Robot’s Useless Reviews – Rear Suspension

Strictly speaking, rear suspension is when they throw your ass out of school for a few days. It’s the precursor to rear expulsion, which is also the thing that happens when you’re too far forward and gravity turns your front wheel into a rudimentary pivot. One of them is a time out, so you can think about what you’ve done. The other skips straight to the punishment.

In cycling terms, there was a time when “rear suspension” consisted solely of hanging your ass off the back of the saddle to keep from launching yourself headfirst over the bars (see rear expulsion, above). In fact, when you look at it geometrically, a bike with rear suspension is really just hanging the saddle back there, so you can sit while your ass hovers precariously over your rear wheel. In this scenario, whether you’ve managed to trigger the spring on your dropper post quickly enough or not, if you still manage to forcefully eject yourself from the cockpit, you only have yourself to blame. Maybe you ought to have stuck with a hardtail, if only for the plausible deniability.

If you think about it, we’ve spent a long time and a lot of energy trying to suspend our rears. As early as the 1880s, our forebears were adding springs to their saddles in an effort to take the edge off a pre-paved world. Then, in the slightly less olden days, we packed ourselves into wool shorts, the first cycling shapewear, later improved upon by Lycra. It lifts and conceals. It keeps us from hanging over and hanging about. It helps suspend the disbelief that a schlub like us could look this good in a leotard.

And then we added chamois(es), because we needed more suspension. And then we made gel-topped saddles. And suspension seatposts. And chamois cream, because friction. And this is all an effort to deal with our asses, which are, if we’re honest, a persistent problem vis a vis the bicycle and the riding thereof.

A bike that employs rear suspension in sometimes called a softtail (see above paragraph re: shapewear), and this means all the things one might impute. I know, because I am very busy imputing right now.

MCR Descender, via

Getting to the core of the thing, the rear suspension that sprang to your mind when you read the title, recent history is not what you might think. Counterintuitively, rear suspension preceded front. In the early 1980s, Brian Skinner came out with a rear suspended mountain bike, the MCR Descender, that featured a single pivot design. Skinner had a hand in all sorts of later bike technology developments (e.g., rapid fire shifting), but this was the last time he put his hands on your rear (suspension), which is good because those early single pivots were fugly, which is a technical term. The photo to your right will confirm.

As things progressed, we got split pivots, four-bar linkages, Horst links (which sounds like a delicious bratwurst), and we got familiar with terms like pedal bob (a bike-riding clown) and brake jack (a ’90s dance craze). Suspensions got “progressive” and models were launched on the idea that an ideal “virtual pivot point” had been discovered. This is, of course, all true, and yet smacks of sorcery.

Mountain bike geometries got specific. We started with “mountain bike,” and then got cross-country and downhill. Then trail and enduro and big hit, x-c trail, flow, jump, snap, crackle, and pop, which is ironically the sound your collarbone makes when you suffer a rear expulsion. I can attest.

I don’t really want to address the Softride here. If you’re dying for a deep dive on that monstrosity, read this.

Humanity has been trying to figure out how gravity works for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, Rome and India (and probably most other places where food falls on the floor), philosophers and mathematicians struggled to describe its exact nature. Humanity has also had buttocks, more or less from the beginning, and rear suspension is merely the intersection of ancient philosophy and anatomy in a very specific cauldron of cycling physics.

What I can tell you is, riders will suspend their rears however they can, and some riders will go to any lengths, employing springs and elastomers and progressive mathematical curves, to keep their rears suspended while all manner of chaos unspools around them. I, for one, look forward to a future in which cyclists have magnets implanted in their asses to serve as oppositional force to a spinning, hub-mounted magnet, eliminating the need for all that other intervening technology.

And I look forward to the Wikipedia article on Bicycle Suspension listing me as the inventor of this final, technological leap. You’re welcome.

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  1. dr sweets says

    You spoke of rear suspension in yr recent Revolting. You personally rode Seven’s prototypes for what I think is their now offered Mobius model and came away impressed despite many reservations. I personally have always felt that if you are looking for/trying to design a full suspension bike that “rides” like a hardtail you are missing the point. I think this why so many early full suspension bikes were terrible. I also believe that we often often have a tendency to attempt to make things into something they were never meant to be or not allow bikes to become what they could be. An example of this in full suspension was the original Santa Cruz Superlight. It was simply a “lightened-up” Heckler. The Heckler rode great and made you feel invincible. So did the Superlight, but it wasn’t designed to handle the kind of riding that people who truly would’ve been better served by a Heckler or Bullit were putting it through. Consequently, many broke as the industry still pushed the lightweight good/strong-heavy bad narrative at the time. The other big example of not allowing bikes to be what they could be was the implementation of the 29er wheel. I absolutely despised every 29er I rode up until ’12. All of them from high end custom ones to off the shelve models rode like twitchy messes. I always felt like I was atop a barstool after being over-served. Then in ’12 I rode the first Kona Honzo. Finally someone had figured out that you could design a big wheeled bike that used said wheels to mow over everything and have fun without being an XC nightmare. At the time, I said every bike will eventually adopt this geometry approach and ten years later this is true. I love where modern aggressive geo hardtails are now as they along with full suspension bikes are putting fun (rowdy, playful, ride up/through/over/off of anything) first. Ride on.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @Dr Sweets – It is entirely likely I was missing the point when giving my impressions and feedback on the Mobius prototypes. I am tragically limited by my own experience, which makes it fortunate that I was not the bike designer on that project. I feel as though I learned A LOT in riding the prototypes and having the math explained to me. Whether that bike is great relative to other FS bikes, I’m maybe not qualified to say. What I will say is that I loved riding it. It felt so capable, in fact so much more capable than most of the FS bikes I’ve ridden. Whether that’s because it mirrors in some way the hardtail experience, or whether it merely solves the problems most FS bikes have, I don’t really know, but you bring up excellent points.

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