When you are in the market for a new mountain bike there are lots of options which make it hard to choose. We have all different needs and we all live in different environments, this can already influence our bike choice. But how do you know which setup, certainly as a beginner, is right for you? There are a couple of different factors you need to take in account before deciding on the perfect bike.
What is a hardtail and a full-suspension bike?
Simply put, a hardtail is only equipped with front suspension. It gets it’s name from it’s rigid rear end. While a full-suspension has both a front suspension fork and a rear shock suspension, exactly as the name implies.
How to make the best choice for hardtail and full-suspension?
The fators you should consider
When shopping for your new ride the first thing that comes to (almost) everybody’s mind is the budget you’re willing to spend. The initial cost of purchase is the first thing you’ll need to factor in.
If you’re a beginner or just want to try mountain biking it might be best to start out with a cheaper hardtail instead of investing directly thousands of dollars in a full-suspension machine.
On the other hand if you want to compare a full suspension bike and a hardtail in the same price range, the added complexity of rear suspension, shock and pivots means compromises have to be made in terms of components or frame materials.
In some price ranges you can have a top end carbon frame hardtail whereas for the same price you only get an aluminum full suspension frame or a carbon frame equipped with a heavier drivetrain and a lesser front suspension. But you need to ask yourself: is the quality trade-off worth the benefits delivered by rear suspension?
The next factor is maintenance. A hardtail is far less expensive to maintain due to the extra moving parts a full suspension bike has. It has no moving parts like bushings, bearings and pivots. This is most certain if you live in an area where mother nature takes her toll where rain, mud, salt or sand can work its way into your moving parts, which can be expensive to replace. Even if you’re quite the home mechanic, certain maintenance jobs require expensive specialist tools. And let’s not forget you need to set your full suspension’s sag correct before you can get the most out of your bike. This can be a tedious and time consuming job, but once everything is dialed to perfection you’ll have a dream ride.
Another factor you must consider is the type of riding you do and what kind of trails you ride. It’s clear a hardtail will suffer on the descents compared to a fully sprung bike. On bumpier trails, the rear shock helps the tires to remain in contact with the ground to enable improved traction, instead of bouncing off bumps and loosing grip. As you hit roots and rocks at speed, full-suspension bikes also significantly dampen the force through the pedals and handlebars. A smoother ride no doubt helps improve comfort which keeps fatigue at bay during longer rides or races.
But we don’t all have the luxury to live in British Columbia, Squamish or the Alps with huge gnarly trails to ride. So a hardtail could be a valid choice for someone on more mellow terrain.
On the other side of the spectrum, If your rides consists of thousands of climbing meters, a lightweight hardtail should have you flying up the trails. The rigid back end offers superb power transfer to the rear wheel when climbing and there is no pedal kickback like on a full suspension.
Finally, there’s nothing like a hardtail to teach your riding skills. Without rear suspension, errors are more common on technical terrain and the margin to get the perfect line becomes much smaller. Which makes you think extra hard about line choice and body position. You have to anticipate and react to sudden shifts in direction and terrain, which will only help your overall riding technique in the long run. Hardtail bikes enable riders to feel more connected with the trail. The extra responsiveness and feedback from the bike allow riders to pump through undulating terrain and generate speed with maximum efficiency.
On the other hand there’s also the simple fun factor of riding a full suspension bike. That steep part of trail or that rock garden that had you terrified on now becomes a fun feature to barrel over. Struggling on that off-camber root section? Full suspension will give you the confidence and handling a hardtail never could because of the more forgiving handling and it will help you grow confidence on your bike.
One other key consideration, which matters most for the riders that take competing in cross-country very seriously, is the weight savings which a hardtail offers. On average full suspension models are 1.5kg heavier, and this can make all the difference when trying to save seconds on the climbs. But then again, the weight penalty is comparatively small compared to what it used to be, with most full suspension frames being around a kilo heavier than a hardtail counterpart. Unless you’re an elite racer, this makes little difference when factoring in the fun and comfort of rear suspension and if you watched the latest Olympic Games all medals were won on a full-suspension bike.
Your final choice
Whether you choose a hardtail or a full-suspension model will depend very much upon yourself. Despite what your friends or marketing tells you, there is no one size fits all. But know that quality builds exist for both models, and there are options available at various price points as well for hardtails as for full-suspension. And if you caught your eye on that beautiful 150mm enduro bike or a purebred XC-racing machine, go ahead. In the end you need to be happy about that all-important purchase. But still, we hope this article has made the decision making that bit easier. See you on the trails!