Learning how to adjust your ATV shocks might be the single most important way to improve your ride. After all, properly adjusted shocks can make every bump feel smoother, give you more traction, and give you better control.
The best part, though, is that the way to tweak and test your shocks is by going for a ride! Adjustments take no time at all, and you’ll feel the difference immediately. Talk about instant gratification.
But before we get into the nuts and bolts of making adjustments, we’ll break down exactly what it is that shocks do and how they do it. Knowing why you’re turning this knob or tightening that collar will help you make more sense of what you’re doing and ultimately make you a better shock adjuster.
So let’s dive in.
Shocks are made up of two key parts:
These two parts work together, or rather against each other, to make sure you have a perfectly smooth suspension.
Springs are designed to keep your wheels on the ground. Hit a bump that sends your tires up and the springs compress so you don’t feel it. Then, they send your tires right back down so you maintain traction, acceleration, and control.
However, if you only had springs in your suspension, your ATV would constantly wobble and bounce like you were riding on a giant water bed. In practical terms, it would buck you like a bronco until you roll over or barf—whichever comes first.
That’s where shock absorbers come in. They’re the center part of your shock and consist of an oil-filled tube with a piston inside. There are valves in the tube that control how fast or slow the oil can move through the piston. The result is that it stops your spring and ATV from wobbling all over the place like a bobble head every time you hit a bump. Instead, it causes your springs to compress and decompress in a controlled way.
When they’re working together, you get all the benefits of a spring without any of the drawbacks. They keep your tires gripping the ground and make bumps smooth.
When they’re not working together… that’s when you have to adjust your ATV shocks.
When it comes to actually adjusting your ATV shocks, there are a few tools at your disposal that are built into many shocks. The most prominent one is the clicker. This is the little knob, nut, or set screw that’s built into the top of the shock.
Clickers affect the flow rate of the oil through the valve inside the shock. When you adjust the clicker, you’re adjusting your shock’s compression (more on that in a bit). They adjust in small increments and make an audible click when you turn them, hence “clicker.”
Different kinds of shocks have different clickers, too. Most just have a single adjuster that affects the overall compression of your ATV shock. Others have a high- and low-speed compression adjuster. The high speed adjuster will affect big suspension hits like landing a jump, while the low speed adjuster affects much smaller hits, like going through whoops or rocky terrain. Some shocks even have a mid-speed adjuster, but those are few and far between.
Most new ATVs have shocks that come with a single clicker on each shock. Factory shocks on older ATVs might have no clickers at all and can only be adjusted using the threaded collar on the shock.
So now that you know all the different kinds of clickers you could have, it’s time for you to get a handle on what compression actually is.
Compression, as the name suggests, has to do with how your shock compresses when you hit a bump or land a jump. This is different than rebound, which refers to the way your shocks act after they’re compressed.
When you’re trying to get your suspension to feel good, you’re mostly just trying to get the compression right. If you make your compression too loose, you’ll get that bouncy motion caused by your springs and you’ll end up bottoming out too often. That’s no good for your ATV or your back.
If you make your ATV shock’s compression too stiff, then you’ll start feeling every bump and rock on the trail—also bad for your back. And having it set too far either way will result in less overall control of your vehicle.
The best compression rate for most is one that will allow your ATV to almost bottom out on a hard hit, but not quite.
Hand in hand with compression is rebound. It’s the rate that your shock decompresses. Not every shock has a rebound adjuster, but if it does, the rebound set screw is located at the base of the shock.
This has consequences when set too low or too high as well. If your rebound is set so stiff that it rebounds slowly, your tires won’t make it back to the ground between whoops. They’ll compress once, then just stay compressed. As you travel through whoops, you’ll be nearly bottomed out the entire time, and you’ll lose speed due to lack of traction.
This is bad, obviously, since your suspension doesn’t really act like suspension at this point.
On the flip side, if you set your rebound too loose, you’ll get that bucking action that can send you ass over tea kettle whenever you hit a bump. Plus, your ATV will tend to bounce up and down even after a single bump as it tries to get back to its resting position. That’s no good.
The perfect position lets your shock rebound quickly without overshooting the equilibrium so that your suspension doesn’t bounce up and down before it settles.
