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Hardtail Vs Full Suspension Mountain Bikes: Pros and Cons

When choosing a new mountain bike, one of the more important decisions you’ll have to make is which type of suspension system to go with. Mountain bikes come in full suspension and hardtail options. Full suspension mountain bikes have both front and rear shocks while hardtail mountain bikes only have a front shock and a rigid rear end. Mountain bikes have suspension to improve traction, control, and comfort. This guide explains the main differences and outlines the pros and cons of riding a hardtail vs full suspension mountain bike. We’ll cover efficiency, performance, maintenance, cost, weight, and more.

This choice mostly comes down to the type of terrain you plan to ride, your budget, and your personal preference. I’ve been riding mountain bikes for about 20 years. I started on a hardtail then transitioned to a full suspension model. In this guide, I’ll share my personal experience.

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Key Takeaways

Hardtail mountain bikes are lighter, cheaper, more durable, and easier to maintain and repair. They are also faster and more efficient on smooth trails. They offer greater versatility as well.

Full suspension mountain bikes offer better traction handling. This allows you to ride faster on technical trails. They are also smoother and more comfortable to ride and can handle and handle larger bumps, jumps, and drops.

Hardtail mountain bikes are the better choice for beginners, those on a tight budget, those who plan to ride on roads, those trying to develop their skills, those who perform their own maintenance, and cross-country riders.

Full suspension mountain bikes are better for experienced mountain bikers, downhill and enduro riders, competitive mountain bikers, those looking for a comfortable ride, those with joint or back issues, and those who don’t climb often.

Full Suspension Mountain Bikes

A full suspension mountain bike features both a suspension fork as well as a rear shock. The suspension system absorbs shocks and dampens vibrations to make the ride more comfortable. The suspension improves traction, control, and handling.

Full suspension bike frames consist of two separate pieces: a mainframe and a swingarm. The shock attaches to both frame pieces. Either directly or through linkages. The swingarm pivots against the mainframe, allowing the rear axle to move as the shock compresses and rebounds. The rear shock can use either a metal coil or compressed air for resistance.

Full suspension mountain bike frames can have one or multiple sets of pivot points and linkages. The pivot points and linkages control how the rear suspension behaves. A damping system in the fork and shock helps to smooth out the ride by preventing the shock from oscillating or bouncing.

Dual suspension mountain bikes are a great choice for all types of mountain biking including downhill, trail riding, enduro, and CX.

a full suspension mountain bike with a coil shock
A full suspension mountain bike

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

Hardtail mountain bikes only have a suspension fork. They do not have rear suspension. The frame is completely rigid. This is where the name hardtail comes from.

The front suspension fork absorbs bumps and vibrations from the trail. It can also improve handling, and steering while riding rough ground such as rock gardens. Resistance in the suspension fork is provided by either metal coils or compressed air.

Hardtail mountain bikes are a popular choice for cross country riding, trail riding, enduro riding, and bikepacking. They work well for riding double track, fire roads, gravel roads, and easy singletrack.

