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How does one measure the quality of the suspension of a bike? In other words, what feedback would I be looking for when riding the bike? Is it more than just happy thoughts after landing a few drops off some ledges? The answer is undoubtedly "it depends", but some elaboration on that for some different scenarios would be nice.

After doing dupe due diligence, the closest thing to a duplicate question was this: How to test-ride a full-suspension bike? and at the top the question was about how to know if a frame fits. I could have missed a dupe. If so, I'm sure I'll hear about it forthwith.

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    I think you mean fit of suspension more than quality. You could have high quality but not the best suspension for the task. – paparazzo Apr 18 '17 at 19:19
  • @Paparazzi Yeah, that makes sense. – MrBoJangles Apr 20 '17 at 18:17
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This is a hard question to answer without narrowing down the question. The question is very similar to "What's the best bike for me?" There are several different designs (frame) for doing suspension. Then there are several different types of suspension (coil, air, elastomer, oil, material, etc). Just like the different frame designs have strengths and weaknesses, the different shock/suspension types do as well. Finally there is riding style and preference. None of that even takes into account the vastly different feels than can be accomplished on one bike now through suspension setup (tuning preload, return, etc).

If you took a very small travel suspension setup designed to be extremely light and responsive for XC racing (for example) and tried it off some drops and ledges, assuming you didn't damage it, you'd probably be disappointed with the feel for the cost. Just as a good bike should be designed with a set of riding circumstances in mind, so should be suspension. That XC rig might be worth $10K and worthy of a World Cup XC race, but if you decided to try it as an urban progressive bike or downhill rig, you are going to (likely) break it and/or be disappointed. Similarly, if you took a $10K World Cup Downhill rig and tried to commute on it, or ride it on a XC style trail or course, it's going to feel like an unresponsive pig and wear you out.

In short, the best that you could hope to do was test a suspension setup on a trail, course or conditions you plan to ride and see how it feels. Even then you'll likely need to make adjustments and such to get the setup right for a particular trail/course/staircase.

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In general, regardless of the intended riding style/conditions, one of the biggest differences between inexpensive suspension and higher quality suspension is adjustability. A very cheap coil spring fork may only have "preload adjustment" (and this may not actually even do anything). Next tier suspension will usually be air sprung, so air pressure equates to preload and there would usually be a rebound adjustment. A single mode compression adjustment that affects low speed compression would be the next adjustment added. Still nicer suspension will include high and low speed compression adjustments, the more points the better (some will have 3 low speed settings while others will have many more). Higher quality seals and coatings to reduce friction/striction (kashima for fox and fastblack for rockshox) will also be an upgrade. Larger volume air chambers (particularly negative air chamber) will greatly increase the suppleness of the suspension and is usually found on higher quality suspension.

Suspension without adjustments can perform just as well for many riders if properly tuned by the manufacturer. More adjustments means it can perform exactly the way you would like it to, even if that's not how the "average" rider might like it to perform.

edit: there are exceptions to all of these not rules

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    Suggest also that suspension with adjustments can perform much worse for many riders. Dialing in suspension is a 'black art', especially for a novice who has limited 'feel' of the bike. Far too many bikes are sold with lots of suspension settings set 'in the middle' at the shop and forgotten about. – mattnz Apr 19 '17 at 0:28

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