How to Dial in MTB Suspension from Sag to Rebound for Every Trail

Sam Anderson from Cane Creek explains how mountain bike suspension works, and shares expert tips for getting the most out of your setup.
Provided photo.

Sam Anderson is the Brand Manager for Cane Creek Cycling Components based in Fletcher, NC just outside Pisgah National Forest. Cane Creek designs and markets their own line of shocks and suspension forks and assembles many items by hand at their factory in Western North Carolina.

  • What is suspension compression?
  • What is rebound?
  • What do you see people typically getting wrong when it comes to suspension setup?
  • What is meant by a linear or progressive suspension curve as it relates to full suspension mountain bikes?
  • What are the differences between a coil and air shock?
  • Is it possible to perfectly tune suspension to ignore pedal inputs while remaining responsive to the trail?
  • What is stiction, and how important is minimizing it?
  • How do you know when your fork/shock needs a rebuild or service?
  • What are some of the latest innovations in suspension design? Will tomorrow’s shocks and forks look like the ones we have today?

Check out suspension products from Read the full transcript of our conversation below.

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Jeff 0:00
My name is Jeff and today my guest is Sam Anderson. Sam is the brand manager for Cane Creek cycling components based in Fletcher, North Carolina, which is just outside Pisgah National Forest, Cane Creek designs and markets their own line of shocks and suspension forks and assembles many of the items by hand at their factory in western North Carolina. Thanks for joining me, Sam.

Sam 1:05
Yeah, thanks for having me, Jeff. This is awesome.

Jeff 1:07
So how’d you end up at Cane Creek?

Sam 1:10
Oh, man. That’s, that’s a loaded question there. Yeah, I’ve been at Cane Creek now since 2014. So almost a decade. Oh, I originally got the job here because I made a full length mountain bike film in 2010 in college, and I got hired by the marketing department. Holly Colson at the time, oh, well saw some potential for me to help out here. I also happened to be friends with some of the engineers here back in 2008 2009, when the original DB air was being prototyped, okay, and I actually my my folks lived at the time a couple of miles down the street. And I built a bunch of trails that were really accessible by a lot of the Cane Creek employees at the time to do some testing. So Malcolm Hadley and Devin Sullivan, at the time, were looking for a place to test the DB air. And I had some suitable trails that were close enough to Cane Creek to do some preliminary testing. And if things broke, they just had a couple of miles to drive back to the factory. So that’s that’s kind of my original introduction to the Cane Creek family. And then I started several years later after I finished to finish my college career there. So yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I’ve been I’ve been around for a while. And yeah, definitely happy to still be here. For sure.

Jeff 2:40
Yeah. Yeah. Well, like, yeah, you have a really interesting story about how you ended up there. And I feel like Cane Creek. It’s been a while since I’ve read like the Cane Creek story. I feel like it’s kind of interesting as well. And I don’t know if you can briefly tell it but like, Cane Creek was owned by like a larger company at some point, right, like a Japanese company, or what am I thinking of? Yeah,

Sam 3:03
yeah, that’s actually right. So back in 1974. This building that I’m in right now, was built by Daya calm, which is a Japanese break company. Okay. They operated here for almost two decades, with the Japanese ownership. And then in the early 90s, DICOM, was purchased by Brad Thorn. And it was renamed DICOM. USA. Okay. During the early 90s, a couple of employees Peter Gilbert to be noted, were at the 1991 Durango national mountain bike national championships. And that was when the threadless headset design was kind of identified, okay, from a young inventor at the time, and that was implemented into Cane Creek. Well, di accomp at the time, and with that particular utility patent product, with the threadless headset, the company decided to rebrand itself. So I guess to go back to 30,000, cop Japan, 1974. And then die comp USA in the late 80s. And then Cane Creek was the official trademark naming around 1995. Okay, yeah. And then we did actually sell the company from Brad thorn to the employees in the late 90s. And so we are now a employee owned company at this point. Wow.

Jeff 4:41
Okay, cool. Yeah, really cool history and a lot of folks, I’m sure people know Cane Creek from headsets. Like that’s kind of sounds like that was a big part of the history and the origin, the brand but now obviously, you guys make all kinds of stuff, components and notably so suspension components, which we’re gonna be talking about today. I

Sam 5:02
think really the key note for us on product at this point is that, you know, we we really try to make stuff that makes a difference, right? You know, the primary goal for us is our biggest market is this with folks that own the bike and are looking for an upgrade. Right? You know, we obviously will sell to companies that make bikes and sell our parts with those bikes, but the majority of our sales are absolutely aftermarket driven. And with that comes product development that is focused on making stuff that’s better or an upgrade for what is already on the bike. So yeah, yeah, as you mentioned, Jeff, like we have a very interesting and wide plethora of products that span across all kinds of intended uses. But we we try to make sure that each of them have their own reason to live rather than just making something because we can, for sure, right?

Jeff 5:55
Yeah, that’s great. Well, so what I want to do is talk about mountain bike suspension, kind of how it works, and go over some of the basics. You know, for a lot of listeners, I’m sure they have kind of an understanding of these things. Some folks may be better than others. But I always find it interesting to talk about this stuff, just to get a different perspective. And every time I talk to someone, I feel like it’s explained in a different way. And I’ve learned a little more about it. And I’ll be honest, like, I’m not an expert on this at all. And so yeah, I’m stoked to get your knowledge on this topic. So why don’t we start with compression, when people talk about like compression on a shock? Let’s take a fork, like just to stick with like one example here. Okay. And so yeah, when someone says, you know, I’m gonna dial in the compression, or what is what does compression mean on a fork? Sure.

