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I personally have never bicycle toured with a front shock or other types of frame suspension. I owned several mountain bikes in the past that had a suspension front shock fork but I have never used these bikes for traveling. My mountain bikes were for single track trails. I know what a suspension mountain bike feels like but that does not seem the same as the new breed of road specific suspension forks. I have always been comfortable just using a solid front fork when touring.
What worries me is adding unnecessary moving parts to my tour bike. I have said it before: nothing will last forever on a bicycle tour. Suspension forks, as with any moving parts, require regular maintenance and will eventually experience breakdowns. I have never tried but I suspect shocks are difficult to service in developing countries. Maybe this is why most high-end touring bikes have no suspension system or shock fork.
Facts about touring bikes with suspension systems
Scientifically speaking, a shock robs some pedaling energy. This is why guys racing on pavement in the Tour De France do not have them. Mountain bikes are usually on rough dirt roads or single track where the fatigue of bouncing around outweighs any loss of pedaling efficiency. If your tour is mostly off road then you may want a shock but it is never a requirement. Cyclist rode long rough off-road routes decades before shocks for bicycles were invented and many riders succeeded and had a good time. So, in off road situations you may prefer a suspension system but it is not a neccesity.
Any time a suspension system is added to a bicycle it makes it a bit heavier. I will be the first to admit the bike's weight is a low concern when it comes to touring cycles but it is still a fact to consider before buying a bike with suspension. All the extras add up.
Sometimes there are reasons to use a suspended touring bicycle
Arguments can be made for and against suspension systems on touring bicycles. I have received a couple emails from riders telling me that their suspended bike has cured various body aches like shoulder and back pain. If this works then by all means get a shock but if you do not have these problems it may not be worth the loss of pedaling efficiency and mechanical trouble. It is a personal choice.
Alternatives to front shock suspension systems for touring bicycles
If I know I am going off road (dirt or gravel roads) I will buy the widest tires I can find or at least let some air out of my tires. I also have a Brooks saddle with springs in the seat. I believe this takes a lot of the road vibration away without losing pedaling efficiency. Another option I have not tried is a suspension seat post. I know bike tourists who really like their suspended seat post but I am picky about my riding position and the seat post moving up and down constantly changing the seat height would drive me crazy. From every body I have talked to: the trick with a suspended seat post is purchasing a high quality one like the one below.
How to mount front racks and panniers bags to a suspension fork
In the past it was always a big mystery as to how to mount front racks and panniers to a suspension fork. I have seen many interesting homemade solutions. If you're not handy in the workshop, you might be more interested in this commercially available front rack.
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?
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