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I'm a 30 year old male looking to purchase my first non-department store bike. I haven't biked in more than a couple years.

My use-case is 90% asphalt (inner-city, occasional low-speed highway) and ~10% trail. Trails would typically be flat, straight, with few serious bumps. The bike could see very occasional heavier use.

I've seen several arguments against the use of front suspension forks on Hybrid bikes in the $0-$500 range, with arguments levied against them including:

  • They lack lock-out at this price point, making city/uphill travel more difficult.
  • They add weight to the frame.
  • They limit speed.
  • They require maintenance.
  • Its another moving part that could fail.
  • They're ultimately unnecessary for this use-case.

Of these arguments, speed is probably the one that I can most easily disregard, as I am not looking for high top-end speed. On the other hand, if a suspension fork at worst won't hinder me, I would see no real point in avoiding purchasing one.

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11  
A very important point: The fork is more expensive than a rigid one, so the bike maker has to save money on other parts, e.g. gears, hubs, BB, wheels, tyres. Most often, this tradeoff isn't worth the (bad) suspension you'll get. –  arne Sep 2 at 9:28
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Kudos to you for realizing that front suspension is not needed in your situation. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 2 at 11:23
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Suspension is placed on most bikes targeted toward males because it somehow gets the testosterone going. Suspensionless bikes presumably call up visions of effete road racers in spandex shorts, and hence are not "cool". There are places where suspension is merited, but it's of no benefit (and often considerable detriment) on 80% of the suspension bikes sold. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 2 at 11:42
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You need suspension if you're taking hits (i.e. mountain biking) or have body pain which the suspension somehow makes you feel a bit better with. Generally, you're better off with a bigger tire at lower pressure for road use to improve comfort than suspension. –  Batman Sep 2 at 12:57
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I found that a suspension saddle post (mine was about 40€) helps a lot when it comes to comfort. My commuter has front suspension … but I hate it and plan to switch to a rigid fork. Edit: Take a look at MTBs from Surly, most have no suspension at all and they are targeted at more than the "occasional heavier use". –  linac Sep 2 at 14:31

5 Answers 5

Benefits of suspension forks (city/gravel road use):

  • Remove chatter from bumpy roads
  • Take the jar out of major bumps
  • Better traction

Drawbacks of suspension forks:

  • Entire bike is heavier, leading to a less agile bike. A bike with suspension (all else being equal) will hit more holes and hit them harder. It will also climb like a pig and accelerate poorly.
  • You will learn much better technique when riding without suspension. Things like hoping curbs and avoiding potholes become more important but also easier. The bike will give you clearer feedback.
  • Make the entire bike feel spongy and sap your energy.
  • Suspension dives under braking, making the bike perform as if it had a steeper head tube. This causes more twitchy handling at a poor time.
  • On cheaper models, behaves more like a pogo stick that bounces. This may actually make bumps more extreme.
  • May not be adjusted to your weight. If you are lighter, it will act very much like a rigid fork. If you are heavier, it will be permanently compressed and not doing you any favours.
  • Service - City bikes can get many hours on them between service. Some forks require servicing every 100 hours of riding. The cheap forks that will come on a cheaper bike may not require this level of service (many are not serviceable) but still something to consider.
  • Simplicity.

If you have a suspension fork you risk:

  • Paying more for your entire bike
  • Trading better components for cheaper ones to offset the suspension cost
  • Having a substantially heavier bike

Other options:

  • Putting wider tires on a bike, or buying a bike that can accommodate wider tires is in my opinion always a better option (for a city bike). This allows you to adapt your bike to different conditions and change it cheaply when you want to. It is possible to remove a suspension fork but that is difficult/expensive. See this question I asked about swapping out a suspension fork.
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Typically forks on a cheap bike will be undamped, heavy and in general not terribly efficient. All bike components can break so I wouldn't just assume because it's expensive it will last. For occasional offroad use, I'd get something with a rigid fork because (as arne mentioned), the other parts are likely to be better but also because the rigid fork will be lighter than the suspension fork. That said, they also won't be as easy to find as most shops will sell less of them therefore are less likely to stock them as most people assume suspension = better.