Sam 6:49
Well, I guess the quick distinction is going to be compression damping, right? Because usually, the action of compressing the fork is something people can visualize, right? Yeah, when you have a certain amount of travel, and you push on the fork, and all of a sudden, it starts telescoping into itself that is compressing the fork, right. But when you talk about a damper, you’re usually are talking about mitigating a certain amount of force. Right? Right. So compression damping is regulating that force, that is usually input by bumps on the trail, or, you know, induced motions by the rider, right. So a lot of times, like when you’re pumping, or pushing off of the bike to jump off of something, or if you’re landing, and the bike is using, you know, from fully extended, travel to all the way to bottom out, you usually are using compression damping to mitigate some of those motions and certain portions of your travel. Right. Yeah. Now, I guess if you’re using the fork example, in the real world, I would say that a lot of people don’t use compression damping on their forks, they’re usually relying on the spring. Okay, when you talk about a rear shock, there are other forces related to the rear shock, usually two or three times more of the force on a shock compared to a fork. Wow. Which I guess we’ll get into in a little bit. But, yes, so really, compression damping is the regulation of the force that is happening when you’re compressing your fork from zero to 100. As as an example. Yeah. Yeah.

Jeff 8:30
That’s a good explanation. And so when someone talks about like, making their shock, let’s say firmer, that’s the compression, right? Like your firm. And yeah, I guess the opposite of firm, soft, soft, yeah. Is it? That’s compression? Is that what we’re talking about? When we’re kind of like adjusting air pressures? A lot of times, that’s, that’s the compression side, the compression damping? Yeah.

Sam 8:53
So not to be confused with adding air to make it firmer, right. Okay. I think really, the biggest misconception with suspension these days is number one rule of setting up suspension is setting sag, right, right. So if you have an air or a coil, making sure that you are getting your sag point right before you adjust, damping is 100%. What you should be doing all the time, okay. Now, once you have your preferred sag, which sometimes you have a percentage, I’d say that the majority of times on a rear shock people are using between 25 and 35% of their total travel just by sitting on the bike. Yeah, right. On a fork. It’s a little less than that, I’d say between 10 and 20%. Because usually what people use for sag, but if you have your sag correctly set and you feel like the fork is easily as easy, is easily able to bottom out. That’s when you want to start using your damper to mitigate some of the motions that your fork is or shock is doing. All right. So make sure that your sag is set correctly before you’re using your damper settings for sure. Okay, right. Got it. There could be some other things too, if you have an air fork, there are things like air volume reduction that can also inhibit your fork from bottoming out. By reducing your positive air volume, you can actually make your fork stiffer at a certain point in the travel. The difference, though, on compression is that usually the compression is something that adjusts the resistance to motion throughout the entirety of your travel. Oh, right, right. So a lot of times people that are running a ton of compression on a fork are going really fast, and they don’t want their fork to move that much. And they’re focused on moving quickly and trying to win a race or something. Right. Yeah. As far as comfort goes, I’d say that the majority of us, myself included run as little compression damping as possible. And I tried to use my air spring or my coil spring, depending on which one I have to really support my rider weight. Right? Yeah, compression is definitely something that helps with pedaling efficiency. If you have, say, low speed and high speed compression, and those two things are different, right, you have the ability to adjust those separately, then you start to get into things like if pedal, Bob is a problem on your bike, low speed compression can usually mitigate those types of feelings. Well, high speed compression can be run wide open, so you can use your travel effectively at high speeds, high shaft speeds while still having good pedaling efficiency, right? Yeah.

Jeff 11:42
Okay. So yeah, the high speed compression that’s dealing with like, what’s an example of that, like riding a rock garden, say or like a rough trail, and you’re going fast? Is that kind of what?

Sam 11:53
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So if you’re riding down a trail, and it’s smooth, and all of a sudden, you hit a nick point where there’s a big bump, and your your shaft speed is really what is dependent on high and low. If you hit a drop, or if you hit a jump, and you case the jump.

Jeff 12:12
Guilty, yeah.

Sam 12:14
Those types of instances are generally high speed compression sequences. If you’re on a pump track, and you’re pushing and pulling on the on the fork, those are usually rider induced motions. And we I like to try to, you know, educate people that low speed compression generally is something that a rider is inducing on the bike. Oh, I see. and a high compression, high speed compression is usually TRAIL induced at high speed, of course.

Jeff 12:39
Okay. Right. Perfect. Well, so how does this relate to rebound? That’s kind of the other setting that, you know, a lot of forks and shocks have. So how does rebound relate to compression? And what like, what does it even mean? Sure.

Sam 12:53
In the way that it relates to compression, I guess it’s it’s quite the opposite in terms of the direction that the suspension smoothing, right? So if you are bottomed out, and your fork has 100 psi in it, and all of a sudden, it has way more than that, because you’re compressing that air spring all the way down. Your fork is going to try to shoot like a rocket back to full extension. Right? Yeah. And so by mitigating the speed at which your suspension is trying to return to full travel, that’s what you’re controlling when you are adjusting your rebound damping in. I think a lot of times when you say fast or slow, people can relate to rebound a little bit better, rather than saying less or more rebound damping, right? Yeah, I’ve noticed that a lot of nomenclature on suspension says less or more and like, Well, so do I want less speed? Or do I want less damping? Because those two things are opposite. Right? Right. Yeah. However, I think that rebound is a little bit easier for people to understand, right. As I mentioned, a lot of us run very little compression damping, because the air spring or coil spring is pretty supportive overall. Yeah. But for rebound, I think rebound is quite a bit more critical in terms of using that damping circuit on your on your suspension platform to stay safe. Sometimes, like if you’re hitting a jump, and your rebound is wide open, meaning that the spring can just do whatever it wants, usually, meaning extend as quickly as possible. Yeah, those instances, people call that like getting bucked or you know, jumping something and all of a sudden you’re like tipped over the front end of the bike because your rebound was too fast, right? So there’s a balance though, because if you run too much rebound damping, then your your suspension doesn’t recover fast enough. And all of a sudden it feels like it’s rough. And I think a lot of times people will confuse too much rebound damping with a firm compression In setting, yeah, so as you can imagine, if your suspension is soft, you can go to bottom really easily. But then if you have your rebound cranked all the way up, then it’s not going to return back fast enough. And you’re just going to get packed all the way down to bottom. Yeah. So generally, if you run little rebound damping, your suspension is going to feel like a cloud, okay, but it’s not going to be as controlled. So when you hit things like a big jump, or hit a nick point in the trail, it’s not going to be as composed. So finding that balance between running very little damping and trying to control it like that’s out of control, or having a little bit more rebound damping induced into the suspension so that you don’t have to do as much, you know, man handling for lack of a better term. Right? Yeah.

