Our buyer's guide to tried and tested mountain bike rear suspension will help you find the best coil and air shocks for you.
The best rear shocks for mountain bikes come in all shapes and sizes. In other words, the riding you do, where you ride, how you ride and how you want your bike to feel all influence how you set up the rear suspension on your mountain bike and, therefore, which rear shock to choose.
Best mountain bike rear shocks: coil shocks
Best for expert riders looking for pro-level tool-free adjustability
Features: Climb Switch, high- and low-speed compression and rebound controls | Weight: 475g without spring/970g with 500lb spring (185x55mm, trunnion) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Amazing grip and damping performance
Cons: Wide range of adjustability could be confusing for beginners
With four easily accessible tuning dials, Kitsuma is Cane Creek’s latest generation Double Barrel shock, hand built in North Carolina and available in either air or coil sprung guises.
Substantial oil volume circulates inside the shock between adjustable valves on both damping circuits, rather than flowing back and forth across an internal piston. This means totally independent tuning in each direction, so tweaking rebound won’t affect compression damping and vice versa.
Cane Creek’s clever CS (Climb Switch) lever stabilises the bike in both directions to support against pedal bob and calm shock movement while still retaining traction and control for technical climbing. Set in the middle, CS is great for extra calmness and support for mellower or jumpy trails.
The highlight of Cane Creek’s design is how it can track and trace tiny contours and bumps very accurately with a super fluid feel, but also go from ‘poppy’ and lively to a very damped and dull ride as you choose.
The ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ on rebound and ‘soft’ and firm’ labels on compression make great sense, but there’s no denying it’s a tweaker’s product, rather than one for a rider who prefers to set and forget.
Best for coil shock performance at a lower price point
Features: Compression and rebound adjustment | Weight: 824g (200x50mm with coil) | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Good value
Cons: Low-speed compression dial is hard to turn
Marzocchi’s Bomber CR is relatively affordable at £345 (add a further £46.95 for the spring), and this means it will be of interest to anyone looking to upgrade or replace their original shock. Marzocchi certainly isn’t shy in offering it in pretty much every shock dimension – and mounting standard – under the sun.
The whole benefit of a coil shock is to do away with all the inherently air-based issues that air shocks have spent the past ten years trying to iron out. What are those issues? Stiction, and non-linear spring curves. This, and the general move away from weight weenie concerns, has contributed to the comeback of coil.
The absence of any progressive end stroke to this Bomber CR could make still make it unsuitable for certain very linear frames even if there is a Nitrile rubber bottom-out bumper for dealing with full travel moments.
The price is great. The relative lack of servicing is nice. Niggles? The low-speed compression dial is hard to turn. The rebound dial ‘lost’ its detents after a few filthy rides.
The long and the short of it is that if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of weight, spend time getting the right spring rate and your frame’s linkage will suit the linear spring curve, then the Marzocchi Bomber CR is a fantastic upgrade. It will deliver more grip, more traction and more comfort at a fraction of the price of super high end competitors. As a gateway to the addictive performance of a coil spring, it’s a great option.
Best mountain bike rear shocks: air shocks
Best for coil shock feel from an air shock
Features: High- and low-speed compression adjustment, hydraulic bottom-out | Weight: 491g (210 x 55mm standard eyelet)
Pros: Wide range of adjustments
Cons: Some of the dials are tricky to turn
RockShox’s Super Deluxe Ultimate 2023 rear shock is plush and easily tuneable. It has a range of adjustability, including hydraulic bottom-out control, as Bike Perfect detailed in their recent test.
This latest incarnation of the Super Deluxe Ultimate is all-new, with the internals and structure having had a makeover. This isn’t immediately obvious, but look closely and you’ll notice a range of updates.
The shock’s brand-new low-speed compression adjuster is chunky and simple to read, with a clear plus or minus for tweaking your damping, and there’s also a climb switch to firm things up when necessary. High-speed compression changes require a 3mm Allen key.
Air volume spacers can be added to the negative and positive sides of the DebonAir+ spring. The shock’s RC2T damper aims to separate high and low speed compression damping.
Change the low-speed damping and you might not immediately notice any difference – until you hit some corners and realise how it’s affecting overall support and ride height. Click through the settings and you’ll discover the shock has a wide range that can really affect how your bike feels and rides.
Despite the range of adjustability, pretty much however you set up the Super Deluxe Ultimate, it’ll feel good. Get it just right and you might think you’re riding a coil shock.
Availability on the new shocks is…well, a little limited. But with the advent of a new version, there’s also bargains to be had on the previous incarnation of this shock.
Features: 4-way external adjustability, fully independent compression and rebound circuits, integrated allen key | Weight: 295g (165x45mm) | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Simple to install, integrated allen tool for adjustments on the go, huge range of adjustability and control, effective climb switch
Cons: Allen key tool is a little fiddly, damping adjustment is complex
The Double Barrel IL is one of the only shocks available for shorter travel trail bikes offering full control over both rebound and compression damping, and, like the bigger Cane Creek Kitsuma shock, there’s a broad range of adjustment that works for all rider sizes and tastes.
