The front fork is an important component of your bicycle, as it connects your steering to the road. Because of this, the fork can have a big impact on riding performance and feel.
These days, rigid front forks sometimes seem to be a dying breed. Many people who buy a new bike just want to know, "How good are the shocks?" and leave their purchase decisions at that. However, old-school rigid front forks are still a good option for some mountain bikes, and just about every road cyclist to be found uses a rigid fork.
This article will go over some of the basic reasons why people would choose a rigid fork and explain some of the price and feature options among rigid forks on the market today.
Rigid mountain bike forks
The main reasons people choose rigid front forks for mountain biking are pretty simple. Let's take a look at these one by one.
The first reason is that suspension forks, which compress to absorb road shock, can compromise handling on tight, fast turns. As the cyclist turns the corner, the shocks compress, the geometry and weight distribution of the bike changes, and precise control is more difficult. Rigid forks allow better handling on these fast, tight turns, making them the kit of choice for some technical mountain bikers.
Generally, mountain bikers that learn to ride on rigid forks will be faster than those who learned on suspended frames.
The fact that rigid forks tend to be lighter in weight than forks with suspension makes them appealing to mountain bikers who ride long distances or race on moderate terrain. Another appeal is that rigid forks don't compress when the rider is pedaling hard up a hill or on a sprint.
While most suspension forks have the ability to "lock" the suspension for less wasted up-and-down movement, the increased efficiency of the rigid fork is a big plus for many riders.
Some riders prefer to use a rigid fork while mountain biking because they feel it improves their riding skills and teaches them to stop relying on suspension and instead rely on handling, maneuverability, choosing the right line, and using arms and legs to absorb shocks from the ground. Riders with rigid front forks sometimes choose to run wider wheels on the front at low PSI -- this will provide a greater degree of shock absorption, and is a good middle ground.
In fact, much of the high-end demand for rigid forks comes from free riders (largely non-competitive mountain bikers who ride trails in a freestyle manner with an emphasis on speed and tricks), who appreciate the wider, beefier tires that can be mounted on rigid forks and the lateral stiffness that provides excellent performance.
For riders hitting big drops, rugged trails or rocky terrain, a suspension fork is likely the best option for you. Those with any sort of musculo-skeletal problems in the hands, arms or back will also appreciate the smoother, more cushioned ride provided by suspension.
Rigid mountain bike forks come in a wide range of prices and styles. The basic models generally are made of steel or alloy and cost in the $100 range. These provide strength, long-lasting durability and the ability to dampen a bit of vibration.
The low price and non-existent maintenance that is required by rigid forks is another reason why many people choose them.
On the other end of the range, pro-grade rigid forks can cost as much as $500. Generally made of carbon fiber, these forks are much better at absorbing road chatter and small bumps, and provide exceptional stiffness for excellent handling with minimal weight.
Remember that if you are switching from a suspension fork to a rigid fork, the new kit needs to be "suspension adjusted." This essentially just means that the fork is slightly longer than normal to compensate for the frame geometry of modern mountain bikes, which is almost exclusively designed for use with suspension forks.
Rigid road bike forks
As road cyclists are generally riding on the road (surprise!), they don't have much need for suspension. There aren't very many (if any) road bikers that commonly use anything other than rigid forks, aside from a few commuters who have very pot-holed rides. These models are the norm for all sorts of road riding, from cyclocross to touring to the Tour de France.
Rigid forks for road bikes come in a very wide variety of styles. The basic models start around $50 and are generally made of aluminum or steelalloys. These provide good basic performance and durability and are a solid option for the everyday rider.
For those looking for slightly higher performance, carbon fiber forks start around $100 and provide greater stiffness for efficiency and improved handling, as well as a greater ability to absorb road shocks.
Cyclocross forks are also generally found in this price range and feature beefier construction to maximize durability and handling in tough race conditions. Cross fork also usually have cantilever brake bosses.
At the high-end of the price and performance spectrum are high-spec forks. These are almost universally made out of high-grade carbon fiber, which provides the ultimate in stiffness for climbing and sprinting efficiency, as well as exceptional handling characteristics and very light weight. These can cost as much as $500, and are a great option for the serious rider.