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The top 5 best coil shocks for trail bikes in 2023

In this article I’m going to give you my thoughts on what the best coil shocks for trail bikes are.

If there’s one area where discussion tends to be most heated, it has to do with mountain bike suspension. And within the suspension no topic is probably more heated than the air versus coil shock debate. And, as an extension of that debate, which coil shock is best suited for trail riding. Here are a number of my personal thoughts on the subject.

High-end suspension takes some time to understand, and even more time to get right for you; to get “dialed in” correctly. Rear shocks are often blamed for being harsh in the latter portion of the travel, since it’s true that they don’t ramp up as air shocks do, and you’ll need to change the spring if you continue to bottom out with fully open compression settings.

However, before people start blaming stock configurations on rear shocks, take your time thinking about your bike’s progression, how you like to ride, how the shock operates, and what specs are needed for your specific requirements. You can get any coil shock to work correctly. You simply need to know how.

Shocks which are suited for trail riding might not be suited for prolonged descending, like you do in enduro or downhill. Though they are less likely to fade, the most difficult tuning of a coil shock is for high speed descending with big jumps and/or bumps. On this list you’ll find shocks that can definitely go the distance, and there are shocks that are more suited for mid-travel trail bikes. Just be aware of the difference, and don’t mount a trail-specific coil shock on your enduro rig.

The most rewarding aspect of coil shocks is its well-touted plushness, and I don’t have anything to say about that aspect other than all shocks on this list offer exactly that aspect. So it’s mostly up to all of the other aspects to offer a well-rounded trail-riding experience for your budget.

With all that out of the way, let’s see what I feel are the best coil shocks for trail bikes.

Fox DHX Factory

Fox DHX Factory front view
Fox DHX Factory side view

If you want to upgrade to a coil shock and Fox is your favorite brand, the Fox DHX Factory is a a pricey offering to achieve that next level of coil plushness.

Where the DHX2 holds a twin-tube damper, the DHX is a single-tube one. To keep things easy to understand, it means oil flows back and forth through the piston head and shim stack, which creates the overall damping force. This less complex design is cheaper, and arguably more durable and resistant to lateral loads caused by flexing frames. In terms of damping adjustability you get 11 clicks of low-speed compression alongside 16 clicks of low-speed rebound adjustment.

Besides the “open” mode, there’s a soft-lockout lever with a blowout valve, should you forget to flip it for your next descent. The lockout does a decent job of firming up the rear for more efficient uphill pedaling, but don’t expect an XC-like lockout. On the flipside the soft-lockout is better in keeping traction going over small rocks and roots typical for trail riding, which is the intended purpose of this coil shock.

Considering the lack of high-speed compression or even 4-way adjustment I would argue that on paper alone this coil should be used for (light) trail only. And when used in such an environment the shock’s ride characteristics are spot-on.

Typical for coil suspension is the absence or stiction and smooth move in the initial stroke, resulting in a much more sensitive ride for the first third of the travel when compared to your typical air shock. When you come from using an air shock the Fox DHX is a breath of fresh air, and what I typically associate with coil shocks in terms of leveling out trails it does so in textbook like fashion.

Fox’ sales page states this shock feels like a magic carpet ride, and although in general marketing mumbo jumbo is just that, I tend to agree with them on this one. There is so little trail chatter that it feels like you might have forgotten to inflate your tires. Not only does it mean your bike’s rear rides incredibly comfortable, and you can stay seated where normally you might want to stand up, the amount of grip your bike has is also beyond belief.

Then for a few side notes on mid- and end stroke support. The good thing is that the shock’s redesign includes a larger bottom-out bumper, to prevent that unnerving clanking sound should inadvertently misjudge your chosen line.

It’s not an enduro or downhill shock, you can’t dial in high-speed compression and/or rebound and the shocks linear nature has to benefit from your bike’s progressive leverage rate (if it has any) to smoothen out the end of your travel curve. Still, it will not provide the type of mid and end stroke support of your typical air shock.

