Tech Talks: Suspension Setup

August 01 — 2016

Andrea Turner demystifies the art of suspension setup

I've been riding mountain bikes pretty obsessively for the past five years. It has been filled with trials, triumphs, ah-ha moments, and various missteps. I spend a lot of time tinkering on bikes and hitting up industry friends with questions, and through all that I’ve gained a pretty good understanding of what I can do to dial in my bike. I mostly want to set it and forget it, but as I learn more about suspension, I go through periods of experimenting. When you understand how your suspension works, in the science-y sense, and then you actually feel that on the bike, it's pretty cool. Like a lot of us, I am often hard on myself about my riding skills. I keep telling myself to push harder and work on this or that. But sometimes I get to thinking no, it isn’t me, it’s the bike! And once in a while, I'm right, and I am able to make adjustments to my suspension that help solve the issues I am experiencing (cue the ah-ha moment)! 

Juliana bikes are about performance. We really want you to enjoy your ride and get the most out of the equipment. We hope the following suspension set-up starter guide helps provide a base of knowledge for you to build upon. It’s a process. It’s going to take some time. The more you play with your settings, the more you will learn and the more you will enjoy the ride. Don’t settle.

What you need: Yourself (in full riding gear), a shock pump, a ruler, and somewhere to make some notes.

Step 1: Recommended Settings

Refer to our site and the manufacturers' sites for each bike’s air pressure and/or sag recommendations. Visit us for info about your rear shock, just choose your bike model and scroll down to the bottom of the page. 

Your RockShox fork will have an air pressure guide printed right on it.  If your ride has a Fox fork, you’ll find everything you need here (including recommended rebound settings).

Tip: Couldn’t find the recommended settings?  Not a problem. Try starting with your body weight (that's riding weight—clothing, shoes, pack) in PSI in the rear shock and 50% of body weight in the fork and adjust from there by checking sag.


Step 2: Air Pressure

The most common type of shock on modern mountain bikes is an air spring, and that's what we'll go over setting up here. 

Using your shock pump, add or remove air from your shock and fork to get to the recommended setting. 

Tip: You can leave the pump attached to the shock for this whole process, but it is good practice to not aggressively compress the suspension with the pump on there. 

Then, leaving the pump attached, compress the shock slowly (using both hands, push down firmly with most of your weight). You may hear a slight hissing sound when the shock is compressed about a third of the way. If so, hold and hover around that point until the hissing ceases. This allows the air to transfer between the positive and negative spring, which is referred to as equalizing the shock. Especially when adding a large volume of air, you may notice the pump reading decreases after that transfer of air. If so, continue to add air and equalize until you reach your intended air pressure.

Tip: If your shock is starting with very low pressure, you will want to add air and then equalize a little at a time, every 50psi or so.

Write down your air pressure before removing the pump. 

Tip: Don’t you lose air when you remove the pump?  This is a well-established myth that I hear every time I teach about suspension.  The hissing sound you hear when you remove the pump is air escaping from the pump hose, not the shock.  The amount in the shock is accurate to what the pump said.  When you put the hose back on later, some air will escape the shock and fill the pump, so the initial reading will not be accurate.


Step 4: Check Sag

Make sure that compression/lockouts are open (blue knobs).

Climb aboard your bike.

Tip: Sitting or standing on the bike will make a difference in sag measurements.  I’ve instructed you to do the rear shock seated and the fork standing, because with our bikes, and manufacturer’s recommendations, this seems to get me to the sweet spot for general trail riding. It doesn’t really matter how you measure.  What does matter is knowing that it is different, and being consistent when you are making adjustments.

To check rear sag, sit on the bike (in your riding gear). Reset the o-ring on the rear shock by sliding it up the shaft of the shock to rest against the seal at the shock body.  Carefully step off the bike without bouncing.  Measure sag. Check the measurements against the recommendations from Step 1, and add or remove air according to Step 2, documenting the reading each time, until you are satisfied.

Tip: Measure sag in mm.  Fork recommendation will be a percentage of travel (usually 15-20%). To convert that to millimeters, multiply that percentage by millimeters of fork travel (15% sag = 0.15 x 140mm = 21mm sag). 


