Coil Fork vs. Air Fork « Pros and Cons

The suspension fork significantly influences the handling and comfort of a bike. Air forks have long been considered the norm in almost all mountain bike sports. 

With air forks, the compression circuit’s air chamber serves as a spring. A metal coil serves as a spring in coil forks. By restricting the flow of oil in the rebound circuit, the rebound function on both air and coil systems can be changed.

The majority of mountain bikes at a bike store will have an air fork. But along with them, coil forks have started to reappear due to certain performance enhancements, especially for trail and enduro riding. 

Difference Between Air Forks and Coil Forks

Coil ForksAir Forks
Good tractionAllow precise adjustment
Less expensiveCostly
Low adjustabilityRequire higher maintenance
More sensitive to jolts and jerksNoiseless as compared to coil forks

Which Is Better For Me: Air or Coil Fork?

Air forks are the preferred option for cross-country and trail riders. These forks are a great improvement due to their weight, simplicity of setup, and degree of adjustability. A coil might be the right choice for you if you ride a large travel bike or simply enjoy riding hard and fast. Strong coils and a superior linear spring rate are both advantages. 

Your preferred paths and nature of travel will help you make a better decision. 

What are Coil Forks?

Coil springs made up of metal are used as a form of resistance in coil forks. Usually, titanium or steel is used inside. This implies that greater power is needed to compress the spring.

You may replace the coils in the coil forks with stronger or softer ones to change the spring rate. By adjusting the dial at the top, you may adjust the fork’s depression as well. 

What are Air Forks?

Air forks absorb stress by utilizing compressed air’s ability to resist pressure. Compressed air contained in an airtight compartment inside the fork arm supplies the fork’s springs. 

This component is known as an air spring. Once compressed, air resists further compression. All styles of mountain biking, including trail riding, downhill trail, enduro, and freeride, employ air forks.

The air fork also features a damping mechanism. As a result, the ride is more comfortable, and the fork doesn’t bounce the following compression.

Pros of Using a Coil Fork

#1 Sensitive to Minor Jerks

The seals on coil forks are fewer. Since the shock does not need to be airtight, existing seals can be a little looser. Because fewer moving elements are rubbing against one another, the system has less friction. 

» Read my blog post: Step-by-Step: How to Adjust Bike Brakes Rubbing

In other words, a small impact force is needed to get the coil center moving. This provides for increased sensitivity to tiny bumps.

#2 Coil Forks Require Lower Maintenance

The majority of riders must maintain their coil forks every 6 to 9 months. In contrast, air forks need an average maintenance every three to six months.

Coil forks require less maintenance, primarily because there are fewer seals on them. As a result, the fork is less susceptible to wear-or damage-causing dirt, dust, and other impurities. 

Fewer seals mean that the coil forks don’t heat up as much. These components, therefore, do not age as rapidly. 

Seals and oil have a longer lifespan. Because of these factors, coil forks have more frequent maintenance intervals than air forks.

#3 Improved Traction

Since coil forks operate with less friction, they are more responsive to little bumps.

As a result, the front wheel may follow the ground’s curves more consistently when you’re riding. Instead of bouncing, the front tire remains rooted to the ground.

#4 A Smoother Ride

Small bumps are easily picked up by the coil fork, whereas the air fork might not do this. Additionally, you’ll experience reduced noise and vibration when riding on uneven ground. 

A smoother and more pleasant ride is hence observed. Furthermore, less vibration will cause your hands and arms to tire less rapidly.

#5 More Robust

Forks made of coils have fewer moving components that might break. For instance, there is no air valve and fewer internal seals. As a result, the material faces less wear and tear.

A coil fork could be a safer and more dependable choice if you intend to travel long distances by bike. You won’t likely go into trouble for it.

» You can also read my post: How to Adjust Bike Brakes Rubbing?

#6 Cheaper

Initially it might seem that coil forks are costlier than air forks. But because they need less maintenance, they often cost less during their lifetime. 

