Hardtail vs Full Suspension Bikes: Which Is Right for You?

Red bike in mountains

If you plan to purchase a new mountain bike, you will likely choose between hardtail vs full suspension mountain bikes.

A full suspension mountain bike has a suspension fork at the front with a shock at the rear, while hardtail bikes only have a suspension fork.

The suspension system a bike has will ultimately influence your ability to achieve control, traction, comfort, and enjoyment during your ride. These are the competitive points to consider in a hardtail vs full suspension decision.

The question over which bike is hard for you is difficult to answer because it depends on various factors. It depends on how much you are willing to pay, the type of terrain you plan to traverse, and a bevy of other factors.

In very simple terms, a full suspension bike would be better if you do not mind incurring a higher cost and plan to ride harsher trails, while a hardtail bike would be a better option if you are a little low on funds and spend most of your time biking on smoother terrain. Let us break this down a bit further.

Bike Frame

The most noticeable difference between these two bikes would have to be their frames. A full suspension or dual suspension bike comes with a suspension shock on its rear wheel that needs to be activated. This frame is distinct and needs to be both sturdy and strong. These frames are often very complex and are made via fluid formation processes.

Subsequently, they are not only expensive but hard to repair if something goes wrong. However, their fancy features and up-to-date tech are some of the best on the market. Hardtail bikes have a more conventionally tapered frame seen on most high-quality bikes and thus are much cheaper but tend to be a bit less reliable.

Weight

A hardtail bike is almost always much lighter than a full suspension due to the lack of suspension linkages at the rear. A full suspension bike has many components on the back wheel that make it much heavier than any hardtail model.

As said above, hardtail frames are much cheaper. This usually means manufacturers can afford to attach more expensive components to the bike, which tend to be less heavy than cheaper ones, reducing the bike’s overall weight. As a result, hardtails will be much lighter than full suspension bikes. The difference will impact the experience you have riding either model.

Component Specs

Hardtails weigh less and do not have any suspension on the rear, which means they tend to have higher quality components. If your mountain bike has better tires, forks, wheels, or gear systems, it will affect its ability to handle different terrain. Therefore, it’s not necessarily always true that a full suspension bike is a better-quality option. However, full suspension bikes do come with additional features that allow for rebound damping that stabilizes the rider during a bumpy trail.

Maintenance

When it comes to a full suspension mountain bike, there are many small components. A hardtail has much more conventional components, which make maintenance much easier. Repairing a full suspension bike’s bearings and bushings requires some heavy expertise and ample time.

Additionally, these bushings and bearings will slowly start to deteriorate over time, affecting your overall cost. You need to repair your fork, wheel, and drivetrains on occasion with both models, but they are less time-consuming on hardtails.

Handling Different Terrain

Whichever option you choose, you should know that you are limiting yourself to specific terrain. Each bike will feel very different when you go on different kinds of trails. As a rule, full suspension bikes will handle any difficult or rough terrain much better due to their rear shocks and up-to-date brake technology.

You can ride these trails on a hardtail, but it is often much more difficult and can be both mentally and physically taxing. As a result, you should almost always pick a full suspension if you are going on more challenging terrain.

When it comes to medium-difficulty terrain, there really is no ideal option. While smooth terrain seems suited to hardtail bikes and challenging terrains suited to full suspension bikes, the one you choose for a medium-difficulty trail will be up to you.

hardtail vs full suspension mountain bikes

Comfort

A massive advantage when it comes to a full suspension ride is that they almost always offer better traction and comfort for the rider. The rear wheel adjusts to whatever trail you are on and ensures a smooth ride. Whether you are sitting on your saddle or standing upright on the pedals, you will rarely feel the bumpy jolts you might when using other bikes on rough terrain.

However, hardtail bikes may be significantly more comfortable if you are riding on smoother trails, and you will only feel jolted when the terrain is a bit more uneven. In terms of traction and comfort, hardtails are better for smooth terrain, while full suspension is better for rougher, uneven surfaces.

Going Up and Down Hills

Climbing and descending on hills are important aspects of mountain biking, impacted by the type of bike you ride. If you prefer to ride on trails with more steep uphill climbs, a hardtail mountain bike may be the way to go. It has a solid back end and is relatively light in weight which means you will not have to exert that much energy when biking uphill.

The rear suspension on full suspension bikes tends to deplete your energy as you continue to climb the hill. There are ways you can adjust your full suspension bike to alleviate this problem, but they will still be an overall more tiring bike to ride up any incline.

However, when the climbs are a bit more technical, the full suspension bikes tend to be a bit more valuable. The rear tire stays in contact with the ground when the uphill terrain is a bit less smooth and stabilizes the rider so they can continue to climb comfortably. While you still feel the excess weight, the traction a full suspension bike gives you on a rocky hill may be worth it.

Now when it comes to going down hills, full suspension bikes are a significantly more palatable option. The rear shocks on full suspension bikes are critical for allowing the rider to comfortably control themselves descending on bumpy terrain. On the other hand, hardtail bikes will be harder to control if you are biking down a hill with gravel, rocks, tree roots, or debris.

Developing a Biking Skillset

Many avid cyclists claim that a hardtail is a better bike to hone your abilities when it comes to slowly improving your skills. Since it does not have a rear shock on its back wheel, it forces you to feel every bump and uneven piece of terrain you encounter. You also exert more energy when riding a hardtail bike on uneven trails, improving your leg muscles as you keep riding.

More importantly, it will force you to pay attention to your surroundings and make you hop over obstacles around you which will serve you no matter what bike you use. As a result, hardtail bikes are generally the best for learning how to ride a mountain bike if you are new to the sport.

Which One Should I Choose?

At the end of the day, the bike you choose to use is very subjective. It depends on how much experience you have, how much you value speed, how much you value agility, your riding style, etc. However, as a rule, you should choose a hardtail if you are new to biking, are on a tight budget, prefer smoother trail riding, do not have much time for proper maintenance, and value a lighter-weight bike.

Overall, a hardtail is better for slightly more amateur mountain bikers looking for some fun on more rugged terrain.

However, if you are a seasoned mountain biker attempting to traverse harsh terrain, full suspension bikes may still be your best bet. If biking is your passion and money is not an issue, the additional expense may be worth it for the superior features and technology.

If you prefer technical trails with many obstacles, full suspension bikes will also be a better bet since they will mitigate any bumps in your path. Additionally, if you are looking for more speed, especially on a downhill incline, going for a suspension bike will help you zip down those hills with ease.

All in all, there is no simple answer to this question as both models have their pros and cons. However, hardtail vs full suspension will provide you with a fun experience while biking, and both have their respective benefits.

Last Updated on July 19, 2021 by Matthew Carpenter

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