I'm considering buying a mountain bike and have narrowed it down to two models (make and model aren't important for this question). One model is a full suspension bike (front and back), the other is front suspension only.

What are the advantages/disadvantages to going with a full suspension vs front suspension? (I'd prefer answers from people with experience riding both types of bikes.)


To answer some of the questions looking for more detail... The 2 bikes are roughly in the same price range, around $1000 USD (the full suspension is slightly more money), and my plans are to ride it primarily in some single track trails that are in the area. There will be a lot of hills and rocks and such. I doubt there will be any on-road riding involved.

  • 1
    The answer to this will depend heavily on whether you're going to ride the bike exclusively off-road or not, and your budget: Cheap full-suspension bikes aren't worth the money, but front suspension forks can be useful even off-road. Please reconsider telling us what models you're considering, or at least your budget. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 2:41
  • And also, welcome to the site! Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 2:44

11 Answers 11


If we assume that both models are at about the same price point, here is what you can expect:

  • The hardtail will be substantially lighter than a comparably priced full-suspension bike.
  • The hardtail will likely have a higher level of components and possibly a better front shock because of the increased expense associated with the full suspension frame.
  • Unless you can lock out the rear suspension, you will have higher pedal efficiency on the hardtail.

Your style of riding may dictate that an full-suspension is appropriate, so the best thing to do would be to describe how you want to ride to the professionals at your local bike shop and listen to their advice.

I have an admitted bias toward hardtails (and even fully rigid bikes). I've been riding a long time (since before mountain bikes existed...), and don't really ride anything seriously aggressive off-road (but I have ridden a lot of Utah Red Rock Desert). I've tried several full-suspension bikes, but for my type and style of riding I've not been convinced that the added cost to get to a similar weight/component mix was worth it.

  • 2
    As someone who rides almost all well-maintained single track (still with interesting drops and rocks and trees), I would +1 the above recommendation for hard tail. Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 1:33
  • 4
    At the same price point (and around 1K)- it has to be a hard tail. I suggest looking closely at component specs, weight etc. Until you hit about $2K, the Hard tail will be a better bike. At 2K, you get a useable soft tail vs a great hard tail. Keep in mind a good rear shock will set you back $500-$1K
    – mattnz
    Commented Aug 19, 2012 at 22:47

This choice really does depend on what kind of terrain you will be riding on. I'm also assuming you are intending to buy a quality full suspension bike. Anything under like $800-$1,000 USD, don't bother. Go hard tail with a good fork.

The bumpier the terrain, the more a full suspension bike will help suck up the hard hits. You can really fly over rocks and roots and things on a full suspension, that would beat you up more or kick the bike out a bit on a hard tail.

In general, I'd say:

Full Suspension:

+ More stable at speed over rough terrain (get bounced around less)
+ Faster over rough terrain, flat or downhill
+ Overall more comfortable for a long ride
- Increased cost
- Increased complexity and maintenance
- Slower on climbs
- Lower pedaling efficiency (slower in a sprint) (shock with a lockout helps)

Hard Tail:

+ Faster on climbs and sprints
+ Reduced cost
+ Reduced complexity and maintenance
+ Frame geometry less important (no linkages and travel arcs to think about)
+ Faster on roads and smooth trails, if you don't always do technical rough offroad
  trails (generally better all-purpose?)
- Hard to blow quickly over rough rocky terrain (get bounced around a lot)
- Increased rider fatigue over longer distances

Personally, I only ride full suspension offroad any more. My hardtail got re purposed into a paved/gravel trail bike with skinnier tires (and now that I finally bought a road bike, it just sits unused)

  • 1
    I'd add that while a full-suspension bike may be slower on smooth climbs (e.g. tarmac or fire roads), it will actually aid you on rougher, more technical climbs. The suspension allows the wheel to stay in contact with the ground more of the time, and on many designs the chain actually pulls the wheel into the ground. It all adds up to increased traction. Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 16:17

Let me introduce you to the term 'Bicycle Shaped Object'...

A 'Bicycle Shaped Object' (BSO) is not to be confused with a real bicycle. You get them in department stores, catalogue shops and supermarkets. They look like bicycles but they are not. Some BSOs come with 'full suspension' and this is the older patent-free design that gives 'pedal bob' - as you pedal the rear suspension goes up and down each time you pedal. There is no effort made in the design to separate 'suspension' from 'transmission' so it all inter-relates badly.
That said, if you were doing something like a paper-round and needed to get up and down kerbs then a BSO with hideous full suspension will be okay. To actually go on anything that looks like a mountain with it then you will quickly learn that you have a BSO rather than a real bicycle.

When it comes to real bikes, if you have the money, then you will be completely sold on full suspension 'normal' mountain bikes as soon as you ride on the slightest rough surface with one. Do note that there are all kinds of full suspension bikes nowadays, including 'downhill only' ones that are heavy unwieldy beasts with acres of suspension travel that only make sense if you don't do that pedalling thing.

