Hardtail Bike Vs Full Suspension Bike: Which Is Better Suited For My Riding?

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In the market for a new mountain bike but wondering whether to go for a full suspension bike or a hardtail bike?

This is understandable, as many different kinds of mountain bikes are suited to various types of terrain and disciplines of riding.

You may be craving a full suspension bike, but some hardtail mountain bikes and full suspension mountain bikes have similar prices, adding to the confusion.

Before you jump to a decision, there are a few considerations you need to be aware of.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • What’s The Difference Between Hardtail Bike And A Full Suspension Bike?
  • How Hardtail And Full Suspension Bikes Ride
  • Which Mountain Bike Style Is Best For Improving Skills
  • Are Hardtail Bikes Easier To Maintain?
  • How To Choose Between A Full Suspension Bike and A Hardtail Bike

Ready to learn all about hardtail and full suspension bikes?

Let’s get started!

Hardtail Bike Vs Full Suspension Bike: Title Image

What’s The Difference Between a Hardtail Bike And A Full Suspension Bike?

The fundamental difference between a hardtail bike and a full suspension bike is – unsurprisingly – in their suspension systems.

A hardtail bike has a suspension fork that dampens the shock and vibrations from the front wheel as you ride.

But, as the name suggests, the back wheel of a hardtail bike doesn’t have any suspension.

As with a hardtail, a full suspension bike has a suspension fork for the front wheel.

However, it also has suspension and a shock absorber for the rear wheel. The shock absorber is fitted to the bike’s frame and connected to its rear triangle.

The rear triangle on a full suspension bike is free to pivot up and down, but the movement is controlled by the shock absorber and its linkage.

Hardtail Bike Vs Full Suspension Bike: Which Is Better Suited For My Riding? 1Hardtail Bike Vs Full Suspension Bike: Which Is Better Suited For My Riding? 2

How Hardtail And Full Suspension Bikes Ride

How They Perform On Rough Terrain

Thanks to innovations in frame design and materials, modern hardtail mountain bikes have become incredibly capable. They are agile and responsive, making them entertaining to ride.

However, their prowess on gnarly terrain is no match for a full suspension mountain bike.

Sometimes the terrain is so rough a hardtail just won’t cut it. A hardtail bike may not be up to the job if you ride in places with large rocks, roots, and jumps. This could be anywhere from challenging runs in a bike park, alpine terrain, or natural trails you discover while exploring.

When you ride the rough stuff on a hardtail, you’ll get tired pretty quickly as the shock and vibrations transfer into your body. The suspension fork and frame construction and material help dampen the vibrations, but not to the extent of having suspension on both wheels.

A full suspension bike is the best option for more technical terrain. The suspension on a mountain bike doesn’t just absorb more shock and vibrations. It keeps the wheels in contact with the ground, giving the bike a more sure-footed feeling and instilling confidence as you ride.

Close-up shot of a mountain biker on a full suspension bike pedalling.

Which Is Best For Climbing?

When you start to pedal a full suspension bike, you’ll find that you bob up and down as the rear shock absorber compresses and extends with your movement. The problem with this is that you lose some of the power you put into the pedals, making your efforts less efficient.

This can prove a problem when climbing or riding long distances. 

However, some modern full suspension mountain bikes allow you to lock out the suspension to make climbing easier. Also, higher-end mountain bike manufacturers strive to reduce the bobbing effect with innovative shock absorber linkages.

There is a little bit of energy lost when you pedal a hardtail. This is because the frame actually flexes a little, but nowhere to the extent of the bounce you get on a full suspension bike. 

If you were to get off a full-suspension bike and onto a hardtail, you would be surprised how easy the hardtail is to pedal uphill in comparison.

Another factor that affects climbing is the bike’s weight. Hardtail mountain bikes are usually lighter than full suspension mountain bikes, making them easier to haul up steep hills.

A cyclist mounts his hardtail bike at sunset with a picturesque mountain range in the background.

Which Mountain Bike Style Is Best For Improving Skills

One of the great things about riding a hardtail is that it is better for improving your riding skills than a full suspension bike, especially if you’re new to the sport.

This is because a hardtail bike is less forgiving, providing a smaller margin for error. It teaches you to develop the perfect riding position and how to choose a line on the trail.

You’ll benefit more from starting on a hardtail if you are new to mountain biking. That isn’t to say you won’t have fun on a full suspension bike or find it more difficult, but a hardtail will be better for your skills in the long run.

Hardtail Bike Vs Full Suspension Bike: Which Is Better Suited For My Riding? 3

Are Hardtail Bikes Easier To Maintain?

It’s essential to keep your mountain bike well maintained.

At the very least, you’ll have to make expensive repairs when unmaintained parts fail. So when you’re deciding which type of mountain bike to choose, you need to think about how much maintenance you are prepared to do or pay for.

As hardtail mountain bikes have fewer complex components, there is less to go wrong than with full suspension bikes.

For example, a hardtail doesn’t have the bearings, pivots, and bushings necessary for the moving parts on the rear triangle. Therefore, there are fewer components to experience wear and tear, especially if you often ride in dusty or muddy conditions.

In fact, some mountain bikers store their full suspension bikes for the winter in favor of hardtails. This is because the dirt and grime you get with winter riding wears out the components associated with rear suspension.

Maintenance is part of owning a bike, and it shouldn’t put you off from buying the bike you want or need!

Learning how to look after your bike is essential for any mountain biker. You don’t need to be an expert and do high-level fixes; you can leave these for the bike shop. But, having some basic maintenance skills will keep you riding and can be enjoyable

A mountain biker on a green full suspension bike drifts around a dirt track.

How To Choose Between A Full Suspension Bike and A Hardtail Bike

Consider Your Local Terrain

If you regularly ride technical terrain, you’d probably be better off with a full suspension bike.

Also, if you are an ambitious person planning on riding a lot and progressing quickly, a full suspension bike may suit your better. This is because you will have a bike that you can grow into, that is suitable for more challenging mountain bike trails.

You would benefit more from a hardtail bike if you are early in your riding and need to develop basic skills. Also, if your local terrain isn’t too challenging, or you need your bike for commuting, a hardtail bike would be a better choice.

Your Budget

The next thing you need to think about is how much you can or want to spend. Proper mountain bikes are not cheap, and full suspension bikes are typically more expensive than hardtail mountain bikes.

If you consider buying a full suspension bike at the lower end of the pricing scale, you need to be realistic about what you’re getting. The components won’t be as durable or good quality as those on more expensive bikes. In fact, sometimes, the suspension components on cheap bikes make the bike worse.

So if you come across a cheap full suspension bike that is a similar price to a hardtail you’re interested in, the hardtail may be the best bet.

Even so, a high-end hardtail will still cost a lot more than an entry-level full suspension bike!

A black full suspension bike leans against a log pile in an autumnal setting.

Hardtail Bike Vs. Full Suspension Bike – Now You Know What’s Best

To summarize, the elements that will determine which is best for you are where you ride, your ability, and your budget.

A full suspension bike is best if you ride somewhere with technical terrain. A hardtail is better for smoother trails, commuting, and for beginners.

There will always be a compromise on whatever bike you buy. Still, it’s better to have a cheap bike than not have one at all!

Found this article useful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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One of BikeTips' regular writers, Tom is a mountain biking expert living in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on two wheels or a snowboard! Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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