Choosing between a full suspension mountain bike and a hardtail mountain bike can be an awfully difficult task, especially if you’re on a budget or just starting out as a MTBer.
You might come across many options for a hardtail mountain bike that costs just as much as a full suspension bike, with two parallel choices, which one is the right bike for you?
A quick view of a full suspension MTB shows it has a front fork along with a rear suspension, while a hardtail lacks a rear shock. However, this means hardtail bikes have more space and complexity in terms of components.
Even with detailed knowledge about the pros and cons of hardtail vs full suspension, I often find myself answering the question, will the added components provide a better ride or should I stick to the fancy full suspension models?
Your riding style and terrain can help you answer this question but if you’re looking to make the right choice without second thoughts, it is better to dwell deeper into the key parts that make up your favorite mountain bike.
Overview of Mountain Bike Suspension
Suspension is designed to provide the rider with the necessary control over rough trails. Mountain biking is a sport involving immense reliance on the bike. Therefore, it is important to understand the different components of mountain bikes that make up the suspension system.
Here are some of the most common components of a suspension system.
A fork is something exclusive to the front suspension. It can be used on suspension bikes and hardtail mountain bikes alike because they enhance the bike’s control on rough terrain. It is the most significant improvement to an MTB and allows for better absorption of bumps and landing impacts.
You can choose from a suspension fork or a rigid fork. If you don’t like twiddling adjustment knobs, a rigid fork is the better option for paved roads and smooth trails. It’s simple, lightweight and requires little maintenance.
However, if you seek thrills like me, then a suspension fork will provide a more comfortable ride without shaking your hands all the time.
Rear shock differentiates suspension bikes from hardtail bikes. It has evolved the riding experience and gives a mountain biker the extra confidence needed to pedal harder than ever before. Rear shocks come in different sizes and types—air suspension and coil suspension.
If you still have a stock mountain bike, it most likely has an air suspension. It is lightweight and offers better tuning options. This is the rear shock of choice in cross country racing, but if you like going downhill on bumpier terrain, then you would want to stick with a coil suspension. They tend to be heavier but provide more traction and are better suited for bumpy trails.
You might have heard MTBers talk about spring rates. This is an added bit of complexity with coils. Spring rate or sag rate is a key factor in tuning your suspension.
“Sag” is the suspension travel under all the weight of your gear and body. Suspension sag is crucial to make sure the spring is not stiff and coil shocks can better adjust to the trail while riding over rough terrain.
Damper is an elemental component of a mountain bike’s suspension system. Simply put, a damper controls the speed with which the rear wheel moves up and down. It reduces the amount of compression of the spring using a cartridge which has oil, adding a layer of resistance to the spring or air suspension.
Compression damping allows a mountain bike to reduce impact and vibrations from reaching the rider. Damping can be tuned easily with a few changes to the shaft diameter through which oil flows, piston shape and using different shims to better use the bike for its intended technical terrain.
What Is a Full Suspension Mountain Bike?
Full suspension mountain bikes, as the name suggests, feature complex suspension systems for the front and rear wheels. Full suspension bikes have a fork for the front suspension and a coil or air suspension linked with the rear wheel and frame, to better suit trail riding.
If you live somewhere flat and mostly go on smoother trails, you won’t really notice a huge difference in rear shocks compared to a hardtail mountain bike. Full suspension bikes are a suitable choice for more technical trails, where the right suspension makes all the difference!
Mountain biking can be rough and if you find yourself prone to injuries and avoiding very technical trails, then a full suspension frame can bring in the extra confidence you need to pedal on rocky trails.
What Is a Hardtail Mountain Bike?
Both a hardtail mountain bike and a full suspension bike feature a suspension fork, but a hardtail lacks the rear suspension design and rear shocks.
If you are just starting to explore new mountain bike options, a hardtail mountain bike can be a substitute for your road bike, providing ample trail feedback on flat trails and easy configuration options while touring.
They have fewer components and tuning and service costs are minimal vs full suspension bikes. Hardtails have a basic frame and limited suspension range.
While a full suspension mountain bike features dual suspension frames, it adds weight and requires more maintenance as opposed to a hardtail mountain bike.
Pros and Cons of Hardtail vs Full Suspension
The two bikes come with their advantages and equally peculiar challenges while on the trail. This table offers a quick summarized comparison of both a suspension and hardtail mountain bike.
|Hardtail MTB||Full Suspension MTB|
|Pedaling requires less energy||Far more tuning options for different trails|
|More suitable for smooth trails||More suitable for technical trails with bumps|
|Better climbing ability||Excellent on downhill trails|
|Ease of use for fresh MTB enthusiast||Extra confidence|
|Light weight and low maintenance||Absorbs harsh impacts and less risk of OTB|
Full Suspension Mountain Bike Pros
Here are some of the clear benefits from riding a dual suspension bike.
Most mountain bikers tend to spend hours on trails. While all the fun and adventure is worth it, you will need a mountain bike that is capable of enduring jarring bumps and handling impact.
Full suspension mountain bikes are clearly a winner here. The rear wheel adjusts to the trail giving a smoother ride. This can reduce fatigue allowing you to ride longer.
A dual suspension allows the rear wheel to have a better grip of the ground because the tire can easily conform to the terrain. This improves traction on rocks and on descents.
If you find yourself riding over rocks and all sorts of obstacles, then a full sus mountain bike is the better choice.