Jeff 15:48
Wow. So much going on. And no wonder I get confused about all these things. Because, one, they’re all related, like you said, sometimes you can mistake a certain feeling for being one thing, when really, it’s another and, and there are all these settings on our suspension components that, yeah, it’s not always clear. So what like, what are some of the other things that you see people getting wrong? When it comes to their suspension setup? You mentioned sag, obviously, I think most people know that. And, you know, understand that that’s important. And it’s kind of the first thing they do, and then rebound as well, like, kind of knowing when you don’t have that quite right. What are Are there other things that that people are getting wrong about their suspension setup?

Sam 16:33
I think that usually, I mentioned before air volume reduction, you know, that’s one of the things that might sound a little voodoo. Yeah. And people might confuse, say, high speed compression with an air volume reduction, right. You know, in air volume can be extremely helpful for, you know, instances where you feel like you’re bottoming out your suspension too easily, but you have the correct amount of sag. And Jeff, I will say that reiterate, sag is so important. And, you know, it’s funny that we we in the bike industry, just expect or assume that people set their sag. And they do that. I will say that after, you know, doing this for nearly 10 years, I’m still surprised with how many people don’t have their sag set correctly. They’re complaining about their suspension, they’re bottoming out too often. And they have 50% of their suspension used just from sitting on the bike. Yeah.

Jeff 17:33
And maybe it happens over time, too. I mean, a lot of us, you know, we’ll set it and we’ll be like, I’m good. And then five months goes by and we haven’t checked it again. Yeah,

Sam 17:42
I will say that a suspension component should hold its air way better than a tire. Right? Like you should be checking your tire pressure all the time. And maybe that should be something that people should not overlook in their suspension, too, right. Yeah. But yes, I think that in a five month period, if your shock is losing air considerably, then there’s something wrong.

Jeff 18:03
Okay, so yeah, so maybe not even that often. Yeah, I would say

Sam 18:07
that, like the the times that people ride by, and I see that they don’t have that much swag. Or too much swag. I’m expecting that they probably bought the bike secondhand. They didn’t have anybody helped them set it up. And they figured like, oh, well, I paid $2,000. For this thing, it should be good. Right? I’ve even seen a lot of folks that buy shocks from our website, pay a certain amount of money for a shock that they expect should work for them immediately. And the damping curves, of course, we set them in mid tune, but you still gotta put air in the shop. Right? So we’ve had complaints that way to where, you know, I paid, I paid X amount of money, and it’s it doesn’t have the right air pressure. You know, you got to put air in it. Right. Right. So anyway, I just I didn’t want to digress too much, but I feel like sag is, again something something we overlook. And it’s super critical. Right? Yeah. Other things that people overlook. I think oftentimes, climb platforms can be left on when you’re about to go downhill, right? Or you have too much of one, like if you have a shock, like our shock, where you’ve got high speed and low speed compression, high speed and low speed rebound, and they people are just using one of those circuits. Right. There are certain things about the shaft speeds that, as I mentioned, for low speed compression and high speed compression, right, identifying the differences between those, of course if you have a shock capable of adjusting those separately, I think it’s something that people overlook. Yeah, right. I think again, the easiest way to decipher low speed even on rebound, to a certain degree. I think rebound is slightly different. But compression easy enough to say that like when you’re writing the pumptrack Yeah, crank up your low speed compression because then you’re back add in, you know, inducing certain motions on the bike will move the suspension less. Yeah, but you’ll still have that high speed compression damping for when you hit a drop, or, you know, bottom out from casing a jump is you and I have done so we mentioned.

Jeff 20:15
Right, yeah, yeah,

Sam 20:17
so a couple of things that people overlook. But

Jeff 20:19
yeah, well, it’s interesting. I mean, it’s sounding like my follow up question was going to be like, how do you dial in, let’s say, rebound, for example, for a ride, that you’re going to be doing all of those things, right? Like, obviously, you’re going to be pedaling, you’re going to be maybe like, let’s say it’s a flow trail. And so you’re going to be kind of pumping through things. But then you’re also going to want to like loose off of some things along the way. And, you know, like, how can you? It sounds like what you’re saying is really, we all need a shock that has separate settings for those things, right? Like for high speed and low speed? Rebound, for example? Because otherwise, how do you how do you set it for right? You just put it in the middle? And it’s going to be okay, for both of those scenarios? Or, or what’s kind of your advice? Yeah,

