Have you been looking for a new mountain bike and aren’t quite sure what a hardtail bike really is?
Well, you’re not alone. The world of trail biking is a large and often confusing one but the main thing is that you’ve entered it and want to get involved with one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pastimes you can find.
In this article, we’re going to discuss what a hardtail mountain bike is and whether they’re any good. We’re also going to touch upon Full-suspension MTB bikes as these two mountain bike types are often compared to one another.
Once you’ve made your decision on whether a hardtail bike is for you then make sure you check out our guide on the best hard tail mountain bikes where you’ll find the very best hardtail bikes available on the market right now.
Alternatively, you may decide you want to abandon the hardtail gang and go for a full-suspension bike which has its own benefits that we’ve discussed below. If you do find yourself wanting a full-suspension bike then have a look at our guide on the best full suspension mountain bikes.
So, now you know what you’re in for, let’s jump into hardtails and why they might be just what you’re looking for.
Hardtail Bikes: The Low-Down
You’re probably reading this article because you don’t have a clue what a hardtail mountain bike is. Well, 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.
Now, hardtail is a very general category of a mountain bike and so there is a broad range of bikes that the term ‘hardtail’ encompasses.
With differing features and frames, hardtail bikes can fall into their own subcategories such as cross-country, freeride, all-mountain, gravel, and even hybrids and commuters.
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.
Hardtails don’t live up to their ‘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.
Many newcomers will begin with a hardtail, as they’re widely regarded as accessible, good value, and versatile. They’re reliable and won’t cost you a fortune.
And if you are on a budget then you’ll definitely want to look at our guide to the best mountain bikes under $500. There are some real gems on there.
Why Choose A Hardtail Mountain Bike?
- Budget – No matter your budget, there’s always going to be a decent hardtail bike available to you with the top of the range models costing $1,500+ which is considerably less than other top of the range mountain bike types. This is due to the hardtails having a simpler design that’s less expensive to manufacture, so bike makers can include higher-end components such as derailleurs, shifters, MTB brakes, etc. that aren’t typically featured on similarly priced full-suspension bikes.
- You prefer smoother trails – If you’re a beginner or find yourself spending the majority of your time on smoother trails, then a hardtail bike can offer you a fast and fun ride that will soak up moderate bumps with its front suspension fork. And if you’re on the hunt for some new trails to try then check out our article on the top 10 mountain bike trails for you to try.
- Low-maintenance – Hardtail bikes have fewer moving parts and so are simpler and less expensive to maintain than a full-suspension bike. Now, of course, a certain amount of basic maintenance is still required as with any bike but generally, there’ll be less upkeep for your hardtail.
- Light – Generally, hardtails weigh less than full-suspension bikes because of their simpler design. Less weight can often be a good thing but that can depend on whether your ride will include lots of climbing and covering long distances. With that said, higher-end full-suspension bikes can be lightweight due to being made with better materials, so if you’re willing to spend the money weight isn’t too big of an issue for either bike type.
When Would I Use A Hardtail Bike?
Hardtail bikes are a type of mountain bike and so can be used for cycling on many terrains and environments although they aren’t ideal for very rough terrain, however, there are always exceptions and high-quality hardtail bikes will most likely handle anything you throw at them.
Suitable areas for hardtail mountain biking include mountain trails, fire roads, and pump tracks but hardtails are also suitable for less experienced riders and will make less intense trails a breeze to go down, such as gravel and stone trails, woodland paths, or even streets.
A full-suspension bike on the other hand will absorb the majority of the impact from big ramps and jumps, so if you’re headed to a destination where you’re going to be leaping through the air then you may want to consider a full-suspension mountain bike.
Because they’re lightweight, hardtails will allow you to ascend hillsides with ease and they’re used by professionals in almost all of the MTB competitions with some exceptions being the more extreme events.
Are Hardtail Mountain Bikes Any Good?
Hardtail bikes are better suited to your slower and tighter trails where there’s more traction. On less technical terrain, hardtails provide a more direct ride. The rigid tail offers a fantastic power transfer to the rear wheel when climbing and sprinting which feels great when riding.
Hardtail bikes will allow you to feel more connected with the trail you’re on and the extra responsiveness and feedback from the bike will have you powering through terrain and generate a satisfying level of speed.
Plus, without the more forgiving handling of a full-suspension mountain bike, riders will need to anticipate the reaction to sudden shifts in direction and take better care going into corners which will make you a better rider in the long run.
Another thing worth considering is the saving of weight which is on offer with a hardtail. On average full-suspension models are a whole 1.5kg heavier, which for mountain biking can make all the difference in shaving off precious seconds in your ascent.
Budget will almost always be something you consider when choosing your next bike. Hardtails are normally on the cheaper end of the spectrum often costing up to $1000 less than their full-suspension counterparts. Hardtails require less maintenance too as we mentioned before as riders only have to set up the front suspension and there are fewer moving components on the frameset.v
Hardtail Bikes: The Background
Hardtail bikes have been around for as long as mountain bikes but in comparison to other bike models, purpose-built mountain bikes aren’t very old at all, only having made their mark on the biking world from the 1970s.
In 1977, Joe Breeze was the designer of the first purpose-built MTB which later inspired updated models like the hardtail.
