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Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension: for Enduro/ Downhill

There are many opinions online and some of them are clearly in the favor of hardtails but if you search for enduro or downhill mountain bikes you will always find full-suspension MTBs. So which of the two is better for downhill and enduro mountain biking?

As a general rule, full-suspension mountain bikes will perform better when it comes to enduro and downhill mountain biking because they are able to absorb all the bumps from the trail without the back wheel losing contact with the ground, this makes them more stable and gives them more traction.

In this article, I will compare the two types of mountain bikes and I will tell you why full-suspension MTBs are better for enduro and downhill mountain biking, and we will examine if a hardtail can be used for enduro and downhill.

Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension Which Is Better for Enduro

enduro MTB rider
Enduro MTB

In enduro mountain biking traction is the most important factor for maintaining speed over technical downhill trails. Full suspension mountain bikes will offer better traction because the rear wheel will lose less often contact with the ground because the rear suspension will absorb the bumps on the trail.

An enduro event will have both uphill and downhill portions but you aren’t timed when riding uphill, you just need to be able the climb to the top so you can be timed on the downhill part of the event.

So a mountain bike doesn’t have to have great climbing capabilities, it just needs to be able to climb. Practically the downhill performance is the focus here and full suspension mountain bikes have the upper hand.

Due to the better traction and cornering capabilities, on a downhill section of the trail, a full-suspension mountain bike will be able to outperform a hardtail if the rider has the appropriate skill level. So there is no doubt about it, full-suspension MTBs are better for enduro riding.

The main advantages of a hardtail over a full-suspension MTB are the instant power transmission from the pedals to the back wheel and the lower weight but these advantages aren’t important when it comes to enduro mountain biking.

So we can easily say that hardtails aren’t the best choice for enduro riders despite the fact that some riders prefer them and consider them to be more fun.

Can You Ride Enduro on a Hardtail?

Yes, you can definitely ride enduro with a hardtail but it will be less performant than a full suspension MTB. You will need much more skill to ride a hardtail on technical enduro trails but this can be a lot of fun and some pro riders will use hardtails to sharpen their skills.

If you want to enter an enduro competition with a hardtail you need to check the rules of the competition, in most cases, hardtails will not be allowed. There are special enduro competitions dedicated to hardtails, they are rare but they exist.

The competitions dedicated to hardtails will take place on less technical trails because full-suspension MTBs are safer to ride over rocks and branches at great speed downhill.

Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension Which Is Better for Downhill

Downhill MTB ride
Pro MTB women rider (riding downhill)

No doubt about it, full-suspension mountain bikes are much better for downhill riding than their hardtail counterparts. The increased stability and traction will make full-suspension MTBs the preferred option for most riders for riding downhill.

All mountain bikes designed for downhill are equipped with as much suspension as possible, having more travel will increase the stability of the bike on bumpy terrain, practically the more suspension you have the more technical downhill trails you can safely ride with greater speed.

Riding downhill doesn’t require a lighter bike and for this reason, downhill mountain bikes will be heavier than the rest of the mountain bikes on the market. A heavier bike will gain more speed downhill and having more travel on the suspension (front and back) will allow you to maintain that speed downhill.

The lesser suspension a mountain bike has, the less performant it is for downhill riding. Most mountain bikes will sacrifice suspension to achieve a more suited weight and geometry for uphill riding.

But when you only ride downhill the focus shifts from weight and power transmission to stability and traction.

Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension this is the biggest debate in the mountain biking world, if you want to know all the pros and cons I suggest you read my in-depth comparison article.

Can You Ride Downhill on a Hardtail?

Yes, you can ride downhill on a hardtail, it will require more skill and better focus but you can have a lot of fun. Some pros will ride hardtails downhill for training purposes, it will force you to develop your skills much faster than a full suspension.

In most cases, you need to ride slower because you won’t have the increased stability of a full suspension and you need to really be aware of the trail and pick the right lines or you may get in trouble.

There are many things to discuss here and if you want to know more I suggest you read my article about riding a hardtail downhill.

Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension Which One Is Faster

Hardtails are faster on smoother trails and on uphill portions of the trails if they aren’t filled with tree roots and rocks while full suspension mountain bikes are faster downhill and on the more technical trails filled with bumpy portions.

No doubt about it that rear suspension will slow you down on trails where the extra traction isn’t needed. The instant power transmission from the pedals to the back wheel will make hardtails faster on climbs and more performant on sprints.

Terrain typeWich is faster
Uphill (smooth trail)Hardtail
Downhill (smooth trail)Full-Suspension
Uphill (technical trail)Full-Suspension
Downhill (technical trail)Full-Suspension
Smooth trails
(not downhill predominant)
Hardtail
Technical trails filled with roots
and roks or lose terrain
Full-Suspension
Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension: which one is faster (terrain dependant)

Conclusion

When it comes to downhill and enduro riding a full suspension will be the better choice because it will give you more stability, traction, and has better cornering capabilities. All these advantages are crucial for maintaining speed when riding on technical downhill trails.

Hardtails are a great option if you are training to compete in events and are looking to sharpen your skills.

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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.