You might only need to service your coil forks 20 times if you keep your bike for 10 years. Whereas the air fork would have to go for maintenance at least 30 times during this time. 

Over the fork’s lifespan, longer maintenance intervals can result in greater annual savings.

Cons of Coil Forks

#1 Fewer Adjustable Options

You will need to swap out your coil with a stronger or softer one if you want to change the spring rate of your coil fork. Typically, coils are offered in 5 or 10 pounds per inch intervals. 

You might need to change the coil straight away if you purchase a new mountain bike with a coil fork. Most mountain bikes are offered with coils that are suited for moderate-weight riders (around 160–180 pounds). 

To achieve the right spring rate, you might need to replace the coils depending on how heavy or light your ride is. If you want to purchase a new bike, you might want to keep this in mind.

#2 Heavier

Coil forks typically weigh between 300 and 500 grams more than air forks of equal size. A lightweight coil fork weighs roughly 2100 grams (4.6 lbs). An air fork is rather light, weighing about 1600 grams (3.5 lbs) in comparison.

Because they employ heavy metal coils to provide resistance, coil forks are heavier than air forks, which use weightless air.  

The coil fork’s higher weight contributes to the steering’s slightly sluggish and reactive sensation. Additionally, it is more difficult to lift the front wheel. 

The bike is more difficult to accelerate and climb because of the extra weight. Moving greater mass requires more energy. 

Tip: Installing lighter springs will help the coil forks weigh less. Titanium coils, for instance, weigh substantially less than steel. Of course, their prices are likewise higher.

#3 Low Adaptability and Versatility

You cannot readily tune your coil forks so that they are optimized for each ride due to their low adaptability. Furthermore, the fork is difficult to modify for many bike models. This limits the versatility of bikes using coil forks.

For instance, you might want to use the same bike for both trail riding and bike packing. For off-road riding, you might want softer coils, while heavier loads on the bike will be supported by stronger coils. 

To adapt the bike to different riding styles, you must purchase various coil sets with various spring rates, disassemble the forks, and replace them constantly. Most cyclists don’t want to continually deal with this. 

#4 Noise

During compression, the metal coil could run against the fork body’s inside wall. You will hear a clicking sound when this occurs. 

The spring will make a noise if there is insufficient preload when it strikes the fork’s bottom.

Worn-out seals can also produce fork noise. Your coil fork should operate quietly if it is maintained and set correctly.

#5 Fewer Options

Few bikes today still have coil forks, as you will discover if you enter a bike store. Your options will be constrained if you purchase a new coil fork to mount on your current bike. 

Bike forks these days often feature air springs.  

» Read my blog post: How Many Miles to Bike a Day?

Pros of Air Forks

#1 Precise Spring Rate Adjustment

By altering the pressure in the fork’s air chamber, you can obtain the precise spring or shock rate you desire. The suspension becomes firmer when the pressure is increased. To make it softer, let the air out. 

» Maybe this also could be of interest to you: Pick The Best: (Hardtail Vs. Full Suspension Mountain Bike)

The fork sag is adjusted using the same technique. This modification makes it simple to tailor the fork for various riding conditions, rider weights, and terrains. 

#2 Adjust Your Progress

Air forks are progressive, as was already indicated. This means that along the travel range, they become difficult to compress. By adding or removing spacers from the air chamber of the fork, you may adjust the air fork’s advancement. 

These spacers regulate the air chamber’s volume. Adding spacers decreases the capacity of the air chamber, making the suspension more progressive. 

In other words, you can regulate the variation in the force needed to move the suspension throughout the suspension range. 

#3 Easier to Tinker With

You only need to add or withdraw air from the fork to change the spring rate. This is accomplished with a shock pump, a unique high-pressure pump. 

Simple pumping of air in or out is accomplished by connecting the pump to the American-style valve on the fork. 

