Adjustable suspension geometry: gimmick, or real benefit?

Does adjustable geometry matter?

Modern day mountain bikes often incorporate some sort of “chip” that can “flip” (their words, not mine) to adjust a bike’s geometry.  And once in a while, we’ll see various mechanical options on the frame to change the bike’s suspension characteristics- making it easier to bottom out (regressive) or much more difficult to bottom out (progressive).  I thought it’d be fun to do a true back-to-back test of a few various settings, and to vlog my reactions to the way the bike’s “feel” changes. 

The Rocky Mountain Altitude has 9 different positions to mount the rear shock, making it a perfect candidate for this. There are three options for geometry, and within each of those, there are three options for suspension characteristic. Rocky refers to this as the “Ride 9”; I refer to it as “clever”.  And no, this video is not really about this bike per se- it’s more about the general concept of adjustable geometry/suspension.   
You can see the rear shock mount has a square inside of a square type deal- that’s where the adjustability comes from on this bike.  

This Rocky Mountain Altitude has 9 different shock mounting points- 3 different geometry settings and within each of those, 3 different suspension linkage ratios.  In plain language, this means the bike can be set up slack, neutral, or steep, and within those, the suspension can be fine tuned to be more progressive, neutral, or more linear.  I’m curious just how much this will actually matter on the trail, so spent a few hours trying each and every one of these 9 settings- along with a control run before the test, and a final “review” run at the end.

Again, the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude C90 Rally Edition.  I first rode this bike in the most slack, most progressive combo- and I found it be a tad too much bike for my tastes.  However, after a couple rides, a Rocky Mountain ambassador tipped me off to the neutral geometry, neutral suspension setting as a good starting point.  I gave it a shot, and WOW, it really woke the bike up!  This is a nice little lesson- it’s a good reminder that certain geometry settings might not work for you, and that’s OK!  

Today’s test loop is simple- a steep run in, a tight turn,  a small drop off, a fast straightaway, a couple little jumps, then a return climb that’s quite steep and challenging.  That said, the most important aspect of the test loop is that it is easily repeatable- as I was to do 10 laps on it!

I do wish I had more tight turns like this in the test, as it seemed like braking traction might have slightly improved with the more regressive suspension. Also, I was surprised to feel that the geometry felt a tad slacker with more regressive suspension curve versus the progressive curve. It may be trendy to always go more progressive, but there is indeed a place for the opposite!  And I’d wager that it’s more natural, more techy trails, especially those with less traction.

Of course, there are special use scenarios where one setting should be expected to be ideal- for example, slack and progressive for high speed bike park riding; or steep and linear for tight and techy goat trails.  But how do we define those general terms?  And can different riding styles speak better to differing geometries?  

Mouth-breathing, blurry eyed, and soaked in stinky sweat- don’t all our rides of have plenty of time spent suffering up the climbs like this? Or would a quick change in geo reverse the tides, and make steep climb challenges akin to a casual day on the beach, soaking in the rays while sipping a Tom Collins? And if the bike can be set up for a relaxing climbing experience, would it still be able to descend with the tenacity of a starving panther?

Do you have a bike with adjustable suspension?  What’s been your experience- have you ever tried the various settings, or have you never touched it once?  Let know in the comments below!

Going into this, I’m admittedly a big fan of adjustability.  We don’t all ride the same frame size, handlebar widths, or suspension pressures and settings.  Why should we all be stuck to the same suspension traits and geometry?  My initial bias is that this is pretty cool.  But I don’t know just how different the settings will feel on the trail, or if all settings will indeed be viable.

The small drop on this section of trail should be enough to get into the last 25% of the suspension. If the bike feels sketchy here, then it’s going to feel REALLY sketchy on a gnar trail!

Now, adjustability does have plenty of drawbacks.  Perhaps the biggest is that end users who buy these bikes don’t take the time to learn about what setting might be best for them, resulting in them riding a bike that doesn’t feel anywhere near as good as it could or should. How many folks get a completely new SD card for their GoPro every time it gets full?  Which means they aren’t nearly getting full potential out of it.  There are PLENTY of examples of end users who aren’t fully educated on what they purchase, and hey, I’ve been guilty of this too.  We have a Jeep that has never once been rock crawled…  

Adjustability also invites the potential for problems- more complexity means more things to lose or break,  potential for creaks, it drives up cost, and perhaps the most difficult, is that testing each setting to be sure it’s got no weird side effects is quite a chore.  

I’m surprised at how good the bike still felt in the steeper geometry settings, especially when coupled with the more regressive suspension. I could certainly see a style or locale where that would be preferable. I hope that all of you with adjustable frames spend a few minutes to try each setting- you WILL learn something!

To hear my thoughts on the differences between the settings, it’s best to watch the video.  That’s the raw, candid reaction of how the bike changed.  And remember, your own style combined with your own trails might result in a totally different, and equally valid, outcome.  However, in the case of the Rocky here, I can say that each position felt like it could be viable in a particular scenario.  I ended up sticking with the neutral geometry setting, but learned that the more progressive suspension better suited my style.  Now I send with a smile!

The higher speed portion of the trail was a spot where the slacker angles should have felt much better. Instead, the slacker angles had the bike feeling a little more like a missile- just wanting to go straight and not responsive to steering corrections. This could just be from needing to spend more time on it, but I would rank my geometry preferences as neutral, steep, then finally, slack. Go figure- I’m usually looking for bikes to be way slacker than they are stock!

I don’t think I’d avoid a bike entirely because it doesn’t have adjustable geometry and/or suspension, but depending on a riders usage case, it’s definitely something to consider.  Would I pay extra for the adjustability?  Ya, I probably would.  That said, I’m super in deep in the MTB game.  I’ve raced world cup downhills (albeit poorly) and various stops of the Enduro World Series (though without results worthy of mentioning), meaning I have a lifetime of dialing in bikes very specifically.  For me, it’s an awesome feature.  But for the average consumer, it might not be a big deal at all, as long as folks report that the stock configuration of a bike rides well. 

Perhaps I should do a feature on how to adjust your geometry WITHOUT an adjustable frame?  I do have a slew of tricks up my sleeve there…   

Once again, big thanks to Jenson for sponsoring this video AND for arranging for this loaner bike.  I have a link here to this Rocky Mountain Altitude Rally Edition over at Jenson USA, and anything you purchase from that link will directly help my channel.  Thanks for your time!

For trails with many switchbacks, I like the neutral position. I prefer to lean the bike over and really pump through a turn, but if that’s not possible, then a stoppie is my next go-to move. The super slack angle makes these slightly harder to pull off smoothly.

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