What’s the best choice for an ebike: Full, Front or No suspension?

January 8, 2020

There are a myriad of choices to make when trying to decide what kind of ebike to buy. One of the first things you should decide is whether you need to look at an ebike with full suspension, front suspension only or no suspension at all. I’ve owned and ridden over 100 ebikes and this article will discuss which frame design is best for different applications and how tire size has a great deal of influence on how much suspension you might need.

Here is my handy flow chart for figuring out what kind of ebike frame to get, click to enlarge (recommendations in bold)

Before you read any farther you should take a look at that list by clicking and zooming in. What you will notice is that there is a lot of factors that will determine whether I think you should get a full suspension, front suspension or fixed suspension ebike. This list is by no means absolute, it’s more of a way to help you to ‘use the right tool for the job’. I have about 15 ebikes in my shed and depending on whether I want to ride in the snow, or on the road or commute to town I will pick completely different ebikes. Could I have one ebike that would do it all? Probably, but it would do some things well, and others not as well.

If you’re unsure about whether to get an alloy, steel or carbon frame this article might help you decide

Do you want to go over 20mph? Of course, you do (you just might not know it yet)

One of the funniest splits in the diagram is the question of ‘do you want to go over 20mph’. I believe that for the most part, it makes sense to buy an ebike that is geared and powered to go over 20mph because then if you ever want to go that fast, you can. 95% of the ebike current market is ebikes that have 20mph cutoffs and it’s only been the last year or two that ‘fast’ ebikes have made it into the ‘mainstream’. I put that choice in the flowchart because I knew some people would want to go the conservative routes, but you really don’t have to. The extra power that comes with a high power ebike will really make your ride much more enjoyable when you can curse out a car and then speed off faster than they can catch you.

Anything you can hit with a mountain bike you can hit with an ebike, higher, faster, farther, funner more fun

How do I figure out if I want a fat tire ebike?

For help on figuring out whether you should get a skinny tired, regular, plus or fat-tired ebike check out this article. It’s not a decision that most people should take lightly and deciding the width of your tires will be one of the most dramatic influences on the performance of your ebike. Do some research and ask some questions on the forums before you decide. I am completely biased towards the fattest tire fat bikes, but that is because winter is my season to ride and I am almost always riding in 3-10 inches of snow (or the crappiest icy conditions you can imagine).

Recommendations in bold

In the flowchart, there are several endings with more than one option. I have highlighted the frame type I recommend in bold so there is no question about which frame type I would lean toward. Be aware that having any suspension components always means more maintenance. Although manufacturers recommend replacing seals on front forks every year, I only do it whenever they fail. Before every ride, I take a rag and I wipe off the part of the fork that goes in and out to clean off the mud and grime. I find that doing this greatly improves the life of the fork and maintenance intervals. On average I’d say I rebuild one suspension fork about every seven years. When it comes to rear shocks the number is closer to one shock every 3 years. I don’t take the time to wipe down the rear shocks for whatever reason, but now that I write this I wonder if I should start doing that as well. Rebuilding a shock tends to cost about $125-150 dollars at a shop and it is not a job for the faint of heart. It’s way cheaper if you do it yourself, but it’s time consuming and can be intimidating.

I’m having something of a love affair with my 27.5″ Plus tired X-1 and my wife is a little jealous, at least I don’t try to take it into our bed

Jumping in the air

Jumping in the air with an ebike is something everyone has to decide for themselves if they are going to do. You can jump with a fatbike without any suspension, but when you land you will tend to bounce when you land. During that ‘bounce’ you pretty much have little to no control. While it can be fun, I highly recommend that if you are jumping with a fatbike that you at least have a front suspension fork. The front fork does a great job of absorbing most of the landing force and it will keep the bike under much more control. When it comes to full suspension fatbikes, there just is not a lot of good options on the market, and I have jumped my front Bluto suspension fatbikes a bit with decent results. Every jump over 6″ high I have hit without any suspension has been pretty terrifying on the bounce, although I haven’t crashed. When in doubt just slow down before you hit the jump and you will (probably) be fine. Doing big jumps without a full suspension ebike if you’re not running fat tires is just begging for a pinch flat.

For big air, full suspension ebikes are really the only safe option

Where do no-suspension frames really shine?

In my opinion fixed frames without any suspension are the best choice for cold-weather riding on fatbikes. I have blown out 4 fat forks now by riding in <20F weather for one reason or another. Frankly, it’s starting to get a little expensive and annoying. I find that when I’m riding in the snow with a fatbike I really don’t need any suspension at all.

I also think fixed suspension frames are ideal for ultralight skinny tired commuters that don’t go more than 20mph. Over 20mph you will really want to have a front suspension for road debris and potholes. Under 20mph you don’t really need it as much. The bike that comes to mind is the Luna Fixed which is a 40lb ebike with a belt drive and a 3 speed IGH. This ebike looks exactly like a normal bicycle and can be had here for $1750. There is something appealing about the simplicity of this design, and while I have not tested it, lots of people seem to love it.

The Luna Fixed is a stealth ebike that works well as a no-suspension commuter

If I could only own one ebike it would probably be my Phatter Phukker which is a steel-framed ludicrous powered BBSHD with Snowshoe 2XL tires. I can still ride single track and go to town on the highway with this ebike, but it will also trudge through a foot of snow. The insane cushiness of the Snowshoe 2XL tires combined with a Thudbuster LT seatpost means that I’m never uncomfortable no matter what I throw at that bike. With a steel frame I can carry an extra couple hundred pounds on it without fear of the frame collapsing. Different kinds of frames (alloy, steel & carbon) have different strengths and weaknesses, and while steel is heavy, it is the most durable of the three.

Ride On.

If I could only have one bike this would be it, DIY conversion, Steel Frame, 2XL tires and a ludicrous BBSHD checks a lot of boxes for me

Karl Gesslein is a degenerate hooligan of the highest caliber living in upstate NY. His passion for e-bikes and all things sustainable causes him to be obsessed with climate change and finding solutions that will keep humanity from becoming extinct from our own hubris. His personal blogs include electricbike-blog.com, awaken-spirit.org & chestnutparadise.com.


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