This may be one of the biggest debates in the mountain biking world!
Choosing the right type of mountain bike isn’t an easy task and if you get it wrong it cod cost you a lot of money because you won’t have available an easy fix to this mistake.
A full-suspension mountain bike is the right choice for you if you enjoy riding on technical trails filled with tree roots and other bumpy obstacles downhill. A hardtail mountain bike is better if you enjoy riding non-technical trails and you want a more efficient power transmission to the back wheel.
Everything in this article is written to help you make the right choice. We are going to start off with the key differences between a full suspension and a hardtail mountain bike. We are then going to look at what each bike is best used for and its pros and cons. Finally, we will try and give you some advice as to which bike you should get.
What Is A Hardtail Mountain Bike?
A hardtail is as the name suggests a mountain bike without a suspension (shock) on the back. In general, hardtails are equipped with front suspension, the less expensive ones come with a coil spring suspension type, this is a rigid suspension that offers the lowest performance and comfort.
The more expensive bikes come with air suspension (pressurized air in a chamber), this type of suspension has a progressive rate, meaning it is softer on the upper part of the travel and becomes stiffer as more pressure is applied.
What Is A Full-Suspension Mountain Bike?
A full suspension is a mountain bike that comes with front and back suspension (shock). The front suspension is the same as in the case of hardtail mountain bikes, the back shock is an air suspension type or a combination of air suspension and a coil spring (this type of back suspension is useful on big jumps).
Why Do I Need Suspension?
The suspension will allow you to ride your bike at speed on bumpy off-road terrain, without suspension you would be forced to drastically reduce the speed so you won’t be thrown off the bike and your joints would be exposed to all the shocks generated from hitting the bumps on the terrain.
Key Differences Between Hardtail and Full Suspension MTBs
The key differences between the two types of bikes are:
- The suspension system
- The price.
- The weight
The key difference between a full-suspension and a hardtail mountain bike is as follows: Hardtail mountain bikes have one suspension fork that is placed at the front of the bike. Full-suspension mountain bikes will have a suspension fork at the front and a suspension system at the back.
This difference can significantly impact the way that you ride and the way that the bike handles different types of terrain.
A full-suspension mountain bike usually costs more than a hardtail one. You can get an entry-level hardtail mountain bike for around $1000 and in some cases, even less than that. However, a full-suspension mountain bike will cost you around $1400 and that is just an entry-level bike.
Then you need to consider maintenance costs. While most issues with our mountain bikes can be fixed with some DIY, a full-suspension mountain bike will often cost you more even if you are doing it yourself. This is because there are more components to maintain.
Because a full-suspension mountain bike has more components it often weighs more than a hardtail mountain bike. This difference will mostly affect the way you ride on flat terrain. The heavier the bike is, the more rolling resistance it has.
The mountain bike’s weight is an important factor when climbing. The lighter the bike is, the easier is to conquer a long and stiff climb. More factors determine the climbing capabilities of a mountain bike, but weight is one of the more important ones.
Where Do Hardtails Excell?
Hardtails will perform the best on smooth and flat trails where the instant power transmission to the back wheel will allow you to ride faster than on a full suspension.
On less technical uphill portions of your rides, a hardtail will truly shine because they are lightweight and you won’t lose any power when pedaling. If you don’t have to overcome roots and rocky portions you will climb faster with a hardtail than with a full suspension.
For this reason, hardtails remain the best choice for less technical cross-country races, but if we are talking about enduro or downhill the scale balances in favor of a full suspension.
Are Hardtails Better For Climbing?
Hardtail mountain bikes are better for climbing than full-suspension ones because they are lighter (a rear suspension will have a big impact on the weight of the bike) and you will have a better power transmission from the pedal to the back wall because none of your pedaling power will be absorbed by a rear shock.
When it comes to climbing the instant power transmission to the back wheel of a hardtail is a very big advantage and will make your uphill riding portion of the ride much more enjoyable.
Practically riding uphill and sprinting are the only two situations in which the weight of your bike will make a difference, not having the rear suspension will drastically make your bike lighter.
Are Hardtails Good For Long Distance?
Hardtails are good for long-distance riding because they are comfortable (a more upright position), tough and reliable, and have many storage options for bags (you can mount a bike trunk) and they offer you the possibility to ride efficiently on any terrain (not limited to the road).
But for riding long distances on the road they aren’t as efficient as road bikes because they are slower and it will take you longer to put in the mileage. One more drawback is that you don’t have the possibility to change the handgrip like on a road bike and this can lead to sorrowful hands if the ride is very long.
One advantage is that you don’t need to avoid the rougher outer part of the road (hardtails are designed to be ridden off-road) and this will allow you to better avoid cars, so they bring an extra layer of safety.
Where Do Full Suspension Excell?
Full suspension mountain bikes are designed to tackle even the most technical trails, the rear suspension will absorb all the bumps on the trail and will allow your back wheel to maintain contact with the surface of the ground, this will give you more traction and maneuverability when riding over roots and rocks.
Riding downhill is where a full suspension will truly shine, the increased traction and better cornering capabilities will make a full-suspension mountain bike the perfect choice for enduro and downhill racing.
Having the rear suspension will allow you to preload jumps, it will make the landings more manageable and will allow you to perform bigger drops.