Let’s talk about how to dial it all in.
Now we’ll go through the steps to adjust your ATV shocks to your heart’s content. Tweaking is best done when you have quick access to a trail or ride area to test out your results. It might sound like a tedious process at first, but trust us—once you get started, you won’t want to stop.
You need to make sure your tires are aired up to the proper pressure before you do anything else.
If your tires aren’t right, you simply won’t be able to adjust your ATV’s shocks properly. They’re the foundation of your suspension, and if they feel bad, no amount of tweaking your shocks will fix it.
The first thing you need to do to your shocks is set your ride height. This is done using the threaded collar or snail cam on your shocks.
First, if your shocks have a threaded collar, check your owner’s manual for the typical that you want to stay within when adjusting. Unless you want your front to be lower than your rear for some reason, you should try to keep the adjustments the same in all four corners.
Then, with your machine lifted, loosen the locking collar on the top and thread the adjustment collar up or down. Tightening it down will increase ride height and give you a stiffer ride. Loosening it will lower ride height, giving you a softer ride. We usually recommend going with the lowest ride height that you’re comfortable with to start.
If you have a snail cam on the bottom of your shock, you will use that to set your preload. With a snail cam, the adjustments are opposite. So adjusting it higher will stiffen suspension and raise your ride height. Adjusting it lower will soften the suspension and lower your ride height. Again, we recommend the lowest height that you’re comfortable with.
Once you have your collars set and tightened up, it’s time to start adjusting your clickers.
Adjusting clickers is where things start to get really fun. If you have high- and low-speed adjusters on your shocks, you should start with the high speed adjuster. This is the one that affects compression with big hits, like landing a jump. If you only have one clicker, you will adjust it just like the high speed adjuster.
First, you need to find something that hits your suspension hard when you ride on it. Try to find something that you think is comparable to a typical hard hit on your average ride. We usually use a small jump.
Hit the jump. If your suspension doesn’t bottom out, turn your clickers two clicks counterclockwise. Remember: righty tighty, lefty loosey applies to your compression stiffness too.
Then, hit the jump again. Repeat the process of loosening your compression a couple clicks and testing it on a jump until your suspension does bottom out. Next, all you have to do is turn the clickers two or three clicks clockwise and you’re good to go. You’ll have nice, plush compression that doesn’t wreck your shocks.
If you have a low speed clicker, adjusting it will take a little more finesse. You’ll need to find a section of bumps or whoops first, and take a run at it at a decent speed.
You need to pay close attention to how it feels. If you feel like you’re rolling forward and backward or left and right while you ride, that indicates that your low speed clicker is set too soft. If every single bump and rock makes your teeth chatter, then the clicker is set too stiff.
In these instances, you’ll need to set your clicker two clicks softer or stiffer and ride it again. Keep making those incremental changes and keep testing it until your ATV glides over the whoops without swaying too much or vibrating you to death.
Your rebound adjuster is located at the bottom of the shock. Like we mentioned earlier, it affects the rate at which your shock extends after it’s compressed.
The best way to test your rebound is to use a small jump, regardless of your ride style. When you land the jump, pay attention to how your suspension settles. If your ATV bounces up and down before it settles, your rebound is too loose. If it feels like your suspension stays compressed too long, it’s too tight.
It’s easier to adjust it properly if you start with it too loose—that is, with your rebound set screw or dial turned counterclockwise.
Hit the jump and feel your ATV bounce up and down. Turn your rebound screw clockwise a bit (sorry, no satisfying clicks on this one) and repeat. When you’ve adjusted it enough and your suspension pops up quickly without bouncing up and down, you’ve got it dialed in.
This is the baseline setting. You can go stiffer or softer depending on your unique riding style. You might want a stiffer rebound if you’re doing anything that’s slow and technical to make sure your suspension conforms to the terrain and doesn’t push you off a boulder too quickly. If you have a specific style that you enjoy, be sure to mess with rebound even more.
That’s all there is to it! With all your ATV shock adjustments made, you have the perfect combination of plush and performance. You’ll have excellent control and traction. And when you’ve put in all the work tweaking and tuning, you’ve really earned it. And it was fun, right? All you’ve got to do is ride and turn some knobs. Not bad at all.