A hardtail mountain bike on a bike trail
A hardtail mountain bike

Hardtail Mountain Bike Pros

  • Hardtail mountain bikes are more efficient- The rigid frame efficiently transfers power from the pedals to the rear wheel. This is possible because you’re not wasting energy compressing a rear shock as you pedal. Hardtail mountain bikes do not suffer from pedal bob. Many suspension forks also have a lockout mechanism. When engaged, the fork can’t compress. This improves efficiency while riding on smooth terrain because you’re not wasting energy compressing the fork as you pedal. Hardtail mountain bikes are also lighter. It takes less energy to accelerate and maintain speed with a lighter bike. This increased efficiency is nice while riding long distance, easy trails, climbing, riding on-road, and sprinting. You can ride further while burning less energy. You won’t tire out quite as fast. If you’re planning longer rides, electric mountain bikes are worth considering. An electric bike can do some of the work for you.
  • Cheaper- Hardtail mountain bikes are significantly cheaper than their full-suspension counterparts. Mid-range hardtail mountain bikes cost around $1000-$1500. To compare, a mid-range full suspension bikes cost $2000-$2500. On average, a hardtail mountain bike costs around $800-$1000 less than a similarly specced full suspension bike. The reason is that hardtail bikes require fewer parts and are much simpler to manufacture. For example, they don’t need an expensive shock absorber or a complex pivoting suspension frame. Hardtail frames are one rigid piece. If you compare hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes at a similar price range, you’ll find that the hardtail model will come with much higher-end components. This is possible because the manufacturing cost is so much lower. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re better off buying a quality hardtail bike than a low-end full-suspension bike. Particularly if your budget is lower than $1500. In addition, hardtail mountain bikes require less maintenance. This lowers the cost of ownership. You might save $150 per year on rear shock maintenance alone. There are no pivot bearings to replace because the frame is rigid. This savings adds up over the years.
  • Easier and less frequent maintenance is required- Because hardtail mountain bikes have fewer moving parts, they require less maintenance. For example, there is no rear shock that requires oil, seals, or cleaning. Because the frame is rigid, there are no bushings or bearings in the frame to replace. Hardtail mountain bikes are also easier to keep clean because there are fewer nooks and crannies to collect dirt and debris. This makes hardtails ideal for riding in dirty, muddy, or snowy conditions. You can just hose the bike down to clean it off if it gets dirty. Cables can also be easier to replace because the cable routing is simpler. Minimal maintenance means you can spend more time riding and less time working on your bike. You save money too. Of course, the front fork suspension does need periodic maintenance. You’ll have to perform lower leg fork maintenance around every 25 hours of riding. This involves cleaning and topping up the oil. Full maintenance is required around every 100 hours. This involves replacing the oil and seals in the fork. Of course, you’ll have to perform this same fork maintenance on a full-suspension bike as well.
  • Lighter weight- On average, a hardtail mountain bike weighs 1.5 kg (about 3.3 lbs) less than a full suspension bike. Hardtail bikes are lighter because they have fewer parts and use less material to build. For example, there is no rear shock absorber and there are no bushings, bearings, and linkages. The frame is less complex. A lighter bike is better for those who ride long distance or climb often. Bikepackers and gravel riders generally prefer hardtails. It takes less energy to accelerate and maintain a high speed with a lighter frame.
