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I'm in the search for a new long distance touring bike, and I'm surprised that most top models have no front suspension (IDWorks, Tout Terrain, Koga, etc.).

It looks like front suspension is a rarity at the top, but available on middle class trekking bikes. The top bikes with specific long distance touring geometry and specs are less available with front suspension. Some trekking bikes that I've found with front suspension:

  1. Cannondale Tesoro 1 2014
  2. Rose Black Creek
  3. Koga-Miyata Feathershock
  4. Giant Expedition AT 2013 (not sold anymore)
  5. Schwalbe's balloon bike concept in general http://www.balloonbikes.com/en/

Background:

I have been riding a Cannondale Headshock bike for commuting and touring in the last ten years, and I loved the front suspension. I find it softer on the hands/wrists, especially on long rides. If the suspension is off, and I ride a full day, my hands get much more tired, vs. with the suspension on. Handwriting for example is much harder after a long day of riding, with suspension off.

I had zero issues with the fork, functions since 2004 without issues. I do have a front rack, too. The bike has wide tires (IRC Lover Soul, 26x2.25).

So it seems the benefits are there, there are no maintenance issues (was serviced regularly), racks can be mounted on them, and cost in the upper segment shouldn't be an issue. And the top touring bikes are still offered without front suspension. Why?

Edit:

Let me ask again: my question is NOT about the pros and cons of using a suspension fork in touring in general, or whether you think I need it or not, or what is my definition of a touring bike, or whether there are touring bikes with suspension or not (there's a lot of them).

My question is:

Why is that while many middle range touring bikes are with front suspension (1000-2000 Euro bikes), then most of the TOP of the line touring models (4000 Euro and above) are without?

My logic would be that if it is offered in mid range, it's also offered on the top bikes, too.

See for example the range of Rose bikes, who are one of those manufacturers who sell among the highest number of touring bikes. Rose has 20 different "Tourenräder" for 1000-2000 Euro, so these middle range touring models are almost all with front suspension. If I look at Tout Terrain for example, from the 10 top of the range models, they only have two model with front suspension, the Panamericana, and all the rest is fixed fork.

  • Money: it is not a reason while these bikes are over 4000 Euro anyway, and mid range bikes are with suspension.
  • Ease of repair: I see not a reason while disc brakes, carbon drive, hydraulic brakes, XT derailleurs are equally fine machinery that need care, and difficult to repair on site. To me, the dérailleur is the most delicate part of any bike, it gets damaged during transport or hard terrain easily, and very difficult to repair. And anyway, parts can be delivered by DHL anywhere. And again, mid range bikes are with suspension.
  • Weight: these bikes are 15+kg, just the Schwalbe tyres are 700-800g each, the pack is around 20kg, so shaving off 200-300g from the bike weight doesn't matter.
  • Force: if a fork can withstand downhill, they should handle touring.

So none of these justify why offer lots of mid-range touring bikes with suspension, and then the top range much less.

  • 6
    From my experience on a road bike, having done 100+ miles in a day several times, if you're getting wrist pain you might like to think about relaxing your upper body, changing the fit of the bike so more weight goes onto your seat, wearing gel padded gloves or upgrading the bar tape. The weight penalty of suspension, its effort soaking nature, the reduced load bearing that it makes available are all reasons against it. – 7thGalaxy Jul 3 '14 at 8:06
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    A suspension fork costs weight, and, more importantly, costs efficiency. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 3 '14 at 11:52
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    @7thGalaxy -- Correct. I used to get wrist pain when I had a poorly fitting bike (slightly too large for me), but changing the stem helped a lot, and with my new(er), better-fitting bike wrist pain is not a problem (though I certainly get pains elsewhere). – Daniel R Hicks Jul 3 '14 at 11:54
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    I'm not that old, and I remember when mountain bikes didn't have suspension. Mind you, we weren't doing the same types of trails you can do on a current full suspension bike, but they worked well for many uses. The few times I've taken my touring bike off the asphalt, onto nature trails it performed pretty well. I think one problem you might be running into with the bikes you linked to is that they have flat bars. These only allow one hand position, and after riding all day in the same hand position, you are likely to get sore. – Kibbee Jul 3 '14 at 14:06
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    You got feedback you just did not accept it. How about this? Mid range bike come with shocks because because mid range consumers will buy them. Department store bikes come with full suspension because people buy them. High end touring bike don't come with shocks because high end consumers don't see the value. – paparazzo Jul 3 '14 at 21:55
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I also have enjoyed riding with a Cannondale Headshok (Silk Tour 700). I agree with you, weight and stiffness are non-issues with HeadShok type suspension, I think they are fantastic for producing a comfortable aluminium tourer but I may be biased!