Sam 21:08
that’s a great question. I think that often, they’re just simply going to be compromises. If, as you mentioned, if they’re if you’re riding a trail that has really smooth berms, and easy tabletops at the top, and all of a sudden you’re going through a rock garden, and then you’re hitting a couple of drops and those types of things. You know, yeah, there’s always going to be a slight compromise, I will say that, when, when you’re tuning a shock, the least amount of damping on all circuits that you can get away with is going to make the bike as comfortable as possible. Okay, when you are trying to win a race or trying to beat Strava, or whatever you’re looking to do, that’s when damping is important, because you are controlling your suspension to a point where you are efficiently decreasing the amount of time it takes for you to get down the trail. Right. So ultimately, if you can ride the bike with as much damping as possible, and you’re efficient, and you get down quick, good for you. But if you are looking to be comfortable than running, to essence, as an example, on the fork, less compression damping, just relying on the spring, and then getting away with as little rebound damping as you can, within reason of you know, of course, if you start getting bucked or recoil so quickly, that you’re just like unsure in the air, then yeah, add some add some damping, right? Yeah. Yeah, I think that ultimately, having a shock that can do high speed and low speed settings independently, is excellent for folks that have gotten to a certain point in their writing career where they can feel certain differences. But also, you know, having a shock that does that kind of stuff internally, as I’ve seen several people that, you know, buy a twin tube damper, and don’t even mess with the settings. But you are still getting some of the benefits of having the shock kind of do the hard work for you. Right, right. When you as you mentioned, when you’re going down a trail with very dynamic terrain, you want a shock that can have dynamic adjustment on its own. Right, right. So when the shark has capabilities of damping it this like very slow shaft speeds, and all of a sudden, you’re going way faster. And the other circuits are taking care of those types of bumps. Yeah, it is almost something that you can’t even describe as a rider, you just know that it feels better and more composed, compared to a shock that doesn’t have all of that internal adjustment. Right, right. Yeah.

Jeff 23:47
Yeah. And you mentioned to, you know, a lot of shocks have a switch, like a climb and descend switch. And so I guess that’s part of it, as well, when you know, you’re in a spot where you want to kind of, you know, deal with those low speed, pedal inputs and that sort of thing. You’ve obviously got it in the climb setting, and then, you know, you can flip it to take advantage of other aspects of the shock when you’re going down. Yeah,

Sam 24:14
totally. Yeah. And our shocks are, you know, we have the ability to take away low speed, damping, low speed, rebound and compression on our climb switch, right. So that is slightly different from say, a mono tube shock that you’re just closing a certain amount of oil flow, and the feeling regardless of how fast you touch or push, the shock is going to feel kind of dead, where a platform like the CSX platform on our double barrel shocks. You close the climb switch and your low speed settings are closed effectively, but your high speed setting still work. So you know, pedal Bob, as an example is completely mitigated. It feels locked out when you’re just human. induced on the bike, right pushing and pulling on the handlebars, pedaling with chain, those types of motions are essentially eradicated. But then when you go down the trail and you forget to turn your clutch switch off, our shock still works on those high speed settings. And often, it’s good that you mentioned this, sometimes you want those low speed damping to be as high as possible for doing flow trails, right? If you’re pumping and pulling on, you know, rollers and, and tabletops, it’s very important to have as much low speed damping rebound and compression as possible when you’re pumping and pulling on table tops, right? Because that way, you’re not losing effect efficiency. So you can, you can have your high speed circuits for landing harsh or casing jumps for hitting drops and using all of your suspension, your high speed is going to work, but you are able to push against the bike efficiently. So our climb switch feature can often actually be used as a flow trail feature too, because of that. Yeah, yeah,

Jeff 26:05
that’s another thing I’m guilty of is forgetting to switch. And now I’ve gotten Excuse me? No, I meant to do that. This is a flow trail. I want to be on the right

Sam 26:14
client that I told you that right? Yes, yes. And

Jeff 26:18
sound really smart. So I feel like we’ve kind of touched on this, but I want to talk about suspension curves. And that seems to be like something people are starting to talk more about and understand more. I feel like obviously, it’s something designers product designers and engineers look like look at. But plenty of regular writers now are in tune with this and want to know, like, what is the suspension curve? And what does it look like? And how can it be adjusted? So what do we mean, I guess, first off by a linear suspension curve, like what does that mean? If we’re looking at a shock?

Sam 26:56
Sure. So in order to talk about a suspension curve, you have to know a few things. First of all, how much travel does your your so let me step back another step. Usually, when you’re talking about suspension curves, you’re talking about the rear suspension, right of a bike. Right? So the rear shock and the rear wheel have a relationship, right? The shock, let’s just say has 50 millimeters of stroke, the shock can move that much. How much travel does that 50 millimeters yield on the rear wheel? Right? Oftentimes, bikes are designed to have about a 2.5 to one or three to one leverage ratio. Right. Okay. So that means that the rear shock moves one millimeter, and the rear wheel moves three millimeters. Okay. Right. And so that is, in essence, the first part of understanding what a leverage curve does, right. So usually, as we talk about casing jumps and bottoming out our suspension, it’s important to build in a level of bottom out resistance in suspension. Okay, yeah, we don’t and you know, some people even tote the fact that I’ve never bought him to my fork out, or I’ve never bought him my suspicion. Well, first of all, it’s designed to be bottomed out. So it’s good to do that.

Jeff 28:29
Okay to do. Yep.

Sam 28:30
But there is a level of resistance that we all want, so that we use the last bit of our travel for those. Oh, crap moments, right. Yeah. Now, a lot of times bikes are designed to have, as you mentioned, a curve that changes that. So to answer your first question, a linear suspension curve would be a shock and rear wheel relationship, that doesn’t change throughout the entirety of the stroke. Okay, so at the beginning of travel, you’re going to have one millimeter of movement on the shock. And your rear wheel is going to move three millimeters for every one millimeter that your sharpness, okay, right? Yeah. And that’s gonna do that from zero to 50. Right. And that is a linear curve, linear suspension curve. Okay. A lot of older designs and bikes that are more simplified, like a single pivot bike. Yeah, I guess orange bikes come to mind. They are still doing a single pivot bike, great kinematics, if you’re looking for a linear suspension curve, and that means that every single millimeter that the shock moves, the exact same amount of rear wheel movement happens. Yeah, clears day, right. So that’s a linear curve. A progressive curve is actually inverse to what you might think. So in taking a three to one leverage ratios we mentioned right? As you start your travel, that leverage actually decreases throughout the stroke. Okay? So for example, you might start with 321, the wheel moving three, the shock moving one, and as you get closer and closer to the bottom, like the the most travel used, you will end up closer to say two to one, right? And it might, it might seem counterintuitive, and when you first hear that, right, yeah, but really like, think about like a fulcrum, when you have like a point of leverage, and you’re using your arm to kind of push down on a fulcrum point, if you if you reduce the length of that fulcrum bar, it’s going to be harder to move that amount of force that’s on the other side, right? So when the shock has a certain amount of pressure, or a certain amount of coil spring rate, and you reduce the amount of leverage the force applied on that rear wheel is going to increase. And that is what people are looking for these days when they’re trying to mitigate bottom out, right. Yeah. So a lot of times these companies that are making more modern bikes are always talking about a certain amount of progression that’s built into the frame. Right? Yeah. And that literally means that the amount of rear wheel movement is basically decreasing with the amount of shock movement. Yeah.

