What Does Travel Mean On A Mountain Bike?

When you start mountain biking you will hear the term “travel” quite a bit. But what the heck is travel and what does it have to do with mountain biking?

“Hey, dude, how much travel do you have on your front fork”. This is something you will hear often and it’s referring to how much suspension you have on your bike.

Travel on a mountain bike is the distance you have for suspension and how much it will compress before you bottom out. Depending on the type of riding you do usually determines how much travel will be on your bike.

Let’s dig in more about mountain bike travel!

travel on a mountain bike

What is Travel on a Mountain Bike?

Travel is closely linked to pressure on a mountain bike. It refers to the distance the front or rear suspension can compress before it bottoms out. The mountain bike tends to compress when absorbing force and the more travel you have, the more force can be absorbed. With less travel, the bike might not be able to absorb as much force.

Different Mountain Bike Frames

Much like you have certain bikes for certain purposes, there are 3 different mountain bike frames to consider. These are the hardtail, the full-suspension, and the rigid frame. Each of these frames has its benefits and drawbacks, but the hardtail mainly relies on the front suspension and shock absorber:

One of the key differences between the hardtail and the full-suspension mountain bike is the design. The full-suspension mountain bike carries a shock absorber at the rear and can better control the terrain. As a brief side note, you should keep in mind that the full-suspension mountain bike is better for downhill and the hardtail has limited drag for scaling.

Differences Between The Hardtail And Full-Suspension Bikes

One of the most frustrating decisions you will need to make is choosing between the hardtail and the full-suspension frame. The rigid frame might not be ideal for all situations and challenges. Here are some of the key differences you can expect to see when choosing:

Comfort

In terms of comfort, the full-suspension mountain bike is the best. It reduces the shock your body needs to deal with and makes it much easier to go downhill. On the flip side, the hardtail bike is better suited to ensure you have optimal climbing capabilities.

Weight

The full-suspension mountain bike adds another suspension to the fray. With the addition of more equipment and parts, you can expect it to be slightly more expensive. However, these bikes tend to have a better weight capacity.

Maintenance

Unfortunately, the fact that you have more parts spill over here as well. Having more moving components means that it is much easier for something to go wrong. The full-suspension mountain bike might be more tedious to fix when damaged.

Price

Finally, the price is also related to the components and the technology used with the bike. If you have more intricate components, you will need to pay a bit more. The dual-suspension can be helpful, but it is also more expensive.

How Much Travel Does A Mountain Bike Need? (Front Suspension)

If competitive racing is something that you enjoy, you will need to understand the ideal travel for the front suspension. It can vary significantly depending on the bike and the discipline you perform. We have a great table that will give you some estimates to ensure that when you make upgrades, you have a guideline:

Type Of MTBFront Suspension travel
XC Cross Country80mm-120mm
Trail MTB120mm-140mm
Enduro/ All Mountain140mm-170mm
Freeride/Downhill170mm-200mm

Keep in mind that these are only ranges and you might find that some of the discrepancies vary depending on the brand of the bike. The great thing is that you can upgrade your bike and improve the front suspension travel. You might need some basic knowledge and understanding of the components and how the front suspension works.

The front suspension works by having a steerer tube that enables you to control the bike. This tube will go into the center of the crown, which connects to the two stanchions. The stanchions connect to the dropouts that attach to the wheels. The main way to increase the travel on the bike is to increase the travel on the stanchions. However, you should understand the diameter of different stanchions

Type Of MTBDiameter Of Stanchion Tube
XC Cross Country30mm
Trail MTB/ Enduro/ All Mountain32mm-36mm
Freeride/Downhill38mm-40mm

While upgrading the stanchions on your bike is not always a great idea, there are a couple of reasons people would do it. The only main reasons to increase the travel on your standard bike can be broken into two main reasons. If yours does not fall into any of these reasons, you might not want to do it:

1.      Imitating A Downhill Bike

Downhill mountain bikes can be very expensive. However, you can increase the diameter of the stanchions to help imitate one. Keep in mind that you should also remember that the brakes are important when going at faster speeds.

