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Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension Which Is Better for Cross Country

It used to be very easy to decide if you should buy a hardtail or a full suspension if you are a cross-country rider because you only had one option and that was: XC hardtail.

But now XC full suspension mountain bikes have taken the XC market by surprise and so the epic debate hardtail vs. full suspension became a reality in the XC world as well. So what should you choose?

Hardtails will be the best performer when it comes to smooth XC trails but the increased traction and speed on bumpy terrain make full-suspension MTBs the best choice on technical XC trails. Practically on less technical XC races, hardtails will perform better while on the more technical ones FS MTBs will be faster.

In this article, I will help you decide which of the two bikes is the best for you, keep in mind that there isn’t an answer that fits all because hardtails and full suspension mountain bikes are very different machines that are designed to perform on different types of terrain.

XC MTB race

Hardtail Vs. Full-Suspension: Are Hardtails Better for XC?

Hardtail mountain bikes are better on smoother trails but on more technical trails filled with tree roots, full-suspension mountain bikes will perform better because the rear suspension helps the rear wheel to maintain contact with the ground providing much better traction.

Now let us explore what are the advantages of both bikes for XC:

Hardtail MTBFull-suspension MTB
better power transmissionbetter traction
lightermore comfortable
better for climbing on smooth terrainbetter for climbing bumpier terrain
(roots, rocks, etc.)
faster on smooth terrainmore stable downhill
less stress on your joints and back
(better for marathon races)
better at cornering
Advantages of hardtails and full suspension (cross country)

As you can see that for longer rides a full-suspension mountain bike will be better because it will be easier on your body but keep in mind that most cross country races are 15 to 20 minutes long, they have an advantage only on a marathon type race.

For shorter trails, the increased power transmission of a hardtail will have a bigger impact on your overall time than the increased traction that a full suspension provides. As you can see they are different types of mountain bikes that are suited for different types of terrain.

So the correct answer is that hardtails will be better on smoother trails while on the more technical ones a full suspension will perform better. If you are interested in an overall comparison of hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes, I recommend you read this article!

One more important thing to consider is the weather because on muddy trails full suspension mountain bikes tend to perform better due to their increased traction, practically you are forced to get out off the saddle less often, this will allow your weight to push down on the back wheel leading to much better traction in these harsh conditions.

If you aren’t a professional rider and you just enjoy casual cross country rides in your spare time, a full suspension will give you more comfortable and enjoyable rides while a hardtail will help you develop the necessary skills to become a better rider.

But in the end, it really comes to your budget, if you have a big budget and have the basic skills well polished a full suspension would be the best choice for you but if your budget is on the lower side don’t worry hardtails are still a great option for cross country riding.

If you are a serious XC racer you may need to decide on which type of XC races you will prioritize, technical trails (bumpier rides) or less technical ones.

If you want to focus on both be prepared to have two different bikes for each type of ride or understand that you may not have the perfect bike for the task at hand in some situations and you will be forced to compensate with a better physical condition.

XC Hardtail Vs. XC Full-Suspension: Which Is Lighter?

As a general rule, an XC hardtail will be 1 to 3 pounds lighter than an XC full-suspension. Despite being equipped with slimmer XC tires and a shorter travel fork the presence of a rear suspension and a more complex frame will make XC full-suspension MTBs heavier.

If you compare a top-of-the-line XC full suspension mountain bike with a cheaper XC hardtail you will see that they will have pretty much the same weight or the full suspension may be lighter. If both bikes are top of the line the hardtail will be lighter.

Now, does weight matter for cross country riding? The answer is a hard yes because cross country races usually contain uphill portions and on these portions, a lighter bike usually performs better.

Are Full Suspension Bikes Good for XC?

Modern full-suspension mountain bikes are very good for XC riding because they are designed to be lightweight and fast, the weight advantage that hardtails have is becoming smaller and smaller while FS MTBs have the advantage of the increased traction on bumpy terrain.

In the past, only hardtails were used for cross country racing, but now there are many full suspension mountain bikes that offer equal or even better performance than a hardtail. They are equipped with XC tires, a 100 mm travel fork, and 100mm travel or less rear suspension.

A full-suspension mountain bike will not perform as well as a hardtail on smoot trails but on trails filled with tree roots and rocks, it will easily outperform it, practically they are designed for the more technical cross country races.

When it comes to stiff climbs a full suspension will be faster than a hardtail if the climb is technical and you need to ride over many roots and other bumpy surfaces but if this isn’t the case a hardtail will outperform it because it has better power transmission and it is lighter.

Hardtails were considered to be the best choice for cross country riding for many years but now there are more full suspension mountain bikes preferred by XC riders because they are more stable downhill and have better traction overall.

Do XC Racers Use Hardtails?

In the past, all XC racers were using hardtails but now we see more and more riders switching to full suspension. Many riders will have two bikes, a hardtail for smoother trails, and a full suspension for when they need to compete on more technical trails.

On many XC races, you will see a mixture of hardtails and full suspension bikes, practically every rider will choose the best option for his riding style. There isn’t a standard anymore, some pro riders prefer hardtails, and some of them will choose a full-suspension, while others will ride both depending on the trail.

Conclusion

In the past, only hardtails were considered to be good for cross country racing but now, full-suspension MTBs have even the field.

On more technical XC trails a full-suspension MTB will perform better while on smooth XC trails a hardtail will still be the best option. It really comes on the type of XC trails you race on and your personal preferences.

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.