Take a look at the high end full suspension models designed for the trail, also feel the weight of them. Some models from the top brands are now amazingly light considering the mechanical complexity of them. Part of the expense of these bikes comes down to patent royalties. The suspension and the transmission forces are separated and you do not get obviously problematic pedal bob. In my opinion full suspension bikes are quicker over rough terrain because you 'float' over the rocks rather than take a hit out of them.

A decade ago I was very sceptical of full suspension, nowadays, with lightweight models that have sensible geometry, I am fully sold. Plus they look cool and you feel good riding one. If the money isn't there for something sensibly high end, or if you do a lot of riding on the road, then go hardtail.

  • 4
    I Like this post! - but doesnt much help answer the question
    – Mark W
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 13:59
  • +1 - Good post. In your opinion what is the entry price point to not have a BSO. Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 22:38
  • 7
    This kind of answer/mentality is the reason entry-level riders get so turned off of the sport. Pilots over on Aviation.SE don't accuse each other of flying "airplane-shaped objects" when discussing ultralights. Musicians don't accuse each other of playing "trumpet-shaped objects" (what little there is is mostly among guitarists with more money than talent). Hockey players with $50 wooden sticks aren't sneered at for using "stick-like objects" by those with $150 CF shafts. Yet it's perfectly acceptable in cycling for shop owners to openly insult shoppers asking for a < $1000 "BSO".
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 18:35
  • 7
    @KeithS I would say more people get discouraged from cycling by riding heavy unwieldy bikes that look hi-tech and flashy in the catalogues but are exhausting and uncomfortable to ride. I don't think there is any price point where buying one is justified. If you can only afford(/want to spend) £100, look on ebay/craigslist/gumtree. A second hand rigid/ht mtb would be orders of magnitude better and let new riders enjoy the sport much more.
    – Holloway
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 10:21
  • 1
    @KeithS To be fair, this answer was posted an hour and a half before the asker clarified that they were going to spend about a grand on their new bike. But I think musicians do say that cheap instruments bought from non-specialist suppliers are generally a bad idea; there isn't really an analogue for planes because nobody makes cheap, low-quality new plane. Maybe the term "BSO" does come across as overly dismissive but the underlying concept is useful. Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 13:28

The advantages of a front suspended bike is that holding the handlebar in off-road downhill is way less tiring and comfortable, and above a certain speed (and if the fork suspension is good enough) you will have much better grip on the ground and steering/braking control.

The downside is that if you can't lock the suspension you might feel it's absorbing power when you're pushing hard on pedals (you will mostly want to lock it only on very smooth uphill surfaces). Also consider a little more weight (air suspension is not that heavy, though), and periodical maintenance.

The same is true if you add a rear suspension, but doubled: the downhill comfort and control is much greater, and you'll have greater comfort even on rough uphills (this makes a full suspended bike very suitable for long all mountain rides).

Again, the downside is more power absorption (but there are good technologies to limit this, ex: Fox's Pro Pedal), some more weight and maintenance and quite a lot more money.

So, if you think you'll be going off-road for most of your time, trying to be fast in downhill, or having long mountain rides, or you have back troubles, I'd suggest a full suspended bike.

If you're mostly riding roads and country tracks, a front suspended bike will be more suited.

Note that with both bikes you still can ride both kind of paths, but of course they're better on those they were designed for.

(I've been riding both on- and off-road, with rigid, front and full suspended bikes.)

  • It's kind of subjective but I kinda think the effect of the rear suspension is more than double. Being able to lay down power all the time because the rear wheel is constantly in contact with the ground is awesome. Fundamentally I agree with your answer though. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 15:06
  • 1
    At $1000 for a FS, I doubt you can lay down the power all the time....
    – mattnz
    Commented Aug 19, 2012 at 22:35

I know that Ned Overend successfully campaigned a full-suspension bike in some of his off-road "ironman" triathlons, and that at least one pro MTB racing team fielded a full-suspension model with good results some years ago.

However, in both these cases, we're talking sponsored riders with extensive budgets and factory support; and likely a factory mechanic to go along...

For most riders, a hardtail will be more than adequate. Riding technique becomes involved; your legs are after all suspension of sorts but that does require a lot of effort over really rough terrain. Remember, a good rear shock absorber can cost as much as many entry-level bikes.

  • How does this answer the question? As far as I understand, you are saying that some professional riders use full suspension bikes. Well, of course! I guess most DH racers use a full suspension bike.
    – Vorac
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 7:07

Depends on your fitness, back strength and duration of your rides.

You choose the Hardtail (front suspension) if you want the fastest ride, and you are able to stand up on the most bumpy sections, including bumpy sections that are flat or slightly downhill, where you benefit from pedaling. The hardtail will be lighter, and more stiff and efficient at transferring power when you stand up on the climbs.

You choose the full suspension if you either are not super strong in your back, or you plan on going for very long epic endurance rides. It will be faster on flat and downhill parts of the trail too. On my local singletrail, the record time was ridden was on a full suspension with remote lockout for both front and rear (you flick a lever on the handlebar to lock both front and rear suspension, making it more effective on climbs).

