There’s typically a noticeable split between full suspension bikes and hardtails in the world of cross country racing. Obviously, because of their comparing features, the two types of mountain bikes perform differently on different terrains. This can present new users with an uphill task trying to decide which one to invest in to make the most out of the experience as a beginner.
Because mountain bikes are intended for use on some of the roughest terrains, they usually have suspension to help take the edge off rough grounds.
Not all mountain bikes have the same number or type of suspension though. Some bikes have the suspension feature only on their front wheel (no rear shock). These are the hardtail mountain bikes. Others, on the other hand, feature both front and rear shocks. These are the full suspension bikes.
Which is the better between the two?
There is no direct answer to that question. There’s simply no a one-size-fits-all approach to deciding between full suspension and the hardtail. Full suspension bikes may be exciting and versatile, but then hardtails are a dependable, proven technology that many diehards find very handy.
You’ll actually find that many of the top World Cup Cross Country racers travel to a venue with both bikes. Reason being? The right bike for the game depends on how rough or how technical the racecourse is.
Perhaps that was a mouthful. But then this writeup helps you make sense of it all, as we look at the two mountain bike types and how to decide which one to go for as a beginner.
Hardtails are a cheaper alternative
Full suspension mountain bikes and hardtails differ at any price range, and the former are often the pricier alternative and costlier to maintain. The reason is a no brainer. There is the added complexity on the full suspension bike that comes with the extra bearings, bushings and pivots that comprise the rear shock. All these added features come at a cost, which eventually reflects on the overall cost of the bike.
If you find the two bikes on the same price range, it only means that the manufacturer had to make some critical compromises in terms of components to let the bike sell at the same price as the corresponding hardtail.
What this implies is, if you are on a budget, you’ll want to go for a hardtail mountain bike because you’re likely to get more bite for your money with a hardtail than a full suspension bicycle. The hardtail will make for a more capable bike loaded with better components and the promise of longevity.
There’s high maintenance cost on the full suspension bike
Given a dual suspension frame comes with the extra rear shock plus a pivot mechanism, bashings and bearings; the complicated design is not just costly to manufacture but also to maintain. That added complexity comes with quite a few service-prone components that could swell the bike’s maintenance cost down the line.
With no such moving parts as the bushings, pivots and bearings, a hardtail is typically easier to maintain and much cheaper for that matter. You should be particularly more concerned about this factor if you’re going to be using the bike in a location where sand, rain, mud and more are the order of the day. These can have a toll on your bike if they work their way into its moving parts – that are typically expensive to replace.
Which way to go: a budget full suspension or mid-range hardtail?
Bike manufacturers like Trek, Focus, BMC and more have been putting in some good work on their hardtails. While the comfort that comes with the full suspension bike will undeniably always be a major appeal, today’s hardtail versions have such great levels of comfort and compliance that even though cannot outcompete the rear suspension, significantly takes the sting out of the bumpy ground.
In addition, even though budget full suspension frames are now made of reasonably good quality alloy, the common use of a straight head tube on these bikes is a significant minus. In comparison, mid-range get a fully tapered unit, something that’s characteristic of top-end bicycles.
Away from cost: hardtails are lighter in weight
The lightest full suspension machine often weighs about a kilogram heavier than the equivalent hardtail. This weight difference comes from the characteristic simplicity of the latter that no full suspension bike could ever beat.
The fact that hardtails only have front shocks enables bicycle makers to achieve incredible lightweights on the bike. In a sport where agility is everything, that one or more kilograms of weight can make all the difference.
The weight may not be such a big deal when you are cruising your fairly flat neighborhood. But you’ll definitely feel the difference once you hit the ascent or try guiding the bike over obstacles on the way. The impact of the weight will also be apparent at the time of accelerating or decelerating.
Hardtails are perfect for climbing
The additional weight of the dual suspension bike becomes a hindrance when you are riding uphill. A heavier bike means you’re expending more energy to push the bike forward and this can translate to slower speeds compared to an equivalent hardtail ride.
The geometry of a hardtail is the other factor that favors it over its full sus cousins on uphill rides. The relaxed nature of the full suspension rear tends to create a wandering motion on steep climbs. This means that you have to put in a little more muscle power to point the bike in the right direction. Here, the hardtail beats the letter hands down. Its unbeaten geometry creates a firmness that supports faster, forward motion with every inch.
With these in mind, there’s no question how handy hardtails come for rides that consist of long, tough climbs. Both the rigid rear and low weight are pluses that you wouldn’t want to ignore as far as energy efficiency is concerned.
You’ll sure bump into today’s full suspension systems that have lockouts, but these are never as efficient as a solid hardtail. You’ll still feel some give with the lockout engaged.
Hardtails carry the day for road going riders
When you hit flat terrains such as the tarmac or smooth trails, you’ll get more traction with a hardtail. The rear stays rigid, meaning that you can stand off the saddle and pedal without losing energy into the suspension.
The full suspension bike experiences more movement from its rear shock which tends to increase the overall drag. This means that the rider has to work more to cover the same distance.
You wouldn’t want to waste more energy on a full suspension bike when you can save it with the efficiency and simplicity of a hardtail. So, the latter is a better choice if you’re looking to do more routine rides on fairly smooth terrains.
Looking the technology way: where full suspension beats the hardtail
Let the full suspension bike not pass as the black sheep based on the preceding pros of the hardtail. Quite the opposite. The former bike wins in quite a few areas without question; starting with the point when climbs get rough. That extra suspension at the back helps improve the traction of the rear tire, ensuring that it is in contact with the ground throughout the ride.
Dual suspension bike king when it comes to handling
With the front and rear lockout features that can be engaged at the flick of a knob, and super lightweight carbon frames, today’s full suspension bike is a tremendous advancement from hat it used to be.
The manufacturers have done quite a good job to minimize the energy lost even with the full suspension on. These improvements have really taken handling of the bike to another level.
The bike is not only a lot smoother with the extra suspension absorbing more bumps, but rather, it is far more efficient overall.
Riding the full sus bike guarantees more comfort in the saddle and better handling than what the hardtail could offer. No bouncing around that would sap your energy especially on long bumpy rides.
Full suspension bikes are winners on descending
Well, what goes up must eventually come back down. And the road on a typical hilly terrain can get pretty rough and bumpy on the descent. This is where a full suspension bike saves the day by taking the sting out of the trail.
With a full suspension bike, a steep, bumpy trail that can be intimidating to a hardtail rider becomes fun to barrel over. There is more traction that ensures balance and full control at high speed descent.
So, if your biking is going to be marked with lots of rough descent, then a full suspension bike may be your best pick.
Clearly, both a hardtail and fully sprung bicycle will reign in turns depending on the nature of the terrain and frequency of use. So, if you’re going to choose a bike at any price range as a beginner, be keep in mind the type of riding you intend to put the bike to, then make a choice that’s informed by the facts detailed in this write-up.