The suspension fork is often depicted as one of the most notable technological advancements in the world of cycling and mountain biking in particular. Its impact on the cycling universe was so profound that the industry began producing even commuters equipped with front suspension.
While there’s no doubt that suspension forks are invaluable in the world of extreme cycling, their value is not as obvious when it comes to pure city commuting.
Hence why many people wonder whether they should get a rigid or a suspension fork for their commuters.
More often than not, rigid forks are a better choice for bicycles dedicated solely to commuting. They are light, usually cheaper, and require no maintenance apart from cleaning them. Also, rigid forks are faster than those with suspension because there’s no movement at the front interfering with the transfer of power from your muscles to the bike.
The Benefits of a Rigid Fork For Commuting Purposes
A rigid fork provides the following advantages for commuters:
Even though high-quality suspension forks can take a monumental amount of stress, they will always be less reliable than rigid forks.
Rigid forks have no moving parts and are far less likely to show signs of malfunction.
Outside of insanely deep rust (if they’re made of steel) or a nasty hit, nothing will take them down. That characteristic makes them perfect for the average commuter who wants a machine that just works without complaining.
For the same reason, long-distance riders often choose steel rigid forks – they are simple and don’t demand oil change, unlike the suspension forks.
Steel is often chosen over aluminum and carbon because it’s easier to find a steel welder in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, steel usually gives you signs of breakdown (it bends) before total failure.
Suspension forks are a complicated piece of equipment. Most models require systematical oil changing, especially when ridden frequently and aggressively.
You will have to regularly disassemble the fork, clean it, replace the lubrication oil and the suspension fluid, and then reassemble it.
At first, this task sounds fun, but eventually, it gets tiresome and annoying. I can attest to this with my own experience. The first time I serviced my suspension fork I was excited, but that enthusiasm diminished significantly with every consecutive procedure.
Contrariwise, rigid forks require only one thing – cleaning once in a while.
Rigid forks are faster on pavement than suspension forks for two reasons:
Efficiency. When you’re pedaling a rigid bike, most of the power that you produce is transferred to the drivetrain. Suspension reduces that percentage greatly because it absorbs some of the energy coming from the pedal strokes.
This side effect becomes the most apparent when climbing a hill out of the saddle.
It’s significantly more tiring to climb in such a fashion with a suspension fork than with a rigid one because most of your weight is on the front end of your bike and a big part of your effort is eaten by the “plush monster”.
One of the ways to improve efficiency is to lock out the suspension, which is a great thing to do when climbing hills, but that option is not always available (some forks don’t have lockouts). Also, many entry-level suspension forks have very poor locking mechanisms that are easy to break.
Smooth terrain. A mountain bike with a functioning suspension is faster than a rigid one on the trail because the suspension increases the traction with the ground, improves cornering, and allows you to take greater risks.
However, most people’s commute itineraries do not include trails. As a consequence, a fancy suspension fork would only be adding weight to the bike.
The result would be similar to driving an off-road truck on smooth asphalt – the machine is powerful, but it doesn’t have an opportunity to show its true designation.
In most cases, rigid forks are lighter than the ones with suspension. Even the cheap rigid forks rarely go over 1200 grams.
Below is a table comparing the weight of some rigid and suspension forks.
Note: The suspension forks in this list are limited to a price point of around EUR 200/USD 221 since commuters are unlikely to spend more on a fork.
Also, the rigid forks are either for city use, cyclocross, trekking, or touring.
|Rigid fork||Weight||Suspension fork||Weight|
|Surly Straggler Disc 28″||1200g||Rock Shox Recon Gold TK Solo Air 27.5″||2000g|
|Surly Long Haul Trucker 26″||1100g||Manitou Markhor 27.5″ Fork||1686g|
|Salsa CroMoto Grande Disc 29″||1080g||RST First Air All Black 27.5″ Fork||1860 g|
|Radon Trekking Cross Fork Alu 28″||1150 g||RockShox 30 Silver 27.5″ TK Coil 100||2245g|
|XLC A-Head Fork 26″||998g||SR Suntour XCR-32 LO R Air 27.5″||2300g|
|Average weight||1105.6g||Average weight||2018.2g|
As you can see, the average weight of a rigid fork is significantly lower than that of one with suspension. And I haven’t even included carbon forks which are even lighter. The reason for omitting them is that most commuter bikes are less likely to be equipped with one.
