How to Choose the Best Hardtail Mountain Bike (An Easy Guide)

We help you pick the perfect mountain bike for your riding needs. We understand how difficult it can be to choose a bike nowadays, especially with so many choices on the market. For this guide, we are focusing on one of the most popular types of MTB – the hardtail mountain bike. This is a popular choice for beginners and experienced riders alike, and we’ll help you understand why that is.

Cropped image of a cyclist on a mountain bike enjoyig the sommer alpine landscape.

A mountain bike is a perfect bike for navigating off-road terrain. If you plan on off-roading and hitting the trails with a bike, a mountain bike is pretty much your only option these days. They have many features that make them ideal for handling rough terrains – such as durable frames, suspension, shifting gears, tires that grip, effective brakes, and more.

This guide is all about one of the most popular types of mountain bikes – the hardtail bike. Hardtail refers to the fact that there is no rear suspension in these bikes. Hardtail is such a popular category, that even within this category there are so many types of the bike which are suitable for so many different types of riding.

We will start our guide by explaining the basics of the hardtail bike – including suspension, and what defines the category of a hardtail. We will then jump into all the relevant factors that you will need to make your decision as to which bike is best for you.

Suspension

Suspension is the key element that helps to define different categories of a mountain bike.

Suspension on a bike is designed to absorb the impact from rough and uneven terrain, and give a smooth experience to the rider. The suspension system will act as springs, which are built into the frame of the bike in order to absorb impact from various obstacles. Suspension systems will compress to brace impact and bounce back into place to return the bike to a normal position. This is generally done using air pressure, or an actual coil of spring.

As bike technology develops, so does suspension. There many different suspension technologies available, as well as different materials and technologies from which suspension systems are made. Typically, the more you spend on a mountain bike, the more premium and durable suspension you can expect to receive, although this is not a concrete rule.

As for how suspension relates to this article – suspension is actually the differentiating factor that makes a mountain bike a hardtail bike.

Hardtail Bike Basics

A hardtail bike is one of the most popular categories of a mountain bike. The name “hardtail” refers to the fact that the tail of the bike is without suspension, and thus a rigid bike.

Although it lacks rear suspension, a hardtail will typically have front suspension. Front suspension is meant to brace any impact on the front tire of the bike. The suspension is included on either side of the fork, which is the part of the bike frame that supports the front wheel. A spring is included on either side of the fork, which compresses to brace impact and springs back into place.

Of course, the suspension is just one part of a hardtail MTB, so you can imagine that even within the hardtail category, there is quite the extensive list of options available for different types of riders, and at different price ranges. But before we get into that, you need to decide if a hardtail is a proper choice for you:

A cyclist smiling while carrying a bike in an autumn park.

Is a Hardtail Right for Me?

Before you dive into all the options available to you in the hardtail category of bikes, you need to decide if hardtails are actually the proper choice for you. In this category, we’re giving you the major advantages toted by hardtails, so you can decide whether it will match your needs as a rider.

For Off-Road Terrain

First and foremost, you should decide if you actually need a mountain bike at all! Remember, any mountain bike is best for off-road riders. This means hilly terrain, rocks, drops, jumps, mud, and narrow trail riding.

Before you get into the details of hardtails vs. full-suspension vs. other types of mountain bikes, evaluate your riding to see if you need a mountain bike at all. These are costly bikes, and if you aren’t intending to do any off-road riding then you might be better of with a road bike, a cruiser bike, or a hybrid.

Smooth Ride

An enduro cycling rider on a dirt road.

The main benefit of suspension on a mountain bike is the additional smoothness of the ride! Suspension helps to absorb all the many obstacles that might hit you on a typical mountain biking trail. From steep hills to rock gardens, to drops, it is all more achievable with solid suspension.

Cost

A major benefit of hardtail mountain bikes is that they tend to be on the lower end of the price range when it comes to mountain bikes. Full suspension bikes are on the high end of that cost range, which makes hardtails much more affordable by comparison.

You can get a quality hardtail bike for about $1500 and under. But of course, these are bikes we are talking about, so they can also get a lot more expensive than this, depending on how much you are willing to spend.

Maintenance

With less moving parts comes less maintenance, as is a simple fact with all machines. Since hardtails only have suspension systems on the front wheel, there is generally considerably less maintenance when compared to a full-suspension bike. This is especially convenient, as the suspension is an area of the bike that most often requires maintenance, due to the complexities and moving parts involved.

Good “First” Bike

While hardtails are by no means exclusively for beginners, there is no arguing that the hardtail is a great bike for an inexperienced mountain biker. They are great bikes to start hitting the trails. And since new mountain bike riders won’t be hitting any advanced trails anyways, there is really no need to opt for a full-suspension system.

That being said, this bike can last you well into your mountain biking career. There are plenty of advanced riders who use hardtail bikes, so you don’t have to worry about outgrowing your bike over time.

Speed

The final element that you might be looking for in a bike is speed! Because this bike has less moving parts than a full suspension, some riders will tell you that it is easier to generate speed. Additionally, with the suspension acting to absorb uneven terrain, you can build speed even over obstacles.