  • Hardtail mountain bikes are better for beginners- Everyone can benefit from learning to mountain bike on a hardtail. The reason is that hardtail mountain bikes force you to learn proper mountain biking technique. This makes you a better rider in the long run. For example, while riding a hardtail, you’ll learn how to properly choose a line, take a corner, maintain traction, and handle large obstacles in the trail like roots and rocks. Once you develop some skill, this allows you to ride faster and more safely. You’ll also learn how to ride smoothly and use your legs for suspension. This is a skill that all cyclists should learn, regardless of the type of bike they ride. In addition, you’ll learn how to find grip if your wheel slides out. This can save you from dangerous situations. You can also learn how to bunny hop without the assistance of suspension. These are all fundamental skills of mountain biking that you may not learn if you start riding on a full-suspension bike. You’re forced to learn these skills with a hardtail because there is no rear suspension system to help you out or get you out of trouble. The skills you learn while riding a hardtail transfer to full suspension bikes. In the long run, you’ll become a better mountain biker if you start out on a hardtail. As an added benefit, you don’t have to spend as much money on a bike to get into the sport. This way, you’re not wasting a bunch of money to find out whether or not you enjoy mountain biking.
  • Hardtail mountain bikes are faster when climbing and riding smoother trails- Because the frame is rigid, you don’t lose energy by compressing the suspension. There is no pedal bob. The superb power transfer allows you to climb hills and speed down flat trails more quickly and efficiently. When you pedal, more energy goes toward driving you forward. On less technical terrain, you can ride faster with a hardtail.
  • You’ll feel more connected to the trail- Hardtail mountain bikes give you more feedback. You can feel the terrain under your legs as you ride. This allows you to adjust your technique to suit the terrain. This is helpful while riding tight or technical trails efficiently. You can ride with more precision. Some riders also find that hardtail mountain bikes offer extra responsiveness as well. For this reason, hardtail mountain bikes can be preferable for riding narrow trails, like riding a narrow ridge, for example.
  • More versatile- Hardtail mountain bikes are suitable for all types of mountain biking including trail riding, cross-country, enduro, and even downhill. The efficiency of hardtail mountain bikes allows you to use them for other types of cycling as well. For example, you can also use your hardtail bike for commuting or running errands. You can mount some narrow tires on a hardtail and go gravel riding. Also, you can enable your fork lockout and ride local trails with your friends or kids. You probably wouldn’t want to do these types of riding with a full-suspension bike due to the poor efficiency. In addition, the rigid triangle frame of hardtail bikes allows you to mount bikepacking bags or panniers so you can use your bike for bicycle touring or bikepacking. These types of luggage sometimes aren’t compatible with many full-suspension bikes. The versatility of hardtail mountain bikes makes them an excellent choice for those who only have the money or space for one bike. Of course, you can do all types of cycling with a full-suspension bike as well. The inefficiency just makes it a bit more difficult.
  • More durable- The rigid frame of a hardtail mountain bike can handle harder impacts without damage. This is possible because there are no fragile linkages or pivot points. All of the tubes are welded together. There is no shock to worry about bottoming out and getting damaged. Hardtail bikes can also handle a bit more abuse because there are fewer parts that can break or wear out. If you neglect your bike and don’t always take care of maintenance on time, you may be better off with a hardtail.
  • Easier to repair- If you ride your bike hard enough or long enough, eventually the frame will crack and fail. If you ride a steel hardtail, you can simply have the frame welded back together and keep riding. Any welder can fix your frame. This may or may not be possible with a full-suspension frame because repairs may interfere with the function of the suspension system.
  • More gearing options- Hardtail frames allow you to use a front derailleur if you want to run a 2x or 3x drivetrain. This is great for those who want extra wide range gearing. You could install a 30-speed drivetrain with over 500% gear range if you choose. This would be ideal for riding hilly terrain or bikepacking. As an added benefit, 2X and 3x drivetrains are also more efficient than 1x drivetrains that are commonly found on full-suspension bikes. Many full suspension bikes are not compatible with front derailleurs due to the frame design. For more info, check out my guide to 1x vs 2x drivetrains.
A hardtail mountain bike with bikepacking bags
A hardtail mountain bike with bikepacking bags