Unless you go for an ultra-fancy model, most rigid forks are far cheaper than their suspension brothers.
And if you go for a steel one, it’s practically eternal as steel does not accumulate fatigue.
Eyelets for Fenders
Apart from some city models, suspension forks rarely have eyelets for full fenders. Some entry-level MTB forks have threading on the arch but have no eyelets on the legs for mounting the struts.
In consequence, you will have to come up with some homemade solutions if you want to install full fenders on a suspension fork. I faced the same issue with my fork but found a workaround explained in this post.
Meanwhile, most rigid forks, even the cheap ones, have special eyelets for connecting fender struts. In the image below, you see a fork from an 80s MTB made from Chromoly steel. I bought the fork and frame for 30 dollars.
An Opportunity to Install a Front Rack
Apart from a couple of models, most front racks are designed for rigid forks and cannot be put on bikes with front suspension because the suspension wouldn’t be able to function.
The support struts of the average front rack attach to designated rack eyelets or directly to the front axle. Therefore, if you were to put one of those racks on a suspension fork, the fork would be prevented from operating.
But even if you get a rack engineered for a suspension fork, you would still experience a downside – the operation of the fork won’t be all that smooth because suspension forks are not meant to haul heavy gear. The extra weight will affect the compression rate, the “sag”, and the rebound of the fork.
Front racks like the one above can only be installed on rigid forks.
Most Suspension Forks Found on City Bikes are Heavy and Dysfunctional
Truth be told, the suspension forks that you’re going to find on the average city bike are there primarily for marketing appeal rather than to provide some “profound” biking experience. They are heavy and come with an incredibly short travel (e.g., 40mm).
As a result, their shock-absorbing capabilities aren’t all that great. A decent entry-level MTB fork will be many times more efficient and comfortable.
However, those suspension forks do have three benefits that are worth mentioning:
- relatively low price
- eyelets for fenders
- some extra cushioning
If you already have one of those, there’s nothing wrong with using it for commuting. But if you’re on the market for a new fork, you may want to consider a real MTB fork or something rigid if the bike will be used primarily for commuting purposes.
Suspension Forks vs. Bigger Tyres
A suspension fork increases the comfort even when you ride on asphalt, but it shines the most when used in more extreme conditions (e.g., drops, trail riding).
Moreover, suspension forks are less efficient than one may think when riding over small but frequent irregularities such as a cobblestone road.
In similar situations, wider tires with moderate pressure provide greater comfort as they would be constantly absorbing the small bumps. The suspension helps too but not nearly as much as one may anticipate.
Ultimately, a combination of wider tires and a rigid fork can be a surprisingly comfortable solution for commuting even if on gravel.
Why wider tires? Because wider tires give you more PSI options.
For example, Schwalbe Big Ben (I’ve used them for years) are balloon city tires that allow you to run pressure between 30 and 55 PSI (2.00 – 4.00 Bar). If you choose to run the tire at the lower numbers, it will soften the commute.
In What Situations Is a Suspension Fork Better For Commuting?
While a rigid fork may be more practical for a bicycle dedicated solely to commuting, there are situations when a suspension is worth considering:
If you already have one
If you already own a suspension fork that’s working as intended, and you don’t plan on installing a front rack or a basket to it, just use it.
Many people make the mistake of obsessing over getting the most optimal equipment, but more often than not, we just end up overthinking the details instead of enjoying the ride.
If you have sensitive wrists, elbows, and shoulders
If the terrain that you ride on isn’t all that smooth, and the extra road vibrations are bothering your wrists, elbows, and shoulders, you could consider switching to a suspension fork.
If you want a multi-purpose bicycle
If you’re planning to use your commuter for occasional trail riding, and you don’t want to purchase another bicycle solely for commuting, then it makes sense to invest in a quality suspension fork.
If the roads in your city are disastrous
Some cities have a notoriously underdeveloped infrastructure. In such cases, a suspension fork could be highly beneficial.
