If you’re looking for a mountain bike, chances are you’ll be faced with the decision of getting a hardtail (no rear suspension) or full suspension (you guessed it – front and rear suspension). Here’s a quick guide to the merits of the two.
A hardtail will be at least a kilo lighter weight than a similarly-spec’d full-sus MTB. This translates as a bike that can climb quicker and be easier to manoeuvre. Its very rigidity makes a hardtail feel more natural when you climb out of the saddle.
A heavier bike with suspension can actually be an advantage on downhills because it will feel more stable and ‘planted’, thanks to the suspension maintaining tyre contact with the ground on lumpy descents. Full suspension can even be welcome on uphills, such as when traversing steps and waterbars.
Whether it’s to keep your tyres on the ground or to cushion landings when you jump, there’s little doubt that a full suspension bike will help you enjoy the number one thrill most people enjoy about mountain biking – faster downhills.
With its simpler frame, without shocks or pivoting bearings, a hardtail will be less expensive than a similarly-equipped full sus MTB.
For instance, if you’re looking at Giant mountain bikes with Fox forks and Shimano Deore-quality gears and brakes, hardtails start at £1,099 (like the Giant Talon 27.5 0 2016 above) while a full sus equivalent will set you back £2,299 (the Giant Anthem 27.5 2 2017).
4. Skill Builder vs Immediate Gratification
There’s a good case for starting off on a hardtail because it gives you a fantastic incentive to learn the skill of picking the best line when swooping round singletrack. You might not develop such finesse if you rely on a full susser that allows you to plough through near anything.
Having said that, the very fact that full suspension can be more forgiving means that beginners often find mountain biking more enjoyable on a full susser.
Take, for instance riding long, rutted downhills. One run might be enough for an MTB novice on a hardtail. Take the same run with full suspension to soak up the bumps, and you’ll be more likely to want to repeat the experience.
5. More Technical Terrain
When the terrain gets proper gnarly, even the most gifted mountain biker reaches for the most appropriate full suspension rig, depending on intended usage.
If you’re doing the World Cup DH course at Fort William, you want a mountain bike with 200mm travel, front and rear, to absorb the most punishing hits.
150-160mm travel has settled down as the optimal level for serious enduro riding.
Beginners often find mountain biking more enjoyable on a full susser.
A full sus trail bike with 130-140mm suspension achieves the trick of being fit for black grade riding with big drop-offs, yet light enough to ride back uphill.
XC (Cross Country)
A 100mm-travel full suspension MTB is closer in feel and weight to a similar spec hardtail than it is to a 200mm-travel full susser. 100mm travel XC (cross country) full sussers are recommended for enjoying natural trails and trail centres up to red grade level. (Apologies to readers who can clean double-black routes on their unicycles. We inevitably have to generalise when creating a guide like this.)