Riding trails or single tracks on a mountain bike is about the best feeling in the world. Depending on the type of trail riding a full suspension or hardtail MTB makes a huge difference.
As a rule of thumb; hardtail MTB’s are great for mellow trails and less technical single tracks. They are cheaper compared to full suspension mountain bikes and great for cross country. Full suspension mountain bikes are great for rocky and bumpy trails, their suspension deals better with technical tracks and will feel more comfortable.
That’s it in a nutshell but there’s much more to it. There are differences in handling, maintenance costs, beginners and experienced riders, your budget, etc. So let’s dive a bit into what the differences are and what to think about before you decide to throw your money at a MTB.
Hardtail and full suspension MTB performance on trails
Both offer a different experience in single tracks. A hardtail mountain bike’s name comes from the fact that the bike has got a solid tail and not having suspension at the back. It consists of a solid frame and has a front suspension fork.
When it comes to trails, a hardtail will perform better on flatter and mellow surfaces. It will feel more stable and it’s easier to gain speed when you paddle.
A full-suspension mountain bike has got suspension in the front as well as in the back of the bike. A full-suspension mountain bike’s frame consists of two pieces, one triangle in front and one triangle at the back which is then joined by pivots.
Due to this, the two parts of the mountain bike can move independently. The rear suspension shock absorber then controls the rate of movement between these two parts.
If you plan to ride more technical trails with lots of bumps, jumps and tree roots a FS might be a good idea. It deals better with shocks and irregularities providing a less shaky ride on these types of trails. Climbing and gaining speed will take more effort.
Regular roads & cross country
A hardtail mountain bike is a very good choice if you want to ride on roads or on a smooth dirt road and mellow trails. The handling on a smooth trail is just so much better because the rear end is not flexible.
A few mild bumps in the road isn’t an issue. The front suspension will absorb these mild bumps. Just don’t take your hardtail mountain bike on a very rocky and bumpy trail ride as you this will make your ride pretty uncomfortable.
The shocks caused by the bumps will also go through your body as the rear tire will bump into everything. You’ll feel your hands tingling and it can be very frustrating after a few minutes. This can be exhausting and uncomfortable to be honest, you’ll get tired more quickly. Variation on single tracks is very much appreciated
Hardtail mountain bikes are also a great choice if you plan on doing cross country. Mountain bikers prefer a hardtail for this because there is more power between the pedal stroke and the rear tyre.
The full-suspension mountain bike is better and a lot more fun if you plan on doing more advanced trail riding such as on rocky roads and having to go over roots. This is mainly because of the traction and comfort of the rear suspension.
You can also take a full-suspension on any trail ride even though you will not get the full satisfaction of it when riding on a smooth surface compared to when riding on a trail with a bumpy surface.
Even if the terrain is quite smooth, you might eventually get to a part of the trail where you will definitely a full-suspension mountain bike. This means that the full suspension mountain bike will make your ride on any type of trail riding terrain very easy, comfortable and pleasant.
A hardtail mountain bike and full suspension mountain bike are both designed for different purposes, which will be discussed a bit later as well. Let’s go through a couple of factors to take into consideration to make a well-informed decision.
Hardtail mountain bike:
- Very efficient especially when pedalling,
- Fast on climbs and smooth riding on trails,
- Good for a beginner and easy trail riding terrain,
- Less maintenance
- Can be used for cross country riding
Full suspension mountain bike:
- More capable and versatile,
- Fast on more advanced and difficult trails’
- More stable going over obstacles,
- Can boost confidence in a beginner,
- Very efficient due to new technology, and
- Can be used for all sort of racing
Suspension absorbs the impact the bike gets from riding on rough terrain. Due to the suspension that absorbs this impact, it prevents the mountain biker to feel this impact which then improves the comfort and traction of the mountain bike.
If the mountain bike does not have suspension, the rider will feel the impact of the bumpy trail ride and this will make the ride very uncomfortable and also make the mountain biker tired very easily. So this is why suspension, especially front and rear suspension on rough terrain, is very important.
A hardtail mountain bike is much lighter than a full-suspension mountain bike in general. The shock absorber at the back as well as all the extra tubes of the frame and the pivots are the reason why the full-suspension mountain bike is much heavier than a hardtail mountain bike.
If you are looking for an easy and not too technical ride (especially for going uphill), it is best to go for a hardtail mountain bike. Even though you will be riding most of the time, sometimes you might have to carry the mountain bike over an obstacle which is a bit easier with a hardtail.
If you are looking at a comfortable ride for more technical trail riding then I suggest you go for the full-suspension mountain bike. This is also a good choice if you really love riding downhill and on less forgiving terrain.
Just keep in mind that you do get high-quality full suspension mountain bikes that are also light. They are very expensive though, but they can be used for most types of terrain. Even though you do get a lightweight full-suspension mountain bike, they are still heavier than a hardtail mountain bike.
So either way, with a full-suspension mountain bike you will feel its weight when riding on a trail or if you have to carry it in certain circumstances.
How much money you are able to spend is a very important decision for you to make. If you are only going to ride for fun and just whenever you have got a chance to ride, I will suggest that you do not go and buy the most expensive bike. Look for a cheaper option unless you are planning on doing this sport very seriously. Then you can by a more expensive mountain bike.
Hardtails are generally cheaper than the full suspension mountain bikes. They can even be half the price of a full-suspension mountain bike but it does depend on the following:
design of the frame,
type of material (aluminum, carbon fiber, steel, titanium) and
the suspension (front, rear or both front and rear)
The design of the hardtail mountain bike is very simple which makes it easier to be manufactured which saves a lot of costs.
