Outside magazine, March 1995
Suspension technology isn't going to stop bouncing rapidly forward, so you'll need to invest in it with a certain mindset: Worry less about the potential for your system to become outdated than its potential to serve you right now. Forks of the latest generation soak up the bumps a lot better than their predecessors and require less maintenance, which is to say not much at all. New rear-suspension designs give but don't steal from your pedaling power. The only things that have not improved are the prices -- expect to pay at least $200 for boinging privileges.
ELASTOMER FORKS: Stack little rubber bumpers and house them in forks and you'll get some give. Make some of them soft (to soak up little ripples) and others hard (to take the big hits), and together you get the best of both worlds. The Manitou 4 ($379) houses elastomers of three different densities and at about three pounds is competitively light. Rock Shox's new Judy forks ($409 - $599) add oil-damping to fine-tune the compression and rebound -- they're the hot setups among the racing crowd. The Rock Shox Quadra 5 lacks oil-damping and doesn't have enough resistance to handle big obstacles -- but it costs only $199.
LINKAGE FORKS: Linkage-style front suspensions are actually rigid in the fork blades. But where those fork blades meet, there's something that looks like a hinged parallelogram taking up the shock. Linkage suspensions always provide the same amount of give on each side. That can't always be said of other designs. At 2.5 pounds, the Amp ($350) is one of the lightest suspension forks available, and its even flex will please aggressive riders who make mush out of other forks. Ditto Girvin's bomb-proof, 2.8-pound Vector 2 ($450).
AIR SPRINGS: It's last year's technology -- but if you haven't tried the others, you'll find that the Rock Shox Mag 21 ($299) offers a decent ride. The air-sprung, oil-damped shock is highly adjustable and great over large bumps. But because the air chambers need tight seals, the fork doesn't respond well to the small stuff. If you don't mind that, you probably can find the reliable Mag 21 as well as the similarly constructed Marzocchi 500 at reduced prices.
UNIFIED REAR TRIANGLES: The problem with rear-suspension bikes has always been unwanted movement while pedaling -- you were often fighting the terrain and your steed. But the latest designs, often referred to as unified rear triangles, do exactly what the name says: keep the drivetrain and the rear end of the bike as a rigid piece. That way the shock is only activated when you hit a bump -- not when you mash down on the pedals. Unlike forks, it's not a retrofit thing -- URT, like most rear suspensions, is available as a whole-bike (or frame) purchase only. Try the Trek Y-22 ($1,799), Schwinn's Homegrown Suspension LX ($2,200), or the trick Ibis Szazbo ($3,000).