Words: Sarah Devriese
The hardtail community might be small but it is mighty. People who embrace front suspension only seem to have a story behind their bike. “There were these mad men on hardtails, all from Chromag, and they were smiling the whole time [during the Four Queens race in Whistler], and when I asked them about it, they just said that the hardtail made the race that much more ridiculous and it was so much fun. It got me thinking about it, and the more I thought, the more I liked the idea, even though I had not ridden a hardtail in ages,” says Steve Sheldon from TORCA. Together with the words of a few other fanatics, here’s why the hardtail is so fun to ride.
First of all, there is nothing cooler than ripping down a technical piece of trail here in British Columbia than doing so on your hardtail. You are immediately awarded 1000 cool points. Just check out any of those videos by Chromag. However, that’s not me ripping fast down anything so I can’t really use this selling point.
So why consider a hardtail? If you are interested in mountain biking but are new to it, a hardtail is an excellent first bike. It’s not as expensive as a full suspension bike so it lets you figure out if you like the sport in the first place at a lower cost. If you fall in love like the rest of us, I think you will then be in a better position to buy a full-suspension bike that works for you.
Hardtails are also good tools for beginners because they make you think. A hardtail is not as forgiving as a full-suspension bike, thus you have to consider your line selection and timing. “I know that when I’m on my hardtail, I have to pick the nicest line, the smoothest option, and I need to be on my game. There is no suspension back there compensating for my mistakes,” says Jaclyn Delacroix, owner of Ozmosis Training. It forces you to ride smoother. You have to be in control of the bike. And you have to remember your bike-body separation. These are great skills to learn as a beginner.
Hardtails also reinforce proper body position. “It forces me to keep my elbows and knees out, to let the bike move underneath me. And it teaches me to use my legs and knees as the suspension,” explains Judy Garren, who’s ridden a hardtail for many years. A lack in suspension forces the rider to use their body to absorb the bumps. Proper body position ensures these bumps are absorbed without losing control of the bike. You also quickly learn where to place your feet on the pedals.
No rear suspension causes more bouncing so unless your feet are correctly placed, you may bounce off the pedals. To avoid this precarious situation, keep the heels slightly down when descending. This allows your foot to apply forward pressure against the pedal. Instead of bouncing off the pedals, you will be braced against them. That same lack of rear suspension aids in climbing compared to a full-suspension bike. I find myself faster and more efficient on climbs using my hardtail. I’ve also learned to apply a rear-wheel lift in practice to get over roots and technical bits.
A major reason why many people like a hardtail is that it requires less maintenance than its full-suspension companions. The lack of a rear shock immediately eliminates any shock servicing needs. Bonus! This is especially nice when riding in the winter, when the bike can get caked in mud. My bike also shed its front derailleur so that I can easily clean the frame and drivetrain. The simplicity of a clutter-free triangle is sexy and natural.
I recently just only rode my hardtail for more than a month. The first ride back on a full-suspension bike, I was faster and more precise. It was one of the most exhilarating rides of the year. It’s like a swimmer practicing with hair on his (or her) legs. Then on race day, he shaves, giving him that extra edge he didn’t have during training. It’s so fun to experience that kind of improvement in your riding.
Finally, steel beats aluminum. Steel gives a little flex to the frame, allowing for a softer feel than the harsh aluminum frame. If interested in a hardtail, make it steel. Or titanium, if you have deep pockets.
See you on the trails!
My name is Jaclyn Delacroix, I live work and play on Vancouver's North Shore, this is my story.