Fully opening up your rebound only goes so far in maintaining support, before heading into the area of swapping out the spring for a heavier one or even sending in the shock for a retune, which is something of a last resort if you ask me, since I deem it highly unlikely that the stock tuning isn’t set broad enough for the average rider. It would mean the guys at Fox don’t know what they’re doing and miscalculated the tuning necessary for the shocks intended purpose.

Those latter two aren’t cheap anyway, and if you decide to go this route you might’ve just as well immediately settled for the DHX2 which does have HSC and HSR.

Fox DHX2 Factory

Fox DHX2 Factory front view
Fox DHX2 Factory side view

I think the best thing to do when reviewing the Fox DHX2 Factory is when you compare it to the DHX.

Although I’m not entirely sure, my guess is the 2 in DHX2 stands for the way the damper is designed, which is a twin-tube shock (whereas the DHX is a single-tube shock). The advantages of this design are most usable for fast mid- and end stroke scenarios, e.g. enduro and downhill riding. This is not a blog about the ins and outs of twin-tube shock, so let’s just say friction with heat buildup and fading is significantly reduced, and the shock is lighter than its single-tube cousin.

The lockout lever isn’t as easy to flick as the DHX, while sitting at almost the same position at the top of the piggyback. But it works just as great.

By far the biggest advantage of this damper is the addition of 4-way adjustment, meaning you have the ability to finetune high-speed compression. It is a feature understandably lacking in the DHX, which means a lot of fiddling trying to get your mid and end stroke support right.

When I have to explain the feel of a coil spring I go to the extreme and say it operates like a tractor, doing all the work for you, and comfortably plowing through the trail. The DHX2 is just as good as the DHX, and adds improved support for the latter half of the travel as well. Including a large bottom-out bumper when smashing into holes and miscalculating landings.

Of course, (externally) adjusting a coil shock is never as fine grained as the single PSIs you can put in your air shock. But the 4-way adjustment goes a long way in combining the benefits of coil suspension with more than enough adjustability, with alternative springs and internal custom tuning an option as well. So don’t tell me an air spring is better. World Cups are won with this thing.

RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate

RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate front view black
RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate side view black
RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate front view red
RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate side view red

“Apart from its crazy name there’s very much to love about the RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate, with one of the biggest brands in mountain bike suspension implementing a number of excellent features in this latest edition of their most premium coil shock.

The biggest change is the amount of adjustment. Oftentimes dialing in your settings means adding or subtracting 2 or 3 clicks of compression. That wouldn’t do with this shock which only offers 5 clicks for both low- and high-speed compression adjustment.

With both extremes of the setting the same, it means RockShox simply threw a number of options out the window. Your lowest setting is just as low as before, as is your highest setting. But obviously there’s a more noticeable difference with each click. And the dial has a little nick that shows you exactly where you are with your compression.

This doesn’t take away from the fine-tuning process but actually makes it easier to set it up, because the change feels more distinctive and offers better aid in whether or not it constitutes an improvement. And unless you’re some pro-level rider, you’ll never need the no longer present in-between settings.

Furthermore the shock has an interesting piece of technology called a Hydraulic Bottom Out (HBO) adjuster. It’s a 5-click adjustable circuit located inside an additional shaft at the top of the damper body, which diverts oil flow to the piggyback. When the top of the piston reaches and moves inside this shaft, it means the last 20 percent of travel has been reached, and the shock needs to ramp up to prevent bottoming out.

Since coil shock progression is linear, the HBO does a marvelous job of fine tuning this last section of travel for a piece of technology which is notorious for having difficulty providing control in exactly this region. The addition of this bottom-out feature alone is what sets it apart from its main competitor, which is the Fox DHX.

If you pile a cheaper asking price on top of that, as well as lower weight, it becomes really difficult to justify any other choice than this one for the average rider who’d like to start experimenting with coil suspension. A no fuss setup, easy adjustment, firm support with the climbing lever, excellent low-speed comfort and traction, solid control in the mid-stroke, and innovative control in the end stroke with bottom out prevention.

Maybe the Fox has better small-bump sensitivity when tested back-to-back, but the rest of this shock really feels like an unbeatable formula. For now at least.”

