Condensed Answer: Full-suspension bikes are highly inefficient when used on the road. The suspension eats a lot of the pedaling effort and makes it harder to reach and maintain good speed. For that reason, full-suspension bikes are not optimal for road riding, although they can be obviously used on the road.
The Downsides of Riding a Full-suspension Bike On the Road?
The first part of the list below includes characteristics that make full-suspension bikes slow and inefficient when used on the road:
- Inefficient pedaling
The suspension of a bicycle absorbs some of the pedaling effort produced by the rider and creates energy losses.
As a result, it takes more effort to reach and maintain a high average speed. This is one of the reasons why all dedicated road bikes are fully rigid.
To a certain extent, that problem can be mitigated by locking the suspension. However, in some cases, the suspension moves ever so slightly even when it’s locked.
- Heavy weight
Full-suspension bikes are often reaching 15kg/32.9lbs. Meanwhile, it’s possible to find a relatively affordable road bike weighing around 9kg/19.8lbs.
The heavier the bike, the more energy it takes to accelerate and get up to speed. Once the bike is rolling, the extra weight isn’t as noticeable, but it’s still a problem, especially when climbing.
- Slack head tube angle
The head tube angle is the angle formed by the bike’s head tube and the ground. Modern MTBs have a slack head tube angle because it makes the bike more stable when riding fast on mountain terrains.
However, the slack head tube angle puts the rider in a very upright position which is beneficial for MTB riding at the expense of extra drag. The non-aerodynamic position results in energy losses and makes it more difficult to maintain greater speed, especially when there’s headwind.
- Tires With Poor Rolling Resistance
Full-suspension bikes come with wide, knobby MTB tires. MTB tires are great for off-road terrain but underperform when used on the road.
The knobs on MTB tires as well as the low air pressure increase the rolling resistance of the tire on the asphalt. Hence why hybrids and road bikes use slick tires at high air pressure.
This downside of full-suspension bikes can be removed by equipping the bike with slick tires.
The next part of the list includes characteristics that make full-suspension bikes impractical as commuters which would be the main reason to use such a bike on the road:
Full-suspension MTBs are among the most expensive bicycles. Using one for commuting purposes would be considered a risky investment if the bike has to be locked outside. The chance of it getting stolen is quite high regardless of what locks are used.
- Extra Maintenance
The suspension of a bike is not cheap to maintain. The fork and the shock have to be serviced regularly. The process includes the replacement of some parts (e.g., the seals) and relubrication. The extra cost may not be worth it to somebody who wants a simple commuter.
- Installation of Accessories Becomes More Difficult
A full-suspension bike makes it more difficult to install classic commuting accessories such as racks, baskets and fenders.
Most racks apart from a few models are designed for rigid bikes and cannot operate with suspension. The same applies to full fenders.
Of course, with a little creativity and engineering, this problem can be circumvented by a cycling enthusiast, but the solution will require tinkering that a non-bike person may not be interested in.
The Advantages of Using a Full-suspension Bike On The Road
Full-suspension bikes offer the following advantages when used on the road:
- Smooth ride
Rigid bikes are fast on the road, but they are harsh on the joints, especially when the tires are narrow and pumped to the maximum which is the case for road bikes. As a result, the rider may develop joint pain. A full-suspension bike will greatly reduce that stress.
- Diverse Terrain
A full-suspension bike is very forgiving and allows riders to pass through hardcore off-road terrain that other bikes can’t touch, at least not at the same speed.
Making a Full-suspension Bike Better For Road Riding
Below is a list of tips that will make a full-suspension bike better for road riding:
- eBike Conversion
If the bike is equipped with an electric motor, the factors that slow it down (e.g., drag, energy losses…etc.) are no longer relevant thanks to the extra help. That said, the bike will become quite heavy (e.g., 25-35kg).
- Slick Tires
Slick tires (tires without knobs) will greatly reduce the rolling resistance of the bike and speed it up.
- Riding with a locked suspension
As already mentioned, riding with a locked suspension will reduce some of the energy losses. However, this is a short-term solution that could also be seen as illogical.
If one is riding their full-suspension bike with a locked suspension all the time, what’s the point of having a suspension at all?
Summary: What You Need To Know
Full-suspension bikes are suboptimal for road riding due to:
- Extra weight
- Energy losses caused by the suspension
- Knobby tires with high rolling resistance
- Non-aerodynamic position of the rider due to a slack head tube angle and overall MTB geometry
- Non-compatible with basic commuting accessories
- Too expensive to lock outside