The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
Having lived and ridden in a bunch of different countries, and after spending well over a decade riding bikes now, I’ve noticed something is missing on the trails, in some places more than others. It’s the humble hardtail.
Us Brits love a good hardtail, especially if it’s made from steel, but this certainly isn’t the prevalent attitude everywhere, and even on the sunny shores of my home country more are riding full suspension bikes than they used to be. I get it, full suspension makes a lot of things easier and more comfortable, but I still think there’s room for a hardtail in everyone’s fleet, and I’m going to try to convince you. Hear me out.
Hardtails are great for learning
Possible unpopular opinion: everyone should learn to mountain bike on a hardtail, no exceptions. I learned to ride on a hardtail, as did many people, particularly the ones that have been around bikes for a long time, and I’d wager that most of those people would agree with me. I see many beginner riders these days riding full suspension bikes, and yes they make riding easier, but they’re cheating themselves out of learning fundamental skills and instead may learn bad habits.
Riding a hardtail is harder, it’s rougher, it’s less comfortable, but it forces the rider to ride at a speed more appropriate to their skill level. Without rear suspension to smooth out the bumps it teaches riders to ride smoother and use their legs as suspension — as everyone should when riding any bike, not just a hardtail. Riding a hardtail teaches line choice, because choosing the wrong line hurts. It teaches mechanical sympathy, because you can tell when you’re smashing your wheels about. It teaches how to bunnyhop properly without using the rear suspension to help. All of these skills are fundamental to riding, and by jumping straight on a full suspension bike, people are robbing themselves of those skills. Ride a hardtail first and put the time in, you’ll learn to love it and it will benefit you greatly in the long run. The first time you ride a full suspension bike will be incredible.
Hardtails are low(er) maintenance
Say what you like about any full suspension bike, a hardtail is less maintenance 100% of the time. Fewer pivots means fewer moving parts, fewer bearings, fewer things to maintain. Pivot bearings can cost into the hundreds of dollars to replace, particularly if you’re paying a shop to change them. Then you’ve got the annual shock service, that’s another $150+.
With no messy linkage to collect mud, hardtails are also much easier to clean, and typically cabling is less messy and considerably easier to replace. Hardtails are sturdy machines, and this makes them ideally suited to the rigors of winter riding, or as we call it in the UK, “riding.” This is perhaps why the hardtail never really went away in the UK, and is having something of a resurgence in other parts of the world. You can ride in any weather and spend a lot less time working on your bike. Just go for a muddy ride, hose your bike down, lube the chain and you’re good to go for next time.
When you do need to carry out a bit of maintenance, it’s usually easier because there’s less going on, and if you crack or snap your frame, you can simply weld it back up again if it’s made from steel. What’s not to love?
Picture this, you and your mates are all at the watering hole post-ride enjoying an ice cold (or room temperature for us Brits) beer. Your friends are all bragging about that line that they hit, how big they sent the drop, or the rock garden that they cleaned. You chime in “yeah, I rode that on my hardtail.” Instant badass. You know, providing you can actually back up your claim.
Part of the fun of riding a hardtail, particularly a modern aggressive hardtail, is that they’re super capable now. Some of them are slacker and longer than a lot of full suspension bikes out there, and more often than not, the rider will reach their limits before the bike will. It’s a lot of fun riding a hardtail in your usual spots and trying to hit all of the same lines, or even trying newer and bigger lines. Nothing gives you confidence like being able to ride gnarly trails on your hardtail.
Hardtails are versatile
Hardtails are super versatile bikes. Maybe you don’t want to ride one down the gnarliest downhill track in your local trail system, however there’s a lot more you CAN do that you might not want to do on a full suspension trail bike. For starters, hardtails can make great commuter bikes. If you don’t have the space or money for more than one bike, a hardtail makes pedaling on asphalt a lot easier than a full suspension bike. Just put a little extra air in your tires and you’re good to go.
Maybe you want to try gravel riding or going for a big cross country burn. Throw some lighter, slicker tires on there, and provided you don’t have a super aggressive hardtail, you’re probably good to go. Want to try bikepacking? No problem, hardtails are typically more efficient than full suspension bikes and have plenty of room for frame bags. Some slight tweaks are usually all it takes to transform your hardtail into whatever it needs to be.
Hardtails are cheap to buy, as well as maintain. Often you can pick up a much higher quality hardtail for the same money as a low quality full suspension bike — you just need to figure out what your priorities are. Don’t get me wrong, you can still spend a lot of money on a hardtail — thousands even just on the frame, but consider the new Norco Torrent. That’s an awesome steel frame with a great spec for just $3,149 USD. That’s almost $1,000 less than a Trek Remedy 8, and it has a better fork, brakes, wheels, etcetera. If what you want is an indestructible bike that’ll go anywhere and do anything for a reasonable outlay, you can’t go wrong.
This is maybe the biggest reason to ride a hardtail. They’re fun! It’s hard to really take yourself seriously (unless you’re an XC racer) when you’re riding a hardtail. You’re unlikely to be getting a KOM on that super gnarly descent, so why not just have fun and don’t take life too seriously?
Hardtails are great for goofing off, hitting jumps, riding some street trials, or just enjoying on the same trails as usual. Hardtails are a little rougher, but that just adds to the sense of speed, even if you’re not riding as fast. They can even be more fun on some trails: the kind of trail that isn’t too rough and needs a bit of pedaling, a sweet jump trail, or a fresh secret trail where you’re surfing loam all the way down. It’s hard not to have fun on a hardtail, and after all, fun is the reason that most of us ride, right?
Go back to basics, swing your leg over a hardtail and remind yourself why you ride mountain bikes in the first place. You’ll be glad you did.