Jeff 31:26
And so they’re able to do that through linkages and various ways. I mean, the shock is, is generally the same, right? I mean, you hear about the shocks being tuned for certain progression curves, or to work with certain, you know, linkages and setups, but in general, the shock is working the same, right? This is all really depends on the bike.

Sam 31:48
Yeah, exactly. Right. So so the the shock, especially our shocks that have a massive range of adjustment, without having to take it apart, right, the shock that you’re buying can be used on a bunch of different frames, but you might end up with less rebound damping, or more rebound damping, depending on the leverage ratio. And of course, back to the sag, super critical, you are going to run a different spring on a different bike. I’ve seen this happen to where, hey, I weigh 150 pounds, I use a 450 pound spring. That’s incorrect. You use a 450 pounds spring on this bike, and you’re gonna maybe even use a 600 pound spring on this other bike, depending on the leverage ratio. Right? Yeah. So pretty common, easy thing to do is figure out how much rear wheel travel you have. And how much rear shock stroke you have. Okay, divide your rear wheel travel by your rear shock. Travel, and that is your average leverage ratio. Okay. Right. Yeah, that’s a really good starting point for figuring out as an example of coil shock, in what spring rate you might need. Okay, right. So yes, to your point, the bike makes a massive difference when you’re trying to tune the rear shock. And not all bikes are created equally. Yeah, definitely. Interesting.

Jeff 33:08
Well, yeah, so you mentioned coils and coil shocks. So what’s what are kind of the key differences between a coil and an air shock?

Sam 33:17
Yeah, as we mentioned, with bottom out mitigation, that’s a very common thing, right? People don’t want to use all their travel prematurely. They want to save those for those Oh, crap moments. And we mentioned the frames and how those frames more modern frames are using a progressive leverage curve that’s designed into the frame. Yeah, air and coil shocks are different in the way that the linear as we mentioned, a linear suspension curve on a frame doesn’t change. Right? A coil shock doesn’t change the rate of increase in the spring rate. Right. So if you have a 400 pound spring, that means that it takes 400 pounds to compress that spring, one inch, okay. But if your spring has three inches of compression ability, the stroke of the spring is three inches, then that means that the end force on that spring is 1200 pounds, because every inch, it takes 400 more pounds to push it Yeah. Right. So even though it’s linear, it is increasing in a linear fashion, right? Yeah. But on an air shock you, you have a certain amount of volume and a certain amount of pressure in that air volume. And when you compress the shock, it will increase the amount of force more on an exponential or increasing curve than a coil shock. Let’s say that you start with a certain amount of pressure that’s equal to 400 pounds right? The curve is going to go instead of 400 800 1200 per inch. it’s going to kind of ramp up and numerically I’m going to guess here, but it’ll, it’ll probably be 401,000 1800. As an example, as it goes up, it’s going to ramp its curve. Right? Yeah. So an air shock, usually on its own naturally will resist bottom out, because there’s more of a progressive curve on that air spring more so than a coil shock, right? Yeah,

Jeff 35:27
I feel like we’re getting, we’re getting a physics lesson here. Right? Because really, that’s what it comes down to is, you know, with a with a coil, obviously, that’s metal. And metal has certain properties about how it, you know, compresses and air is another thing. And I guess to what helps me is if I think about air, like, I mean, I guess you could compress it down to like you said, there’s no bottom out. I mean, theoretically, you could probably compress it down to a really tiny amount. But he would take a ton of force to do that. Right?

Sam 35:58
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that’s why usually bikes back in the day. I’m not picking on orange. But I will say that the linear nature of a bike like an orange bike is going to be better suited with an air shot. Because usually that relationship, as we mentioned, bottom out is something that we try to mitigate in some way by increasing the amount of force required to get there. Yeah, if an air shock is doing that, and the frame is not, then it will it counterbalances itself, right? Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of people these days that want to ride coil shocks, we’ve seen a lot of companies that have decided to spec coil shocks on their modern bikes, which kind of seems interesting when you think about how old coil shocks are and how new air shocks are. But it’s, it’s more of the combination of the two, if you have a linear coil shock, but you have a very progressive mountain bike, then you are going to mitigate bottom out. If you have a linear frame, but a progressive air shock, then you are going to mitigate bottom out. So there’s there’s always that combination. Right. And to your point, Jeff earlier, people are getting more savvy about their leverage ratios, right. So if you identify that your frame has a certain amount of progression built in, that usually means that it is capable of running a coil shock without having any sort of ramifications on bottoming out prematurely, right. Yeah. There’s other instances where people are using like, we have a progressive coil spring, that adds a level of increase as you get closer to bottom so that you can use a coil shock on a bike that might not otherwise use a coil shock, right? Yeah. But keeping that in mind, and just knowing what kind of frame you have. I think you’re right, I think more more people are educating themselves on what that means. And more often, I’ll say that from an aftermarket perspective, people are curious or people are coil curious. Yes, definitely. Right. And with good reason, and I think to go back to your original, what is the difference between them? There are some other benefits of a coil shock, you know, because it does sound like it’s a little ancient in terms of its linear characteristics. But you know, the reduction in force required to move a coil shock compared to an air shock is a little lower, because, you know, an air shock has a seal that’s holding certain things behind it. There are other there’s probably four or five extra seals on an air shock, then there are an a coil shock. Oh, wow. So naturally, the amount of force to get that thing to break into its travel is higher on an air shock. Yeah. And that’s usually why people are like, oh, man, I’m super curious about a coil. I want to want to get that off the top suppleness, right. But you got to make sure that you have a bike that’s capable of not bottoming out like crazy if you put a coil shock on the bike. Right?