Mountain biking can be dangerous, especially if you aren’t used to experiencing new trails. Full suspension mountain bikes provide comfort, traction, weight, and stability. All of which boosts confidence in riders to handle trickier terrain and obstacles.
They also reduce chances of going over the bars (OTB) which is a sigh of relief for even experienced riders
Rough and Rocky Terrains
Choosing between a hardtail and a full sus doesn’t mean you are limiting your trails. However, the experience from either bike will be very different.
Climbing rocky grounds gets easier with a full suspension mountain bike because of the rear suspension and the added weight keeping the tire gripped on the ground. They are particularly good at technical climbs.
On most descents you will encounter rough terrains. Full sus MTB allows you to descend at high speed without worrying about little bumps. You can stand on the pedals and experience little vibration while a hardtail skips and jumps over roots.
Full Suspension Mountain Bike Cons
Here are some common downsides to full suspension bikes.
A full suspension mountain bike can set you back a good amount of money during the initial purchase. Things do not get any cheaper after owning the bike.
The suspension bushes and pivot bearings are parts that wear out and regular replacements are an added expense.
The added complexity of a dual suspension and tubing on such mountain bikes, comes with a fair increase in the bike’s weight. The difference might be two to six pounds in severe cases.
It may not seem like much, but, with most mid-tier mountain bikes weighing between 26 to 33 lbs, it can be a 20% increase in weight, something that you feel while climbing and riding over obstacles.
Full suspension bikes are a versatile option for any trail. One thing that will always come back to bite you is maintenance. Full sus mountain bikes need extra care with their shock services and bearing replacements. Not to mention the associated costs with these replacements.
Apart from that, regularly cleaning your bike’s stanchion can be time consuming because of all the rain and silt collected overtime.
The dual suspension on a full sus bike means there is room for pedal bobbing. When you push on a pedal, the bike moves forward in turn, causing your weight to shift backwards on the rear shock. With every stroke, the bike teeters or bobs.
There are ways to reduce and eliminate this, but it is worth mentioning as an annoying disadvantage, especially when climbing.
Hardtail Mountain Bike Pros
Below are some of the most common pros regarding hardtail mountain bikes.
A hardtail mountain bike is relatively cheaper because of its single fork and simple frame design. With no moving parts like bearings and bushings, it is also easier to maintain with no visits to the bike shop.
Better value for money
As you will be saving money on the actual bike, you can get superior quality components like better brakes, tires, and fork for the same priced full suspension bike. This can improve handling on the trail significantly.
This is an obvious advantage for a hardtail. Hardtail frames are easier and cheaper to produce, as such the companies producing hardtails can install better-quality parts which can be lighter and more efficient.
The bikes frame also lacks any rear suspension shaving off more weight vs a full suspension bike.
Hardtail bike riders tend to gain direct experience of the trail as they pick their lines. I would recommend new riders to start with a hardtail because hopping over bumps and watching out for obstacles improves overall rideability.
It also decreases your reliability on the bike and teaches you new skills on each course taking the edge vs a full suspension mountain bike.
Hardtails are fun on trails with climbs and mild technicalities. The lighter weight means you can easily convert pedal strokes to forward motion more efficiently.
They can serve as an all-purpose bike for touring. Hardtail mountain bikes are ideal for muddy and wet conditions, so if you live in someplace rainy, it is better to have a hardtail that can be cleaned easily.
Hardtail Mountain Bike Cons
Below are the most common cons related to hardtail mountain bikes.
Hardtails can be tiring for longer rides and standing on pedals while your body absorbs all the bumps and shocks can cause fatigue. The rear wheel oscillates a lot and shakes the entire frame. If you are not physically strong enough, this can be dangerous in the long run.
Better Trail Lines
Riding a hardtail requires the rider to pick better lines and essentially avoid big obstacles due to the lack of rear suspension. This can turn into a benefit as the rider matures but at first, you’re going to feel a lot of the bumps in the trail.
If you are planning to move up the ranks to enter cross country, then a full sus MTB is the better option but if you’re more interested in daily commute while going on trails, every now and then, hardtail is better suited for that purpose.
Every rider is limited by their budget, if you don’t mind driving up to trails and taking the extra thrills on sharp descents and plowing through obstacles, you will definitely enjoy the experience a full sus has to offer. However, you will be paying the price and handling the extra weight over a hardtail.
FAQs About Suspension
Is a full suspension bike better than a hardtail?
To simply answer this, yes. If you are willing to spend the extra bucks, a dual suspension is worth the money for more technical and rocky trails. Otherwise, a hardtail is better for normal day-to-day use and smoother trails.
Is it easier to climb on a hardtail or full suspension?
It is easier to climb with a hardtail because it is lighter and the fewer components mean you can convert your energy and pedal strokes to forward momentum much more efficiently.
Are hardtails more fun?
Hardtails are not as fun as full suspension MTBs mainly because you will be treading carefully on trails, avoiding bumps and absorbing most of the vibrations. This can be tiring if you plan to go on longer trails.
Are hardtails good for trails?
If your trails are wet, muddy and involve climbing on smoother terrain, then they are a better choice for trails. However, if you’re into rushing through bumps and roots, they are not suitable for such terrain.
How long do full suspension bikes last?
Full suspension bikes can last more than 15 years with regular service and suspension maintenance. If you already do these, your only problem would be dirt and gravel entering the gears and other moving parts so clean it regularly.