Many mountain bikers learn to ride on a hardtail, though that’s mostly driven by budget rather than intention. Still, some argue key bike handling skills are gained through the rough and tumble of a rigid rear end.
Bonus question for the comments: Was your first mountain bike a hardtail or full suspension? Do you wish you started out riding something else?
I started MTBing back in the day where there was no such thing as suspension. I now coach youth MTB, and ride a mix of hardtail and full sus. I see many younger riders on hardtails and the more advanced riders on full sus. The simple reason there is cost, better to try the sport on a not crazy investment rather than blow your savings on a full sus bike for each child; bearing in mind that I will need (want?) a new bike next year too.
But lets suppose money is no object. Back at Uni I had friends, new to the sport, go out and buy full-sus and and manage to keep up with me on my hardtail. I was really surprised how much full sus lowered the technical ability required to ride the same trail.
As a coach I don’t often care what people are riding, as long as they are happy and confident on their bike. But there are times when I would recommend one over the other.
*think what is is like moving an e-bike, which is a third (ish) of your body weight, with the battery off, and then imagine a 5 year old moving a bike which is more than half their weight; its hard work and not fun.
Hardtails, and even rigid bikes, are great for learning line choice, body position and flow because you get more feedback at lower speeds so the consequences are lower when it goes wrong. If the situation allows, swapping bikes can really open peoples eyes.
But we all now the real answer: you really should have at least one hard tail and one full sus in your shed!
I learned on a hardtail and purchased hairtails for my children and grand children’s to learn on. I use both a HT and FS equally today. It seems to me children are more interested in speed than trail features. Plus, a hardtail does a better overall job of initially teaching one how to manage bumps and holes.
All a hardtail did for me was add frustration to biking. More flats, more ruined rims.
We don’e call ya Grace for nothing! 😀
Ya and it hasn’t ever improved in 30+ years. 🙂
I’m glad I started on (and still ride!) a hardtail but I may be close to buying a full squish for my wife as her first mountain bike. She’s probably never going to want to go very fast or hit difficult trails, so even if hardtails are better for learning handling skills the added comfort of a rear shock may be more important for her. Have any of you had the same thought process?
Can go longer if there’s less fatigue from absorbing bumps, leading to extra time on bike (valuable experience) on FS.
Making a ride last 1 hr is an achievement for a beginner on an HT. They can still pedal, but other parts of them like their ass, back, and wrists start to ache.
Reminds me of the brakeless BMX argument. People associate brakeless with skill, claiming that brakes are a crutch that is hard to wean off to get *real skill*.
Starting out with a lack of brakes (and susp) will prevent you from even trying a lot of stuff due to self-preservation. People act like this is a good thing, as if it’s better to have people stick to beginner stuff for a long time, forcing someone to muster the courage and perhaps shed some blood when moving up, rather than have equipment give the courage to ride higher level stuff sooner and reduce the risk of shedding blood.
I’d mainly consider riding an HT if I were wanting to stuff a quick ride in, and wanted it to be stressful enough to feel fulfilling, and perhaps get a bit wild for some thrills. Another reason to go HT would be if I wanted to handicap myself for a group ride with less advanced riders, which would allow me to feel some suffering alongside them.
Ali Clarkson comes to mind with brakeless… He’s in a far higher class of rider than most tho’.
My first “mountain bike” was back in 1970/71. A remanufactured Schwinn paperboy that hit fire roads and any form of singletrac at the time. Equipped with a kicback 2 speed, it was good times. We had no idea what a helmet was. Just good times!
I had a weird intro to MTB. Starting out as a triathlete and roadie, I got into cyclocross and gravel as a fun/different re-entry point into cycling following a few years off the bike. After developing my off-road skills for a few years, I purchased my first MTB which was actually a fully rigid fatbike (for use on snowed-over gravel roads). I started searching for local easy singletrack to ride on the fattie, then decided I wanted to try some XC racing, so I bought a full squish XC bike. I’ve been having fun seeing what this short-travel dual-sus is capable of over the past year, and now I’m actually thinking I’d really like a hardtail for marathon type riding, so the HT is my next anticipated purchase. Some day a few years out, if/when I’m in an area with more technical trails, I’ll look for a dual-sus trail/all mountain bike.
I’m old. My first MTB was fully rigid because even a suspension fork was a rare beast, and my second, a hardtail, was still from a time when the vast majority of full-suspension bikes were far less efficient climbing. And I like climbing.
This question means something totally different now. After years road-riding only because my back couldn’t take the punishment, my only modern MTB is a Hightower I bought in 2019, and it’s a revelation. Maybe I could climb a little faster on a modern hardtail, but… I’d be a lot more inclined to try a modern short-travel FS bike.
I don’t race, and I’m usually not the slowest rider in a group, so I can’t imagine why I would try to introduce the “thrill” of underbiking to my MTBing. Why would I expect an inexperienced rider to enjoy struggling more from the start?
Of course, the question is also terrain-dependent. There is a very popular and flowy trail system within an hour’s drive where people do ride FS but I’d think a decent gravel bike might be more fun…
A full suspension bike can be a good thing for a beginner since it is more forgiving and will allow a beginner to progress more quickly and more safely with the confidence to try things they might be afraid of on a hard tail. That said, I wouldn’t trade my beginner years on rigid and hard tail bikes.
