Many shocks have tune markers on the outside to show how the frame manufacturer spec’d them. It’s Greek to most of us, but suspension tuners will use that info as a starting point.
Like a song stuck in your head, the internal damping tune of your suspension is what makes it sing. So far, we’ve covered everything you can do yourself: Setting Sag (Part 1), dialing your compression (Part 2) and rebound (Part 3) damping, and adjusting air volume (Part 4). For the vast majority of riders, these user-friendly adjustments are going to get your mountain bike tackling the terrain like a champ.
But, as with anything made to work as well as possible across as broad a spectrum as possible, there’s always a chance it’s not going to work right for you. And if none of the other tricks worked, you could look at a new suspension fork or shock that has more adjustability built in. Or you could just order a new shock with a softer or firmer tune directly from Fox, Rockshox, Manitou, DT Swiss, Magura or whomever. That might be an easier solution then sending it off for custom tuning, but it would be missing the point.
“For a custom tune, we consider rider weight, riding style and, for rear shocks, the leverage ratio curve,” says Kevin Booth, founder of Suspension Experts. “The manufacturers don’t always have all of this information available to them, so it’s not possible to offer the perfect fork or shock out of the box. So while stock suspension comes out of a factory designed around an “average” sized rider, it has to be able to function for a rider that is anywhere from 100 lbs. to 300 lbs. It’s easy to see the opportunity to make it work better. To accommodate this broad range of potential riders, the external knobs tend to offer very coarse adjustments …swinging wildly from one extreme end of the adjustment range to the other. A suspension tuner’s job is to narrow that range of adjustment to work well for a particular bike (leverage ratio curve) and rider (weight).”
That means even a different stock tune is still going to be made to fit a very wide range of riders rather than you, specifically. So, how do you know when it’s time to look at a custom tune?
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