I think that people who have not riden this type of shock don't understand its advantages. When it is locked off it has almost zero effect on the stiffness of the front fork, and it allows carrying a normal front rack. When it's on, it takes out corregations on rough roads and makes it possible to ride firetrails that are very rough while keeping the wheel in better contact.

The last trek I did with this bike was over 2000km and I tried to stay off road as much as possible, carrying up to 35kg of gear. These bikes are amazing and handle beautifully even fully loaded at speed (got up to 93km/h on one section!).

I think the reason why touring shocks are not more widespread is that normal suspension forks are useless on a touring bike (they are heavier than the headshok, harder to lock out and reduce stiffness). As far as a I can tell, the HeadShok patent is still valid and very expensive to licence, so it's probably prohibitive for other manufacturers (although you're right that these bikes are not cheap anyway!).

I am still looking for a Cannondale Touring Rohloff to eventually replace my Silk Tour 700, but they're seriously hard to find. Also, I notice that Koga has a similar shock, the Koga Feather Shock, for their high end tourers (look under front fork options at: http://www.koga-signature.com/Build-Your-Own-Bike.aspx?language=en). It's only got 35mm of travel (I think the newer Cannondale tourers have 50mm) and you can only fit 37mm tyres (my HeadShok fits 42mm+ comfortably).

  • Thanks, that was a clear answer! It sounds that Headshocks are a different breed of suspension forks, and this is why I had a good experience with them touring vs. people touring with normal forks. – olee22 Nov 3 '14 at 15:15
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There are a couple of reasons.

The KISS Principle

If anything vital breaks while you're touring and you can't fix it on the spot, you're stranded. You're too far from home to call your mom for a ride. Unless you have a spare for the broken part, your options are some DIY jerry rigging and/or praying that someone with a truck comes by who will carry you and all your stuff to the nearest town. There's less that can go wrong with a rigid fork, so less chance of being stranded.

Standard parts are easier to replace and repair

Rack-ready suspension forks are irreplaceable, irrepairable abominations. Ok, that's an exaggeration. But it's definitely harder to get a replacement or get it repaired. Head shock? Only one of the three bike shops in my town sells Cannondale stuff. If you end up in a smaller town with one bike shop (or none) you may be out of luck. If you find yourself limping along to some no-name town in the middle of nowhere, your best hope for repairs is to have standard parts.

It's true that you can find mounting apparatuses (apparatii?) that will allow a rack to mount to a standard suspension fork but they all require additional parts, violating the KISS Principle.

Weight

In spite of (or perhaps, because of) the abundance of gear that tourists carry, there are weight-weenie tourists. Suspension forks are heavy. Or at least heavier.

Efficiency

Another reason is that a suspension absorbs energy, and rationing ones energy is a primary concern of the long-distance tourist.

Physics (supposedly)

When I first got into touring there was a notion that suspension forks weren't designed to withstand the lateral forces of braking well enough to add weight to the fork. The idea was that the forward force of the bike's weight on the steer tube and the forward weight of the panniers on the lowers would flex the fork and damage it. This seems to have either been overcome or disproven, but old ideas sometimes die hard. This is probably the reason that Giant used such a bizarre contraption on the front of their Expedition AT, to compensate for those forces.

Most people just don't need it

Most people tour on the road where suspension doesn't really do enough to justify all the other costs.

As others have mentioned in the comments, if you're having wrist pains there is most likely a fit/setup issue with your bike. There are any number of possible solutions, all of which would be specific to you and your bike. See your LBS for advice.