Hardtail Mountain Bike Cons

  • Slower on technical trails- Hardtail mountain bikes can handle the same terrain as full suspension bikes. The problem is that you might have to take some obstacles a bit slower. This will lower your average speed. You can’t ride as fast with a hardtail because you can lose traction if the wheel hits a rock or root too hard and bounces off. In some cases, the tire can bounce off the ground. When this happens you lose traction completely. You have to take corners a bit slower to keep your tire on the ground. Handling also becomes difficult when the bike is bucking around under you too violently. You can’t safely control the bike when it’s bouncing around too much. Comfort is a factor as well. If the bike is bouncing around, it becomes uncomfortable to ride. You might have to slow down. While riding a hardtail, you may not be able to keep up with your friend who rides full suspension mtb.
  • Less comfortable- Hardtail mountain bikes allow more shocks and vibrations to transfer through the bike into your body. While riding over rough terrain or landing after a drop or jump, you’ll feel every impact a bit more. There is no rear shock to absorb the impact for you. As a result, the ride feels rougher and less comfortable. You must use your legs and arms as shock absorbers. This can be particularly hard on people with back, knee, and wrist problems.
  • Less traction/less capable- Hardtail mountain bikes lose traction more easily. While riding on lose gravel or rocky trails, the rear wheel can rebound off a rock or root and slide out from under you. In some cases, the tire can lose contact with the ground completely. When the tire is in the air, it can’t provide any grip. Your handling suffers. You also can’t steer as easily when your rear wheel is bouncing around. You need to ride a bit more carefully and slowly to keep both tires on the ground when riding a hardtail. In fact, some rough trails aren’t suited for hardtails. You can still ride them. You’ll just have to ride slower and more carefully.
  • Hardtails are less efficient on rough terrain- While riding a hardtail on a rough trail, the rear tire tends to bounce up off of rocks and roots instead of rolling over. This slows your forward momentum by pushing the bike up. It takes energy to pedal back up to speed. While riding a hardtail, your arms and legs also tire out from shocks and vibrations from the trail. On rough sections, you’ll have to stand on the pedals and use your legs as suspension. This burns energy and causes your body tires out faster. It’s fatiguing. You may not be able to ride quite as long or as far on a hardtail if you’re riding challenging terrain.
  • Hardtails can’t handle as large of drops or jumps- If you land too hard from a drop or jump, you could destroy your rear wheel. There is no suspension to help absorb the impact. Spokes and rims can only handle so much stress before they fail. Of course, you could injure your legs or back as well if you land too hard. In order to ride large jumps and drops with a hardtail, you need to know proper technique. This involves learning to use your legs for suspension. This requires skill and practice. A landing ramp also helps reduce the impact. You need to know your limits too.
  • Less stable- Due to the lack of rear suspension, hardtail mountain bikes bounce around a lot while riding bumpier trails and descending. When the bike is bouncing around violently, it’s harder to control. It also feels less stable.
  • Fewer adjustment options- On a hardtail mountain bike, you can only adjust the suspension forks. You can change the spring rate, damping, and sag. These adjustments will have an effect on the bike’s handling and steering. You can’t make any adjustments to the frame because it is completely rigid. The ride quality of the bike will remain more or less the same.
  • Less advanced- Hardtail mountain bikes are much simpler than full-suspension models. Some mountain bikers consider them to be lower end or for beginners. If you’re the type of rider who likes to have the best and most advanced gear, you’ll probably be happier with a full-suspension model instead.

