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Can You Use Hardtails For Downhill? (Explained for Beginners)

There are many different types of mountain bikes that are designed for specific purposes.

Hardtails aren’t designed to be ridden downhill but do you really need to spend thousands of dollars to enjoin downhill riding or a decent hardtail will do the job?

You can use a hardtail mountain bike for downhill riding but it isn’t as easy and is far less forgiving compared to using a full-suspension bike. Then again, you will be a more skillful rider if you end up learning how to properly control your hardtail on technical downhill trails. 

It might be true that using a hardtail for downhill riding isn’t going to be an easy experience or even one that is enjoyable when you’re a beginner. However, it’s going to be very rewarding especially if you do it right and if you have developed the skills needed for downhill riding with a hardtail.

Can a Hardtail Handle Downhill Riding?

Hardtail downhill

Mountain biking can be downright fun and exciting to do especially if you love the outdoors. But that isn’t always the case depending on the type of bike you use because there are bikes that don’t really do well depending on the terrain.

A good example of a bike that was made for certain situations and circumstances is a hardtail mountain bike, which is best used when the terrain is even and when the trail isn’t that rough. That’s because these bikes are built for speed and are capable of providing you the speed and comfort you need when you are biking on an even road.

So, can a hardtail mountain bike handle downhill riding?

Generally, yes, a hardtail mountain bike can handle downhill riding. This should be easier on a smoother downhill trail but is still possible when you are riding downhill on a trail that is comparatively rougher.

However, the one thing you need to take into consideration here is that it is going to be a lot more difficult for you to ride your hardtail when you are going downhill on a rough trail.

As such, the consensus here is that, if you are a beginner, you are going to have a challenging time riding your hardtail downhill, especially on rough trails. You are going to make mistakes when you do so, and hardtails are less forging on the rider’s mistakes.

The window for mistakes tends to be smaller when it comes to beginners riding hardtails downhill. This can lead to minor or even serious injuries if you don’t learn from your mistakes because riding a hardtail downhill isn’t an easy thing.

On the other hand, the more advanced and skillful riders love using hardtail bikes when riding downhill because it provides a thrilling adrenaline rush that you won’t get from a full suspension. In fact, some skillful riders prefer to use hardtails on downhill trails instead of going with full suspension or DH bikes.

So, what you can learn is that hardtail bikes are going to be very challenging to use and less forgiving when it comes to downhill trails. However, as you grow in experience and skill, you will understand why hardtail bikes are the best when it comes downhill especially if you love riding for the thrill of it.

Pros & Cons for Riding a Hardtail Downhill

Pros

  • Allows you to develop your riding skills—the same skills that you can use on any kind of terrain.
  • Develops quick reaction speeds and reflexes.
  • Makes you into a more intelligent decision-maker on the fly when it comes to different types of rides.
  • Gives you more confidence in your riding abilities.
  • You become a less fearful rider because you have been through tougher and more challenging downhill rides on a hardtail.

Cons

  • Safety will always be an issue because you can easily make mistakes if you are not used to riding downhill on a hardtail.
  • There is a good chance that your bike can end up breaking due to the impact on the frame.
  • Even if you don’t make any mistakes, you can still end up feeling the wear and tear of a tougher and rougher downhill ride on your body.

Is a Hardtail Safe to Ride Downhill?

Riding downhill

While you can indeed use a hardtail for downhill riding, your safety is a different storie. That’s because there are safety risks that may be involved when it comes to using a hardtail for downhill riding.

With that said, is a hardtail actually safe to ride downhill?

If you are a skilled rider who has already mastered the art of riding downhill, then the general consensus is that it is safe to ride downhill on a hardtail. Your skills will be able to minimize the possibilities of crashes and injuries.

Of course, the general consensus also applies even if you are a beginner or a novice in mountain biking. Downhill riding should be safe enough for novices who are riding hardtails so long as they know their limits and as long as they are willing to take things easy.

Take note that riding a hardtail downhill is safe only if and only if you are actually taking into account certain safety basics that any rider should know. For example, regardless of whether you are a skilled rider or a novice, riding downhill on a hardtail can be dangerous if you try to challenge jumps or drops that are over 2 feet high.

Likewise, there shouldn’t be any reason for you to want to test your limits when you are riding downhill because that is when the chances of running into crashes rise. 