Due to the rear shock absorber and the pivot at the back, the full suspension mountain bike can be more expensive. You need to consider what type of terrain you want to do trail riding on. If you do not plan to ride on a rocky type of terrain, then you do not need a full-suspension mountain bike and can rather buy a hardtail mountain bike that is cheaper.
Components include shifters, bottom bracket, brakes, crank set, rear and front derailleurs, cassette and chain.
The more components the bike has got, the more maintenance and more work to clean the bike as well. The hardtail mountain bike does not have a lot of components which makes the maintenance costs less than a full-suspension mountain bike that has got a lot of components.
If you are planning on doing trail rides on more advanced terrain such as rocky or muddy terrain, a wider tyre will give you better control over the bike. The full suspension mountain bike will be the best choice in this case.
Doing trail rides on a smooth terrain does not really need wide tyres for better control. In this case, a hardtail mountain bike will be just fine.
You will also be able to handle the hardtail mountain bike easier going uphill but not so much going downhill. If you are going downhill on a trail ride, a full-suspension mountain bike will be better for handling, control, and comfort.
Comfort and efficiency
For comfort, I will suggest the full suspension mountain bike for trail riding due to the rear shock absorber. This absorbs all the shock caused by the bumps that could have gone through your body. Due to this your body will also not get as tired that easily as the absorber soaks up all the bumps making your ride very comfortable and pleasant. But just remember that the full suspension mountain bike is heavy so you need to have very strong legs otherwise your body will get tired and you will not be able to do a long trail ride.
A full-suspension mountain bike will be very exhausting for you if you need to ride uphill. This is also due to the weight and the fact that a full-suspension mountain bike rides more comfortably when going downhill. But even if it is exhausting for you to uphill, your ride will still comfortable.
A hardtail mountain bike, on the other hand, will be a better choice if you do not have strong legs because it is much lighter. It is also much easier to use for trail rides where you have to go uphill due to the bike being so light.
If you love going fast, I suggest the full suspension mountain bike for trail riding. The rear shock absorber will absorb the impact of rocks and uneven terrain making it very comfortable for you speeding through the trail ride.
It sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
But, some people enjoy a more relaxed trail ride on even terrain. So a hardtail mountain bike will be perfect if you do not like speed as
much. If you do more uphill trail riding as well, the lightness of the hardtail will also make it a much more comfortable ride for you.
This is really a taste preference. For a simple look, I suggest the hardtail mountain bike but if you like something a bit more aggressive, then the full suspension mountain bike will be the perfect choice for you.
Well, that is all of the factors you need to take into consideration.
Now, let us talk about the different types of mountain bike categories because knowing the different categories of mounting biking will also help you to make a well-informed decision in choosing between a hardtail mountain bike or a full-suspension mountain bike.
Different categories of mountain biking
Cross country (XC)
This is usually done on either a terrain that has been built for the purpose of cross country or on a natural trail that consists of everything that is needed for cross country such as hard ground, mud, roots, soft ground, rocky terrain, and gravel. Cross country obstacles that are usually made by humans are objects such as bridges, jumps, and seesaws. These are then specifically placed in certain areas of the track.
Any mountain bike can actually be used for cross country riding but cross country riders do prefer to use a hardtail mountain bike. Especially for a family type of cross country tracks or a cross country track that does not have a lot of big obstacles. As soon as you want to do cross country that is more advanced with more and bigger obstacles, you will need a mountain bike with full suspension.
Hardtail bikes are also preferred for cross country trails due to the fact that they are lighter in weight which makes pedaling much easier. This is also better for if you by any chance need to carry your mountain bike over an obstacle and it also makes it easier for doing cross country over long distances.
Trail / single track
Trail riding is almost the same as cross country riding but it does not have the racing aspect. Most people know trail riding as plain and simple mountain biking. The trail used for trail riding is more technical as well as cross country trails.
Full suspension mountain bikes will do well with trail riding as they will perform very well.
Endure racing is becoming very popular very quickly. With enduro riding, going downhill will be timed whereas going uphill will not be timed. The rider who has the fastest time doing the downhill parts of the trail will be rewarded. The trail used for endure riding has got bigger jumps that are more challenging, bigger drops and usually only for your advanced mountain bikers.
Downhill riding is all about speeding downhill and is most definitely for all the adrenaline mountain bikers. The riders either walk up to the top where the starting point is or they get a lift to the top. When they are at the top, they have to ride downhill as quick as they can while going over jumps, drops, rocks, gaps in the ground and even handle slippery parts some times.
For downhill riding, you need to look at a full-suspension mountain bike that is designed for going downhill comfortably and very fast.
This is related to downhill riding as well as dirt jumping but mainly focuses on tricks and the style as well as the expertise of the rider. This sport is becoming very popular and is busy getting a lot of attention.
Some people might also know this as freestyle riding, but dirt jumping involves jumping into the air with your bike on purpose. The idea of dirt jumping is for the rider to jump over the obstacle, land correctly, and then continue pedaling to the next obstacle.
When thinking about all these different mountain biking categories, you might think you need a lot of different mountain bikes to do all of these different sports. But to be honest, you can use a hardtail mountain bike or a full-suspension mountain bike in the beginning and as you decide which category you are more interested in and improve in that specific category, you can then always buy a mountain bike more specifically for the category you chose.
If you are a beginner I will suggest a hardtail mountain bike. Especially if you are more comfortable on smooth terrain and you know that you do not plan on riding on terrain that is full of rocks and bumps.
So in my opinion, hardtail mountain bikes are what you need especially if you are a beginner. Also due to the fact that they are also much easier to maintain and a little bit cheaper than the full suspension mountain bike.
I always had a thing for cycling sports and love almost anything that involves bikes and boards. I work part-time as a designer in the tech industry and work on my blogs whenever I can.