The Benefits of Going Without: A Case for No Suspension

Going Rigid November 2017
By Nicholas Weissman LaFrance

Do you want to turn yourself into an absolute beast of a mountain biker? The solution is simple: add a full rigid bike into your stable and watch as your skills grow! As the time-honored adage goes, sometimes we must go backwards in order to go forwards.

One of the quickest ways to progress, I’ve found, is to take away all that lovely squish that helps you flow over the trails like a free-spirited river over rocks. Instead, try hopping on something a little more archaic: a fully rigid rig. That’s right, 0 millimeters of travel. The perks of such a trade are actually very tangible and something every dirt rider can benefit from within a short season. By setting aside a good amount of time to riding a full rigid mountain bike, here’s the short list of the big leaps you can make as an off-road athlete by making the swap:

Better Line Choice
While riding off-road on a bicycle with no suspension, the margin for error is very small indeed. Line choice is paramount no matter what speed you’re going and a wrong turn of the wheel could have you doing a Clark Kent impression when you’d rather be glued to the saddle.

I remember the days back when all I rode was a fully rigid Haro Mary with a burly, Surly fork made of Cro-Mo steel. During our first few weeks together, the going was rough as every imperfection in the trail was communicated directly into my arms. I made a lot of mistakes and experienced direct hits on rocks that most suspension-oriented machines would have handled more graciously.

Instead, such miscalculations on my part would regularly send me sprawling or simply stop me dead in my tracks as if I had hit a brick wall. Progress was slow going as I applied the brakes often in order to allow myself enough time to determine the most perfect, flowing line. Little by little, as my ability to choose good riding lines grew, I found myself more often in motion rather than stopped on the side of the trail lamenting my lack of skill.

A few months down the line, I found myself in awed by my ability to flow effortlessly around boulders, roots and divots like water flowing downhill. After a year of being in a somewhat tumultuous relationship with my all steel counterpart, my speed and control had improved immensely.


Impeccable Riding Form
As any veteran rider with a few years under his or her belt can attest, a person with bad form on a bicycle is akin to fledgling cowboy hanging on to a bucking bronco for dear life. It’s apparent to any observer that the rider may be more like a person in the throes of desperate survival than joy as they barely surmount the obstacles before them.

All the necessary tweaks that one must make to their form while rolling through gnarly terrain become all the more crucial while piloting a rigid.


To properly transition from a roller back to flat ground requires you to accentuate your posture over the back wheel lest you get sent end over end. Popping that front wheel up while coming off a small ledge becomes more important because there’s no suspension to absorb a sharp angle if you were to cautiously dribble off the edge instead.

Perhaps the starkest difference in riding form is noticeable while riding through a rock garden. As I’m sure we can all agree, rock gardens are the reason we all get up in the morning. So why would you want a dialed suspension getting in between you and that lovely boulder field? For the novice rigid rider, riding through such an obstacle entails a constant barrage of shuddering impacts.

As I quickly learned myself, it’s not enough to just hold on, your arms and legs must act in placement of a front and rear shock by absorbing the constant barrage of impacts. To see an experienced rider on a full rigid bicycle fluidly absorb the vibrations from a hellish rock garden is quite a sight to behold!


It gets you ridiculously ripped …
For the majority of my adult life, I had been religiously strength training using a classic resistance approach with pulleys and iron weights. However, I had never experienced the sort of meteoric gains as I had after one single season of consistently riding my full rigid.

When season started in the fall, I had possessed some respectable dynamic strength. By the time the yearly riding window began to close in the fall, I felt as though I was made of wrought iron. After a few months of bracing myself against the hurricane of upward forces unmitigated by suspension, the results were more than barely noticeable; they were glaringly obvious. I had achieved what many could call that “caveman” chic: my arms and back were stronger than ever, my forearms were massive, and I was lean as a chicken cutlet.

By taking the suspension out of the equation, the everyday rider can no longer to count on ample travel to reduce the severity of a bad line choice. Without a doubt, control is what all riders seek while expressing themselves on two wheels. That is exactly what my dedication to rigid riding has achieved. When the bittersweet time finally came for me to mount a new steed with ample amounts of travel, my favorite local trails took on a new quality as I felt like I was truly flying through the forest. Truly, there is wisdom to the idea that it is better to be Superman than it is to be Clark Kent.

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