  • KISS: It helps for sure, but I see this less of a factor on touring these days. Most parts can be mail ordered from the manufacturer, and most of my touring friends do this. Even if my tyre fails, I'd rather get by DHL a Schwalbe Marathon, vs. going on with a cheap tyre. And the same bikes have Rohloff, XT sets, carbon drive, hydraulic brakes, disc brakes, these are anything but KISS. So, I'm not sure this is the reason. – olee22 Jul 3 '14 at 18:45
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    @olee22 It's always about balance. Most of that stuff has such an incredible benefit in one way or another that it might be worth it to add a bit of complexity. For example, a fixie is as KISS as it gets, but there's a reason nobody tours on them. A suspension fork just doesn't add that much benefit compared to the number and magnitude of problems it potentially brings. – jimchristie Jul 3 '14 at 18:54
  • KISS is useful, but if you have parts which you know wont break (whens the last time you heard of a Rohloff breaking?) or the advantages outweigh the disadvantages (discs are becoming more common and deal better with non-perfectly true wheels) make it possible to use less simple designs. – Batman Jul 4 '14 at 7:52
  • @Batman That's precisely the point of my previous comment. Rohloffs have other disadvantages, e.g., not easily compatible with a front derailleur, which is why we don't see those on touring bikes. Disc brakes have become commonplace on touring bikes because they have numerous benefits and very few drawbacks (especially mechanicals, hydraulics are less friendly to roadside maintenance). Suspension forks just have too many disadvantages compared to rigid forks, KISS being only one of those disadvantages. – jimchristie Jul 10 '14 at 15:27
  • Your efficiency point is the most important one, from the standpoint of true cycle tourists. Shocks eat energy, and conserving energy is one of the most important goals for a long distance cyclist. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 12 '17 at 12:32
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Short and simple... Nobody with the cash to spend on a high end touring bike thinks they are worthwhile.

Given the increasing specialization in the bike market, they only reason they don't exist is nobody will buy them.

  • + 1 For answering about the topic of my question. I don't know whether your are right or not, but this can be a reason. Thx! – olee22 Jul 4 '14 at 4:46
  • I wholeheartedly agree, and am glad the OP selected this as the most helpful answer. Bike manufacturers are run by their sales and marketing departments, and the only people they're working for are their shareholders. The only reason a particular bike will get dropped is if it isn't turning in enough profit. – PeteH Jul 4 '14 at 22:33
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Mid range touring bikes come with shocks because because mid range consumers will buy them. Department store bikes come with full suspension because people buy them. High end touring bikes don't come with shocks because high end consumers don't see the value.

A bicycle does not need to be used for how it is classified/designed. I use a cyclocross with touring tires for commuting as that is the exact set up I want. And I use a touring bike for grocery shopping as it is the exact set up I want.

If a trekking bicycle with shocks and butterfly handles bars works for your touring then great. Why would you care what the bike is called? It seems that you want to change the definition of touring based on your values. Your values and needs of a "touring" bike are not the same as the general consumer. You are knowledgeable consumer with specific requirements. Pick the bike and components that work for you.

You infer a shock is issue free because because you have not had any issues. A shock is not issue free.

A touring bike is optimized for long distance, load, and reliability on paved surfaces. A fixed fork and drop handle bars is pretty much accepted as best practice. The target consumer of a touring bike does not want comfort of a shock over weight, reliability, pedal efficiency, and load benefits of a fixed fork. And you also lose some storage space in the frame triangle with a suspension corrected frame.

Not sure this is what you are looking for but Salsa has a style of bike they call Adventure that kind of sits in between. The Fargo is suspension corrected.

  • Thanks for the response. I had yearly maintenance on my forks. But there were no issues. A Rohloff hub also needs service every 5000 km, and is built into these top bikes, so I don't think this is the reason. – olee22 Jul 3 '14 at 20:13
  • In the question you state "there are no maintenance issues". If maintenance is not factor then what was the purpose of that statement? I will changed my answer to problem free from maintenance free. I think reliability is a big factor in a touring bike and a fork with no moving parts is going to be more reliable than a fork with moving part every time. – paparazzo Jul 3 '14 at 21:57
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My suspicion is that they add to the cost and most tourists prefer to spend that money on something else. The touring market is also small enough that it's unlikely any manufacturer makes a touring-specific suspension fork. But as you've found, front suspension bikes are still available. At the high end you're probably going to be better off getting a custom frame, in which case you can just shop for a builder who will include suspension. The fact that most of those bikes are not spec'd with suspension again suggests to me that few buyers want it. My guess is that most high end tourists are looking at self-supported touring so load capacity is an issue, and faced with the choice of (for the extra money) a Rohloff or front suspension, choose the former.

