Are you thinking about buying a mountain bike but can’t decide whether to buy hardtail or a full suspension? Here are 10 useful tips.
(header image: Norco Bicycles)
At the most basic level the difference between hardtail and full suspension bikes is that the latter has rear suspension shock absorbers fitted over the back wheel. A ‘hardtail’, as the name suggests, only features a suspension fork at the front. But they may also differ greatly in geometry and feel as they are often designed for different purposes.
[If you are looking at understanding the main basic differences between the many mountain bike models available on the market today, check our piece ‘From Hardtails to fat-bikes: Mountain Bikes explained‘.]
Here we are looking at 10 aspects to consider when deciding between a hardtail and a full suspension mountain bike.
1) Weight: In general, a full suspension bike will be heavier because of the addition of the rear shock and the extra tubes and pivots that all unavoidably add weight.
But if you spend more you can buy a bike that is as light or lighter than hardtail bikes. Remember that you tend to pay more for lighter bikes.
If a lighter bike, for easier riding uphill, is important to you then choose hardtail but if you prefer an all-round easier and more comfortable ride then choose the heavier full suspension.
2) The fun of riding: Full suspension fans will tell you that if you are tackling tricky trails it’s far more fun to have the traction and comfort of rear suspension but this really depends on the type of riding you do. Smooth off-road (and, of course, road) terrain are likely to be more fun to tackle on a stiffer, lighter weight hardtail.
3) Budget: In general, hardtails are cheaper than full suspension bikes simply because it costs more to add a pivoting rear end and a rear shock. However, there is a huge variance in the price of both hardtail and full suspension bikes and it will depend on the entire package including frame design and materials, the spec of components, as well the suspension systems.
4) Mechanicals: Less components means less to break down and therefore lower maintenance costs. That’s what the hardtail fans will advise. And there is no denying that cleaning a full suspension bike is more hassle.
5) The terrain: There are mountain bikes, both hardtail and full-suspension, to suit all terrains including cross-country, trails centres, single track and enduro (usually referred to as a trail or enduro bikes).
But there are those that argue that if you can ride any terrain on a hardtail then you will be technically superior. Then again, full suspension bikes tend to offer better traction and handling so if you want an easier and more comfortable ride, they are the best choice.
6) But when it comes to downhill..: If you are a full-on downhill junkie then full-suspension is likely to be your only choice. These bikes do handle better and feel more comfortable when your riding is mostly on very steep and tricky descents.
7) Easy to handle: Suspension, like fatter tyres, helps to give the bike and the wheels better traction on trails. This makes it easier to ride corners, steep climbs, and descents and to control the bike in muddy, rocky and rooty sections. So a full suspension bike tends to be easier to handle than a hardtail.
8) For comfort: Rear suspension absorbs more of the back end bumps. Which means you will have a more comfortable ride especially over longer, technical distances. Of course, if your bike is heavier, this will take a toll on leg muscles so you need to consider comfort versus leg power.
9) Speed: On a full suss bike you can push the limits of speed more, certainly going downhill, because the extra suspension will absorb more of the corners and bumps. But speed isn’t everyone’s idea of fun and if your type of riding involves many flatter sections or even tarmac, as well as steeper climbs, then you are likely to be faster on a hardtail bike.
10) Looks: Some people prefer the simpler look of a hardtail, others love the more aggressive looking full suspension. The choice is entirely yours…
Take a look at Evans Cycles to see a wide choice in both hardtail and full suspension mountain bikes.