However, that's just my opinion. If I were you I'd take a few test rides and see what feels right to you. This last sentence is my real answer ;)

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The singlespeed MTB I just built myself has some very nice rigid Pace forks and it feels awesome... –  Emyr Sep 2 at 10:47

For what you're talking about I would avoid front suspension, partly because you don't need it however good it might be (and there is a downside IMO) and partly because nothing you'd get at that price would be very good anyway.

Obvious downsides of unnecessary suspension are weight, money that's gone into it that could have gone into something more beneficial on the bike, and more stuff to go wrong. Maybe less obvious is some sponginess (even if you had a fork with a lockout) which means that some of the energy you are putting in is going into compressing the fork instead of moving you forward. Obviously how much this last bit bothers you would be a personal thing though!

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I would view front suspension as a nice comfort option for your use-case, particularly in cities with speed bumps, potholes etc. Fully rigid frames, particularly aluminum ones which is what you'd likely get in your price range can be pretty unforgiving and while fat tyres help a bit, front suspension makes a bigger difference.

Given that you don't plan to do serious off-road riding I wouldn't say that you should avoid front suspension bikes like the plague but you definitely don't need it certainly shouldn't sacrifice other things like proper gear controls to get it (avoid grip-shifters like the plague instead).

Don't forget that second hand hard-tail XC mountain bikes are just a tyre swap away from becoming decent hybrids which is what I would recommend for under $500

The best thing to do when trying to choose a new bike is to test ride as many as you can and see which ones you like.

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Good point on the used XC bikes. They do make excellent commuters after a tire change. Generally speaking, the suspension on those used bikes (same price range) will have good quality (but possibly abused) suspension. –  sixtyfootersdude Sep 2 at 15:39
    
@sixtyfooterdude: My experience is many bikes in the low to mid price range are purchased with good intentions only to become garage ornaments in a few weeks - the trick is identifying which ones are as new and which ones are worn out. I also recommend looking at older, well used high end bikes as they are often very well maintained and kept in good working condition. –  mattnz Sep 3 at 2:33

Some points that have not come up

  • I think riding a non-suspension bike is more fun
    It is you and the road
    On the trails you need to pick a line and use technique

  • Most tricks are easier on a non-suspension
    You have something solid to push off from and lighter
    Hop both wheels up a curb is easier on a non-suspension

  • So on the ruff stuff you are a little slower fixed. But you are going slower and fall softer. You are learning technique. And you are faster when it is not ruff.

As for comfort I don't think a cheap shock is not more comfortable on the road. On a smooth road they just absorb part of the pedal action and to me the bounce is annoying. I will take a size bigger tire at a lower pressure with carbon fiber over a shock.

Even on pure trail I went from an old suspension fork to a carbon fiber and tubeless. Went a size up on tires and lower pressure. I like that set up better than the old suspension fork. I could have spent that same money on a nice fork but there are very very few times on the trail I would rather have suspension and never on the street. For sure I have learned more technique by riding rigid.

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So much of this is subjective. You definitely learn to pick a line riding rigid, but that's about it. The techniques are different, but it's too subjective to say that jumping or tricks easier with or without a suspension fork. And why even bring up falling? Maybe you fall slower, but more often? –  Paul H Sep 2 at 20:10
    
@PaulH And it is a subjective question. Tricks are easier for me. No trick bikes come with suspension. Trials bikes don't come with suspension. Maybe you fall more often on rigid. –  Blam Sep 2 at 20:47
    
Trials bikes don't come with suspension, but dirt jumper bikes do. My point is that it's not even worth mentioning (unlike non-subjective points like weight, maintenance, etc). –  Paul H Sep 2 at 20:50
    
@PaulH So subjective does not matter you. Those are the reasons I went rigid. –  Blam Sep 2 at 21:02

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