Hardtail mountain bikes are some of the most cost-effective entry-level mountain bikes available, with a wide range of features and styles that cater to many different disciplines.
The beauty of the bikes is in their simplicity, and many riders who start out on these bikes keep a special place in their heart reserved for the thrills only a hardtail mountain bike can provide.
What does a hardtail bike mean?
If you have no idea what a hardtail mountain bike is, then allow us to elaborate. A hardtail bike is any bicycle that has suspension over the front wheel to help absorb shocks but doesn’t use suspension to support the back wheel.
The tail of the bike is rigid, hence it’s known as a hardtail!
This also means that the term hardtail has a broad range of bikes under its umbrella, with many variations in style, design, and features that gear particular hardtail bikes to certain disciplines.
Some examples of these disciplines include cross country, freeride, all-mountain, gravel, and even hybrids and commuters, all of which are available as hardtails.
When the first suspension forks were made and before full suspension bikes had been invented, hardtail mountain bikes were at the cutting edge of design and performance in the cycling world.
There are still clips you can dig up of downhill world championships from back in the day, where riders threw themselves down the mountainside using hardtails and early suspension forks.
Hardtails have come a long way since those days and can be incredibly versatile multi-use workhorses or specialized performance machines tuned for maximum speed, aggression, and control. This adaptability has solidified the hardtail as one of the most popular types of bike available.
Many mountain bikers will start on a hardtail, due to their perfect blend of accessibility, value, and versatility. This fact also means that people tend to always come back to them for that signature feeling of comfort and rigidity.
Can you do downhill biking with a hardtail?
The short answer is yes, you absolutely can do downhill biking with a hardtail.
However, we wouldn’t recommend taking your old commuter or a gravel bike with small suspension forks to your local downhill track. Let us explain.
Downhill biking is one of the most difficult and demanding styles of biking that exists. The combination of speed, very rough terrain and technical difficulty will put immense stress on purpose-built full suspension bikes and professional downhillers.
Even these professionals, who have every bit of kit from neck braces to expensive full-face helmets take an immense risk every time they head down the mountain and injuries are very common.
Now imagine the difficulty of doing this on a hardtail that isn’t really designed for it. It probably won’t end well, unless you take it extremely gingerly and are a highly experienced downhill biker. That being said, some hardtails do have the features and performance to crush downhill trails with confidence.
These hardtails are often referred to as all-mountain hardtails and are highly popular with mountain bikers due to their simplicity and high performance. The features that set them apart are their aggressive geometry, beefy front suspension, chunky tires, and high-performance hydraulic brakes. Hardtails let you feel more of the track as you’re riding and many riders love this, considering it a more pure experience than more comfortable full suspension bikes.
While this may be so, a hardtail will struggle to keep up with a full-suspension bike most of the time and will need to be a little more careful on the downhill track. This doesn’t make it any less fun though!
Can you jump a hardtail mountain bike?
The beauty of hardtail bikes is their versatility. With the right frame and components, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from jumping with a hardtail, and a lot of slopestyle and freestyle riders prefer hardtails for jumping due to their rigidity, simplicity, and ruggedness.
The benefit that hardtails give you when jumping them is that you are able to spring up off the jump harder, using the rigidity of the bike to pump off the jump better to give yourself that little bit of extra momentum you need.
The drawback is that they are harder to land and the transition has to be very well timed or you could damage your wheel, your frame, or yourself.
There is also less to break on a hardtail than a full-suspension bike, so they make excellent jumpers that can stand up to a lot of punishment well, and if something does go wrong, they are often easier to fix due to the simpler componentry.
Just don’t forget to drop your saddle before you start jumping or you’ll definitely end up having a bad time.
Does riding a hardtail make you a better rider?
This is definitely something that’s widely discussed and claimed among certain mountain bikers, particularly those who got their humble start on an old cross-country hardtail.
The idea is that a hardtail bike is a simpler, more spartan tool. The lack of rear suspension forces you to develop skills that wouldn’t be necessary on a full-suspension mountain bike.
For example, hardtails give much crisper feedback from the trail to the rider, allowing you to feel what the terrain is doing and develop a better understanding of how to respond to the terrain instinctively, based on this sense of feeling and feedback.
Full suspension bikes insulate you from the terrain much more, taking the strain of rough terrain and minimizing it but also preventing you from feeling as much.
Hardtails also force you to use your body to absorb shocks and to use your legs as a sort of improvised suspension in the place of a rear shock, making you stronger and more confident when facing rough terrain.
In general, hardtails require you to move around the bike more, finding different positions to stabilize the much more skittish handling of these bikes. In that sense, there may be something to the idea that hardtails will make you a better rider.
However it could also be that skills simply develop over time, and as people ride more they naturally improve. Once they finally transition to full suspension bikes they have already learned so much on their hardtail that a lot of the skills you need to ride a full bouncer are much easier to pick up.
Ultimately, getting out and riding will make you a better rider, no matter what bike you decide to use.
How can I make my hardtail more comfortable?
There are several ways to make a hardtail more comfortable, and it’s crucial to make the most of them all to mitigate one of the major drawbacks of this style of bike.
When you’re climbing a steep hill, the number one most important thing to do is raise your saddle. It doesn’t matter what bike you’re riding, having your saddle set low will hugely decrease the energy you can generate with each pedal stroke, making climbing feel much harder and also affecting your traction as your weight will be set too far back on the bike.
Just don’t set your saddle too high, as a rule of thumb your seat should just set just high enough to allow your knee to not quite fully lockout at the bottom of your stroke. This ensures maximum efficiency for pedaling.
Another thing to make sure of is that your saddle is straight and hasn’t been knocked off-center. While we’re on the topic of saddles, this is another hugely important component when it comes to making things comfortable. Many people don’t realize that not all saddles will be comfortable for all bottoms.
Taking your seat measurement and getting a saddle that is compatible with your measurement will make things much more comfortable. If you’re finding it difficult to get a good riding position, a different pair of handlebars can also be a great option, or maybe getting a pair of clamp-on aero bars to allow you to get up in the cockpit a little more confidently.
Finally, a pair of good cycling shorts with a padded insert around the groin area can do a world of good too!
Which is faster, a hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike?
This really depends on the type of riding you plan to do, as well as how experienced the riders are. As a general rule, however, a hardtail will climb hills faster than full suspension bikes due to their better energy transfer to the back wheel and lighter weight.
This climbing efficiency is why professional cross country riders use hardtails, the blend of powerful pedaling, comfortable climbing, and low weight is very hard to beat going uphill.
However full suspension bikes definitely go downhill faster, where the benefits of their better traction and rear suspension allow them to hurtle over rough terrain faster and with more confidence.
This is why professional downhill bikers tend to use full suspension bikes, they simply eat rough terrain and spit out dirt in their wake.