Cane Creek DB Kitsuma Coil

Cane Creek DB Kitsuma Coil

The Cane Creek DB Kitsuma Coil is the U.S. based flagship product in the coil shock lineup. Responsible for reintroducing the coil-craze it has quite a reputation to live up to. The question remains, does it?

For starters, you get 4-way external adjustability with dials. So no fidgeting with allen keys in hard to get places. And considering the range of distinct adjustments you can make, that’s quite a necessary feature as well.

Maybe not as important for everybody, but this thing is the most gorgeous shock I’ve ever seen. Especially decked out all black with the gold highlights on the dials, it looks like some alien piece of technology from a Halo game or something. If I would build myself a new full-suspension mountain bike, the looks alone would make me want to create an all-black rig.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s head over to some specifications. DB stands for “double barrel”, which means the shock offers a twin-tube design, similar to the DHX2 and with all the benefits already mentioned there. It means it’s a hard-hitting piece of equipment with a wide range of applications, including enduro and downhill.

Compression and rebound resides in individual circuits, meaning the already impressive range of tunability offers distinct configurability with little to no crossover. And with a custom spring the shock can be tuned for riders upwards of 200 pounds.

Usually 4-way adjustability, either with your front suspension or in this case with the shock, offers the high-speed tuning you want to adapt your bike’s ability to deal with particularly rough terrain.

The lockout lever, which Cane Creek calls climb switch, offers three settings. Your standard open, a soft-lock, and firm(er) lockout probably meant for pedaling to the trail. Easy to reach, and located to the side of the piggyback, which is either left or right depending on your frame.

Coil shocks are even less straightforward than 4-way front suspension, because you have to take into account the amount of leverage the frame generates and take that into account when choosing the spring. So you have high- and low-speed compression, high- and low-speed rebound, spring weight and spring preload (sag). That’s a lot to take into account.

It’s highly recommended you dive into the nitty-gritty of which dial does what and how all of your settings work together before buying such an expensive piece of equipment. But for those of you who don’t want to, which I guess is the majority, Cane Creek offers a handy Quick Tune Sheet, which offers a range of unwanted ride characteristics and how to solve them with external adjustments (compression and rebound).

It doesn’t make this shock a fit-and-forget component, but it goes a long way in simplifying setup, even for those who think they know what they’re doing. I’m the first to admit I get confused sometimes with which dial to turn which way, let alone how many clicks.

The product excels across the entire range of trail characteristics when properly set up. From climbing to descending, your bike keeps traction in the rear without turning your ride into a dull affair. It makes this shock a true upgrade over any other shock you might have been riding. And 99 percent of how your bike rides is a question of proper tuning anyway, and these shocks offer the widest range of all shocks out there.

The price might be something to worry about, yet with proper care I don’t see why the already more durable coil shock couldn’t last you for years and thousands of miles. I’ve already stated that for a bike build I’d choose this shock, but the same goes for a shock upgrade as well.

Cane Creek DBcoil IL

Cane Creek DBcoil IL

The Cane Creek DBcoil IL is the lightest coil shock on the market, but besides that it has a couple of other things going for, that might make you want to choose this inline shock over its bigger brother the Kitsuma.

There’s the obvious matter of frame compatibility. The lack of piggyback makes it a much smaller package that will fit any bike frame provided it can run one of the available sizes.

Another more technical feature is the fact that Cane Creek has managed to move a twin-tube piston architecture into an inline shock, and including 4-way adjustability because they can. It’s a beefy inline coil shock that’s incredibly capable for trail and enduro riders, who want the functionality of a coil shock with proper climbing abilities as well.

No dials are found on the damper unit. Instead 4 allen key operated adjusters are sitting in a row with a lockout lever in the middle. A small allen key resides in the lever, which can be popped out by pushing on the small part which protrudes at the base. It’s a nice touch that encourages trailside tinkering and shock adjustment. Don’t let it drop though because the small tool is easy to lose track of.

It’s obviously not as easy to adjust as the dials found on the Kitsuma, but the design was probably done to reduce the complexity, weight, and price of the shock.

