Full Suspension Vs. Hardtail: Which Suspension Is Better For You And Why

If you intend to buy a new mountain bike, you must be wondering which one to go with, between a full suspension and a hardtail.

Most MTBs are equipped with a suspension to offer a better feel when cruising over rough ground, but not all mountain bikers want the same level and type of MTB suspension.

Hardtails don’t have a rear shock, while full suspension Mtbs do. But that’s not all that matters. We cover the topic in-depth below, so you get a better idea before purchasing.

An In-Depth Guide On Full-Suspension Vs. Hardtail MTBs

The Frames

Frame geometry is the first thing to notice when choosing between a full-suspension and hardtail MTB. Having a rear shock is cool but comes at a cost!

A full-suspension frame needs a rear shock to pivot the back area. It’s far more complicated to design and far much costly to manufacture.

Besides, it comes with a higher servicing cost which is impossible to ignore. The components such as the pivot bearings or bushings are expensive to replace.

The rear suspension is out of the picture when it comes to a hardtail MTB, leaving you with fewer worries. The frames are the most significant factor in these two types of MTBs.

In terms of design and complexity, full-suspension mountain bikes take the lead. However, the hardtail mountain is light in weight, and the manipulation of the frame tube is lower.

The lower maintenance is a plus for hardtail, and so when choosing between the two types of bike, you should have this in mind.

Also Read: Our Top Picks for Full-Suspension MTBs Under 2000

Where to Ride

None of these bikes will limit your fun on the trails when it comes to riding. The character will be different with every Mtb. The hardtail will not react the same on rough terrain like a full suspension, but regardless, you can ride both bikes on the same courses.

A hardtail with a 140mmm travel fork will take the same terrain a full-suspension bike with 140mm front and rear can take without a struggle. 

The Components

A bike is often worth more than the cost of its parts, but is that true? You already know that the components determine the price of an MTB.

After the bike’s frame, the most critical part is the front fork. Front forks come in different types and ranges, which highly influence their cost and the whole bike’s cost.

Your bike might come with an entry-level fork like the SR-Suntour fork, which could be using a coil spring, although the brand also has forks that use air springs. Your bike may come with a RockShox or Fox forks, which fall in between the middle level and top-level category of forks.

These forks come with adjustable air springs, remote-lockout, rebound dumping, tapered or straight tube steerer, and 15mm thru-axles.

The wheels are the second most crucial part. Wheels are similar for both bikes, but if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that hardtail wheels have more durable sealed-bearing hubs, maybe because of the shock they get.

The next thing to consider is the drivetrain and brakes. Shimano and SRAM are the world’s biggest drivetrain manufacturers, and their products range from entry-level to top level. For the brakes, your bike may come with an entry-level Tektro or better controlled or more robust Shimano units.

Comfort and Traction

A full-suspension bike offers you better comfort and traction than a hardtail. The rear wheel of a full sus conforms to the trail, running over the bumps and absorbing all the shocks that come with it.

The ride is therefore much smoother and more comfortable with a full sus. It’s most noticeable when sitting on the saddle or standing on the pedals while riding through rough terrain.

Also, a full-sus bike offers more grip on the ground. That is because the tire bites into it more, and it’s not bouncing around like the hardtail’s rear tire.

When it comes to smoother trails, though, you get a better grip with a hardtail. So, you’ll notice the difference between both bike types when you ride on rough and smooth terrain.

Weight

An average hardtail is 2 pounds lighter than its full-sus alternative. However, the weight difference is bound to change when looking at a set price point.

For instance, a budget full-suspension may weigh about 30 pounds. A mid-level hardtail may weigh about 24 pounds. That’s close to a 15 percent weight difference, and we take it seriously regarding weight and bikes.

You can feel that weight while climbing, guiding your bike over obstacles or when you accelerate or decelerate. Weight is only helpful during drops.

