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How ATV Suspension Works: Working and Adjustment Guide

How ATV Suspension Works: Working and Adjustment Guide

Have you ever wondered how your ATV’s suspension works? Do you need to adjust or lower your ATV suspension but do not know how? Knowing how your ATV suspension works and how to adjust it is important, as it will allow you to enjoy better quality rides.

ATV suspension works by helping the quad stay stable on tough terrain. Shocks and springs help resist rapid compression and unstable bouncing. You can adjust the preload, rebound, and compression of your shocks to make your rider softer or stiffer and raise your ride height.

In this article, you will learn how your ATV suspension works. I will also show you how to adjust, lower, and soften it. Let us get started.

What an ATV Suspension Does

An ATV suspension helps your ATV vehicle get over rough terrain. Unlike a regular car’s suspension designed for pavement and flat roads, an ATV suspension is designed to help you drive off-road.

When driving off-road, you will encounter ruts, bumps, rocks, ditches, logs, branches, and various other obstacles that you just won’t find on-road. The suspension ensures that your ATV vehicle can drive over these obstacles and not get damaged.

A suspension, in simple terms, smoothes out your ride. If you are driving on smooth pavement, the suspension does not have to do that much. However, if you drive off-road, it takes a lot more work to smooth out the ride. That is why ATV suspensions are more complex.

The suspension is responsible for other things as well. It makes sure that your vehicle is stable, even when driving on rough terrain. It consists of various parts that help it do its job, including springs and shocks.

I will go over what these components do in the next section, explaining exactly how your ATV suspension works.

How Does an ATV Suspension Work?

As mentioned before, your ATV’s suspension has several parts that do several things to ensure your vehicle can drive smoothly, even on less than smooth ground.

I will go over several of these parts in this section. Although there is always a lot more to learn about how suspensions work, this section should give you a pretty good understanding of what your suspension does.

The two top things to know about are the springs and shocks. These shocks help absorb the force acting on your vehicle.

For example, when you drive over a rock, the shock absorbers help absorb the shock that your vehicle would receive. If they do their job well and absorb the shock, you will not feel it as much.

ATV shocks usually have oil in them. This oil helps prevent the suspension from compressing. There are various designs available. You might get a shock with an oil reservoir within the shock.

This oil works against the compression that comes with normal bumps and helps keep your vehicle stable.

Also, the springs help prevent compression. The springs’ job is to get your vehicle to “spring” back into its original position instead of being compressed when it goes over a bump or rut. If the springs are strong, your vehicle will not compress as much.

It will not bounce back and forth as much, as the springs will hold it back from that. You will not feel the bumps so much in your body as a consequence. Also, you will have additional ground clearance.

If your springs are old and weak, they will not do as good a job in resisting compression. Your ATV will compress more with every bump and rut. You will feel them more in your body, and you will have less ground clearance.

What you might not know is that there are several types of shocks on the market. Depending on which type of shock you have, you may be able to make certain adjustments. Some shocks do not allow you to make certain adjustments.

Here’s a helpful video to give a visual:

The Types of Shocks Available

There are many types of shocks available. Right now, I will focus on two main types.

Monotube Shocks

This type of shock has an oil reservoir built into the shock itself. The problem with this kind of shock is that as the shock moves back and forth when you go over bumps on the road, the oil can heat up. The reason it can heat up is due to the friction of the shock’s movement.

A monotube shock is the most common type of shock on ATV vehicles. If you have a standard ATV vehicle, you probably have a monotube shock. What is the disadvantage of this kind of shock?

When the oil heats up due to the friction of the shock’s movement, foam can form. This foam reduces the effectiveness of the oil and its capability of resisting compression.

Remote Reservoir Shocks

However, some shocks have separate reservoirs. A remote reservoir is connected to the shocks by a tube. You can put a remote reservoir anywhere on your vehicle.

A piggyback reservoir is not located in the shock but right by it. It is normally attached to the shock; hence the term piggyback. However, since it is not inside the shock, it will not heat and foam up like regular monotube shocks.

I mentioned that some types of shocks have different adjustability options. Let me go over that in the next section.

How To Adjust Your Shocks

Generally, you can adjust the preload, compression, and rebound of the shocks. However, not all shocks allow you to adjust them in the same ways. I will explain what each of these adjustments is.


The first thing I will discuss is adjusting the preload of your shocks. The preload refers to how much pressure is put on the shocks by default. You will be able to adjust the preload on most shocks, even basic shocks.

Usually, there will be a collar on the shock, which will allow you to adjust the preload. However, not all shocks will have the same type of collar.

Some shocks will have a collar and locking ring that gives you more flexibility in how much preload you can put on your shocks. Other collars might only have five levels of adjustment.

  • The most important thing to remember is that your ride will be stiffer if you raise the preload or pressure.
  • After all, the shocks will have more pressure and less flexibility. You will also raise the height of your ATV.
  • On the other hand, if you lower the preload, the ride will be softer.
  • There will be less pressure, and there will be more flexibility.
  • If you want a soft rather than a stiff ride, you can lower the preload.

This adjustment is up to you. However, keep in mind that the softer the ride and the less preload, the more likely it is for your suspension to bottom out.

I would recommend that you raise your wheels and entire vehicle off the ground while adjusting the preload. It is simply easier to turn the collar that way.

Adjusting the preload might be the only way to adjust the compression – as I mentioned before, most shocks, even basic shocks, at least allow you to adjust the preload.

Some shocks will have double locker rings. To adjust the preload:

  1. Loosen the ring.
  2. Adjust the preload by simply turning the adjuster ring.
  3. Tighten it all again. You can use a simple hammer and punch to do this work.


