What is a suspension system?

A key component to consider when researching your new bike purchase, the suspension system is what makes a mountain bike, well, suitable for mountains! Designed for the same purpose as suspension systems in other modes of transport and automobiles, a bicycle suspension absorbs the lumps, bumps and jumps of the terrain. 

There are many disciplines of riding in Mountain biking, so the type and level of suspension that is appropriate will depend on the rider and their budget.

What is the difference between hardtail and full suspension bikes?

Mountain bikes generally fall into two categories of suspension systems: full suspension and hardtail. Bikes with no suspension are often referred to as rigid forks. These are more commonly featured on Road and Hybrid Bikes for use on smooth, flat terrains such as tarmac since they absorb minimal impact.

The bike’s suspension is designed to take the rider’s weight as well as absorb terrain impact by compressing the suspension system. Most suspension systems have a range of adjustment to give a suitable level of ‘travel’ and ‘sag’ for the rider.


What do ‘travel’ and ‘sag’ mean on a mountain bike?
‘Travel’ is the maximum depth the suspension system can compress to absorb impact before it hits bottom. Riding on certain terrains with inadequate suspension travel can be dangerous for you, and your bike.

‘Sag’ is the amount your suspension system compresses under your body weight when sitting on the bike. We recommend using your manufacturer’s recommendation as a starting point when setting your sag.

What is a hardtail bike?

Also known as front suspension, a hardtail suspension bike consists of only a front suspension fork and will offer no shock absorption in the back of the bike frame. As such, hardtail bikes are typically more efficient, more responsive and easier to manoeuvre. 

What are hardtails best suited for?

If you’re looking for something suitable for all-purpose riding, you might consider a hardtail bike. Hardtail suspension is a versatile option that is perfect for smooth gravel, stone and woodland trails as well as commuting. Skilled riders and those in good physical condition might take to rougher and rockier terrains and technical trails, and these are still possible especially on a hardtail with long travel. However, if you’re a beginner or suffer from previous injuries such as knee or joint problems, a hardtail bike is likely to be quite uncomfortable in these scenarios. So if this is what you’re looking to do, you might want to consider a full suspension option instead.

Due to its lighter weight, the hardtail is a great beginner and commuter-friendly option since it will be more responsive to your movement giving you better-handling capabilities. Easier on the uphills, and great when speed is important – hardtails are also considered more efficient, with better power transfer meaning it’s much easier to gain momentum.

Since a hardtail bike offers less protection against terrain impacts, it encourages riders to pick their paths carefully and use their legs more, so it is considered a great starting point for beginners to learn essential riding skills.

However, steep descents become somewhat more disconcerting with only front fork suspension. As weight distribution is more difficult, there’s an increased risk of being sent over the handlebars meaning a hardtail is less suitable for this style of riding.

What is a full suspension bike?

Also known as dual-suspension, a full suspension bike consists of front suspension forks as well as a rear shock absorber typically with a coil or linkage mechanism. Therefore, full suspension bikes offer more comfort and provide a greater sense of control and confidence. 

Rear Shock System

What is full suspension suitable for?

Unless you are riding a smooth trail, a full-suspension mountain bike is always going to be more comfortable than a hardtail. When taking to rougher trails, drops and jumps a hardtail bike comparatively requires much more effort where your rear wheel is likely to be bouncing around. Even a short-travel full-suspension bike gives much better control.

Moreover, you can expect a much smoother ride on rugged terrain with a grippier rear wheel on a full suspension bike. Combined with its weightier frame, this added control will allow you the confidence to ride faster over the bumpier trails.

However, the added mechanical complexity of a rear shock suspension can also have its hindrances. Even a carbon full suspension bike is likely to be heavier than a hardtail counterpart, making long uphills a challenge even for the fittest of riders. Equally, the added componentry won’t take kindly to particularly muddy or boggy areas and can easily become clogged with mud meaning faster wear and increased maintenance costs are common.

But what about price? 

Are Hardtails cheaper?

Historically, this has been the case. An entry-level hardtail bike would be the cheapest way to get into mountain biking. Whether it’s the best option for you depends on your style and regularity of riding, however. When it comes to price, everything is relative.

As with any bike, one component, such as the suspension system, cannot be viewed in isolation. There are many other components to a bike that will influence the price and performance such as groupset, geometry and frame material. Consequently, the cost of a hardtail bike might be the same or more than that of a full suspension bike. And rightly so, depending on your style of riding and the quality of the components.

With no rear suspension, you can invest in other components to improve your hardtail’s performance to suit your riding style. This is where the price of your hardtail will increase.

If you are on a tight budget and plan to ride mostly on smooth trails, a hardtail suspension will be the most affordable option. Additionally, it is generally easier to maintain a hardtail making it cheaper in the long run. 

Is Full Suspension worth the cost?

For a beginner who wants to jump straight into rooty trails and enjoy riding the technical trails (in comfort!), a full suspension bike is a better investment. Whilst it’s possible to find a hardtail bike at a cheaper entry price, if you plan to take on the rougher terrains then you’re likely to spend the same amount on a hardtail bike with a higher quality specification as you would on an entry-level full suspension bike without sacrificing your fun. 

As with any bike, it’s always possible to upgrade your componentry as your skill and requirements evolve meaning that your entry-level full suspension bike doesn’t need to remain that way. Investing in a higher-quality groupset, front fork and other components will all improve your bike’s performance.

However, due to its added complexity, a full suspension system requires increased maintenance to the more simple hardtail mechanics and therefore you’re likely to spend more when it comes to a full suspension bike.

Equally, if you will often ride in boggy or muddy conditions, even a hardtail with higher quality components is likely to be a much cheaper option than a full suspension bike as you won’t have to worry about clogged rear suspensions (and ultimately more costly maintenance).

Hardtail vs full suspension: In Summary

Full SuspensionHardtail
Perfect for: Big bumps and jumps, downhill riding, rough and demanding terrain, days at the Bike park, accelerating your technical skills with more confidence.Perfect for: Fast-flowing smooth trails, versatile use from light gravel/stone and woodland trails to commuting, Beginner mountain bikers with limited budget, easier uphills, building essential riding skills. 
Not so perfect for: Regular muddy or boggy rides, steep uphills when there’s no uplift or cable cars.Not so perfect for: Large jumps, technical/rocky trails, those with previous injuries like knee or joint issues, steep hills.
Maintenance: Generally higher cost and more frequently required depending on use.Maintenance: Generally easier to maintain and therefore lower cost (dependent on use).
Weight: HeavierWeight: Lighter
Price: Starting from around £1200Price: Starting from around £350

Want to know what else to consider when buying a mountain bike? Read our complete Mountain Bike Buying Guide

Find your perfect bike with Paul’s Cycles

At Pauls Cycles, we offer a wide selection of quality bikes from top brands at great prices. With finance from 0% and pay later options, investing in the right Full Suspension or Hardtail Bike can be made easy. Why not save further? We support most major Cycle To Work schemes, allowing you to make pre-tax salary sacrifice savings. If you have questions about sizing, see our Bike Size Guide or get in touch with our team of experts.