I started my mountain biking journey with a hardtail mountain bike but I always was wondering if a full-suspension MTB would be the better choice.
I had the feeling that I am missing out!
Going from a hardtail to a full-suspension MTB is a good choice if you want to ride the more technical trails that incorporate downhill sections and you need a bike that can safely handle all the challenges that come with technical trails.
In this article, I will tell you everything I have learned from switching from a hardtail mountain bike (after 2 years of riding it) to a full suspension one. So keep reading!
Things you need to know before upgrading to a full-suspension MTB
The eternal debate still stands, hardtail vs. full suspension. But there is a big difference between a beginner and a rider that has some time riding a hardtail under his belt.
Many riders have unrealistic expectations after they go from a hardtail to a full suspension, remember a full-suspension MTB is not a lot superior to a hardtail, it is just meant for different styles of riding.
Here are some important facts you need to know before you make the switch from a hardtail to a full suspension:
- Harder to climb with: Full suspension MTB’s aren’t efficient when climbing a stiff hill because your rear suspension will absorb a lot of the power you put into the pedals, even if you lock your rear suspension you will lose power (no suspension in 100% locker, it will still absorb 10-15% of your pedaling power).
- Less effective on sprints: The rear suspension will make the full suspension MTB less effective on sprints than a hardtail because on a hardtail you will have an immediate power transmission to your back wheel with nos suspension to absorb a part of it.
- More effort jumping: If you want to jump with a full suspension you need to preload it before a jump, the more travel you have on your suspension the harder it will be to get off the ground.
- Not that playful: If you are used to doing tricks when you jump with your hardtail, keep in mind that the back end of a full suspension is heavier and less maneuverable when you are in the air so it is harder to do cool stuff with a full suspension.
- Shorter jumps: Because it is harder to get off the ground with a full suspension your jumps will not have the same length as with a hardtail, hardtails are lighter and will pick up more speed when entering jumps.
- Less speed on smoother surfaces: On smoot and flat trails hardtails will pick up more speed than a full suspension, the reason for this is that on flat and soot trails you don’t need the increased back-wheel grip that a full suspension brings and the instant power transmission from the pedals to the back wheel makes all the difference in this case.
As you can see, in some situations riding a hardtail is better than riding a full suspension.
Reasons to upgrade to a full-suspension MTB
Now let us see why full suspension MTB’s are so popular and why you should ride one instead of your hardtail:
- Better on rough terrain: Technical trails are where the full suspension truly shines, your rear suspension will help your back wheel to not lose contact with the ground on the bumpier parts of the trail (rocks, tree branches, etc.).
- More speed downhill: The rear suspension will allow the full suspension MTB to absorb all the shocks on rougher terrains and will help in maintaining greater speeds when descending (it more than makes up for the time lost on ascents, overall you will have a better time than with a hardtail, except on flat portions of the trail).
- Better for jumps and drops: The rear suspension will help you have smoother landings and will require less skill, your jumps will be shorter and you will have a harder time coming off the ground but your landings will be smoother and safer.
- You can experiment with more types of riding: Because full-suspension MTB’s are more stable and will be more forgiving of the rider’s mistakes (you don’t always need the best line when cornering, don’t need to find the smoothest landing on jumps ) it will allow for more types of riding styles than a hardtail will.
- Better for flat pedal riders: Because the rear suspension will absorb the energy from hitting the bumps on the roughest parts of the trails your feet will have a lesser chance of slipping from a flat pedal, yes you will have a better grip on flat pedals if you ride a full-suspension MTB.
- Better protection for your joints: Because the force of impact on rough terrain will mainly be absorbed by your rear suspension, this man that your ankles and knees will have less work to do. When you ride off-road sitting on the saddle your lower back will also be better protected on a full suspension.
Now you know why a lot of riders will open wide their wallets and spend all their hard-earned money on a full suspension, will you do the same?
Which is faster full suspension or hardtail?
Hardtails are lighter than full-suspension MTB’s and they have instant power transmission from pedals to the back wheel widout a rear suspension to absorb a part of it, this makes them faster when climbing, on flat and smooth surfaces, and makes them ideal for sprints.
Full-suspension MTB’s are more stable on more technical terrain because the rear suspension will allow your back wheel to stay in contact with the ground when hitting bumps, for this reason on the more technical trails and on downhill trails, full-suspension MTB’s are faster than hardtails.
On climbs and flat smooth surfaces hardtails are faster but on the more technical trails with downhill sections full-suspension MTB’s safer and faster.
Do I regret switching to full suspension? (From personal experience!)
Before I bought my first mountain bike I was an automation engineer with a sedentary job who needed to lose weight and get into physical shape. Fortis reason I bought my hardtail mountain bike and I started to ride it every day.
I fell in love with the sport and decided that I will be a mountain biker for life, after a while I had more money and decided to sell my hardtail and get a full suspension.
My full suspension has a 120 mm travel suspension fork and a rear shock with 90mm travel, so it falls in the cross country category.
I loved my hardtail but it was rough and unforgiving and almost impossible to tackle technical trails without you being incredibly skilled at mountain biking.
Because of my sedentary job, I experienced some lower back pain and this was becoming more and more obvious after every ride with my hardtail.
After switching to the full-suspension MTB I haven’t experienced any lower back pain after rides and the feet joints were never sore.
The rides on my full-suspension were a lot more comfortable and the bike gave me more confidence and I could tackle more technical trails, a full suspension is more forgiving on the rider’s mistakes.
A lot of my rides are around the city I live in, and almost every ride has big climb portions and believe me it is a lot harder to climb on full suspension but still, the more modern ones are optimized for climbing, you will still have a decent climbing experience as long as you are riding on the saddle.
Full-suspension MTB’s are a lot more capable of tackling the more technical trails but not that effective on smooth trails.
My only regret is that I didn’t have the possibility to keep my hardtail beside my full suspension. They are different bikes meant for different styles of riding.
But still, if I would have to do the switch again I would still do it. Many of my friends made the same switch and none of them are disappointed.
Upgrade your hardtail or buy a full-suspension MTB?
I get this question a lot, almost everyone is asking the same question. The answer is very simple!
It depends on your riding style, hardtail mountain bikes are made for flat and smooth surfaces and full-suspension mountain bikes are off-road beasts made to tackle the toughest of terrains.
So you need to answer yourself one question: What kind of trails do I ride?
If you have the skill to ride technical trails and you love a challenge, then buying a full-suspension mountain bike is the right choice for you. You will never make a hardtail capable to safely handle the tough terrains that a full suspension can, no matter the upgrades you make to it.
If your rides are on the cross-country side, flat and not so rough terrain then the better solution will be to upgrade your hardtail and make it lighter so you could be more efficient at sprinting and climbing.
I hope that by now you have all the information you need to make the best decision, stick with your hardtail, or get a full suspension.
Yes full-suspension MTB’s are more capable to handle rough terrain and are more comfortable but they come at a hefty price tag and do not forget that you will not only pay more to buy one but you will pay more to maintain it as well. So be sure you can afford it!
Don’t forget that the most important thing is to have fun on the trails!
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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.