Jeff 39:01
Yeah, like everything that you can get too much of a good thing. And yeah, sounds like that’s the case here. So yeah, you mentioned that feeling of coil shock. And I think I think we’re talking about when we talk about air shocks, we’re talking about stiction, right, is that is that the deal so what is stiction and and how important is that to minimize for people?

Sam 39:24
Yeah, right. And I think stiction, the definition is really just the force required to move your suspension from zero. And a lot of times once you start getting it once you start getting it to move. You’ve broken that, that off the top force, as we call it. And once it’s in motion, we go back to physics lessons here, motion, once once things are in motion, they tend to stay in motion. Right. So stiction is really just the characteristic of that initiation of moving your suspension. Right? Yeah, it’s a I’d say it’s pretty important to keep yourself writing in a comfortable manner. If you want to soak up the smallest of bumps and not have to go that quickly to get your suspension to activate the least amount of stiction possible is, is what you’re looking for. I will say that folks that are writing quickly and using a ton of air pressure, Aaron Gwin comes to mind, you know, when he’s winning races, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his sag O ring on some of the photos that Leogang or something right, but he uses half of his travel because he’s running an insane amount of air pressure to try to win some of those races. It’s probably uncomfortable. And he’s winning regardless. Right. Yeah. So, you know, I’m not a I’m not a massive athlete, like, like Aaron Quinn. And so yes, stiction or lack of is important to me. But if you’re winning races, and you know, you don’t want your suspension to move too easily, then it might not be that big of a deal. But yeah, I think that’s that’s really what it is in a nutshell.

Jeff 40:59
Yeah. Yeah, I’ve all my high school physics is like coming back to me here, right? Because, yeah, I mean, it totally makes sense that stiction sounds like friction, and I’m pretty sure we’re talking about the same thing. And then friction, there’s like two different values, right? There’s that like, coefficient of static friction, I think. And the other one is the moving friction. But basically, yeah, it’s harder to like, get something started, in this case, the suspension to like start moving into his travel than it is for it to move once it is moving. So yeah, so what we’re really talking is that about is that like static friction, and really being able to, I guess another way people talk about that is like how responsive the suspension feels? I mean, is that kind of related in terms of like, I don’t know, I, I tend to talk about like small bump compliance, where riding along and like, even just the most minor little thing, like it’s going to react to it, at least, hopefully not like in a big way. It’s just going to kind of like move into his travel and move back out. But are those two related like small bump when people talk about that? Is that a function of stiction? Yeah, I

Sam 42:09
think so I think when when your bike is extremely sensitive to things on the trail that would otherwise just feel like a hard tail. If you have too much stiction, then yes, they are absolutely related. Right. And again, if you’re pedaling and your your suspensions moving too freely, then you add stiction, for lack of a better term back by adding compression damping or, you know, so I think that sometimes, you know, the parking lot test can be to demise, right? Where, you know, people are like, riding around on a pavement, and they’re, they’re pushing on the shock, and they’re like, Oh, look at how sensitive it is. It’s like, yeah, sure, but when you’re going 25 miles an hour, is it too sensitive? Right, right. So there’s a level of balance there. But absolutely, I think that you would, you’re much better off making sure that you have the least amount of resistance by way of sealed drag, aka stiction, and you’re, you’re better off to have the least amount of that and add damping as needed. And that’s the best performing suspension setup. Right?

Jeff 43:20
Yeah. Okay, cool. Yeah. And also, again, like really good to understand that distinction between like, what most of us, you know, what I would imagine most of our listeners are doing, which is riding for fun and Hopi, hopefully enjoying themselves and being comfortable versus racing, where, you know, you have very different goals, and you would set up your suspension in a really different way. Yeah, and

Sam 43:45
I will say that even the the weekend warriors and the folks that are getting out for just an hour, I don’t race that much myself, I’m more of a dirt jumper, free rider kind of guy. I don’t care if anybody sees me riding or not. Right, but I still enjoy doing it. Yeah, but I still benefit from having a shock that is controlling those types of motions, as you mentioned, right? A trail can be extremely dynamic, in terms of its, you know, starting smooth and getting kind of rough, and then having a couple of drops. Right. And so having the having the ability to control your suspension is extremely important for everybody. I do think I truly believe that. Yeah.

Jeff 44:27
Do you dial in yours? I mean, do you make adjustments to your suspension? Like during a ride like it, especially if you know, a trail and you’re like, Okay, this this section, I want this and then I’m about to hit this next part, and I want to want to tweak it a little bit, or do you kind of just set it and forget it?

Sam 44:43
I do kind of a mixture of both. I would say that I don’t change my suspension during a single trail. But if I know like if I’m going to an uplift or if I’m going to a shuttle spot, and there’s three or four different options, one of them’s a jump trail the other one As Rocky and Rudy, I try to run more damping when I’m hitting jumps. And I try to run at the least amount of damping when I’m writing rocks. But again, I don’t race. So I would expect that, you know, Nico Malala, down at Rock Creek, for example, is going to run a way more damping than I am on his double black trail than I would, but he’s going way faster and requires the suspension to stay at a certain point, right. Yeah. But yes, I think that, now that I’ve done this for 10 years, I do know, the times at which it’s appropriate to run less or more damping. Yes, absolutely. But I will say that it’s not come with, it’s definitely Switchcraft. For a lot of people.

