Hardtail vs Full Suspension: Which MTB is Right for You?

Choose the right mountain bike for you by learning about suspensions, one of the most important components of a bike. Know how these bikes differ and ultimately determine the bike that suits your needs best.

A mountain biker in full gear looking down the rock cliff.

We wish we could tell you that choosing a mountain bike was an easy task, but that really isn’t the case anymore! There are simply so many options on the market that a beginner mountain biking enthusiast will find themselves easily overwhelmed. While it is certainly good that there are enough options to find the perfect mountain bike for your needs, it doesn’t quite help when you don’t even know where to start.

In this article, we’re breaking down your mountain bike choices by focusing on one of the most important components – suspension. The two most popular varieties of suspension are hardtail and full suspension, and these will be the focus of our article.

We’ll give you a full rundown on the differences between these bikes, and let you know how to choose the bike that is best for your needs, whether you are anything from a beginner to an advanced rider.

Suspension Basics

Before we get into the details of hardtail vs. full-suspension models of a mountain bike, it is helpful to have an understanding of suspension in general. If you are a mountain bike expert, feel free to skip ahead!

Suspension on a bike is designed to absorb the impact of riding over various uneven and rough terrain. The suspension absorbs the impact on the wheels and allows for a smoother experience for the rider. The suspension is typically comprised of a spring-like mechanism that absorbs the impact and “bounces” back into place to stabilize the bike. It uses either air pressure or an actual spring coil.

This is a close look at the suspensions of a bike.

There are many different types of suspension mechanisms on mountain bikes. Typically, the more expensive the bike, the more sophisticated you can expect the suspension technology (but of course this isn’t always the case). The two major types of suspension for mountain bikes are hardtail and full suspension, which we will examine next.

What is a Hardtail MTB?

The first major type of suspension model for mountain bikes is a hardtail. Hardtail mountain bikes refer to models which only have suspension on the front wheel. The back of the bike has no suspension, thus making the tail of the bike “hard”.

Front suspension on a mountain bike is designed to absorb the shock on the front wheel and bounce the bike back into place. The suspension is built into the “fork” which supports the front tire, with a “spring” on both sides of the fork.

As you can probably imagine, all hardtail mountain bikes are not the same. Bike technology is very advanced, and there are many different models of hardtail bikes that feature various types of suspension, amongst other differences. Buying a bike really comes down to your preference, your riding style, and how much you are willing to spend.

What is Full Suspension?

Full suspension is a type of mountain bike that features suspension for the front and back of the bike. It has front suspension similar to a hardtail, but also features suspension on the back of the bike.

This is a bicycle with hardtail suspensions.

Rear suspension comes in many forms, but it all serves the purpose of bracing the back of the bike from impact. The suspension is located on the rear triangle of the bike’s frame, which supports the back wheel of the bike. Unlike a hardtail, the bike’s frame is made up of a front triangle and a rear triangle, which the suspension allows moving independently, thus allowing the back wheel to absorb impact on rugged terrain.

Different bike models all might claim to have the “best” mechanism for suspension, but it generally comes down to personal preference. As long as you purchase a model that is well-made and that you are comfortable riding, it is tough to go wrong. That being said, we will now take a look at how to make your decision between full and hardtail suspension.

Hardtail vs. Full Suspension

Now that we’ve covered the basics of suspension and gone over the fundamentals of hardtail and full-suspension bikes, we’re going to run you through some factors which will help you make your decision. As is the case with any bike, it really is going to come down to your personal preferences and how you plan to use the bike. Some of the features we will cover will be much more relevant to certain riders. So keep these factors in mind as you read through the advantages of each type of bike:

Advantages of Hardtail Mountain Bikes

This is a mountain bike with hardtail suspensions.

Cheaper

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. A hardtail mountain bike is more affordable! Because of the additional simplicities in the manufacturing process, these savings are passed on to the consumer, which makes a hardtail bike a better choice for someone on a budget.

You should have no problem finding a hardtail mountain bike for under $1500. Of course, as bikes tend to be, you can find one much more expensive than that as well.

Lower Maintenance

The simple fact is that, with less moveable parts to maintain, there will be lower maintenance overall. Hardtail bikes don’t have a rear suspension, so they’ll avoid any potential issues that come along with a malfunctioning suspension on the rear wheel. Since this is such a common issue to experience with a bike, this could be a big load off any bike owner’s mind.

They Tend to be Lighter

Another advantage of forgoing a rear suspension is that it makes the bike less heavy overall. Less moving parts make for a lighter bike. Lighter bikes make it easier for riding longer distances, and for climbing hills, as you are carrying around less weight as you go.

Of course, hardtail bikes aren’t always lighter than full suspension, as it does depend on the materials used to make the bike frame and the moving parts. Full suspension bikes can be manufactured to be pretty light as well, but this also tends to come alongside an increase in price.

You Don’t Ride Extreme Bumpy Terrain

A top factor in deciding on any bike, how do you actually ride it? Full suspension bikes are made for absorbing all types of bumps, drops, and terrain, which also means you won’t need a full-suspension bike if you prefer to ride smoother terrain. Hardtail bikes are still very capable in their own right, and many experienced mountain bikers use them for all sorts of trails.

Also, as a matter of preference, many riders will simply tell you that they prefer the feel of hardtail bikes. An additional suspension means the additional movement of the bike itself, which can actually make the ride feel less “smooth” overall. Less moving parts may actually have you feeling like you have more control over the bike.

Advantages of Full Suspension

This is a close look at a mountain bike's full suspension.

You Are an Advanced Rider Who Rides Difficult Trails

The number one reason why people will opt for a full-suspension bike is that they ride technical terrain. The additional suspension makes these bikes more adept for absorbing all types of terrain. You can more easily ride over more complex features, hills, rock gardens, drops, jumps, and more.

Comfort

One of the main advantages of additional suspension is that it tends to make the rider feel smoother overall. Your bike absorbs the jumps and jolts of a ride so that you don’t experience them as much as the rider. So whether or not you are riding very technical trails or just want to experience less of a jolty ride overall, a full suspension bike can help you achieve that smoother ride.

Speed

A bike that can absorb more terrain means you can also fly over that terrain with ease! This also makes it so that you can generate more speed overall. So if you are a mountain biker with a need for speed, then the full suspension is probably what you’re looking for.

Making the Right Choice for You

This is a man riding his mountain bike on a muddy forest trail.

So now that we have outlined your choices and pointed out where each bike excels, there is but one decision left to make – which bike is best for you?

We have pointed out why you might consider a hardtail or full suspension based on the type of riding you intend to do, which is really the most important factor. So before you make your choice, think long and hard about the riding you do, and also the riding you intend to do in the future. The perfect type of suspension is only perfect if it matches your needs.

And remember, it might be the case that you don’t require a mountain bike at all! This article has zoned in on a very particular type of bike, but there are so many options out there for all types of riders. If you aren’t doing the trails, hills, and bumps that are best suited to a mountain bike, maybe check out a hybrid bike. And if you are staying off the trails altogether, a road bike might be better for your needs.

At the end of the day, we’re all about helping you make the best decision for you. We hope this article has cleared up some questions you may have about two of the most popular types of mountain bikes!

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