Air Shocks Vs Coil Shocks

At Westbrook Cycles, we have mountain bikers within our team who use different types of shocks on their full suspension mountain bikes, with some using air shocks and others preferring to use coil shocks. In recent years, it’s been the air shock which has dominated the industry, but recently there has been an increase in the number of riders using coil shocks. In this post, we look at the two different types of shocks, and review some of the advantages and disadvantages of using each type of shock.

Coil Shock Advantages & Disadvantages

Coils shocks feel more supple than air shocks in many cases, and they enjoy less movement at the beginning of the shocks operation. They are also resistant to heat and because of their simpler design, offer reliability benefits over air shocks, they are also easier to service and maintain. Something which can be seen as an advantage, and a disadvantage - is the ability to change the springs within the shock, to provide a more suitable harder/softer suspension performance.

Below, we look at some of these advantages and disadvantages in greater detail:

One of the biggest drawbacks to using a coil shock, is their heavy weight compared to an air shock, although this gap has been reduced thanks to lightweight springs which are available. Remaining cooler whilst on the trails, the oil in the shock also remains cooler - meaning that the spring rate does not change - making for a more predictable performance. The increased reliability of a coil shock also means that many riders ignore service intervals of approximately twelve months, and run the same shock, without service for many seasons.

Some bikes, which have been designed to use air shocks - struggle to provide good levels of performance when using a coil shock, the issue is that bikes which have been designed with air shocks can struggle with not enough suspension progression from coils, in order to prevent the suspension bottoming out when taking a big hit on a downhill trail.

The Spring rate of a coil shock is also more difficult to adjust than on an air shock - often, using a coil shock - you will need multiple springs to achieve the ride that you want, as there is only so much a coil spring can be tuned on the move.

Air Shock Advantages & Disadvantages

One of the biggest advantages of using an air shock, is the weight saving they offer over using a coil shock. They are also easier to tune and change on the move, and they have a much better bottom out resistance, allowing bigger hits to be soaked up. Air shocks do however suffer from fades in performance, as they heat up in constant use, and they do require more regular maintenance and servicing than coil shocks.

A major advantage of using an air shock is the ability to change and tune the shock, whilst on the move. Air springs work by adjusting the pressure of an airtight chamber, which is filled using a shock pump. Changing the pressure is easy to do and with more accuracy VS what can be  achieved using a coil shock.

Air Shocks are also very light when compared to coil shocks, which is part of the reason you will never see coil shocks on superlight cross country bikes. Maintenance is greater on air shocks, but this is rewarded by what some feel is more play and responsiveness on the trails, although this performance can fade in heavy use on long downhill trails.

When to choose a Coil Shock:

● You want the toughest shock, to use on the toughest trails

● You are looking for maximum suspension sensitivity

● You want a more planted MTB

● You want easier to maintain components

● You like the look of the coil on the bike!

When to choose a Air Shock:

● You ride XC and uphill

● Your bike needs to remain light

● You want a playful rear end of the bike

● You want to quickly change the feel of the suspension, on the move