebound knobs often have + and – symbols on them. The + symbol indicates that there will be more damping (slower action of the shock to compress or rebound) while the – symbol means there will be less damping for (faster action of the shock).
The best way to test compression and rebound settings is to ride you mountain bike repeatedly over a fixed section of trail while trying out different settings with each pass to see which feel the best to you in conditions most like what you typically ride. Exact compression and rebound settings are a matter of personal preference.
In general, if you set damping too high, your shock(s) will feel sluggish and not responsive enough. Likewise, the opposite is true; if you set damping too low, your shock will feel too springy.
Effects of Temperature, Rider Weight and Time
When you initially set up your sag, do so while wearing a pack of equivalent weight to what you normally do so that your setup reflects real riding conditions. If you gain or lose significant weight, recheck your shock’s settings.
Because temperature and pressure are directly related, your experience of riding your shock will vary with temperature. You may need to re-adjust your settings if you take your bike out to ride in significantly colder or hotter conditions.
Over time, forks tend to lose air pressure, and damping knobs get bumped. Once you’ve found your ideal settings, write them down, then periodically check them for consistency. You may periodically need to add more air or tweak a knob slightly.
Your bottom bracket isn’t the most exciting part of your road bike, which makes it easy to ignore until something is wrong with it. However, it’s a very important part of your bike, so in this article, we tell you a little more about this essential yet relatively uncelebrated component.
What is a bottom bracket?
Your bottom bracket connects your cranks to your bike in such a way that they can rotate freely as you pedal and put power into the drivetrain. It is located in the bottom bracket shell which is where your frame’s down tube, seat tube and chain stays all come together. A bottom bracket typically contains bearings that enable the crank’s spindle to rotate. Shell and spindle widths vary depending on the type of bottom bracket.
What’s the big deal?
If your bottom bracket is working well, you can pedal smoothly with minimal resistance. That means the energy you apply to the pedals gets transferred efficiently to the bike.
Looking back over time, there have probably been as many different bottom bracket designs as there are bike brands; and some bike brands have even been known to come up with their own proprietary bottom bracket designs.
Modern bottom brackets tend to come in two general types: threaded and press fit.
Threaded bottom brackets
Threaded bottom brackets can only be used with frames that have a threaded bottom bracket shell. This is because threaded bottom brackets must be screwed into the frame. These bottom bracket’s bearings are typically held in place within cups.
What’s tricky about threaded bottom brackets is that not all threaded bottom brackets are created equal, which means that different types of threaded bottom brackets can’t just be swapped for other types.
For example, two common threaded types are Italian or English. Both sides of an Italian standard bottom bracket are right threaded; whereas English standard bottom brackets have opposite threading, like your pedals do. The advantage to the English design is that the drive side does not come loose through the forces of normal pedaling action like it tends to on the Italian version.
The good news about threaded bottom brackets is that they are relatively easy to install and maintain.
Press fit bottom brackets
Also known as threadless bottom brackets, press fit bottom brackets get, well, pressed into your frame’s bottom bracket shell instead of threaded in. They are effectively cartridge bearings pushed into the shell, and their design often allows thicker crank spindles, which some riders experience as stiffer and more efficient.
Some examples include BB90/95, PF86/92 and BB30. BBright and BB386. Special tools may be required to press the bottom bracket cups into your frame during installation and likewise to remove them again should you ever need to do so.
Square taper bottom brackets
This once very popular type of bottom bracket combines the bearings of the bottom bracket and the crank’s axle together into one removeable part. The cranks affix onto two square tapers on either side of the bottom bracket.
Square taper bottom brackets are effectively a specific kind of threaded bottom bracket. They are frequently found on older, vintage bikes, but are still on some more contemporary bikes.
What can go wrong
When your bottom bracket is poorly adjusted, it may develop play or a wobble, causing less efficient transfer of energy from you to your bike.
Another common problem is that when bearings get contaminated with dirt and water or wear out, there is more friction in turning the cranks, so it feels harder to pedal. Sometimes the bearings actually feel rough when you spin them; other times, you may hear and/or feel a click or two with each pedal stroke, especially under higher loads.
It is important to maintain your bottom bracket. If you have a threaded bottom bracket, remove it periodically and refresh the anti-seize compound that keeps it from getting permanently stuck in your frame.
And no matter what type of bottom bracket, check your bearings regularly to keep them running smooth. Loose bearings in some types of bottom brackets can been taken apart and cleaned and re-greased; whereas in cartridge-type bottom brackets, you’ll simply replace the cartridge bearings when they go bad.
