RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate Air vs Coil | MTB Rear Shock Comparison


Last year, RockShox released the updated versions of two staples of mountain bike suspension, the Super Deluxe Ultimate in both air and coil versions. Both of these two shocks have been redesigned for this latest iteration and have unlocked even more performance over their already stellar previous generation.

Designed for anything from trail to downhill, neither of these shocks will leave you hanging, but when push comes to shove, which one comes out on top? Often times riders are stuck wondering which one they should pick for their own personal bike, and after riding both of them on my Transition Spire for the last few months, I’ll help you answer that question.

RockShox Rear Shocks Air vs Coil At A Glance

Super Deluxe Ultimate

  • Progressive
  • Lighter
  • Easier to setup
  • Increased fun factor
  • Tuneable via volume spacers

Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate

  • More traction
  • Linear
  • Longer service intervals
  • Adjustable HBO

Similarities: RC2T Damper

Both of these shocks have really impressed me with their wide yet useable range of adjustability, quiet operation, and supple feeling, which isn’t surprising given they share nearly identical dampers.

The new RC2T damper adds high speed compression to the already existing low speed compression and rebound adjusters from the previous generation. The Super Deluxe Coil also gets an adjustable hydraulic bottom out (HBO) adjuster. Some, but not all, air shocks have an HBO circuit, and those are not adjustable like they are on the coil version.

The air shock also has both progressive and linear air can options, which is similar to the MegNeg option on the old generation; but unlike the MegNeg, you aren’t able to swap air cans back and forth on the new Super Deluxe shocks.

Our suspension tech Alex has had both of these shocks in their shock dyno during rebuilds and said that these RC2T dampers offer some of the smoothest performance they’ve ever felt when cycling either shock. That translates directly to who they feel on the trail - both of these shocks felt great after just setting sag and rebound in the parking lot on the first ride. It usually takes me a bit to find suspension settings I’m comfortable with but I just slapped these compression knobs in their middle settings and didn’t have much to complain about!

After just a couple rides I got accustomed to how these shocks react to turning the knobs and was able to find some pretty fantastic settings for both shocks.

Air vs Coil Rear MTB Shocks

So the differences between these two shocks comes down to their springs, one is air and the other is coil.

This debate has been hotly contested since the inception of rear suspension on mountain bikes and RockShox has really impressed us with how they’ve managed to close the gap between what sets these two styles of shocks apart. With decreased breakaway force in the air shock to improve the initial stroke feeling and the HBO circuit in the coil shock to increase end stroke ramp up, RockShox has tackled two of the biggest complaints about either shock style head on and done their best to put them in the past.

Breakaway Force and Traction

Breakaway force of air shocks is usually the number one argument against them, and while the air shock has less friction in the system than ever, the coil shock still has the suppleness edge. Cornering on loose and chunky terrain was where I would notice the difference in traction between the two the most, and the coil shock would allow the rear end to feel a bit more settled through those strange lateral impacts that happen when cornering.

In scenarios where traction is limited, the Super Deluxe Coil will give you more traction and allow the knobs to grab the dirt for just a little longer than the Super Deluxe Air. The difference, however, is not night and day. If you’re not incredibly particular about the rear suspension of your mountain bike then this is going to be seriously tough to discern on the trail.

Ride Feel and Progressivity

In all other scenarios besides those skittery moments on the edge of grip, the Super Deluxe Air takes the cake in overall ride feel. The progressive nature of the air spring supports the mid-stroke of the shock much more than the linear coil spring, and keeps the shock just a bit higher in the stroke than its coil sibling.

Staying higher in the travel equated to the bike feeling like it had more travel and a more bottomless feeling, even with just one volume spacer installed. Taking that volume spacer out lets the shock dive into its travel a bit more readily and gives it more of a linear coil feel if that’s your jam, but it does nothing to the initial stroke where coil shocks retain the edge.

With the increased mid stroke support, popping out of corners and off of lips is just a bit more rewarding with the air shock, and the bike has a more responsive feel than with the coil shock. When you load the bike into a berm and get that release of speed in the exit, the air shock felt like it gave 10-15% more acceleration from a good pump, and on flowy trails full of rollers and good corners, the fun factor seriously increases with the air shock. And that seems like it’s the theme with the air shock the whole time I’m riding it, it’s just more fun. Every time I had the coil shock strapped to the frame, I would be hunting for speed and seeking out the rougher trails for my post work laps, whereas with the air shock, the jumps would be calling my name.

Recommendations and Summary

So which one is right for you?

For me, I’m sticking with the air shock, as it provides 95% of the traction of the coil, and has a more progressive feeling which translates to more fun, more often. When I was super focused on racing a couple years ago, I would have absolutely chosen the traction of the coil to give myself every edge I could get when traction is everything that matters.

Both of these shocks are pretty dang amazing and neither one of them is the wrong choice, so whichever one you choose for you dream bike should have you grinning ear to ear.

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Tor Weiland



Bellingham, WA

Current Bikes: Transition Spire Custom Build

Bike Size: Medium

Favorite Trails: Oriental Express, Galbraith

About Me: Hailing from the sunny landscape of California, Tor headed north and landed here in the cloudy town of Bellingham, WA. His riding style is "PINNED" and he loves to scope out those seemingly impossible triples. He loves riding and also loves sharing his experiences with others. You can catch Tor in front of the camera or behind the keyboard, but best of luck catching him on the trail!