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Full Suspension Skills

01 February 2009

In the pre-historic early 90's, front suspension (all 50mm of it) was an exotic upgrade to your bike. Consequently the primary aid for tackling rough ground was a pre-ride dose of Rage Against the Machine, a firm grasp on your hex-foam grips and a surge of adrenaline. With 1.5" tyres pumped to 50psi, straight gauge spokes and rigid forks, the only suspension on tap was your arms and legs. However old-skool this sounds, it taught much about line selection and brake modulation. Less braking over bumps reduces the transmission of disruptive forces onto the bike, so you were obliged to brake before and after obstacles. The rest of the time was spent picking a smooth line and hanging on.

Leap of faith

It is still argued in some quarters that doing time on a rigid bike is required to develop your basic handling skills. Despite some undeniable truth in that approach, it's a bit hair-shirt for general consumption... and there is plenty of full-suspension technique that also needs to find its way into the skill set of the complete rider. Suspension lets your tyres spend more time on the ground- providing more control while braking or cornering. So absorb the wisdom of our forefathers and hone those skills on a decent, lightweight (sub 30lb) full suspension rig.

Use me

Having committed to lugging a bunch of pivots 'n' springs around the hills, make darn sure you use all the travel every ride. It's not there for emergencies or the occasional huck. It's alive, active and wants to be used. So to start with, your bike needs to be set up with the correct sag. Use the factory's recommended pressures for the air shock and fork based on your weight. Then tweak this depending on how aggressively you ride and the terrain you prefer. Wrap a zip tie around a fork stanchion and the shock shaft to record the travel used on a typical ride. Increase the sag if you aren't getting full travel. You can go to around 25% of the total travel. If this makes the ride feel like riding a wet sponge then you've probably gone too far... the bike needs to be able absorb hits but still retain some 'pop'. Bobbing up front can be an issue - either deploy the lockout or work on controlling your upper body movement. Keep your head steady, tuck in your tail-bone and use the neglected upper abdominal muscles to keep your torso low and still. Full suspension allows running lower tyre pressures too and the increased traction helps with smoother climbing.

Abuse me

Whippet racers and dirt jumpers choose hard-tails for good reason... it lets them 'pump' through dips and humps with minimal pedalling. Bump-sucking full suspension rigs necessitate working the bike harder to maintain momentum - with exaggerated pushing into dips and pulling up over bumps.

Make me write bad cheques

Sailing over rocks and roots rather than bashing through them is preferable whenever possible. Pre-load your suspension by pushing down hard on the forks, then just before striking the obstacle pull up in sync with the rebound. Maintain your speed while keeping your weight centred and bum hovering over the seat. Collect $200 as you pass go.

Cut to the chase

Hit corners hard and high, dropping your bum into the seat after the middle of the turn. The suspension then sinks, lowering your centre of gravity. The tyres bite and you're accelerating outta there. If none of this spins your sprocket then take a hit of Rage Against the Machine, pick your line, hang on and don't jam the brakes.