The next type of adjustment is compression. The compression helps prevent your suspension from bottoming out. It is the damping, and it controls the speed of the movement of the shock’s shaft into the body of the shock.

Adjusting the compression allows you to control the speed of the flow of fluid. If the fluid flows too fast, the shock might be too stiff. If it is too slow, the shocks can compress and move rather quickly, which can cause them to bottom out.

So, how do you adjust the compression damping? Usually, there will be an adjustment knob on the body of the shock. It might also be located on the shock reservoir.

  • It will not be on the shock’s shaft, but it will be on the big end.
  • Instead of a knob, you might see a screw head with a slot; you can turn this screw head as if it were a knob to adjust your compression damping.
  • Adjusting the compression can affect how your vehicle handles small bumps and ruts.
  • Some shocks have many possible adjustments to the compression, while others have fewer.

There might be several adjustment settings. Usually, the shocks will have a needle valve system and not orifices. When adjusting a shock with a needle valve, you adjust the oil flow, which affects the compression.

I will say that for most shocks, even aftermarket shocks, there is no high-speed compression adjustment. As such, the adjustments you make to the compression damping will matter for small bumps and ruts, not large bumps.

  • However, some aftermarket shocks do allow high-speed compression adjustment.
  • This type of adjustment allows you to optimize your ATV for going over large bumps.
  • That is why it is so common on motocross shocks.

What kind of adjustment is better? I would recommend keeping the oil flow nice and not too slow. Otherwise, the shock can bottom out. The tires will stay connected to the ground.

It will be easier to brake. You do not want to make it too soft. You also do not want to make it too swift. You can adjust the compression based on the track or trailing you are driving on.


Finally, I will discuss adjusting the rebound. Remember, the point of the springs is to make sure your shocks rebound back into their original positions after compressing when hitting bumps or ruts. They can rebound quickly, or they can rebound slowly. That is what this adjustment is for.

If the shocks do not rebound quickly enough, and you keep hitting more bumps and ruts, they will have to compress again. However, to ensure that your suspension is working properly, it needs to compress and rebound after reaching a bump.

If it is not doing that, it will have lost all of its compression travel. It will not work properly, and you may feel your ATV moving quickly from side to side. That is not a lot of fun.

  • On the other hand, if the shocks rebound too quickly, you will be bumping up and down too much.
  • Many people do not bother adjusting the rebound of their shocks, but it is something to consider.
  • You might see a collar that allows you to control the rebound or see an adjustment screw.

Either way, look for it on the rear shocks of your ATV. Your stock front shocks will probably not have this adjustment possibility, but if it is a second hand ATV with aftermarket front shocks installed, you may very well find this adjustment option on the front shocks.

I know that what I wrote here might seem confusing if you do not know much about suspensions and ATV mechanics.

That is why I am linking the following video, which should help you understand the basics of ATV suspension tuning:

Here is a video that explains the preload very well:

How To Lower or Soften Your ATV Suspension

The best way to lower your ATV’s suspension is to buy custom shocks. However, you can adjust the ride height of your shocks as well by adjusting the preload. As mentioned earlier, if you raise the preload and have stiffer shocks, you will have a slightly higher ride height. If you want to lower your ATV suspension, lower the preload pressure.

As for softening the ATV suspension, that is also done by lowering the preload.

Common ATV Suspension Terms You Should Know

Before I close out this article, I will cover some of the most common ATV suspension terms you should know about. Once you know these terms, you will figure out how to work your ATV suspension.

Ride Height

The ride height refers to how high the seat of the ATV is. This height is measured at the time the rider is on the vehicle. That is why it is referred to as ride height.


Camber refers to the tilt of your tires. If they are tilted in at the top and tilted out at the bottom, they have negative camber. If they are tilted out at the top and in and the bottom, they have positive camber. There are different levels of positive and negative camber. Why would you want a negative camber?

Tilting them out at the bottom will help increase traction when going through corners. More of the contact patch will have contact with the ground. If they have a positive camber and are tilted in at the bottom, you will lose traction on corners.

Free Sag

Free sag refers to how much travel the suspension has, considering only its weight and not the rider’s weight. That is how much the suspension sags under its weight. The weight of the ATV will lead to some level of compression and sag. Keep in mind that the front wheels’ free sag might not be the same as the back shocks’ free sag.

Front/Rear Shocks

The front shocks are located on the front wheels and help them resist compression.

On the other hand, the rear shocks work on the back wheels and help them resist compression.

Rider Sag

As opposed to free sag, rider sag refers to the amount of suspension travel used when the rider is sitting in the driver’s seat. Remember, this is not the total suspension travel that the shocks are capable of. Usually, it will be around a third or less of the total possible travel. The suspension will sag under the weight of the rider. It means that there is less travel that can be used when driving over bumps and rocks.

Bottoming Out

I mentioned bottoming out a few times. You want to avoid bottoming out when possible. Bottoming out refers to when the shock is completely compressed. When this happens, your body can feel it rather harshly, and you can get pain. By adjusting the compression to make it move slower, you can prevent the shocks from compressing completely and bottoming out.


I mentioned that you could adjust the rebound. If it rebounds too quickly and jumps up and down, it is bucking. In other words, the shocks are going up and down quickly to the point of being out of control.


At this point, I hope you understand a little more about what the shocks do and what their main components do. You should also have at least some understanding of the main kinds of adjustments you can make and why you might want to do them. The main adjustments to make are the preload and rebound adjustments.

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