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Rigid vs. Hardtail vs. Full Suspension Bikes

By Sam Millers   /  Last updated - November 19, 2020

Having a bike to match the type of riding you’re doing will make all of the difference to the enjoyment of your ride. Whether you like riding on the road, a smooth trail, or something covered in roots and rocks, it is important to know what type of bike you should have. The right bike will allow you to perform well, and you will have the most fun. In this article, we are going to explain the differences, and positives and negatives of rigid bikes, hardtails, and full suspension bikes.

The factor that changes between each of these categories is the amount of suspension that the bike has. Suspension helps to absorb impacts but can also affect the efficiency of pedal strokes. Read on to find out what style of bike will work best for you!

Mountain bike types



What is a rigid bike?

When a bike is described as rigid or fully rigid, it simply means that the bike has no suspension. BMX bikes, road racing bikes, cruiser bikes, and hybrid bikes are all examples of rigid bikes. Notice that all of these types of bikes should be ridden on mostly smooth ground. This is because they are all designed for purposes that exclude going off-road.

A BMX bike is designed for tricks on the street, in skate parks, or to be raced on hard-packed BMX tracks. A road racing bike is designed to be pedaled efficiently along a road so that the rider can cover a large distance with little effort. A cruiser or hybrid bike is usually ridden around town as a form of exercise and general transportation. As you can see, none of these rigid bikes are made to be ridden on rough terrain. Instead, they are used for transport and leisure along roads, and in towns or cities.

Surly Krampus

The exception: Rigid mountain bikes

There is one exception to the idea that rigid bikes are supposed to be ridden on smooth ground and that is the rigid mountain bike. Rigid mountain bikes are becoming a rare sight and are modern-day novelty when it comes to mountain bikes. Their lack of suspension makes trails feel completely different than they would on a regular mountain bike. People ride rigid mountain bikes as a fun way to fine-tune their mountain bike skills. Just remember that riding a rigid mountain bike on trails is much harder than riding a hardtail or full suspension mountain bike. For ultimate efficiency, we wouldn’t recommend a rigid mountain bike. However, if you are looking for something to add a fun challenge to your mountain biking, a rigid bike may be just for you.

Benefits of a rigid bike

The biggest benefit of riding a rigid bike is the ability to easily “put the power down”. By this, I mean that when you pedal, there is no suspension taking away any power from that pedal stroke. Almost all of the force becomes forward motion as you spin the cranks around and around. Put simply, rigid bikes are more efficient than a hardtail or full suspension bikes when it comes to peddling.

Another advantage of rigid bikes is steering sensitivity. You feel the surface you are on directly with no suspension cushioning to take out the harshness. The lack of suspension damping means your steering feels very responsive. There is also no brake dive (when your suspension goes through its travel in a corner due to braking and G-force) to worry about when cornering hard with rigid bikes.

As you can see rigid bikes have plenty of advantages, but there is also a big downside.

Disadvantages of a rigid frame bicycle

The number one disadvantage of a rigid bike is the lack of cushion that suspension offers. On a rigid bike, you feel every bump. They are not always the most comfortable rides.

Another big disadvantage is that without suspension, it is harder to perform well off-road. So if you like to ride mountain bike trails from time to time, I recommend you get a bike with some suspension. Riding a rigid bike off-road is possible, but it requires a fair amount more effort than a hardtail or full suspension bike would.


What is a hardtail? 

More often known as the hardtail mountain bike, while hybrid bikes with front suspension are simply called as hybrid bikes with a front suspension. 

A hardtail is quite simply a bike with front suspension but no back suspension. Hardtails are almost always mountain bikes but there are occasions where cruiser or comfort bikes will make use of some type of front suspension.

Hardtails are great for a rider who likes to ride around town as well as ride off-road trails. They bridge the gap between rigid bikes and full suspension bikes. The front wheel (in theory) always makes contact with bumps, roots, and rocks before any other part of the bike. Putting suspension on the front will cushion the main blow taking out a lot of the harshness from the impact. People coming from rigid bikes are amazed by how much of a difference a suspension fork can make.

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Benefits of a hardtail mountain bike

There is a reason many cross-country mountain bikers race aboard hardtails, it is the hardtail’s combination of high efficiency and capability. The suspension on the front is great for absorbing bumps and helping riders through rough sections of the course. The stiff rear end offers a solid pedaling platform so riders can pedal hard without any suspension-bob (when a rider pedals and the rear suspension compresses under the force) that is often found on full suspension bikes.

Another benefit to hardtails is that they are usually much lighter than full-suspension bikes. So for mountain bikers who don’t want anything too heavy, but still need some suspension, a hardtail is a good option.

Disadvantages of a hardtail

A hardtail is good for its middle ground abilities, but that is also its downfall. A hardtail is okay off-road, but on really rough trails you will want a full-suspension bike. A hardtail is decent on the road, but if you plan on riding lots of road than a road racing bike is still much more efficient. So if you want a bike to do one thing really well, it probably falls into one of the other categories.


What is a full-suspension bike?

A full-suspension bike is a bike that involves front and rear suspension. The amount of suspension on a full suspension bike can differ greatly depending on the type of riding that you are doing. Full suspension bikes are also always mountain bikes.

Riders who find themselves riding rough off-road trails regularly will find that a full-suspension bike will most likely fit the bill for them. Full suspension bikes are ridden for leisure and racing more than they are for transportation.


Benefits of a full-suspension bike

The biggest benefit of a full-suspension bike is clearly the cushion that it offers when out on a ride. Both the front and rear ends of the bike work hard to absorb bumps, roots, rocks, and pretty much anything else that you ride over. As the suspension works, it helps the rider maintain momentum through technical sections of a trail.

Another benefit to riding a full suspension bike is the extra traction that the suspension will help you find. As you roll over the rough ground, suspension works to keep your wheels on the ground, which in turn results in more traction.

Confidence is the final benefit that a full-suspension bike tends to offer. When the bike helps absorb a lot of the harshness of a trail, it is easier to find the confidence to ride more aggressively. Lines that are simply not possible on a rigid bike can become a reality on a full-suspension bike.

Disadvantages of a full-suspension bike

One major disadvantage of a full-suspension bike is the suspension-bob. When you pedal hard and the rear suspension compresses, much of your power that would otherwise be forwards momentum is lost. Modern full-suspension bikes have great pedal platforms compared to bikes from 10 years ago, but they are still not as efficient as peddling a rigid or hardtail bike.

The next problem with full suspension bikes is the extra weight that comes from the rear shock and linkage. Top-quality full suspension bikes are becoming quite lightweight nowadays, but are still not as light as a top-quality hardtail or rigid bike would be.


Overall – What should you buy?

After reading this article you should have a pretty good idea as to what style of bike will fit your need best. However, I will quickly break down which category each type of rider will likely find the best. Remember to choose a bike that is practical for you. Other styles of bikes may appeal to you, but if you don’t make use of it properly, then you may as well buy a bike that you can make good use of.

Rigid bikes: A rider who spends all of their time on pavement, or very smooth ground will likely want to buy a rigid bike. The peddling efficiency just can’t be beaten.

Hardtails: The ideal hardtail rider is someone who likes to ride both on and off-road. However, it may also be for hardcore mountain bikers who love the responsiveness of a solid rear end when out on a trail.  Mountain bikers who want a super light bike should also choose a hardtail.

Full suspension bikes: Full suspension bikes are for riders who like to ride rough off-road trails. The massive difference between types of full-suspension bikes encourages a huge variety of trail types. The rougher the trail you like to ride, the more suspension your full-suspension bike should have (to an extent).