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20-03-2024 | Ella van der Veer

MTB for dummies part 2: fully versus hardtail?

In part 1, I explained why purchasing a mountain bike (MTB) is a great choice. Now, let's address a pivotal question: hardtail or full suspension (fully)? This article aims to highlight the differences and guide your decision.


Photo: Hans Raven shredding. © Joris Knapen

Why a hardtail?

  • A hardtail, with only a suspension fork, is less complex and often more affordable.
  • Its maintenance is simpler and cheaper.
  • Lighter in weight, it excels in long climbs and cross-country races.
  • Its stiffness means less power loss during acceleration.

Specialized Epic hardtail
Photo: A quality hardtail like the Specialized Epic is often sufficient when the terrain isn't too rough. © Specialized

Advantages of a full suspension

  • Its rear suspension offers greater comfort, absorbing terrain bumps.
  • More control in technical terrains, an advantage in downhill sections.
  • Forgiving of technical errors, unlike the hardtail.
  • Heavier than hardtails, it's slower on non-technical climbs.
  • Modern designs allow damper and fork locking, mimicking hardtail stiffness.

Image of a Specialized S-Works LTD full suspension mountain bike
Photo: The engineering in Specialized's S-Works LTD full suspension is evident. © Specialized

Which is better?

That's entirely contingent on your needs and preferences. Consider your budget first: a lightweight, carbon full-suspension bike with quality suspension could cost about 5000 euros, a significant investment. Conversely, you can acquire a decent hardtail with a good fork and setup for around 1500 euros, offering great value and enjoyment.

Next, think about your intended use. If you're primarily riding in the woods during winter, encompassing various weather conditions and mud, maintenance should be a key consideration. Maintenance demands double with a full-suspension. The newest cross-country (XC) full-suspension models, typically featuring 120 mm of suspension travel and known as down-country bikes, are excellent for technical descents.

For those who stick to mostly flat trails and aren't chasing local MTB route records or racing titles, a high-spec bike might be unnecessary, though still enjoyable. However, if your adventures extend to mountainous regions like the Ardennes or Alps, a full-suspension is worth reconsidering. Additionally, if you already own a gravel bike, a full-suspension complements it more distinctively than a hardtail would.

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