How to Tune Your Mountain Bike Fork and Shock for Cold Winter Riding

Cold temperatures cause oil to thicken, seals to harden, and air pressure to contract in mountain bike suspension components. A little less compression paired with faster rebound should help.

Trail time in cold weather requires extra layers, fewer stops in the shade, and a couple of quick suspension adjustments. A lot of riders like to find the sweet spot for their suspension and leave it there until it needs an oil change. That can work so long as folks are willing to suffer slow and harsh damping when the temperature dips. If you prefer your expensive squishers to function optimally, there are some simple adjustments to make that will improve your winter shred party.

Cold weather affects our forks more than shocks, since shocks warm up quickly as we ride, however, both can be tuned for top brisk-temp performance. Additionally, air-sprung suspension is affected far more than coil since the external coil spring doesn’t have air expansion and contraction to contend with. I discussed cold weather tuning details with my good friend Tyrone Dines from the Fox mountain bike test squad to learn how they tune suspension for cold weather riding.

For starters, mountain bike suspension components are tested and optimized for the temperature most people will ride in most of the time. For Fox, and most other manufacturers, that ambient temp is above 5°C (41°F). Below 5°C the viscosity of a fork’s oil changes, becoming thicker and moving through the damper’s pistons more slowly. The fork’s seals also harden up and don’t provide the same smooth drag qualities as they had in the fall and summer months. Finally, air contracts in cold weather, providing less sprung force and allowing the fork to pack up more easily.

Some shocks, like this RockShox Super Delux Select+, don’t offer external compression adjustments. Fortunately, they will warm up while you ride, and don’t often require much cold weather adjustment.

The two adjustments you will want to make are to reduce compression by a click or three and speed up the rebound by one or two clicks.

I always thought that lowering my pressure a touch and speeding up the rebound by a click did the trick in cold weather. According to Tyrone, that’s only partially accurate. He said that it’s better to leave the air pressure as is since it is already reduced by the colder ambient air. Also, if you leave the pressure set to your proper sag you can simply reset the rebound and compression if the day warms up.

Reducing compression will allow the thickened oil to pass more freely through the compression piston, and speeding up the rebound will do the same for that piston. The number of clicks it takes to get things moving properly will depend on your setup, the temperature, and how you like the suspension to perform. Start with one or two clicks, and go ride to see how that feels. If you are blowing through travel add a click or two of compression back, and if you are losing front tire traction simply slow the rebound back down by a click at a time until it feels good.

Some dropper posts can suffer the same lethargic movement in cold weather and unfortunately, there is little we can do to pep them up. Make sure the air pressure is properly inflated, and speed up the lever pull if applicable. Apart from those tips, we just have to be patient when it’s cold. If you regularly pressure wash your bike, there is a good chance water has seeped into the dropper housing and will eventually freeze, rendering the post useless. You may want to swap the cable and housing when the temps drop so you don’t get stuck in high-posting hell like it’s 2005.

Most suspension settings are unique to individual riders, and hopefully, the notes above will help you tune yours for better winter fun. Please share any weather related suspension tweaks you have learned with our wonderful community of readers in the comments below.