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Hardtail or Full Suspension-What Type of Mountain Bike Should You Choose?
Choosing between a hardtail and full suspension continues to be one of the most frequent topics of debate among cyclists, including pros. In this article we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of each system to help you decide which is the better option for you.
Specialized Epic HT S-Works 2022
Hardtail (HT) vs Full Suspension (FS)
We’re going to start by pointing out that the HT/FS debate is generally centered around the disciplines of Cross Country (XC) and marathon. although this debate can be extended to trail riding as well, where some brands now offer interesting so-called “hard trail” models. These are hardtails with long-travel suspension and geometries similar to those of full-suspension bikes in the same category, and they are an accessible entry point into trail riding for a certain profile of user, specifically younger riders. You can learn more in the following video, in which we review two bikes that are representative of this new category:
On the other hand, for more aggressive “gravity” styles such as Enduro and Downhill, this debate is absent, and long-travel full-suspension bikes are used exclusively.
Now that the issue has been defined, we’re going to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of each system and which rider profile and riding style we recommend each one for. The final decision will be a based on a mix of your profile, the type of riding you like, and the type of terrain you normally encounter on your rides.
Pros and Cons of Hardtails
Let’s start with the hardtails, whose pros and cons stem mainly from their simpler design.
The pros are related to price and handling:
Lower price for comparable quality. If you’re looking to get into MTB on a tight budget, entry-level hardtails are are much less costly than full-suspension bikes.
Hardtails have better components and are more lightweight at the same price point compared to full-suspension bikes. The weight difference can be considerable, from around 1kg for high-end models and up to 3kg for more basics models. This weight difference can have a considerable impact on performance, which you should keep in mind if that’s one of your priorities.
Reduced maintenance time and cost, due to being a simpler system. This is another good argument if you’re looking to keep your investment (both in time and money) to a minimum, and a definitive one if you plan to use your bike for long treks and are looking for maximum reliability and self sufficiency.
More reactive and faster, especially on flat and less technical terrains. Along with being lighter, these are important qualities if you compete or are focused on performance during your rides, but for whatever reason aren’t considering purchasing a high-end full-suspension bike.
Disadvantages of Hardtails vs Full Suspension:
Inferior handling and control in technical terrain, both in ascents and descents. With no rear shocks, the back wheel absorbs very little impact, and instead of sticking the the ground, it bounces around on the bumps, losing traction and making steering and control difficult.
A less comfortable ride, due to the reduced shock absorption compared to a full-suspension bike. You can increase the absorption on a hardtail with bigger tires and lowering the tire pressure, but it will never march the comfort of full suspension.
Now focusing on FS bikes, shocks are designed so that the bike adapts to the terrain and the wheels spend more time in contact with the ground. With the addition of rear shocks on an FS bike, the improvement in handling and safety is significant.
Increased traction, grip and braking power, all of which lead to improved safety in all types of terrain.
Faster in technical or bumpy terrain, including in ascents, due to the improved stability the rear suspension provides. In downhills, though, is where the advantages of full suspension are undisputed. The added control at high speeds where the weight penalty is not as much of an issue makes full-suspension bikes the king of downhills.
A more comfortable ride and less fatigue on long outings. Shocks absorb the impacts and vibrations from terrain irregularities, minimizing the impact on the rider. This results to a more comfortable ride and significantly reduced fatigue, including on terrain that isn’t especially technical. Gravel paths and tractor treads often found in rural areas can be an authentic nightmare on a hardtail, making full-suspension bikes a better option for long marathons, which can run for miles over rural terrain like this.
The disadvantages of full-suspension:
Higher price point compared to a hardtail with similar components and features.
Maintenance is more complex and costly.
At the same price range as a hardtail, a full-suspension bike is heavier.
Loss of power while pedaling, due to the energy absorbed by the rear shocks. Although modern suspension systems have minimized this loss, if you add it to the increased weight of an FS bike, the difference in speed over non-technical terrain can be significant, especially in competition.
Specialized Epic S-Works 2022 with full suspension
Do I need full suspension or a hardtail?
Now that you’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of each, it’s time time to make your choice. Consult the following list of questions about you as a cyclist to help you decide.
Always a decisive factor for beginners and experts alike.
For beginners, you can find respectable hardtails starting around 500-600€ and with options with attractive features and extremely reliable starting around 1,000€. For a full-suspension bike, we’d recommend you spend at least around 2,000€. Keep in mind that the other components and weight factor will be significantly inferior to what you can find in a hardtail in this price range.
On the other hand, if your priority is comfort and safety, or you have an injury or pain that would make rear shocks recommended, we suggest you go for full suspension, even if your budget is under 2,000€.
For competitions , the difference in price between a hardtail and full-suspension bike with equivalent components can be overwhelming. Hardtails are a popular option for this reason alone for those with a more limited budget. Innovations in hardtail design and geometry have improved their ability to take on technical terrain, as we can see with examples like the new
Specialized Epic HT or the Cannondale Scalpel HT, for example. For more details, havea look at the following the video:
Type of Rides
The type of you rides you go on most often should be the determining factor in your decision.
We’d recommend a hardtail for the following:
If you generally ride on non-technical paths and take it easy on the downhills . You’ll save money and won’t have to drag the extra average 2kg around. Both the cost and the added weight of full suspension just aren’t necessary.
If you prefer long treks with panniers or a bike-packing setup , the reliability and simpler maintenance of a hardtail will be a big advantage.
If you need a competition bike on a budget, or if you’re a high-level competitor and can keep a hardtail under control over technical terrain at high speed. Some professional riders opt for hardtails for all types of courses and races.
Full suspension is the better option for the following:
If you like to ride all types of terrain, especially mountainous, and enjoy downhills, then a full-suspension bike is the better choice. You’ll enjoy these types of routes more and will be able to get the most out of them. If this describes you, then the question won’t be hardtail vs full suspension, but what what type of FS bikes you’ll need.
If you do long marathons, where rear suspension will increase comfort and reduce fatigue.
As mentioned above, if you have back issues . Full suspension is fundamental in this case, and may make the difference between continuing to ride for many years and giving up cycling.
Specialized Epic S-Works
We hope this article has been helpful for you when choosing between a hardtail mountain bike and full suspension. As always, be sure to visit mammothbikes.com/en/ where you’ll find our expert customer service team that can help you with any further questions, along with the greatest selection online of bikes from all the top brands.