Types of Hardtail Bikes

When it comes down to it, a hardtail is really just a broad category of a mountain bike. Since bikes are built for all purposes, you can further categorize hardtails based on your riding needs. In this section, we go over the different types of hardtail mountain bikes.

The best advice we can give is that you need to anticipate your riding needs before you buy a bike. Think about what you are riding currently, as well as your riding goals.

Trail Bikes

Trail mountain bikes are best thought of as the “all-around” mountain bikes. These bikes are designed to be rigid enough to climb hills efficiently, with enough suspension to adequately tackle downhills. These bikes are a great middle-ground for riders who are looking for a mountain bike for any type of terrain, without picking a specialty.

Typically, if you are a beginner, you will be happy with a trail bike (although they are well suited for advanced riders as well!).

Cross Country Bikes

Cross country hardtail mountain bikes are just as the name implies, bikes which are designed for riding cross country (AKA long distances). However, these are still mountain bikes, and are still suited to handling rough terrain, climbs, and downhills. These bikes are designed to be comfortable on long rides, and also able to handle any terrain that you throw at them.

Downhill Bikes

Cyclist biking downhill.

A downhill bike also called an enduro bike, is designed for exactly that, going downhill! Downhill mountain biking is a specialized discipline that is typically not for beginner riders. It is all about going downhill and going downhill fast. These bikes are built to have excellent and flexible suspension, and a long wheelbase, which can handle anything you throw at it.

Advanced downhill mountain bikers typically opt for a dual-suspension bike for as much suspension as possible. But if you have an interest in downhill riding, and don’t want all the maintenance of a full suspension (not to mention the cost), then check out an enduro hardtail mountain bike.

Fat Tire Bikes

Finally, there’s a relatively new trend in mountain bikes – fat-tire bikes. These are bikes with exceptionally large tires, designed to be able to ride over rough terrain with maximum forgiveness. The traction is so great that these are often ridden in snow or sand. While certainly more of a “novelty” aspect than the other hardtails on our list, they still might be worth it if you have very specific needs.

Factors to Consider

In an effort to further expand your bike knowledge, this section is all about the important metrics that you should be considered in choosing a new bike. We have focused a lot on suspension in this article, as it is the key component that separates hardtails from other bikes. But it is of course just one of many components of a bike. Here are the basics of all the features you should consider in choosing your perfect hardtail.

Wheel Size

Wheel size is an important consideration for how your bike will actually ride. The most common wheel sizes for mountain bikes are 26 inches, 27.5 inches, and 29 inches. Typically, the smaller the wheel size, the more maneuverable the bike. It is quicker to accelerate and easier to whip around to navigate tight terrain. However, it comes at the cost of your ability to navigate uneven terrain. Larger wheels are more adept at tackling uneven and bumpy terrain while maintaining traction and control.

It really comes down to personal preference, with the 27.5 inches offering a good middle-ground for beginners.

Suspension

We have covered suspension pretty extensively in this article, but it bears repeating here. Suspension is crucial for determining your bike’s ability to tackle uneven terrain. You will find many different suspension models when you start researching bikes. Just remember that they all are there to serve the same purpose, and as long as you buy from a quality bike manufacturer, it is hard to go wrong.

Frame

Yellow black 29er mountainbike with thick offroad tires.

The frame of a bike is obviously important for structural purposes, but the main difference as to bike performance lies in the material used in the frame. Typically, mountain bike frames are made from an aluminum alloy. This material offers a strong and durable frame, while still light enough to maintain maneuverability and control.

On more premium mountain bikes, you might find titanium or carbon fiber frames, but expect to pay quite a bit extra for these materials!

Gear

Gears are an important part of any mountain bike. Basically, gears determine how much resistance is offered by the pedals, and how many times you need to rotate your pedals to spin the wheel. It is meant to make it easier or harder to pedal your bike and generate speed.

A typical mountain bike can come up to 30 gears, but most mountain bike riders prefer less than that. It all depends on how much control you think you need over the pedaling resistance. More gears offer more control, but fewer gears make it quicker to shift between your desired settings. Additionally, more gears add more weight to the bike, which is a valid consideration in any bike.

Brakes

It goes without saying that brakes are an important part of any bike. The most popular type of brakes on mountain bikes are disc brakes. Disc brakes are brakes that grip a rotor which is attached to the wheel hub. This can work either with hydraulics, which is typically the more effective option, although more expensive. Disc brakes can also be operated with cables.

Fit

Getting the right size of bike for you is a very important consideration. Bike size is mainly determined by your height, although your weight is a factor as well. Bikes are typically sized in small, medium, and large, with some companies offering sizes even bigger than that.

Our best advice here is to have your bike professionally fitted. This is such an important decision that you don’t want to go with your best guess. Have a professional size your bike for you, and you will be much happier with the experience overall. This also gives you the opportunity to try the bike before you buy it.

Style

And of course, we can’t forget about style! You want your new bike to function well, but you want to enjoy the look of it! From color, to shape, to patterns, and more, there are plenty of options out there for the style-conscious rider. While we don’t recommend that you pick a bike solely on style, it is definitely a valid consideration once you have settled on the type of bike that is best for you. Even within the hardtail variety of mountain bikes, you might be surprised at the true range of options available to you!

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to hardtail mountain bikes! Above all, we want to help you make the best decision for you.

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