You can make your bottom bracket last longer by carefully cleaning your bike. Never spray high pressure water directly at and around your bottom bracket as it will eventually penetrate seals compromise the integrity of the bearings.
Lots of different bottom bracket standards mean there are lots of different tools for installing and removing them. If you don’t have the proper tools and skills, you may need to take your bike to your local shop to help you fix any bottom bracket issues.
Not long ago, there was just one standard mountain bike wheel size: 26”. Then, the 29” wheel was introduced and eventually also the 27.5” wheel size. And while most companies have been phasing out their 26” wheeled bike, cyclists continue to have plenty of bike choices between bikes with wheels that are either 27.5” or 29”. Which is best for you? The answer is that it depends.
29” Wheel Advantages
Great rollover is what makes many mountain bikers fall in love with 29” wheels. Rocks and roots just seem smaller and thus easier to roll over when you have a wheel with a relatively larger diameter. If you regularly ride technical terrain, 29” wheels will help you cruise over it with conspicuously less effort.
29” wheels often feel smoother to ride due to the higher air volume in their larger tires. The extra air volume acts as additional suspension – some say that it feels like having an extra inch of travel to ride the bigger wheels.
29” wheels also have a larger contact patch, which means more and better traction whether you’re climbing, cornering or braking
For each pedal revolution in a given gear, a 29” wheel will cover more distance due to the wheel’s larger circumference. This is why a particular gear will feel “bigger” on a 29” wheel vs. a 26” wheel. Those who switch to a 29” wheel may want to also switch to a cassette with more teeth on its largest cost or to a smaller front chainring so they feel like they are still pedaling a similar gear in terms of effort and cadence.
Rollover and gearing effects of 29” wheels make pedalling on roads feel easier, which can be an advantage for those who mountain bike on gravel or paved roads only or for the purpose of connecting their singletrack.
Last but not least, many riders experience a more stable feeling when riding 29ers – as if they are less likely to endo. This is because of how bike designers must alter a bike’s geometry to accommodate 29” wheels.
27.5” Wheel Advantages
Smaller riders may not fit on a bike with 29” wheels either because they can’t get enough standover clearance and/or because it is difficult to lower the cockpit of the bike enough for them to feel comfortable. Different bike companies have different theories on what height is too short for riding 29ers so it’s always best to test ride bikes of both wheel sizes and see what fits and rides best.
The geometry of bikes with 27.5” wheels typically makes them better at handling tight, twisty terrain. Due to their smaller size, the smaller wheels will steer and accelerate more quickly, making a bike feel more responsive and easier to maneuver on the trail.
Because they are smaller and physically require less material to manufacture, 27.5” wheels are lighter. This means your bike will weigh less overall for a given rim width, or you can ride wider wheels on a 27.5” than you can with a 29” wheel of the same weight. This can make 27.5” bikes a better candidate for those who love Plus-size tires.
Last but not least, the geometry of 27.5” bikes leaves more room for greater amounts of suspension, which makes them a favorite among riders who like to have a lot of travel.
There’s no better way to decide what wheel size suits you best than to test ride 27.5” and 29” wheeled demo bikes. Ride as many as you can and see which ones you enjoy the most!
Worried that your QX1 chainring has gotten shunned by components from other brands? Here’s a little love story about component compatibility:
(or “Is Mountain Biking Harder Than Road Cycling?”)
To be good at anything you do, you have to have a clear purpose, therefore training has to have purpose. In mountain biking, that purpose is to improve your ability to power through and recover from the frequent hard efforts required by riding off-road. Training with a power meter will enable you to become stronger, faster, and fitter, which – when combined with superior technical skills, will make you an almost lethal mountain biker. Having a tool to measure, analyze, monitor and manage your training and racing will prepare you for known challenges and even ones that are unexpected, like wet sand and mud.
Like they say in the video, every mountain biker wants to get fitter, ride faster, and to make it easier. But the truth is, it’s never going to get easier, but if you follow the four steps listed below, you just get better.
Measure – most power meters are designed to calculate power and cadence, which are indicators of your fitness. Many power meters also measure pedal smoothness and torque effectiveness, which indicate how efficiently you pedal or, put another way, how much energy you are wasting if your pedal stroke isn’t optimized. The data that’s collected by a power meter is then exported to a .fit file, which can be read by a variety of applications specifically intended to crunch sport-performance data*. Or, you can simply email your .fit file to your coach, who can interpret your data to help you reach and hold you accountable to your goals.
Analyze – Once you’ve measured your performance – or collected data, you can analyze your data to see where your strengths and weaknesses are with respect to you as a rider, your bike, and influential circumstances (environmental, physical, technical, tactical, and psychological).
