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If you’re looking at buying a hybrid bike you may be confused as to whether you need one with front suspension or not. There are pros and cons to front suspension and the answer usually depends on the style of riding you do and the type of terrain you generally ride on.
So, is front suspension necessary on a hybrid bike?
Introduction – What is front suspension?
Let’s start with a quick definition. What exactly is front suspension?
Well, first up there are two main types of suspension you can get on a bike: Front suspension and rear suspension.
Front suspension is provided by a shock-absorbing suspension fork holding the front wheel. This allows the wheel to move up and down according to variation in the road or trail surface. Without this suspension, you’d find that the handlebars (and your hands and arms) would get jolted up and down with every bump in the road.
Rear suspension is normally found only on ‘full suspension’ bikes (such as mountain bikes). As the name suggests, full suspension bikes have vibration dampeners for both the front and rear wheels. The rear suspension is integrated into the frame of the bike and allows the rear wheel to move up and down with the terrain.
The opposite of a front suspension hybrid bike is a ‘rigid’ hybrid bike. On a rigid bike, both the front and rear wheels are fixed in position and can’t ‘travel’ up and down with the trail surface.
The term ‘hybrid bikes’ also needs some definition. It’s a bit of an ambiguous name as it can refer to a number of different styles of bike.
From our perspective, a hybrid is a bicycle that is incredibly versatile. A real ‘jack of all trades’. Hybrid bikes combine many of the sleek and speedy features that you get on road bikes with some of the ruggedness that you’d get with mountain bikes or gravel bikes.
Hybrids can also be known as fitness bikes, beach cruisers, touring bikes, leisure bikes or cross bikes. And they can either be a regular push bike or an electric bike (ebike).
Ok, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of front suspension for hybrid bikes.
The advantages of front suspension
The major benefit of a hybrid bike with front suspension is that you will get less vibration in your hand and arms when you ride on rough ground.
The front shocks contain either air or a coiled metal spring. When you hit a bump in the road, the front wheel is forced upwards and the air volume or spring compress, soaking up the movement.
This means that, even though your front wheel might be moving up and down with the trail surface, the handlebars (and therefore your hands) should be staying at roughly the same height.
The disadvantages of front suspension
Front suspension sounds great (and it is!) but it also has a number of downsides.
Front suspension forks can weigh considerably more than rigid forks.
This adds extra weight to your bike and means that it will be more tiring to pedal your bike for the same distance vs a bike without suspension.
In the case of an electric hybrid bike, the extra weight of front suspension will mean that your battery power will be used up faster and you will be able to travel for fewer miles before it runs out.
Suspension forks are also more costly than rigid forks and this will increase the retail price of the bike.
Whilst you may decide that the cost is worth paying, you could instead use that extra money for an upgraded bike, or extra bike accessories (such as a bike computer) or even to save the money and get a cheaper (rigid) bike.
Because of the moving parts in a suspension fork they are more complex. More complexity means that there are more components to go wrong and need to be maintained.
Rigid forks are much simpler and therefore less prone to problems.
You should get a hybrid bike with front suspension if you:
So, we’ve looked at the pros and cons of front suspension. Now we need to decide whether it’s right for you or if you should instead choose a rigid hybrid bike.
Ride on rough terrain most of the time
What sort of surfaces will you be doing most of your riding on? If it’s smooth road or pavement, then it’s unlikely you’ll encounter too many lumps and bumps in the surface. In which case, it would be best to get a rigid hybrid bike and get a bike that is lighter and easier to maintain, and at a lower price.
On the other hand, if you’ll be doing most of your riding on rougher surfaces (think: backcountry trails or gravel tracks) that are rutted, rocky and really gnarly, then get a hybrid with front suspension.
Have wrist or hand pain
Because the front suspension smooths out unevenness in the trail surface, then it can be useful if you suffer from weak or painful hand and wrists. A rigid bike would transfer all the trail vibration straight up into your joints, whereas suspension will dampen this down.
Bonus – a better alternative to front suspension?
Most of the trail riding that I do is on a bike with front suspension. I’m a big fan for this kind of bike.
That said, there are alternatives and these can be useful if you don’t want a bike with a suspension fork or have a rigid bike that you want to upgrade.
What’s the alternative to front suspension? Well, it’s a suspension stem.
This is a component that attaches the handlebars to the bike and has a sprung mechanism that soaks up vibration.
These have a couple advantages over front suspension forks:
Firstly, they can be fitted on to any bike, even one that doesn’t currently have suspension – a great option for retro-fitting and upgrading an existing bike.
Secondly, they are significantly lighter than a suspension fork – so you can dampen a bumpy road surface without tiring your legs (or draining the ebike battery) with a lot of extra weight.
Front suspension is a fantastic feature on hybrid bikes, reducing trail vibration and giving a smoother (and less painful) ride.
But it’s important to make certain that you really need it as it can add significant cost, weight and complexity to a new bike.
If you’re likely to be riding on rough trails or gravel paths most of the time, then it’s likely that a hybrid bike with front suspension will be right for you.