Full Suspension Mountain Bike Pros

A full suspension mountain bike on a road
A full suspension mountain bike
  • Full suspension mountain bikes offer better traction and handling- When you hit an obstacle like a root or rock, the suspension compresses so the tire can move vertically and roll over. The damping system in the rear shock holds the tire against the ground as it rolls over an obstacle. The suspension system ensures that the tires maintain contact with the ground at all times. The wheel doesn’t just bounce off like it can on a hardtail. This greatly improves your traction and handling. With a full suspension mountain bike, you can corner harder on rough or loose terrain without worrying about your tire sliding out from under you. You have better control of the bike while riding bumpy trails. After all, your tires need to be on the ground so you can have enough grip to steer and corner.
  • Smoother and more comfortable ride- The suspension system absorbs shocks and dampens vibrations from the trail. While riding on a rough surface or landing from a drop you’ll feel less impact in your body. Full suspension mountain bikes offer greater comfort as a result. This is great for those with joint or back issues. The full suspension can reduce shocks that cause pain for some riders. A smoother ride also allows you to ride rough trails longer without tiring out. Your arms and legs fatigue less when the bike absorbs the big shocks and vibrations for you.
  • You can ride faster on technical trails with a full suspension bike- The extra traction and shock absorption capabilities of full suspension mountain bikes allow you to maintain a higher average speed. For example, you can take corners harder and faster without having to worry about your tires sliding out because the rear wheel maintains better contact with the ground. While riding on a rough patch of trail the contact points including the handlebars, peddles, and seat stay relatively stable because the suspension absorbs most of the bumps. This allows you to keep on pedaling while riding over bumps, roots, and rocks. If you’re a capable rider, you’ll outride your friends who ride hardtails
  • Full suspension bikes can handle larger drops and jumps- The suspension absorbs most of the impact for you when you land. This allows you to handle large drops and jumps with minimal skill. You don’t have to worry as much about damaging your rear wheel or injuring your legs if you land hard. You can also land more easily without a ramp. If you like to jump and ride your bike off big drops, you’ll want to choose a model with long-travel suspension. Most freeride and downhill mountain bikes have 160-200mm of suspension travel. For most riders, 120mm of suspension travel is sufficient if it’s properly set up. If you don’t jump your bike or ride off drops, you can get away with 80-100mm of suspension travel.
  • More forgiving and confidence-inspiring- Full suspension mountain bikes give you a wider margin for error. This allows you to ride above your skill level. This is possible because full suspension bikes offer better traction, handling, steering, and bump absorption. For example, maybe you chose the wrong line and hit a big root in the trail. The suspension system can absorb the impact so you stay on the bike. Maybe you took a corner too fast on loose rocks. The suspension system can hold your rear wheel to the ground so you maintain enough traction to make the corner. If you hit the same obstacles on a hardtail, you might have come off the bike. Full suspension bikes are a bit more forgiving of mistakes because the bike can make up for some of your shortcomings as a rider. This inspires confidence. When you ride confidently, you can handle more extreme conditions and your skills can improve more quickly.
  • Full suspension mountain bikes are more adjustable- Rear shocks offer multiple adjustments so you can dial in the exact spring rate, progression range, suspension sag, compression damping, and rebound damping for the type of riding you do. This allows you to use the same bike for any type of mountain biking. For example, you can adjust the spring rate and sag for your weight by either changing the air pressure in an air shock or changing your coil. You can adjust the damping system to make the suspension more sensitive to small bumps and vibrations or optimize it for large impacts. Some shocks even allow you to adjust the way the damping behaves throughout the suspension range. You may also be able to adjust the progression of the suspension if you use an air shock. You can make the suspension become harder to compress throughout the range or operate linearly. All of these adjustments change the way the bike rides. You can dial your suspension in to suit your riding style and personal preference. The frame also plays a big role in the way the bike behaves. For example, some frames are more progressive and some are more linear. Some have different pedaling and braking characteristics. Efficiency varies as well. If you’re looking for a specific ride feel, you can get it with a full suspension bike.
  • More efficient on rough terrain- Full suspension mountain bikes don’t lose as much forward momentum while riding over rough sections of trail. The shocks allow the wheels to roll over bumps instead of bouncing off and slowing the bike down. You’ll maintain your speed better and won’t have to pedal quite as much. This saves energy.
  • More stable ride- The suspension prevents the bike from moving around too much while you ride rough and downhill sections of trail and descend bumpy hills. After all, this is what full suspension bikes were built for. When the bike is stable, you can stay in control more easily. The handlebars, pedals, and seat aren’t bouncing around quite as much. You can steer and pedal while the shock and fork absorb bumps and vibrations. This allows you to handle rougher trails at higher speeds.
  • More technologically advanced- Because the pros ride full suspension bikes, lots of research and development goes into engineering full suspension frames and shock absorbers. Modern bicycle suspension systems are incredibly sophisticated. Through engineering, manufactures can optimize the bike for maximum efficiency and performance. For example, modern full suspension frames don’t suffer from much pedal bob, because the frame is designed with anti-squat. This minimizes the oscillation of the suspension compressing and rebounding as you pedal. Braking performance can be improved with anti-rise. This reduces suspension extension as you brake. Frame and shock designs can also be optimized for different types of mountain biking. A downhill bike will be set up completely differently from a trail bike.
  • Looks- Full suspension bikes look cool. Particularly when fitted with a coil shock. The thick, metal spring looks pretty rugged.

