Rigid vs Swingarm: Motorcycle Rear Suspension Systems

two motorcycles. in the foreground, an orange and white motorcycle, in the background a red, white, and blue motorcycle

The motorcycle rear suspension system has evolved into two systems which are commonly used today - the rigid motorcycle rear suspension and the swingarm motorcycle rear suspension. Rear suspensions are primarily used to absorb the shock as a result of imperfect roads. They keep the tires in contact with the roads using a system that works like a spring in a mattress or trampoline. But which one is better? Let us take a closer look at the pros and cons of each type.

Rigid Motorcycle Rear Suspension

Also known as hard-tail, the rigid motorcycle rear suspension began as a “plunger” system which is the first attempt to create a rear suspension. This type of rear suspension system uses a small spring devices that absorbs the shock. These shock-absorbing set-ups are located between the rigid and the rear wheel section of the machine. This primitive type of rear suspension is no longer manufactured today. But this “plunger” system is actually the predecessor of the swing arm rear suspension system being used today.

The adoption of rear suspension systems for several motorcycle manufacturers began after World War II, but motorcycles using rear suspension systems were already sold before the First World War. The reason for this delay is the condition of roads during the time of the Great Depression. Motorcycle manufacturers believe that hard tails run better in smooth asphalt than sprung rear suspension. And there were only few smooth roads that time. Thus, using sprung rear suspension was not ideal because they cause a trampoline effect on rough roads. Therefore, the hard tail suspension, or the “plunger” system, was born and eventually became rigid rear suspension.


Hard tail rear suspension makes use of the cushioning effect of the rear tire and the springs of the seat. This is a great way to absorb road shock. This system can cushion road shock and does not rely heavily on large balloon tires.

Swingarm Motorcycle Rear Suspension

The most widely used rear suspension type in motorcycles today is the swingarm type. Swingarm rear suspension is a system used by most modern motorcycles which uses a pivoting fork located at the frame’s lower section just behind the transmission. It also consists of a spring which absorbs shock. This shock absorber spring also supports the frame’s rear section.

Swingarm rear suspension has many variations these days. Some uses only one spring absorber behind the engine, while others use two spring shock absorbers attached just under the side seat.


The great thing about swingarm rear suspension is it can firmly hold the rear axle when you pivot vertically. This way it can absorb shocks from a bumpy road. You may also opt to have a shaft drive as the only swingarm or use a shaft drive to act as another part of the swingarm. While the rigid or hard tail rear suspension is practically in one standard form, swingarm rear suspension comes in various forms.