That being said, a full suspension bike will normally cost more than a similar-quality hardtail - if they cost the same you are either getting a very good deal or the full-suspension bike is of lower quality. As well, low-end full suspension bikes can be a horrible experience, so if you are purchasing your first or a budget bike, this would point in the direction of a hardtail.


Interesting comments. I guess many of us have to agree to disagree. I have both a full suspension and a hardtail with rigid front fork. The hardtail is a carbon fiber fat bike and now that I have ridden one, I don't think I will ever switch back to a normal MTB on trails. The grip and stability are amazing with fat bikes. Ok, I know this wasn't about fat bikes, but wanted to throw that in there since they are newer. I ride standing up about 80% of the time, so I prefer no suspension for better transfer of power. I ride anywhere from 6-10miles at a time and love high intensity and hill climbs. I'm over 40yrs old and weight 230lbs. I see most older or heavier people sit most of the time, so if that is you, then you probably want full suspension.


A good full-suspension bike will make offroad riding better in two respects:

1) The rear suspension can help keep your rear tire almost glued to the dirt, meaning better traction when needed; 2) The rear suspension can help soak up trail buzz, resulting in greater comfort/less fatigue, especially if you don't have the bod of an elite cyclist with noodle arms and a concave chest.

I've ridden a local trail with my 1980's vintage MTB (no suspension) and my recent vintage full-suspension bike (Trek Fuel EX 8) and it is like night and day. The bike weight is roughly the same (they built those first-generation MTBs like tanks), but I can go much faster and more comfortably on my Trek Fuel EX 8, especially when I am descending. The full suspension on the Trek makes it much more controllable and comfortable.

I admit that I have been passed by guys on hardtails many times, but I outweigh these guys by a few pounds and I definitely don't have the elite cyclist bod. I'm also older than most of them, judging based on appearance. Those are two factors that none of the other responders to-date have mentioned: age and size/weight.

In a nutshell, according to my experience, if you are young and/or thin, you may do just fine with a hardtail. But if you are not young and/or not thin, you would probably find greater enjoyment with a FS bike. Most of the folks that I ride with would qualify as "Clydesdales," meaning they weigh 200 lbs or more. All of the Clydes have FS bikes for offroad riding.

  • 2
    Whats the price points of the two bikes you have compared? Effectively all you have said is "My 2012 Lexus is a much better car than that my 1980 Ford" - guess what - No one is surprised at the result. How about comparing the ride of a modern Hardtail agianst a modern soft tail AT THE SAME PRICE POINT.
    – mattnz
    Commented Aug 19, 2012 at 22:45

I disagree with most of what has been said here. A full suspension bike is more comfortable, rides better, is easier for your body on longer rides and it is just better than hardtails in pretty much everything. For example, if you take a look at MTB XC World Cup you will see a lot of pros riding a full suspension, and keep in mind that even though their only aim is to have the fastest bike possible to win, you see full suspension bikes, so they are effective.

I also disagree with the price tags. There are good, cheap full suspension bikes, as you can see here (I can't post more than 2 links :-( ).

The only situation where I understand someone riding a hardtail on MTB is if you have more fun in it, in which case, man go for it. Even though I highly recommend you trying both before buying anything.

The only downside I see on a full suspension for MTB use is that these frames and rear shocks require maintenance, but you won't need to sell a kidney on the yearly ride to the shop.

  • 1
    I checked the first link and it has a £1500 ($2200 US) price tag. That's far from affordable for most people. After checking the other links, that's the cheapest on you linked to. At this price level, full suspension is a good thing to consider, but at $1000 or below, the quality of full suspension isn't very good, and you'd be better off with just front suspension.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 17:56
  • I was thinking on the $2000 price tag someone talk about, not on the $1000 from the original poster. I agree with you that at this price range the compromise on the frame and components makes it worth to go for a rigid.
    – super
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 11:03
  • Have to disagree with the point about the World Cup XC riders. These guys are on custom build $10K+ bikes, a very different machine to an off the shelf $1500 bike. What you have done is the same as saying you don't need an engine bigger than 1600cc in you car to go fast, because Formula One have 1600 cc engines and look how fast they go.
    – mattnz
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 23:19
  • Read the comment right before yours. Also, if I was biking for leisure, I would buy some of the nice full suspension bikes you can get for $1500, such as konaworld.com/precept_dl.cfm or giant-bicycles.com/en-us/bikes/model/stance.27.5.2/18767/76215
    – super
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 7:39

Front with a lockout for better friction on the road. rear's good for fast downhill, otherwise get a soft seat or one with a shock right underneath it. diff? front is in the fork; back is built t 45 into the frame.


For anybody viewing this now, go for the hardtail. 1000$ will not get you far for a full sus while a 1000$ hardtail will. The suspension on the rear will not be worth the weight and the whole bike will most likely be a time bomb. If it is a used bike, then there is more hope. Find the original retail price and check bicycle bluebook, they have a recommended price list for basically every bike ever. For your situation, the best scenario would be to save up money and buy a proper full suspension.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.