We’re not saying that you shouldn’t try to challenge your limits but it is best to not try to test the waters when you know for certain that you probably can’t handle the challenge at your current skill level. For safety reasons, it is best to ride within your means when you are riding downhill.

There is also the risk that you will end up breaking your bike if you try to overdo it.

Hardtails are sturdy bikes that are built to take punishments and abuse. These bikes compensate for their lack of a rear suspension with a sturdier frame. However, there is only so much that a hardtail bike can take when you try to push it to its limits on a downhill trail.

Pushing your hardtail on a downhill ride could lead to cracking the bike’s frame (especially during jumps and drops), damaging the brakes, or hurting yourself if you end up making a mistake.

As mentioned, each mistake you make when you are riding downhill with a hardtail is less forgiving. That’s why it is important that you learn from your mistakes and that you try to improve your skills incrementally when riding downhill on a hardtail.

If you plan to ride your hardtail downhill, one important thing you need to know is if a hardtail can handle jumps, I have written an article on the subject. Check it out!

Will Riding a Hardtail Downhill Make Me a Better Rider?

Front view on MTB

In relation to riding a hardtail downhill, we did say that it’s going to be very challenging and difficult to the point that it can get dangerous if you try to do too much and if you try to test skills that are way beyond your limits. However, it is also true that the only way for you to become a better rider is to try to challenge yourself more.

That said, you are certainly going to become a better rider if you ride a hardtail downhill. The reason is that you will be able to learn different skills by exposing yourself to a challenging ride such as a downhill trail using a hardtail mountain bike.

Specifically, you will be able to learn how to maneuver yourself through tougher terrain and different types of obstacles along the way as you are riding downhill. It develops skills that will become second nature to you as you become more composed at learning how to pace yourself while controlling the bike on a, particularly tough trail.

So, what happens is that you begin to develop a sense of knowing how to make intelligent decisions riding downhill on a bike as difficult to use as a hardtail. This allows you to incrementally grow and improve as a rider in a way where you force yourself.

The secret here is to pace yourself and go through a downhill trail that is only respectably challenging and not too difficult. Try not to ride very steep downhill trails because this will force you to ride at a speed that your brain and reflexes are not yet accustomed to. 

Instead, use the less challenging downhill trails that will still give you enough time to react and make intelligent decisions on the fly. Increase the challenge incrementally by taking yourself to tougher trails when you feel like you are already skilled enough.

The good news here is that you will not only be able to develop skills that are useful for downhill trails. When you take your hardtail out to ride cross country after training on downhill trails, you will notice how a difference in how quick you are to react and how smart you are at making decisions in relation to obstacles. 

Awareness is also a skill you will develop because you will be able to find yourself becoming more focused on what’s in front and around you as you are riding downhill. This is a skill that is particularly useful on single-track trails or urban roads because you need to be more aware of the vehicles and obstacles that you need to avoid while riding.

So, all that said, it has always been one of the more recommended training regimens among expert riders to train with your hardtail on downhill trails that correspond to your skill level. But be warned that every mistake you commit on downhill trails while on a hardtail can be more punishing than the last. That’s why it’s important to pace yourself.

Can You Put Downhill Forks on a Hardtail?

Aside from pacing yourself and developing your skills, one of the things you can do to improve as a rider is to invest in a better fork that can go downhill. 

Downhill forks are dual-crown forks with 8 inches of travel designed specifically for shuttle and lift access riding. In short, these forks are basically designed to make downhill rides easier for a bike. This can make a big difference in how you ride downhill.

And yes you can put a downhill fork on a hardtail but be aware that you will change the overall geometry of the bike, the end result will be a slacker hardtail that will perform better downhill but you will have a hard time riding anything else with it.

However, what you also need to know about downhill forks is that these are going to change the way you ride your bike as they can affect handling. You will be forced to adjust to an entirely new experience if you replace your hardtail’s fork with a downhill fork.

Another thing to keep in mind is that increasing the travel on a hardtail too much can have an adverse effect on the way it climbs uphill. While a downhill fork may make it easier for you to ride downhill, it will make an uphill climb much more difficult. That’s why you need to weigh the pros and cons of using a downhill fork before having it installed on your hardtail.

Conclusion

Even though hardtail bikes are not the best when it comes to downhill riding, the fact remains that they are great at improving your skills as a rider. Still, with safety issues looming, we suggest that you save enough money for a full suspension if you do intend on riding downhill trails more often.

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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.