Full Suspension Mountain Bike Cons

A close up view of an air shock
An air shock on a full suspension mountain bike
  • More expensive- On average, rear suspension adds about $800-$1200 to the price of a mountain bike. Suspension components are expensive. Mid-range full suspension bikes run around $2000-$2500. Generally, you should avoid full suspension mountain bikes that cost less than around $1500. The reason is that manufacturers must sacrifice the quality of the components and frame for the higher costs of the rear suspension system. You’ll end up with a bike that performs worse than a comparable hardtail because the components and frame are lower-end. You should also consider maintenance expenses when buying a full suspension bike. A rear shock service can cost $150 per year. Pivot bearings cost hundreds of dollars for some frames. You’ll need to replace these every year or two. Over the life of the bike, you may spend a couple of thousand dollars maintaining the rear suspension system.
  • Full suspension mountain bikes are less efficient- The rear suspension tends to compress and rebound a bit as you pedal. This happens because your weight shifts back during every pedal stroke as you accelerate. The pedaling force also pushes the bottom bracket down. This motion causes the suspension to compress. At the end of the stroke, the shock rebounds. This causes an oscillating motion where the suspension is compressing and rebounding continuously as you pedal. This is called pedal bob. All full suspension frames suffer from some level of pedal bob. Every time you compress the suspension unnecessarily, you’re wasting energy that could be used to drive you forward. The energy is being converted into heat in the shock instead of forward motion. Some energy is also lost pivoting the frame. How much energy is lost to pedal bob depends on the frame design, how your suspension is set up, and the quality of your bike and suspension components. Modern shock absorbers greatly reduce pedal bob with anti-squat but they don’t eliminate it. In addition, full suspension bikes tend to be heavier than hardtails. It takes more energy to accelerate a heavier bike. For these reasons, full suspension mountain bikes are not ideal for long-distance riding like bikepacking, riding smooth trails, gravel riding, or climbing hills. They are just too inefficient. You’ll burn more energy and tire out faster. For downhill riding efficiency doesn’t really matter because gravity drives pulls you down the hill.
  • More maintenance required- Full suspension mountain bikes have more parts. These parts all require periodic maintenance. The rear shock contains oil that lubricates the system. This needs to be topped up and replaced once in a while. The shock also contains a series of seals that keep dirt and debris out and keep the oil in. These need to be cleaned and replaced periodically as well. How often you need to perform maintenance on your shock depends on the type of shock, the brand, and how much you ride. Air suspension components require more frequent maintenance than coil suspension components. Most manufacturers recommend a complete shock overhaul after every 100-200 hours of riding or once per year. This involves a complete cleaning, changing the oil, and replacing the seals. You may need to perform some more basic maintenance every 25 hours of riding. This involves topping up the oil and some cleaning. Suspension frames require maintenance as well. There are bearings in the pivot points of the frame that wear out over time. There are also bushings that need to be replaced once in a while. You should also clean off your suspension components after every ride. This helps to prevent the oil, seals, and bearings from getting contaminated. Full suspension frames are more time-consuming to clean because there are small spaces where dirt can collect. The cables can also be a bit more difficult to replace due to the more complicated cable routing. You will spend more time and money on maintenance when you ride a full suspension bike.
  • Full suspension mountain bikes are heavier- On average, a full suspension mountain bike weighs 2-4 lbs (0.9-1.8 kg) more than a hardtail. The rear shock absorber, bearings, bushings, and more complex frame design all add extra weight to the bike. A rear shock alone has a weight penalty of around ½-1 pound. Coil suspension systems are heavier than air suspension systems. A heavier bike takes more energy to accelerate and climb with. It’s also a bit harder to maneuver and man-handle.
  • Not ideal for beginners- Full suspension mountain bike allow you to ride sloppily, roughly, or lazily. This is possible because the bike can compensate for your mistakes or lack of skill. For example, line choice is less important with full suspension because the bike can absorb most of the bumps that you hit. You won’t learn how to choose the best line, use your legs for suspension, or ride as smoothly on a full suspension bike. This ends up slowing you down in the long run. It doesn’t matter as much how you take a corner with a full suspension bike because the bike offers better traction. This makes it harder to learn how to corner properly, maintain traction, or recover when your wheel slides out. You also won’t learn how to bunny hop without the assistance of suspension. These are all fundamental skills that you won’t learn as well when you start out riding a full suspension bike. You rob yourself of the opportunity to learn important skills. For these reasons, full suspension bikes aren’t ideal for beginners. In addition, full suspension bikes are too expensive for many beginners. Most people don’t want to spend thousands on a bike, not knowing whether or not they’ll use it.
  • Less trail feedback- Because the suspension system absorbs most bumps, you can’t feel the texture of the trail as well when you ride a full suspension mountain bike. The handlebars and pedals remain relatively stable while the wheels bounce up and down under you independently. This can make you feel a bit disconnected from the trail. It’s more difficult to adjust your riding to the trail conditions when you can’t feel the texture of the trail under you. You may not be able to ride with as much precision. For this reason, some riders find it difficult to ride a full suspension mountain bike on tight, technical trails. For example, you might have to ride a bit slower through a tight canyon or on top of a narrow ridge.
  • Less versatile- Full suspension mountain bikes are really only suitable for mountain biking. You won’t want to use your full suspension bike for other types of cycling. For example, you can’t easily load the bike up with camping gear and go bikepacking or bicycle touring because many full suspension can’t fit frame bags or racks and panniers. Because they are less efficient, you probably won’t want to use your full suspension bike for gravel riding, commuting, riding on the road, or longer rides. You may need a second bike for these types of cycling.
  • Fewer gearing options- Many modern full suspension frames are not compatible with front derailleurs. The reason is that the front derailleur got in the way and limited suspension designs. When 1x drivetrains became common, frame builders decided to eliminate the front derailleur. Of course, this limits you to only using 1x drivetrains. For most riders, this isn’t a problem. They would be using a 1x drivetrain anyway. Some riders prefer a 2x or 3x. 1x groupsets offer less gear range and larger steps between gears than 2x groupsets. They are also a bit less efficient. For more info, check out my 1x vs 2x drivetrain pros and cons list.
  • Full suspension bikes are less durable- Because there are more moving parts, there are more parts that can fail. For example, your rear shock could get contaminated with debris, causing the oil or air to leak out. If this happens, the suspension will stop working. The pivot points in the frame could work their way loose over time. The frame bearings can wear out. If you don’t stay on top of maintenance, you can run into issues. You don’t have to worry about this with a hardtail. It is also possible to damage a shock by bottoming out too hard or frequently if it’s not set up correctly. Generally, full suspension bikes can’t handle as hard of impacts as hardtails.
  • Harder to repair- If you neglect maintenance and your shock starts leaking oil or air, you can’t just fix it at home. You’ll need to take it to a professional for a rebuild. If your full suspension frame cracks, you may or may not be able to get it welded. Depending on where the crack formed and the frame material, a repair may interfere with the function of your suspension.

