Best Mountain Bike Forks

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

29 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
307 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best mountain bike forks

Last Updated October 2019

When starting out with a mountain bike, riders often just stick with the gear that ships with the bicycle. However, as riders become more experienced, they figure out the importance of adding some high-quality parts to the bike. One of the best upgrades to make on a mountain bike is the fork.

All mountain bike forks (also called suspension forks) have a similar look. However, they have significant design differences that create vastly different feature sets. High-end replacement forks can deliver a smoother ride. A new fork may also weigh less than the original fork, allowing you to reach greater speeds for longer periods. When shopping, you need to match the size of the suspension fork to the wheel size on your mountain bike and consider some other key features.

We’ve compiled this buying guide to help you find the right fork for your mountain bike, and we’ve included several of our favorites for you to check out, too.

A lightweight mountain bike fork is a smart choice if you do a lot of cross-country riding. You don’t want to carry extra weight if you don’t have to.

Key considerations

Compression

Once you know the right wheel size, think about the kind of mountain bike you own and how you use it. You’ll then be able to select a fork with the right compression that fits your needs. You’ll see the word “travel” in this context, which is the maximum distance the fork compresses, listed in millimeters (mm).

In terms of impact absorption, a larger travel distance allows the fork to absorb greater impacts resulting in a smoother ride. A fork with a shorter travel distance won’t be as smooth over rough terrain.

And, as you might suspect, a fork with a larger travel distance weighs more than one with a shorter travel distance.

65 to 110 mm: Cross-country bike forks have the shortest travel distance. These forks are made for smoother terrain and lower speeds over long rides. These suspension forks are lighter than the others.

110 to 140 mm: A fork with this travel distance works best on a trail bike. You can find both lightweight suspension forks and more durable, heavier forks in this range.

140 to 170 mm: You’ll find this travel distance on forks for mountain bikes made for hard riding. These forks are very durable but also weigh quite a bit. Know that as the travel distance on the fork increases, you’ll need to tilt the seat back father for the best performance.

170 to 210 mm: You’ll see the longest travel distance on downhill mountain bike forks. These are made for the toughest riding conditions. This type of fork can also be highly adjustable for the best performance on different types of terrain. A longer fork gives you better steering stability than a short one. However, you won’t be able to make steering adjustments as quickly with the longer fork.

EXPERT TIP

Heavy forks work best for those who commonly ride on rough terrain where the extra durability is useful, and the additional weight isn’t a concern.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Use cases

Forks are made to accommodate certain wheel diameters. You’ll want to think about how you’ll use the mountain bike and find a fork that matches your desired use case and the proper wheel size.

Downhill: A downhill mountain bike fork needs to carry a longer travel distance than other types of forks. You can expect to commonly find downhill forks for 26- or 27.5-inch wheels.

Enduro: A fork for an enduro mountain bike will carry a slightly longer-than-average travel distance. (Enduro bikes have some features found in both trail and downhill bikes.) You’ll commonly find forks with 26-, 27.5-, and 29-inch wheel sizes for enduro forks.

Trail: A trail fork will need to have a sturdy build quality so it can stand up to rough riding conditions. It’ll use an average to slightly below-average travel distance. Commonly, trail mountain bike forks are available in 27.5- and 29-inch wheel sizes.

Spring

You can choose between forks with an air spring or a metal coil spring.

Air spring: Air spring fork suspension uses compressed air to absorb impacts. The air spring system is more versatile than the coil spring because you can adjust the pressure, which allows the suspension fork to work for people of different weights. Air springs are commonly found in newer fork designs because they’re easier to adjust and service.

Coil spring: A coil spring uses a metal spring to absorb impact. Look for a coil spring system that matches the weight of the rider. Selecting a system with the wrong amount of support is the most common mistake made with this system. Coil spring forks tend to cost less than air spring forks. It’s possible to find a coil spring system that’s infused with air to be more effective, but these systems aren’t common.

Damping control

Damping simply means changing the speed of compression to make the ride smoother. Pricier forks give you the ability to tweak the damping for various types of terrain. However, this feature is really aimed at experienced riders who know how to adjust the damping to their needs. Inexperienced riders need more time on the bike before they can determine the perfect settings.

EXPERT TIP

Some mountain bike forks allow you to adjust the travel distance within a certain range. You can use one travel distance for uphill climbs and another for downhill riding.


Staff  | BestReviews

Mountain bike fork prices

Inexpensive: These forks cost between $75 and $200. Know that cheaper forks may not deliver the smooth ride you’re seeking on rough trails. The more bounce, the harder it is to maintain control of the bike.

Mid-range: These forks cost between $200 and $400. You can hone in on exactly the features you want in this price range. This is a good price range for the typical rider who has a bit of experience and is seeking to upgrade their bike’s original equipment.

Expensive: You can expect to pay between $400 and $1,000 for a high-end fork. Only extremely experienced riders can take advantage of the smooth performance that a fork this expensive can deliver.

EXPERT TIP

Those who want a mountain bike with a really rigid frame don’t use a suspension fork in either the front or the rear.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

If you’re confused by some of the terminology and jargon used with mountain bike forks, here are some definitions that can help.

  • Lower legs: These are the lower parts of the legs on the suspension fork.
  • Cross brace: This bar connects the lower legs of the fork for stability and durability.
  • Rebound: After the suspension fork compresses (shortens) to absorb an impact, it rebounds to its normal length.
  • Sag: This is the distance the suspension fork compresses under the weight of the rider. Some systems allow you to make adjustments (called a preload) to compensate for sag.
  • Stanchion: The stanchions, or upper fork tubes, telescope inside the lower legs of the fork to absorb shock.

Other products we considered

If you need a mountain bike fork with some features other than those available in our matrix, here are a few other products we considered. When you need one of the shortest travel distance options in a fork, the RockShox Paragon Gold RL Fork measures 65 mm. The RockShox Recon Silver TK Fork has a lightweight 9 mm axle standard with a 100 mm travel distance. For a sharp-looking fork that has low-speed compression, we like the corki Suspension Fork. If you want to save a bit of money, the Identiti Rebate Jump XL Fork has a sharp design with a nice level of performance.

Metal coil springs hold up well and offer peak performance for the duration of long rides. Air springs may lose responsiveness by the end of a long ride.

FAQ

Q. Do I want rebound damping or compression damping?
A.
In a perfect situation, you want both types of damping. But if you only can afford one, rebound damping causes the fork to return to its original height in a controlled manner. This allows a smoother ride rather than a jolting one. Compression damping is better for terrain that is less rough.
 

Q. What is low-speed compression in a fork?
A.
A mountain bike fork that has low-speed compression handles the typical jolts and bumps during a ride. Compensating for bumps that occur from normal braking or turning is best handled with low-speed compression.


Q. When do I need high-speed compression in a mountain bike fork?
A.
If you use your bike on especially rough terrain, high-speed compression is desirable. It quickly dissipates the heavy jolts from hitting rough landings and rocks.
 

Q. Should I just select the largest travel distance in a fork that fits my budget?
A.
Not necessarily. A larger travel distance in the front suspension fork causes the front end of the bike to angle upward, greatly altering your ride. For a bike that can’t handle it, this extreme angle can strain the frame and eventually damage it.

The team that worked on this review
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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