ABOUT SUSPENSION LOCKOUTS

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Mechanics

Suspension systems on bicycles have become highly advanced in recent times with suspensions getting smarter with every passing day. However, most of these highly evolved technologies seem to be available only on premium bikes. Bummer!

Luckily, Compression Lockouts feature on most forks, entry-level ones too. It’s identified by a blue dial located on top of the suspension fork. Usually on the right-hand side.

A Compression Lockout dial on an air fork

WHAT IS A COMPRESSION LOCKOUT AND WHY DO I NEED IT?

A Lockout gives you the ability to make your fork behave as if it were a rigid fork. When the lockout is turned on, the fork will no longer travel or compress.

Now, why would you need to lock your suspension? This is done primarily for efficiency. You’ve probably seen that road bikes don’t have any suspension at all, this is done to save up on weight and increase efficiency. An MTB or a hybrid with suspension is significantly less efficient than a rigid bike. Energy is wasted when a suspension system is “active”. The energy generated by you is transmitted through the suspension and to the ground. This is inefficient.

Most mountain bikes can’t have rigid forks for the kind of riding they are used for. That’s where the Lockout plays an important role. When riding the rough stuff keep the suspension unlocked for full travel. When you start climbing or hit the tarmac for a while, lock the suspension. You’ll feel an immediate difference in how much more efficient climbing is with the suspension locked.

HOW DOES A COMPRESSION LOCKOUT WORK?

A lockout is a component that limits or completely restricts the movement of the suspension. The fork can do this either mechanically or hydraulically – depending on the design.

A remote lockout with the switch on the handlebar


Some forks have a remote lockout – the lever is placed on the handlebar and thus you don’t need to reach down at the fork to operate it. A cable connects the handlebar lever with the actual lockout switch on the top of the fork.

TYPES OF LOCKOUTS

There are two major kinds of lockouts – Mechanical and Hydraulic. They differ on how the suspension lockout is achieved.

1. MECHANICAL LOCKOUT

What a mechanical lockout looks like

If the fork has a coil and a lockout mechanism, the lockout is basically a crown sleeve “stopper” that locks the moving shaft in place and prevents it from moving. These locking mechanisms are usually made of plastic and are not the strongest. It is not recommended to ride over rough terrain with the suspension locked out. Doing this can cause severe damage to the fork.

These days most forks come with Hydraulic lockouts. Even the most basic ones. Mechanical lockouts are an extinct breed.

2. HYDRAULIC LOCKOUT

Modern suspensions have a valve inside, and when the suspension moves, the valve moves inside the oil, the oil is then forced to pass a very narrow opening. The size of this opening varies depending on the suspension and whether it is compressing or returning. Usually, there is a spring that lets the oil flow faster when it compresses, and slower when it rebounds, thus damping the vibrations and gives the rider more comfort and control.

On modern suspensions, there is a knob that shuts the valve close, so that is impossible to compress the fork at all. In other designs, the suspension locks close to the bottom and retains some of its travel.

A blue lockout dial

A blow-off valve feature is one that allows the system to auto-release when you hit a very hard bump because the oil pressure rises so much that it activates the blow-off valve. Some fancier models allow you to adjust how hard the hit needs to be in order to release the lock. This feature ensures that you do not end up damaging your suspension over rough terrain if you forget to unlock your fork.


To sum it all up, a lockout is a convenient feature to have on any MTB or Hybrid. It’s a great feature to have especially if you ride on varying terrains often. Efficient on the road and on climbs – Plush on the trails.

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