Hardtail MTB

Learning Skills

A hardtail bike gives you more room to perfect your riding skills on the trails. You get a more direct experience of your favorite trails than what you would get from a full-suspension bike.

When riding a hardtail, you must pick your lines more carefully and absorb the bumps with your legs acting as suspension.

Learning to bunny hop over obstacles rather than plowing through them is a crucial skill that will make your riding better, whatever bike you hop on. This is why many experienced MTB riders suggest starting on a hardtail.

Water for Refreshment

Wondering what water has to do with this topic? If you are riding for more than half an hour, you’ll undoubtedly sweat and want to hydrate to keep on riding. The best idea would be to carry fluids or refreshments with you.

Most hardtails allow you to carry a pair of sports water bottles inside bottle holders held on the inside of the frame. Smaller sizes, however, only allow one bottle.

On the other hand, Full sus often carries one or no bottle at all, and that weight goes to your back. If you can’t ride without water, you’ll need to take a hydration pack.

Maintenance

An advantage with hardtails have over full suspensions is their much affordable maintenance. You have to do nothing else with a hardtail frame except wipe off the dust or mud. For a full-suspension MTB, you’ll need to clean and change the bushing and the bearings from time to time.

Bearing and bushes do wear out, and the quality of your riding is highly affected if these parts get damaged. They’ll require replacing to enjoy your ride as usual.

Of course, you’ll have to buy new tires, true the wheels, service the forks, maintain the drivetrain, and do other types of services for both bikes, but you’ll have less to worry about with a hardtail.

Climbing and Descending

When it comes to climbs, hardtails conquer them better than full-suspensions. That’s because their low weight and rigid rear save the rider’s energy.

That’s why you see most XC racers opting for a hardtail because they can stand out on the saddle and pedal uphill without losing energy on the suspension.

Full-suspension bikes have lockouts for their rear suspension, but they can never be as rock-solid as the hardtail. The hardtail is indeed a climber.

Finish the climb, and the ground curves into a slope. The full sus will take the lead here. The relaxed position and the bouncy rear wheel gives the rider a lot of advantage.

The full suspension offers a more rearward position, which gives the rider more confidence. The longer wheelbase also lets the rider keep the bike balanced at high speed, while the hardtail feels skittish.

Commuting and Hitting the Road

full suspension vs hardtail

A mountain bike is a beast of all terrains. That means you can use it to commute and ride on the road. Here, with its aggressive, rigid rear and lighter weight, the hardtail will turn into the fastest mountain bike on the road.

The full-suspension rider won’t help but watch as the hardtail rider takes corners ahead and gets lost into the horizon.

Of course, the full-suspension has lockouts front and rear for these situations, but again, it will not be as rock-solid as the hardtail rigid rear.

The lighter weight also will work in favor of the hardtail on climbs and flats, but on drops, the full sus will have its winning moment.

When to choose a full-suspension mountain bike

  • You’re willing to spend a lot on a bike, about $1,500 or more.
  • You are looking for a more comfortable bike.
  • You mostly ride on technical trails.
  • You need speed on rough terrains.

When to choose a hardtail mountain bike?

  • You mostly ride on smooth trails.
  • You’re on a budget.
  • You prefer low maintenance.
  • You are looking for a light bike.
  • You want a bike good in climbs.

FAQs

Are hardtails faster than full suspension?

We always insist that the bike’s speed varies based on the rider’s fitness and skills. However, when we consider the features of a full suspension and a front suspension mountain bike, the latter is likely to be faster.

More than ten years ago, in the cross-country World Cup, almost every bike at the start line was a hardtail. These bikes are lighter, simple, and best for less technical terrain. 

You’d find some full-suspension mountain bikes as well, but their weight and compromised pedaling efficiency disadvantaged the racers.

Many top-level riders shy away from riding full suspension because it feels slower. Just ride both bikes on the same terrain, and you’ll perceive the hardtail to be faster.

Is it cheaper to build a full-suspension mountain bike?

