Hardtail Mountain Bike Guide
Why should you go for a Hardtail?
A hardtail mountain bike is a versatile and all-terrain bike that has no rear shock and is equipped with either rigid forks or front suspension. A hardtail tends to be lighter and cheaper than a full - suspension bike and are a great choice for entry level and accomplished riders alike.
Looking for your first bike? Then look no further than a hardtail mountain bike. A hardtail is an incredibly versatile bike that can be used on a variety of terrains depending on the level of spec you go for. They are also far easier to look after, requiring much less maintenance than a full-suspension MTB. There's no 'pedal bob' that comes with a fluid rear end, meaning that none of the effort and power you put in will be lost via the movement of the rear shock. You can tackle most green and blue off-road routes with a half-decent hardtail, giving you time to decide whether mountain biking is for you and whether you need to upgrade to a proper off-road full-sus dirt demon. As a general rule be wary of Full-suspension bikes available under the £1000 mark as they may sacrifice frame and component quality for the addition of a rear shock, leaving you worse off than if you'd opted for a high end hardtail instead.
A hardtail is your ticket back to the purity of mountain biking in the early days of the sport. With no rear suspension to save you if you make a mistake, trail riding on a hardtail is all about technique and body position. Riding a hardtail, you are more inclined to choose your lines with extra care and adjust your body to ensure that your legs are sturdy and counter the increased vibrations from the bikes rear end. A fantastic choice for winter training, the narrow tyres demand precision and the lack of rear suspension will save you many dirty hours cleaning gunk out of your rear shock - by the time you return to your full-suspension bike you will be riding with increased efficiency and speed due to the improvements in your technique and body-bike separation from a spell on a hardtail.
Types of Hardtail
Cross country, or XC, mountain biking is where the sport began. Rolling single-track, varying terrains and long-distance routes are all to be found within this discipline. As such, an XC bike is designed to complement endurance and fast riding. A high gear range, narrow tyres and bars, 75-100mm front suspension and a steep head tube angle are often seen on XC bikes due to the need for a stretched riding position that is comfortable for long periods in the saddle and to create a machine capable of going downhill, but predominately to keep you going fast up the hills and around the trails.
The all- rounder's of the group, trail hardtails are manufactured with more relaxed angles (I.e. slacker head tube), shorter stems, wider bars and gear range and anywhere between 100-150mm front travel. These bikes are designed to offer enough suspension to descend efficiently without compromising climbing ability by being too saggy. Trail hardtails are a brilliant option if you aren't quite sure what discipline of cycling you're most interested in and require something that can take you anywhere and everywhere in style.
Enduro is a race discipline where you are timed on your descents but not on the bits in-between such as climbing and getting to and from different downhill sections. Enduro bikes therefore focus a lot more on the descending side of off-road riding, providing high levels of front travel (140-170mm) that combines with a long wheelbase, long top tube and shorter stems that allow an aggressive riding style and excellent rider control at high speeds. Enduro bikes are very similar to full-on downhill/gravity bikes, but you are far more likely to see a hardtail enduro bike as they are lighter and easier to fix - two key elements to success in a race, appealing directly to the competitive enduro riders looking for any slight advantage over their rivals.
Electric bikes have come on leaps and bounds in recent years. It is now possible to pick up an electrically assisted hardtail MTB that has geometries specifically designed for off-road riding, compensating for their extra weight with a punchy pedal-assisted motor to give you a boost on the tougher climbs of the trail. You can go further and faster and explore previously inaccessible trails with your new-found power - what's not to like?!
Hardtail bikes are manufactured out of different materials depending on their price point and intended usage:
Traditionally all bikes were made from steel due to its durability, strength and riding comfort. However, it is less prevalent these days due to its comparative weight and stiffness to weight ratio, when compared to other materials like carbon fibre and aluminium.
The most common material used to manufacture bikes in the modern market, aluminium is lightweight, durable and offers far better power transfer and stiffness to weight ratios than steel frames. Higher end aluminium frames can be butted (varying the thickness of the tubes) to reduce overall weight without compromising the overall strength of the frame.
Reasonably rare on anything but the higher end of hardtails on the market, carbon fibre is the lightest and strongest material used to create bicycle frames. The choice of pro riders, carbon frames offer unrivalled stiffness-weight ratios and fantastic rider comfort due to the vibration dampening qualities of the material.
Traditionally all MTB wheels were 26 inch wheels, excellent in tight spaces but not so good for rolling over larger obstacles or XC racing. These shortcomings of the 26 inch wheel led to the development of 29inch wheels at the turn of the century. These 29inch wheels, the same size as a road bikes , became the go to choose for riders looking for extra speed at the expense of more precise steering. In the mid-2000s 27.5(650b) wheels entered the market, offering a halfway house option that provided the best of both worlds - precise steering with reasonable contact levels and rolling ability on the ground. Think of it a little like this, a smaller wheel has higher acceleration rates but much less contact areas with the ground meaning something that is quick and nimble but not particularly grippy or obstacle resistant whereas a larger wheel will have lower acceleration rates but more contact areas, therefore offering more rolling resistance but better grip and overall top speed once you get going to its ability to navigate larger obstacles.
