Suppose you’ve just taken up mountain biking as a sport or a hobby recently; the vast world of mountain bikes can be intimidating. Actually, there are only three basic types of mountain bikes: rigid, hardtail and full-suspension.
In mountain biking, the suspension is essential because it reduces shocks and gives you complete control over your bike when riding through rough terrains. The rigid bikes contain no suspension. So, if you are serious about challenging yourself with this sport, consider only hardtail and full-suspension.
If you are a beginner and wonder where you should start with your first mountain bike, this article can help. With this brief and detailed comparison between hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes, you can make your own choice.
What Is A Hardtail Bike?
A concise definition: hardtail is a type of mountain bike that contains only front suspension. In other words, the shock is attached only to the fork of the front wheel of the hardtail.
The front suspension protects your arms from suffering direct shocks while riding through rocky roads. Your hands won’t slip off the handlebar. Your bike won’t suddenly throw you off the trail and you can easily steer as wished.
In recent years, hardtail bikes have become a popular choice among many professional bikers for XC racing (cross country racing). They can easily satisfy anyone from beginners to advanced cyclists with 6 sub-types: Cross-country, Trail, Four-cross, Dirt Jumping, Fat bike, and Enduro.
If you are interested in different types of hardtail mountain bikes, check out this video:
For more information about why ride single speed, let’s watch a helpful video on:
What Is A Full-suspension Bike?
A full-suspension bike is also called a dual-suspension bike. Just as the name, a full-suspension mountain bike has two suspensions at the front and the rear.
Besides the front suspension as on the hardtail, the rear shock on the full-suspension helps to absorb an even greater amount of force from impacts. By keeping the rear wheel on the ground, the rear suspension ensures the rider can keep their balance and control over the bike while riding freely through drops, rocks, and roots on mountains.
Full-suspension bikes also cover a broad spectrum of riders by offering 4 sub-categories: Cross-country, Trail, Endure, and Downhill.
If you are interested in finding out which type of full-suspension mountain bike is for you, check out this video:
Hardtail And Full-suspension Bikes: What Are The Similarities?
Both hardtail and full-suspension are a type of mountain bike. So, they do have some standard features designed to handle the toughness of mountain biking.
In general, hardtail and full-suspension bikes have: light frame, durable wheels, knobby tires, powerful break, low gear ratios, straight and wide handlebars. And, of course, the bikes contain suspension.
Both hardtail and full-suspension bikes are made specifically for off-road cycling rather than tarmac or paved smooth roads. Because only in this full-of-obstacles environment that the suspension can genuinely serve its purposes.
Bikes with suspension like these two types provide riders with better traction, balance, and control over their vehicles. The riders can handle their bikes much more efficiently. Thus, hardtail and full-suspension bikes are a popular choice to advent on rough mountain trails.
A higher level of traction means a higher degree of drag, especially with full-suspension bikes. And it comes with a drawback while you ride on non-obstacle roads. You will need to burn a bit more calories with a hardtail and much more energy with a full-suspension bike.
Road, hybrid, or cyclocross bikes are more suitable for smooth roads. Of course, you can use hardtail and full-suspension bikes for paved roads. It’s just not an optimal choice. To enjoy the best cycling experience, try to think about how and where you will ride your bike before deciding on the type of bicycle to make a purchase.
Apart from the suspension, there is not much similarity between a hardtail and a full-suspension bike. Good, because you can make a choice easier after informing yourself about distinct differences between them.
The Differences Between Hardtail And Full-suspension Bikes
Both hardtail and full-suspension are mountain bikes and are for challenging terrains. Still, hardtail bikes have only front suspension, while full-suspension bikes have a front fork and rear shock. This is the crucial factor leading to other differences between the two types. If you are interested in the comparison of hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes, here is a short nice video:
A hardtail is lighter than a full-suspension bike. The reason is apparent: a full-suspension bike has more machine components: the rear shock and other entailing parts. These extra components then need to be supported by a sturdier frame, which increases the bike’s weight even more.
An average hardtail mountain bike weighs 12-13kg, while an average full-suspension can easily weigh over 14-16kg.
Each type of bike has a few sub-types, and the weight of these sub-typed bikes can be pretty different from each other. For example, an average full-suspension from aluminum is about 14-16kg. Still, you can find a cross-country bike that weighs less than 10kg or a downhill bike at 27kg.
However, suppose you compare a hardtail and a full-suspension bike from the same material and for the same trail type. In that case, the hardtail bike will weigh less than the full-suspension, at least 1kg.
It is hard to compare the level of comfort between the hardtail or the full-suspension without any context. It depends on two factors:
Your definition of a comfortable ride
The condition of the terrain where you ride
Let’s say you are more content with riding on a light bike, easy to steer and handle. And you will use it most of the time for smooth single-tracks and double-tracks, pavements, or fire roads. Then I’m sure that a hardtail bike will be the best for you.
However, if you want to have fun in rocky gardens or on bumpy mountain roads, it’s better to go for a full-suspension bike. Especially when you desire absolute comfort for your body while riding through bumps and jumps without much impact.
Like with the level of comfort, it is also impossible to choose which of the two – hardtail or full-suspension – can produce the best performance. Again, the quality of the performance depends entirely on the type of terrain and the type of riding.