A thing to keep in mind with this shock is the progressive nature of the bike. Since coil shocks have a linear spring curve, they don’t ramp up when going deep into the travel. Since most suspension is air suspension, most bike manufacturers make frames with air suspension in mind. That means that this smaller inline shock runs the risk of not providing enough end stroke support (e.g. bottoming out) when put into a non-progressive frame built for air suspension.

Another way of thinking about a progressive frame is that early in the travel the shock piston moves slowly (slow leverage ratio) while later in the travel the shock travels much faster (larger leverage ratio eating up the travel).

As expected the Cane Creek DBcoil IL moves immediately when you get into the saddle, which is a sure sign of ongoing traction for smooth trail riding. The reason for a coil shock resurgence is that it offers benefits to the majority of riders. Where coil shocks shine is in small bump sensitivity, comfort, control, traction, climbing, and fast descending on rocky terrain. Air shocks trump coil shocks in bottoming out, playfulness (up for debate though), hard cornering and jumps (in general).

Cane Creek isn’t the biggest suspension player by far. RockShox and Fox carve out almost 90% of the suspension market. That means that both servicing your shock and getting spare parts is more difficult and more expensive. And I say that because it unfortunately has been my personal experience, where I had to pay a huge amount of money to get a specific part I could get anywhere else. This might be because I’m not located in the United States. It might be a one-time unfortunate coincidence, but it’s important enough to put it here.

What Cane Creek has achieved with the DBcoil IL is to make a coil shock everyone can use, with plenty of adjustment that’s relatively easy to set up with some reading and patience, and offering riding characteristics that’ll make you ask yourself why you didn’t find out about coil suspension sooner.

Specifications coil shocks for trail bikes

standard imperial sizes
standard metric sizes
Trunnion metric sizes
buy at Amazon
Fox DHX Factory
569 USD
210×50, 210×52.5, 210×55, 230×57.5, 230×60, 230×65
185×52.5, 185×55, 205×60, 205×62.5
open, firm lever
11-click low-speed compression
16-click low-speed rebound
detented coil-spring preload
509 (w/o spring)
Fox DHX2 Factory
679 USD
7.875×2.0, 8.5×2.5 (2-position Adjust Lever)
9.5×3.0, 10.5×3.5 (w.o. 2-position Adjust Lever)
210×50, 210×52.5, 210×55, 230×57.5, 230×60, 230×62.5, 230×65 (2-position Adjust Lever)
250×75 (w.o. 2-position Adjust Lever)
185×50, 185×55, 205×60, 205×65
(optional) open, firm lever
8-click high-speed compression
16-click low-speed compression
8-click high-speed rebound
16-click low-speed rebound
detented coil-spring preload
504 (w/o spring)
RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate
529 USD
210×47.5, 210×50, 210×52.5, 210×55, 230×57.5, 230×60, 230×62.5, 230×65, 250×67.5, 250×70, 250×72.5, 250×75
165×45, 185×47.5, 185×50, 185×52.5, 185×55, 190×45, 205×57.5, 205×60, 205×62.5, 205×65, 225×67.5, 225×70, 225×72.5, 225×75,
H, L, L1, LC, M compression tune
Linear, Progressive rebound tune
507 (w/o spring)
Cane Creek DB Kitsuma Coil
730 USD
210×50, 210×52.5, 210×55, 230×57.5, 230×60, 230×62.5, 230×65, 250×70
185×50, 185×52.5, 185×55, 205×57.5, 205×60, 205×62.5, 205×65, 225×70, 225×75
Tool free 4-way adjustment
3-Position Climb Switch
468 (w/o spring)
Cane Creek DBcoil IL
526 USD
200×50, 200×57, 210×50, 216×63, 190×45, 210×55
Tool free 4-way adjustment
Climb Switch
285 (w/o spring)
bio vanseijen

Johan van Seijen

FoundeR Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His passion for cycling in general, and restoring older bikes turned into a website to share his knowledge with a broader audience. Starting out on his father’s road bike and riding classics as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege he has shifted his attention to trail, XC, and gravel riding since. No matter how much he loves writing about everything related to cycling, nothing beats actually using his ever-expanding bicycle collection.

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