2.      More Comfort

Finally, you might want to make these changes when you are seeking more comfort when riding, Additionally, you don’t want to increase the travel when going uphill. Much like the rear suspension on the dual suspension bike, it could drag you down significantly and be frustrating.

front travel on a mountain bike

Travel Distance And The Rear Suspension

While the front suspension might seem pretty straightforward, the rear suspension is much harder. You will also notice that there are numerous rear suspension designs that you will need to choose from. Each of these rear suspension designs serves a specific purpose when it comes to giving you value for your discipline:

Single Pivot

If you are looking for the most basic of rear suspension designs, this will be the one to go with. It consists of a titular single pivot that connects to the swing arm above the chainrings. The single pivot is one of the more basic designs you can come across and it will have consistent compression throughout the travel.

Linkage-Driven Single Pivot

While the design is very similar to that of the single pivot, it also features an additional linkage that can manipulate the compression curve. It means that your travel will have a greater degree of variation throughout the ride and you will be able to take on slightly more straining terrains with additional compression.

Host-Link/Four Bar

With this design, the rear axle is not directly connected to the mainframe. While this might sound dangerous, it eliminates the risk of pedal bob, which can often lead to injury or even losing control of the bike. The main benefit is once again that it enables the manufacturer to manipulate the compression.

Twin-Link/Virtual Pivot

If you are looking for a cheaper version of the host-link pivot, you might want to consider this one. It does not directly connect to the mainframe, but use two separate links that connect to the mainframe. It is slightly cheaper than the previous one and enables the manufacturer to manipulate the compression.

High Pivot

The high pivot is very similar to the single pivot. The main exception is that it is placed higher on the frame and enables more performance. The additional idler pulley will rout the path of the chain to keep it above the pivot. While it does not provide extra compression, it could significantly reduce the risk for the infamous pedal bob.

How The Rear Suspension Is Shaped

The rear suspension is slightly different than the front suspension and features a unique design. One of the first things you will notice is that it is placed horizontally and often has a slight diagonal tilt. The rear shock will attach to the bike with the help of eyelets and these eyelets are also what is used to size the rear suspension.

Rear travel on a mountain bike

Balancing The Front And Rear Suspension

Whether you are a beginner or an expert, you must balance the force both of these suspensions can withstand. The more neutral they are, the more consistency you will have when riding. If they are not perfectly balanced, you could be left with a bike that does not live up to expectations and compromises comfort.

One of the main ways to adjust them is to adjust the pressure on the inside of the chamber. You want to make sure that they bottom out at the same time instead of focusing too much on the travel, Keep in mind that the different pressure and shock lengths can have an impact, which is why a professional is always needed.

Air Shocks VS Coil Shocks

When looking for shocks, you are bound to come across air shocks or coil shocks. While both of these are great, they might offer different benefits to different riders depending on their needs. You must understand the slight differences before you buy them. They could make a bit of difference to performance:

Air Shocks

The air shocks are easier to implement and set up on your bike. However, they also get stiffer naturally, which can reduce the travel on your bike and bottoms it out. The air shocks are designed for entry-level riders and can be adjusted on the fly.

Coil Shocks

The coil shocks are more expensive and you need to make sure you buy them in comparison to your weight. It is important that you are comfortable and they can hold you up. However, they will not fade in stiffness over time and you can ride with them for a more significant time than the air shocks will allow.

What Is A Long Travel Bike?

The long-travel bike is generally a bike that has travel of 150mm-170mm. These bikes are often enduro bikes, but some of them can also be downhill bikes. They should offer more comfort, but with so much travel, they are not ideal for scaling mountains.

How Much Travel Should A Hardtail Mountain Bike Have?

The travel recommended for a hardtail bike can vary significantly from rider to rider and bike to bike. It is best to consider the size of the wheels and make sure you don’t go overboard. It is worth noting that some experts suggest a range of 120mm or even lower might be the ideal travel for your hardtail mountain bike.

Wrap-Up

Travel on your bike is not something people care for every day. As a beginner, you might never have heard of it and unless you go professional, you might not care. However, professional riders or those with ambitions to be successful should understand it. Let us know in the comment section how you go about travel.

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo… so you can pin it to your Mountain Bike Board!