The ultimate showdown in the mountain bike industry, full-suspension bikes vs. hardtail bikes. Both bikes dominate the mountain bike world, each being the most popular choice of mountain bikes.
But with a side-by-side comparison which one will end up on top?
It’s hard to distinguish which one is better overall as it all depends on your riding style, skill level, budget, and choice of terrain for mountain biking. So this guide is not about finding the best mountain bike overall but the best mountain bike for you.
With so many price points and build options, choosing a hardtail or full suspension mountain bike may be quite a challenge. There are quite a few factors as to why one rider will choose one and the other choose another.
So what are the key differences?
But I’m going to talk about the key differences shortly, to make it easier to make the decision between the two. So stay tuned. You won’t want to miss this one.
What Is A Hardtail Mountain Bike?
In short, a hardtail bike is “any bicycle that has suspension over the front wheel to help absorb shocks but doesn’t use suspension to support the back wheel.” The bike’s tail is rigid, hence the name.
Hardtail mountain bikes were considered and still are by some as cutting edge designs when it comes to cycling. They’ve been around long before the newer full-suspension bikes and are still favored by riders to this day.
If you want to ride smooth trails, then the hardtail will be your best friend.
Hardtails don’t live up to their nowadays ‘rigid’ name, though, and have evolved throughout the years with incredibly versatile multi-use workhorses or specialized performance machines tuned for maximum speed, aggression, and control being constantly developed by all the known brands.
This adaptability has solidified the hardtail as one of the most popular types of bike available, and you’ll see hundreds of results for them when you look for the best mountain bikes.
Best Features On A Hardtail:
The best hardtail mountain bikes tend to excel on slower, tighter trails where the dirt offers more traction. On less technical terrains, hardtails often provide more direct, involving ride.
The right-back offers superb power transfer from the rear wheel when climbing or sprinting.
Hardtails offer more connection with the trail; the extra responsiveness and feedback from the bike allow riders to race through the wild terrain and generate speed with maximum efficiency. They also allow riders to anticipate the reaction to sudden shifts in direction.
So for those on a budget or looking to get into serious trail riding, then the hardtail mountain bike is an ideal choice. They also require less maintenance as they only have front fork suspension rather than both, keeping the costs low.
What Is A Full-Suspension Mountain Bike?
Full-suspension mountain bikes feature both a suspension fork and rear suspension with a front fork and rear shock. The rear shock helps add traction and rider comfort, while the front suspension allows the front wheel to react to the imperfections of the trail route and isolate the vibrations.
The front fork allows you to keep the front tires inflated to maximum pressure while still getting a pleasant riding experience without running the risk of a pinch flat. It also helps absorb every single bump and shock that comes your way.
Full suspension mountain bikes are brilliant at smoothing the rough and rugged qualities of the mountain trails; they are eager for adventure, they are rough and ready for anything the unpredictable terrain throws their way.
Best Features On A Full Suspension:
Full suspension mountain bikes perform best over rougher terrain; they thrive on rugged routes in which the hardtail might struggle. They are an ideal choice for advanced mountain bikers as they offer more terrain to cover and are serious trail rippers on the most technical of routes.
This is because they offer more traction thanks to the rear suspension. They enable more traction, control, steering, which reduces mistakes on the more technical terrain. They tend to come at a steep price tag, but this is because of the enhanced features and performance.
Full suspension mountain bikes are far more forgiving than any other type of mountain bike on the market; they are real confidence-boosting bikes. My only drawback about these bikes is the steep price tag, additional weight, a little extra maintenance.
Side By Side Comparison- Hardtail Vs. Full Suspension:
So let’s talk about these key differences between a full suspension bike and a hardtail mountain bike to work out which one is best for you.
Since full suspension bikes need a rear shock and ways to pivot the rear end of the frame in order to activate it, full-suspension bikes tend to be much more complicated and costly as a result.
Plus, with this added complexity to the frame, it comes at the cost of durability. The last thing you want is cheaply made frame construction that requires a lot of services and comes with issues.
Rear shock and pivot bearings need to be of good quality in order to offer good durability.
Since hardtail mountain bikes there is only a suspension fork at the front, you’re more likely to get a higher quality constructed frame at the same price as a full-suspension bike as there is no complexity about the rear suspension.
In terms of design complexity and the highest tech, the full suspension mountain bike will always be a winner. But the higher quality components being the same price as cheaper components of the full-suspension bike, hardtails do throw in a few punches.
Hardtails are also much more lightweight and have greater manipulation to the frame tubes, and generally require lower maintenance.
However, the quality of the rear shock and the ability of taming rough terrain the dual-suspension bikes will win hands down. It just comes at a slightly steeper price point for high quality.
Frame Winner: Full Suspension Bikes
As a general rule of thumb, the more you pay, the better quality of components you get. At the same time, this will differ between the price of the hardtail and the price of the full-suspension bike as there are additional components on the full suspension, which leads it to cost more.
The front fork is the most important component on the mountain bike; then, the wheels play an important. Both hardtail and full-suspension bikes have similar wheels and front shock. But the hardtail bike tends to have a lighter rim and more durable sealed bearing hubs.