Monitor – You can leverage your data to track – or monitor – your performance, which is subject to training intensity, pacing, stress, nutrition, overtraining, and fatigue.
Manage – Your accumulated data tells you how to monitor your performance in the moment; now you can set long-term goals and manage your performance to achieve those goals.
“Training with a power meter is like having an onboard coach and test lab that gives you constant diagnostic feedback with which to make adjustments to your biomechanics on the bike, and to prevent injuries,” said Hicham Mar, elite cycling coach at the American Sport Training Center. “Your data is an honest account of your output, no matter if it’s windy, hot, or steep, and of your energy levels – how many calories you are burning and how many you need to consume to maintain your pace. This is especially important in mountain biking because riding terrain varies so dramatically from one area to another, that the only way to control the variables is to know how much power you’re capable of sustaining.”
Perception and “riding by feel” are not accurate indicators of sport performance and, while technical prowess can be a temporary substitute for fitness in mountain biking, improved output is the ultimate advantage to outperforming your rivals but more importantly, yourself. To be a better rider than you were yesterday, or the day before, understanding how you can improve will help you become a smarter cyclist.
*ROTOR has partnered with TrainingPeaks.com, which has provided a 4-week training plan plus 30 days of TrainingPeaks Premium to owners of INpower and 2INpower, (home.trainingpeaks.com/ROTOR)
Switching from using round chainrings to ROTOR’s Q-Rings is easy, but it does require some initial setup followed by a transition period for full adaptation.
Optimum Chainring Position (OCP) is what allows you to vary the rotational position of a Q-Ring, thereby enabling you to adjust it to the precise point where you deliver maximum power during a single pedal rotation.
ROTOR suggests the following initial OCP setups by discipline:
- Road: Position 3
- Triathlon and TT: Position 4
- MTB: Position 3
Because Q-Rings use leg muscles differently than round chainrings, your muscles will need time to adapt to the new, more efficient way of pedalling. Adaptation is a gradual process covering four stages with each stage taking between one day and one week. Most riders will require at least 10 hours of pedalling time to make the full transition.
In stage 1, you will learn to pedal more efficiently. Pedalling may initially feel different, and you may find yourself turning the pedals at a faster or slower rate than your usual cadence. Don’t worry about any initial jerkiness – it will smooth out over time.
You will start to feel more capable and more powerful in stage 2, and your spin will improve on climbs. Many who suffer knee pain will start to notice it less – assuming their OCP is correctly adjusted.
Stage 3 + 4
Stage 3 will bring improved biomechanical efficiency, which produces a smoother pedal stroke due to fuller activation of muscle groups. You will be creating more power than with round chainrings. If you experience no issues during this stage, you have correctly set your OCP and are onto Stage 4 of adaptation. Those encountering issues should read on for further OCP setting instructions.
If you experience the following symptoms, you are arriving at the max chainring diameter too late because your OCP number is too big, and you should reduce your OCP by one setting:
- You accelerate and sprint easily, but have difficulty maintaining speed.
- You feel pedalling resistance too late in your pedal stroke and/or you are hyperextending your ankle.
- You need a lower cadence to be comfortable.
- Your sit further forward than usual to pedal comfortably.
- You are comfortable pedalling while standing, but not while seated.
- You have new pain at the back of your leg behind your knee.
On the other hand, if your OCP is set too low, you will find yourself arriving at the max chainring diameter too soon during your pedal stroke. You should increase your OCP setting by one if you experience the following:
- You find it easy to maintain a steady speed but have difficulty accelerating and sprinting.
- You feel pedalling resistance too early in your pedal stroke and/or you are hyperflexing your ankle.
- You need a higher cadence to be comfortable.
- You sit further back than usual to pedal comfortably.
- You are comfortable pedalling while seated, but not while standing.
- You have a new pain at the front of your knee.
Once you’ve got your OCP correctly adjusted, it’s time for stage 4 and final adaptation, which comes naturally with more cumulative pedalling time using Q-Rings.
A few final setup notes
Different bikes may need different OCPs – don’t assume you will use the same position on each of your bikes.
Adjacent chainrings in multi-ring setups may require different OCP’s.
Road Q-Rings and QXL have five OCP points while MTB Q-Rings have three OCP points.
If you are using a Micro Adjust Spider (MAS), your number of OCP points is effectively doubled because it reduces the angle between OCP points by 2.5 degrees, thereby offering micro adjustments. In this case, you should adjust your OCP in 1/2-step increments.