I've seen quite a few tourists with damaged or inoperative suspension forks, quite a few of whom were going to switch to a soil fork as a result. I've not many many who want to switch the other way. My limited experience of touring on an upright with front suspension was that it didn't add much value.

Part of the problem is that there are a few suspension stems around (on eBay from ~$40!) and they solve the manufacturers problem (suspending the handlebars) more cheaply and flexibly. Specifically, it's easy to offer them as an option and see who takes it up... and the answer appears to be "not enough to justify the hassle". I have seen people who swear by those stems, especially on the back of tandems, and they seem to work quite well. So that may be an option for you.

And note that from a bike shop point of view suspension is a hassle. There are dozens if not hundreds of different forks each with a bunch of different unique parts. Some parts are available, some are only available second hand, and other just aren't available. A small shop might not service suspension at all, sending it off somewhere else to be worked on. Many cities have a bike shop that specialises in this work, at least in Australia. What that means for you as a tourist is that a suspension problem might take 2-3 weeks to get dealt with, if it can be done at all.

My experience with the Cannondale Headshock has been that it works ok for touring, but I only use it because of lack of alternatives (low recumbent so a sliding-leg suspension is far too wide to work). It's expensive to service and needs servicing far more often than I would like (three times in about 60,000km). I will be putting something else in my next touring bike. I believe Cannondale have stopped supporting headshocks, and parts for the older lefty forks are on the way out. So if you have a problem with a headshock you may have to replace the whole bike since a standard fork won't fit. Which makes taking the bike a risky proposition since if it breaks the trip is effectively over.

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One explanation would be that experienced cyclists (likely to spend top dollar on a bike) generally think suspension is unnecessary, if not undesirable, if you're not riding off-road.
Less experienced cyclists (more likely to buy low or mid range) generally think that more is better and that suspension is always a good thing. Volume for bike manufacturers is probably mid to low range so they spec those bikes according to the market.

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Established riders haven't used modern upgrade like disc brakes, or front, let alone full suspensions because they were new and riders feared they would break in the middle of nowhere. Reliability and nothing else. You can blame cost, you can blame weight. Once durability has been proven on the road and trail they will become standard on most bikes. I ride a full suspension 26" steel tour bike built in Germany. She is equipped with a Rohloff 14-Speed transmission, a front hub dynamo that provides lights and that keeps small electronics charged while riding. The front pannier rack carries all the weight on the fork at the bottom of the headset using the bottom tubes of the fork only for stability. What this means is that all the weight carried in the panniers is suspended, not just the frame of the bike. Massive disc brakes and an Edelux II headlight. Since I am old'ish I wanted as many creature comforts with me as possible. From a multi-pound blue-tooth speaker to a portable shower, a solar oven, even silicone wine glasses. I decided early a trailer would be necessary. With over 100 lbs. of gear on the bike and 70 lbs in the trailer, I realized I needed the help of another person or a boost from tech knowledge. I had a 1 hp. electric mid-drive motor installed. The motor makes it possible to carry the gear I want but adds significant weight. Not so much in the motor itself but in the batteries. Another necessity that I have been unable to afford yet is a 300w folding portable solar panel. Hopefully, this will allow extended periods away from a 120v power source. Why don't top touring bikes have front suspensions? They do. There just aren't many at the top.

http://picpaste.com/thumbs/Without_rear_panniers-nzp1VF3u.1493071126.JPG

  • So, why don't all touring bikes have 1hp electric motors? – Daniel R Hicks Apr 24 '17 at 21:11
  • Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the tour to see how we work here. We're a question and answer site, not a discussion forum, and most of your post seems not to be answering the question at the top of the page. Really only your first four sentences are addressing the question. – David Richerby Apr 24 '17 at 23:19
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    As a separate issue, I disagree with your analysis. I think people are pretty happy with the reliability of suspension forks: they're hardly new technology. Rather, people object to the weight and the energy losses of the now non-rigid frame. – David Richerby Apr 24 '17 at 23:22
  • Wow... everything in that setup is the antithesis of how I view touring... as little as possible, just bare essentials. Keep it light and fast. Even with two kids in tow I probably am probably carrying half the gear. – Rider_X Apr 25 '17 at 17:52
  • That's Honda Goldwing with trailer spec touring right there! – FreeMan Apr 25 '17 at 20:22

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