Pros and Cons of Hardtail Mountain Bikes
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a hardtail mountain bike. Some of these may or may not affect you as much as the next person.
|Versatile: great for touring, road, |
and trail use.
|You feel every bump, |
|Cheaper and easier to maintain.||Not the best for landing jumps.|
|Lightweight (fewer components).||Less performance on technical trails.|
|Good for climbing.||Less stability while descending.|
|Very fast on smooth trails.||Less performance on downhill.|
|Feel the trail|
|Great for beginners.|
|Instant power transmission when pedaling.|
The lack of back suspension forces you to be more aware when riding, this will help you to become a better rider because you are forced to learn what are the best lines on the trails.
One of the biggest disadvantages of hardtails is that you will feel every bump of the terrain and you will get fatigued more quickly on longer rides.
On less technical trails you will be able to easily achieve high speeds due to the increased power transmission from the pedals to the back wheel.
Pros and Cons of Full Suspension Mountain Bikes
Right, now it is time for us to discuss the pros and cons of full-suspension mountain bikes.
|Great for bumpy trails and roads.||Bigger investment.|
|Better performance on technical trails.||Higher costs of maintenance.|
|More versatility on the trails.||Less efficient on flat and smooth trails.|
|Comfortable on any terrain.||Harder to get a feel of the trail.|
|Less joint and back pain when riding.|
|Great stability while descending.|
|Faster on technical trails.|
|Gives beginners a confidence boost.|
|Better for cornering.|
The increased traction and stability of full-suspension mountain bikes make them the better choice for enduro and downhill riding.
The biggest advantage is the increased comfort and joint protection, feeling every bump on the trail will wear off your joints in time and you may even start to experience pain when riding.
Because technical trails are easier to do while on a full-suspension mountain bike, it means you get less of a feel for the trail. This can slowly hinder your skill development. With that being said, you will be able to complete most trails with more ease and in faster times.
Hardtail Vs. Full Suspension MTB: Back To Back Comparison
Now that we have seen the pros and cons of the two types of mountain bikes, we will do a back-to-back comparison to see which one will stand out.
|On paved roads||Winner||x|
|On smooth trails||Winner||x|
|On technical trails||x||Winner|
|Stability while descending||x||Winner|
|Speed on descents||x||Winner|
|Stability on technical trails||x||Winner|
|Total||8 Points||7 Points|
Surprisingly hardtails managed to gather more points than full-suspension mountain bikes but it really depends on your needs, maybe you don’t care which performs better on the pavement.
Which Is The Right Choice For You?
Now that we have covered most of what you need to know about the differences between these two bikes I feel like it is important for me to help you to decide which of the two bikes is right for you.
Should You Get A Hardtail Mountain Bike?
To be honest, if you are a complete beginner there are many reasons to start with a hardtail, a full-suspension mountain bike will be a big investment and your skill level will not allow you to enjoy it at its true potential.
If you want to use your mountain bike trail as well as road riding I highly recommend that you look into getting a hardtail.
Now, we need to consider your budget. How much do you have to spend on a bike? If it is anywhere between a few hundred dollars to $1300 then a hardtail might be your best option. A hardtail will give you more value for money at this price point.
I guess the easiest way to look at it is, how serious are you about mountain biking? If it is just a hobby that you do from time to time then you really don’t need to spend that much money. You don’t really need the best. So, a hardtail will be perfectly fine.
If you aren’t a technical guy and you like your mountain bike to be easy to maintain, then a hardtail is the way to go.
The main advantage that the hardtail has over full-suspension mountain bikes is that they are lighter, this comes as a result of not having a back suspension. So when choosing what mountain bike to get, you need to consider how important the weight of the bike is for you.
So if you want a light mountain bike, with low maintenance that can great performance on smooth trails and the pavement, then a hardtail may be for you.
A hardtail is for you if:
- trails near you have road sections
- you need a light mountain bike
- you what a low-maintenance bike
- you ride mainly on smooth trails
- you are on a budget
Should You Get A Full Suspension Mountain Bike?
If your budget is $1300 or more then you can look at getting yourself a full-suspension mountain bike. At this price point, you will get a bike that can handle almost any trail.
If you plan on riding any kind of technical trail, those with lots of bumps and obstacles, then you will always be more comfortable on a full-suspension mountain bike. Also, the bike will make it easier for you to overcome certain obstacles.
Once you have a full-suspension mountain bike the technicality and difficulty level of a trail become less of a concern for you.
The main advantage of a full-suspension mountain bike is the comfort factor, you will not feel every bump on the trail. Maybe the most overlooked factor is the protection of your back, the rear suspension will absorb a lot of the shock when riding on bumpier terrain, and this will reduce the pain you feel in your lower back after long rides.
The full-suspension mountain bike will absorb most of the bumps on the more technical parts of your rides and this will allow you to maintain a higher level of speed.
A full suspension is for you if:
- trails near you are on the technical side
- you need a comfortable mountain bike
- you want to protect your back
- you have a bigger budget
- you love speed
That should cover everything that you need to know about these two types of mountain bikes. After reading this article you should have a clear idea of which bike is best for you.
As you can see the two bikes are two different machines that are built for different types of riding styles, after you identify your preferred riding style the choice becomes easier.
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.