A hardtail bike can be more prone to punctures than a full-suspension bike as the rear tyres take up all the shocks from the rear, putting more strain on the tyre as it works to dampen the bumps on the track and eventually leading to punctures. Tubeless tyres are a fantastic innovation that uses sealant to prevent punctures. Going tubeless shouldn't be too hard to do as long as your bike is fitted with tubeless ready rims - most models over the £500 mark will be fitted with this feature. It's also important that you have the correct tyre for the terrain. Slicker tyres will give less resistance and are great for smoother trails and dry weather whereas tyres with more profile will be more suitable for rugged terrain and wet or slippy conditions.
In the past, rim brakes reigned supreme and were seen on all MTBs far and wide. However, times are changing and the development of mountain bikes into proper speedy downhill monsters has increased the need for the most reliable and strong brakes possible. You'll still find rim brakes on the lowest end hardtails but if you are able and are seriously considering doing some proper off-roading then disc brakes are the only way to go. There are two types of disc brake:Mechanical: - the lower end and cheaper of the two options, mechanical disc brakes are resistant to water and require far less maintenance than rim brakes. These brakes will be found on most entry level hardtail bikes over the £400 price point.Hydraulic: - Using automotive technology and lighter than mechanical disc brakes, Hydraulic hydraulic brakes are light and strong whilst being incredibly reliable. They also provide far better modulation than rim brakes which permits the rider to have far more control over their braking.
The groupset is the engine room of the bicycle. The drivetrain of a bike encompasses the crank, chain ring, chain, cassette, derailleurs and shifters. As you spend more you can expect the drivetrain to be more efficient and lightweight. There are a number of component manufacturers, but Shimano and SRAM feature most prominently.Keep reading to find out more about groupsets
What Groupsets Are Best for MTB?
Lower End Groupsets
Lower end groupsets tend to contain triple cranks with lots of gears but also a lot of crossover meaning shifting isn't as efficient as it could be. Likely to be constructed from alloy and using cheaper components, these groupsets are fine for recreational riding but may come unstuck on more technical rides when you require low ratios to get you up a hill or quick shifting to accelerate out of a corner.
- Shimano - Tourney, Altus and Acera
- SRAM- X5
Mid-range groupsets often feature the same technology as higher end designs but use heavier materials when they are manufactured. These groupsets are the most common and are usually presented in triple or double cranksets that offer similar gear ranges to low end groupsets but with more efficient shifting and less crossover. These groupsets are normally made from slightly higher end alloy or low-end carbon. Perfectly adequate for most off-road rides, the improved chain angle and overall finish of these groupsets will keep you flying along the trails in any conditions the British weather can throw at you!
- Shimano - Alivio , Deore and SLX
- SRAM- X7, X9, NX and GX
Top of the range groupsets
The groupsets at the top of the range are usually fitted with carbon or titanium components that use advanced technologies such as Synchro shift to provide the smoothest and most efficient gear changing on the market. With excellent gear ratios and supplied with features such as a derailleur clutch to stop chain slip, these groupsets are sure to get you riding to the highest levels of your performance. There's an increasing shift towards single front chain rings that allow for shorter chain stays and Di2 electronic shifting that removes the danger of damaging your derailleur with mud or crashes. Sram's eagle groupset was one of our favourite innovations of the past year, offering unrivalled performance, durability and versatility. Sram's EX-1 is an E-bike specific groupset specifically designed for the E-MTB market. Using a single front chain ring with Srams proven 1x technology, the EX-1 allows for quiet and intuitive shifting that increases battery life by reducing the strain on the motor from continual gear changes.
- Shimano - XT, XTR, XTR Di2
- SRAM - XO1, XO1 DH, XX1, Eagle
How much should I look to spend on my new hardtail?
At this price point you should be looking for a lightweight aluminium frame bike that is fitted with either rim brakes or mechanical discs. Try and get as high a quality groupset as you can for your money, referring back to the guide above if you get stuck! Basic wheels and non-tubeless tyres are to be expected within this price range along with a basic front fork with coil springs.
Within this price range you're ideally looking for a butted aluminium frame with hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless ready tyres. Air sprung forks and clutches on the rear derailleur are also worth keeping and eye out for , as is the efficiency of the groupset and the beginning of specialised geometries for different disciplines.
The higher range hardtails will fall into this category and are likely to be made with carbon fibre are very high end aluminium composite. Air sprung forks with lockout, top level groupsets, tubeless ready and upgraded wheels and tyres and dropper posts are all key features of this price range and if used effectively they combine to create an extremely good hardtail bike with excellent spec
As you have read, there is a lot to consider when purchasing a new hardtail mountain bike. Hardtails are brilliant bikes no matter what you are using them for - entry level or competitions there's a hardtail out there for every cyclist! Use this guide to help you decide which one is for you and come and visit us in store for a test ride - everyone loves to try before they buy. We'll see you and your hardtail on the trails soon!