To check fork sag, hop on your bike and stand on your pedals. Try to look real pro, like you are ready to tackle the trail. I recommend balancing yourself if you can, rather than having someone hold the bike. It is a good thing to be able to do on your own, and it will encourage a more balanced position. You should be able to comfortably balance the bike, with just an elbow or knee touching the wall for stability. Shift your weight forward until the fork compresses a bit (you have to overcome the breakaway force, which is the static force in the fork), and then resume that nice balanced position on the bike. Reset the o-ring (or have a friend do it) to where the fork settles, step off the bike without bouncing, and measure sag.  If you aren’t fully confident in this process, try it a few times, and average the results. Add or remove air as needed.


Step 5: Rebound (red knob)

Here's where it gets a bit more challenging, or interesting, if you're nerdy like me. Rebound damping controls how fast the fork extends after compressing. Finding the right settings for you can really improve your trail experience, and not having it set up correctly means you're not going to have as much control.  It's easy to settle for something that feels pretty good, but if you want to improve your riding, it's worth it to spend the time to really figure out what works for you.

Tip: Record current settings before making changes in case you want to return to them later. Do this by counting how many clicks it takes to get to fully closed (righty tighty or clockwise) from your current setting. Closed may also be indicated on the red knob by a plus sign (+), the word “slower” with a directional arrow, or an image of a turtle.  You ALWAYS count the number of clicks from closed to open.

First, familiarize yourself with the range of clicks by counting all the way from fully closed to fully open. There may be 10-20 clicks in there, but only about 2-3 of them are going to work for you. To start to get an understanding of the characteristics of rebound damping, feel how the shock responds at fully open and fully closed. To do this, quickly compress the shock and allow it to rebound without any input from you (all but completely let go of the bike).

Very fast rebound may remind you of the pogo sticks of your youth (feels wild and uncontrolled), whereas very slow rebound will have a dead feeling and the bike will feel heavy and unresponsive (very noticeable when you try to preload and hop over obstacles).

Tip: If you have a good intuitive sense of how you want it to feel, start in the middle and adjust in either direction. 

Start with it all the way closed and open it a click at a time until it starts to feel good. Once you get in the zone, work back and forth until you find a spot where it responds quickly but feels in control. It may take some tweaking to get this to a sweet spot, and what feels good initially might need adjustment when you start down your favorite trail.  Don’t worry about making changes while you're riding. If you've recorded your previous settings (which you have, right?!) you can always go back to where you had it. The more you play with it, the easier it will get and the more comfortable you will get making adjustments.


Step 6: Compression

Most rear shocks only have 3 settings for compression damping (blue knobs). Something like “Climb, Trail, Descend” which translates to  “Firm, Medium, Open”.  These are for major changes in terrain, and can be adjusted frequently, or not at all. I mostly leave mine open, because our bikes pedal pretty efficiently, and I hate when I forget to open it back up before descending. The lockout can be helpful though, especially on long road or fire-road climbs.     

On the fork, you typically have the same settings, plus, many forks these days are coming with low speed compression adjustment (black inner dial from the blue knob).  You can start with Low Speed Compression open, and then try adding a few clicks (clockwise/righty tighty), especially if your fork feels like it is diving under braking or wallowing while pedaling.  The goal is to find a spot where it feels plush, but not mushy. If you start noticing a loss of traction or harshness open it back up.

Ok, all set. Time to ride! Take a shock pump with you and go out with the intention of getting to know your suspension. It is best to ride the same section multiple times while you are playing with you settings. We’ll follow up with some more in-depth trail testing techniques in the future, but this is a great starting point.  Have fun!


Andrea Turner is the Juliana Bicycles product manager. She likes big drops, limited-edition Vans, and pamplemousse La Croix. 


Andrea's suspension setups

Bike: Roubion 2

Weight: 135
Rear Shock: Fox Float X; 165 psi, 10 clicks RB
Fork: Fox 34 160mm; 67psi, 9 clicks RB, 19 clicks LSC


Bike: Joplin 2
Weight: 135
Rear Shock: Fox Float; 155 psi, 9 clicks RB
Fork: Fox 34 120mm; 65psi, 9 clicks RB, 18 clicks LSC

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