Whether you want to build a full-suspension, hardtail, or any other bike, it may be cheaper or costly to build one from scratch. It depends on the parts you want to buy.

To build a bike, you’ll be buying a single part after another. Bike manufacturers buy those parts at a bulk rate, which means buying a bike will be cheaper than building one yourself with the same components.

Luckily, there’s a market for used bikes and bike parts. You have many options, and you can buy used parts through popular sites and cyclist forums.

Alternatively, you can buy a pre-built bike. But to buy, you will have to dig deeper in your pockets when you want to upgrade. It can be challenging to sell your old parts to upgrade to better ones. So, it’s not cheaper to build a bike.

How long do full-suspension mountain bikes last?

Regardless of how well you maintain a bike, you’ll eventually feel the need to upgrade, and you will want to sell your former bike. But since the MTB is costly, you may be wondering how long it should last.

The average life of any MTB is 20 years or more, depending on the maintenance. The duration depends on where you ride and how much you do it. Most bike items, such as drivetrains, brake pads, tires, saddle, grips, bushes, etc., will not last forever.

If your bike is using rim brakes, you’ll replace the rims as well after some time. The frame is indeed the only part that will remain intact for years, except for a few scratches here and there.

If it gets broken, you have no other option but to get another bike. So, the longevity of your full-suspension MTB depends on how you maintain your bike.

Are hardtails suitable for jumps?

Yes, hardtails are good for jumps. You should learn to jump with one before trying any other type of bike. They’re more sensitive, though, when you land.

Therefore, be more careful and not overdo it. There are limitations to how far you can jump with your bike before damaging it. It’s therefore advisable to go slow on jumps.

If you don’t need to jump over an obstacle, don’t do it. If there are many obstacles on the trail, I’d suggest taking an alternative route.

What will likely happen if you push your bike too far? The frame takes the stress, and the most common issue that might result from that is cracking the frame.

Considering the cost of some of these frames, you’ll realize that taking care of your bike’s frame is far more critical than a few seconds in the air. Besides, if the frame cracks, it could be due to a severe crash, leaving the rider with terrible injuries.

Can you ride a full-suspension mountain bike on the road?

Yes, you can ride a full-sus bike on the road, and you won’t feel bad roads as much as a road bike rider would. A hardtail bike also rides well on the road. Some mountain bike coaches advise their clients not to ride road bikes but MTBs, whether full suspensions or hardtails.

However, a full suspension is quite heavy, and the shocks take big chunks of your energy. If the bike’s suspension has lockouts, you can lock both shocks to improve your ride quality.

The good thing is that if you don’t have an alternative bike, you still ride the bike on the road and run most of your errands effortlessly.

Can you change a hardtail to full suspension?

No, you cannot turn a hardtail bike into a full suspension. Alternatively, you can buy a used full sus frame and build it with your hardtail parts.

Can you go downhill with a hardtail?

Yes! You can ride your hardtail downhill, but you’ll feel every bump your back wheel runs over. So, only do this if you don’t have an alternative. We’re written an whole article about using a hardtail for downhill if you want an even better explaination.

Final Remarks

Whatever you are looking for in an MTB, whether a hardtail or full suspension, there’s no better bike than the other. A hardtail may look old school, but they are reliable and affordable.

Full suspensions are exciting and versatile but will bite you with maintenance costs. Take an honest look at what bike will work for you, consider your budget, and make that all-important purchase.

Photo of author
Written By Robert Gibbons
From riding to school since the age of 13, attending BMX races and events with his dad to himself conquering 50+ trails across the globe. For Rob, his Giant Stance 29 2 2020 is the friend that makes everything better. He is also a proud member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

1 thought on “Full Suspension Vs. Hardtail: Which Suspension Is Better For You And Why”

  1. Very helpful, thank you. I’m in the market for a new MTB, and hard or full feels like one of the first questions I must answer. That and budget of course.

    Reply

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