Your ATV is unlike any other vehicle. Not only must your machine be capable of reaching top speeds, but it must also be able to overcome challenging off-road obstacles. While many different systems contribute to the overall performance of any ATV, its suspension is critical. In straightforward terms, if you are riding on a worn out or ineffective suspension system, you are not getting the most out of your off-road experience.

ATV suspensions have long been a bit of a mystery, even for avid off-roaders. To ensure you have a good system with proper configuration, we answer some important questions about ATV suspension systems.

How Do ATV Suspensions Work?

Whether you are a serious ATV rider or only use your rig for vacation adventures, you need to know how ATV suspensions work. There are three general categories of ATV suspensions:

  • Many ATVs have stock, non-adjustable shocks. If you drive a smaller ATV, there is a good chance your machine has this suspension style. As you may guess, non-adjustable shocks do not allow you to compensate for changing trail conditions. Instead, these standard suspension features rely on middle-of-the-road springs to absorb trail bumps.
  • Higher-end and larger ATVs often have preloaded, adjustable shocks. This type of suspension either has a lock-ring mechanism or a variety of preloaded settings. Either way, you can adjust the suspension to help you better compensate for varying trail conditions.
  • Sport ATVs may have a fully-adjustable piggyback shock system. Unlike a preloaded setup, piggyback shocks allow you to fully adjust the suspension.

If you never tackle extreme trails, non-adjustable shocks may be the way to go. After all, some riders never tinker with their suspension systems, even though they have preloaded or piggyback shocks. Nonetheless, if you want to take your off-road adventure to the next level, investing in adjustable shocks is part of the equation.

Understanding ATV Suspension Terminology

Knowing how much give you want your ATV suspension to have involves accounting for several factors. Terminology is important here. Unfortunately, though, the words are confusing. As such, if you are new to ATV riding, listening to your off-road buddies talk about suspension may be enough to make your eyes cross. Before attempting to adjust your rig’s shocks, you should have a working understanding of what certain words mean.

Preload refers to the spring tension on most types of shocks. If you have shocks that allow for minimal adjustment, the preload may be your only way to soften or stiffen your suspension. A related concept, sag, denotes the difference between your ATV suspension height normally and when you are inside it.

Compression is how much give you have in your shocks. Adjusting for compression is an effective way to prevent your rig from bottoming out. If you have too much adjustment, though, your ride may be rougher than it needs to be.

Rebound dictates how quickly the ATV’s suspension returns to normal after encountering a trail obstacle. If you have a machine that allows you to adjust rebound, you likely have a piggyback system. For serious ATV riders, rebound is usually the last adjustment to make. Often, riders never adjust rebound.

There is other terminology you may hear that is confusing. Essentially, though, when thinking about an ATV’s suspension system, you are considering the give in the shocks. You are also evaluating the pitch and orientation of the wheels. If you keep this in mind, adjusting your shocks may not be as confusing as it initially seems.

How Do You Soften or Stiffen ATV Suspension?

How do you stiffen ATV shocks? If your suspension system seems soggy or too soft, you need to know how to adjust it to add some stiffness. On your rig’s shock reservoir, you should notice a hard and soft setting. Typically, these have an H and an S near a screw, with an arrow indicating which way to turn the screw. If you turn it toward the H, your suspension should stiffen. Turning the screw toward the softer setting, of course, results in more give in your rig’s suspension system.

Before tinkering with the stiffness of your suspension, you should take note of the stock settings. After all, restoring suspension settings without a reference point can be unbelievably frustrating. Fortunately, many shock reservoirs have dimples that show you where the factory settings are. If your machine lacks these dimples, though, you may want to use a permanent market to create a point of reference near the screw.

If you do not have a screw that allows you to tweak your suspension, you may be asking, “how do I adjust my adjustable shocks?” Because shock design varies, you likely need to consult the operator’s manual for precise instructions on adjusting your shocks. Remember, though, you do not want to make more than one adjustment at a time. If you do, you may not know which adjustments are effective and which are useless. You may also have trouble restoring your shocks to their stock adjustment.

How Do You Know When Your ATV Shocks Are Bad?

Because ATVs are built to be dominant off-road machines, their shocks are resilient and durable. They are not indestructible, however. Whether because of time, age or extreme conditions, your rig’s shocks may eventually wear out or break completely.

Here are some red flags that may indicate your ATV’s shocks need replaced:

  • Uneven tire wear
  • Bottoming out despite shock adjustment
  • Bouncy rides
  • Body sway or wobbling
  • Fluid leaks

ATV shocks usually do not wear out overnight. Unless you damage your rig’s suspension system, you may not realize you need to replace your suspension components immediately. A routine inspection of your machine’s shocks may help you identify issues before they become serious problems.

How to Examine Your ATV Shocks

Now that you better understand your ATV’s systems, you are ready to examine your shocks and to adjust them as necessary. You should not, however, let the process intimidate you. Put simply, if you want to get the most out of your rig, properly adjusting your shocks and other suspension components is essential. With some effort and a bit of practice, you can become an adjusting pro.

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