Jeff 45:45
Yeah, it only took you 10 years working in Korea.

Sam 45:49
Right. So yeah, testing all kinds of different shocks on different bikes. But I think the one thing I’ve learned about that is don’t be afraid to adjust it. Right. Especially if, as we mentioned, like, a lot of these folks listening are probably writing for fun. And, you know, it’s sometimes like when you go to a restaurant, like it’s fun to try something new instead of getting the same thing every time, right. So I encourage people to adjust their suspension, I encourage people to run as little damping as possible just to see what it feels like and then kind of work their way back up to where it feels comfortable just to understand what the shocks doing. Because I think a lot of people that say I set and forget, probably haven’t even said they just bought it, and they just are afraid to touch it. You know what I mean? Yeah,

Jeff 46:33
right. I mean, I guess a lot of people will say, Well, yeah, you know, I wrote it feels fine. But you don’t know kind of what you’re missing? Or how much better it could be. And the advice I’ve heard from a lot of folks too, is that? Yeah, you absolutely should should try those different settings. But you do have to, like, be kind of scientific about it. And like you need to write down kind of what you did and what felt different. Because it’s a lot to keep track of for sure. Like how many clicks and yeah, what were all the other settings that so do you have a method for that? Do you like pen and paper or you have an app or something? Well,

Sam 47:11
you know, it’s funny, when we, I will say that the number one rule of suspension testing is to do one thing at a time, one thing at a time. Because if you’re riding a trail, and you adjust your high speed compression and your low speed rebound, then you have no idea what actually did the adjustment, right? So sometimes it’s time consuming, but to do wide open on one damping adjustment, leave everything else the same, you know, deductively, what changed? Right? So I think that that will induce a lot of confidence a lot of people is to just work on one setting at a time. And also, don’t be afraid to crank, like way more than you think you need. Because I think sometimes like, I can’t tell a difference between one or two clicks. As an example. I can tell a difference between five or six. I guarantee it. Yeah, maybe I know that it’s not good. And I know, okay, confidently, I’m gonna go back. Right. Yeah. And that, to me actually reduces the amount of time it takes. Because I think sometimes, if you go down a trail, you are barely used to it that particular day, even if you’ve written the trail 100 times, and then you go back up and do it again and adjust two clicks. Maybe you don’t even notice a difference, right? And then you add two more clicks. And by that point, you’re warmed up, you’ve fatigued yourself, you know, the trail, you’ve hit this one route a couple times. So man, now it feels really good. But is it you? Or is it the bike? Right? So I think that really the the critical moment critical thing is to adjust one thing at a time and make a big chunk of a difference on that second adjustment. Okay. And then if it feels good, leave it there. If it feels like you went too far, then go halfway back, and you probably don’t even need to run an extra lap to feel confident about that adjustment. Okay, right. Yeah. Yeah.

Jeff 49:05
So don’t overdo it on the testing, I could definitely see people doing that. I’m going to try every single possible combination. And sure, soon as you do the math, you realize it’s like, you know, 1000 different things that you could you could possibly do. So yeah, that’s great advice. Yeah. So we talked about how sharks should hold their air for quite some time. So I’m curious what how do you know when your fork or your shock needs a rebuild or a service? Is that one of the indications like if you’re If your shocks not holding air,

Sam 49:37
man? Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that Absolutely. If you’re if your shock is not holding air at any point at all,

Jeff 49:47
zero psi. Yeah,

Sam 49:48
right. Right. If you’re pumping your shock up every ride, then there’s something wrong and it’s time to fix it and it might be premature, but yes, there are shocks shocks should be holding They’re no matter what. And I think, when is it time to? Really, it’s so hard man like what we were talking about stiction. Right? If if an increased amount of stiction is identified more so than when you first bought this suspension component, it’s likely time to do at least half of the service. Sometimes you can service like an example on a fork, you can take the lowers off of the fork, change the phone rings, even not even change anything and just clean stuff out and add some grease and oil and stuff. And it’ll feel like it’s brand new. Right? Keeping track of moving hours is always extremely hard for a lot of people. I, I work in the industry, and I can I can tell you, vaguely how many hours I have on certain bikes, right?

Jeff 50:49
And or some hours harder than others to I mean, it’s gonna depend on how you’re writing, I guess,

Sam 50:55
man, and also also to like the introduction of E bikes, right? Like, if you have 100 hours on your shock on an E bike, I guarantee that those 100 hours are way more strenuous than a normal bike. Yeah, because like, you know, we talked about movement, like shaft speeds and stuff. If you’re, if you’re jumping uphill, then your suspensions move down a lot more than if you’re on a normal bike, right. And so I think really just kind of keeping track of the keeping track of stiction keeping track of how it feels and how it’s performing. If you have any sort of like, points in the stroke that feel kind of harsh or like inconsistent, that means things are dry, and it’s time to grease it up. Right. Yeah, I use the word grease, loosely. Right. But trying to try to keep nomenclature similar for folks, right. Yes. I think that really like I’ve been pleasantly surprised recently with how many people are planning ahead and servicing their suspension ahead of the riding season. But I I can tell you countless amounts of folks that have hit us up on Thursday night, hey, I blow blew up my shock. And I got a race on Saturday. Can you help me? Right? Yeah, it’s very critical to kind of keep in mind that these suspension components have between 90 and 120, individual parts inside of them. Wow. And it’s, it is not going to last forever. And you do need to take care of it. You know, you do an oil change on your car every X amount of miles. And people understand that. And I think that suspension, oftentimes seems a little like magic. And you know, people are afraid to take it apart with good reason. Yeah, but there are moving parts inside there that needs some tender love and care for sure.

