Full Suspension vs Hardtail Mountain Bike Showdown


Mountain Biking Full Suspension vs. the Hardtail MTB Bicycle

What is better, Full suspension vs Hardtail Mountain Bike Review

This has been a question on the minds of riders / bike buyers since the early 90’s when full suspension became affordable, and the designs started to show some real potential.

We explore the details of what a hardtail mountain bike is here, but lets go over a few basics before we jump in.

1. A hardtail mountain bike has no suspension on the rear of the bike.  This can make it lighter, require less maintenance and often times be more affordable as compared to a full suspension bike with the same components in the same class.

2. Learning how to handle mountain bike terrain on an XC hardtail mountain bike first, will make you a much better rider if you decide to switch to a full suspension mountain bike or at least add one to your stable of bicycles at a later date.

3.  A hardtail mountain bike is hardly old technology.  Racers are still winning on them at the highest level / pinnacle of the sport, World Cup UCI XCO mountain bike racing.

4.  Bicycle companies continue to produce hardtail mountain bikes and pour all their latest and greatest technology into them, so don’t think you have to buy a full suspension bike to enjoy the sport.  Some of us, young and old XC bicyclists simply prefer a hardtail for its simplicity, reliability, performance and price point.

5.  A hardtail can still have a suspension fork on the front of the bicycle, and it is still a hardtail mountain bike.

A full suspension mountain bike has a rear shock, just like a motorcycle on the rear end of the bicycle.  This can improve traction and reduce rider fatigue since the rider doesn’t get jarred around as much and their is noticeably less vibration.

1.  Full suspension often costs more and requires more maintenance as there are bearings, pivots and of course the rear shock on to maintain.

2.  Cheap suspension can actually hinder the XC mountain bike rider more than help.

3.  A full suspension bike often weight 1-3 more pounds more than an XC hardtail mountain bike in the same class.

4.  A very well built full suspension bicycle can allow the rider to carry much more speed and control vs. a hardtail mountain bicycle, all with less rider fatigue.

5.  A full suspension mountain bike requires more rider input / adjustment to to the rear of the bikes suspension system to maximize performance. (i.e. compression (low and high speed) and rebound)  Some of these options aren’t available for rider input on cheaper suspension systems, and are preset at the factory internally.

Good Reasons to Buy a Mountain Bike With Full Suspension:

  • The consensus among casual mountain bikers is that a full suspension bike is easier and more fun to ride than a hardtail. If you’re mountain biking for fun, relaxation, camaraderie or health reasons, a full suspension bike is likely to provide you with more enjoyment.
  • Your upper body isn’t in tip-top shape. Your whole body could be expected to take a greater beating when you ride a hard tail, whereas the suspension absorbs some of the shock for you when you ride a full suspension bike. The result: you can get away with being a little bit less fit if your bike has excellent quality suspension.
  • You want to buy the most comfortable bike possible.

Good Reasons to Buy a Hardtail Bike:

  • You’re on a tight budget. A hardtail will usually provide you with the best value for the money you spend on it.
  • You aren’t interested in performing lots of maintenance on your bike’s suspension. Neither option is maintenance free, but a hardtail bike tends to need less maintenance than a bike with full suspension.
  • You want to shave every possible ounce of weight off your bike to be competitive for racing or beating a personal record.


Question: First ask yourself if you are going to race, and if so at what level and with what intensity.

Answer: Many racers have two bicycles they train on the dirt / trails with, and even a road bicycle. So based on your current level, and how you plan on training, this factor is important.

In more detail, you may choose to buy a slightly lighter, or even slightly more expensive less comfortable XC race bike for Cross Country mountain bike racing that is a hardtail mountain bike.

This may not be your everyday practice bike, and it may not be as much fun to ride everyday on the trails for training, but the hardtail mountain bike may be a better steed for the actual race.

Consider a supple 4-5” all mountain full suspension training bike for a large majority of your training, of course don’t neglect to get super comfortable with your actual racing hardtail mountain bike either.

Finally your road bike may come out to play as well, because it forces you to work different muscles, and can promote your sprint practices and also your bike handling skills on very skinny rims / tires.

Question: What is your budget for purchasing an XC Mountain Bike?

This is a huge factor. Although don’t buy cheap, it simply isn’t worth it. Cheap bikes are prone to breaking, causing you to crash, and simply will not allow you to be competitive.

Why throw in the towel because you aren’t competitive, to simply find out you have all the skills, but your current bike is a P.O.S.

Finally never, skimp on suspension, front or rear. You are far better off riding a high end hardtail mountain bike then a full suspension bike with lower end internals.

Compression, rebound and a lock out can really make the difference.

I have found at my weight of 145-150 I often have my suspension custom tuned, as it seems like they are usually set stock for slightly heavier riders. This makes a world of difference with your adjustment settings.  For example the stock setting may only give me one or two clicks of compression adjustment.  After custom tuning I might have the full range of 10 clicks.  Its a tremendous difference.

Recap: If you have the money buy a high end 3-4” full suspension mountain bike dedicated for XC Cross Country Mountain Bike racing, with quality components. If you can’t afford a quality XC full suspension bicycle, select a very nice Cross Country XC racing hardtail mountain bike.

If you have the money, get a high end XC races bike (3-4” full suspension mountain bike), and an all mountain supple 4-5” full suspension mountain bike.

You might want to consider a carbon road bike. I love mine for cross training.

UCI world level cross country mountain bike racing in 2014 showed that when it comes to a Full suspension vs  a Hardtail Mountain Bike, in many races, the carbon full suspension bike is dominant, although many races were still won on a carbon hardtail mountain bike, which opens the door to both bicycles as super competitive. It comes down to price point and preference.


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