A built-in pressure gauge on the shock pump makes it simple to adjust accurately to precise pressures. Adjustments are also made quickly.

» This could also be something for you: Flat Pedals vs. Clipless Bicycle Pedals

#4 Lighter

Because the springs in air forks are made of air and weigh nothing, they are lighter. On the other hand, the coil forks contain robust steel coil springs. 

The reduced weight at the front of the bike makes the steering seem faster and more responsive. Additionally, lifting the front of the bike and jumping are simpler.

Selecting an air fork over a coil fork will save between 300 and 500 grams (0.66 and 1.1 lbs). A lightweight bike is also faster and easier to climb.

#5 Quieter

Air forks operate quite silently when properly maintained. Except for the odd occasion that you touch the lower surface, there won’t be much clicking or squeaking.

Cons of Air Forks

#1 Demands Frequent Maintenance

Compared to coil forks, air forks have more seals. The air spring needs these extra seals to keep the compressed air inside. Air forks are more prone to dirt, dust, and other pollutants than coil forks since they have more seals. 

» I have also written this post, about: Rust on a Bike: Here’s How to Remove Rust From a Bicycle!

The fork suspension may stop operating as a result of air or oil leaking from the compromised seals. Hence the regular maintenance.

Air forks also produce greater heat as a result of the friction that is firmly contained. Although it won’t have an impact on performance, this heat could hasten the deterioration of seals and fork oil. 

These factors make air forks more maintenance-intensive than coil forks. Depending on how often you ride, you’ll need to service your air forks every 3 to 6 months. 

#2 Prone to Bumpy Rides

When compared to coil forks, air forks have more seals since pressurized air must be kept within. Some of these seals also need tighter installation. 

Friction in the system is caused by friction between seals and moving components. As a result, air forks have more or equivalent stiction than coil forks. 

To start the fork moving, enough power must be applied to overcome the stiction. This, in turn, makes the air fork less sensitive to small jumps and jerks.

Hence, using an air fork might make the ride seem a little bumpy. Additionally, when you encounter bumps, the air fork doesn’t respond as quickly.

A further problem with the damping mechanism is that it takes too long to respond to impacts.

#3 Less Traction

The air forks don’t offer adequate grip since stiction prevents them from absorbing certain minor bumps. The front wheel cannot constantly follow the ground if it is unable to absorb minor bumps, which is the cause. 

Instead of being absorbed, some roots, pebbles, and bumps may cause the bike to bounce. When you bounce, your tires don’t have adequate traction.

Also, the bike’s performance during braking and sharp turns is impacted due to a lack of traction.

#4 Low Dependability and Durability

There are more parts on air forks that might break or wear out. They typically don’t fail in a major manner but if you neglect to maintain them, they may just leak. 

For instance, having more seals inside might cause them to get dirty and begin to leak. The top valve could malfunction or leak. 

Before riding, you might need to add some air. The best course of action is to carry a shock absorber with you if you’re far from an urban area. 

Even if your fork is in good shape and well-maintained, you might need to add extra air once a month.

» Maybe this also could be of interest to you: Internal Gear Hub vs. Derailleur

#5 Costs More

While coil forks may only need a full build-up every 12 to 18 months, air forks normally need one every 8 to 12 months. A complete reconstruction costs between $150 and $175. 

Air forks may require 2-3 basic services in between full rebuilds, whereas coil forks may only require one. Typical services range from $30 to $50. Doing simple tasks yourself can save you some money. 

You might also end up buying various extra parts and tools for general upkeep.

Using an air fork might cost an additional $100 annually for the normal rider, since it requires extra maintenance.

Conclusion

Deciding between Coil Forks and Air Forks largely depends on the kind of riding you wish to do, how much adjustability you require, and your general preferences during a ride.

Air forks are typically a superior choice for cross-country or general trail riding. A coil fork is probably the better choice for people who do a lot of travel downhill or extreme riding.

Whichever you decide to choose, make sure you get the most enjoyable experience out of it!

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