In the past, we were used to riding cross–country mtbs with forks from 50 to 80 mm travel. Then for some years they had been attested on 100 mm travel. But recently we have been seeing an increase in travel. Common mtb forks nowadays are available in 120 or 130 mm travel.
The increase in travel has allowed riders to tackle more difficult terrain with more confidence and control. Longer travel allows the bike to better absorb the impacts and bumps of the trail, making for a smoother and more comfortable ride. It also allows riders to take on more technical sections of the trail and ride more aggressive lines. Furthermore, the increased travel provides better stability and traction, allowing riders to go faster and further.
But do we really need longer travel? They offer a mixed bag of advantages as well as disadvantages. For a start, longer travel means more weight, more resistance to pedalling, more complexity and sometimes more cost.
Front and Full Suspended
Keeping our focus on cross country, and leaving aside the gravity specialities like Enduro and Downhill, we have both hardtails and full suspended on the same level. Some prefer the first group whereas others prefer the second, but in this discipline we don’t have a big difference between them. Mostly it depends on the track we face, and on our riding style. Clearly, a hardtail is usually lighter, and the telescopic seatpost nowadays helps a lot with weight balance. On the other hand, a full suspended can help even in climbing, giving more traction to the rear wheel.
Some fork producers claim to achieve an increase in travel whilst still maintaining the same weight. However, this can’t be possible, obviously because something bigger is also something heavier. Have you ever noticed that – since the 29″ appeared – a lot of weight declarations disappeared from the various catalogues? If we want a fork with more travel, we must accept that will also more weight. The choice depends on what we consider to be most important.
Is a mtb fork with a longer travel always better?
Increased travel does not mean increased versatility. Longer travel does not always equate to better performance. It depends on the type of terrain, the riding style and the rider‘s preference. If a rider wants more travel, it will give him or her a better suspension, however, it can also make the bike heavier, more difficult to handle and less efficient on the climbs. What’s more, the frame geometry changes depending on how much the fork goes down. So if we consider a 120 mm travel fork with our weight on the bike during a descending, we have a different rake and a different height from the ground compared to an 80 mm mtb travel fork.
A longer travel mtb fork may provide more stability and control on more technical terrain, but it can also make the bike more difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces as well as making it heavier overall.