Jeff 52:45
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I’m sure for a lot of people, like a lot of shops, they can’t do everything to your suspension. So it’s more involved than just like, Oh, I’m gonna drop it off. And somebody’s gonna adjust the derailleur for me. I mean, this is specialized service, which makes it a little more intimidating, I guess, for folks. But it sounds like what you’re saying is, I mean, one of the risks, it’s not just that your suspension isn’t working as well as, as it could it’s, your suspension could fail. I mean, if you wait long enough, something, something pretty bad could happen. Is that Is that fair to say?

Sam 53:22
Yeah, you know, I think that from a service perspective, there, and as you mentioned, like certain shops are not equipped to do certain intricate suspension services. The reason for that is because the oil is charged by a nitrogen gas chamber on shocks, right shocks, specifically, some forks, you can actually fill by hand, if you have an open bath damper, those, those designs are pretty serviceable. And I think shops are capable of doing that. On rear shocks. What I mentioned before about the three to one leverage ratio, right, your fork, you can tell how much travel it has. Yeah, right? The forces on that damper are three times lower if it has a one to one ratio compared to a three to one shock, right. So the shock has to have way more pressure and force prevention inside the system. So usually, you fill a shock with oil, and then you charge it with a nitrogen gas chamber so that it pressurizes the damper. Okay, right. That is the reason why it’s relatively impossible to do it in the garage. Because you got to use nitrogen, you can’t use air. Air has certain qualities in it. Nitrogen, for example, is an inert gas it has, I’m going to get super technical here. If you look at it on the periodic table, it actually has I think, 14 protons, right. So if at that point, at that point in its electron circle, it actually has a very large, what would I call it an atom, right? So nitrogen actually takes longer to bleed through rubber. Right? If you’ve ever seen tires, sometimes people will, you know, go to a car dealer, and they fill their tires with nitrogen. Yeah. Right? That’s because it doesn’t leak out of the tire as fast because it’s a larger atom. And it is less prone to temperature changes, right? Yes. So that’s why we use nitrogen instead of just pumping it up with a bike pump. Right? Yeah, nitrous is important. And then filling it and charging it with oil, usually on a twin tube damper is really tricky. If you’re not doing it with an oil fill machine. Okay, right. Yeah, that so yeah, those things in combination are the reason why bike shops usually need to send stuff off to a service center.

Jeff 55:46
Yeah, that’s good to know. Right? I didn’t realize that it was. I mean, it sounds like it’s the equipment is a big part of it, not necessarily the know how, because these are, you know, in some ways, they’re pretty simple systems. I mean, we’re talking about the physics behind it. Now we’re getting into chemistry, which is cool. But like, yeah, this stuff is, yeah, it’s like simple. But it’s also complicated the way that it all goes together, which is yeah, pretty interesting. Good to know. So lastly, I want to ask you about kind of what’s next for suspension design? And where we are today? Like, obviously, I’m sure most riders that have been riding for a long time would say, man, you know, bikes are better than they’ve ever been. Suspension is a big part of that. Are there more innovations to come? Like, is there is there other stuff that, you know, maybe is going to get better? Or there is a room for improvement? For today’s shocks?

Sam 56:41
Yeah, I think that really will come in combination with frames getting more and more progressive. Right? We have the ability to run coil shocks on bikes that we traditionally were not able to stiction is easily reduced with a coil shock. I’ll be it that coil shocks are slightly heavier, right. But I think that we’ve kind of gone through this phase, in the last, I don’t know, three, four years, where weight is maybe secondary to performance or longevity durability. Right. So I think that that’s kind of a trend that I’ve identified that people are okay with riding a 37 pound bike, if their tires don’t go flat, they can write down, you know, the gnarliest trail and have no problems, right? Yeah. So I think that, I think that there is room for more like, I feel like really, like, I’ve seen it, our local trail centers where more of our general population is getting into mountain biking. And now there are more and more people getting good at biking. And so you know, having a mono tube, super simple, very limited damping shock on your entry level bike is not going to cut it right. And more and more folks are gonna require a certain amount of performance out of their suspension. So I do think that more companies are going to add external adjustments, right? Yeah, we’ve kind of been there for 20 years already doing that. And we’ve been refining it for a while. But I do think that more and more companies are going to kind of catch up. And doing that. I do also see some trends with trying to keep leverage ratios from getting too progressive. But having the shocks do more of the progression, right? You’ve seen it I’ve seen like e x t and Rockshox coming out with like hydraulic bottom out setups, where there’s some other damping changes inside the shock at a certain point in travel, where there’s like a secondary piston, and you’re using kind of an orifice needle to adjust at a certain point in stroke, how much force it takes to get to the bottom. I think that stuff’s really cool. It definitely creates more of a dynamic suspension field without having to adjust, like, as you mentioned before, there are compromises associated with riding, super smooth trail, and then getting into a really rocky section on the same on the same track. Yeah, so figuring out a way to have kind of position based progression on a coil shock, I think is going to be kind of the next big thing.

Jeff 59:28
Yeah, that’s super cool. Yeah, really interesting to think about that. And obviously a lot of challenges and trade offs with everything. But yeah, it sounds like sounds like Cain Creek in particular. You guys are looking at all of that and continuing to progress. So that’s very cool. Hey, well, I

Sam 59:44
was thinking about nitrogen. I did look up my numbers are wrong. The atomic number is seven. There are seven protons. The atomic mass is 14 And that’s where that number.

Jeff 59:56
Yeah, like I said, we’re getting a chemistry lesson here too, which, as well. Bonus. So awesome. Well, yeah, Sam, thanks so much for talking with us. I learned a ton and yeah, it was really great hearing your explanations for all of this and really appreciate it.

Sam 1:00:10
Yeah, Jeff, thanks so much for having me man. It has been a blast. Well,

Jeff 1:00:14
you can find out more about some of the products that can Creek offers at Cane and keep checking back with single tracks where we’ll try to explain suspension and other parts of the mountain bike by talking to experts like Sam. So I’ve got this week to talk to you again next week.