I started mountain biking in 1985 and owned 5 mountain bikes before Rockshox introduced the RS-1, so all of my learning was on rigid bikes. I finally tried a suspension fork in 1995 and got my first full suspension bike in 2008. I’ve had multiple FS bikes since, but sold my last one in 2017 and I’m back to hard tails now.
I think starting on a hard tail to learn good techniques is a great idea, but I will always be a supporter of “whatever gets you on a bike” and would never fault someone for starting with a full sus.
My first mountain bike was a “12 speed, curly-bar road bike.” When I broke the fork, I bought a Giant Talon – 3×9 and no suspension.
I “graduated” to a hardtail, and now I like the “comfort” of my full sus.
I started on a hardtail and still ride a hardtail exclusively . If you live within a fairly smooth trail system a hardtail is all you need but once it’ gets more rooty and rocky its more about a safety issue .For many if it’s hard starting out many throw in the towel .Actually an ebike would be more appropriate to brake a person in
if you for unclear reason wish to forego one of the suspensions, better skip the front. hardtail gives an unnatural urge to put load on the front wheel. not good, not educational.
the reason it even exists is that it was an easy addon to unsuspended bikes.
it works reasonably well to soften up vibrations on gravel roads and the like, but in gnarly terrain a softtail is better. and a better learner.
Strangely enough I started on a full suspension and resorted to following up with hard tail. Hard tail for me is faster and easier to manage once one learns how to ride the pedals. As for suspension I installed a seat post with integrated spring which gives me ~ 25 mm of cushion which is adjustable for tension. My other bikes are gravel with no suspension other than riding a lower psi. I will never go back to a full suspension unless it’s free and to my liking.
This depends alot on age, climate and trails near you. I live in Arizona in the desert. The only soft we have is deep sand. Not much roots but lots of sharp rock features and loose rock. My back ground was Banana seat bike on wood trails in NJ. Then street BMX freestyle with some poor attempts at half pipe. Many learned in college the hard way that grabbing my bike for a ride home after a few frosty beverages was a bad idea. I had no brakes on it, hah! Fast forward few years and I switched from skiing to mtb (az move and all). First mtb was a hard tail my buddy handed down to me. He was over 6 ft and I’m 5’4″. It had a weird squishy fork and I had no realization the frame was 2 sizes to big. It felt so weird on huge bike and man I had issues with traction, bumps, holding lines, you name it. Another friend got an early FS and I tried it. I felt like a monster truck, holy crap. I went within a few months and got one. That was a 2002 mongoose with maybe 40mm spring travel. I rode it until I got my 2018 Fuel Ex. That was the same kind of leap, no more bounce forward and so much sus to suck up drop ins. But that progression through the tech helped me appreciatethat. Now my daughter is on a fixie Trek Roscoe 24″. The trails around here are rough. There are few we can drive to that are smooth but usually don’t drive to ride. She looks like she is bull riding on some of these decents and just loses line, looses speed, etc. Yes we’ve practice rear wheel lifts, etc, but at speed on steep rock stuff sometimes it’s pick line and hold on, especially in Sedona. Really hurts on chatter in bottom of washes to maintain speed to get out. But 2.6 tire with fixie can work in most other less rocktaskic places. Still I have a full suspension Trailcraft that will be here soon so we can maintain that speed better. She is only 11 so it wouldn’t surpise me if later she went back to hard tail to shed weight or just to use in certain situations. So lots of factors at play. Her fixie would fine in many areas even here if we lived near those smoother more maintained trails. Still she is young. For older riders that wants to explore more than the few smooth trails I’d say get an all mountain full sus. Though my neighbor started riding in his mid 30s with me and only could afford HT. He kinda likes flying the face of convention and proving HT can do it. And he is faster than me in general, however on really steep rocky stuff (like AZT in flag staff) or extended rock gardens he even admits he can’t maintain my speed cause he is not on full suspension to, drop in smoothly, glide over gardens as just looses to much in rear wheel hitting hard here and there where wheel lift is mis timed. Full sus more forgiving on that mis timing.
My first MTB was a full suspension one purchased 20 years ago. I gave it to a friend’s son to use. I recently added a hardtail as it was less expensive and lighter than a full suspension and if it gets stolen off the bike rack on my car it is less of a financial loss. I am thinking of adding a FS bike to provide more control on downhill sections of trails.
My first real mountain bike was a hardtail fatbike in the beginning of 2019. December 2020 I added a full squish enduro bike. Yes, I learned a lot on the fatbike and I really appreciate what my full suspension bike adds to the same and now more challenging trails. Would I have enjoyed full suspension in the beginning? Well, yeah! The progression from hardtail to full suspension was valuable but it isn’t crucial. Probably more budget related in my opinion. Having a hardtail as a loaner for newbies is a great idea to keep things simple.
I started many moons ago on fully ridged bike for many years . It was hard but made u absorb the Bumps. I do t wish that on anyone these days – but still love riddles g my hardtail and of course have a full sus enduro / for lift action fun. I do believe the years on a full ridges and hardtail make you a. Better rider !!
Some wise person once said “the harder something makes it for you the better you are going to progress and reach a higher skillset. If the bike does most of the work all you really are is a passenger.”
If riding green trails occasionally is all you aspire to, then starting with a full squish and a puffy saddle is great. No worries about line choice, bike positioning, etc. I learned to ride blue and black trails on a Huffy fully back in the day, and I’m really glad I did. Arms and legs were great suspension. Floating over gnar on a 160mm bike is great fun, but doesn’t teach riding skills.