The latest design features a miniature allen key magnetically hidden inside the Climb Switch lever. It’s not as easy to use as the ‘guitar’ dials on the superb Kitsuma I’ve reviewed previously, but it’s simpler than digging out a multi tool and struggling with the limited frame clearance you find on many bikes.
Absorbing heavy flat landings, or touchdowns after drops – where the bike slaps back at the ground – is way smoother and more controlled with zero bounce or trembling, and the IL also tracks and traces the ground with more fluidity and precision, so you can really follow tiny undulations and choppy terrain. All this precision brings extra stability to the chassis and noticeably more grip.
Cane Creek’s shock also has a unique and very effective ride-stabilising climb switch that neutralises pedalling weight shifts by dulling both rebound and compression (rather than just compression on rivals).
Yes, this In Line is over £500, but I love how Cane Creek’s shock performs, and reckon the brand’s dampers are a match for any of the more expensive options on the market. And while older-generation Cane Creek air shocks could start to feel notchy down the line, I’ve had zero issues with this sample after several hundred kilometres.
How we test mountain bike rear shocks
All MBR test products go through extensive testing on a range of terrain. Our expert team of reviewers and riders trials every rear shock over a lengthy period and compared against other similar products.
Performance, user-friendliness, price, longevity and a range of opinions are all considered when weighing up the final verdict.
What to look for in the best mountain bike rear shocks
The most important things to consider when upgrading your rear suspension are size, adjustability, durability and performance (and price, but that goes without saying).
Make sure the shock has the correct eye-to-eye and stroke length for your bike.
When you buy a bike, its rear shock has almost certainly been tuned to work with it. So, a replacement shock might need some trial-and-error testing to get it feeling just right (you might even want to get an expert suspension servicing setup like TF Tuned to tweak the shock internals for you and your bike). Also, every rider is different – there are all sorts of sizes, weights and riding styles.
Rear shocks must cope with a lot of up-and-down and sideways abuse, all while getting coated in mud, dust and water.
Choosing an air or coil shock, and at what price point, will affect how your bike handles.
Should you buy an air or coil shock?
There are two types of mountain bike rear shock: air and coil. Air-sprung rear shocks are the most common across all mountain bike disciplines, although coil-sprung shocks are popular among gravity enthusiasts, especially downhill racers.
Most everyday riders use air shocks, which are lighter and more easily tuneable than coil shocks. Still, you might want to consider a coil shock for all-out performance (as it should be more reactive to small bumps and remain more consistent on longer descents, where heat build-up can affect damping). Some brands and riders are also choosing coil shocks for e-bikes.
What makes a good mountain bike rear shock?
The simple purpose of your rear suspension is to smooth out rough terrain. But it needs to be easily adjustable and reliable too.
The best rear shocks for mountain bikes are supple enough to soak up small bumps yet don’t blow through the travel on bigger hits, all while providing a stable pedalling platform (i.e., they don’t bounce all over the place when you’re on the gas).
Beyond basic maintenance for longevity, suspension servicing requires special tools, expert knowledge and a range of oils, seals and shims, so it is usually left to the professionals. Therefore, easy disassembly shouldn’t be a factor in choosing a rear shock.
How do you adjust the rear suspension?
On most rear shocks, you can externally adjust spring firmness (how much force it takes to compress the shock), compression damping (how fast or slow the shock compresses) and rebound damping (how fast or slow it extends after compression).
Most shocks have obvious valves and dials to adjust these settings (some use Allen keys for the damping controls).
On an air shock, you adjust the firmness by changing the air pressure using a specific high-pressure pump. To change the firmness of a coil shock, you must change the metal spring.
Also, you can add or remove internal spacers that change the air spring volume on most modern air shocks.
What does high- and low-speed damping mean?
Many pricier rear shocks have high- and low-speed compression and rebound adjustments. These separate fast, sudden impacts such as landing jumps or hitting a sharp-edged rock (this is high-speed) from the general up-and-down of moving your bodyweight around, cornering forces and pedalling (low speed).
How is a mountain bike rear shock measured?
Each bike has a specific rear shock length, measured as an ‘eye to eye’ length, which refers to the distance between the bolts that attach the shock to your bike. The stroke length – how much the shock compresses – is also specific to your bike, so you should carefully refer to the bike manufacturer’s information before buying a new rear shock. Sidenote: most modern shocks use metric measurements.
What is a Trunnion mount rear shock?
Many mountain bike rear shocks pivot around a single bolt at either end that perforates an eyelet (hole) at the end of the shock. Each bolt screws into or through the bike’s linkage.
On a Trunnion mount, bolts screw directly into the shock itself. This saves space, meaning there’s more room for longer stroke lengths and original shock design.
Should I use a coil or air shock?
This is down to personal preference. A coil shock might give you a plusher ride feel, but an air shock is more easily adjusted, lighter, and therefore most riders’ choice of rear shock for mountain biking.