If you want to get into mountain biking, you’ll come across two types of bikes – hardtail and full-suspension bikes (also dual-suspension bikes). There are many more bikes, but these are the most suitable for beginner riders.
Your decision on which bike to get depends on the amount of suspension you need on your mountain bike. This impacts the bike’s control.
Full-suspension bikes feature both a suspension fork and rear shock while hardtails only have a front suspension fork, getting their name from that rigid rear end. The mountain bikes are built this way for a purpose, terrain playing a big part in this.
A full-suspension mountain bike is great if you ride technical trails, rock gardens, and overall rough terrain. That said, it also works when cross-country riding on smoother trails; the only caveat here is that the extra weight slows you down.
Hardtail mountain bikes are built to ride smooth trails as the lighter weight allows you to ride faster. With a frame weight of a kilo less than that of a full-suspension model, it’s no wonder they’re popular with mountain bikers in cross-country racing and gravel riding.
Though riding terrain and weight difference are the most impactful factors in your decision, there are other features you should look at to get a clearer picture of both types of bikes.
Hardtail Vs. Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes: Where Do They Excel?
Depending on your riding preferences, each bike excels at one thing that the other doesn’t. On the other hand, there are also a few similarities between the mountain bikes.
The following are the most important factors to consider before choosing your preferred bike.
1. Riding Style
Similar to terrain, the style of riding will also influence the type of bike you choose.
Full-suspension mountain bikes are great for trail riding. These paths require a lot of maneuvering so your bike needs to be strong enough to handle the sometimes complicated routes.
Though speed is always important, it’s secondary to strength and endurance in such trials. The front and rear shock in a full-suspension mountain bike enable it to take on a bumpy ride without causing much discomfort to you.
This also keeps the core of the bike components intact.
A hardtail mountain bike, on the other hand, lacks the technical ability to take on such paths due to only having a suspension fork. That said, this makes them lighter and hence more favorable to ride in areas where you need to do a lot of climbing.
To support this, hardtail mountain bikes have a more forward-sitting position as the handlebar is low to enable efficient climbing.
This means you need to know how to position yourself on the bike as comfort is not the number one feature bike makers look at when manufacturing a hardtail. This is why they’re common with more experienced riders.
You can ride a full-suspension bike in both situations i.e., rough terrain and smooth trails. A hardtail mountain bike, however, is only built for mountain biking on smooth paths because on technical terrain, the rear tire will bounce on the rocks throughout the ride.
If you need a multi-purpose bike, the front and rear shocks in a full-suspension mountain bike make it a more favorable candidate. If you need a more specialized bike, however, or want to sharpen your riding skills, a hardtail bike will suit you best.
2. Climbing and Descending
As briefly pointed out above, hardtail bikes are the best for climbing. Their lightweight enables you to control them with ease so you won’t use as much energy to push the bike up the hill.
The sitting position in a hardtail also helps enhance this as they’re structured in an “aggressive” way that lends forward momentum to help battle that climbs. This ensures you get through as fast as possible, which is why they’re the most popular bikes among XC racers.
Sometimes, however, the climb is so challenging that a full-suspension MTB would work best. Because of the better traction provided by such bikes, you’ll get past the more technical climbs, and you’ll have a smoother ride, albeit at a slower pace.
Under normal conditions, the relaxed sitting position of a full-suspension bike works at your disadvantage if you choose to use it for climbing. You’ll need to use much more energy to climb a hill due to you needing to account for that extra weight.
When it comes to descending the hill, however, full-suspension bikes are best. A full-suspension mountain bike features big brake rotors that complement its weight, enabling you to properly control the bike down a steep slope.
Hardtails are characterized by smaller brake rotors. Couple this with their lightweight, and you’ll speed down the hill with far less control.
Riding downhill is when you see the advantage of the suspension range in a full-suspension setup. With only a suspension fork in a hardtail bike, you’ll be bouncing about all the way down, feeling the impact the most in the rear wheel.
3. Bike Components
Full-suspension bikes have an advantage in the frame as most full-suspension frames feature a straight head tube. Hardtail frames, on the other hand, feature a tapered tube.
Though the bike frame is one of the main components in a bike, the lack of a rear shock in a hardtail means the rest of its components are of far better quality than those of a full-suspension mountain bike.
This also means they can go through long, frequent rides on suitable terrains and persevere through all of this (without needing constant maintenance) due to the high-quality components.
A bonus point here is that the lack of a rear suspension in a hardtail mountain bike provides space to carry a water bottle or two. Full-suspension bikes do not offer this, so you’ll have to find another way to store your source of hydration.
This also means full-suspension setups can’t fit frame bags.
Before going out to buy your new mountain bike, you have to consider your budget. Full-suspension mountain bikes are more expensive than hardtails for the simple reason that they’re more advanced bikes with certain abilities a hardtail bike just can’t provide.
For around $1,000, you can get a nice hardtail that suits your needs if you’re a beginner. Upgrading to about $1,500 is likely to get you a good quality hardtail bike with a few full-suspension bikes starting to pop up.
At about $2,000, you’ll get some good full-suspension bikes. You’ll also get some great hardtails in the same money bracket.
If you want a strong, long-lasting full-suspension mountain bike, add that extra $1,000 to get to the $3,000 mark. Anything above $3,000 is, most of the time, of superior quality.
When to Choose Each Bike
When choosing your preferred bike, these are the situations you should consider.
When to Choose a Hardtail Mountain Bike
You should get a hardtail bike if you don’t have that big a budget. They don’t have as many components, meaning brands useless to manufacture them (hence sell them at a lower price).
Because hardtail bikes generally weigh less, they also don’t need much in terms of maintenance.
An example here is how hardtails don’t feature moving parts like pivot bearings. Full-suspension models, on the other hand, require shock services, and repairs of the full-suspension frame (since they can’t handle as much impact as the hardtail); among other costly services.
Lastly, if you plan on riding on smooth terrain, a hardtail is perfect for a fast and fun ride.
When to Choose a Full-Suspension Mountain Bike
If money is not a problem, a full-suspension model is best for you. This is especially so if you’re a beginner as the bikes are versatile enough for you to test the waters and find out what type of riding you like; who knows, you might find that enduro riding suits you best.
If a comfortable ride is among your most-needed elements in a bike, the increased suspension travel in a full-suspension bike makes it perfect for you. The front and rear suspension do such a good job of absorbing shocks that could lead to bumpy rides along the trails.
It’s worth noting that due to the comfort aspect of full-suspension bikes, they’re not the best if you want to sharpen your riding skills. With only front suspension, hardtails need you to strategically position yourself in certain ways when riding through different paths, so you’re likely to grow more as a rider with them.
Lastly, if you’re simply fascinated with bike technology, you’ll have a fun ride with a full-suspension bike.
The versatility and availability of a front and rear suspension in the full-suspension bike puts it ahead in the hardtail vs. full-suspension debate. Other aspects weigh it down, however, with factors like price and weight lifting the hardtail.
Overall, it all depends on what you want to use the bike for. Disappointment is rare when getting either bike, so don’t overthink it and go with your gut.