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MTB Buying Guides

Buying Guide: Hardtail vs. Full Suspension Mountain Bikes

Here's everything you need to know about hardtail and full suspension mountain bikes

When it comes to buying a new mountain bike, the first thing you have to ask yourself is whether you want a hardtail steed with only front suspension, or whether you want a more beasty full-suspension set-up. What’s the difference, and what are they for?

With the exception of downhill riding, where long travel full-suspension bikes rule the roost, both hardtail bikes and big suspension rigs are often seen at the bike parks and trail centres.

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Big rig full-suspension bikes are ideal for gnarly downhill riding

Both types of mountain bike are built for different purposes, and while your inner child wants you to get the “big one with all the suspension travel”, this might not be suitable for your skill, or style of off-road riding you want to do.

So let’s break it down and see if we can clear things up a little…

Why Choose a Hardtail?

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Hardtail mountain bikes are a lot like Marmite: You either love them, or you hate them. The short and skinny is that a hardtail bike is really just that, it’s a bike with a hard tail. Impact absorbing suspension is only fitted to the front of the bike, while the rear end is fixed. You can read more about hardtail MTB’s and how to buy them here.

Mechanically simpler

With no pivots, rear shocks and additional mounts, a hardtail bike has a lot less to go wrong with it mechanically. Because there’s a lot less fitted onto the bike, “operation post-ride clean up” is a lot quicker too.

All of this means that you spend more time riding, and less time on repair and maintenance, and even set-up time.

Cheaper

At any price point, you’ll get better components and frame for your money with a hardtail, because the manufacturer doesn’t have to pay for the extra cost of a pivoting rear end and a rear shock.

8 of the Best women’s hardtails for under £1,000

Lighter

That whole rear shock system all unavoidably adds weight to a bike. Manufacturers try and compensate with better, lighter materials, but that just inflates the cost more. If having a light bike is important because you want to be the first up the hill, for example, then a hardtail is the way to go.

See what’s new from Saracen and Genesis for 2017

Challenging Fun

Riding the trails is a lot less comfortable on a hardtail because you don’t have that cushy rear suspension dampening out the terrain. It’s for this reason that when you bomb it down the track and make it to the bottom, you feel a greater sense of achievement.

Having a hardtail bike also gets you thinking and planning your line a lot further in advance. Making efficient line choices can be crucial in making those marginal gains in speed and time, and without the safety net of a rear shock to help you along, a hardtail will keep you on your toes.

Why Choose a Full Suspension?

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Full-suspension mountain bikes have both a shock absorbing front and rear system. They tend to have more travel, slacker geometries and are built for steeper and more technical trails. This full-suspension guide will give you more information.

In order to get the most out of a full-suspension MTB, you need to ensure the suspension is set up correctly. You can find out how to do that here.

Better-handling

Having a complete suspension system helps the wheels track the ground better. By driving down and pumping through the bike, the wheels are able to grip the trail and roll smoother.

Good suspension doesn’t just help dampen the rough terrain, it improves the handling of the bike overall as the rocks and features aren’t bucking you around like a mechanical bull.

Comfort

With the rear suspension absorbing hits, your body doesn’t get pounded as hard by the trail. For long rides in particular, this means you’ll finish feeling a lot less beat up.

Check out what’s new from Specialized for 2017

Faster

The combination of extra traction and bump-absorption makes full suspension bikes the fastest thing on the hill, at least when you’re going down.

On the climbs, full suspension bikes can be a little more sluggish than their fixed rear counter-parts. Even with a stiff-setting on the rear shock, that little bit of flex and movement can still suck away some much needed energy from your pedal strokes.

Features

If you want to hit that big drop off, or sail over that spider web entanglement of rocks, then a full-suspension bike will get you there. Jumps and drops that get you some serious air means you need a more comfortable and controlled landing.

Which One?

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Sadly, we can’t decide that for you. All we can do is showcase the benefits of both mountain bikes and help you find the right build for you.

Where to Ride: Brechfa Forest

Consider what style of riding you want to do with your bike. For leisurely fire road bimbling and general green trail riding, then a hardtail is more than enough to see you through many hours and many miles. If you plan on conquering mountains with your cross-country skills, then either build would ride great.

It’s only when you’re looking to take on more gnarly descents, techy features and enduro or downhill style of riding that a full-suspension bike is the wiser option.

The hottest women’s MTB’s for 2017

A good quality full suspension bike starts at around £1000, with the quality of their frames and components rising from there. If cost is a big factor for you, or you’re just starting out in mountain biking, and don’t fancy haemorrhaging your bank account just yet, then stick to a hardtail mountain bike. You can get a durable, reliable and well spec’ed hardtail for the same price as a lower end, not-as-great full-suspension bike.

Both hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes have their place, and their merits (contrary to what some may say). Which one you ultimately decide to invest in really comes down to what style of riding you want to do, how big your budget is, and what you want to  get out of it in terms of progress.

Either way, investing in a mountain bike is one of the best things you can do in life (or so I believe), so which ever you end up purchasing, you’ll be onto a winner.

You may also enjoy:

How to ride rock gardens

When to check and adjust your suspension settings

How to find the perfect tyre pressure for your MTB

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