Coil VS Air Suspension MTB Shocks

At Westbrook Cycles, nobody understands how quickly the industry can change - more than us. Each year, we see all kinds of different products come through our doors, some of which are massive hits with our customers and others which are just part of an industry phase, soon to be forgotten about.

In recent years, there has been increased attention on and around what type of shock to use on full suspension mountain bikes, with the choice being between air shocks and coil shocks. It was not a million years ago that all shocks that were fitted to bikes were a coil, before air shocks were introduced - offering a more tunable, lighter shock suspension solution.

Today, most suspension shocks are the air variant - but many mountain bikers and in turn, manufacturers, are looking towards coil shocks once again. In this post, we discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of both variants.

The case for Coils

Some riders prefer coil shocks, simply because they prefer the way that coil shocks perform out on the trails. It’s true that air shocks cannot beat coil shocks with regards to suppleness and travel - coil shocks require less dampening VS air shocks - meaning performance is increased throughout the full range of travel. Coil Springs feel more consistent across the full range of travel, something which can be noticed, especially by better riders.

Air shocks, because of the greater pressure inside of them - can heat up on longer downhill runs, meaning that their performance can suffer further down the trail.

To answer the resurgence of coil shocks, suspension manufacturers are putting their coil shocks to the masses, alongside their air shock range. Coil shocks on the market today are incredibly adjustable, allowing them to be tweaked and fine tuned for all kinds of riding. Many coil shocks now also feature lockout options to allow for good progress uphill.

Another benefit to coil suspension is ease of maintenance and increased strength, which makes them great for heavier riders. On the subject of weight however, there is a slight increase in weight of around half a lb, with coil shocks being heavier than air shocks.

Sticking with Air

To confuse matters, there are also plenty of reasons to stick with air shocks on your bike. Air Shocks are lighter than coil shocks, so for cross country and competitive riders - the weight saving will be of utmost importance. Air Shocks have also been designed to be inherently easy to adjust, customising performance.

In our experience, the ability to adjust an air shock is invaluable. Air Shocks can be customised to work with any kind of full-sus mtb frame, they are easy to change and are naturally progressive. Air springs can be loosened for long tricky descents - as well as customised for uphill and flat riding performance. The reason that these shocks can be adjusted in so many different ways is the fact they can be customised and tuned with both air and volume spacers.

Air Shocks do however require a more regular service than coil shocks, and as mentioned above - performance can fade on very long downhill runs. Air shocks also provide a bouncier, more lively feel than a coil shock - that can be an advantage, or disadvantage depending upon your exact requirements.

How to Choose

The choice of what type of Shock to use, is of course - yours and yours only, but we can give excellent advice on the right type of shock for you, based on your riding requirements and preferences. Loosely, we think that the following factors should influence your decision:

Get a Coil Shock if you:

  • Prefer a more planted bike feel
  • You want easier and less frequent service intervals
  • You tackle long descents, which an air shock can fade on

Get an Air Shock if you:

  • Ride uphill and across flat terrain, as much as downhill
  • You want to keep your bike as light as possible
  • You enjoy changing and adjusting your shock on the move

You can view our full collection of mountain bike shocks, here.