Coil Vs Air Forks and Rear Shocks

Another decision you’ll have to make when choosing a mountain bike is whether you want to use coil or air suspension. Both suspension forks and rear shocks are available in coil and air options. Coil and air suspension each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Generally, air shocks offer more adjustment options. They are easier to adjust. This improves versatility. In addition, air shocks are lighter and provide better bottom-out resistance.

Coil shocks are more sensitive to small bumps and have more useable range. This gives you better traction and better braking performance, allowing you to ride faster. In addition, they are cheaper, more durable, and lower maintenance.

For an in-depth analyses, check out my guides to air vs coil forks and air vs coil shocks.

A close up view of a coil shock
A coil shock

Full Suspension Bike Frame Design

If, after reading this guide, you plan to go with a full suspension mountain bike, you’ll have a number of different frame design options to choose from. The best frame design depends on the type of mountain biking you do, whether you plan to use an air or coil shock, and your budget.

To optimize the bike for different types of mountain biking, manufacturers can vary the location and number of pivot points on the frame as well as the type of shock (air or coil).

Ideally, you want your rear suspension to absorb shocks and vibrations without being affected by pedaling and braking forces. Manufacturers achieve this by designing frames with anti-squat to resist pedal bob and anti-rise to resist and reduce shock extension caused by braking force. Suspension also needs some progression to resist bottoming out. Progression can be created through frame design or by using an air shock.

For more in-depth info on different frame designs, check out this excellent guide.

Final Thoughts

The choice between a hardtail and full suspension bike mostly comes down to the type of terrain you plan to ride, your budget, and your level of skill. Full suspension mountain bikes are the best choice for more experienced riders who spend their time riding rough trails with lots of rocks, roots, bumps, jumps, and drops.

Hardtail bikes are the better option for riding smoother terrain and beginner riders. They are also ideal for those who can only afford one bike. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll want to stick with hardtail bikes as well. Whichever type of bike you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.

Do you ride a hardtail or full suspension mountain bike? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Thursday 10th of August 2023

Full suspension are better for climbing because the rear wheel stays on the trail and does not bounce off. For this reason there is no advantage to hard tails if you only ride on MTB trails.

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