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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Riding Hardtail

By Martin Atanasov

Whenever someone talks about mountain biking, most people imagine those full-suspension bikes that look as if taken out of a sci-fi movie. And why not? Going off-road often requires cushioning your ride. Making it more comfortable. And, of course, most people actually ride those kinds of bikes. However, not everyone.

Seeing a hardtail on a trail is much like seeing a unicorn grazing on a four-leaf clover field, just not that often. Yes, hardtails are the long-forgotten cousin of the full-suspension bike. However, those who pioneered the sport are somehow seen as a burden by most riders today. But, of course, there is that die-hard hardtail enthusiast (like myself) who would never give up on their beloved bike for a cushy substitute. And let me tell you, riding a hardtail is different. It’s not like sitting in an armchair while riding a trail.

Unfortunately, many full-suspension riders who want to try a run with a hardtail don’t realize that there are some vast differences between the two rides. So, if you are among them, let me enlighten you on the 5 most common mistakes people tend to make while riding a hardtail.

Standing up when climbing

Before we go down a hill, first we must get up there. Now, that’s usually the torment of any MTB rider, and if there is a lift, a car, or a sherpa to take you to the top, you will gladly pay any price. That’s especially true if you are riding a DH bike, which weighs slightly less than a jumbo jet. Still, the most fun DH tracks are often only reachable by the good old-fashioned pedaling. If you decide to try a hardtail, the good news is that this is the perfect bike to climb. The bad news is that the technique to make it efficient is entirely different from what you are used to with a full-suspension bike.

Being much lighter, especially in the rear, the bike needs your weight for traction. This means you must not stand up during hard climbs, especially on slippery rocks or dirt. On the other hand, you can just sit on your saddle and pedal like crazy. You will simply lift your front wheel and probably fall. So, you need to find the perfect middle ground, where you are not quite standing up nor sitting down. Sounds fun, right? Relax! It will take you about a minute or so to get used to these new stands, and everything will be a piece of cake afterward.

Being too stiff in the attack position

When you are up the hill, it’s time to prepare for the descent. Now, going down a steep track requires you to go into an attack position. This much is true for hardtails as well. The difference comes with how stiff you are on your bike. With hardtails, you must be much more relaxed. You don’t have suspension at the rear to absorb each and every bump along the ride. Instead, you will have to use your natural shock absorbers – your knees and elbows. So, you must be much more relaxed on your bike. That doesn’t mean just sit back on your saddle and enjoy the bumps ’cause you won’t enjoy them for sure. It means you must be a bit more loose. You need to be able to dance with the trail. To feel it. God knows you will feel every rock on your way down. So, just play with them, enjoy the dance, and enjoy the ride.

Many full-suspension riders who want to try a run with a hardtail don’t realize that there are some vast differences between the two rides. © Profimedia

Choose the same lines as with a full-suspension bike

Speaking of feeling every rock along the way, you might want to get through as little of them as possible. This means your usual lines, which are without a doubt the fastest, won’t do you any good. You must think about your joints and your internal organs while riding a hardtail, so you have to choose not the fastest but the smoothest line instead.

Unfortunately, this comes only through practice, as you will have to assess several features and their terrain in just under a second, and since you are not Chat GPT, you might find that a bit hard. So, if you are riding a hardtail for the first time, or you still haven’t found the right lines for a comfortable descent, take your time. There is no rush. Find the best lines to avoid sharp rocks, sudden drops, and unwanted jumps. Make sure to roll your bike through as many features as possible.

When it comes to jumping, doing it with a hardtail is much easier, but the technique is a bit different. There is no rear shock to eject you once you push down. So, take your time to perfect your bunny hopping before you get on with track jumps.

Being too aggressive with the brakes

Some riders seem to think that using the brakes is a sign of weakness. Well, when it comes to hardtails, this may be the case. At least when compared with a DH bike. When riding a hardtail, you must be much gentler with the brakes as your rear wheel will jump left and right all the time, and grappling at the wrong moment may end up badly. For example, when entering a corner, you must start slowing long before the turn.

There, you can even block the wheels before you get in the turn itself. Once you begin swerving, you must release the brakes and only slightly feather them. Not because you are a daredevil who wants to look cool, but because the rare tire will jump every which way, and blocking it while turning may lead to a crash.

Furthermore, the front brake will be used much more lightly, as the shorter fork movement at the front may lead to something you see in the movies. So, be gentle with the brakes and choose carefully when to brake and when to just slightly feather the lever.

Getting a cheap hardtail

Finally, if you fell in love with riding a hardtail and you want to become the weirdo on your local trail, you might feel the urge to buy a hardtail of your own. Great choice. Still, don’t assume that hardtails are dirt cheap since they lack rear suspension, and you can get one for next to nothing. True, hardtails are more affordable, but a good hardtail will still cost as much as a mid-range full-suspension bike. So, don’t throw your money away by buying a cheap hardtail. If you are getting a bike, treat it respectfully and prepare a budget to get you something good.

Still, when all is said and done, riding a hardtail is not that different from riding any bike. All you need is the right gear and motivation… and slightly tweaking your technique along the way. So, when you get on a hardtail, remember what we’ve discussed. Disregarding these tips won’t be the end of the world, but it will surely make your ride much more uncomfortable.