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Coil Shock VS Air Shock – Pros and Cons

It wasn’t long ago that all rear suspension shocks were coil. As technology has progressed, lighter weight and more easily-tuneable air shocks have taken over the market. The coil shock isn’t dead, however- technology on that side of the coin has progressed just as quickly, with todays coil suspension products being a fraction of the weight of their predecessors, and able to mimic many of the performance-boosting adjustments of their air-sprung peers.

For the purposes of this article, we will assume that most readers are using an air-sprung rear shock. These are the industry standard currently, and certainly have their benefits. The choice to change to a coil shock isn’t ideal for everyone, and this article will help you decide if a coil shock is a worthy alteration to make to your bike.

Why go coil?

The primary benefit of a coil shock, what modern air shocks struggle to emulate, is the suppleness of the suspension, especially in the beginning part of the stroke. Coil shocks require less effort to start them moving, and that effort doesn’t ramp up as quickly as with air shocks- this means they require less dampening to provide better traction and bike control. The difference is small, but noticeable for a good rider. Coil shocks are also less prone to heating up on long descents; their performance isn’t altered on longer downhill runs, as are found on modern enduro courses.

You simply can’t beat the performance that you get from a coil shock. As good as air spring technology is, you still have a highly pressurized air system, which means extra seals and friction. Air springs are also affected by heat, humidity, altitude and so on, which cause variances in performance,”

-PUSH Industries president Darren Murphy

Modern shock manufacturers are making a wide range of coil shocks to complement their air-sprung offerings. Shocks like Cane Creek’s DB Coil CS have lockout functionality similar to that of an air shock, making it more appropriate for trail or cross-country bikes. Rockshox new line of Super Deluxe Coil shocks feature remote lockout options and extremely light weights to appeal to a wider audience. The coil shock appears to be experiencing a renaissance.

 

Why stay with air?

Air shocks are typically lighter, more easily tuneable (being able to change their spring load via a shock pump, rather than a new coil spring), and work well with virtually any suspension linkage. Modern air shocks are highly tuneable, comparatively inexpensive, and robust.

An important factor to consider before you swap your shock out: not all suspension linkages are ideal for coil shocks. Bikes like those in the Norco lineup have progressive shock rates- the leverage ratio of the shock increases as you go through the travel. This means that you can swap to a coil shock without running the risk of bottoming-out as easily, or having to run excessive bottom-out resistance. Other bike designs might not be as progressive, and thus aren’t as well suited for coil shocks. You can find this information online with a little research, though we’ve found consulting these leverage ratio charts useful. In layman’s terms, a rising rate refers to a suspension design that becomes harder to compress (firmer) as it moves further into its travel. Conversely, a falling rate becomes easier to compress (softer) as it moves through its travel. Flat rates are pretty self-explanatory; the force required to compress the suspension remains relatively consistent throughout the stroke.

“Bikes with a progressive leverage curve [like those found in the Norco lineup] are ideal for coil shocks. Linear will perform well, with the caveat that an aggressive rider may have more instances of bottom-out than usual. A bike with a regressive leverage curve will be prone to bottom out much more frequently, especially if they are running proper sag,”

-Brandon Blakely, Cane Creek

Pinkbike.com makes the argument that air shocks give the rider more set-up options. An air spring with high and low-speed damping controls can be firmed up for park riding, softened for loose, gravelly descents, or set up as a compromise between good pedaling for trail use while banking enough DH performance to enjoy the downs. All from the same shock. Coil springs are one-shot deals. You must select one spring rate that suits the style of riding that you like most and then live with the compromise should the terrain or trail require a different setup. Cranking up the preload won’t stiffen the spring – it just makes low-speed hits harsher and reduces sag. (pinkbike.com)

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The choice is yours.

If you feel that the increased bump sensitivity, ease of maintenance, and reliability of performance that a coil shock can provide is something you’d like to consider further, head to your local Live to Play Sports dealer. They can help you decide whether your bike is well suited for a coil shock, and help you order one of the fine coil upgrades shown below!

rs_kage_rc_mm_240x76_9.5x3.0.a26l

 

Rockshox Kage RC coil
LTP part number: 318032-01/05
MSRP: $364.99

 

 

253235-22

 

Cane Creek DB Coil CS
LTP part number: 253235-20/22
MSRP: $924.99

 

 


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