You can then look at the smaller components, such as the drivetrain and brakes. Most hardtail bikes feature Shimano XT components, while full-suspension bikes only offer Shimano Deore.
Because the features on the full-suspension bike are so complex, it means the hardtail is free to pull in front and win the components game, as you need to put more cash to get these quality components in full suspension mountain bikes.
Hardtails tend to offer better quality suspension forks, drivetrain, brakes, wheels, and even tires. The handlebars are equal to each other, but the other components are far better in the hardtail.
Components Winner: Hardtail Bikes:
When talking about weight at the top end of the mountain bike range, the lightest hardtail bike on the market is 1kg lighter than the lightest full-suspension bike. Hardtail bikes generally weigh less.
But as you drop down to the cheaper price ranges, this gap gets slightly bigger, with most hardtails being 15% lighter than full-suspension mountain bikes.
This additional weight can have a huge impact on climbs and go over obstacles. You can feel more of a drag on the full-suspension bike over the hardtail as the rear shock adds more weight.
For cheaper full suspension bikes, the weight tends to be much clunkier and heavier, whereas hardtails are known to be much lighter in comparison, so the winner will be hardtail here.
Weight Winner: Hardtail Bikes
So now we’ve spoken about the components, weight, and frame material now it’s onto the riding style. The key difference between the two bikes is the riding style. Full suspension mountain bikes are ideal for rugged, technical trails, while hardtails are more agile and best suited down regular trails.
Full suspension bikes are designed for daring riders that want to take their riding to the next level.
So how well does each bike perform on the trails, technical trails, and more? Well, the design of full-suspension bikes tends to be designed for more aggressive riding.
Most full suspension bikes come with a suspension fork with travel ranging from 120mm to 180mm, plus rear shock ranging from 40-100mm. Hardtails only have front suspension and tend to have a shorter suspension fork with 100-140mm of travel.
While full suspension bikes offer comfort and are much more forgiving than hardtails but hardtails teach you’re how to ride properly. You use your body to absorb the shock rather than rely on the bike, so it can make you become more of a skillful rider.
So it really depends on what you’d like to get out of the bike. If you want to build on your skills and ride fast on cross-country trails or even ride smooth trails, then the hardtail is your bike. But if you want to explore far further than the beaten track and delve into the technical terrain, then the full-suspension bike is best.
So they both offer their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s all down the personal preference.
When buying any new mountain bike, you want it to be capable and ready to get up steep hills and shred all kinds of terrain. So climbing capabilities are an important comparison.
The lower weight and rigid rear end of the hardtail will offer more efficiency and less wasted energy when climbing treacherous climbs. Hardtails are a popular choice for XC racers for this very reason.
You won’t lose any energy in the suspension, so you can push further and faster. Hardtails are far more agile and ready than full-suspension bikes.
When the climbs are rough and technical, this is where a dual-suspension mountain bike would flourish as the suspension helps keep the rear tire in contact with the ground so you can keep cranking with less interruption.
Yes, full-suspension mountain bikes are heavier but having the traction is sometimes better as it gives you more grip and control than a hardtail would.
However, the geometry on a full-suspension bike tends to be much more relaxed, and as a result, it requires more muscle to get up steep climbs. Hardtails are a beast for climbs as it keeps you in an aggressive position that screams for you to go faster.
Climbing Capabilities Winner: Hardtail
Once you’ve made it up to the hill, a daunting descent is bound to follow; for many of us adrenaline junkies, this is the best bit as there’s nothing better than the adrenaline rush you get from this.
The full suspension takes the lead for descending capabilities as the relaxed position and rear-ends traction promotes confidence when riding downhill. The suspension and grip are balanced, even at high speeds.
When letting loose on descents, hardtails can feel a bit skittish as there is only a front suspension fork and now rear shock suspension to provide more traction and grip and keep wheels on the ground.
If you hit rocks or roots, you’re more likely to get knocked on a hardtail, whereas the front and rear suspension on the full-suspension bike will provide a smoother ride.
This additional traction, shock-absorbing rear suspension, and geometry are designed to descend. The full-suspension bike will always win over hardtails for this category.
Descending Capabilities Winner: Full Suspension Frames
Which Is Best? Hardtail or Full-Suspension MTB?
Again this is all down to your personal preference and riding style. Yes, both come with their pros and cons, and both come with areas where they perform best and areas where not so much.
For steep climbs and speed, your hardtail is your best option as it keeps a low weight and agility, making it easier to get up hills. Hardtails are also brilliant for those looking to ride their riding skills down the trail as they are far less forgiving than the dual suspension alternative.
But in terms of comfort and taming technical and rugged terrains, full-suspension bikes are your best bet. They offer insane levels of traction, control, and comfort when tackling rough terrain. They are ideal for those looking for adventure and want to go further than the beaten track.
Full suspension bikes feature both front and rear shock making them perfect for rough climbs and steep descents as it helps keep the wheels planted on the ground so you can ride technical trails in style and with the confidence of grip and control.
In terms of budget, hardtails are definitely the best option. They are known as the best budget mountain bike as you can get high-quality components at a cheaper price point.
You often have to spend a fair amount of money on good components on a full-suspension bike. So when buying a new mountain bike, these are important factors to consider!