Unlike the rigid forks, those with suspension do a significantly better job with “surprise potholes”.
If you fail to see a pothole and fall into it, the effect on the handling is greater when the fork is rigid since there’s less cushioning absorbing the hit. As a result, the fork is more likely to jump, lose traction, and reduce your control over the bicycle.
Conversely, a fork with a functioning suspension is more fluid because it absorbs the imperfections.
Sidenote: If you want a front disc brake, make sure that your fork has mounts for one.
Most suspension forks have mounts for disc brakes, but that isn’t always the case with those designed for city riding. Some of them are engineered to work only with rim brakes.
The same applies to some rigid forks.
If you want a disc brake at the front, make sure that the models you’re considering have that option.
Frequently Asked Questions
I have decided to replace my suspension MTB fork with a rigid one. What should I take into consideration?
You will have to find a “suspension-corrected fork” to preserve the original geometry of your bicycle.
If you put a non-suspension-corrected rigid fork on a mountain bike designed for suspension, you will lower the headtube and hurt the steering of the bike. It just won’t feel right.
For that reason, you will have to find the travel of your suspension fork and replace it with a suspension-corrected one designed for that much travel. The longer the travel, the longer the suspension-corrected fork will be.
E.g., If the travel is 100-110mm, search for a suspension-corrected unit designed for that much travel.
I’ve decided to go with a rigid fork. What material should I choose? Steel, aluminum, or carbon?
In general, a fork made of Chromoly steel packs the highest number of benefits. It’s strong yet flexible (springy), fairly light, and you don’t have to baby it like carbon forks. Of course, it’s also the heaviest of the three possibilities.
What about aluminum?
Aluminum forks don’t rust and usually weigh a lot less than the steel ones. However, aluminum provides a very sturdy ride; it has the worse “damping” capabilities of all three materials and transmits road vibrations as accurately as possible
Hence aluminum is probably the least desirable option even though it’s lighter than steel and cheaper than carbon.
What about carbon?
Carbon forks are nice as they absorb vibrations similarly to steel forks.
There are two types of them – one with an alloy steerer tube and one made of solid carbon entirely. The version with an alloy steerer tube is less expensive but doesn’t have the absorption power of a full carbon fork.
A carbon fork would be a good option if you can find a decent one for a good price proportionate to the rest of your bike. Putting a USD 400-500 fork on a commuter that costs USD 200 could be seen as illogical from a financial standpoint, especially when you can have a super solid Chromoly fork for half that.
Personally, I’m going with a steel fork for my future commuter project.
I have a suspension fork, but I feel like the pressure on my wrists is still too great. Any tips?
You can alleviate a lot of the wrist stress by switching to more elevated handlebars. The higher the handlebars, the less stress there’s on the wrists.
If you have sensitive wrists, high riser bars could potentially be more helpful than suspension forks and big tires combined.
I want to go for the rigid fork + wide tires combo. How wide should my tires be?
It depends on the type of bicycle you’re riding. If it’s a mountain bike, it will be able to accommodate some pretty big tires. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go for the widest possible option because it may be hard to find full fenders for it. In most cases, a tire wide around 1.75″-2″ would be sufficient.
If you’re on a hybrid, the bike may not be able to accept extra-wide tires. In that case, go for the widest tire that would allow you to run full fenders.
I know that many bikers are not fans of full fenders, but I find them indispensable for hardcore commuting. Even if you don’t want to ride with fenders now, it would be beneficial to have that option in the future.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve logged over 12, 000 km of commuting on a “Frankenstein” hardtail equipped with an aftermarket suspension fork. My fork of choice was Manitou Markhor because it’s light and priced reasonably. So far, it’s been working just fine.
I went this route because I wanted to have one bike that can do it all – commuting plus the occasional MTB descent. I also like to do simple tricks.
Nonetheless, I also have a fully rigid steel bike in the works. I bought it second hand and renovated the frame and the fork.
The purpose of the new bike is very simple – it will be my beater bicycle that I could take anywhere. I will also equip it with a front rack. For those purposes, nothing beats a fully rigid machine.