Joe tested multiple bikes, tires, and frames which inspired him to invent a bike that could cope with the challenges of downhill riding. This bike was then referred to as a ‘mountain bike’.
Since its creation in 1977, hundreds of different manufacturers have put their spin on the mountain bike and as a result, it has become one of the most well-known and popular bike types within cycling.
It wasn’t until the ’90s and early ’00s though that mountain biking became less of a niche sport and more mainstream which may be down to the addition of mountain biking in the Olympic Games.
But ultimately, it was Doug Bradburry inventing the front suspension fork that led to the hardtail mountain bike being born.
What Are Full Suspension Mountain Bikes?
Full-suspension mountain bikes have both a front suspension fork and a rear shock, unlike the hardtail which has only front suspension. The rear shock improves the bike’s traction, control, and overall comfort.
Full-suspension mountain bikes perform much better over rougher, more challenging terrain and will thrive on many courses that a hardtail would otherwise struggle with. This is mainly down to the traction provided by the rear suspension.
On harder trails, the rear shock will help to ensure that the tires remain in contact with the ground so as to enable improved traction, rather than bouncing off of the bumps and losing grip.
When you hit rocks and bumps at high speeds, your full-suspension bike will significantly dampen the force through the pedals and handlebars. This in turn proves for a smoother ride and no doubt helps improve comfort, helping to ward off any tiredness or exhaustion on longer rides.
Full-suspension bikes provide for a wider margin of error too because of the rear suspension. They enable better traction, control, and steering, reducing the risk of mistakes on rougher terrain which makes them a good choice for beginners who aren’t totally confident in their riding abilities.
And confidence plays a big part in mountain biking. As full-suspension mountain bikes are more forgiving, those minor accidents and scares that slow a rider’s progress is going to be less common allowing you to build your confidence and make good progress with your trail riding.
Advantages of A Full Suspension Bike
Traction and Handling
This is is the main reason you’re going to want a Full-suspension bike as it’s the biggest difference compared to the hardtail. The handling and traction on a full-suspension are why many trail riders and XC racers choose this type.
With both front and rear suspension working in unison, a full-suspension bike will have better traction because both wheels are able to remain in contact with the ground more consistently.
This means that the rider will have more accurate steering, more immediate braking, and improved control, particularly on the rougher sections of the track.
There are thousands more full-suspension mountain bike models available than there are hardtails. The full-suspension platform allows for a wider variety of bikes to tackle different types of terrain and different levels of technicality so if you like options then full-suspension is the way to go.
Whether you’re looking for a fast full-suspension bike for racing or smooth trails, there’s a full-suspension for every department.
For the gnarliest and roughest trails, get yourself an enduro mountain bike. And if you’re looking for the best all-rounder that will perform well in all conditions, including climbing and descending, check out a trail bike.
Due to its front suspension fork and rear shock, a full-suspension bike will be more comfortable than a comparably equipped hardtail bike.
This is because the rear suspension will aid in isolating the rider’s primary contact points (saddle, pedals, handlebar) from excess bumps, rocks, and ruts in the terrain.
Speed When It Counts
As we mentioned before, the traction and handling that a full-suspension bike possesses mean that a full-suspension bike will be a whole lot more rapid than a hardtail bike.
While the full-suspension will lose seconds on the ascent, you’ll quickly regain them when whizzing down the steep hills.
This is because the better suspension system’s handling enables you to descend more smoothly with more precise control and less effort used, so you can carry more speed downhill and reach the base in no time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a hardtail bike good for?
On more forgiving and less challenging terrain, trail hardtails often provide a more direct, involving ride.
The rigid back end offers allows for a better power transfer to the rear wheel when climbing and sprinting. However, if you frequent the more technical trails with the rough ground then the suspension makes for a more difficult ride as there are no rear shocks.
In which case, you’d want to opt for full-suspension bikes as they have both a suspension fork on the front and rear.
Is a hardtail good for beginners?
Absolutely! Hardtail bikes are ideal for beginners who want to spend more time cycling and less time on maintenance and repair.
This is because the frame geometry on a hardtail is much simpler with fewer moving parts so you’re less likely to run a snag and have to get out your bike repair kit.
A hardtail bike is also cheaper as it has no rear shock and pivots. So, if this is your first time buying a mountain bike and you’re low on budget, then buying a hardtail bike is a great place to start.
Are full-suspension bikes expensive?
Generally, full-suspension bikes tend to be on the higher end of the price range as they have more moving parts that are expensive to manufacture compared to the comparatively simpler design of the hardtail.
The material of the frame such as aluminum or carbon frames will play a big part in price as these materials vary in weight and weight is a key factor when it comes to efficiency in your ride.
If you want a full-suspension bike for a good price then take a look at our guide to the best full-suspension mountain bikes under $2000.
Can a hardtail go downhill?
Definitely, you can ride a hardtail downhill. You’ll feel every bump your back tire hits but it’s a feeling you quickly get used to. In fact, many riders will ride a hardtail bike downhill to force themselves to learn how to pick a better path.
Which is best, hardtail or full suspension?
Full suspension will give you the confidence and handling a hardtail can’t. Cross country riding is only getting more technical and this is where full-suspension bikes really shine. Full suspension bikes aren’t cheap, so if your budget is tight, you may get more bang for your buck from a hardtail.