Mountain biking can improve balance and coordination and be a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors. You can strap on a helmet, hop on your bike, and explore the trails and nature while getting into better shape.
But this goal is only viable if you’re riding the right type of bike, and the choice usually falls between the hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike.
If you’re new to the sport, you might wonder, “What is a hardtail mountain bike, and what’s so special about it?” No worries, as this guide will provide all the answers on the main features, types, and benefits of riding a hardtail mountain bike.
- Hardtail Mountain Bike: An Overview
- Best Terrain for Hardtail Mountain Bikes
- Types of Hardtail Mountain Bikes
- Who Is the Hardtail Mountain Bike For?
- Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes
- Which Wheel Size Is the Best for a Hardtail Mountain Bike?
- Is a Hardtail Mountain Bike the Right Choice for You?
Hardtail Mountain Bike: An Overview
Perhaps the most straightforward way to understand a hardtail mountain bike is to view it as an all-purpose, all-terrain mounting bike.
These bikes are versatile and resilient and are often the best choice for less experienced riders. But let’s take a closer look at the structure of a hardtail mountain bike.
A hardtail bike has front suspension but lacks rear suspension, hence the name “hardtail.” It is designed to fully absorb the bumps and ruggedness of the road at the front end but doesn’t require a shock absorber at the rear end.
When discussing a hardtail bike’s design, it’s always in the context of a full-suspension mountain bike with both front and rear shocks.
But before we make a complete comparison between a hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes, it’s important to highlight a few other features of hardtail bikes.
Traditionally, hardtail mountain bikes were made of steel, as this metal is durable, strong, and offers substantial riding comfort. However, most mountain biking pros don’t use steel hardtails these days, as they are too heavy and stiff.
The popular materials nowadays are aluminum and carbon fiber. Aluminum is the more prevalent of the two options, and all major mountain bike brands use it for their bike frame. It’s lightweight and offers excellent power transfer.
In contrast, carbon hardtail mountain bikes are even lighter than aluminum. As a result, they’re strong and durable but rarer to find than aluminum bikes.
Best Terrain for Hardtail Mountain Bikes
We’ve covered the basics of a hardtail mountain bike and even touched on them being referred to as “all-terrain bikes,” but let’s check out the specifics.
While a skilled rider can take the hardtail on nearly all terrain, this bike performs better on climbs and smoother trails. Riders only interested in smoother trails will likely find the hardtail fast and fun. In addition, the hardtail will easily soak up the small and moderate bumps with the front suspension.
Also, some hardtail mountain bikes have front forks with a lockout system. This feature can be helpful on uphill climbs and flat surfaces because it transforms the hardtail into a rigid bike. Not having any suspension in this situation reduces the energy expenditure.
Types of Hardtail Mountain Bikes
Unsurprisingly, there are three types or sub-categories of hardtail bikes. The classification helps when choosing the bike, as each is designed for specific use. Here’s a short overview of each type to better understand what’s available on the market.
The XC, or cross country hardtails, are widely used for competitions and designed for varying long-distance terrains. They’re both for fast riding and endurance challenges and have a 75-100 millimeter front suspension travel.
These bikes have more relaxed angles, short stems, and a 100-150 millimeter front suspension range. They are better for descending than the XC hardtails without the hindered ability to climb uphill. The trail hardtails are probably the most versatile type as they take many mountain biking disciplines without a hitch.
Enduro is a prevalent form of mountain bike racing and includes timing descents. Therefore, the enduro hardtails are designed for more efficient downhill racing and come with a 140-170 millimeter front travel range. They’re similar to gravity bikes or full-on downhill bikes but are more lightweight and easier to maintain.
Who Is the Hardtail Mountain Bike For?
One of the best aspects of hardtails bikes is that beginner cyclists, and advanced riders can use them. They’re also designed for people of all ages and fitness levels.
When buying a hardtail bike, you can choose the wheel size you prefer, check out the seat’s design, and pick the accessories that work for you.
Hardtail mountain bikes are suitable for beginners because they force them to mind the body positioning as there’s no rear suspension to take the brunt of the force.
People transitioning from driving to work to riding a bike might find hardtails an excellent choice as it allows them to develop speed without wasting too much energy. However, the hardtail is probably not for a person who doesn’t enjoy intense terrain conditions.
Hardtail vs. Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes
All mountain bikes, except for the rigid type, have some suspension. We’ve established that the hardtail has only the front suspension, and the full-suspension bike has both front and rear suspensions.
Newbie mountain bike riders usually choose between these two options. So, before making the decision, it’s helpful to lay out the differences for each feature.
The full-suspension bike takes the edge off the rough terrain and is often the more comfortable option. In contrast, although the hardtail bike can be enjoyable on smooth terrain, it’s less forgiving over uneven ground.
The full-suspension bike is heavier, as it carries the burden of rear suspension and the front, plus the added frame material.
Therefore, if you’re looking forward to riding uphill or longer distances, the hardtail mountain bike is probably the better choice due to its lighter weight.
If we compare similar quality hardtails and full-suspension bikes, the hardtail will be less expensive. However, when working with a fixed budget for a mountain bike, the quality of the components is typically the priority.
A hardtail mountain bike with better components is usually better than the full-suspension bike with lower quality components – for the same price.
In terms of design, hardtails are less complex as there are fewer frame pivots and no rear shock to consider. As a result, they are easier to maintain, and there’s less to go wrong on a trail. On the other hand, full-suspension bikes sometimes contain more features and allow more versatility.
Which Wheel Size Is the Best for a Hardtail Mountain Bike?
Unless you’re building a custom hardtail, there are two standard sizes on the market, 27.5 and 29 inches. But, of course, the 29-inch wheel rolls faster and is more stable at higher speeds.
As long as the geometry is correct, this wheel size is the go-to option for many. The 27.5-inch wheel isn’t as fast-rolling, but it accelerates nicely and can be easier to handle in turns.
A hardtail bike with this wheel size is also lighter and more robust. Ideally, the 27.5-inch wheels should be paired with thicker tires for a better grip and a more comfortable ride.
Is a Hardtail Mountain Bike the Right Choice for You?
If you’re still unsure what is a hardtail mountain bike, here’s a quick reminder. A hardtail has only a front suspension and is faster for climbs and smooth trails. In addition, it’s lighter than a full-suspension bike, great for beginners and pros, and allows easier maintenance.
Some mountain biking enthusiasts will proclaim the hardtail bike as the best type of bike, and others will rebuke that claim.
But “the best” mountain bike is the one that suits your needs and prompts you to plan off-road adventures or transform your commute to work. For some, the hardtail bike is just what they need to get more exercise while staying comfortable.