Hardtail mountain bikes contain only a suspension at the front so that they are lighter while still absorbing a certain amount of shock. Because of these features, hardtail bikes can produce their best performance at faster speed on less challenging mountain trails.
Thanks to the lightweight nature and their unique geometry, hardtail bikes are suitable for long and challenging climbs. Thus, in uphill rides, a hardtail bike is a perfect choice.
Also, if you are new to mountain biking, you might want to start with a hardtail bike. This type of bike is just much simpler and easier to learn when compared to its full-suspension counterpart.
In full-suspension bikes, the dual suspension system is designed specifically to tackle tricky mountain trails. So, of course, they are perfect for technical terrains with a high level of difficulty and a lot of descending, jumps, drops. But you will get exhausted faster when climbing with a full-suspension bike because of its strong grab force.
Full-suspension bikes shine the most in trail riding, cornering, upload, and downhill riding. This type of mountain biking requires more discipline and technique from ridders and a more robust machine. Thus, full-suspension mountain bikes always excel in these environments.
Check this video out to see other benefits of full-suspension mountain bikes:
In professional races such as XC racing, hardtail bikes can easily cover the green – pleasant journey trail and the blue – rollable path. But when it comes to more technical trails with red and black code, where there are many drops, gaps, jumps, and other obstacles, then the winner in performance is full-suspension bikes.
Before choosing between a full-suspension and a hardtail bike, don’t forget to check out the maintenance cost. The reason is that you don’t want to burn your wallet in the future to keep your bike in function.
Because the hardtail bikes only have a front suspension, their structure is simpler. Their number of components is also not as many as full-suspension bikes. Fewer parts mean less chance to break. Thus, the cost to repair or maintain a hardtail is low.
If you’re intereszed in some maintenance tips for your hardtail bike, check here:
In the case of full-suspension bikes, the maintenance work can be more troublesome. You need to check the shocks, the bushes, the suspension set-up, the rebound, the bearings, the chain growth, and more.
Such a task might require a bit more experience and expertise because of the complexity of the dual-suspension system. So, if you are a newbie, you will need help from bicycle repair service. For sure, it will be more costly.
The rear suspension needs to absorb a massive amount of shock constantly. Thus, it tends to suffer from more damages and wear out much faster. Also, the full-suspension bikes have to withstand extreme roughness of the mountain trails and technical trails; they need more regular checks. The maintenance cost can increase significantly.
You can find out some maintenance tips for your full-suspension bike here:
In short, a hardtail bike requires a cheaper and lower maintenance cost than a full-suspension bike.
Pros and Cons of Hardtail And Full-suspension Mountain Bikes
The differences are clear. But if you want to choose between hardtail and full-suspension, you will want to find out what they can offer and what they are lacking. Only then you can find the best match for yourself.
So, let’s cut to the chase with this pros-and-cons table.
Hardtail mountain bikes
- Low upfront cost and maintenance cost
- Efficient pedaling
- Simple structure, so easy to repair and maintain
- High versatility (used for trails, pavements, uphill, and smooth roads
- Fast speed in uphill or smooth terrains
- Best performance in climbing and cross-country riding
- Excellent choice for beginners as easy to maneuver
- Lack of rear shock
- Bounce and skip while descending, riding downhill, riding through rocky terrains
Full-suspension mountain bikes
- Best performance on technical and rocky mountain trails with more cushioning and traction
- High versatility (used practically in any terrains)
- Fast speed in downhill or uneven terrains
- Best performance in descending and bumps and gaps
- Easy handling
- Sturdy built structure increases ridders’ sense of security, so can also be a good choice for beginners.
- High upfront cost and maintenance cost
- Cost a lot of energy when climbing
Which Bike for Whom?
Each type of mountain bike has its own advantages and disadvantages. Whether a hardtail or a full-suspension is the most suitable bike for you – it depends on what you are looking for.
A hardtail bike will be for you if:
- You enjoy mountain biking but are on a tight budget.
- You like a lightweight and simple bike.
- You want to feel and connect with the biking trails to push yourself to develop more skills and become more experienced.
- You mainly use your bike on roads with a lower level of challenge and difficulty.
- You don’t want to spend too much on maintenance costs.
A full-suspension will be for you if:
- You want to conquer all types of terrains, especially technical terrains, no matter how rocky and risky they are.
- You like to maximize the comfort level while riding through rough trials.
- You want to feel confident and secured with your sturdy bike
- You’re fine with spending a relatively high amount of money for purchase and maintenance.
Hardtail vs. full-suspension bicycles, which is faster?
It depends. When climbing uphill, hardtail bikes are faster because they are lighter. But when going downhill or through bumps, full-suspension bicycles are faster because they are more in control and balance.
What are the two major differences between hardtail vs. full-suspension bikes?
First, hardtail bikes have only front suspension, while full-suspension bikes have front and rear suspension.
Second, the upfront and maintenance cost is lower for hardtail bikes and higher for full-suspension bikes.
Is a hardtail bike more expensive than a full-suspension bike?
No. A full-suspension bike is more expensive.
A full-suspension bike has two suspensions. It requires more materials and technology to produce. It also costs more to maintain.