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Opinion: Why I Never Switched to a Full-Suspension Bike

By Martin Atanasov

There is one question I often get asked when I’m on the trail. Well, it’s not so much of a question but rather a surprise mixed with a bit of anger and a dose of disappointment – why don’t I get a full-suspension bike? Why do I stick to the good old hardtail despite riding various terrains and even XC races where full suspension would perform better?

Well, if it were 15 years ago, I’d say it’s the price. That’s how it all started, of course. I was young, broke, and could only afford a mid-range hardtail or an entry-level suspension bike knockoff. Since then, times have changed, and I can afford much better bikes. Yet, I still stick to hardtails, despite it all. So, if money is not the reason, why am I so stubborn? Well, here are my seven main reasons.

The climbing is easier

Unlike most other riders, I love climbing. This is my training session and if given the opportunity, I will always prefer to climb over hitching a transport or getting a lift. Yes, it’s slower but the feeling once you’ve conquered 1,500-2,000 meters of elevation is simply out of this world. Furthermore, the beer tastes better and the ride down is so rewarding. Not to mention that most places for proper downhill around my place have absolutely no transport to the top.

So, you have to climb it yourself. An hour of torturing your legs with a 10+% gradient is enough to take any edge over the climb. Hardtails give you precisely that edge. Their geometry is designed to accommodate this specific need. Moreover, despite having the opportunity to lock your shock, the suspension will inevitably absorb some of your input, so you must put in even more effort.

So, as a climbing enthusiast, a full-suspension bike is not really optimal for my riding style. But it’s not all about climbing. I prefer the hardtail on the downhill as well.

You have better control

Controlling a hardtail bike is simply effortless. It’s lighter than a full-suspension bike and often more manoeuvrable. Thus, whether you’re riding on a downhill technical section or between cars in the city, the hardtail will give you much better control. True, it could be a bit more stiff but on the other hand, you can control every aspect of the bike without too much hassle. And true, jumping with a hardtail is a bit more complex but once you get used to it, you can practically do anything you want with any bike.

You feel the trail fully

Feeling the trail as a whole is essential for controlling your bike and perfecting your technique. And while riding downhill with your trusted full suspension is definitely fun, you get some pretty nice handouts along the way. For starters, you don’t have to pay too much attention to the perfect lines, as your full-suspension bike will compensate for any small mistakes. No such thing with hardtails. Everything that’s under your wheels you feel it. Is it loose, is it hard, is it trembling, is it solid? You can literally feel the trail beneath you. So, you can feel the entire trail much better, forcing you to choose the perfect lines and refining your skills as a rider. True, you won’t be able to go as fast as you would with a full-suspension bike, and your hands will be trembling at the bottom of the trail but along the way, you will be teaching a masterclass of control, choosing lines, and technique.

Much easier maintenance

Along with the control, the maintenance is another huge benefit of the hardtail. It simply has a lot fewer components than the full-suspension bike. On top of that, all suspension parts are definitely not cheap, and you need to keep them in top-notch condition if you want to prolong their lives. Your rear shock absorber needs special and gentle care, while a hardtail can be cleaned in a matter of minutes with a hose or a power washer. Then you only have to grease the drivetrain and the fork and you’re ready to go once again. The full-suspension bike simply needs more time and effort to be cleaned and maintained. Not to mention, it generally uses more expensive parts you need to take care of.

Spring MTB
Why do I stick to the good old hardtail despite riding various terrains and even XC races where full suspension would perform better? © Profimedia

You can fit a second bottle

Now, as I mentioned, I love climbing, and furthermore, I love XC. What I can do without, however, is a backpack to crush my shoulders during my 3-4 hour rides. Thus, I’ve long since forsaken the trusty backpack (some winter rides excluded), and I use a nice cycling jersey and several strap-on bags. So, having a second bottle of water on my bike is truly a godsend, especially during mid-summer rides in dryer areas with little to no water along the way. With two bottles, each 800 ml, I can last up to 2.5 hours, so it’s quite enough. Having just one bottle will be extremely limiting as hydration is essential, especially during hard climbs.

It doesn’t attract so much attention

Another major reason I don’t go for a full-suspension bike is the city that I live in. I like riding my bike everywhere. To work, to meet friends, to the cinema, to football matches, even to the airport. Naturally, when I get back to it, I prefer to find it where I left it. Unfortunately, bikes are not as safe as I’d wish them to be in my city. So, having a flashy full-suspension bike is definitely not the safest bet if you use your bike for everyday travel, as I do. True, if someone has some general knowledge of bikes, they will know that my bike is not that cheap but the main point is to deter opportunistic thieves who would try to steal your bike simply because they assume it’s worth something. A hardtail is not that flashy and won’t attract nearly as much attention as a full-suspension bike will.

It’s multifunctional

Finally, the biggest reason why I stick with hardtail bikes is their multifunctionality. Unfortunately, not everyone has the space to keep 3-4 bikes in their home. Especially when you start living with a partner with little to no interest in biking. Yes, there are such cases. Naturally, I can spare space for only one bike. Thus, my hardtail is my road bike, DH bike, XC bike, and commuter bike. Yes, it can’t perform as well as a specific discipline bike, and it can’t compare even a little with a road bike but if I put my slick tyres on, I can go for a 200+ km ride. I could never have done that if I only had a DH bike.

So, while I’d love to have at least ten event-specific bikes, I can have only one and my trusted hardtail is the perfect solution to that problem.

Some final words

This being said, I don’t want to condemn full-suspension bikes in any way. Riding such is truly awesome and if that’s your thing – go for it. However, when it comes to choosing my next bike, hopefully this Christmas (fingers crossed), I’d once again go for a hardtail without any hesitation and without any remorse.