Madagascar and South Africa: suspension fork or no?
Replies: 9 - Last Post: May 31, 2013 7:54 AM Last Post By: levelo
May 9, 2013 1:41 PM
Madagascar and South Africa: suspension fork or no?My significant other and I have a trip planned to South Africa and Madagascar. Our bikes have rigid forks and we are used to carrying front panniers. From what I gather, the roads are horrendous in Madagascar, suggesting a suspension fork might be best, but fair to excellent in South Africa, where a suspension fork would be unnecessary and we would be pointlessly hindered from using front racks.
I'm not sure how many readers of this forum have been to both countries, but maybe someone has some advice about whether we should put suspension forks on the bike prior to flying out, or whether we can manage the Madagascar portion with a rigid fork. Are there any popular routes in South Africa that call for a suspension fork?
May 10, 2013 3:10 AM
1My view is that a suspension fork is never "necessary", it is more a comfort choice.
I haven't been to Madagascar but having taken an interest from what I read the worst problems are
(1) mud - in the wet east roads can be muddy. More generally if you go there out of the dry season, many roads become completely impassible even to the cyclist outside the dry season. I read a blog of someone who attempted to cycle there one April and found it very restricting where he could go because of mud deep enough to lose a cow in.
(2) deep sand/dust - in the drier parts, esp S/SW, absent rain the roads can be loosely compacted with loose sand or thick layers of fine dust.
Does a suspension fork fix these problems for you? I doubt it.
Do you have experience of travelling with front panniers and a suspension fork? I believe it can be done but I think you have to get it right and even then I don't think it is entirely satisfactory.
May 10, 2013 5:12 AM
2I haven't been to Madagascar, but have done some very long rides on truly appalling roads.
My approach is to use big tyres and reduce the pressure in them on long bad stretches. When I'm back on good surfaces, I pump them up hard. My preference is 26x2.25" for really bad roads - of course that solution assumes your bike can cope with tyres that big.
Many people tour successfully with suspension forks. Yes, they're expensive, inefficient, potentially unreliable, heavy and create problems with panniers (get old man mountain racks to use with suspension forks), but they can increase your comfort. Get a pair which you can lock out, and they won't be so bad on good roads. Also bear in mind that if your frame isn't designed to have suspension, fitting it can really mess up the handling because suspension forks are longer than rigids.
My advice is not to get suspension, but if you do get it, I'm sure you'll be fine.
May 10, 2013 10:53 AM
3I was in Mad in 2003 and there were plenty of paved roads. You could go all the way from Tana to the SW coast (Toileria?) on paved road. The road up the west coast was dirt and I ended up flying.
I was travelling by public transport, but after a while got the hump with the bush taxi mafia and bought a bike (a $50 cheapo MTB - absolute rubbish). I pedalled from Tana over the mts to the East coast then up the coast as far as that big island (Margaretia?) all on paved roads. The road down to the place where the railway goes was also paved (train one way is worth it). Sorry it is a bit vague, but doing this from10 year old memory.
So if you want, you could do a good tour of the Island without ever going off road. I suggest you work out where you want to go and see if you can do it on paved. Of course, there are plenty of awful roads that as pq says are probably beyond 'sensible' bike touring.
May 10, 2013 1:16 PM
4hi, you can mount an "old man mountain" brand rack (they have front & rear) on suspension fork- http://www.oldmanmountain.com/Pages/RackPages/FrontRacks.html remember if you don't have brake bosses to attach the rack to, you can use 'c' clamps- cheers- matt
May 10, 2013 6:43 PM
5I am also for the bigger tyre and varying the pressure. Lockout has made suspension forks an option for on-road riding. But specific frame geometry is a killer as you end up with an extra bike.
I have not been one to seek out unridable roads. When the road becomes appaling I always am thinking it is limited and I just need to get through this. But in those places it is horrible dust, or really sharp rocks or really deep truck ruts or mud. Suspension wont help.
May 10, 2013 11:13 PM
6I have not been to Madagascar but have motorcycle toured South Africa where the raods seemed pretty good and suspension was not needed.
My hybrid touring bike has front suspension which I like as has been said for comfort but can lockout when going up hill. I have Tubus front pannier frames which are made for use with front suspension and work well although the bags are a little higher than on rigid forks.
It comes down to whether or not you want to spend the money on forks and new pannier frames, if it only for a week or so I would not bother myself.
May 11, 2013 6:44 AM
May 30, 2013 12:51 PM
8Sorry only saw this now. I am a South African and did trip in Zimbabwe and Mozambique last December with my bicycle. It is a mongoose hard tail. I like my front suspension which has a lock out. I also like taking the sand roads and staying away from tar and main roads. The choice of forks is totally dependant on the trip you have planed. For the type of places i go suspension is best. If you like busy tar roads then rigid is best in South Africa. I do not use front panniers. I just do not want my ride to get to heavy.
May 31, 2013 7:54 AM
9Madagascar is totally doable on rigid forks. I spent 3 months riding around the island back in 1995 on an old but reliable clunker, including the dirt track between Toliara and Fort-Dauphin in the very south and the one between Fort-Dauphin up to Toamasina along the East Coast. The rainy season ( December through April ) will make your life much harder along the coast and on the plateau. Let me know if you need more details. Cheers, L.
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